How the Mind Works

How the Mind Works

W.W. Norton, 2009 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening


This complex, original work remains nearly as avant-garde today as when Steven Pinker wrote it in 1997. Using humor and a mostly lucid writing style, Pinker explains difficult concepts and theories that careful readers will grasp. These ideas include natural selection as it applies to the human brain, the computational theory of mind, gender differences, universal human nature and free will. He even attempts an ambitious, if ultimately unsatisfying, chapter on the meaning of life. Anyone interested in human behavior and evolutionary psychology will relish Pinker’s insights, whether they agree with him or not.

A debate rages about human behavior and why you do what you do.

Pinker details why scientists, including social scientists, agree that the physical body has evolved through a process of natural selection over millions of years. Pinker’s baffled that many thinkers, nonetheless, seem unable or unwilling to extend that process to the mind. He cites evidence from the field of evolutionary psychology and mere observation – for example, studying the near-perfect personality and mind match between identical twins (even those separated at birth) – that made him doubt that even the most vocal skeptics truly believe their own rhetoric.

The author argues that the notion that predetermined, innate genetics might dictate the formation of each person’s mind and, therefore, drive pre-determined behaviors feels grossly unacceptable. Such beliefs, after all, have led to spurious defenses against murder, not to mention racism and genocide. Nevertheless, the average human brain – a computational organ of immense complexity that evolved through millions of years of natural selection – resembles another brain just as closely as the average human body (allowing for differences between the genders) resembles another. This, Pinker adamantly asserts, is empirically obvious.

About the Author

Professor Steven Pinker teaches at Harvard University. He is a world-renowned expert in evolutionary psychology and a lead proponent of the computational theory of the human mind.

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