Friday, December 12, 2008

KLUGE - excerpt - not full text pdf

The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind

Remnants of History

It has been said that man is a rational
animal. All my life I have been searching
for evidence which could support this.

.Bertrand Russell

Are human beings .noble in reason.
and .infinite in faculty. as William
Shakespeare famously wrote?
Perfect, .in God.s image,. as some
biblical scholars have asserted? Hardly.
If mankind were the product
of some intelligent, compassionate
designer, our thoughts would be rational,
our logic impeccable. Our memory would
be robust, our recollections reliable. Our
sentences would be crisp, our words
precise, our languages systematic and
regular, not besodden with irregular verbs
(sing-sang, ring-rang, yet bring-brought)
and other peculiar inconsistencies. As
the language maven Richard Lederer has
noted, there would be ham in hamburger,
egg in eggplant. English speakers would
park in parkways and drive on driveways,
and not the other way around.
At the same time, we
humans are the only species smart
enough to systematically plan for the
future.yet dumb enough to ditch our
most carefully made plans in favor of
short-term gratification. (.Did I say I was
on a diet? Mmm, but three-layer
chocolate mousse is my favorite . . .
Maybe I.ll start my diet tomorrow..) We
happily drive across town to save $25 on
a $100 microwave but refuse to drive the
same distance to save exactly the same
$25 on a $1,000 flat-screen TV. We can
barely tell the difference between a valid
syllogism, such as All men are mortal,
Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is
mortal, and a fallacious counterpart,
such as All living things need water,
roses need water, therefore roses are
living things (which seems fine until you
substitute car batteries for roses). If I tell
you that .Every sailor loves a girl,. you
have no idea whether I mean one girl in
particular (say, Betty Sue) or whether
I.m really saying .to each his own.. And
don.t even get me started on eyewitness
testimony, which is based on the absurd
premise that we humans can accurately
remember the details of a briefly
witnessed accident or crime, years after
the fact, when the average person is
hard pressed to keep a list of a dozen
words straight for half an hour.
I don.t mean to suggest that
the .design. of the human mind is a total
train wreck, but if I were a politician, I.m
pretty sure the way I.d put it is .mistakes
were made.. The goal of this book is to
explain what mistakes were made.and

Where Shakespeare imagined infinite
reason, I see something else, what
engineers call a .kluge.. A kluge is a
clumsy or inelegant.yet surprisingly
effective.solution to a problem.
Consider, for example, what happened in
April 1970 when the CO2 filters on the
already endangered lunar module of
Apollo 13 began to fail. There was no
way to send a replacement filter up to
the crew.the space shuttle hadn.t been
invented yet.and no way to bring the
capsule home for several more days.
Without a filter, the crew would be
doomed. The mission control engineer,
Ed Smylie, advised his team of the
situation, and said, in effect, .Here.s
what.s available on the space capsule;
figure something out.. Fortunately, the
ground crew was able to meet the
challenge, quickly cobbling together a
crude filter substitute out of a plastic
bag, a cardboard box, some duct tape,
and a sock. The lives of the three
astronauts were saved. As one of them,
Jim Lovell, later recalled, .The
contraption wasn.t very handsome, but it
Not every kluge saves lives.
Engineers sometimes devise them for
sport, just to show that something.say,
building a computer out of Tinkertoys.
can be done, or simply because
too lazy to do something the right way.
Others cobble together kluges out of a
mixture of desperation and
resourcefulness, like the TV character
MacGyver, who, needing to make a
quick getaway, jerry-built a pair of shoes
from duct tape and rubber mats. Other
kluges are created just for laughs, like
Wallace and Gromit.s .launch and
activate. alarm
clock/coffeemaker/Murphy bed and Rube
Goldberg.s .simplified pencil sharpener.
(a kite attached to a string lifts a door,
which allows moths to escape,
culminating in the lifting of a cage, which
frees a woodpecker to gnaw the wood
that surrounds a pencil.s graphite core).
MacGyver.s shoes and Rube Goldberg.s
pencil sharpeners are nothing, though,
compared to perhaps the most fantastic
kluge of them all.the human mind, a
quirky yet magnificent product of the
entirely blind process of evolution.

