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'Powerful and gripping... To have read it is to have consulted a first draft of the structural plan of the human psyche ... a glittering tour de force' Spectator
Why do we laugh? What makes memories fade? Why do people believe in ghosts?
From the acclaimed author of Enlightenment Now and Better Angels of Our Nature, How the Mind Works explores every aspect of mental life, showing that our minds are not a mystery, but a system of organs of computation designed by natural selection.
'Pinker's objective in this erudite account is to explore the nature and history of the human mind ... He explores computations and evolutions, and then considers how the mind lets us "see, think, feel, interact, and pursue higher callings like art, religion and philosophy' Sunday Times
In The Language Instinct (1994), 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. Author tour.