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The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind Hardcover – August 13, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0262032414 ISBN-10: 0262032414 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1ST edition (August 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262032414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262032414
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 9.2 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,583,109 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Review

"Bill Calvin writes with elegance, economy, and authority. In The Cerebral Code, he has solidly embedded his ideas in experimental neurophysiology and neuropharmacology, deriving from his decades in the laboratory. He explores the ramifications of his insights into a wide range of cerebral functions, such as sleep, dreaming, awareness, problems solving, creative thinking, and the dynamics of nerve cell assemblies that make consciousness possible. Calvin has written primarily for his colleagues in neuroscience, as well as for lay readers. I believe he will achieve his aim, by recounting in adequate detail the basic concepts from which he is reasoning, and thereafter exploring ideas and issues that his reductionstically minded colleagues have largely ignored."
Walter J. Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley

More About the Author

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine, now affiliated with the Program on Climate Change of the College of the Environment. He is the author of Global Fever: How to Treat Climate Change (University of Chicago Press 2008, see Global-Fever.org) and thirteen earlier books for general readers. He studies brain circuitry, ape-to-human evolution, climate change, and civilization's vulnerability to abrupt shocks.

In Global Fever, he writes: "The climate doctors have been consulted; the lab reports have come back. Now it's time to pull together the Big Picture and discuss treatment options. At a time when architects are thinking ahead to more efficient buildings and power planners are extolling the virtues of "renewable energy," the climate modelers have discovered that long-term planning will no longer suffice. Our fossil fuel fiasco has already painted us into a corner such that, if we don't make substantial near-term gains before 2020, the long-term is pre-empted, the efforts all for naught. We are already in dangerous territory and have to act quickly to avoid triggering widespread catastrophes. The only good analogy is arming for a great war, doing what must be done regardless of cost and convenience."

His climate talk in Beijing at the Great Hall of the People is available in streaming video as are other recent lectures at NASA and Rice University.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author introduces the book as one about thoughts, memories, consciousness, creativity, etc., with his goal being to put these subjects in the context of an evolutionary paradigm. The cerebral cortex represents mental images via a Darwinian process, recombining them to create something totally original. When considering my dreams, or the moments of consciousness when I am just falling off to sleep, I can certainly sympathize with the author's thesis. However, throughout the book I wanted to see equations and graphs, discussions on mathematical modeling/simulations and laboratory experiments. Instead the approach is purely descriptive, making the book somewhat of a disappointment. The author though warns the reader early on that he resisted the temptation to utilize computer simulations, citing the need for clarity, and his skepticism of "free-parameter curve-fitting" as the main reasons. But even though the author takes a purely qualitative approach, it is still embedded in a scientific description, and not mere philosophical handwaving.
The first two chapters are an overwiew of the author's solution of the representation problem, this problem in his view being which spatio-temporal pattern represents a mental object. The author is clearly influenced by the neurologist D.O.Hebb, and throughout the book he attempts to answer the representational questions that Hebb posed back in the 1940's. Cerebral representations must explain spatial-only and spatiotemporal patterns, their interconversions, redundancy, spatial extent, and imperfections, and how they are linked to associative memory. Arguing for the need for copying, the author shows how it can arise in the neocortex.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brian.David.Duryee on December 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Calvin surprised me in this book.
I am the kind of guy interested in intelligence, how it might work biologically, and lastly I was given an advice by a fellow at bionet.neuroscience.
The book gave me food for thought, and even as I am studying neurology in much more detail; "Principles of Neural Science" by Kandel et al; the basic idea that Calvin lay down in written form is still influencing me.
But if you really want the best usage of this book, you at least have to know SOME basics (which I didn't have to much of), and read the book when you know what corticothalamic pathways mean.
5 stars for the book, well deserved.
This applies also for "How Brains Think" which was written before the "The Celebral Code".
I urge you to get both books, read first "How Brains Think", and then "The Celebral Code".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robert Jones on December 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Calvin contends that brains think by virtue of

being "Darwin Machines", machines that emulate

biological evolution but on a much reduced time

scale. He goes on to suggest how these processes

might occur in biological neural networks.

Unfortunately his ideas have not been developed

to the point of actual algorithms and experiments.

This is what is missing. While recurrent excitation

is known to occur what about Calvin's "triangular

arrays", "lateral cloning", "hot spots", "synchronous

recuitment", "attractor formation", "pattern

competition", "memory recall", etc. etc.? All of

these ideas need to be fleshed out, coded in

artificial neural network software, and sought in

computer simulations. Such experiments are what is

needed to turn speculation into theory. As a happy

biproduct if such experiments prove successful one

would have a working prototype artificial intelligence.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on July 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Most attempts to describe how thought works either start at a very low level (such as a single neuron) and have trouble scaling up to anything complex, or start at an abstract level (e.g. Minsky's Society of Mind) that don't come close to the level of detail needed for computer simulations of a working mind.
This book is the best attempt I've seen to bridge that gap. It is almost detailed enough to suggest how the patterns involved could be built out of individual neurons, while providing ideas about how to create complex patterns.
It still isn't specific enough to create a simulation that would produce anything resembling human thought, but I can imagine that Calvin's theory will prove to be one of the bigger steps needed to create such a simulation.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been away from neurophysiology and cognitive psychology for a decade, and I picked this book up to see what kinds of ideas had gained currancy since my academic days. So far, I'm pretty impressed with Calvin. He may not be right- he may not even be close, for that matter. And he's still a bit weak on the transition from biology to conciousness. But it's well thought out, well developed, and certainly well worth reading for anyone interested in how biology connects with conciousness.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book because William Calvin coined the term "Darwin machines" - named after Turing machines - in 1987. He was a pioneer in studying Darwinian evolution within the brain. The evolution of mental structures is now an important field, which relates to understanding the mind and emulating its properties using machines. Calvin also attempted to formulate basic principles of Darwinian evolution - in an area now widely known as Universal Darwinism.

The book continues work which was pioneered by Gerald Edelman in Neural Darwinism which was based on work dating back to the late 1970s.

The book introduces the idea of mental evolution through the idea of cultural evolution. Calvin says that:

"Dawkins's real contribution has turned out to be on the copying side, not the selection side, of mental Darwinism. In his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, he extended the notion of copying genes to copying memes (cultural entities such as words and tunes). It took awhile before anyone realized its implications for copying inside a single brain."

This is a pretty accurate summary of what happened back in that era. The blurb for this book describes Calvin as a theoretical neurophysiologist. I don't consider myself an expert in neurophysiology - but I think I know enough about brains to say that most of this this book is misguided and outdated. The main problem is with Calvin's geometrical obsession. Calvin is the Buckminster Fuller of the brain - but not in a good way. He sees the brain's layers as composed of large numbers of hexagonal units, less than a millimeter across. When he considers the evolution of brain structures, these hexagonal units are what he considers to be evolving.
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