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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My review of "The Celebral Code".
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...
Published on December 28, 2001 by Brian.David.Duryee

versus
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too qualitative
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...
Published on October 11, 2003 by Dr. Lee D. Carlson


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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too qualitative, October 11, 2003
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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. His (Darwinian) mechanism for copying takes place among the interactions of the superficial pyramidal neurons, due to their physical properties and their geometric layout. Interestingly, the phenomenon of "emergent synchrony", familiar to the physics reader in the motion of the double pendulum, is shown to play a role in the copying mechanism. Indeed the superficial layers of the neocortex are shown to form (ephemeral) triangular arrays interacting via entrainement.
The next few chapters are devoted to showing just how the triangular arrays result in successful representations. The stability of the triangular arrays formed by the "hot spots" under perturbation is addressed, the author showing how the six "nearest neighbors" have a correcting influence on the spot if it fires out of sync with them. The minimal Hebbian cell-assembly is thus shown to be a hexagon, and that author shows how they are related to triangular arrays: namely, that two triangular arrays can alter synaptic strengths and create attractors within a hexagon's circuitry that sustain the firing pattern. The author's use of concepts and constructions from dynamical systems in this chapter and the next two is very interesting but made me thirst for more quantitative justification. Indeed chaotic dynamics is brought in to explain the "memorized environment", which for the author is the most difficult problem to explain from the standpoint of his Darwinian shaping-up process. Calling chaos "controlled disorder", the author holds that the EEG patterns in deep sleep are limited-cycle rhythmicity, that Parkinson tremors are the result of fixed-point attractors, and the Necker cube perspective switching is switching in and out of lobes of an attractor. He does admit though that all these are "loose analogies" and goes on to explain in more detail how resonances influence cortical territory by spatio-temporal patterns that arrive by lateral cloning. The Darwinian paradigm via the overlaid hexagons is asserted to be one of the elementary mechanisms for category formation, and thus are able to deal with higher levels of abstraction, such as one finds in advanced mathematics. If the mechanism put forward by the author is correct in explaining such high-level reasoning, this would be a major advance in cognitive science.
As if detecting that the reader-scientist may be disenchanted with purely philosophical discussion, the author elaborates on his Darwinian paradigm in the rest of the book and offers a new perspective on the nature of categories in the context of this paradigm. He adheres to the assertion that categories are indispensable for using words in a referential manner, as linguistic symbols do not relate directly to the objects in the world, but to concepts of the classes which the objects belong. A hierarchical network of meanings is essential for this to occur. The author has taken on a problem of enormous difficulty here, but does give explanations that seem plausible. The "hexagons for cerebral codes" are capable he says of handling any level of abstraction or representation. Interestingly, his explanations make use of another concept from physics, that of Brownian motion, to discuss the role and origin of associative memory in his Darwinian paradigm. The role of "recombination" in the Darwinian process is explained as a need for integrating codes that are stored separately in the brain into a "master code" for a particular concept. "Hexagonal cloning competitions" are thought of as processes by which information can be (serially) ordered and missing information can be identified. The author makes his case for the utility of metaphor crystal clear, for without such metaphors he says, without imagination, we will have no mechanisms to mold experience or to discover new things. Consciousness too, deemed the most complex of phenomena to be described by a theory of brain function, is explained in the context of his hexagonal neocortical arrays. Consciousness is a result of the multiple levels of "stratified stability", each of these employing Darwinian processes to enhance quality and create new things. In addition, he discusses practical consequences of his brain theory in psychiatry, rather than in merely explaining the capabilities of the brain.
With more experimentation, with more modeling, with more simulations, and with further refinements and clarifications to the physical concepts which he uses, his ideas will become vastly more convincing. However exotic they may appear, his ideas, and others in brain modeling, will require careful elucidation, and future developments are to be greeted with eager anticipation.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My review of "The Celebral Code"., December 28, 2001
This review is from: The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (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
4.0 out of 5 stars A Review of The Cerebral Code, December 3, 2006
By 
Robert Jones (Emporia, Kansas USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly an important step in explaining thought, July 15, 2004
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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
5.0 out of 5 stars He may be right, August 23, 1998
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars Mental Darwinism with too much geometry, January 9, 2013
By 
Tim Tyler (Boston, USA.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (Paperback)
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. He broadly equates them to concepts and has them evolving on the surface of the brain - rather like a two dimensional cellular automaton.

The book presents this vision, but does a miserable job of presenting evidence for it. Calvin cites lateral inhibition, and recurrent excitation between equidistant neurons to argue that neurons will tend to form triangular assemblies of interlinked neurons which fire together. He argues that such linked neurons will fire synchronously - like fireflies - rather than fire in cyclic chains.

