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“A remarkable book [that] deflates the adherents of both Darwinism and intelligent design (ID) in one fell swoop.”
“Wit and scientific reasoning combine effectively in this argument against perfect minds.”
“A shot across the bow of intelligent design.”
“Using evolutionary psychology, Marcus educates the reader about mental flaws in a succinct, often enjoyable way.”
If you think your brain is perfect, think again…
MacGyver, meet Darwin
The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind
By Gary Marcus
Are we perfect, “made in God’s image”? Far from it, says the New York University psychologist Gary Marcus. In KLUGE: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind (Houghton Mifflin, April 16, 2008), Marcus argues that the mind is not an elegantly designed organ but rather a “kluge,” a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. KLUGE 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. Marcus believes that if people were the product of some intelligent, compassionate designer, our thoughts would be rational, our logic impeccable, our memory robust, and our recollections reliable.
KLUGE answers some of these key questions:
• Why do the things we pursue so rarely bring us happiness?
• Why are we influenced by irrelevant information?
• Why is language so complicated?
• Where do false memories come from?
• Why do we ignore or explain away evidence that contradicts our beliefs?
Marcus points out that evolution has resulted in “good enough” but far from perfect adaptations. The human spine, for example, is a lousy solution to the problem of supporting the load in an upright, two-legged creature. It would have made a lot more sense to distribute our weight across four equal, cross-braced columns. Instead, all our weight passes through a single column, putting enormous stress on the spine. We manage to survive upright (freeing our hands), but the cost for many people is agonizing back pain.
Taking us on a tour of the essential areas of human experience—memory, belief, decision making, language, and happiness—Marcus reveals the myriad ways our mind falls short. He examines why eyewitness testimony is so fallible and why we throw good money after bad. 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.
Arguing against a whole tradition that praises our human brain as the most perfect result of evolution, Marcus shows how ill adapted this organ really is. Having originated in the starkly different environment of the early hominids, the mind has had to adapt to our complex world, and its well-developed penchant for short-term satisfactions can be literally fatal here. We are prone to rages, addictions, and other habits that limit our capacity for rational action in every sphere, from food to politics.
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 23 from MIT, where he was mentored by Steven Pinker. He was a tenured professor by age 30. 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 Social and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, Los Angeles Times, and other major publications.