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Since my topic of study has to do with the processes of cognition in the human mind, Kluge offers a fascinating look at how the human mind developed. Though Marcus takes a relatively pessimistic view of the evolution of the human mind, most of the assertions that the author makes are backed by sound reasoning and logic. Two very important chapters, summarized later in this book report, focused on Memory and Language. These chapters were the most beneficial towards my study, since they directly addressed human cognition.
What information did you find most useful?
I found the chapters on Memory and Language to be most useful, since they directly addressed the topic that I am studying. In the Memory chapter of the book, Marcus focused on the unique way that evolution made our memory function. In the Language chapter of the book, the author wrote about how all of the world's languages are far from ideal and why we wouldn't be able to use a perfect language even if one was developed.
What information did you find confusing, not useful, or inconsistent with your study of this topic? Be specific. Explain your response.
All though the book is written in a clear manner, I found that some of the author's dialogue to the readers wasn't useful, and may have even discouraged some readers from continuing into the book. For example, the very beginning of the book starts off with an argument against an intelligent, compassionate divine designer. I felt that statements like these could have been avoided all together. Some readers may be insulted by opinionated comments like the one mentioned above. In all fairness, authors should be free to voice their opinions through their books; however, as a scientific text, it may have been beneficial to adopt a neutral stance against religion.
Summarize at least two chapters of this book that was beneficial in your exploration and study. Use specific quotes with MLA citations when needed.
The second chapter of Kluge focuses on "the mother of all kluges," human memory (Marcus 18). In the chapter, the author differentiates between two types of memory systems: postal-code memory and contextual memory. Postal-code memory is the type of memory that computers use. Items that need to be remembered are assigned a specific location inside a computer's database that can be retrieved with ease at any time. This type of memory is precise, powerful, and simple. Human memory, on the other hand, is referred to as contextual memory. This type of memory "pull(s) things out of our memory by using context, or clues, that hints at what we are looking for" (Marcus 21). Also, the surroundings or conditions that we find ourselves in plays a powerful role in retrieving memories.
Contextual memory has its advantages as well. Unlike postal-code memory, contextual memory is able to prioritize the information that we know. Information that is used frequently is easy to retrieve, while those that haven't been needed for a while tend to move to the back of our memories. Also, many scientists believe that contextual memory is necessary for making inferences and simulating events that haven't happened in the real world. This is enabled because we store our memories in bits and pieces, and thus we can pull combinations together that haven't happened in order to simulate our own events. However, at the end of the chapter, Marcus claims that the ideal memory system, if we could start over from scratch, would be one that is similar to Google's which incorporates both postal-code and contextual memory. In Marcus's words, "the postal-code foundation guarantees reliability, while the context on top hints at which memories are most likely needed at a given moment" (Marcus 36).
The fifth chapter of the book focuses on human language and the many facts that it reveals about the human brain. Marcus writes that the quirks that language possesses can teach us a lot about the evolution of our brain. For instance, a perfect language would have to be unambiguous in any scenario, but the only languages that aren't ambiguous are the ones that deal with coding computers. Our minds can't fully wrap themselves around how computers code well enough to be able to use it in everyday speech, which suggests that all human languages innately have to possess some ambiguity, which is essential for art. Marcus's idea of a useable perfect language is eerily similar to Newspeak from Orwell's 1984.
Essentially, Marcus gives three reasons that language will never be perfect: 1) there is a stark contrast between how our ancestors made sounds and how we would like to make sounds, 2) words are built on a primate understanding of the world, and 3) our flawed system of memory doesn't allow it. However, the mere fact that so many complex systems of memory could be derived from the basic 90 sounds that we use is a feat within itself, so we should be satisfied with the level of language that we possess.
What questions did information within this book provoke? Did you follow up on those questions? If so, where? If not, why not?
Throughout the book, the author mentioned that the imperfections of the human mind offered little to no advantage. However, Marcus seldom mentioned what exactly these benefits are. I followed up on this topic, and came across the work of Henry Roediger and Dan Schacter. Roediger asserted that our context driven memory is the price that we must pay in order to form inferences. Dan Schacter implied that this same context driven memory is what enables us to simulate future or imaginary scenarios in our minds without having to experience them. Both of these statements merit further, more in-depth research, and could possibly undermine Marcus's work if proven unconditionally true.
What are the credentials of the writer or editor of this book?
Gary Marcus, the author of this book, directs the New York University Infant Language Learning Center and is also a Professor of Psychology at NYU. In addition to writing many books on the psychology of human cognition, Marcus has written over 40 articles on neuroscience in many of the world's premiere science journals. He is also the recipient of the 1996 Robert L. Fantz award, an award bestowed upon new investigators in cognitive development. Kluge, the book that I read, was a New York Times Editor's Choice in 2008.
Would you recommend this book to other interested in learning more about your topic? Why or why not?
I would definitely recommend this book to others interested in human cognition or simply psychology in general. The ideas that Marcus puts forth in his book challenge many of the beliefs that we take for granted, and may help readers gain a new insight on how the human mind works. The book is also written in a clear, easy to understand manner that helps readers at all levels absorb Marcus's writing. However, it is important to keep in mind that this book should not be approached as a definitive guide to the evolution of the human mind, since Marcus interweaves his own opinions throughout the book, so it cannot all be taken as fact. For readers who acknowledge this fact and can separate the scientific facts from the opinion, this book will provide marvelous insights into different facets of the evolution of the human mind.