The Enigma of Reason

Narrated by: Liam Gerrard
Length: 14 hrs and 56 mins
4 out of 5 stars (186 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Reason, we are told, is what makes us human, the source of our knowledge and wisdom. If reason is so useful, why didn't it also evolve in other animals? If reason is that reliable, why do we produce so much thoroughly reasoned nonsense?

In their groundbreaking account of the evolution and workings of reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber set out to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue with a compelling mix of real-life and experimental evidence, is not geared to solitary use, to arriving at better beliefs and decisions on our own. What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us. In other words, reason helps humans better exploit their uniquely rich social environment.

This interactionist interpretation explains why reason may have evolved and how it fits with other cognitive mechanisms. It makes sense of strengths and weaknesses that have long puzzled philosophers and psychologists-why reason is biased in favor of what we already believe, why it may lead to terrible ideas and yet is indispensable to spreading good ones.

©2017 Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber (P)2017 Tantor

What members say

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but boringly redundant

Let's start with narration which is not very good. On the other hand I doubt that any other narrator could have done better with the circular redundancy of this book. There really is nothing new here. The final chapter which is 20 minutes in length summarizes the authors' positions on reason and reasoning well and is adequate. Worthwhile? Yes, but more so with far less verbiage.

16 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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reason is flawed but purposefully so

the authors make a solid case for the bias and laziness of reason to have evolved with the purpose of homo sapiens need to argue and defend their actions to others. since homo sapiens live in a highly social environment, reason should be considered another of the items in the toolbox that led to large-scale organization. beyond that, the authors convincingly portray reason as largely misunderstood and place it in its proper evolutionary perspective.

29 people found this helpful

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Reason after the fact

I believe there is a slow consensus developing in Cognitive Science as to how Reason fits in to our daily life, and it is contrary to the long assumed belief that reason is a precursor to a decision.

In this book the author further develops the theory that we all for the most part use reason to justify an action, and there is good evidence that even long thought out Arguments are biased, and reason is only used after the fact to justify ones position.

Very, very interesting indeed!

35 people found this helpful

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The case for Reason as an evolved module

I liked the depth the book gives to different psychological studies about how humans reason. How it explains reasoning with comparisons and it’s possible evolutionary path.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand why we can disagree even when undeniable facts are shown to us.

I gave it a 4 star rating because the first half of the book had what seemed to me as a complicated background. Necessary though, but a bit difficult for me maybe because I’m an engineer an not a psychologist. But after the foundations are laid, the books walks and guides you through the reasoning path with ease, while being very entertaining. the

10 people found this helpful

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An alternative to Kahneman's Thinking Fast & Slow

Like many others, I loved Kahneman's book and the System 1 & 2 approach, but Mercier & Sperber punctuates the theory quite effectively, and offers a convincing alternative, based on the theory of evolution. Their model will have a huge impact, not the least in education, business, and AI. It's a fascinating read.

16 people found this helpful

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the narrator ruins it for me

This book seems like it has an interesting premise but the narrator is really hard to listen to. I'm not sure if there are too many exclamation points or not enough. I couldn't make it through an hour of this one.

1 person found this helpful

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A remarkable book

This is a marvelous piece of work. It presents a satisfying interpretation of the origins and the workings of reason that undermines the dominant view that sees human reason as flawed. Instead it argues that what appears as bugs is really a feature, if you understand the interactive role of reason. It is about justification and persuasion, not about deductive logic. It is social to the core in its intention and actually in its implementation, with deliberation playing a key role. The presentation is masterful. The book reviews massive amounts of well known evidence that has been there for a while, but without a paradigm to interpret it. The book has radically changed how I think about fundamental issues.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Starts with promise and devolves into incoherence.

The authors make a promising claim about why existing models of reasoning are wrong or incomplete. They then fail to make a coherent argument for their alternative model. The jerky performance didn't help.

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Fascinating

I'm a software engineer who is interested in neuroscience. The way this book presents the understanding of reason and logic as "modules" is an interesting approach that I haven't seen elsewhere. I appreciate how the authors present the understanding of the material, almost always acknowledging alternative research or counter arguments. I also feel that this book has given me a deeper appreciation for why people think a certain way, even after being proven factually wrong (or at least given a solid argument against their belief).

Liam Gerrard is an amazing narrator in the audiobook.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Unique book I have ever read (listened)!!!

Has deep psychological analysis of human reasoning.
For sure not a casual read.
Leaves you with lots of thoughts to munch on and improves you Reasoning abilities