The Accidental Mind
How Brain Evolution Has Given Us Love, Memory, Dreams, and God
David J. Linden
Finalist, 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Science Category
Narrated by Ray Porter
Approximately 8 hours
Available as an MP3 CD in a sturdy vinyl case.
$32.00 for MP3 CD edition.
Book published by Harvard University Press
You've probably seen it before: a human brain dramatically lit from the side, the camera circling it like a helicopter shot of Stonehenge, and a modulated baritone voice exalting the brain's elegant design in reverent tones.
To which this book says: Pure nonsense. In a work at once deeply learned and wonderfully accessible, the neuroscientist David Linden counters the widespread assumption that the brain is a paragon of design—and in its place gives us a compelling explanation of how the brain's serendipitous evolution has resulted in nothing short of our humanity. A guide to the strange and often illogical world of neural function, The Accidental Mind shows how the brain is not an optimized, general-purpose problem-solving machine, but rather a weird agglomeration of ad-hoc solutions that have been piled on through millions of years of evolutionary history. Moreover, Linden tells us how the constraints of evolved brain design have ultimately led to almost every transcendent human foible: our long childhoods, our extensive memory capacity, our search for love and long-term relationships, our need to create compelling narrative, and, ultimately, the universal cultural impulse to create both religious and scientific explanations.
With forays into evolutionary biology, this analysis of mental function answers some of our most common questions about how we've come to be who we are.
David J. Linden is Professor of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Ray Porter (narrator) has narrated dozens of audiobooks for major companies and is the winner of multiple Earphones Awards (AudioFile).
“The brain, that "cobbled-together mess," is the subject of this lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories. Linden, a neuroscientist from Johns Hopkins University, offers "the Reader's Digest version" of how the brain functions, followed quickly by the "real biology," before tackling the big questions: Why are people religious? How do we form memories? What makes sleep so vital to mental health? Which is more important, nature or nurture? Linden tackles these problems head on, debunking myths (people do, in fact, use more than 10 percent of their brains) and offering interesting trivia (Einstein's brain was a bit on the small side) along the way. Anti-evolutionary arguments are answered in a chapter titled "The Unintelligent Design of the Brain," in which Linden proposes that it's the brain's "weird agglomeration of ad hoc solutions" that makes humans unique. The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the "Hummer H2 of the body"). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in-and even chuckling over-the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next. ”
“This is a terrific book that accomplishes its aim of presenting a biological view of how the brain works, and does so in a charming, fetching style.”
—Joshua R. Sanes, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University
“This is the first scientific book I've read with "attitude." David Linden is something of a Howard Stern shock jock and there's a lot of heavy breathing in this overview of brain function and the linkage between psychological and brain processes. Linden is clearly a thoughtful scientist and this comes through in his excellent choice of facts and theories to present. This is a very intelligent book. ”
—John Lisman, Professor of Biology, Brandeis University
“[A] lively mix of solid science and fascinating case histories... The book's greatest strength is Linden's knack for demystifying biology and neuroscience with vivid similes (he calls the brain, weighing two percent of total body weight and using 20 percent of its energy, the Hummer H2 of the body). Though packed with textbook-ready data, the book grips readers like a masterful teacher; those with little science experience may be surprised to find themselves interested in—and even chuckling over—the migration of neurons along radial glia, and anxious to find out what happens next. ”
“More than another salvo in the battle over whether biological structures are the products of supernatural design or biological evolution (though Linden has no doubt it's the latter), research on our brain's primitive foundation is cracking such puzzles as why we cannot tickle ourselves, why we are driven to spin narratives even in our dreams and why reptilian traits persist in our gray matter. ”
—Sharon Begley, Newsweek
“Linden tells his story well, in an engaging style, with plenty of erudition and a refreshing honesty about how much remains unknown. The book should easily hold the attention of readers with little background in biology and no prior knowledge of brains. It would make an excellent present for curious non-scientists and a good book for undergraduates who are just entering into the brain's magic menagerie. Even readers trained in neuroscience are likely to enjoy the many tidbits of rarely taught information—on love, sex, gender, sleep and dreams—that spice up Linden's main argument. The Accidental Mind stands out for being highly readable and clearly educational. No doubt, the human brain evolved along a constrained path and is, in some respects, designed imperfectly. Linden will send that message home...We still know too little about the brain's inner workings to judge how well it does its job. What we do know, and what The Accidental Mind helps us to realize, is that the human brain is not designed as many have imagined.”
—Georg Striedter, Nature
“The majority of this book is an enjoyable neurosciences primer for the general reader. Evolutionary and psychological perspectives provide occasional insights about the mind, but mostly the subject here is the organ capable of conjuring it into existence. Linden makes clear that the physical substrate of our mental phenomena—the squidgy and haphazard mass of our brain—is a gloriously evolved muddle.”
—Druin Burch, Times Literary Supplement
“Many popular neuroscience books emphasize the brain's complexity using terms of purpose: this region is for emotion, that one for vision, and so forth, each interacting in a perfectly designed whole. This ambitious, engaging, and often irreverent book by Linden adopts a quite different perspective, instead emphasizing the evolutionary origins of the human brain...The book...end[s] with a well-argued discussion of the tension between neuroscience and intelligent design. The emphasis on evolution is laudable...making this book an important counterpoint to breathless paeans to brain design.”
—S. A. Huettel, Choice
“For anyone interested in a skillfully guided tour through the world of neural function, The Accidental Mind is a playful yet academically informed work that addresses issues as diverse as intelligent design, the fallibility of the senses, the human religious impulse, and the possible heritability of sexual orientation. Without overwhelming the reader with the biochemical underpinnings of neural function, Linden explores the role that neural design (structure and function) has in the explication of various human behaviors. ”
—Charles J. Alt, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
“Linden provides an accessible and up to date guide through this maze [that is the brain].”
—Steven Rose, The Guardian
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Prologue: Brain Explained
1. The Inelegant Design of the Brain
2. Building a Brain with Yesterday's Parts
3. Some Assembly Required
4. Sensation and Emotion
5. Learning, Memory, and Human Individuality
6. Love and Sex
7. Sleeping and Dreaming
8. The Religious Impulse
9. The Unintelligent Design of the Brain
Epilogue: That Middle Thing