Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind
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Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  946 ratings  ·  125 reviews
Are we “noble in reason”? Perfect, in God’s image? Far from it, says New York University psychologist Gary Marcus. In this lucid and revealing book, Marcus argues that the mind is not an elegantly designed organ but rather a “kluge,” a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. He unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the human mind -- think duct tape, not supercomputer...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published March 18th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2008)
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Lena
Kluge is a slang term for "a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem." In this new book, psychologist Gary Marcus argues that the human mind itself is a kluge, and then goes on to discuss how this explains why you can't remember the name of that woman from your yoga class when you run into her at the movie theater.

The basis of Marcus' argument is that evolution was working with the tools at hand when it whipped up the more complex parts of our brain and that the result, while generally functio...more
Trevor
In some ways the start of this is just The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making put into chapters and continuous prose. Not that I mean that as a bad thing – quite the opposite. The ideas in both books are terribly important to anyone with a brain, particularly anyone who finds that brain getting away with terribly odd and distressing things at times.

When I Googled Kluge I found that there are quite a few people out there called Kluge – as my American friends might say “a bit of a bummer”....more
Al Bità

This wonderful book confronts a truth about evolution as it relates to biological science. The title rhymes with 'rouge' or 'scrooge', and is slang for 'a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem'. It is used by Marcus to refer to the haphazard construction of the human mind, as necessitated by evolution.

Darwinian evolution has given us powerful insights which explain how each one of us as individuals are indeed individuals: we are products of a system which, while generally resulting in simila...more
Elaine
(I read the NOOkcolor ebook edition)

I thought I'd really love a book about evolution's mistakes, especially one who shows irrefutably Creationists are. Marcus starts out by noting that if God made man in His image, and if he made man perfect, it's more than passingly strange that we have lousy spines that are actually retreaded quadruped spines. Everyone who has had back and neck problems can relate to this,

However, that was the beginning. Where Marcus goes stupidly wrong is his claim that if Go...more
Conor
The Good: This turned out to be a wonderful little book which surveyed many of the ways in which the human brain doesn't function rationally or ideally. The examples are wonderful, and I found exception with very few of his arguments. Similar to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, Kluge gave me a bit of insight into how to combat the flaws in my brain's design and to live more rationally. At the end, Marcus explains (successfully) how the science of evolutionary psychology roundly debunks intelligent desi...more
Derrick
Marcus takes a new slant: our brains are the products of evolution, and as such, are not perfect. In fact, they're a "kluge" of different evolutionary developments, each overlaying on top of each other. He ends the book with some advice on how we can handle our imperfect minds - sort of like a self-help book on how we can deal with our klugey minds.

One annoying thing - he gradually uses more footnotes toward the end of the book. For some reason, it began to annoy me. M
Kristin
Oct 14, 2009 Kristin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: non-fiction lovers, brain enthusiasts, evolution enthusiasts
This is for you, Kirsti!

First of all, I learned a new word in reading "Kluge", and I have used that word in conversation already. And had to explain it. But that's hardly the point of this book.

The point, largely, is that the human brain, once so lauded (see the Bible, Shakespeare, etc.), is really just a somewhat cobbled-together affair which "does the job" but leaves much to be desired (the definition of "kluge" being a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem). Marcus gives excellent example...more
Cheryl in CC NV
I can't seem to be able to review the edition I read, the hardcover. Oh well. Great little read. I've read a lot of the books he references, and so pretty much he was preaching to the converted, so to speak.

If you haven't actually read Gladwell and Gilbert and the rest, this is probably the only book you need to. It's concise, easy to read, witty without being 'oh look how clever am I' and well-organized. He doesn't claim to know the best about everything to do with the mind - he mostly wants u...more
Diego Petrucci
Non ricordo di preciso né quando lo lessi né cosa ne pensai, ma ricordo che mi piantò nella testa una delle idee più potenti (e veritiere) che abbia mai incontrato: noi, il nostro corpo, siamo soluzioni ai problemi dell'ambiente, ma soluzioni "kluge", ovvero fatte «alla meglio». Niente a che vedere con un progetto o una direzione, l'evoluzione ha usato strutture pre-esistenti per adattarsi.

