02 December 2006

Second Nature--Neural Darwinism

Gerald Edelman is a distinguished scientist and Nobel laureate, accomplished in multiple scientific fields. His most recent book, Second Nature, summarizes and brings up to date much of his thinking and research on the natural selection of neural groupings in learning and cognition.

Neural Darwinism rests on three points:

1. Variation: On the microscopic level, every brain is connected differently. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Brain activity is constantly adjusting and changing these connections so that no two brains are identical. This point is in sharp contrast to the supporters of innate syntax like Stephen Pinker, who argue that all minds are the same.
2. Selection: Some of the various connections formed are preserved through a selection process while others are lost.
3. Feedback: The selection process is the result of a feedback (“reentry”) process that evaluates some brain connections favorably and some less favorably.

Here are some reviews of Edelman's recent book from a few well known scientists and thinkers:

"Until this provocative book, I thought that Gerald Edelman was merely one of our greatest and most original thinkers in neuroscience. But now having read such a remarkable disquisition on the relationship between brain physiology, consciousness and knowledge as he presents here, I have become certain of something about which I had previously only wondered: he is also one of our greatest philosophers."—Sherwin Nuland, Yale University

"Edelman's Second Nature offers the mature synthesis of his reflections on brain and mind. Somehow, it is both intellectually satisfying and wise."—Antonio Damasio, author of Descartes' Error and Looking for Spinoza

"A remarkable contribution to the philosophy of the mind, Edelman's Second Nature breaks new ground to an age-old problem by launching brain-based epistemology. Original, lucid, concise, succinct: easily the best in the field."—Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, Regents Professor, University of Minnesota

“Dr. Edelman has done something unique in this book. He deals both with the important epistemological issues and the mechanisms in the brain that give rise to them.”—Avrum Stroll, University of California, San Diego

“In the tradition of John von Neumann’s The Computer and the Brain and Erwin Schrödinger’s What Is Life? Gerald Edelman summarizes his seminal contributions to our understanding of the human brain and the human mind. The reader is drawn into a conversation with a master, who is at once witty and wise.”—Howard Gardner, author of Changing Minds

"It was William James's dream that physiology, psychology and philosophy be joined into a single discipline, and in Second Nature, the latest volume in Gerald M. Edelman's seminal series of books on Neural Darwinism, this dream of a brain-based epistemology is brought closer than ever to realization. For anyone who is interested in human consciousness, this is required reading. "—Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

"Second Nature is well worth reading. It serves as a bridge between the traditionally separate camps of ‘hard’ science and the humanities."—Richard Restak, Wilson Quarterly

"[Edelman] reviews the latest research in brain-based approaches to consciousness, creativity, and mental illness."—ScienceNews.org

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Stephen Pinker believe all minds are the same? He's argued persuasively in favor of very real gender differences and at least entertains the idea even less politically tenable (but even more blatantly obvious) of meaningful differences in human populations separated by as much as 50,000 years of unique evolutionary pressures.

Sunday, 03 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course you are correct. I included that part of the quote to give readers a heads up about the biases of the reviewer source. Never take anyone's opinion without at least a pinch of salt.

Pinker is considerably more astute in the area of linguistics and mind than is Edmund Blair Bolles, in my opinion.

But you must be careful when you read Al Fin blog. Sometimes tricky old Al will throw in a few things just to provoke a reaction.

Thanks for your comment.

Sunday, 03 December, 2006  

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