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«Discussion Review Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works, New York: W. W. Norton, 1997, xii + 660 pp., $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-393-04535-8; $17.00 (paper), ISBN ...»

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Chapter 5, "Good Ideas", concerns the evolution of reasoning and inference, categorization, and the concept of an object. As for categories, Pinker takes an

anti-Lakoff (1987; see Lammens 1994) stand:

Many anthropologists and philosophers believe that categories are arbitrary conventions that we learn along with the other cultural accidents standardized in our language.... But categories would be useful only if they meshed with the way the world works.... Mental boxes work because things come in clusters that fit the boxes.... Our theories, both folk and scientific, can idealize away from the messiness of the world and lay bare its underlying causal forces. (pp.

308, 312.) He does, however, acknowledge the existence of fuzzy categories (e.g., fish). He also discusses the so-called "theory of mind" theory, but he does not mention the "theory-theory"-vs.-simulation controversy.5 He concludes with a discussion of metaphor, concentrating on the two fundamental metaphors of force and spatial location.

Chapter 6, with another cute but opaque title ("Hotheads"), is about emotions.

‘Intelligence’ is re-defined (more weakly) as the "pursuit of [rather than "the ability to attain" – cf. p. 62)] goals in the face of obstacles" (p. 372), where the human goals are (1) "the Four Fs" (feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction),6 (2) "understanding the environment", and (3) "securing the cooperation of others" (p. 373).

Later (p. 541), he adds survival, which, along with reproduction, is more of an overarching goal: presumably, one feeds, flees, fights, understands the environment, and cooperates in order to survive. Intelligence requires emotions because not all goals can be pursued simultaneously: "emotions... set the brain’s highest-level goals" (p.

373). Among the "emotions" Pinker discusses are disgust, fear, happiness, love and altruism, self-control, and self-deception. As I noted earlier, despite his attempts to be a good evolutionary psychologist, he does occasionally get caught in odd (but natural) linguistic traps: In a discussion of altruism, he says, "The dispersed copies of a gene call to one another by endowing bodies with emotions" (p. 401, my emphasis).

Chapter 7, "Family Values", is probably the least satisfying chapter for those interested in mind in the abstract (but probably the most interesting lectures when Pinker teaches them!). The main topic is the psychology of social relations: roDISCUSSION REVIEW mantic love; the nature of families and kinship; parent-offspring conflict; the incest taboo; gender stereotypes, sex and its evolution, and the human mating system; the sense of beauty; the evolution of fashion; and war.

The final chapter, "The Meaning of Life", concerns the psychology of the arts, humor, religion, and philosophy, understood "within the theme of this book, that the mind is a naturally selected neural computer" (p. 521). Yet there is no discussion of computation in these pages, even though there easily could have been (see, e.g., Minsky 1984 on humor, or Duchan et al. 19957 and Ram and Moorman 1999 on narrative). The section on religion ("The Inquisitive in Pursuit of the Inconceivable", pp. 554–565) is a bit strong for the general public: I can easily imagine many readers bristling at passages such as this: "How does religion fit into a mind that one might have thought was designed [shouldn’t Pinker have said "had evolved"?] to reject the palpably not true?" (p. 554, my emphasis). To say the least, that religion might be "palpably not true" requires an argument.8

6. There are useful notes and references at the end of the book, but the index leaves something to be desired, e.g., the entry for "Qualia" refers the reader to entries for "Consciousness, Sentience", but there is no entry for "Sentience", and there is an entry for "Mentalese" but not for "Language of Thought", even though that’s mentioned on pp. 70 and 90. My professional proofreader’s eye only caught one typo (‘azslo’ for ‘also’, p. 361) in addition to the Pollock/Pollard confusion that I mention in endnote 3 of this review.

In sum, and despite my caveats, there’s a lot here, and it makes for fascinating reading.9 Notes 1 There is also an abridged, audio-cassette-tape version, read by one Grover Gardner (Audio Scholar, 1998; $24.95, ISBN 1879557509). As I write this, the paperback version may be had for $14.72 (including U.S. shipping) from http://www.kingbooks.com; see http://www.acses.com for the latest prices. Interestingly, there is a 1934 book with the same title, edited by Cyril L. Burt (New York: D.

Appleton-Century), with chapters titled: "How the Mind Works in the Adult: The Conscious Mind", by Burt; "The Unconscious Mind", by Ernest Jones; "How the Mind Works in the Child: Problems in the Development of the Child", by Emanuel Miller; "Problems in the Treatment of the Child", by William Moodie; and "How the Mind Works in Society", by Burt – no doubt a very different book from Pinker’s!

2 See especially Tooby and Cosmides 1992. For an independent discussion of evolutionary psychology and the debates surrounding it, see Mitchell, forthcoming.

3 The latter consistently misattributed as "Pollard" in the text, notes, references, and index!

4 For useful semi-popular expositions and critiques that can supplement Pinker’s presentation of this view, see McGinn 1999, Strawson 1999.

5 For useful overviews of some of these issues, see Duchan 1995 and forthcoming.

6 I first read this joke in an essay by Patricia Churchland, but I don’t know who originated it; Pinker doesn’t explain it.

7 See Graesser and Bowers 1996 for the M&M review.

8 And, in any case, Stanislaw Lem’s 1971 science-fiction story "Non Serviam" – which should be required reading for all researchers in artificial life (ALife) – suggests how religion can be provided an evolutionary and computational explanation; briefly, in the story, ALife "personoids" evolve reliW.J. RAPAPORT gious beliefs about their creator (who is, in fact, their programmer). Also, Thalos 1998 argues that belief in God serves an evolutionary purpose in stimulating cooperation.