The origin, and even the spelling, of the
word kluge is up for grabs. Some spell it
with a d (kludge), which has the virtue of
looking as clumsy as the solutions it
denotes, but the disadvantage of
suggesting the wrong pronunciation.
(Properly pronounced, kluge rhymes with
huge, not sludge. One could argue that
the spelling klooge (rhymes with stooge)
would even better capture the
pronunciation, but I.m not about to foist a
third spelling upon the world.) Some
trace the word to the old Scottish word
cludgie, which means .an outside toilet..
Most believe the origins lie in the
German word Kluge, which
means .clever.. The Hacker.s Dictionary
of Computer Jargon traces the term back
at least to 1935, to a .Kluge [brand]
paper feeder,. described as .an adjunct
to mechanical printing presses..

The Kluge feeder was designed before
small, cheap electric motors and control
electronics; it relied on a fiendishly
complex assortment of cams, belts, and
linkages to both power and synchronize
all its operations from one motive
driveshaft. It was accordingly
temperamental, subject to frequent
breakdowns, and devilishly difficult to
repair.but oh, so clever!

Virtually everybody agrees
that the term was first popularized in
February 1962, in an article titled .How
to Design a Kludge,. written, tongue in
cheek, by a computer pioneer named
Jackson Granholm, who defined a kluge
as .an ill-assorted collection of poorly
matching parts, forming a distressing
whole.. He went on to note that .the
building of a Kludge . . . is not work for
amateurs. There is a certain, indefinable,
masochistic finesse that must go into
true Kludge building. The professional
can spot it instantly. The amateur may
readily presume that .that.s the way
computers are...
The engineering world is filled
with kluges. Consider, for example,
something known as vacuum-powered
windshield wipers, common in most cars
until the early 1960s. Modern windshield
wipers, like most gizmos on cars, are
driven by electricity, but back in the
olden days, cars ran on 6 volts rather
than 12, barely enough power to keep
the spark plugs going and certainly not
enough to power luxuries like windshield
wipers. So some clever engineer rigged
up a kluge that powered windshield-wiper
motors with suction, drawn from the
engine, rather than electricity. The only
problem is that the amount of suction
created by the engine varies, depending
on how hard the engine is working. The
harder it works, the less vacuum it
produces. Which meant that when you
drove your 1958 Buick Riviera up a hill,
or accelerated hard, your wipers slowed
to a crawl, or even stopped working
altogether. On a rainy day in the
mountains, Grandpa was out of luck.
What.s really that most people probably
didn.t even realize it was possible to do
better. And this, I think, is a great
metaphor for our everyday acceptance of
the idiosyncrasies of the human mind.
The mind is inarguably 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 .such as
our emotional outbursts, our mediocre
memories, and our vulnerability to standard equipment.
Which is exactly why recognizing a
kluge, and how it might be improved
upon, sometimes requires thinking
outside the box. The best science, like
the best engineering, often comes from
understanding not just how things are,
but how else they could have been.

