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Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind Audio CD – Audiobook, CD, Unabridged

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc; Library ed edition (16 Jun. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400137519
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400137510
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2.3 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,035,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Argues that the human mind is not a meticulously designed organ but rather a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption, offering a revealing study of some of the complex aspects of human nature, how the mind falls short in such areas as memory, belief, decision-making, language, and emotion, and the influence of evolution on the creation of t --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Hardcover
"If it works, don't fix it!", runs the old adage. Any engineer will tell you, however, that this is false confidence. What works today may not work tomorrow when conditions change. Animal brains worked for many millions of years. Then Homo sapiens arose somewhere in Africa with an enlarged, busy brain. Combined with walking and handiness, that brain accomplished - and still accomplishes - wondrous things. Until you wonder where you left your car keys. Gary Marcus, in this fluidly written review, backed by a wealth of references, explains how the workings of our brain have been built up over time, with bits added or enhanced through the ages. It makes us a unique species, but it's anything but a fine design. Instead it's what engineers call a "kluge" - an inelegant, marginally efficient product of evolutionary bits cobbled together well enough to get the job done.

Using the fact of our brains having an evolutionary foundation, Marcus shows how Shakespeare's and the Bible's depictions of the brain are flawed. We have poor, erratic memories, we make irrational decisions, and we'll believe things that are patently untrue - sometimes with real tenacity. Our brains are built up from very ancient structures, probably using the same processes, with added complexity developing over time ["This worked last time, but it's not working now. Cobble something up to fix it."]. Knowing that readers might be overwhelmed with data overload [our memories can't handle it!], the author focusses on a half-dozen aspects of brain "design" demonstrating the positive features and the shortfalls. Memory, Belief, Choice, Language, Pleasure and "Things Fall Apart" - distractions. In each case, he explains how the system is usually depicted, what might be the ideal process, and how it actually works.
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Format: Hardcover
This book explores the opinion that our minds are not up to the task of modern life, because evolution has generated a hodgepodge of inefficient systems, far better equipped for other species, let alone our own prehistory. It covers problems with our memory, beliefs, choices, language and pleasure system, while the last two chapters deal with mental illness, and advice for how we can partially overcome that bad cards that evolution has dealt us. I think this is definitely one of those science books that would have worked better as a pamphlet. The first three chapters overlap immensely (the distinction between belief, choice and memory seems rather arbitrary to me). In addition, many points are obvious, or discussed in rather simplistic terms. I was really hoping for a careful discussion on the different brain systems that make up our flawed mental life, and when/why they evolved in the way they did. There could have been a wealth of fascinating brain topics (on, for instance, the fact that humans effectively have three competing brains relating to our heritage as reptiles, primitive mammals and now primates - or why our visual cortex is at the furthest away from our eyes, and most of our brains are wired for the wrong side). There also could have been a far more interesting discussion of evolution and how, until recently, those issues Marcus flags as flaws were extremely useful. Instead, the brain is hardly mentioned, and evolution is only discussed in a cursory way, mainly to counter the US creationists, I felt. There were also some absolutely awful mistakes, that any psychology undergrad could have spotted, such as his mixed up description of the Prisoner's Dilemma, or his comment that Phineas Gage had damage to the limbic system.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The term Kluge, pronounced similarly to "huge", was first popularized in early 1962, in an article written by Jackson Granholm, a computer pioneer. Mr. Granholm defined the word as "an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole."

Mr. Marcus asserts that Evolution yields suboptimal, patchwork designs, in particular the human mind. While it is widely accepted that the human body has many quirks -- wisdom teeth, the retina's backward installation resulting in blind spots in both eyes, a spine that is conducive to back pain, and even the replication process of the DNA -- what gets short shrift is the imperfection of the mind. A mind seemingly impervious to optimal design and prone to a host of human cognitive idiosyncrasies explained eloquently and in detail in this book.

Our contextual memory is unreliable. Our belief system is subject to mental contaminations stemming from superstition, manipulation, and fallacy. The brain mechanism that controls our everyday choices is susceptible to the "weakness of the will". We tend to live in the moment rather than plan for the future, a remnant of our days without refrigerators when life was, as Thomas Hobbs put it "nasty, brutish and short." Most pleasures stem from the "ancestral reflexive" part of the mind that is shortsighted.

While most of Mr. Marcus' assertions are plausible, I took issue with one in particular: That the evolutionary process is inherently flawed because it's not possible to build a superior design from the ground up. Consequently, improvements are made to existing, archaic systems ad nauseam. Mr. Marcus seems to discount the idea that evolution is a painfully slow process of building solutions to life's existing problems.
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