Reviews Other Books in the Field (Annotated bibliography)
Acts of Meaning by Jerome Bruner argues that cognitive science’s modeling the brain as an information processor has mistakenly led psychology away from focusing on understanding the mind as a “creator of meanings.” Acts of Meaning and Bruner’s earlier book, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, are a humanist and educator’s plea for viewing the human mind as something richer than a machine. My book, I Am Not a Machine!, gives substance to that plea. Bruner describes the “narrative mode” of cognition that provides personal “meaning” by linearizing one’s experience in a way that identifies the ordinary and justifies and interprets the extraordinary by ideas and themes derived from folk psychology. Bruner’s focus is on the social, cultural and literary uses of narrative, while in I Am Not a Machine, (Book II) I model how underlying mental and neural processes support human narrative. I also show how narrative can in turn be used to reason scientifically or tell tall tales. Bookstore Link
The Algebraic Mind– Integrating Connectionism and Cognitive Science by Gary Marcus argues for a theory of mind diametrically opposed to my view and hence addresses some of the same issues. Marcus uses connectionism only as a tool for understanding how symbol-manipulating processes could be implemented in the brain. The Algebraic Mind presents an in-depth technical treatment of symbols, rules, and the relationships between abstract variables that is suitable for a knowledgeable reader. The Algebraic Mind is well reasoned and the brain and mind could work using symbol-manipulating processes the way Marcus says it does. In fact, engineers, using silicon-based computer technology, are designing robots according to this model of the mind. Bookstore Link
The Animal Mind by James
Gould and Carol Gould has wonderful photographs and sketches
that vibrantly illustrate the cognitive characteristics of many animals.
In general, the animal behavior is interpreted in the highest possible
terms without serious analysis. For example (p176), “Researchers
have so far discovered that the essentials of Aristotelian logic are
accessible to at least one other species: the sea lion.”
Animal Minds by Donald Griffin gives many examples of the interesting natural behavior of many species of animals. Griffin states quite often that the behavior being described is proof that the animal has an intelligent and rational mind but never characterizes what the concept means to him, does not describe experimental evidence that would delineate the limits of expected behavior, and does not evaluate alternative and simpler explanations. Bookstore Link
The Cognitive Animal by Bekoff, Allen and Burghardt, editors, has 57 articles by researchers in many disciplines. Each contributor was asked to comment on research questions, methods, possible findings of internal psychological states, future work, and opinions on the limits of the study of animal cognition. The purpose of the compendium was to stimulate researchers to be more interdisciplinary in their thinking and research and to give us a snapshot of the field of animal cognition. To the best of my knowledge no common themes or consensus emerged in the effort. Bookstore Link
Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett treats us to the subtleties of Darwin’s theory of evolution in a very accessible way. His ideas about minds (see Dennett’s, Kinds of Minds as well) is important for understanding the fundamental characteristics of animal and human cognition. Dennett supports the main stream ideas in cognitive science. I think it fair to say that he is one of the most articulate writers and speakers in the field. Bookstore Link
Evolution and Human Behavior by John Cartwright focuses on how human beings behave, that is, on sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. It deals with the content of thought, while I focus on the underlying mechanisms that support thought. Bookstore Link
The Evolution of Cognition edited by Cecilia Heyes and Ludwig Huber promises to deal with categorization and the representation of objects and events and hence caused me to fear that I had been scooped because of its promise to deal with categorization and the representation of objects and events. This promise is laid out in the MIT Press synopsis, in the Chapter 1 introduction, and in the introduction to Part 2, Categorization (pp. 81–83), but it is never brought to fruition in the chapters that follow (5–8). Chapter 6, on stimulus equivalents, never gets beyond a detailed description of several interesting experiments. My treatment is based on global models, while the Heyes and Huber book is based on examination of detailed experiments—a worthwhile endeavor, but one that, at least in this case, does not address deep issues of animal or human cognition. Bookstore Link
The Growth of the Mind by Stanley Greenspan, M.D. presents an argument that is consistent with Merlin Donald’s (Origins of the Modern Mind) but emphasizes that it is specific emotional experiences of infants and children, not cognitive stimulation, that is responsible for human intelligence. I agree and use this hypothesis in my modeling of human cognition. Bookstore Link
How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, which tempted me, when I was in an unkind mood, to title my book, “How the Mind Really Works. Although Pinker’s book has one chapter (“Thinking Machines”) devoted to discussing computational models of the human mind and the rest of the book assumes that model, his book is mostly about evolutionary psychology. That is, it is about the content of human thought, not the underlying mechanisms that support it. My book almost exclusively discusses these underlying mechanisms. Bookstore Link