If engineers build kluges mostly to save
money or to save time, why does nature
build them? Evolution is neither clever
nor penny-pinching. There.s no money
involved, no foresight, and if it takes a
billion years, who.s going to complain?
Yet a careful look at biology reveals
kluge after kluge. The human spine, for
example, is a lousy solution to the
problem of supporting the load in an
upright, two-legged creature. It would
have made a lot more sense to distribute
our weight across four equal cross-
braced columns. Instead, all our weight
is borne by a single column, putting
enormous stress on the spine. We
manage to survive upright (freeing our
hands), but the cost for many people is
agonizing back pain.We are stuck with
this barely adequate solution not
because it is the best possible way to
support the weight of a biped, but
because the spine.s structure evolved
from that of four-legged creatures, and
standing up poorly is (for creatures like
us, who use tools) better than not
standing up at all. Meanwhile, the light-
sensitive part of our eye (the retina) is
installed backward, facing the back of
the head rather than the front. As a
result, all kinds of stuff gets in its way,
including a bunch of wiring that passes
through the eye and leaves us with a pair
of blind spots, one in each eye.
Another well-known example
of an evolutionary kluge comes from a
rather intimate detail of male anatomy.
The tubing that runs from the testis to
the urethra (the vas deferens) is much
longer than necessary: it runs back to
front, loops around, and does a 180-
degree turn back to the penis. A
parsimonious designer interested in
conserving materials (or in efficiency of
delivery) would have connected the testis
directly to the penis with just a short
length of tubing; only because biology
builds on what has come before is the
system set up so haphazardly. In the
words of one scientist, .The [human]
body is a bundle of imperfections,
with . . . useless protuberances above
the nostrils, rotting teeth with trouble-
prone third molars, aching feet . . . ,
easily strained backs, and naked tender
skin, subject to cuts, bites, and, for
many, sunburn. We are poor runners
and are only about a third as strong as
chimpanzees smaller than ourselves..
To this litany of human-
specific imperfections, we might add
dozens more that are widely shared
across the animal world, such as the
byzantine system by which DNA strands
are separated prior to DNA replication (a
key process in allowing one cell to
become two). One molecule of DNA
polymerase does its job in a perfectly
straightforward fashion, but the other
does so in a back-and-forth, herky-jerky
way that would drive any rational
engineer insane. Nature is prone to
making kluges because it doesn.t .care.
whether its products are perfect or
elegant. If something works, it spreads.
If it doesn.t work, it dies out. Genes that
lead to successful outcomes tend to
propagate; genes that produce creatures
that can.t cut it tend to fade away; all
else is metaphor. Adequacy, not beauty,
is the name of the game.

Nobody would doubt this when it comes
to the body, but somehow, when it
comes to the mind, many people draw
the line. Sure,my spine is a kluge,
maybe my retina too, but my mind? It.s
one thing to accept that our body is
flawed, quite another to accept that our
mind is too. Indeed, there is a long
tradition in thinking otherwise. Aristotle
saw man as .the rational animal,. and
economists going back to John Stuart
Mill and Adam Smith have supposed
that people make decisions based on
their own self-interest, preferring
wherever possible to buy low and sell
high, maximizing their .utility. wherever
they can.
In the past decade, a number
of academics have started to argue that
humans reason in a .Bayesian. fashion
(the term Bayesian comes from a
particular mathematical theorem
stemming from the work of the Reverend
Thomas Bayes (1702.1761), although
he himself did not propose it as a model
for human reasoning. In rough terms, the
theorem states that the probability of
some event is proportional to the product
of the likelihood of that event and its prior
probability. For a clear (though
somewhat technical) introduction, point
your browser to
istics.), which is mathematically optimal.
One prestigious journal recently devoted
an entire issue to this possibility, with a
trio of prominent cognitive scientists from
MIT, UCLA, and University College
London arguing that .it seems
increasingly plausible that human
cognition may be explicable in rational
probabilistic terms . . . in core domains,
human cognition approaches an optimal
level of performance..
The notion of optimality is
also a recurrent theme in the
increasingly popular field of evolutionary
psychology. For example, John Tooby
and Leda Cosmides, the cofounders of
the field, have written that .because
natural selection is a hill-climbing
process that tends to choose the best of
the variant designs that actually appear,
and because of the immense numbers of
alternatives that appear over the vast
expanse of evolutionary time, natural
selection tends to cause the
accumulation of superlatively well
engineered functional designs..
In the same vein, Steven
Pinker has argued that .the parts of the
mind that allow us to see are indeed well
engineered, and there is no reason to
think that the quality of engineering
progressively deteriorates as the
information flows upstream to the
faculties that interpret and act on what
we see..
This book will present a
rather different view. Although no
reasonable scholar would doubt the fact
that natural selection can produce
superlatively well engineered functional
designs, it is also clear that superlative
engineering is by no means guaranteed.
What I will argue, in contrast to most
economists, Bayesians, and
evolutionary psychologists, is that the
human mind is no less of a kluge than
the body. And if that.s true, our very
understanding of ourselves.of human
nature.must be reconsidered.

