“Big, brash, and a lot of fun.”
“Hugely entertaining…always sparkling and provoking.”
“Witty popular science that you enjoy reading for the writing as well as for the science.”
New York Times Book Review
“Alters completely the way one thinks about thinking…its unforeseen consequences probably can't be contained by a book.”
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt - New York Times
“Pinker has a knack for making the profound seem obvious....A fascinating bag of evolutionary insights.”
“Witty popular science that you enjoy reading for the writing as well as for the science. No other science writer makes me laugh so much.”
Mark Ridley - New York Times Book Review
A guided tour of the inner recesses of your psyche, which looks less like the Freudian house of horrors than a house of mirror. Written with...literary flair.
The Language Instinct, Pinker demonstrated that the mind is structured for the learning and producing of language. Here, the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT widens his scope, explaining the structure of the mind in much of its emotional, perceptive, sexual, problem-solving splendor. He masterfully consolidates decades of research into an integrated "computational theory of mind" that encompasses the range of activities we ascribe to our "mental organ." The theory posits modules (or automatically triggered "agents") made of massively interconnected neurons firing in patterned sequences. These agents act as information processors that break down complicated tasks as diverse as detecting visual edges, finding footholds and feeling disgust. A new twist is the proposition that this system, like language, developed via natural selection to solve specific problems confronting our hunting-and-gathering ancestors. The discussion is thus split between describing how the computation of specific tasks might actually work, as the chapter on vision does superbly, and less computationally demonstrable and thus less concrete discussions of how emotions are adapted to group relations, or of the sort of data one considers when choosing a mate. Though clearly written, the book will be mistaken by few for high literature ("so far this might not sound much better than the barf-up-your-baby theory"), and, while Pinker deliberately leaves many fundamental questions about the mind largely unanswered (such as the origins of sentience and the sense of self), he has a gift for making enormously complicated mechanisms-and human foibles-accessible, and he offers a truly comprehensive vision of how number crunching allowed the seeing, hearing and feeling human parts to evolve within a wondrous, modularized and goal-directed whole.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With verve and clarity, the author of
The Language Instinct offers a thought-challenging explanation of why our minds work the way they do. Pinker, director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT, synthesizes cognitive science and evolutionary biology to present the human mind as a system of mental modules designed to solve the problems faced by our evolutionary ancestors in their foraging way of life, i.e., understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants, and other people. He brings together two theories: the computational theory of mind, which says that the processing of information, including desires and beliefs, is the fundamental activity of the brain, and the theory of natural selection. He suggests that four traits of our ancestors may have been prerequisites to the evolution of powers of reasoning: good vision, group living, free hands, and hunting. He believes that human brains, having evolved by the laws of natural selection and genetics, now interact according to laws of cognitive and social psychology, human ecology, and history. He considers in turn perception, reasoning, emotion, social relations, and the so-called higher callings of art, music, literature, religion, and philosophy. (Language is omitted here, having been treated in his earlier work.) What could be heavy going with a less talented guide is an enjoyable expedition with the witty Pinker leading the way. To get his message across he draws on old camp songs, limericks, movie dialogue, optical illusions, logic problems, musical scores, science fiction, and much more. Along the way, he demolishes some cherished notions, especially feminist ones, and has some comforting wordsfor those who struggled through Philosophy 101 (solving philosophical problems is not what the human mind was evolved to do).