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How the Mind Works | [Steven Pinker]

How the Mind Works

In this delightful, acclaimed bestseller, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists tackles the workings of the human mind. What makes us rational—and why are we so often irrational? How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness?
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Publisher's Summary

In this delightful, acclaimed best seller, one of the world’s leading cognitive scientists tackles the workings of the human mind. What makes us rational—and why are we so often irrational? How do we see in three dimensions? What makes us happy, afraid, angry, disgusted, or sexually aroused? Why do we fall in love? And how do we grapple with the imponderables of morality, religion, and consciousness?

How the Mind Works synthesizes the most satisfying explanations of our mental life from cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and other fields to explain what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and contemplate the mysteries of life. This new edition of Pinker’s bold and buoyant classic is updated with a new foreword by the author.

©2011 Steven Pinker (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Undeniably brilliant.” (Newsday)

"Big, brash, and a lot of fun.” (Time)

“Hugely entertaining.... always sparkling and provoking.” (Wall Street Journal)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    David Kennewick, WA, United States 12-11-11
    David Kennewick, WA, United States 12-11-11 Member Since 2008
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    "Excellent, but a difficult listen."
    What made the experience of listening to How the Mind Works the most enjoyable?

    Pinker answers a lot of questions about how and why people think the way they do. As always, he doesn't just make assertions, he backs everything up by explaining the state of the research and the ideas of the researchers in the field (even when those ideas are different from his). It's a much easier read than actual research papers, and has wit and good story telling to leven the large doses of information, but it's not easy to follow when listening. It requires a lot of concentration or you can do what I did and just listen to everything twice, sometimes three times, until you get it.

    If you consider yourself an intellectual, you'll want to be familiar with Stephen Pinker's work. The Better Angels of our Nature, and The Blank Slate are easier to pick up just listening once so I would recommend one of those as a place to start.

    This book was written more than 10 years ago. It's holding up very well though and an afterword written only a couple of years ago is included which explains how recent research relates to the book.


    71 of 73 people found this review helpful
  •  
    SANTIAGO 04-14-12
    SANTIAGO 04-14-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Misleading book title"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, I'd definitively recommend it to friends. The book is very interesting, but Pinker got the title wrong. The book explains very well WHAT the mind works, and WHY does it make sense that the mind does what it does. But the book NEVER explains HOW the mind does it.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The most interesting is the variety of topics covered in the book. Full with interesting specific cases and references to studies.

    The least interesting is the lack of substance in the theory of How the mind works. Pinker basically pushes 3 ideas through: 1) natural selection, 2) the mind is made up of organs like the rest of the body, 3) the analogy of the mind as a computational device

    As much as those ideas are interesting, they are old and well accepted. So, the book is just a nice way to put them together, but without bringing any new argument to the discussion.


    What about Mel Foster’s performance did you like?

    The performance of Mel Foster was outstanding.


    29 of 31 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Highland Park, IL, United States 04-30-12
    David Highland Park, IL, United States 04-30-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Classic!"

    This is one of my favorite books, and the audio format does not disappoint. If you're interested about human nature, why we are the way we are, why we're so smart, why we're conscious, and even why fools fall in love, this book is for you. (But be warned, this book is for people who like to think; don't expect to breeze through it like a malcom gladwell book.) Also, one recommendation: unless you're really interested in visual perception, I would recommend skipping the chapter called "The Mind's Eye," as it is hard to follow in audio format without the pictures, and it is the most technical chapter.

    20 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 07-06-12
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 07-06-12 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

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    "Classic Pinker"

    In this wonderfully informative and entertaining book on the human thought process, the source of emotions, sexual desire and everything else this marvelous three pound lump of spam in our head does for us, Pinker writes in the intelligent but amazingly amusing and witty style that makes him one of the greatest translators of complex science into lay terms, in the main because he does so without compromising or dumbing-down in the process. It is no wonder that this man is considered one of the greatest minds of our time. Buy the book and find out how his, and everyone else's works--and why.