Insomma: se uno studia il corpo e come si è adattato scopre che ci sarebbero millemila modi migliori per sv...more
Bob Lake
A long article stretched to a small book. This popsci book will be disappointing to anyone who tends to follow brain/mind science, but to someone who is new to the field will enjoy this book.

The premise is that the mind's faults are due to the brain's having been evolving in a stepwise fashion. Our original primate brain (reflexive) has had layered on top of it a "deliberative" section. These two parts are often fighting for control producing results that are not always satisfactory. Interestin...more
Jessie B.
This book presented one of the best arguments I've heard against creationism/ intelligent design. It suggests that we evolved enough to surive, rather than to the very best, so many human systems (the spine, our reasoning capacities, even language) is just "good enough", and often not the optimal, but rather a kluge which does the job needed but nothing more. Why would an intelligent designer create such an imperfect system when they could make the best one possible I don't agree with everything...more
Leif
This book is a sort of laundry list of quirks in human psychology and information processing. Marcus tries to use this list (in the conclusion) as an argument against creationism, but from my perspective it comes across as offering a bunch of vaguely related anecdotes. If you've already read something from Kahneman Tversky or Lakoff, I'd say you're safe skipping this one.
Colin
In Kludge, Gary Marcus highlights a number of design problems with the mind and explains the corresponding evolutionary reasons why these problems have arisen. It's a very easy read but also very deep in knowledge. I found items in my own life explained that have always bothered me deeply (why is goal setting so difficult - it always seems like future discounting takes away the desire to to good goal setting). He also recommends some ideas on how to get past these mind design failures.
Melody
Tremendously enjoyable explication of the cobbled-together nature of the human mind. Cogently explains, among other things, how we can't trust our own assessments about, well, nearly everything. The chapter on language is especially fascinating, the chapters that cover rationalizations and happiness are more squirm-inducing than otherwise. Very accessible and full of enough lame jokes and fun asides to keep it from being too scientific. Highly recommended.
Beth
Found the content very interesting, not only as it applies to me but also, as a teacher, as it applies to my students (and why some of them just can't memorize their math facts or other useful information :-) I'm reminded of the importance that learning be contextual and am further inspired to keep plugging away at best teaching practices!
Deirdre
"My brain! It's my second favorite organ!" said Miles Monroe, aka Woody Allen, in Sleeper. I agree! And now Gary Marcus comes along to explain that the brain is just a patched-together mass of cells that rarely interact smoothly. How shocking. So much for God's loftiest of creations--humans.

There are three layers to the brain and each developed at a different period of human evolution. The hindbrain has been around the longest and is in charge of the real basics, breathing, hunger, balance, awa...more
Bart Breen
It Might be evidence of its own Conclusion

This book is its own best argument for the haphazard, meandering quality of the human brain and the human thinking process.

The book itself has some strong points and raises some issues that appear to be somewhat profound, but in the end, from this reviewer's perspective it vastly overreaches the evidence presented and attempts to draw conclusions in an authoritative manner that are a huge stretch. Up front, the author jumps to the material of Richard Daw...more
Shameem
I think we're all led to believe growing up that the human brain is an extremely perfectly crafted organ, with innumerable capabilities. A vessel of perfection, that we simply lack the capacity to tap into because we're limited in our understanding of its operation. Kluge explains to us that well, frankly, our brain is a mess. Our thought processes are full of bias, both conscious and unconscious. The way we make decisions, act, and approach our lives really are haphazard. They seem well thought...more
Harry
Finally, a "pop science" book that doesn't sacrifice breadth or accuracy in a pleasant and short read. Think "Malcolm Gladwell", but from the perspective of a real scientist, and hence, a more accurate description of the studies cited to support the main point of the book. (Though I may be biased, since I am rather sympathetic to the views presented by Marcus.)

