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How the Mind Works

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  18,635 ratings  ·  587 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, 660 pages
Published January 17th 1999 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1997)
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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 son…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)

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Apr 16, 2010 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
Jul 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
I started this, listened to 3.5 hours of the audiobook’s total of 26 and simply couldn’t imagine continuing. The first chapter (2.5 hours), which the author calls an “opening brief”, can in simple terms be seen as an introduction. This introduction was not concise; it was rambling and consisted of mundane generalizations. It did not clarify how the book would be organized nor in precise terms what the author wished to show. Nothing enticed me to continue.

To better understand the field of cognit
Mar 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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 las
Josh Hamacher
Sep 29, 2010 rated it liked it
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 book was an amazing read!
I cannot get around the fact that it was written by one person, let alone one person with a lot of other books on the same topic, and yet more provocative each time.

I loved the detailed and comprehensive outlook on each subject matter.

It is not a textbook, It is a long essay that gives you a rational, up-to-date, coherent, general yet accurate, A frame for thinking about mind, cognition, and emotions, and also changes our day-to-day worldview about people in genera
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Brad Acker
May 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Lewis Weinstein
Dec 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
impenetrable, repetitive, useless ... did I say I was disappointed?
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Farha Crystal
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: steven-pinker
What parts of the brain create awareness? Are we really aware of ourselves? Why has the mind evolved to make decisions in the way it does? why do we really laugh at a joke? Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? Why does our brain drive us to enjoy sex? Why is the thought of eating worms disgusting? Why do paintings and music alleviate the hunger and thurst of mind? Why did we invent religion, music and art? How did these items adapt in the long run if it serves to nothing from an evo ...more
Jul 16, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Rita T
Feb 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One star less cause I didn’t enjoy the format, in which the chapters are very very very big, and are divided in sub chapters that are related to each other through the main concept. This makes it harder to grasp the concept from a bird’s eye view, and makes it harder to continue reading. The content, language, style, and conclusion of the book are as good as one could hope for.
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
Joshua Stein
Aug 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology, non-fiction
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
The title of the book should have read "How the Mind Works (According to Steven Pinker)." The picture he paints is not wrong, per se, but vastly overestimates the power of current cognitive modeling.

There is quite a bit of good material here reviewing computational theory of mind, modularity, evolutionary psychology, and related material in cognitive science written in Pinker's usual conversational style. However, I have to hop off the bandwagon at the halfway point on this one. Sure, computatio
The Laughing Man
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Pinker hits the bull's eye in this book debunking the ill arguments of the nurture front in the nature nurture debate, on his way relentlessly takes down feminism, noble savage theory, blank slate and on the side veganism a bit dealing crushing blows with solid arguments and facts. A must read for those interested in behavioral research and debunking the patchouli scented romantic arguments of the left. ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Language provides a window into the history of society, but this book also helps show how it has both formed and is a part of our consciousness and our own experience. I think a huge range of people would enjoy this book for many many reasons. Perhaps the only genre that would struggle with it would be possibly the very religious. Otherwise pick it up and have a read you are going to love it!
Marcin Milkowski
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is way too long, and the last part (about philosophy) is fairly ill-informed. The most surprising thing is that cognitive psychology is limited to perception and the imagery debate; no discussion of memory, very limited discussion of reasoning, not to mention planning or motor planning. For today's standards, it's outdated by David Buss's text on evolutionary psychology. ...more
Steve Granger
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent and comprehensive book as to be expected by the likes of Steven Pinker. Brought me back to my undergraduate days in psych. While any non-fiction science book suffers from the same uptake of advances in any field, Pinker did a great job at pulling together research that mostly lasts the test of time. Great read for anyone interested in the cross-over between biology and psychology.
Abu Hayat Khan
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: steven-pinker
there is two contending interpretation exists among academia on Darwinian Evolution: Gradualism vs Punctuated Equilibrium. they strikingly disagree on the question of “how a phenotypic trait evolves”. in gradualism (Richard Dawkins and others), any phenotype must have an Adaptive value (here the definition of "adaptation" is very strict, it means reproductive advantage only) i.e. a trait that increases the chance for more living offspring evolves slowly through selection pressure. on the other h ...more
Teo 2050


Pinker S (1997) (26:09) How the Mind Works


1. Standard Equipment
• The Robot Challenge
• Reverse-Engineering the Psyche
• Psychological Correctness

2. Thinking Machines
• The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe
• Natural Computation
• The Defending Champion
• Connectoplasm
• Aladdin's Lamp

3. Revenge of the Nerds
• Get Smart
• Life's Designer
• The Blind Programmer
• Instinct and Intelligence
• The Cognitive Niche
• Why Us?
• What Now?

4. The Mind's Eye
• Deep Eye
• Lighti
Jul 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Deniz Cem Önduygu
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: social scientists
So many great paragraphs that they make up for a few places where he gets lazy and spells out conventions. As the number of notes I took goes, this book is a winner; in addition to all its original content, it has the best summaries I've encountered of many complex ideas/theories. He is remarkably devastating against standard social sciences and postmodernist thinking.

The book may get a little monotone in the technical chapters, but it's a must-read for anyone interested in psychology, evolutio
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  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 some people who persist will
Paul  Perry
The best science writers have an understanding of the subject on which they write that is both deep and broad along with the ability to express these ideas in a way which is both clear and connects it with ideas and experiences that resonate with the general reader. Pinker is, along with Brian Greene and Sean Carroll in physics and Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins in biology, amongst the very finest of these.
It's been years since I've read this, so I don't reliably remember all the arguments in Pinker's book. I remember finding it very interesting at the time, but since then, I've become a lot more skeptical about evolutionary psychology.

I'm not actually sure that I read the whole thing, considering I can't remember much of it...
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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 explorations of human nature and its relevance to language, history, morality, politics, and everyday life. He conducts research on language and cognition, writes for publications such as the New York Times, Time, and The New Repu ...more

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