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How the Mind Works

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  13,544 Ratings  ·  397 Reviews
A fascinating, provocative book exploring the mysteries of human thought and behavior, by the author of the acclaimed bestseller The Language Instinct.The human mind is fantastically complex -- we often take its abilities for granted, yet few would argue that any amount of technology will ever duplicate human intelligence. How does the human mind work? How do we see in thr ...more
Hardcover, 660 pages
Published January 1st 1997 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Daniel The brain is the organ that appears to give rise to the mind. They are not the same thing, much as a musical instrument is not the same thing as a…moreThe brain is the organ that appears to give rise to the mind. They are not the same thing, much as a musical instrument is not the same thing as a song played on it. Perhaps by "same thing" you mean why do some people think the mind is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of the brain. That is, why do some people believe the mind has no additional supernatural (or metaphysical) component? The answer is that no scientific study of the mind suggests the brain is insufficient to account for it. See also: Mind–body problem and philosophy of mind.(less)

Community Reviews

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Apr 14, 2014 Kalliope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science

This morning while swimming I thought of this book. And I thought also of a conversation I had recently with a friend. We were talking about human consciousness.

Swimming is a perfect thing to do when thinking about consciousness. While sliding along the water we are deprived of many things, in particular of the full powers of our senses. There is very little to hear; smellandtaste are also kept at bay; what we can look at is reduced to a wall and a straight line on the floor of the pool; and the
Mikael Lind
The book does not lack good qualities, but I generally dislike the technique of argumentation that is too often characterized by poor proof backed by a certain arrogance towards alternative explanations. The chapter on the sexes is particularly shoddily presented. The "proof" that Pinker refers to when trying to back his claims that (simply put) evolution and innateness alone explain the differences between the sexes when it comes to attitudes to sex (the male hunter/gatherer has logically a gre ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
I think this a great way of addressing a widespread misunderstanding about genetics, biological evolution and human thought & behavior.

Slight background story: I was having a discussion with a guy on within his comments on his review of Why I Am Not A Muslim and eventually it came to this:

Myself: "It’s a categorical mistake to think this about biological evolution. To put it bluntly: our genes are selfish, but we are not (not necessarily, unconditionally so at least)."

Him: "One
This is a truly comprehensive treatment of the human mind. Pinker delves deeply into the reasons why the mind has evolved to make decisions in the way it does. There is very little discussion about the biology of the brain; the book points out that a good understanding of the origins of human behavior requires descriptions at a higher level--at the level of the mind, and how it evolved through natural selection. Pinker shows how natural selection has worked its way into every nook and cranny of ...more
Josh Hamacher
I finally finished this book. It took me far longer than I care to admit to do so. On at least one occasion I lost interest and put it down for several weeks before coming back to it.

I have a hard time putting my finger on exactly why this was the case. It's not that it's bad - in fact, parts of it are absolutely fascinating. It's certainly not the writing; Pinker is quite good (despite a tendency to repeat himself frequently).

I think it boiled down to two things for me, with both of them being
This is a very readable and influential synthesis of the cognitive science view of the mind with that of evolutionary psychology. The overall thrust is that the mind is a neural computer closely governed by feelings and desires that were shaped by natural selection for their adaptive value in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors. The book is lively, with lots of down to earth examples. He holds your hand when wading through many technical subjects, faces disputes in a non-dogmatic way, ...more
Rita T
Feb 05, 2008 Rita T rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who isn't a rabid Foucault acolyte
I read all bio-determinist arguments, no matter how sound their science, as a mandate to return to the 50's - those halcyon days when men schnoockered their secretaries while women bought canned foods and tended the young. Nonetheless, I loved this book. The early chapters, especially on the computational theory of mind, are incredible. Pinker is just unbelievably detailed and the linguistic spin he brings to the discussion of cognitive development is a great dimension. The later chapters are mo ...more
Jan 09, 2012 Erwin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. 20-30 years from now, I think most people will understand that there's nothing "magical" about the "mind", the "soul", religion, art, men, women, or any of the other sacred cows that continue to hold back humans from understanding themselves.

