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Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,839 ratings  ·  180 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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Jul 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology, science
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”.
May 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fairly short & a very interesting look at how our brain evolved which keeps us from approaching anything like true rationality on a regular basis. He discusses many brain bugs, but from a different perspective than Dean Buonomano did in Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives. Marcus gives the evolutionary perspective.

Well narrated & enthralling throughout. Highly recommended.

Table of Contents
1-Remnants of History
- Under stress, our reasoning falters as the latest layer is deprioritiz

As this book suggests, the human mind is a mixture of inconsistencies. It can systematically plan and prepare, but it can also disregard those prepared plans in favor of immediate and short-term gratification. It can store and accurately retrieve memories, but it can also hardly absorb readily available information, and sometimes, memories which can be retrieved at one particular time can also be distorted due to subjectively retained external stimuli. In other words, despite its reliability in
Apr 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebooks
(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
Al Bità
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it

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
Nov 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cognition
Great idea for a book. Short read, big on ideas, and soft on data/supporting studies. I buy the narrative, especially after reading Jonathan Haidt's excellent "Happiness Hypothesis" and reading "Nudge" as well.

I appreciate the neuroscience and morality angle, but it's hard for me to disentangle this book from the 'Hypothesis.' I would suggest reading both to understand how your brain helps and hurts you, and steps to make it run a little smoother.
Jun 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Bob Lake
May 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-on-kindle
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
Nov 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Mar 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Beth Diiorio
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! ...more
Short and surprisingly straight-forward book. It reads kind of like a very pleasant introduction to experimental psychology. Much of the terminology and studies were familiar to me but put together in a fairly concise manner. It was somewhat uneven from topic to topic but otherwise well worth reading 4 of 5.
Yuriy Stasyuk
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Kludge spends most of its pages trying to persuade me that my brain is both the most complex thing in the known universe and yet, inescapably faulty and prone to error. It succeeds. I think. My faulty brain may be jumping to conclusions here. Gary Marcus makes a compelling case for his argument, that our brain evolved as an inelegant cobbled together system of patches over an existing infrastructure, that still works.

On a side note, this serves as a powerful argument against both creationism an
Andrew Jacobson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of nonfiction
This book offers insight into the haphazard way our brains work and the surprising inputs that challenge our objectivity and logic.

The information reinforces much of what I've already learned about topics like confirmation bias, priming, framing,

interesting quotes (page numbers from hardcover edition with ISBN13 9780618879649):

"Nature is prone to make kluge because it doesn't care whether its products are perfect or elegant. If something works, it spreads. If it doesn't work, it dies out. Gene
Jan 12, 2020 rated it liked it
The only thing haphazard is the content of this book. However, the reader gains a great deal of respect for the author’s research on observable scientific experiments and studies.
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
These book is really amazing.
Bart Breen
May 23, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Apr 29, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Feb 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nathan by: Dale Dougherty
I've read a few of these popular science books about the brain, and Kluge is the best of them all. He provides intriguing experimental result after intriguing experimental result. He's a product of his times, too--computer metaphors abound, from operating systems theory to addressable RAM. This makes it very readable for geeks, and yet not as lightweight as John Medina's "Brain Rules".

The only thing I'd have like to see would be a section on how to recognize and defeat these quirks in our cognit
Dec 04, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
This is a fun pop-psychology book. It contains descriptions of lots of quirks in the human mind. However, the analyses concerning why our minds do strange things, are rather shallow.

If all you want to do is spend an enjoyable evening reading a popular, "dumbed-down" book, then this one is the ticket. But if you really want to understand why our minds work the way they do, then I strongly recommend How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, instead.
Jun 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: folks who wonder why people do some crazy things
Recommended to Burt by: The Week magazine
Shelves: non-fiction
Evolution and development of the brain. Our brain is a Rube Goldberg device. Not cut from a whole cloth, but consisting of a series of additions to a fairly primitive base, our brain functions incredibly well, in the main, and yet, because of its, well, klugy, organization, it can yield some "half full/half empty" results, depending on the circumstances.

A bit turgid at times, this is a remarkable work that made me aware of an aspect of anthropology that I had never even considered before.
Aug 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Worth a read...most valuable part involves the 13 suggestions in the last chapter. We all need to consider how to educate our children more effectively, and I'd certainly like to learn more about the "Philosophy for Children program." Hats off to those parents and schools that are helping children to evaluate their own thoughts and beliefs and all of the information they are bombarded with in our technological age. We all need to address this challenge. ...more
Another nail in the coffin of "Intelligent Design" since any engineer that put together a project as ill organized as the human brain would be sent back to school.

It's a bit discouraging to discover how ill prepared the brain is to interpret and react to reality but the author does have 13 pointers in the final chapter that helps the hapless homo sapiens cope.
Sep 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: only those hardcore into the mind.
Real quick: first third reminded me too much of a book I just read - Predictably Irrational. But then it went on to interpret and analyze those findings in an interesting way. That's the good part, bad part is that some of the analysis is logically flawed. Overall, the book was an interesting read, but could have been much better. ...more
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Gary Marcus is an award-wining Professor of Psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Center for Child Language. He has written three books about the origins and nature of the human mind, including Kluge (2008, Houghton Mifflin/Faber), and The Birth of the Mind (Basic Books, 2004, translated into 6 languages). He is also the editor of The Norton Psychology Reader, and the author of ...more

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