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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner of heavyweight ideas.
The two leitmotifs of this stimulating book are "the computational theory of mind" and the theory that the mind is an array of "mental organs" that have evolved through natural selection. Kind of like Babbage and Turing meet Darwin and Dawkins. Pinker pulls together material from many sources to illustrate these theories and weaves them together into a compelling...
Published on 9 Mar 2001 by Mr. Stuart Robert Harris

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44 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting, but far too one-sided
Steven Pinker starts this book by informing us that we DON'T know how the mind works, and that he hasn't found out how the mind works either; which is perhaps a stab at irony (not covered in the part on humour), or simply a bad book title. Pithy comments aside, this is a long but engaging read, which covers not only a lot of theory but investigates many ideas thoroughly...
Published on 27 Oct 2000


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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner of heavyweight ideas., 9 Mar 2001
By 
Mr. Stuart Robert Harris "Vivir Con Arte" (Norwalk CT 06850) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
The two leitmotifs of this stimulating book are "the computational theory of mind" and the theory that the mind is an array of "mental organs" that have evolved through natural selection. Kind of like Babbage and Turing meet Darwin and Dawkins. Pinker pulls together material from many sources to illustrate these theories and weaves them together into a compelling overview of the mind.
The computational bits left me feeling out of my depth at several points, but also feeling reassured that this wasn't science lite. And while the evolutionary bits were less challenging - and easier to read - they offered more than enough food for thought.
Apparently some people find the computation plus evolution theory controversial. Others find the ideas old hat. And Pinker himself seems to rub plenty of people up the wrong way for various reasons. Myself, I find the arguments fresh and convincing, and Pinker very enjoyable to read. He covers an awful lot of ground with great gusto, he packs the detail in and makes his points with wry humour.
A book to read once to get the gist and a second time to get the detail.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite popular science writer, 2 Jan 2000
Like his previous book The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works is popular science at its best: clear, witty, and boldly committed to a specific position within the field, it makes the state of the art in the cognitive neurosciences available to the general public. How the Mind Works presents the most forcefully argued theory of the mind, its origins, and structure that I know of. Highly recommended!
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling, provocative science writing, 20 July 2001
By 
William Podmore (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Steven Pinker is Professor of Psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the renowned books, 'The language instinct' (Penguin, 1995) and 'Words and rules: the ingredients of language' (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000). In this book, described by one reviewer as 'the best book ever written on the human mind', he puts forward a general theory about how and why the human mind works the way it does. Yet it is not a ponderous book; it is beautifully written and full of jokes and stories.
Pinker marries Darwin's theory of evolution to the latest developments in neuroscience and computation. He shows in detail how the process of natural selection shaped our entire neurological networks; how the struggle for survival selects from among our genes those most fit to flourish in our environment. Nature has produced in us bodies, brains and minds attuned to coping intelligently with whatever our environment demands. Housed in our bodies, our minds structure neural networks into adaptive programmes for handling our perceptions. Pinker concludes, "The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life."
Our beliefs and desires are information, allowing us to create meaning. "Beliefs are inscriptions in memory, desires are goal inscriptions, thinking is computation, perceptions are inscriptions triggered by sensors, trying is executing operations triggered by a goal." Pinker writes that the mind has a 'design stance' for dealing with artefacts, a 'physical stance' for dealing with objects, and an 'intentional stance' for dealing with people. "Causal and inferential roles tend to be in sync because natural selection designed both our perceptual and our inferential modules to work accurately, most of the time, in this world." With this down-to-earth kind of explanation, there is no need to invoke mysterious intangible powers: "We don't need spirits or occult forces to explain intelligence." Pinker sums up the recent amazing developments in neurobiology and cognitive science. This book, like those by his colleagues Daniel Dennett ('Darwin's dangerous idea' and 'Consciousness explained') and Richard Dawkins ('River out of Eden' and 'Unweaving the rainbow'), should be required reading. They are all Darwinians, but then why shouldn't they be? It is just like saying that all physicists are Einsteinians nowadays, or that all poets and playwrights are Shakespeareans, or that all osteopaths are Stillians. Their books make Karl Popper, so hostile to Darwin, and Californian gurus like Fritjof Capra, sadly outdated.
By giving coherent, intelligible accounts of the ways in which our bodies and minds have evolved, writers like Pinker can help us to understand better how and why our bodies work in the ways they do.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas , great style., 29 Nov 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: How the Mind Works (Paperback)
