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A 'kluge' is an engineering term for a makeshift solution, an inelegant construction that somehow works. This is Gary Marcus' analogy for the way the human mind has evolved. Arguing against a whole tradition that praises our human minds as the most perfect result of evolution, Marcus shows how imperfect and ill-adapted our brains really are. They have had to adapt from the environment of our early hominid origins to a complex world in which our penchant for short-term satisfactions is literally fatal. We are prone to rages, addictions and other habits that limit our capacity for rational action in every sphere, from food to politics.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780571236510
ISBN-10: 0571236510
Format: Hardback
(223mm x 142mm x 21mm)
Pages: 224
Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publish Date: 5-Jun-2008
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » A shot across the bow of intelligent design by a rising student of the mind.Marcus (Psychology/NYU; The Birth of the Mind: How a Tiny Number of Genes Creates the Complexities of Human Thought, 2003, etc.), a student of Steven Pinker's, ventures onto that scholar's territory in this work of pop science. The book is wholly accessible to the nonspecialist but likely to attract those already acquainted with amygdala, gyral cortex and other landmarks in the cerebral map, who won't find much that's new but will find familiar matters elegantly and entertainingly expressed. The construction of the mind, Marcus asserts, confounds any notion of intelligent design, which presumably should be, well, intelligent. Instead, the brain is a textbook example of a "kluge," which computer scientist Jackson Granholm defines as "an ill-assorted collection of poorly matching parts, forming a distressing whole." So are other parts of the body, Marcus notes. The plumbing of the male organ is much more circuitous than is strictly required, while third molars and aching backs speak to the vestigial inefficiency of our makeup. But it is the mind and its manifestations that most occupy Marcus, particularly the memory, "the single factor most responsible for human cognitive idiosyncrasy." Given that our survival hinges on being able to remember such things as how to operate a ripcord or a brake, it is strange that the memory is so faulty; chalk up our inability to find the car keys to layer upon layer of adaptive shingles on the roof of the mind. Just so, our propensity for doing harmful things such as smoking or drinking too much comes with a whole platform of rationalizations and denials, also helpfully provided by a few million years of primate evolution. Our kluge-ridden language, mixed up with "generics" and "quantifiers" and all sorts of irregularities, doesn't help matters much. Those wondering why we cling to inane ideas and have no self-control may find comfort in knowing that it's because "hot" brain systems dominate cool reason - thanks to which, Marcus notes, "carnage often ensues."A meaty little book. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Gary Marcus

Gary Marcus lives in New York, where he teaches evolutionary psychology.

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