Synopses & Reviews
How the accidents of evolution created our quirky, imperfect minds; and what we can do about it.
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 a kluge, a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. He unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the human mind (think duct tape, not supercomputer) that sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.
Taking us on a tour of the fundamental areas of human experience: memory, belief, decision-making, language, and happiness, Marcus reveals the myriad ways our minds fall short. He examines why people often vote against their own interests, why money can't buy happiness, why leaders often stick to bad decisions, and why a sentence like "people people left left" ties us into knots even though it's only four words long. He also offers surprisingly effective ways to outwit our inner kluge; for example, always consider alternative explanations, make contingency plans, and beware the vivid, personal anecdote. Throughout, he shows how only evolution, haphazard and undirected, could have produced the minds we humans have, while making a brilliant case for the power and usefulness of imperfection.
"Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, even war? We can thank evolution, Marcus says, which can only tinker with structures that already exist, rather than create new ones: 'Natural selection... tends to favor genes that have immediate advantages' rather than long-term value. Marcus (The Birth of the Mind), director of NYU's Infant Language Learning Center, refers to this as 'kluge,' a term engineers use to refer to a clumsily designed solution to a problem. Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is 'contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest....' The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which seems to have no adaptive purpose. In a concluding chapter, Marcus offers a baker's dozen of suggestions for getting around the brain's flaws and achieving 'true wisdom.' While some are self-evident, others could be helpful, such as 'Whenever possible, consider alternate hypotheses' and 'Don't just set goals. Make contingency plans.' Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In witty, easy-to-digest prose, Marcus lays out his theory that our mind often fails us...and is subject to irrational emotions, moods, and desires." Very Short List
"[W]holly accessible to the nonspecialist but likely to attract those already acquainted with amygdala, gyral cortex and other landmarks in the cerebral map....A meaty little book." Kirkus Reviews
A New York University psychologist argues that the mind is a "kluge"-a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption-as he ponders the accidents of evolution that caused this structure and what we can do about it.
How is it that we can recognize photos from our high school yearbook decades later, but cannot remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday? And why are we inclined to buy more cans of soup if the sign says "LIMIT 12 PER CUSTOMER" rather than "LIMIT 4 PER CUSTOMER?" In Kluge,
Gary Marcus argues convincingly that our minds are not as elegantly designed as we may believe. The imperfections result from a haphazard evolutionary process that often proceeds by piling new systems on top of old onesand those systems dont always work well together. The end product is a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. Taking us on a tour of the essential areas of human experiencememory, belief, decision making, language, and happinessMarcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the evolution of the human mind and simultaneously sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.
About the Author
Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Infant Language Learning Center. A high school dropout, Marcus received his Ph.D. at age twenty-three from MIT, where he was mentored by Steven Pinker. He was a tenured professor by age thirty. The author of The Birth of the Mind and editor of the Norton Psychology Reader, he has been a fellow at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, and other major publications.
Table of Contents
Contents 1 Remnants of History 1 2 Memory 18 3 Belief 40 4 Choice 69 5 Language 95 6 Pleasure 123 7 Things Fall Apart 144 8 True Wisdom 161
Acknowledgments 177 Notes 179 References 187 Index 203