'Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind' Review


I just re-read the book ‘Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind’ by Gary Marcus. I read this book in 2010 and I remember that it had an impact on me when I initially read it so I wanted to read it again to refresh my memory. The book has been authored by Gary Marcus who is a cognitive scientist, he’s an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at New York University and Director of the NYU Infant Language Center which is where he studies evolution, language, and cognitive development. I’ve watched a few interviews with him recently, I really enjoyed his interview conducted by Nikola Danaylov from ‘Singularity’ Youtube channel which I highly recommend (discovering this channel was discovering a gold mine). From the interviews I’ve found Gary Marcus to be charismatic, grounded and brilliant which is evident throughout the book. I believe this is what makes this book such a great read, I love his positive conversational, humorous writing-style, it provides a humanistic aspect which I find is sometimes lacking in non-fictional work.

The title of the book has been derived from Marcus’ analogy of the human mind to that of an engineer’s term ‘Kluge’. Kluge is a ‘clumsy or inelegant – yet surprisingly effective – solution to a problem’. The book advocates that evolution fashioned our brain with a patchwork of traits and attributes based on humanity’s genetic propagation. Evolution has pieced together a hodge podge of these traits that are ‘good enough for survival’ to create a far from perfect being. The book explores and provides examples of the ways in which the human mind, while capable in wondrous feats, still stumbles on certain areas such as in memory, decision making and language.

What I like so much about this book is that it removes man from the pedestal in which we so often put ourselves upon. The theories in this book are not something we should despair, if we know where our pitfalls are we can learn and improve upon them. After reading this book I found myself more consciously aware and control of my mental thoughts and lot more understanding in the actions of others. Being consciously aware of when our primitive, ancestral brain kicks in we can override this mentally with our more deliberative reasoning faculties. Perhaps practicing this, the tendencies that span from our deliberative brain will evolve to become instinctive and automatic which is optimistic and will pave the way to a more evolved mind.

There have been reviews that indicate that this book is “A shot across the bow of intelligent design.” (Kirkus Reviews). The book doesn’t aggressively refute the creationist view and that is evident in the positive and non-prejudice writing style. The title ‘Kluge’ is evidence alone and if it did aggressively preach and refute the creationist view it has created a paradox with the title. Kluge by definition is an inelegant, inefficient, clumsy patchwork that succeeds in solving a specific problem and performing a particular task. In relation to the mind, this definition would contend that makeshift, patchwork biological configurations were created for a particular purpose or reason, this would support the idea of a divine creator. However, I don’t believe we should place too much prominence on the term ‘Kluge’. I highly doubt that the engineering term ‘Kluge’ was meant to be coined and appropriated as a new neurological scientific term. I believe it was meant to be ironic and a humorous analogy to describe the human mind and to provide us with a unique perspective of how we view our mind. Marcus states “recognizing a kluge, and how it might be improved upon sometimes require thinking outside the box.” Perhaps, when we see ourselves in a more humbling light with all our flaws, quirks and eccentricities then can we learn to fully understand our mind and improve upon it. This book is enlightening, engaging and liberating, I highly recommend it.

More Information:
Gary Marcus - The New Yorker

Brain Mechanic Illustration by Robbie Porter

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