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The Cerebral Symphony: Seashore Reflections On The Structure Of Consciousness

by William H. Calvin

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From Publishers Weekly
Neurobiologist Calvin's wispy, New Age-flavored travelogue--abuzz with cormorants and skunks, insects and plants of Woods Hole, Mass., and its littoral environs--ensheathes his fairly technical exposition of the neurophysiology of mind. Some readers will be enthralled; others may grow impatient with his approach. Of particular interest is his theoretical blueprint for a Darwin Machine, a type of computer that uses parallel networking in a "variation-then-selection" process to generate ideas. This hypothetical device, in his forecast, will one day exhibit most of what we now call consciousness, including the gifts of imagination and creativity. Along the way, Calvin ( The River That Flows Uphill ) offers a graceful introduction to the mechanisms underlying visual perception, memory, language acquisition, problem-solving and music appreciation--skills that the Darwin Machine, in his view, will someday possess. Illustrated.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
Don't be fooled by the New Age packaging; Calvin, author of The River That Flows Uphill ( LJ 3/1/87) and The Throwing Madonna: From Nervous Cells to Hominid Brains ( LJ 7/83), is a neurobiologist and scholar with an exceptional knack for writing to the layperson. The subject here is how our brain cells work in concert to let us think, but the (necessary) neurobiology and chemistry is nicely blended with a friendly voice and the eye of a miniaturist; the author combines the newest work in the field with an engaging and graceful sense of the past, and nothing stops him from accurate and often charming analogies. This is perhaps the only book where Charles Darwin and the Grateful Dead are mentioned in the same chapter. The entire book becomes an example of Calvin's theories about the accretive and evolutionary process of thinking. Excellent for general collections and essential for collections in the social or health sciences.
- Mark L. Shelton, Columbus, Ohio
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The Los Angeles Times
"A fascinating romp through current knowledge about thought and thinking."

Publisher Comments
"Thinking along with Calvin is sheer delight; like a virtuoso dancer he is daring but surefooted, moving with the grace that only discipline can ensure. This book has the most vivid and lucid explanations of brain function I have seen, and his discussions of evolution place him in the same league with Stephen Gould and Richard Dawkins as elegant expositors in the life sciences."

Daniel C. Dennett (Tufts University)

co-author of The Mind's I

"Calvin takes the reader for a walk along the foreshore of brain science, and he is a wonderful companion. Sometimes he strides ahead, sometimes he tarries; then he wades into the sea and returns with a writhing new theory of the human mind.... This is not a book for those who want to keep their feet dry -- nor was it written by one... Darwin would have loved it."

Nicholas Humphrey (Cambridge University,

author of The Inner Eye

"William Calvin tells us that as a young man, he couldn't make up his mind between becoming a scientist and becoming a writer. Luckily, he decided to do both -- superbly. I have been quoting this knowledgeable, deep, and witty book, sending passages to friends, recommending it to my students."

Pamela McCorduck (Columbia University),

co-author of The Fifth Generation

"The Cerebral Symphony unfolds in a setting of science by the sea, in the charm and intensity of research at Cape Cod's Marine Biological Laboratory, in the company of investigators concerned with the workings of the brain, evolution, the nature of memory, dreams, intelligence, artificial and otherwise. Bill Calvin shines as scientist, philosopher, and writer. A superb book."

John Pfeiffer (Marine Biological Laboratory),

author of The Creative Explosion

"With a deft use of astute observations of everyday life around a marine biological research laboratory on Cape Cod, William H. Calvin brings into unexpected focus the quintessence of the human mind -- the phenomenon of consciousness. His relaxed and often lyrical prose makes the Cerebral Symphony a joy to read and stimulating to contemplate."

Roger Lewin (Science Magazine),

author of Bones of Contention

Book Description
Set amidst the Woods Hole research colony on Cape Cod. Daniel C. Dennett said, “Thinking along with Calvin is sheer delight. This book has the most vivid and lucid explanations of brain function I have see, and his discussions of evolution place him in the same league with Stephen Gould and Richard Dawkins as elegant expositors in the life sciences.”

About the Author
William H. Calvin is a theoretical neurophysiologist, Affiliate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine. His research monograph, The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (MIT Press, 1996) concerns darwinian processes that can operate on the time scale of thought and action to resolve ambiguity and shape up novel courses of action. He recently returned from a stay at the Rockefeller Foundation's study center in Bellagio, Italy, collaborating with the linguist Derek Bickerton on their forthcoming book (MIT Press 1999) about the evolution of syntax, Lingua ex machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human Brain.

He also writes books for general readers, the most recent of which is How Brains Think, in the widely-translated Science Masters series. The Throwing Madonna, The Cerebral Symphony, and The Ascent of Mind are about brains and evolution. The River That Flows Uphill is about a two-week float trip down the rapids of the Colorado River in the bottom of the Grand Canyon, discussing evolution on the broad scale proclaimed by the book's subtitle, "A Journey from the Big Bang to the Big Brain." In Conversations with Neil's Brain, written with his neurosurgical colleague George Ojemann, he narrates a long day of neurosurgery for epilepsy, telling stories about how the brain works but focusing on how an internal voice is generated, one that occasionally speaks aloud. His October 1994 Scientific American article explores "The emergence of intelligence" and his January 1998 cover story for The Atlantic Monthly, "The great climate flip-! flop," grew out of his long-standing interest in abrupt climate change and how it influenced the evolution of a chimpanzeelike brain into a more human one.

He started out in physics at Northwestern University, then branched out into neurophysiology via studies at MIT, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Washington (Ph.D., Physiology & Biophysics, 1966). He has had a long association with academic neurosurgeons and psychiatrists without ever having to treat a patient.



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