Kluge: The Hapahazard Evolution of the Human Mind

Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind

By Gary Marcus

 

“Kluge” is an engineering term that refers to a solution that is clumsy yet effective. In this book, Gary Marcus argues that the human mind is a kluge: it remembers drivel but forgets a critical appointment; it makes decisions driven by immediate gratification while knowing that pain might follow.

 

“Humans can be brilliant, but they can be stupid too,” writes Marcus. “They can join cults, get addicted to life-ruining drugs, and fall for the claptrap on late-night talk radio. Every one of us susceptible – not just Joe Sixpack, but doctors, lawyers and world leaders too…”

 

In his book Marcus explores our hit-and-miss memory; our belief “scarred by evolution and contaminated by emotions, moods, desires, goals and simple self-interest”; choice; language; and pleasure. He pulls together statistics and research from a wide range of sources to make a fascinating and persuasive read. “We were born to be suckered,” he insists, illustrating this with survey results that show that children aged three to five will gave higher ratings to foods like carrots, milk and apple juice if they came in McDonald’s packaging…

 

Amongst the serious discussions Marcus opens in Kluge is why we find the familiar so compelling. He argues that this is one of our evolutionary hangovers: “what great-great-great-grandma knew and didn’t kill her was probably a safer bet than what she didn’t know – which might do her in.” But it’s a potentially problematic trait if we don’t recognise the extent to which it influences our decisions: witness the child of alcoholics who chooses an alcoholic partner because much as they might hate drinking, at least it’s familiar. Or the electorate which votes for the party already in power, because “rather the devil you know”.

 

This is a wonderfully interesting book, well-argued and rich in anecdote and research. You’ll never think of your mind the same way again. Oh, and if you, too, spend 55 minutes a day looking for things you know you have but can’t find – well, you’re dead average.

 

(Review by Heather Parker)

 

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