In the extensive literature on evolutionary
psychology, I know of only a few
aspects of the human mind that have
been attributed to genuine quirks.
Although most evolutionary
psychologists recognize the possibility
of suboptimal evolution in principle, in
practice, when human errors are
discussed, it.s almost always to explain
why something apparently nonadaptive
actually turns out to be well engineered.
Take, for example,
infanticide. Nobody would argue that
infanticide is morally justifiable, but why
does it happen at all? From the
perspective of evolution, infanticide is not
just immoral, but puzzling. If we exist
essentially as gene-propagating vessels
(as Richard Dawkins has argued), why
would any parent murder his or her own
child? Martin Daly and Margo Wilson
have argued that from the gene.s-eye
view, infanticide makes sense only in a
very limited set of circumstances: when
the parent is not actually related by
blood to the child (stepparents, for
example), when a male parent is in
doubt about paternity, or when a mother
is not currently in a position to take good
care of the child, yet has prospects for
taking better care of some future child
(say, because the current infant was
born hopelessly unhealthy). As Daly and
Wilson have shown, patterns of murder
and child abuse fit well with these
Or consider the somewhat
unsurprising fact that men (but not
women) systematically tend to
overinterpret the sexual intentions of
potential mates (except, tellingly, those
of their sisters). Is this simply a matter
of wishful thinking? Not at all, argue the
evolutionary psychologists Martie
Haselton and David Buss. Instead, it.s a
highly efficient strategy shaped by
natural selection, a cognitive error
reinforced by nature. Strategies that lead
to greater reproductive success spread
(by definition) widely throughout the
population, and ancestral males who
tended to read too much into the signals
given by possible partners would have
more opportunities to reproduce than
would their more cautious counterparts,
who likely failed to identify bona fide
opportunities. From the gene.s-eye view,
it was well worth it for our male
ancestors to take the risk of
overinterpretation because gaining an
extra reproductive opportunity far
outweighs the downside, such as
damage to self-esteem or reputation, of
perceiving opportunity where there is
none. What looks like a bug, a
systematic bias in interpreting the
motives of other human beings, might in
this case actually be a positive feature.
When reading clever, carefully argued
examples like this one, it.s easy to get
caught up in the excitement, to think
that behind every human quirk or
malfunction is a truly adaptive strategy.
Underpinning such examples is a bold
premise: that optimization is the
inevitable outcome of evolution. But
optimization is not an inevitable outcome
of evolution, just a possible one. Some
apparent bugs may turn out to be
advantages, the spine and
inverted retina attest. some bugs may
be genuinely suboptimal and remain in
place because evolution just didn.t find a
better way.

Natural selection, the key mechanism of
evolution, is only as good as the random
mutations that arise. If a given mutation
is beneficial, it may propagate, but the
most beneficial mutations imaginable
sometimes, alas, never appear. As an
old saying puts it, .Chance proposes
and nature disposes.; a mutation that
does not arise cannot be selected for. If
the right set of genes falls into place,
natural selection will likely promote the
spread of those genes, but if they don.t
happen to occur, all evolution can do is
select the next best thing that.s available.
To think about this, it helps to
start with the idea of evolution as
mountain climbing. Richard Dawkins, for
example, has noted that there is little
chance that evolution would assemble
any complex creature or organ (say, the
eye) overnight.too many lucky chance
mutations would need to occur
simultaneously. But it is possible to
achieve perfection incrementally. In the
vivid words of Dawkins,

