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How the Mind Works

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  9,750 ratings  ·  303 reviews
In this extraordinary bestseller, Steven Pinker, one of the world's leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what he did for language in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct. He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life. And he does it with the wi...more
Paperback, 672 pages
Published January 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1997)
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Kalliope

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...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 goodreads.com 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...more
Erik
Another Stephen, the late Stephen Jay Gould, is the hero of this book for me. Gould pointed out long ago that evolutionary explanations for human behavior are riddled with errors. We observe a certain behavior, then we tell a just-so story to explain how this behavior would have benefited our ancestors in the past and helped them to survive and pass on their genes. Sounds good and 'scientific' at first. The problem is that even if this is right, it isn't proof just to tell a story--you have to d...more
David
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
Michael
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
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
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...more
Rita T
Feb 05, 2008 Rita T rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Glenn
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
Erwin
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...more
Nicholas Whyte
"http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1289334.html[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
Joshua Stein
Oct 15, 2008 Joshua Stein rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Joshua by: Kent Anderson
Shelves: philosophy, mind
Pinker's treatise on the naturalist mind looks like a science textbook, but the combination of computer programming and physiology laid on top of sociological metaphors and applicable understandings makes it a fantastic read. His ability to diffuse archaic arguments about the nature of the mind without appearing argumentative is what defines him as a great academic, and his ability to explain things to individuals with only a high school education (like me) is what defines him as a great writer....more
Ben
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...more
Rakan
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
T.
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.
John
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."
Elliot
Pinker is the dilettante's greatest blessing and curse. He's written on every subject I've ever seriously considering studying, and marvelously: How the Mind Works is both an appealing popularization of major trends in modern psychology and cognitive science, and, if my amateur's knowledge is any guide, a great work of original thought and research in itself. This is a tough balance to strike, but Pinker, one dizzying (but necessary) chapter on logic gates and hypothetical neural networks notwit...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
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
Ryan
Jan 20, 2013 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with persistent intellectual curiosity
In order to understand ourselves and others in a meaningful and accurate way, we need to be informed on how the human mind works. Steven Pinker lucidly explains what we can know about how the mind works and why it happens to work the way it does. The explanations he presents are supported by fascinating experiments and observations from the fields of psychology, neuroscience, biology and anthropology.

Reading this book requires a fair bit of grinding, but I think that most people who persist will...more
Dawn
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...more
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...more
Gordon
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
Becky
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...more
Tony
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...more
Mike
This is really a great book. I've been a fan of Steven Pinker's since the "The Blank Slate", and he does an amazing job of distilling complicated technical subjects in a way that is easily digestible and interesting to a layperson like myself. The first section of the book, which analyzes how the brain is like a computer, is a bit of a slog. In some ways it was the most interesting for me, however, since everything he dealt with was new and cutting edge. If you get through that part the rest is...more
Sebastian Cruz
This book is amazing. I recommend everyone who loves psychology, neuroscience, and also philosophy. I recommend this also for people who are curious about why things are the way they are. This answers questions about why certain people think about certain things. I enjoyed mostly the chapter that mentioned how we would convince aliens that we are intelligent beings if they were to arrive. How they would differentiate us from cats and dogs and animals. It also answers questions about why robots c...more
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
Heather Browning
This was not an easy read and I was glad to be finished at last.
The content was fairly interesting. I don't agree with his strong leanings towards Evolutionary Psychology in terms of the strong modularity thesis of mind, or the Pleistocene environment of evolutionary adaptedness, but I think the push for evolutionary explanations of our psychology is a useful one.
My main issues were with style/structure. Pinker covers a huge range of material in a fairly haphazard fashion, with only minimal use...more
Jack Hansen
I learned so much from this book. Some of the information makes for interesting conversation, like, why we think people are beautiful, how our eyes set us apart from all other animals, and why men have a roving eye for other females. Steven Pinker utilizes the expertise of the world's best scientists in their fields to explain How the Mind Works.
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the mind 1 7 Jul 03, 2013 02:27AM  
Science and Inquiry: * August 2012 - How the Mind Works 152 189 Nov 23, 2012 10:38PM  
  • Consciousness Explained
  • Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are
  • Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain
  • The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
  • The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
  • The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene
  • A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers
  • The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
  • Mapping the Mind
  • Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul
  • The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do
  • Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality
  • Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind
  • Who's in Charge?
  • The Society of Mind
  • Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
  • Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life
  • Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human
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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
More about Steven Pinker...
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

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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.” 54 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.” 22 likes
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