In this extraordinary book, Steven Pinker, one of the world's
leading cognitive scientists, does for the rest of the mind what
he did for language in his 1994 bestseller The Language Instinct.
He explains what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us
to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the
mysteries of life. And he does it with the wit, clarity, and verve that
earned The Language Instinct, worldwide critical acclaim and awards
from major scientific societies.
Pinker explains the mind by "reverse-engineering" it—figuring
out what natural selection designed it to accomplish in the
environment in which we evolved. The mind, he writes, is a system
of "organs of computation" that allowed our ancestors to understand
and outsmart objects, animals, plants, and each other.
How the Mind Works explains many of the imponderables of everyday
life. Why does a face look more attractive with makeup? How do
"Magic-Eye" 3-D stereograms work? Why do we feel that a run of
heads makes the coin more likely to land tails? Why is the thought of
eating worms disgusting? Why do men challenge each other to duels
and murder their ex-wives? Why are children bratty? Why do fools fall
in love? Why are we soothed by paintings and music? And why do
puzzles like the self, free will, and consciousness leave us dizzy?
This arguments in the book are as bold as its title. Pinker rehabilitates
unfashionable ideas, such as that the mind is a computer and that
human nature was shaped by natural selection. And he challenges
fashionable ones, such as that passionate emotions are irrational,
that parents socialize their children, that creativity springs from the
unconscious, that nature is good and modern society corrupting, and
that art and religion are expressions of our higher spiritual yearnings.
How the Mind Works presents a big picture, but it is not a personal
musing; it is a grand synthesis of the most satisfying explanations
of our mental life that have been proposed in cognitive science and
evolutionary biology, with insights from disciplines ranging from
neuroscience to economics and social psychology. It is also fascinating,
provocative, and thoroughly entertaining.