Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

August Books 27) How The Mind Works, by Steven Pinker

I was really disappointed by this book. Pinker starts out by claiming that he will explain the origins of human emotions, aesthetics, and belief in the context of the latest findings of evolutionary and psychological research. He does not really succeed in doing so. It is a succession of moderately interesting research reports, linked together with a glue of neat one-liners (mostly other people's), but without really coming to a killer conclusion and indeed occasionally resorting to sheer polemic (eg on gender). The section on neural networks is particularly dull, especially as Pinker admits that living brains don't actually function that way.

I found precisely two points of interest in the book, both pretty tangential to the main thrust of the argument. First, of interest only to those who also know her, is that an old family friend is mentioned in passing on the development of children's minds. Second, of more general interest, is the observation that all cultures tend to design ornamental gardens with unconscious reference to the primeval African savannah - lawns and flowerbeds interrupted by carefully placed features. Rather a pleasing thought! This observation is not Pinker's own, but he does give pretty full citations for it which the interested reader can follow up.

I hear that Pinker's other books are better, so shall continue to look out for them though without particular enthusiasm.
Tags: bookblog 2009, writer: steven pinker

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