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The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind Reprint Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262531542
ISBN-10: 0262531542
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Calvin's single, simple purpose for The Cerebral Code is a propose a substantial hypothesis for how the human cerebral cortex might work. He suggests that the brain uses a selection algorithm, what he calls a 'Darwin Machine,' based upon small anatomical and physiological units, local spatiotemporal patterns of neuronal activity that should 'tile' regions of cortex with a hexagonal mosaic. Until this book, the concept of selection in the brain has not been so lausibly linked with real, empirically observable cellular structures and functions.

(David G. King, Anatomy, School of Medicine, and Zoology, College of Science Southern Illinois University)

This book is indeed of importance to specialists in the field, and is likely to be used as a source book for students to read in courses on the neural basis of cognition. Calvin proposes a model of a major part of cerebral cortical function and shows how it could apply to or 'explain' a number of examples of operations and cognitive achievements at various higher levels. The Cerebral Code is certainly original, readable, and of sound scholarship. It should appeal to an audience of professionals, students, and general readers.

(Theodore H. Bullock, Professor, Department of Neurosciences, University of California)

William Calvin writes with clarity and elegance about the brain. In an age when brain science is becoming increasingly fragmented and specialised Calvin is a rara avis... he provides a broad overview on the functions of the brain and a bold and novel conjecture about the most highly evolved - yet enigmatic of all biological organs - the human cerebral cortex.

(V.S. Ramachandran M.D., Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology, UCSD)

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, problem 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 reductionistically minded colleagues have largely ignored.

(Walter J. Freeman, Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley)

[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)

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Product Details

  • Series: MIT Press
  • Paperback: 262 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book; Reprint edition (February 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262531542
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262531542
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #862,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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