I can't recommend this highly enough - Pinker argues persuasively, eclectically and best of all entertainingly that the human mind is the product of Darwinian natural selection. If his style weren't so readable and accessible, some of the ideas presented would make stuffy academic fare, but he draws his references so widely, from cultural touchstones to established bodies of research, that his ideas ring true on an intellectual and instinctive level. If you are a little jaded by society and cynical of people's motives, read this - then look at the world in a fresh paradigm. Will it make you a better person or change your life? Probably not. But it might change your mind.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The algorithmic mind, 17 Oct 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How the Mind Works (Paperback)
Unravelling the mechanisms of human thinking and emotions is garnering increased attention from dedicated scientists and thinkers. Old attitudes and preconceptions are being swept away by newer ideas based on firm research. Steven Pinker has assembled these results to provide an outstanding synopsis of cognitive studies. He refers to the old views of the mind's working as "mysteries." Pinker, as a good scientist, applauds the updating of mental "mysteries" to "problems" capable of resolution. He makes no claim to the problems all being solved, or, in a few instances, even being identified. His approach, however, is a refreshing and innovative one, aimed at anyone wishing to gain an understanding of what it means to be human. As might be expected from the man who wrote The Language Instinct, he's a master of illustrative example and with many anecdotes for teaching the reader.
Pinker uses evolutionary roots as the foundation for his presentation. Like it or not, our genes carry a large part of our mental processes. The mind is not a "blank slate," but is born with vast supply of historical information on which to build as it matures. The "cultural environment" so dear to some commentators makes only a small contribution to who we become as adults. Even a child's peer groups influence its development more than does parental input, and by a huge margin. This situation arises because the mind is an algorithmic processor. It is essentially independent of an individual's environment, with a built-in learning capability to select from the wide spectrum of inputs. To Pinker, this essentially unconstrained process is part of the evolutionary path. Children's independence reflects the need of natural selection to sort among "what is" to arrive at what "will be" in the future. There are certainly no guarantees of how development will proceed over generations.
The computational image is based on "problem-solving." When to take a step, avoid predators, seek a mate, find food. Clearly, as Pinker states, computational mind processes are as universal as brains. Therefore, in Pinker's view, each brain develops modules for dealing with these issues. Like any powerful computer, he stresses, the mind depends on parallel processing for flexibility. How else, for example, could the brain control breathing while also thinking about a Mozart string trio? As humans evolved, they either added new problem-solving modules, or improved on the inherited ones. This is an algorithmic process - adding small instructions over time as adaptations to changing conditions. It is clearly a universal evolutionary process that has achieved enormous expression in the human species. Each acquired "tactic" could be passed down through generations, with each successful transmission building on an inherited base.
"The mind is not the brain, but what the brain does," is the key statement of the book. Pinker supports this image with numerous examples of mind/brain functions. Why our brain "sees" a three-dimensional image in a stereographic display when we know the photographs are two dimensional is but one of many instances he cites. The various factors he proposes must not be considered as independent entities, he stresses. The algorithmic processes form a whole, but not one based neither on conflicting elements nor particularly complementary ones. Weightings of importance take place continually, but even the expression of an idea is not a mental "victory" for that particular idea. The human mind's greatest attribute is its flexibility.
As with any of the recent works on cognition, Pinker's analysis isn't the final word. Given the complexity of the mind, that is clearly an impossible goal. Yet Pinker has broached many new concepts in this book. All deserve further careful study. Pinker avoids dogmatism with his elegant treatment. This book is required in furthering your own thinking about our place in nature and deserves respect and attention. He welcomes serious studies in the subject, even if the work appears to refute his ideas. But he insists that the refutation must rely on solid science and not traditional dogmas. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Book Is Superb, 20 Aug 2009
By 
G. Hunt "Scouser Abroad" (Valencia, Spain) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
How anyone seriously interested in the subject matter of this book can only give it one star has me stumped. It is a fantastic introduction to psychology.

The book is brilliant on two levels: the content, as Pinker gives a blow-by-blow account of how our minds function (or at least our best guess), and the style in which it is written. There are some very complex ideas here and yet Pinker takes pity on the reader and makes his writing accessible, with the occasional joke thrown in. As a regular reader of turgid tomes on linguistics, I appreciated this - I particularly liked the joke on p549 about double affirmatives, but maybe that's an acquired taste. (Search for "relish" in the text if you think it'll tickle your fancy.)

