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on 1 January 2000
The idea of Mr Pinker's book is brilliant. Who has never wondered about how it all works, the chemistry, the physics, perhaps even the METAphysics of the human mind.
Therefore, it is really a shame that the author puts such an effort in spreading around humouristic references to make the reader keep going, that he often loses the point. It IS a good effect in the writing procedure to kick in some unexpectedly contra-academic examples from Calvin & Hobbes, from Woody Allen or from Monty Python - but the sad thing is that these humouristic kicks really are the PEAKS in »How The Mind Works«.
The reader never really gets a fully reliable explanation of the mind's mystery attics, narrow paths, and dark alleys. Instead, the author refers to a lot of theories and then argues much too superficially and easily about which theory is likely to be right, according to him.
»How The Mind Works« has a superb idea - an idea with a great potential and therefore enormous potential public... if it is developped further and into something more thoroughly, profoundly and reliable.
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on 23 April 1999
This book is a wonderful reference and a truly interesting and engaging story of the mind at work and play. Well worth a read.
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on 17 October 2005
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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on 15 March 2013
Twas' more of a gift really ...Can't say as of yet. Why do I need to say so much stuff?
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on 3 June 1999
To be useful, a popularization of science has to either embody accurately the science that it is based on or focus the meaning of that science onto how to improve day-to-day living. HOW THE MIND WORKS has all of the scientific accuracy of someone trying to sell one view of the subject, and all the applicability of a manual on how to repair a broken part on a kind of car that is no longer used by anyone. In many ways, the mind is the ultimate subject because it guides our perception of everything in so many ways. You will probably have a better understanding of how your mind works when you start this book than when you end it. I especially found the analogies to what machines can and cannot do, or could or could not do, to be pretty irrelevant to the subject unless you are interested in designing thinking machines. In addition to being off the mark, the book is very long and filled with mind-dulling detail that adds very little to anyone's understanding. I plowed through every page and footnote waiting for my reward. The book jacket is attractive, so perhaps I can use my hardcover copy as a paper weight on my desk. Stalled thinking occurs because of bad thinking habits such as poor communication (well demonstrated by the prose in this book), tradition (looking at things in the same old way, which this book often does), misconceptions (misunderstanding the facts, which the book seems to do in choosing some theories over others), disbelief (not being willing to take new ideas and technologies seriously, which occurs in some cases here), unattractiveness (not considering that which repels us, which this book does not address much at all), and procrastination (another subject little treated in the book). Read this book for fine examples of what NOT to do in order to transfer useful knowledge to the rest of humanity. I hope Mr. Pinker will write more books because his choices of subjects are excellent, and that he will become more useful to his readers in the future books. He seems to be an intelligent, caring author who has the potential to give far more than he has in this case.
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on 1 January 2003
This book is a facinating study of human nature on an individual psychological and physiological scale. Not to mention psychological. It is crammed with statistics and facts I never knew. Not boring ones, but really interesting ones. And it's funny. The guy has a sense of humor. If your looking to understand yourself and how your mind works, then get this book. Another book I would recommend that is along this genre is called, The Little Guide To Happiness. It too explores the psychology of how we work in a humorous and enlightened way. Plus it's funny too.
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on 27 October 2000
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. Unfortunately, the theories investigated remain of the cognitive/experimental/biological variety and little of the humanistic/social constructionist/etc perspectives are mentioned. Any alluding to these latter perspectives are single-sentenced; the arguments needed to actually be arguments, rather than simple dismissals. Much of his 'evidence' harks from assumptions of early man and hunter-gatherers - ancestors who have left few clues of their habits for us. However, Pinker's covering of human perception, neural networks, and other cognitive goodies is excellent and very well explained, and I believe that these, along with his humour, are the book's highlights. It is just a shame that he sought to explain the human mind and behaviour from the one viewpoint, with scant regard for any others.
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on 20 February 2012
Very good book and it contains my candidate for the merriest ribbing of Freud ever put to paper.

(Some of the minutiae of the section on visual cognition, I admit, passed me by a little)
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on 9 August 2001
Pinker thinks of the brain as a computer developed by natural selection. Uses masses of references and quotes to keep book interesting and informative. Fantastic Read!!
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on 20 July 2013
Explains many of the things l have always found difficult about the human mind. But still I don't understand consciousness
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