    10 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Stuart auckland, New Zealand 09-10-12
    Stuart auckland, New Zealand 09-10-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Loved it"
    Would you listen to How the Mind Works again? Why?

    Yes, there's. Lot in here, some 25 hours worth of listening, and I want to come ack and listen to some things again!


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How the Mind Works?

    The development of the sexual brain the differences in the sexual mind was very interesting indeed. It's easy to forget out behaviour and preferences were actually established during our extended hunter gatherer lifestyle, and how this fashioned our behaviour from an evolutionary perspective


    Have you listened to any of Mel Foster’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Easy to listen to. Always run at 1.5x


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Certainly made me think.


    Any additional comments?

    Love Steven Pinker, and would like to just read more. It's so refreshing to hear all the concepts related back to actual studies! I enjoyed this as much as the Blank Slate, possibly more.

    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Eleanor Natick, MA, United States 09-14-12
    Eleanor Natick, MA, United States 09-14-12 Member Since 2012
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    "There are so many better books on this topic"
    Any additional comments?

    I got this audiobook on sale for $4.95 and probably wouldn't have gotten it otherwise. I really liked Eagleman's Incognito, Lehrer's How We Decide, Nørretranders' User Illusion and even Kahneman's plodding Thinking Fast and Slow, so How the MInd Works seemed like a good fit. The author is not particularly interested in how the mind actually works (and when he does talk about the mechanisms of thinking, he gets terribly bogged down in computer programming minutiae). The book is actually about evolutionary biology, and Pinker spends a huge amount of the book bashing feminists and sociologists. The book was written in the 90's, so the author had probably been on the receiving end of a lot of fuzzy thinking about everything being socially constructed, but his harping makes the book seem incredibly dated (especially compared to the User Illusion, which still seems very fresh). I would also say that as the mother of a truck-loving toddler girl who has been told by other mothers that "girls don't like trucks," I see gender roles being socially constructed every day.

    33 of 40 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Craig Campbell austin, TX United States 12-15-12
    Craig Campbell austin, TX United States 12-15-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Covered a world of territory with the mind"
    What did you love best about How the Mind Works?

    Based on scientifically determined information with a clear examples of the scientific method.


    What three words best describe Mel Foster’s performance?

    Performance is difficult in a work of this sort which presents a lot of scientific information. Difficult territory, meticulous, and matter of fact.


    Any additional comments?

    Summarizes a lot of material and information without tying all together, but that may be a function of the information which doesn't fit into a neat easily summarized comprehensive thesis.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Defoe Saginaw, MI United States 11-12-12
    D. Defoe Saginaw, MI United States 11-12-12 Member Since 2012

    david25937

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    "Misleading Title"
    What would have made How the Mind Works better?

    The book started out good and seemed to be on topic. Not long into the book it was no longer about the mind. This should have been titled "An Argument for Evolution and Natural Selection". Never seemed to get back to how the mind works. After hours and hours of why birds have wings and how we grew eyes I just shut if off.


    Any additional comments?

    If you want a good book on Natural Selection this is a great listen. If you want a book on the mind look elsewhere.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kevin 06-28-14
    Kevin 06-28-14 Member Since 2014

    Trying to support 1) the comparably smaller non-fiction selection and 2) the few here that are not misinformation. Got mind? Use it.

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    "Essential book on the mind. Challenging listen."
    Would you listen to How the Mind Works again? Why?

    My approach is to take notes/bookmark throughout the book the first time, so I can refer to certain sections in the future.

    Definitely has enough info in this book to be a textbook, but fortunately it is a more enjoyable read.


    What other book might you compare How the Mind Works to and why?

    Steven Pinker's other masterpiece "The Blank Slate" is still my favorite non-fiction. "How the Mind Works" is a more technical and challenging read/listen, but both are highly recommended based on their wealth of researched facts and arguments.


    Any additional comments?

    Probably the best way to absorb "How the Mind Works" is to read it. I found myself rewinding multiple times to re-listen to the more technical parts. Be prepared to exercise your mind, and you will be rewarded.

