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William Calvin
The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind

"The difference between the amoeba and Einstein is that, although both make use of the method of trial and error or elimination, the amoeba dislikes erring while Einstein is intrigued by it: he consciously searches for his errors in the hope of learning by their discovery and elimination." --Karl Popper as quoted on page 61
The Cerebral Code is about Calvin's Darwinian theory of how the mind works. Although Darwin's ideas have been applied to the mind previously, they haven't ever been presented in this type of theory format before with specific details and processes laid out. Calvin goes beyond Edelman's Neural Darwinism in that his theory incorporates all six of the essential Darwinian elements. It includes theoretical elements such as predictability, possible tests, and how it fits in with observed phenomena. The theory isn't purely Darwinian. Elements of Lamarkian thought are also included. Although it is not yet a rock solid theory like Darwin's, future neuro-technology may be able to inform us of just how 'on the mark' Calvin is.

Someone who wants to begin to read about the brain, consciousness, and how the mind works does not want to start here. The Cerebral Code is fairly technical and assumes prior knowledge. As Calvin explains on page 7, the book is primarily for fellow scientists and only secondarily for general readers. If you want to read the book, I highly recommend you first read a book or two like Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought & Language and/or The Creative Loop: How the Brain Makes a Mind (and probably in that order).

From an understanding consciousness standpoint (i.e. if varying parts of the brain perform different functions what exactly is unifying these parts so that we can only think one thought at once--the old cartesian theater fallacy) the brief section beginning on page 189 may explain a lot. In Calvin's Darwinian thought competition there can emerge only one victor. Although the victor is frequently a different thought at different times, at any one split second in time the sole victor becomes your consciousness.

The section on thought disorders in the final chapter is also very interesting. For those of us who have wondered why it is so difficult to change our own way of thinking or that of someone else, Calvin's theory may offer useful explanations. The experiences of some who encounter hallucinations and delusions outside of sleep (sometimes caused by fasting, sensory deprivation, or repeated ritual) is fascinating to think about.

The focus of the book isn't about the things mentioned in the above two paragraphs though. Mental Darwinism which the bulk of the text expounds upon (and is far too complex to even lightly go over in a brief review without raising too many questions) may be alive and well in the minds of all--not just the brain of William Calvin who came up with the theory.

From the publisher:
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.

"[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
"A challenging book with an original premise, but, like many of the author's other titles, it is accessible."
-- Library Journal
"An intelligent, well-written volume."
-- Science Books and Films
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