William Calvin:
HOW BRAINS THINK (Basic, 1996)

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(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Resurrecting another of William James' intuitions and vindicating Freud's theory of the subconscious, the American neurophysiologist Calvin puts forth his theory of "mental darwinism": just like the immune system and the evolution of species are driven by natural selection, mental life too is driven by natural selection. A darwinian process in the brain finds the best thought from the many produced continuously.
Calvin's emphasis is on movement: ultimately, what we think is for the sake of action. We need to move in the world and the mind is one tool to determine the most efficient way to do that. Far from being merely combinations of sensations and memories, thoughts are movements that haven't happened yet.
To explain how this works, Calvin has introduced the concept of a "cerebral code". Cerebral code is the anologue of the genetic code which allows for reproduction and selection of thoughts. A cerebral code copies itself repeatedly around a region of the brain, in a manner similar to Hebb's cell assemblies. Thought arises from the copying and competition of cerebral codes. Our actual thought is simply the dominant pattern in the copying competition. The brain is an evolutionary system. The brain is what Calvin calls a "Darwin Machine".
He has shown that circuits in the cerebral cortex act as copying machines, but they copy in a darwinian fashion, introducing mistakes that continuously create variants. Such variants then compete for cortex space. Calvin found all the Darwinian algorithms for evolution, plus even the catalysts that speed up evolution, i.e. the equivalents of sex, island settings and climate change.
This book does not significantly expand on the Cerebral Code. It simply quotes other researchers. It is more like a conversation over dinner than a successful scientific report. Calvin has read a few interesting books from ethologists and linguists and wants to speculate about language and intelligence (a term way too vague to be of any scientific interest). Ultimately, it simply rehashes his theory of the cerebral code, which was much better presented in his previous book.

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