    For an easier listen, "The Blank Slate" is just as informative; it is more on societal impact of our understanding on the mind rather than the technical mind mechanisms explored in this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jose NaucalpanMexico 12-18-12
    Jose NaucalpanMexico 12-18-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Very interesting , still sometimes repetitive"
    If you could sum up How the Mind Works in three words, what would they be?

    Insightfull, Profound, Unstable


    What was one of the most memorable moments of How the Mind Works?

    The concept about the diferent modes that the brain processes information is interesting, still I think needs a little polishing.


    What does Mel Foster bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The narratives of personal experiences are very interesting when heard with the tone of voice of the person that experienced them.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It is a profound book with many concepts which I prefered digesting in various sesions. I listen to it while jogging and it was perfect.


    Any additional comments?

    Very detailed and most concepts are supported by examples, still there are some times that ideas were presented without too much support.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 38 results PREVIOUS124NEXT
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  • Christopher Wilton
    1/19/12
    Overall
    "Excellent But Long Winded"

    Having listened to "The Better Angels of Our Nature" with great pleasure, I was perhaps primed to expect too much from this earlier and equally lengthy audiobook. But where as the aforementioned kept my interest throughout, there are some parts of this book that are deeply, deeply dull to anyone but the specialist.

    The second six-hour block of the book is given over entirely to optics and perception, a subject difficult enough to grasp in written words, let alone being read out aloud. - As this section drags on it becomes more and more of chore to listen to, which is a shame because there is so much in this book worth listening to on both sides of that abyss.

    An editor with a bit more nerve might have insisted that Pinker truncate that section of the book which was clearly the author's person hobby horse, alas listeners will have to suffer for the sake of it.

    15 of 15 people found this review helpful
  • Jeremy
    Malvern Wells, United Kingdom
    8/1/12
    Overall
    "Excellent! Reverse engineering for the mind."

    With Stephen Pinker, you always get a lot of book for your bucks! This one is no exception.

    I expected a book about CBT and neuroanatomy. However, I found the first sections of this book unusual - a detailed reverse engineering of our misperceptions to uncover the tricks the brain uses in giving us meaningful information about the world in the form of 3D colour vision, stereo hearing, tactile sensations, heat, cold, pain etc. It is almost a book of AI about how you might go about building a brain from scratch.

    Yes, I liked his advocacy of the "computational theory of mind" - combined with the "selfish" gene centred model of evolution. This has rich explanatory power, and he is at pains to show how it differs from the prevalent "academic" view of the SSSM (Standard Social Sciences Model), based on the mind as a blank slate.

    My only gripe with him here is that many of his evolutionary examples were a bit cliched - I wish he had tackled some of the more problematic areas of the theory such as the adaptive value of homosexuality, suicide, empathy etc. To be fair, he did do a whole section on altruism.

    Perhaps the best bits for me were his detailed analyses of humour and music, not as adaptations, but as biproducts of other adaptive modules like language and status - ways we found to tweak our brain physiology in pleasurable directions, and which we thus developed. He also looks at free will, religion, "the hard problem" of consciousness, and every aspect of what it is to be human.

    If you like Pinker's down to earth scientific approach, as I do, this book gives a very interesting perspective on the sometimes odd way our minds work, to envisage the world. Some parts are very detailed, and your interest may sag at times, but the pace and interest soon pick up.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • F Gibb
    Dumfries
    5/23/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A Good Work- but hard work!"

    I'm giving it four stars because I think it's a four star book. I didn't enjoy it as much as that, but I think that that is more a measure of me than of the book.

