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The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  691 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews

You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones.

To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the wi

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 31st 2007 by Belknap Press
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Description: You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones.

To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design--and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of h
Aug 15, 2015 Emma rated it really liked it
Linden's 'The Accidental Mind'explores popular questions of neuroscience in an educational, yet accessible and entertaining manner.

Judged purely by its raw data content, there is nothing new or revolutionary in this book (but then it was written in 2007, some of it might have been news 8 years ago).
Anyone with a fleeting interest in the subject will already have heard about most of the theories and neurological processes that the author discribes (theories about how and why we dream, possible ca
Oct 29, 2007 Brian rated it did not like it
I didn't really learn much from this book; the examples of behavior in animals and humans, as well as the description of brain biology and neurochemistry, were all things I have read about before in various other sources. The author tries to be witty, but I don't find him funny. The last couple of chapters are way out in left field: first an extremely speculative chapter about how the left cortex's predilection for creating a narrative to explain/justify what we sense of the world could be respo ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Mag rated it it was amazing
Linden sets out to prove that our brains more closely resemble inefficient clunkers reflecting millions of years of evolutionary tinkering, rather than sophisticated, well-designed and amazing intelligent creations. He discusses the structure of our brain from the lower evolutionary parts of the brain stem and cerebellum through the more recent frontal lobes and cortex. When discussing the brain’s design, he uses a cool example of a supermodern racecar built on the Ford T plan, in which nothing ...more
Apr 11, 2013 Merilee rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book by neuroscientist David Linden which describes how our brain has evolved kind of like one scoop of ice cream on top of another. There is no master plan, rather everything wonderful that our brains are able to do is the result of this jury-rigged Rube Goldberg edifice.
Interesting chapters on love and sex and sleep and dreams, among others.
Todd N
Apr 26, 2013 Todd N rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
Read this based on the strength of Compass Of Pleasure.

This is one of those Copernican/Darwinist/Hubble Deep Field science jobs that almost gleefully describes just what an insignificant, accident of a mess humanity happens to be. Some people might reach for their whiskey or their Bible, but I say, "Bring it on, Dr. Linden! Tell me what a poorly-designed sack of waffle batter my brain is, but please hurry before North Korea bombs us."

The thing is that a lot of brain science is still in its infan
Steven Peterson
Oct 18, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
David Linden's "The Accidental Mind" is a neat little book. He has two main purposes: (a) to write a readable introduction on brain science, accessible to nonspecialists; (b) to make the case that (page 6) `. . .the brain is an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff, which nonetheless works surprisingly well." As to the first point, this volume is a far cry from the magnificent work, Michael Gazzaniga's The Cognitive Neurosciences III: Third Edition. However, if one is not well steeped ...more
Chris Friend
Jul 15, 2011 Chris Friend rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lexi Lo
Jul 16, 2011 Lexi Lo rated it liked it
When reading a book like this, basically non-fiction, science, but written for the masses, I have very distinct criteria. Basically, I want the book to be engaging, fascinating, even fun. I want the book to make learning about the subject fun. If, while reading the book and upon finishing it, I'm sharing bits and pieces excitedly with my friends, I'm very satisfied.

I would give Accidental Mind a B- in this area. The discussion of sleeping and dreaming was most interesting to me, but there are a
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
I didn't love his section on gender and the brain. However, everything else was spectacular. This may be one of my favorite nonfiction science books of all time. Without a doubt, it is most interesting book on the topic of neuroscience that I have seen. Chapters one and two alone were worth the 5 star rating. From the tiniest processes to the large overall picture, Linden puts what we know about neuroscience together in the best possible way. If you remotely like brain science or evolution, you ...more
Alex Melnick
Nov 02, 2011 Alex Melnick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly well-written book on the biology and evolution of the human brain, for the non-scientific reader. Linden gets just far enough into the actual science to give an idea of what's going on.
"The brain is not elegantly designed by any means: it is a cobbled-together mess, which, amazingly, and in spite of its shortcomings, manages to perform a number of very impressive functions."
Sep 10, 2007 Eric rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Good, concise introduction to the topic, aimed at the lay reader but with some hard science thrown in. (If the hardcore biochemistry sections go over your head, that's okay -- they're easy to skip without losing the gist of the discussion.)
Jan 02, 2013 Gail rated it really liked it
Very enjoyable book about the human brain.
Freda Anderson
Jan 10, 2017 Freda Anderson rated it it was ok
This author tried to be funny but I really didn't feel like he was funny. It was like a book of stereotypical suburban dad jokes His style of writing mostly irritated me. HOWEVER, he did present a new way of thinking about the brain for me. Usually when I watch a documentary or read something about the brain, it is portrayed as this perfectly designed piece of genius machinery that keeps us alive. The way Linden describes it however, shows a more coincidentally functional side to the brain that ...more
Jul 11, 2016 Stuart rated it really liked it
First Impression: I picked this up in an attempt to learn about the brain from a different perspective other than the simple 'this is the brain' outline. DJL sets out to show us that the brain is not a beautifully crafted machine but more of a freak of nature and evolution. DJL certainly achieves this in 'The Accidental Mind'. There are very different levels of intensity involved in this piece though, I found that the subject matter depth fluctuated frequently and left me a little disorientated. ...more
Mar 08, 2012 Deb rated it it was amazing
*Accidentally human*

Wrap your brain around this book and you'll come away with a better understanding of what makes us human.

