CAUTION: Confusingly enough, I have two new books in Autumn 1996. The other one is THE CEREBRAL CODE.
Then and Now
copyright ©1996 by
William H. Calvin
A Science Masters book
(BasicBooks in the US;
to be available in 12 translations)
If youre good at finding the one right answer to lifes multiple-choice questions, youre 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 trying to speak a sentence that youve
never spoken before. As Jean Piaget used to say, intelligence is what
you use when you dont know what to do, when all the standard answers
Evolving something new on the fly involves a lot of creative trial-and-error inside the brain, mostly in the last second before speaking aloud. Starting from themes as disjointed and unrealistic as those of a dream, you make something of quality out of the subconscious morass. How?
This book tries to fathom how our inner life evolves from one second to the next, as we steer ourselves from one topic to another, as we create and reject alternatives. Its not just a little person inside the head doing all this, though its natural to assume that anything fancy requires an even fancier designer. Ever since Darwin, however, weve known that elegant things can also 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.
Few proposals achieve a Perfect Ten when judged against our memories,
but we can subconsciously try out variations, using many brain regions.
Eventually, as quality improves, we become conscious of our new
Drawing on anthropology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, and the neurosciences, Calvin also considers how a more intelligent brain evolved using slow biological improvements in the last few million years. Back then, 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. In his concluding chapter, Calvin cautions about arms races in intelligence. Just as the Red Queen explained to Alice in Wonderland, you might have to keep running to stay in the same place.
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 Neils Brain.
Author photo by
LIMITED CIRCULATION PAGE FOR ADVANCE REVIEWERS: Please don't link to this page or any of the chapter pages on any publicly accessible web page (the full-text indexing robots such as Alta Vista's and Infoseek's will proceed to index it if they can locate it through links). The public page only has a few chapters linked; this one has them all.
HOW BRAINS THINK expands on my October 1994
Scientific American article to address the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and language.
The parallel 1996 book is The Cerebral Code from MIT Press; though not as well suited for the general reader as the present book, those interested in the neural circuitry of the brain needed to run a darwinian process may wish to look at The Cerebral Code if Chapters 6 and 7 of the present book arent enough.
All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts and personal photocopying of a single chapter, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form (including information storage and retrieval, photocopying, and recording) without permission from the publisher.
Advance reviews of HOW BRAINS THINK:
"Challenging and rewarding. As always, Calvin's thinking about thinking gives plenty of food for thought." --Kirkus Reviews
"Still partially a mystery, intelligence's nature (and manifestation in language) gets a consummately clear summary in Calvin's hands." --Booklist
INSTRUCTORS: The glossary of The Cerebral Code will also be useful when reading this book. You can create hypertext links to glossary items on your own web pages via
If you would like to see a translation for your language, alert a relevant publisher and point them toward my literary agent:
Brockman, Inc., 5 East 59th Street, New York NY 10022 USA.
Helpful discussions with Derek Bickerton, Iain Davidson, Daniel C. Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Katherine Graubard (who suggested the books title), Marcel Kinsbourne, Elizabeth Loftus, Jennifer Lund, Don Michael, George Ojemann, Duane Rumbaugh, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Mark Sullivan, and the late Jan Wind are reflected at multiple places in this book. Bonnie Hurren kindly pointed me to the Piagettian definition of intelligence.
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