The jokes are good, but the content is even better: the computational theory of mind, how the human mind evolved, the psychology of vision, how we reason about the world, our emotions, family relationships and, er, the meaning of life. Pinker discusses all of these lucidly, and although most of the ideas are drawn from the works of others, Pinker's ability to synthesise these and present them together coherently is incredibly impressive.

I've read the views of other philosophers and psychologists (Dennett, Blackmore...) on the nature of the human mind with dismay: the self and consciousness are illusions, we are all basically zombies, etc., etc. I was beginning to think I was just a stick-in-the-mud who was unable to face up to reality. Pinker has come to my rescue - he sticks his neck out and when I read the words "I am as certain that I am sentient as I am certain of anything", I nearly stood up and cheered. But, hey, that's just me.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I suppose the same goes for book reviews. Some of the other reviews are incomprehensible - I'm not sure if they read the same book I did.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painting The Mind, 2 Feb 2013
By 
T. T. Rogers - See all my reviews
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'How The Mind Works' is the best book I have read on the subject, notwithstanding that the title itself is very inaccurate. As the author Steven Pinker readily admits right at the start, we don't know how the mind works, though as Pinker points out, thanks to science and reasoned inquiry, many of the 'mysteries' of the mind have now been "upgraded" to 'problems' within the bounds of human comprehension that can be defined and ever-more fully understood, if not resolved. I think 'How The Mind Works' deserves to be seen as psychology's answer to 'A Brief History of Time'. Eminent scientist Steven Pinker expatiates on the theme of 'the mind', and in particular on what might be characterised as the 'Mind/Body Problem'. He does so from the perspective of evolutionary psychology, a school of thought which still struggles with a kind of deuterocanonical status within academic psychology-at-large. There are heavy references to a computational theory of the mind and a reliance on such areas as evolutionary theory, genetics and ethology. Not everyone will agree with Pinker's assertions, some of which remain quite controversial even today, but Pinker writes in a way that anyone can understand, so that this book is a page-turner. Along the way, we gain insights into such things as the evolution and workings of the mind itself, intellect and intelligence, behaviour, morality, family values and the meaning of life. I think we are very lucky in our time to have around great scientists like Dawkins, Hawking and Pinker who are able to popularise science so that 'the rest of us' can at least gain some understanding of the world around us and of ourselves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius!, 5 Jan 2013
By 
Deniz Ates (London) - See all my reviews
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This is by far one of the most profound books I have read in a long time. It provides a fine introduction to the computational theory of mind and its relation to evolutionary psychology. It offers witty, clear and surprising perspectives on everything from information processing, emotions, and behaviour to humour, music and the meaning of life. It is also paradoxical in that if offers both a collection of enlightening views on how different part of the mind work and an invitation to figure out how it all fits together, despite knowing that some of the most fundamental questions in the book are unanswerable. Without a doubt this is a profound text, a 565 page monster, and a wonderful walk in wonderland. I give it 5 stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Modern models of the human mind, 17 Mar 2011
We make innumerable asumptions about how our minds work, or should work. Closer examination of the evidence reveals just how wrong many of these assumptions are.

With great clarity of observation and thought, Professor Pinker unpacks some of the truth about the mental modules inside our heads.

Drawing on evolutionary psychology theory and leading us by the hand through the evidence, Pinker firstly discusses perception, computation, and intelligence. Some of this I found rather too detailed for the layman.

I found the later sections much more fascinating, as he goes on to explore current theories of emotion, kinship, mating, aggression, the arts, humour, and religion.

An excellent `user's manual' for all brain owners.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of exposition and popular science writing., 16 Aug 2014
How The Mind Works is a classic, and it's still up there with the very best of popular science writing about the human brain and mind. As always, Pinker treats his subject with skill and verve. His writing is almost impeccable. Clear and efficient communication is all the more important because Pinker deals with a subject that we don't fully understand. Nonetheless, as he shows, it's a subject that can now be relegated from the category of "scientific mysteries" to that of "scientific problems," in Chomsky's terminology.

You will find no cocksure pronouncements or vapid speculation in this remarkable book. That's not to say that it isn't speculative at times--it most certainly is--but the requisite qualifications are there. Allowing for such qualifications and often still-standing uncertainties and controversies, Pinker really does show "how the mind works."
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