How the Mind Works was published back in 1997, but I didn't encounter any of the points that Pinker made in High School or Collage, up until 2000. Pinker focuses on a "computational theory of mind", saying that the mind is a complex paralle
Aug 17, 2009 Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: math-and-science
I have copies of the five mainstream books that Steven Pinker has released and am slowly working my way through them. He is one of the world's leading cognitive scientists and is a professor at MIT. I really enjoyed his first book "The Language Instinct", so was looking forward to reading his second "How The Mind Works". I didn't enjoy this one as much - at times it read somewhat like a textbook, which I attribute to the heavy subject matter. However, I rated it high because of the wealth of res ...more
Nicholas Whyte
"[return][return]I was really disappointed by this book. Pinker starts out by claiming that he will explain the origins of human emotions, aesthetics, and belief in the context of the latest findings of evolutionary and psychological research. He does not really succeed in doing so. It is a succession of moderately interesting research reports, linked together with a glue of neat one-liners (mostly other people's), but without really coming to a killer c ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Dawn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Let's be honest. I will probably never pick up this book to finish it. I began reading this because of my book club. But, I didn't think I would finish it to begin with, and due to many circumstances, the book club will not be meeting for this book. So, I have decided to put it down as one of those books I'll never finish.

I didn't like most of what I read, not due to the subject/topic, but due to the way Pinker writes. His droning on on tangents and his shoving his philosophy, which is oh so rig
Dec 15, 2014 Gendou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, biology
This book covers the computational theory of mind and evolutionary psychology. The former asserts that the mind is the computational product of the brain. The later examines how many aspects of human nature can be explained as biological adaptations. Both are crucial to understanding how the mind works. Both are explained in exquisite depth (read: this is a very long book).

Pinker gets one thing wrong at the end when he asserts what's known as the the "hard problem of consciousness" which his ref
Teo 2050
13h @ 2x.

(view spoiler)
Nov 01, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good book, albeit not the quickest read ever.

I’ve read a few popular science books and have been disappointed when they seem to rely more on anecdote than science -- ok, fine, what I really mean is I can’t stand Malcolm Gladwell. How the Mind Works certainly feels much more solidly founded in science while still maintaining the how-science-fits-into-real-life perspective of a popular science book.

It’s not a perfect book. Given the enormous breadth of the topic that Pinker is attempting to
Mar 26, 2013 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
HOW THE MIND WORKS. (1997). Steven Pinker. ***.
Pinker is professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT. He wrote a bestseller prior to this book, “The Language Instinct.” I had great hopes of learning lots more about recent advances in neuroscience and behavioral science from this book, but found only the same material wrapped in a different sets of analogies and references. The author approached his topic via reverse engineering. He explored the tools and
Brad Acker
This book frequently gets rave reviews. Whenever i sit down to read Pinker, i wish i were drinking again. Here is an example of a typical quotation from this book that i could only follow if i were drunk: "The cobalt 60 nucleus is said to spin counterclockwise if you look down on its north pole, but that description by itself is circular because 'north pole' is simply what we call the end of the axis from which a rotation looks counterclockwise." This is in the middle of a discussion, in which h ...more
Jan 29, 2011 Rakan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
في هذا الكتاب يتحدث ستيفن بنكر أستاذ العلوم الإدراكية وعالم النفس بشكل أساسي عن نظرية العقل الحسابية
computational theory of the mind

بالعربي، الرجل يتحدث عن العقل (ليس المخ) من وجهة نظر أخرى غير اعتيادية. وجهة نظر تطورية. فيفسر العمليات الادراكية داخل العقل بقوى تطورية (داروينية) وبقوانين حاسويبة.

النظريات التي طرحها وتحدث عنها بنكر رائعة وطريقة شرحها أروع
قد يكون عنوان الكتاب مضلل بعض الشي. لكنه كتاب يستحق القراءة
May 03, 2013 T. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent! Had to stick with it but was really rewarding. Pinker is one of the brightest science writers, on par with Dawkins. I hope to read more books on evolutionary psychology, but for now this the clear leader on that subject.
Oct 16, 2007 John rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Alternate title: "How I can make up a flimsy evolutionary-psychology excuse for everything people do, and look sort of like the lead singer of Foreigner while I'm doing it."
Lewis Weinstein
Dec 23, 2013 Lewis Weinstein rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
impenetrable, repetitive, useless ... did I say I was disappointed?
Dec 08, 2008 Becky rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting, well-written, and comprehensive. I appreciated the overview of both computational and evolutionary psychology in one tome of a book; computational psychology is pretty much awesome, and though I must confess that I skipped some of the technical examples in an effort to prevent my brain from breaking, Pinker's writing was for the most part clear and explanatory. I learned a lot!

