The human brain is a less-than-perfect device

From Newsweek:

Book Despite the fact that humans have been known to be eaten by bears, sharks and assorted other carnivores, we love to place ourselves at the top of the food chain. And, despite our unwavering conviction that we are smarter than the computers we invented, members of our species still rob banks with their faces wrapped in duct tape and leave copies of their resumes at the scene of the crime. Six percent of sky-diving fatalities occur due to a failure to remember to pull the ripcord, hundreds of millions of dollars are sent abroad in response to shockingly unbelievable e-mails from displaced African royalty and nobody knows what Eliot Spitzer was thinking.

Are these simply examples of a few subpar minds amongst our general brilliance? Or do all human minds work not so much like computers but as Rube Goldberg machines capable of both brilliance and unbelievable stupidity? In his new book, “Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind,” New York University professor Gary Marcus uses evolutionary psychology to explore the development of that “clumsy, cobbled-together contraption” we call a brain and to answer such puzzling questions as, “Why do half of all Americans believe in ghosts?” and “How can 4 million people believe they were once abducted by aliens?”

According to Marcus, while we once we used our brains simply to stay alive and procreate, the modern world and its technological advances have forced evolution to keep up by adapting ancient skills for modern uses–in effect simply placing our relatively new frontal lobes (the home of memory, language, speech and error recognition) on top of our more ancient hindbrain (in charge of survival, breathing, instinct and emotion.) It is Marcus’s hypothesis that evolution has resulted in a series of “good enough” but not ideal adaptations that allow us to be smart enough to invent quantum physics but not clever enough to remember where we put our wallet from one day to the next or to change our minds in the face of overwhelming evidence that our beliefs are wrong.

More here.