Book Review: The Haphazard Construction Of The Human Mind

avatarMille Larsen
3 mins read

I recently finished reading Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus. It's an entire book written just about the brain and how it works, so as you can imagine there's a lot of information in there to help learners. The book even contains an entire chapter about language.

Marcus repeatedly uses the word "context" when referring to human memory, in order to underscore the fact that human memory is not only not perfect, but it's not even well-designed for the purpose of learning facts. Our context-driven memory allows for faster recall of relevant information, but has little interest in whether or not that information is rational or even true.

As I'm quite fond of reminding people, our brains are little more than elaborate pattern-matching machines. They are not well-designed for information storage, like a computer, and that is precisely why learning methods like flashcards are so painful and ineffective.

In the chapter on language, the author describes the mental gymnastics necessary to get words to come out of our mouths at a rate at which communication can be effective without being painfully slow, describing how we must anticipate the next words even as we're saying the current word, explaining how taxing that actually is on the mind, and why it causes us to get tongue-tied even in our first language.

Throughout the book, Gary Marcus humbly reminds the reader time and time again of those imperfection in the human mind using himself as an example, which I found prompts the reader to probe his own mind for fallacies and flawed thinking — something that's hard enough to do anyway, but which no one willingly does when they feel threatened.

For anyone with an interest in language, it's a good book. For anyone with an interest in the human mind, or evolution in general, it's a great book. And for anyone with a passion for learning or teaching, I feel this book is a must-read.