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The Cerebral Code: Thinking A Thought In The Mosaics Of The Mind
by William H. Calvin
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Few philosophers today attempt a nonmaterialist explanation of consciousness, but even materialist explanations get stuck at the mysterious boundary where thoughts arise from synapses. The Cerebral Code offers a physiological model of the brain's thought processes, albeit in a highly technical presentation. William Calvin, overly glib at times, tries hard to present his new hypothesis for the workings of higher intellectual functions in easy-to-understand metaphors and plain language. And while the technical difficulty of the topic makes this a daunting read, the cogent neurological model of human cognition--dreaming, problem solving, and creative thinking--is rewarding. Anyone who wishes to thoroughly understand consciousness should not ignore this book.
"[A] wide-ranging and innovative theory linking the neural structure of the cortex to thought, language, and consciousness. . . . stunningly thought provoking."
-- Richard Cooper, The Times Higher Education Supplement
Nature, 21 November 1996
"Ought to be a complete ban on global speculations about the brain... grandoise." --Stuart Sutherland
New Scientist, 23 November 1996
"[Calvin's] basic model can be applied to problems such as the sequences needed for body movements and in language, making associations, imagining, and thought pathologies. Finally, he goes for gold with a thought experiment, testing his [cortical Darwin Machine] theory on consciousness and a mechanistic outline for Universal Grammar.... [Calvin's is] a vision that is now all too rare. Right or wrong, his ideas should stimulate many to think more broadly about the dynamic processes of the cortex...." --Jennifer Altman
The Cerebral Code is a new understanding of how Darwinian processes could operate in the brain to shape mental images in only seconds, starting with shuffled memories no better than the jumble of our nighttime dreams, but evolving into something of quality, such as a sentence to speak aloud. Jung said that dreaming goes on continuously but you can't see it when you are awake, just as you can't see the stars in the daylight because it is too bright. Calvin's is a theory for what goes on, hidden from view by the glare of waking mental operations, that produces our peculiarly human type of consciousness with its versatile intelligence.
Surprisingly, the subtitle's mosaics of the mind is not a literary metaphor. For the first time, it is a description of a mechanism of what appears to be an appropriate level of explanation for many mental phenomena, that of hexagonal mosaics of electrical activity that compete for territory in the association cortex of the brain.
University of Washington, Seattle. The author presents his hypothesis for how the human cerebral cortex might work. The concept of selection in the brain is plausibly linked with observable cellular function. The neural basis of cognition, for neuroscientists.
About the Author
William H. Calvin is Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle. His books include The Cerebral Code (MIT Press, 1996).
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