How Brains Think : Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now

Overview

If you’re good at finding the one right answer to life’s multiple-choice questions, you’re ”smart.” But ”intelligence” is what you need when contemplating the leftovers in the refrigerator, trying to figure out what might go with them; or if you’re trying to speak a sentence that you’ve never spoken before. As Jean Piaget said, intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do, when all the standard answers are inadequate. This book tries to fathom how our inner life evolves from one topic to another, ...

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Overview

If you’re good at finding the one right answer to life’s multiple-choice questions, you’re ”smart.” But ”intelligence” is what you need when contemplating the leftovers in the refrigerator, trying to figure out what might go with them; or if you’re trying to speak a sentence that you’ve never spoken before. As Jean Piaget said, intelligence is what you use when you don’t know what to do, when all the standard answers are inadequate. This book tries to fathom how our inner life evolves from one topic to another, as we create and reject alternatives. Ever since Darwin, we’ve known that elegant things can emerge (indeed, self-organize) from ”simpler” beginnings. And, says theoretical neurophysiologist William H. Calvin, the bootstrapping of new ideas works much like the immune response or the evolution of a new animal species—except that the brain can turn the Darwinian crank a lot faster, on the time scale of thought and action. Drawing on anthropology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, and the neurosciences, Calvin also considers how a more intelligent brain developed using slow biological improvements over the last few million years. Long ago, evolving jack-of-all trades versatility was encouraged by abrupt climate changes. Now, evolving intelligence uses a nonbiological track: augmenting human intelligence and building intelligent machines.

"...draws on anthropology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, neurosciences, and a nonbiological track to explain how an intelligent brain develops over time."

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Neurophysiologist Calvin (The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climate and the Evolution of Intelligence, 1990, etc.) continues to explore the human mind in a lively, erudite fashion, this time drawing on evolutionary biology, ethology, linguistics, and neuroscience.

He begins by distinguishing consciousness, or awareness, from intelligence ("the high-end scenery of neurophysiology" encompassing foresight, speed, and creativity) and then considers the likely evolution of human intelligence. He argues that syntax, the structuring of relative relationships in a mental model of things, is what human levels of intelligence are mostly about, and to understand why humans are so intelligent, we need to understand how our primate ancestors evolved syntax from the more limited communicative abilities of apes. Calvin argues that not only did a Darwinian process shape a better brain over two million years, but that the same process operating within the brain might explain how the brain gives shape to thoughts and makes decisions. An image emerges of cerebral codes that copy themselves, compete with other cerebral codes, and develop new variations. Calvin tries to help the nonscientist along with clever illustrations and analogies, such as his Rube Goldbergstyle mechanical "Vacuum-Lifter Package-Carrying System" to explain how sentences are understood, but close attention is required at all times. In his concluding chapter he considers some of the implications of artificial intelligence, i.e., a computer that simulates brain processes and is capable of abstraction, imagery, talking, planning, and decision making. What values would we want these silicon beings to have, and how would humans fare in competition with them?

Challenging and rewarding. As always, Calvin's thinking about thinking gives plenty of food for thought.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465072781
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/5/1997
  • Series: Sceince Masters Series
  • Pages: 163
  • Sales rank: 1,388,448
  • Lexile: 1330L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

William H. Calvin is a theoretical neurophysiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of nine books, including The Cerebral Code, The River That Flows Uphill, and, with the neurosurgeon George A. Ojemann, Conversations with Neil’s Brain.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 What to Do Next 1
2 Evolving a Good Guess 9
3 The Janitor's Dream 27
4 Evolving Intelligent Animals 47
5 Syntax as a Foundation of Intelligence 63
6 Evolution on-the-Fly 91
7 Shaping Up an Intelligent Act from Humble Origins 113
8 Prospects for a Superhuman Intelligence 145
Recommended Reading 165
Notes 167
Index 179
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