you don.t need to be a mathematician or
physicist to calculate that an eye or a
hemoglobin molecule would take from
here to infinity to self-assemble by sheer
higgledy-piggledy luck. Far from being a
difficulty peculiar to Darwinism, the
astronomic improbability of eyes and
knees, enzymes and elbow joints and
the other living wonders is precisely the
problem that any theory of life must
solve, and that Darwinism uniquely does
solve. It solves it by breaking the
improbability up into small, manageable
parts, smearing out the luck needed,
going round the back of Mount
Improbable and crawling up the gentle
slopes, inch by million-year inch.

And, to be sure, examples of sublime
evolution abound. The human retina, for
example, can detect a single photon in a
darkened room, and the human cochlea
(the hair cell containing the part of the
inner ear that vibrates in response to
sound waves) can, in an otherwise silent
room, detect vibrations measuring less
than the diameter of a hydrogen atom.
Our visual systems continue, despite
remarkable advances in computer power,
to far outstrip the visual capacities of any
machine. Spider silk is stronger than
steel and more elastic than rubber. All
else being equal, species (and the
organs they depend upon) tend, over
time, to become better and better suited
to their environment. sometimes even
reaching theoretical limits, as in the
aforementioned sensitivity of the eye.
Hemoglobin (the key ingredient in red
blood cells) is exquisitely adapted to the
task of transporting oxygen, tuned by
slight variations in different species such
that it can load and unload its oxygen
cargo in a way optimally suited to the
prevailing air method for
creatures that dwell at sea level, another
for a species like the bar-headed goose,
an inhabitant of the upper reaches of the
Himalayas. From the biochemistry of
hemoglobin to the intricate focusing
systems of the eye, there are thousands
of ways in which biology comes
startlingly close to perfection.
But perfection is clearly not
always the way; the possibility of
imperfection too becomes apparent
when we realize that what evolution
traverses is not just a mountain, but a
mountain range. What is omitted from
the usual metaphor is the fact that it is
perfectly possible for evolution to get
stuck on a peak that is short of the
highest conceivable summit, what is
known as a .local maximum.. As
Dawkins and many others have noted,
evolution tends to take small steps
(Emphasis on .tends to.. Strictly
speaking, the steps taken by evolution
may be of any size, but dramatic
mutations rarely survive, whereas small
modifications often keep enough core
systems in place to have a fighting
chance. As a statistical matter, small
changes thus appear to have a
disproportionately large influence on
evolution). If no immediate change leads
to an improvement, an organism is likely
to stay where it is on the mountain
range, even if some distant peak might
be better. The kluges talked about
already.the spine, the inverted retina,
and so forth.are examples of just that,
of evolution getting stuck on tallish
mountains that fall short of the absolute
In the final analysis, evolution
isn.t about perfection. It.s about what the
late Nobel laureate Herb Simon
called .satisficing,. obtaining an outcome
that is good enough. That outcome
might be beautiful and elegant, or it
might be a kluge. Over time, evolution
can lead to both: aspects of biology that
are exquisite and aspects of biology that
are at best rough-and-ready.
Indeed, sometimes elegance
and kluginess coexist, side by side.
Highly efficient neurons, for example, are
connected to their neighbors by
puzzlingly inefficient synaptic gaps,
which transform efficient electrical
activity into less efficient diffusing
chemicals, and these in turn waste heat
and lose information. Likewise, the
vertebrate eye is, in many respects,
tremendously elegant, with its subtle
mechanisms for focusing light, adjusting
to varied amounts of lighting, and so
forth. Though it operates with more
sophistication than most digital
cameras, it.s still hobbled by the
backward retina and its attendant blind
spot. On the highest peak of evolution,
our eyes would work much as they do
now, but the retina would face forward
(as it does in the octopus), eliminating
those blind spots. The human eye is
about as good as it could be, given the
backward retina, but it could be better.
a perfect illustration of how nature
occasionally winds up notably short of
the highest possible summit.