If a Lion Could Talk by Stephen Budiansky is written by a scientific journalist with a clear mind and engaging writing style. He warns us of the difficulties of being objective about animal cognition. He asserts that even open-minded intelligent scientists tend to report only those behaviors that remind them of their own human behavior. In addition, we feel the need to be succinct in our descriptions of animal behavior to the point of leaving out crucial information that might reveal a more mundane explanation of an animal’s behavior. Furthermore, many people have significant bias that distorts how they describe animal behavior and cognition. These lessons are hard to internalize in the abstract, so Budiansky describes many specific situations and shows the range of interpretations of them that have been put forward by different researchers. Budiansky also weaves the impact of his ideas of animal cognition into an analysis of human cognition that parallels my own analysis. In particular, he notes that the animal mind can be characterized by many specialized nonlinguistic and noncomputational processes that also serve to support the languageless cognition of humans. Human reason, by his and my account, is the powerful add-on that natural language supports. This is an extraordinarily cogent and readable, largely overlooked, book. Bookstore Link
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker is a focused look, not a survey, at the most unique aspect of human intelligence and I consequently recommend it to anyone who is just starting to learn about cognition, although professional scientists should read it as well. It strikes a balance between technical detail and entertaining stories and is thoroughly a “good read” without trivializing the subject matter. Although I argue for a very different fundamental model for how the mind works than that offered by Pinker, I think it critically important that any serious student of the mind understand alternative models and the reasons that support them. Bookstore Link
Mind by Paul Thagard is written for the general reader and presents a broad-scoped introductory survey of the entirety of research activity in cognitive science. Bookstore Link
Mindware and Being There by Andy Clark are excellent books containing well-written comprehensive reviews of cognitive science by a philosopher with both feet on the ground. Clark argues, as does most of the cognitive science community, that mental representation implies symbols in the brain and this “mechanism” has no limitations. He also has one of the clearest discussions I have seen of formal systems, that is, systems that are characterized by formal rules, symbols, and procedures. He goes into enough depth on many issues for readers to grapple with the fundamental issues he raises and ponder the many experiments he cites. Mindware defines current thinking in traditional cognitive science. Bookstore Link
Origins of the Modern Mind
by Merlin Donald presents a view of the evolution of mind
that is primarily based on four epochs of stable culture characterized
by the highest level of cognition and behavior exhibited at each stage.
The four stages are: the “episodic” culture of primates
and very early (barely bipedal) hominids, the “mimetic”
culture of Homo erectus, the “mythic” culture of Home Sapiens,
and the “theoretic” culture of modern human beings who use
written records. By contrast, I deal primarily with the underlying mental
processes that support observable cognition and behavior. I argue that
language is the evolutionary achievement that supports the behavior
that Donald describes, rather than asserting that some other fundamental
generalized “intelligence” evolved at each stage. I fully
concur with Donald on the importance of the External Symbolic Storage
(ESS) that characterizes the “theoretic” cognition of modern
human beings who can write and use graphic symbols, and I draw upon
his characterization of that process in my models.
Patterns, Thinking, and Cognition by Howard Margolis starts with the same premise that I did when I began writing my book a decade before he published his book: namely that pattern recognition is the fundamental process that can explain all human cognition. His book presents a serious look at association without distraction by the mechanics of neural networks (which, of course, model the pattern classification process). He argues persuasively that the mind is not governed by rules, algorithms and symbols, but he avoids the one area in which the argument gets into serious trouble—human language. Bookstore Link
Rethinking Innateness by Jeffrey Elman, et al. does a better job than any other work at presenting the implications of connectionism, especially as it relates to human language and development in general. My book is written for a less technical audience than this one and argues that connectionist models need to be augmented by an object-and-event representational mechanism and a planning mechanism for immediate action. My book (that is, Book II) also devotes more attention to exploring the broader implications of the model for human knowledge and the limits of human thinking. Bookstore Link
The Symbolic Species–The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain by Terrence Deacon focuses on what Deacon calls symbolic representation—the key idea critical to my theory of language. The Symbolic Species also contains significant complex material on the physical and neurological structure of brains, while I Am Not a Machine! has little of that material and instead focuses on functional models of human and animal cognition. I consider this book a must read for anyone interested in the mind, language, and evolution. Bookstore Link
When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy is about the emotional lives of animals, as the book’s subtitle accurately reflects.. Even pet owners convinced of the rich emotional life of their pet will be surprised and enriched by learning about the diverse emotionally-based behavior of a wide variety of animals. It’s very hard for me as a reader not to place myself in an animal’s shoes, so to speak, and reflect on what I would be thinking if I were in the animal’s place. I think Masson and McCarthy also have that tendency to interpret an animal’s emotional behavior in human terms and then to be led to “moral” conclusions based on those interpretations. It is enjoyable and not very hard work to read When Elephants Weep, but I think the unbiased reader should also do the hard work of reading about how other authors make very different interpretations of similar behavior. Bookstore Link
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