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VWN Product Reviews: Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

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Site Shop > Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind




Why are we subject to irrational beliefs, inaccurate memories, the desire for war? Well, according to author Gary Marcus, we have evolution to thank. Evolution can only tinker with structures that are already in place in the brain, adding new links and sections. It cannot redesign the existing structure from the ground up.

As a result, the human brain is the ultimate legacy system, with bodges, klonks, workarounds and kludges forcing it to work as a (mostly) cohesive system.

Natural selection... tends to favour genes that have immediate advantages rather than long-term value, so even the workarounds have ended up with workarounds. Marcus, director of New York University?s Infant Language Learning Centre, calls the human brain a kluge, the same term used in engineering to indicate a clumsily designed solution to a problem.

Thus, memory developed in our prehominid ancestry to respond with immediacy, rather than accuracy; one result is erroneous eyewitness testimony in courtrooms. In describing the results of studies of human perception, cognition and beliefs, Marcus encapsulates how the mind is contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals, and simple self-interest.

The mind's fragility, he says, is demonstrated by mental illness, which is not an adaptive purpose to coping with any situation, but rather, the occurrence of a broken kludge. Marcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the human mind - think duct tape, not supercomputer.

Wrapping the book up, Marcus offers dozens of suggestions for circumventing many of the brain?s flaws. These suggestions, and indeed the preceding chapters, being excellent eye-openers for interface design and interactive psychology.

 

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