It is true that loops of neural activity in the brain are probably important to it's function. However, Calvin doesn't produce much evidence for his vision of hexagonal cerebral mozaics, and I think it is fair to say now that not much evidence of them has been uncovered since this book was published. This wouldn't matter so much, except for the fact that the hexagonal patches seems to be the main theme of the book - and it is completely saturated with them.

It is pretty easy to see what is copied at a low level in the brain. Neural impulses are copies as they travel down branching axons, and axon and dendrite tips are copied as they grow and divide. Apparently there's also some gross electrical copying as electrical waves propagate through the brain and neurons directly affect their neighbours. These basic copying processes in turn go on to support higher-level copying processes - as memories are recalled, as habitual behaviours are performed and as ideas interact.

However, these days, Calvin's search for a geometry of the brain seems rather misguided. The problem seems to be the lack of a proper scientific methodology. Calvin's brand of armchair philosophy is reminiscent of a mixture of numerology and phrenology. It pays insufficient heed to scientific evidence. I think Calvin's axiomitization of Darwinism suffers from a similar problem. He didn't convince me that we needed six axioms of Darwinism - or the eleven that he later went on to present. I don't think axiomitizing things is one of Calvin's strong points.

In summary, I thought this book was pretty disappointing. It's hard to recommend it to anyone interested in the evolution of brain structures or mental entities - it just has too much speculative nonsense in it. On the positive side, the contents of this book are available free of charge on Calvin's web site - which makes it good value for money.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Calvin deserves a Nobel Prize., February 6, 1997
By A Customer
These are incredible results from incredible research. From the look of some other reviews, it is apparent that some people are so amazed at the contents of this book that their own cognitive dissonance prevents them from believing that Dr. Calvin's results, and the resulting explanations, are real: They mutter that people shouldn't be allowed to go on speculating so.William Calvin's findings appear to fill in the missing pieces connecting both ends of the model of brain function -- which for decades has being built from the bottom up by neuroscientists, and from the top down by artificial intelligence researchers. This is nothing short of miraculous; I didn't think I would live to see this in my lifetime!If Dr. Calvin doesn't receive a Nobel prize for this work, the selection committee just isn't doing their homework. --Sherwin Gooc
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars FEYNMAN WAS RIGHT., July 27, 2008
By 
James B. Johnson (HUDSON, FL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (Paperback)
Richard Feynman said that if you cant express an idea clearly and simply, you probably dont know what you claim to know. Calvin failed Feyman's test.

This book is not well-written. It is a struggle to read. The writing is awful. Compared to his other books, I'm thinking a grad student cobbled this one together. Maybe copied Calvin's notes. This, or maybe Calvin had the other books ghosted by a competent writer. I'm not sure which it is.

Calvin's thesis isnt hard to grasp, but he seems to deliberately write jumbled prose with long words to explain simple concepts. Maybe its a game pedagogues play with each other so colleagues remain clueless.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looks at the physiological processes of the brain., January 17, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (Paperback)
Calvin takes a look at the processes of the brain and how the brain operates. The Darwinian Theory is used to explain how the cerebral cortex represents mental images, and occasionally recombines them, to create something new and different. The book proposes how the brain operates to "shape up" mental images. The book discusses how memory, creativity, consciousness, and even dreaming occur. The Cerbral Code is primarily for scientific readers as terminology is neccesarily detailed.
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6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Calvin deserves a Nobel Prize., January 11, 2000
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I originally posted this review on February 6, 1997, but the text of the original was apparently truncated in the Amazon.com database, so here is a reposting of the complete text. --Sherwin Gooch
William Calvin deserves a Nobel Prize. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reviewer: Sherwin Gooch . . . . . . . . February 6, 1997
These are incredible results from incredible research. From the look of some other reviews, it is apparent that some people are so amazed at the contents of this book that their own cognitive dissonance prevents them from believing that Dr. Calvin's results, and the resulting explanations, are real: They mutter that people shouldn't be allowed to go on speculating so. William Calvin's findings appear to fill in the missing pieces connecting both ends of the model of brain function -- which for decades has being built from the bottom up by neuroscientists, and from the top down by artificial intelligence researchers. This is nothing short of miraculous; I didn't think I would live to see this in my lifetime! If Dr. Calvin doesn't receive Nobel prize for this work, the selection committee just isn't doing their homework. --Sherwin Gooch .. .. .
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The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind
The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind by William H. Calvin (Paperback - February 6, 1998)
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