There are a number of reasons why, at
any particular moment, a given creature
might have a design that is less than
optimal, including random chance (sheer
bad luck), rapid environmental change
(for example, if there.s a major meteor
hit, an ice age, or another cataclysmic
event, it takes time for evolution to catch
up), or the influence that will animate
much of this book: history, as
encapsulated in our genome. History
has a potent.and sometimes
detrimental.effect because what can
evolve at any given point is heavily
constrained by what has evolved before.
Just as contemporary political conflicts
can in part be traced to the treaties
following the world wars, current biology
can be traced to the history of earlier
creatures. As Darwin put it, all life is the
product of .descent with modification.;
existing forms are simply altered
versions of earlier ones. The human
spine, for example, arose not because it
was the best possible solution
imaginable, but because it was built
upon something (the quadruped spine)
that already existed.
This gives rise to a notion
that I call .evolutionary inertia,. borrowing
from Newton.s law of inertia (an object at
rest tends to stay at rest, and an object
in motion tends to stay in motion).
Evolution tends to work with what is
already in place, making modifications
rather than starting from scratch.
Evolutionary inertia occurs
because new genes must work in
concert with old genes and because
evolution is driven by the immediate.
Gene-bearing creatures either live and
reproduce or they don.t. Natural
selection therefore tends to favor genes
that have immediate advantages,
discarding other options that might
function better in the long term. Thus the
process operates a bit like a product
manager who needs his product to ship
now, even if today.s cut corners might
lead to problems later.
The net result is, as Nobel
laureate François Jacob famously put it,
that evolution is like a tinkerer .who . . .
often without knowing what he is going
to produce . . . uses whatever he finds
around him, old cardboards, pieces of
strings, fragments of wood or metal, to
make some kind of workable object . . .
[the result is] a patchwork of odd sets
pieced together when and where
opportunity arose.. If necessity is the
mother of invention, tinkering is the
geeky grandfather of kluge.
In short, evolution often
proceeds by piling new systems on top
of old ones. The neuroscientist John
Allman has captured this idea nicely
with an analogy to a power plant he once
visited, where at least three layers of
technology were in simultaneous use,
stacked on top of one another. The
recent computer technology operated
not directly, but rather by controlling
vacuum tubes (perhaps from the 1940s),
which in turn controlled still older
pneumatic mechanisms that relied on
pressurized gases. If the power plant.s
engineers could afford the luxury of
taking the whole system offline, they
would no doubt prefer to start over,
getting rid of the older systems
altogether. But the continuous need for
power precludes such an ambitious
In the same way, living
creatures. continuous need to survive
and reproduce often precludes evolution
from building genuinely optimal systems;
evolution can no more take its products
offline than the human engineers could,
and the consequences are often equally
clumsy, with new technologies piled on
top of old. The human midbrain, for
example, exists literally on top of the
ancient hindbrain, and the forebrain is
built top of both. The hindbrain, the
oldest of the three (dating from at least
half a billion years ago), controls
respiration, balance, alertness, and other
functions that are as critical to a
dinosaur as to a human. The midbrain,
layered on soon afterward, coordinates
visual and auditory reflexes and controls
functions such as eye movements. The
forebrain, the final division to come
online, governs things such as language
and decision making, but in ways that
often depend on older systems. As any
neuroscience textbook will tell you,
language relies heavily on Broca.s area,
a walnut-sized region of the left forebrain,
but it too relies on older systems, such
as the cerebellum, and ancestral
memory systems that are not
particularly well suited to the job. Over
the course of evolution our brain has
become a bit like a palimpsest, an
ancient manuscript with layers of text
written over it many times, old bits still
hiding behind new.
Allman referred to this
awkward process, by which new
systems are built on top of old ones
rather than begun from scratch, as
the .progressive overlay of technologies..
The end product tends to be a kluge.