I would be interested to find out whether any of the specific evolutionary theories have become passe
Dec 30, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by one of the world's foremost cognitive scientists, it's an eight-chapter deep dive on the human mind and how it functions. Starts with the physiological properties of the brain and its components - how language is processed, how physical environments are understood - and slowly transitions to the more abstract notion of the mind, including human behavior and evolutionary theories about how we got to be the way we are. I'm reasonably interested in psychology and social studies and evolu ...more
Ben Sutter
Oct 01, 2016 Ben Sutter rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A great book for understanding human behaviour & decision making. It builds mental models and frameworks with strong explanatory power for understanding the human mind. This book impacts the way you view your own behaviour and the behaviour of others by exposing you to a deeper evolution-based grounding to the very complex topic of the human mind.

It is a big book containing just 8 chapters approaching 80-100 pages each . The conclusions arrived at bring insight and enlightenment and are well
David Metting
Feb 07, 2015 David Metting rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I'll admit it, the title drew me to this book, and, having finished reading the entire book, I can say it's pretty apt! I'm a liberal arts major who never even took Psych 101 and this tome did a great job filling me in about the different modes of the human mind. This book by turns fascinated me, astonished me, and caused me to marvel, all great things. Having a book kindle one's curiosity is always splendid, especially when the objects of that curiosity are the myriad amazing things our body do ...more
Angus Mcfarlane
To a large extent the answer to the books title is that we have learnt a lot but still have a long way to go! The first part of the book digs into the 'mechanics' of the brain and the mind that 'inhabits' it. Discussion of he phenomenon of concsiousness is undertaken early on and given a naturalistic solution later in the book, although it is not a very satisfying one. While I enjoyed he attempt to identify the mechanics of concsiousness, the 'answer' seemed to rely more on philosophy and a natu ...more
Billie Pritchett
Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works is a long book and a Book about Everything. Although the title suggests it's a popular psychology book, the discoveries of psychology and especially psychology understood as evolutionary psychology are used to explain all aspects of human life. Most of the first part of the book is not technical but might be boring to its readers. For example, there's a long explanation about how vision works that was a complete snooze-fest. From about halfway on in the book, I ...more
Isabella Victoria
How the mind works is a very interesting and eye opening book, What I liked about the book was that it talks about our biology, what is inside of us like our genes from our past ancestors and how that affects many generations in the lifestyle and decisions that they make. It also throws out there crazy concepts or that at least seem unordinary in our society such as raping individuals in our genes. What I also liked about the book was that it presented factual evidence on most of the topics disc ...more
Melissa Hurtado
Sep 03, 2015 Melissa Hurtado rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: a-level-psych
Book Review
Period 2
Melissa Hurtado
A Level Psych

They say the mind is a beautiful paradox because it uses itself to understand itself. This quote has chased me around my high school years like a leopard hounding after its prey. Ever since my youth, I have noticed my skepticism on the human capsule. I often wondered if rigorous science labs brought up such an idea as the human mind. Although, childhood beliefs kept my thoughts grounded to an absolute that a grater power was the innovator. How The
Mirek Kukla
'How the Mind Works' is an ambitious book. Pinker addresses an insane medley of topics: if it pertains to the mind in any way whatsoever, it's fair game. This variety of topics discussed is the books greatest strength, but also it primary weakness.

Firstly, the bad: this book isn't clearly connected by an overarching thesis. I suppose everything has to do with 'the mind' - though this is debatable, as there are long stretches where you'll be prone to forget this book is supposed to be about 'how
A daunting book for the casual reader. I found most of the chapters individually readable, interesting, often controversial. But, there were few transitions from one theme to another, which I found distracting. Steven Pinker's overall thesis is that the mind is a neural-based computer that reflects the results of evolutionary psychology - meaning that the basis of much of what we do and why we do it has its roots in our historical hunter-gather origins and how we have evolved (through adaptive, ...more
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the mind 1 7 Jul 03, 2013 02:27AM  
Science and Inquiry: August 2012 - How the Mind Works 152 198 Nov 23, 2012 10:38PM  
  • Mapping the Mind
  • Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
  • A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers
  • Consciousness Explained
  • The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
  • Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong
  • Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
  • The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
  • The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene
  • Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought
  • The Society of Mind
  • Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
  • Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul
  • The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
  • The Mind Doesn't Work That Way: The Scope and Limits of Computational Psychology
  • Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past
Steven Arthur Pinker is a prominent Canadian-American experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, and author of popular science. Pinker is known for his wide-ranging advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Republic, and is the author of seven b ...more
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“Just as blueprints don't necessarily specify blue buildings, selfish genes don't necessarily specify selfish organisms. As we shall see, sometimes the most selfish thing a gene can do is build a selfless brain. Genes are a play within a play, not the interior monologue of the players.” 87 likes
“The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a sharp blow or by insufficient oxygen.” 37 likes
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