The central idea of this book is that the human mind is not a masterpiece of evolution that many of us like to think it is; rather, the m...more
KC
Written by a psychologist, this is a pop-science account of our imperfect brains. His premise is that our brains arose as naturally selected Rube Goldberg-style adaptations of existing structures between our ears. He then examines the consequences of our cobbled together heads and how we live and fail, and proposes guidelines for minimizing the latter. His quick conclusions: we are terrible at calculating odds, and as a result discount the future much too much - we are mostly unable to resist em...more
Juan-Pablo
Marcus presents in this short book the flip-side of the usual headlines in brain and cognition research: its flaws. Through a very methodical and entertaining account, the author breaks down our brain malfunctions, some of its evolutionary causes, and many experimental examples to illustrate his thesis.

The main theory is that evolution builds on top of what already exists. This, in turn, generates kludgy systems as opposed to perfectly engineered ones. The book discuss in detail how our brain i...more
Rebecca
I liked this all right, and thought the author had a good argument, about our shortcomings being the result of our brain adapting earlier structures for purposes nature never intended, as it were. I thought the section on memory was particularly enlightening; I've never thought of our memories before as being contextually based.

I do wish the author had spent more time on the original purposes of the brain's structures, though, rather than being didactic (to a Victorian degree, almost) about our...more
Nathan
I enjoy reading about the imperfections of humans so was excited to read this.

The most exciting thing I learnt is that memory is context-dependent. A study showed divers who memorised facts underwater were better able to recall these facts while underwater. I'll now be doing all web dev studies at my computer. I'm considering how I can make my home desk more like my work desk to maximise recall - at work.

Kluge explains how humans rely both on reflexive and deliberative systems. The reflexive is...more
Barry
Interesting read on the idiosyncrasies of the human mind with some theorizing on how it came to be that way.

Lots of interesting citations of psychology tests that support the basic theory that the human brain was not designed for today's lives, but for humanoids that hunt and gather.

I particularly liked how he developed his theme on contextual memory and took it through different aspects of life. And as I read I assimilated the previous book I read on the Numerati and since I read both books in...more
Tom Schulte
I really like the engineering bent here as it makes sense from my life experience: human brainpower has necessarily evolved as a kluge and can be analyzed as an imperfect system. Beware the author's opinions; if you are pro-Bush or creationist, you may not like his asides and assumptions upon the reader. Having analyzed the system, the author gives us a handy set of steps to avoid our brain's inefficiencies:

1. Whenever possible, consider alternative hypotheses.
2. Reframe the question.
3. Always r...more
Nick
I guess I went in to this book already agreeing with the author. I've held my memory in contempt for quite a while, and that was one of the chapters of the book. It was an enjoyable book, especially the many references to study that showed just how 'kluge-y' the brain is. However, I enjoyed On Intelligence better, if you've only got time to read one of the two.

From the book:
p.25: A study where people were given a bunch of words that they were to unscramble into a sentence, and the words were thi...more
Lynley
Reading this book is a bit like reading David Brooks -- while it's pretty interesting for those of us interested, at a shallow level, in sociology and psychology and evolutionary biology, I find myself disagreeing with a lot of what is said.

"In an ideal world...the parts of our brain that decide which activities are pleasurable would be extremely fussy, responding only to things that are truly good for us. For example, fruits have sugar, and mammals need sugar, so it makes sense that we should h...more
Andrew Jacobson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rebecca
This is a short (almost too short) and accessible introduction to the idea that the human mind is, well, not as perfect as we like to believe. While evolution does lead to supremely well-designed and efficient organisms and biological processes, it also leads to a lot of junk. Marcus uses the term "kluge" (from engineering) to describe the many ways in which the human mind is sub-optimal from the point of view of some imagined "perfect" design. He does (justifiably) grind his ax against the absu...more
Joel
Gary Marcus, NYU professor of psychology, is intent on letting you know that your brain is not as rational as you think it is. This book focuses mainly on cognitive errors and what they tell us about the brain. Marcus relies heavily on the metaphor of the brain as computer and employs an engineerig term, "kluge", to say just how effective a computer he thinks it is. According to Marcus, a kluge is an effective, but inelegant solution to a problem. Seen this way, most of the difficulties that we...more
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