9 I am grateful to my colleague Mariam Thalos for comments on an earlier version of this review.

References Astington, Janet W., Harris, Paul L., and Olson, David R., eds. (1988), Developing Theories of Mind, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Dennett, Daniel C. (1971), ‘Intentional Systems’, Journal of Philosophy 68, pp. 87–106; reprinted in Daniel C. Dennett, Brainstorms (Montgomery, VT: Bradford Books), pp. 3–22.

Dretske, Fred I. (1981), Knowledge and the Flow of Information, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Duchan, Judith Felson (1995), Review of Whiten 1991, Minds and Machines 5, pp. 115–120.

Duchan, Judith Felson (forthcoming), Review of Astington et al. 1988, Wellman 1990, and Frye and Moore 1991, Minds and Machines.

Duchan, Judith F., Bruder, Gail A., and Hewitt, Lynne E. (eds.) (1995), Deixis in Narrative: A Cognitive Science Perspective, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Fodor, Jerry A. (1980), ‘Methodological Solipsism Considered as a Research Strategy in Cognitive Psychology’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, pp. 63–109.

Frye, Douglas, and Moore, Chris, eds. (1991), Children’s Theories of Mind: Mental States and Social Understanding, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Graesser, Arthur C., and Bowers, Cheryl A. (1996), Review of Duchan et al. 1995, Minds and Machines 6, pp. 395–399.

Julesz, Bela (1971), Foundations of Cyclopean Perception, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kemmerer, David (1995), Review of Pinker 1994, Minds and Machines 5, pp. 411–417.

Lakoff, George (1987), Woman, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lammens, Johan M. (1994), Review of Lakoff 1987, Minds and Machines 4, pp. 115–122.

Lem, Stanislaw (1971), ‘Non Serviam’, in Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum, trans. by M. Kandel (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979).

McCulloch, Warren S., and Pitts, Walter H. (1943), ‘A Logical Calculus of the Ideas Immanent in Nervous Activity’, Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 7, pp. 115–133; reprinted in Warren S.

McCulloch, Embodiments of Mind Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1965), pp. 19–39.

McGinn, Colin (1993), Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

McGinn, Colin (1999), ‘Can We Ever Understand Consciousness?’, New York Review of Books (10 June 1999), pp. 44–48; available online at http://nybooks.com/nyrev/WWWarchdisplay.cgi?


Minsky, Marvin (1984), ‘Jokes and Their Relation to the Cognitive Unconscious’, in Lucia Vaina and Jaakko Hintikka, eds., Cognitive Constraints on Communication: Representations and Processes, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

Mitchell, Melanie (forthcoming), ‘Can Evolution Explain How the Mind Works? A Review of the Evolutionary Psychology Debates’, Complexity; preprint available at http://www.santafe.edu/∼m/paper-abstracts.html#ep-essay.

Newell, Allen, and Simon, Herbert A. (1972), Human Problem Solving, Englewood Cliffs, NJ:


Penrose, Roger (1989), The Emperor’s New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Penrose, Roger (1994), Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness, New York: Oxford University Press.

Pinker, Steven (1994), The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, New York: William Morrow.


Pinker, Steven, and Prince, Alan (1988), ‘On Language and Connectionism: Analysis of a Parallel Distributed Processing Model of Language Acquisition’, Cognition 28, pp. 73–193; reprinted in Steven Pinker and Jacques Mehler, eds., Connections and Symbols, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 73–193 Pollock, John L. (1993), ‘The Phylogeny of Rationality’, Cognitive Science 17, pp. 563–588.

Ram, Ashwin, and Moorman, Kenneth, eds. (1999), Understanding Language Understanding:

Computational Models of Reading, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rapaport, William J. (1998), ‘How Minds Can Be Computational Systems’, Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence 10, pp. 403–419.

Rapaport, William J. (forthcoming), ‘Cognitive Science’, in Anthony Ralston, Edwin D. Reilly, & David Hemmendinger (eds.), Encyclopedia of Computer Science, 4th edition, New York: Grove’s Dictionaries.

Searle, John R. (1980), ‘Minds, Brains, and Programs’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3, pp. 417– 457.

Strawson, Galen (1999, July 11), ‘Little Gray Cells’, The New York Times Book Review; available online at http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/11/reviews/990711.11strawst.html.

Thagard, Paul (1986), ‘Parallel Computation and the Mind-Body Problem’, Cognitive Science 10, pp. 301–318.

Thalos, Mariam (1998), ‘The Economy of Belief or, Explaining Cooperation among the Prudent’, American Philosophical Quarterly 35, pp. 349–363.

Tooby, John, and Cosmides, Leda (1992), ‘Psychological Foundations of Culture’, in Jerome H.

Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, eds., The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture, New York: Oxford University Press.

Wellman, Henry M. (1990), The Child’s Theory of Mind, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Whiten, Andrew, ed. (1991), Theories of Mind: Evolution, Development and Simulation of Everyday Mindreading, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Department of Computer Science & Engineering, WILLIAM J. RAPAPORT Department of Philosophy, and Center for Cognitive Science State University of New York at Buffalo Buffalo, NY 14260-2000, U.S.A.

E-mail: rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu

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