The author's mission in writing this book is to show how "almost every aspect of transcendent human experience, including love, memory, dreams, and even our predisposition for religious thought, ultimately derives from the inefficient and bizarre brain engineered by evolutionary history." (p. 27) And, with wit, wisdom--and at times, a lot of technical detail--he does just
Apr 28, 2011 Combo rated it it was ok
This book had some interesting insights and anecdotes. However, overall it was unfocused and of wildly varying rigor. For example, molecular genetics is discussed at a level of detail that would be more appropriate for the primary literature, not in a book intended to make a topic accessible for a general audience. At other times topics are discussed superficially; for example, the chapter on religion reflects the author's personal biases and presents little more than anecdotes illustrating the ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Tom rated it it was ok
Not surprisingly, "The Accidental Mind: How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams and God" didn't quite live up to its title. The book is fun, but the breakthroughs it describes are not that mind-blowing, and, from what this book showed me, neuroscience remains a long ways from even beginning to explain any of the items mentioned in the book's title.

In some ways, I thought this book was too close to being the lecture notes of a somewhat zany professor. The claims were too far-reachin
Jul 16, 2007 Dan rated it liked it
The thesis of the book was very interesting. Basically, he wants to claim (1) the brain did not evolve over time as a unified system but as a batch of specific systems, which arose at different times to deal with specific problems and (2) the interplay of these systems gives rise to some particular aspects of human consciousness/experience. So, for example we can understand dreaming better if we look at what purpose the dream system in particular might play, and then look at how our the consciou ...more
Jun 28, 2010 David rated it liked it
Most of the first half of this book is discussion of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. The author then flanges in a discussion on behavioral implications. Having taken an upper-division college class on the brain, much of the anatomy/physiology was review for me, but I found some good discussion on topics of nature vs. nurture (genetic, epigenetic, and learned behaviors) and how memory works. Oddly, he follows up the last two chapters with how this all plays into the evolution-creation de ...more
Alison Raman
Jan 25, 2016 Alison Raman rated it really liked it
I've been interested in learning more about the basics of the brain and finding reputable books to do so. This book was recommended by a bonafide neuroscientist as a simple intro to the brain and I am very happy I read it. It includes basic neuroscience with some actual science included, simplified to reach a broad audience, but not overly simplified. Linden explains the basic mechanisms of chemical electric signalling in the brain as well as the most common neurotransmitters, brain geography, a ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Paul rated it liked it
The book is described by the publisher as providing an evolution-based approach to some key mental processes..."*How* brain evolution..."

But the level of detail when the science of brain neurochemical processes are discussed is at a much more rigorous and detailed level than any evolutionary processes are discussed. True, there is an evolutionary frame, but that part feels more like a tertiary source than even a secondary source.

The last two chapters are interesting, focusing on evolution and i
Jun 08, 2011 Vicky rated it liked it
This book takes me much longer to read than I'd expected. Some parts of it are pure anatomy of the brain, its structure and the way the information processed. The chapter on Love and Sex is very entertaining. We really have some differences in male and female brain structures. The chapter on Sleeping and Dreaming uncovers the secret of dreams and at the end there is a part of Religion and the working of the brain. I am given myself a little more time to finish it. I finished it but with a lot of ...more
Mar 11, 2015 Alan rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-science
Ties in nicely with 'Your Inner Fish' which argues that the body is series of improvements with many organs and remnants from earlier evolutionary changes. In The Accidental Mind, Linden applies the same argument to the brain, an organ that is so often referred to as a perfect example of flawless 'design' but, for Linden, is nothing more than a "kluge". Enlightening, especially if your knowledge of neuroscience in rudimentary, like mine. The chapters on Sleep and Religion are well argued and ent ...more
Jan 27, 2011 Curtis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I dove into this book expecting more than it had to offer. The first portion of the book is very technical and rushed. It lacks the detail that would have been necessary to have the science make more sense to say somebody like me who doesn't have an in depth background in the workings of the human brain. The later half of the book is better once examples and studies come into play, but it wasn't mind blowingly great - as I wanted it to be. I like and agree with a lot of the points that Linden is ...more
Feb 03, 2009 Linda rated it it was ok
The book is based on an interesting premise - that our brains are not actually fine-tuned machines but a shockingly inefficient mess. As our brains evolve, new developments build on and layer over older pieces that we no longer use in the same way. The result is that we're intelligent despite the design of our brain (rather than because of it). Basically, our superior brainpower exists because our neurons outnumber that of any other species. So the research was interesting. And the title is atte ...more
Ravi Warrier
Jan 15, 2016 Ravi Warrier rated it liked it
As with most science related books, dumbing down a topic as complex and advanced as neuroscience is not easy. Linden has tried to make it as simple as possible, though he has admittedly stated that certain places he would need to speak in scientific parlance.
The book is very insightful, at least the parts that one can grasp, which is most of the book (minus all the chemical names of molecules, enzymes and hormones and bilogical names of certain parts of the brain and the nervous system). But th
Jul 20, 2011 Elizabeth is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Steve Woods
Feb 26, 2016 Steve Woods rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting book. It really opened up the subject for me and the understanding gained about the working of the mind from a neuroscience/biological viewpoint complements a lot of the ideas contained in Buddhist philosophy practice and meditation. While written for the layman I still found it pretty dense in places requiring very attentive reading and sometimes rereading just to make sense of what was being put to me. The book covered a broad range of features that are prominent ...more
May 11, 2015 Nour rated it really liked it
On the biology and evolution of the human brain.. as it's not the "miraculous organ" they've always used to advocate an intelligent design..
Reading this kind of book can set the perspective right and help us understand how we evolved the higher functions of our brains starting from scratch, and building on top of each primitive layer, and the result is not very intelligent as you'd think!
The book can be very detailed and dive into the molecular levels in some parts, but generally very interesti
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David J. Linden, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His laboratory has worked for many years on the cellular substrates of memory storage in the brain and a few other topics. He has a longstanding interest in scientific communication and served for many years as the Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He is the au ...more
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