    Now I know I'm not thick, and I work in a profession where a basic working knowledge of the mind is part of the territory. But many parts of the book were beyond me. That's not to say they weren't well written- they were. And it's not to say that they weren't valid and important- they were. They were just hard concepts that needed concentration- and it was hard for me to remain focussed.
    It's not a book to get if you are new to the field; and not a book to listen to while you are in the car (as I tried to do). If you lose the thread it's hard to pick it back up again. But after much rewinding of sections, I got to the end. I feel like it has done me good, and I may give it another listen after a few months of rewarding myself to easier digested ear-candy!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • MR
    Sidmouth, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "How The Mind Works"

    Very thought provking, full of facts and interesting new ideas, bur a little boring if read all in one go. A good book to take in small bites.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • DR
    United Kingdom
    5/30/13
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "the best book I've read about the way we work"

    This erudite Harvard professor explains in minute detail the functioning of the mind. This is achieved from first principles and evidence based.
    It gets better and better on the way through and is endlessly applicable to life.
    The post-script where he considers how the modern evidence has affected it is fascinating.
    There is a lot of detail but he explains to a non-medical audience in terms that are easy to grasp.
    I'm a doctor by training and wish I'd read this twenty years ago. Brilliant stuff.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Ross
    Faversham, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Fascinating explanations of human behaviour"

    This is a long book, but a thoroughly good listen, giving some fascinating insights into human behavior and make-up. If you are struggling with the first few chapters stick with it because the last 4 are worth the wait

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Wirral, United Kingdom
    7/10/12
    Overall
    "Far too detailed"

    ...for me at least.

    I wasnt expecting this book to be so detailed. I found alot of it just went over my head. If you are studying this subject then I am sure this is the book for you. If you are just looking for some thing to listen to while driving just to entertain then look else where. I had to stop after the first section.

    Well narrated and I am sure for the right person this is a 5 star book.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • T. Griffith
    London, UK
    7/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "I like this book.."
    Where does How the Mind Works rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Top 3.


    What other book might you compare How the Mind Works to, and why?

    The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Stephen Pinker refers to Dawkins' book in "How The Mind Works" and also uses his word "meme" a lot.


    What does Mel Foster bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    Mel Foster had a slow, thoughtful, melodic voice that I find very clear and settling. I could never read a book like this - I have to have it read out to me.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I re-wind bits sometimes and because it's so deep am not sure if I've heard that bit before and accidentally re-wound it/gone back to the beginning and heard it again or it is an actual repetition within the book. I don't mind though. The matter is so "meaty" that it's fine to hear it overlap. I am often out and about when listening to my books and if I cross a road, open a door or get served in a shop I need to either let something pass and admit I haven't heard it or wind back. Seven times out of 10 I will re-wind a bit. I'm not sure if I've heard this book through and started again but am still happy to keep listening. I always listen to an hour before I fall asleep and probably only catch 10 minutes of that before I've dozed off so should be able to listen to it about three times before I think I've caught it all.


    Any additional comments?

    I'd love to know what the author's voice sounds like but can totally understand why someone may not want to read their own book out. I used an mp3 player to record revision and my throat tightened up as if it had a noose around it..

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • David
    London, United Kingdom
    5/26/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Everyone should be familiar with Steven Pinker"

    Steven Pinker, a Harvard-based, evolutionary psychologist, is one of the world's top thinkers. You simply have to come to terms with what he has to say about the mind, language and human nature. His books are long. Having read some and listened to some, I'd say listening is best. This is probably his seminal work - it is certainly the one he is most proud of. I enjoyed 'The Blank Slate' and ' The Better Angels' more because they apply his ideas more widely to politics, history and society. But in this book he is developing his core idea - that the mind is a natural phenomena, a product of evolutionary change, and that if we understand how it has adapted, particularly during the millennia when we were hunter-gathers, we will appreciate both how remarkable it is and what its limitations as a tool for thinking and perceiving are.

    As other reviewers have said, it is very detailed. This is essential for Pinker to show how deeply he has thought about the issues and to display his command of the available research. Some bits will appeal more to some readers, I was more interested in the behavioural stuff about the way we interact with each other, than the way the mind interprets and uses data from our eyes. All in all it is a tour de force, which lives up to its title. I was utterly convinced by it and have accepted what he calls the 'computational theory of mind'. Now I want to read his crtics to see if there is a viable alternative view.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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