Naomi Sherer reviews...

Steven Pinker

front jacket

This is a description of the way science is attempting to discover the functions of our unique organ - the brain. Maybe it is not so unique. We just don't understand how it plays in our lives. The mind is as much a part of us because of natural selection as our extremities that make us a different kind of mammal. But it came about through natural selection not by some extraordinary engineer who figured out a design ahead of time.

"Of course, natural selection does not have the foresight of engineers, but that cuts both ways: it does not have their mental blocks, impoverished imagination, or conformity to bourgeois sensibilities and ruling-class interests, either. Guided only by what works, selection can home in on brilliant, creative solutions."

On the matter of complex design Pinker says: " Matter simply does not have an innate tendency to organize itself into broccoli, wombats, and ladybugs. Natural selection remains the only theory that explains how adaptive complexity, not just any old complexity, can arise, because it is the only nonmiraculous, forward-direction theory in which how well something works plays a casual role in how it came to be."


Pinker insists: does mean that our understanding of how the mind works will be woefully incomplete or downright wrong unless it meshes with our understanding of how the mind evolved.


The prose of this book is peppered with forceful metaphors and humorous antidotes that make it an interesting read as well as an informative one. He cites studies of scientists that illustrate advances in understanding of the functions of the mind. He quotes poetry and recites noteworthy comic strips. More often he questions the meaning of images and the use of pictures as concepts. We judge others by their actions which are caused by their beliefs and desires.

Pinker sees our ability to indirectly read other peoples minds as "our species' most remarkable talent." You'll need to read his paragraphs on just why this is so remarkable. The search for signs of trustworthiness makes us into mind readers and makes us avid consumers of gossip.

I love his development of child rearing and the evolution of the brat. I know of some first-borns and subsequent siblings who will be amused with Pinker's definition of tactics for survival while growing up. And you think our sexual minds are influenced by today's cultural acceptance? Maybe. Or not.

I was intrigued by the notes to each chapter and extensive references by which I could better understand his rationale. Read it and see.

Better yet, buy it to read and reread at your leisure. You will fill it with earmarks to refer to again and again.


book jacket HOW THE MIND WORKS
Steven Pinker


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