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

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Overview

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 how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity.

A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history.

Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations. With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When others exult in the wonders of the brain, its elegant design and optimal functionality, neuroscientist David Linden retorts, "Rubbish!" This Johns Hopkins professor refutes popular notions of the brain as a paragon of design by revealing it to be a hodgepodge of solutions shaped by the shifting sands of evolution. Dr. Linden argues that we owe many central human traits, including the search for love and desire for long-term relationships, to these scattershot adjustments. He insists that even our search for religious or scientific explanations can be traced to the brain's illogical development. An eye-opening inquiry into basics.
Publishers Weekly

The brain, that "cobbled together mess," is the subject of this lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories. Linden, a neuroscientist from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, offers "the Reader's Digestversion" of how the brain functions, followed quickly by the "real biology," before tackling the big questions: Why are people religious? How do we form memories? What makes sleep so vital to mental health? Which is more important, nature or nurture? Linden tackles these problems head-on, along the way debunking myths (people do, in fact, use more than 10 percent of their brains) and offering interesting trivia (Einstein's brain was a bit on the small side). Antievolutionary arguments are answered in a chapter titled "The Unintelligent Design of the Brain," in which Linden proposes that it's the brain's "weird agglomeration of ad hoc solutions" that makes humans unique. The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing 2 percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the "Hummer H2 of the body"). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in-and even chuckling over-the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Newsweek

More than another salvo in the battle over whether biological structures are the products of supernatural design or biological evolution (though Linden has no doubt it's the latter), research on our brain's primitive foundation is cracking such puzzles as why we cannot tickle ourselves, why we are driven to spin narratives even in our dreams and why reptilian traits persist in our gray matter.
— Sharon Begley

Nature

Linden tells his story well, in an engaging style, with plenty of erudition and a refreshing honesty about how much remains unknown. The book should easily hold the attention of readers with little background in biology and no prior knowledge of brains. It would make an excellent present for curious non-scientists and a good book for undergraduates who are just entering into the brain's magic menagerie. Even readers trained in neuroscience are likely to enjoy the many tidbits of rarely taught information—on love, sex, gender, sleep and dreams—that spice up Linden's main argument. The Accidental Mind stands out for being highly readable and clearly educational. No doubt, the human brain evolved along a constrained path and is, in some respects, designed imperfectly. Linden will send that message home...We still know too little about the brain's inner workings to judge how well it does its job. What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined.
— Georg Striedter

Times Literary Supplement

The majority of this book is an enjoyable neurosciences primer for the general reader. Evolutionary and psychological perspectives provide occasional insights about the mind, but mostly the subject here is the organ capable of conjuring it into existence. Linden makes clear that the physical substrate of our mental phenomena—the squidgy and haphazard mass of our brain—is a gloriously evolved muddle.
— Druin Burch

Choice

Many popular neuroscience books emphasize the brain's complexity using terms of purpose: this region is for emotion, that one for vision, and so forth, each interacting in a perfectly designed whole. This ambitious, engaging, and often irreverent book by Linden adopts a quite different perspective, instead emphasizing the evolutionary origins of the human brain...The book...end[s] with a well-argued discussion of the tension between neuroscience and intelligent design. The emphasis on evolution is laudable...making this book an important counterpoint to breathless paeans to brain design.
— S. A. Huettel

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

For anyone interested in a skillfully guided tour through the world of neural function,
The Accidental Mind is a playful yet academically informed work that addresses issues as diverse as intelligent design, the fallibility of the senses, the human religious impulse,
and the possible heritability of sexual orientation. Without overwhelming the reader with the biochemical underpinnings of neural function, Linden explores the role that neural design (structure and function) has in the explication of various human behaviors.

— Charles J. Alt

The Guardian

Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze [that is the brain].
— Steven Rose

