Monday, January 19, 2009

The human brain: Not perfect, but good enough

The Haphazard Construction
of the Human Mind
By Gary Marcus

Reviewed by Steve Mirsky
Found at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Furniture, self-confident, corner, adventuresome, chair, table, independent, television. Early in Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind, author Gary Marcus asks the reader to memorize that short list of words. He then notes, "What follows is more fun if you really do try to memorize the list." So go ahead; it'll take only a few seconds.

Marcus then tells a short story, the gist of which is: "Donald often sought excitement. He had climbed Mount McKinley, kayaked rapids, driven in a demolition derby, piloted a jet-powered boat. He had risked death numerous times, and was now seeking new thrills."

Now your assignment: Sum up Donald in a single word.

Chances are your word is adventuresome. But had the list substituted for adventuresome the word reckless, your word choice would probably be more pejorative. The snap judgment of Donald is swayed by information - the word list - that should be irrelevant. Unfortunately, your brain turns out to be alarmingly bad at evaluating individual situations truly objectively.

To read more of Steve Mirsky's review of Kluge, please click here.

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