14 September 2011

31st Update

Review Draft (Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus)

Arguing that our minds are not as elegantly designed as we might like to believe, Marcus suggests that the imperfections are the result of evolution's tendency to pile new systems on top of old ones - and those systems don't necessarily always work well together. The end result is a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled together contraption. In a tour of the essential areas of human experience - memory, belief, decision-making, language - Marcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the evolution of the human mind and sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.
- Kluge, Back Cover



The human mind is a mixture of inconsistencies. It can systematically plan and prepare, but it can also disregard those prepared plans in favor of immediate and short-term gratification. It can store and accurately retrieve memories, but it can also hardly absorb readily available information, and sometimes, memories which can be retrieved at one particular time can also be distorted due to subjectively retained external stimuli. In other words, despite its reliability in certain aspects of information processing and retrieval, it is actually a mixture of complex areas which oftentimes seem to work together in an intertwined manner—rational decisions can be influenced with the subjective preferences of emotions.


The human mind is not infinite in reason, but as the book suggests, it is more of a ‘kluge.’

A kluge is a clumsy or inelegant –yet surprisingly effective solution to a problem. The human mind is a fantastic kluge and it is a quirky yet magnificent product of the entirely blind process of evolution.

It was even compared to a brand of paper feeder which was described as

Accordingly temperamental, subject to frequent breakdowns, and devilishly difficult to repair—but oh so clever! It was possible to do better. It is a great metaphor for our everyday acceptance of the idiosyncrasies of the human mind, imaginably impressive, a lot better than any available alternative. But it’s still flawed, often in ways we scarcely recognize. For the most part, we simply accept our faults—as standard equipment. Recognizing a kluge, such as the human mind, requires thinking outside the box. The best science often comes from understanding not just how things are, but how else they could have been.

Nature is prone to making kluges because it doesn’t care whether its products are perfect or inelegant. If something works, it spreads. If it doesn’t work, it dies out. All else is metaphor.

In other words, the human mind as a kluge, is a product of evolution, if some of its functions don’t work effectively, the better functions stay in place and improve, while newer functions are developed to replace the ineffective ones.