Of course, explaining why evolution can
produce kluge-like solutions in general is
not the same thing as showing that the
human mind in particular is a kluge. But
there are two powerful reasons for
thinking that it might be: our relatively
recent evolution and the nature of our
Consider, first, the short span
of human existence and what it might
mean. Bacteria have lived on the planet
for three billion years, mammals for three
hundred million. Humans, in contrast,
have been around for, at most, only a
few hundred thousand. Language,
complex culture, and the capacity for
deliberate thought may have emerged
only in the past fifty thousand years. By
the standards of evolution, that.s not a
lot of time for debugging, and a long time
for the accumulation of prior evolutionary
Meanwhile, even though your
average human makes its living in ways
that are pretty different from those of the
average monkey, the human genome
and primate genomes scarcely differ.
Measured nucleotide by nucleotide, the
human genome is 98.5 percent identical
to that of the chimpanzee. This suggests
that the vast majority of our genetic
material evolved in the context of
creatures who didn.t have language,
didn.t have culture, and didn.t reason
deliberately. This means that the
characteristics we hold most dear, the
features that most distinctly define us as
human beings.language, culture,
explicit thought.must have been built
on a genetic bedrock originally adapted
for very different purposes.
Over the course of this book,
we.ll travel through some of the most
important areas of human mental life:
memory, belief, choice, language, and
pleasure. And in every case, I will show
you that kluges abound.
Humans can be brilliant, but
they can be stupid too; they can join
cults, get addicted to life-ruining drugs,
and fall for the claptrap on late-night talk
radio. Every one of us is susceptible.
not just Joe Sixpack, but doctors,
lawyers, and world leaders too, as books
like Jerome Groopman.s How Doctors
Think and Barbara Tuchman.s The
March of Folly well attest. Mainstream
evolutionary psychology tells us much
about how natural selection has led to
good solutions, but rather less about
why the human mind is so consistently
vulnerable to error.
In the pages to come I.ll
consider why our memory so often fails
us, and why we often believe things that
aren.t true but disbelieve things that are.
I.ll consider how it is that half of all
Americans can believe in ghosts and
how almost four million can sincerely
believe that been abducted by
space aliens. I.ll look at how we spend
(and often waste) our money, why the
phenomenon of throwing good money
after bad is so widespread, and why we
inevitably find meat that is 80 percent
lean much more appealing than meat
that is 20 percent fat. I.ll examine the
origins of languages and explain why
they are replete with irregularity,
inconsistency, and ambiguity. and, for
that matter, why a sentence like People
people left left ties us in knots even
though it.s only four words long. I.ll also
look at what makes us happy, and why.
It.s often been said that pleasure exists
to guide the species, but why, for
example, do we spend so many hours
watching television when it does our
genes so little good? And why is mental
illness so widespread, affecting, at one
time or another, almost half the
population? And why on earth can.t
money buy happiness?
Kluge, kluge, kluge. In every
case, I.ll show that we can best
understand our limitations by
considering the role of evolutionary
inertia in shaping the human mind.

This is not to say that every cognitive
quirk is without redeeming
value.Optimists often find some solace
in even the worst of our mental
limitations; if our memory is bad, it is
only to protect us from emotional pain; if
our language is ambiguous, it is only to
enable us to say no without explicitly
saying .no..
Well, sort of; there.s a
difference between being able to exploit
ambiguity (say, for purposes of poetry or
politeness) and being stuck with it.
When our sentences can be
misunderstood even when we want them
to be clear.or when our memory fails
us even when someone.s life is at stake
(for example, when an eyewitness gives
testimony at a criminal trial).real
human cognitive imperfections cry out to
be addressed...

RNZ SAT: Gary Marcus - the brain as kluge
Professor of Psychology at New York University and author of Kluge, the Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind.
File Size:9.9MB
Date: (Sat, 29 Nov 2008 08:10:00 +1300

Kim Hill Radio New Zealand, Saturdays

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