Joshua R. Sanes
This is a terrific book that accomplishes its aim of presenting a biological view of how the brain works, and does so in a charming, fetching style.
John Lisman
This is the first scientific book I've read with "attitude." David
Linden is something of a Howard Stern shock jock and there's a lot of heavy breathing in this overview of brain function and the linkage between psychological and brain processes. Linden is clearly a thoughtful scientist and this comes through in his excellent choice of facts and theories to present. This is a very intelligent book.
Newsweek - Sharon Begley
More than another salvo in the battle over whether biological structures are the products of supernatural design or biological evolution (though Linden has no doubt it's the latter), research on our brain's primitive foundation is cracking such puzzles as why we cannot tickle ourselves, why we are driven to spin narratives even in our dreams and why reptilian traits persist in our gray matter.
Nature - Georg Striedter
Linden tells his story well, in an engaging style, with plenty of erudition and a refreshing honesty about how much remains unknown. The book should easily hold the attention of readers with little background in biology and no prior knowledge of brains. It would make an excellent present for curious non-scientists and a good book for undergraduates who are just entering into the brain's magic menagerie. Even readers trained in neuroscience are likely to enjoy the many tidbits of rarely taught information--on love, sex, gender, sleep and dreams--that spice up Linden's main argument. The Accidental Mind stands out for being highly readable and clearly educational. No doubt, the human brain evolved along a constrained path and is, in some respects, designed imperfectly. Linden will send that message home...We still know too little about the brain's inner workings to judge how well it does its job. What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined.
Times Literary Supplement - Druin Burch
The majority of this book is an enjoyable neurosciences primer for the general reader. Evolutionary and psychological perspectives provide occasional insights about the mind, but mostly the subject here is the organ capable of conjuring it into existence. Linden makes clear that the physical substrate of our mental phenomena--the squidgy and haphazard mass of our brain--is a gloriously evolved muddle.
Choice - S. A. Huettel
Many popular neuroscience books emphasize the brain's complexity using terms of purpose: this region is for emotion, that one for vision, and so forth, each interacting in a perfectly designed whole. This ambitious, engaging, and often irreverent book by Linden adopts a quite different perspective, instead emphasizing the evolutionary origins of the human brain...The book...end[s] with a well-argued discussion of the tension between neuroscience and intelligent design. The emphasis on evolution is laudable...making this book an important counterpoint to breathless paeans to brain design.
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences - Charles J. Alt
For anyone interested in a skillfully guided tour through the world of neural function,
The Accidental Mind is a playful yet academically informed work that addresses issues as diverse as intelligent design, the fallibility of the senses, the human religious impulse,
and the possible heritability of sexual orientation. Without overwhelming the reader with the biochemical underpinnings of neural function, Linden explores the role that neural design (structure and function) has in the explication of various human behaviors.
The Guardian - Steven Rose
Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze [that is the brain].
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674024786
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/15/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

?David J. Linden is Professor of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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Table of Contents


Prologue: Brain, Explained     1
The Inelegant Design of the Brain     5
Building a Brain with Yesterday's Parts     28
Some Assembly Required     50
Sensation and Emotion     82
Learning, Memory, and Human Individuality     107
Love and Sex     145
Sleeping and Dreaming     184
The Religious Impulse     221
The Unintelligent Design of the Brain     235
Epilogue: That Middle Thing     247
Further Reading and Resources     257
Acknowledgments     264
Index     267
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 30, 2011

    Very Highly Recommended - fun and educational

    The Accidental Mind is a thorough but highly accessible book about our human brains and how they came to be what they are. Clearly Dr. Linden knows what he's talking about and the names in his references comprise a who's who in neuroanatomy, neurobiology and other neurosciences. His research is thorough and rests on a solid foundation of the best in current scientific thinking. Even with my decent educational background, I found that I was harboring many clearly erroneous beliefs about the human brain. I was amazed to learn what a hodgepodge our brains are. Like most people, I had thought of the human brain as the pinnacle of evolutionary development and expected it to be perfectly structured and formed. Boy was I wrong. After reading this book, I think it's a wonder our brains work like they do at all. Aside from the fact that I think this kind of information is essential for understanding ourselves and our place in the world, it's a great read as well. Some popularizers of science are too dry to hold the attention of many people. Not so with this wonderful and entertaining book. Dr. Linden dispels myths about the human brain and helps us to understand not only what our brains can do but why they work that way. He explains these things in a very clear and readable style with a wry sense of humor. Even after reading a dozen more books on the human brain/mind, this one remains a favorite of mine.

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  • Posted April 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Brain Demystified with no nonsense and only science!

    Anyone who has an interest in how the brain works MUST READ THIS BOOK!

    I initially picked this book up because I wanted a scientific and authoritative look at dreams. While I was waiting for the meat of the book--the dream section for me--the entire book contains invaluable loads of information about the brain and how it works. Whats more is that the basic principles Linden points out can be applied to almost any subject relating to the brain--any book, and brain phenomenon your friend describes, and anything relating to the supernatural. One of the great things about this book is that it gives an evolutionary perspective on the brain, supplemented by scientific explanations and amazing case studies.

    In the beginning of the book, Linden lays out some basics about neuroscience. Granted, some parts can get a bit tedious to read, all of the information is relevant and necessary for understanding each of his following points. Linden makes sure that readers understand what he is talking about and has a handy index at the back if you want to review!

    He also ends the book taking an extensive look at evolution and its level of acceptance today, taking on "creationists" and Intelligent design.

    A must read for the scientific mind!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2008

    Fascinating read, not just for nerds

    This book is proof that even as complex of a matter as brain function could be explained succinctly and true to the facts. I liked that the diverse topics were joined together by a single theme, evolutionary biology. Also, in social gatherings I could impress quite a few with explaining the neurobiology of 'tit-for-tat'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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