Book Reviews

Additions to the Bibliography on Mind and Consciousness

compiled by Piero Scaruffi

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Nagel Thomas: THE FINAL WORD (Oxford Univ Press, 1998)

Nagel Thomas: MORTAL QUESTIONS (Cambridge Univ Press, 1979)

Contains the famous "What is it like to be a bat": we can learn all about the brain mechanism of a bat's sonar system without having the slightest idea of what it is like to have the sonar experiences of a bat.

Nagel Thomas: "Mind and Cosmos" (Oxford Univ Press, 2012)

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Nagel Thomas: THE VIEW FROM NOWHERE (Oxford Univ Press, 1986)

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Neal Stephen: DESCRIPTIONS (MIT Press, 1990)

Neal's semantic theory is based on Bertrand Russell's theory of descriptions.

Neisser Ulric: COGNITION AND REALITY (Freeman, 1975)

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Neisser Ulric: CONCEPTS AND CONCEPTUAL DEVELOPMENT (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Neisser identifies five kinds of self-knowledge: the ecological self (situated in the environment), the "interpersonal self" (situated in the society of selves), both based on perception, the private self, the conceptual self and the narrative self.

Neisser Ulric: CONCEPTS RECONSIDERED (Cambridge Univ Press, 1994)

A collection of papers, including Barsalou's 1987 "The instability of graded structures", which proved that concepts are not stable structures (concepts are built on the fly, given the context, and each instance can be quite different from the previous one).

Neisser Ulric: THE REMEMBERING SELF (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

A collection of articles on the "narrative self", the fact that human beings remember what happened to them. Remembering is a skill that must be learned. Thus, the remembering self must have a development of its own.
Jerome Bruner believes in a multiplicity of narratives. There is not a single, static remembered self. What we remember is influenced by social and cultural factors. Self-narratives don't even depend so much on memory as on thinking. "Self is a perpetually rewritten story".

Neisser Ulric: THE PERCEIVED SELF (Cambridge Univ Press, 1994)

A collection of articles from distinguished authors on the "ecological self" (situated in the environment) and the "interpersonal self" (situated in the society of selves).

Nelson Katherine: LANGUAGE IN COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

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Nelson Raymond: LOGIC OF MIND (Kluwer Academics, 1989)

The book presents a comprehensive and ambitious theory of the mind as a computational system made of rules that are embodied in the nervous system.
Nerve networks, grammars and cognitive systems are all reduced to automata (systems of computational rules). Nelson defends the view that computers and minds are the same type of automaton, especially against the misapplication of Godel's theorem.
A theory of belief and action is also developed using abstract Turing machines and automata models. Reference derives from intentionality, and intentions can be reduced to ways of computing (based on the idea of partial recursive functions). The intentional features of the mind can therefore be explained in mathematical terms. Nelson builds a "logic of acceptance" to deal with perception: a stimulus pattern is perceived if it is accepted by the perceiver as a given type, and this process depends on the perceiver's expections (i.e., perceptual belief is fullfilled expectation). Desire is then defined in terms of belief and action. Both belief and desire are therefore reduced to mathematical quantities, and ultimately to automata computation.
A theory of truth for a language corresponding to perceptual belief and a theory of meaning (based on recursive functions) are worked out.

Nesse Randolph and Williams George: WHY WE GET SICK (Times Books, 1994)

A distinguished physician (Nesse) and an evolutionary biologist (Williams) discuss diseases from a darwinian perspective: why do we get sick? They provide evolutionary explanations for the most common human diseases. They also explain sex: sex differentiates individuals in order to survive pathogens (parasites), i.e. if all individuals were identical, it would take only one pathogen to kill the entire population.

Neumann, Erich: THE ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF CONSCIOUSNESS (Princeton Univ Press, 1954)

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Newell Allen & Simon Herb: HUMAN PROBLEM SOLVING (Prentice-Hall, 1972)

A gigantic study on human behavior from the point of view of information processing and one of the milestones of cognitive science.
By conducting experiments, the authors concluded that problem solving involves a mental search through a problem space of possible solutions in which each step is guided by rules of thumb, or heuristics.
A problem space consists of a set of knowledge states, a set of operators on knowledge states, the initial state, the desired final state. Problem solving takes place by search in the problem space until the desired knowledge state is achieved. Knowledge about the environment is fundamental in order to guarantee a highly selective search through the problem space.
As an example, the Logic Theorist is a heuristics-based problem solver whose task is to find proofs for theorems in the propositional calculus. The General Problem Solver is an even more ambitious program.
The cognitive model is one in which human intelligence is due to a set of production rules controlling behavior and to internal information processing. Both the mind and the computer are physical-symbol systems.

Newell Allen & Rosenbloom Paul: THE SOAR PAPERS (MIT Press, 1993)

A collection of papers on the unified cognitive architecture developed over a decade by Rosenbloom, John Laird and Allen Newell that attempts to explain how a cognitive system can improve its skills through experience.
The universal weak method is an organizational framework whereby knowledge determines the weak methods employed to solve the problem, i.e. knowledge controls the behavior of the rational agent. Universal subgoaling is a scheme whereby goals can be created automatically to deal with the difficulties that the rational agent encounters during problem solving.
The engine of the architecture is driven by production rules that fire in parallel and represent task-dependent knowledge. The architecture maintains a context which is made of four slots: goal, problem space, state and operator. A fixed set of production rules determines which objects have to become current, i.e. fill those slots. In other words, they determine the strategic choices to be made after each round of parallel processing.

Nicolelis, Miguel: "Beyond Boundaries" (Henry Holt, 2011)

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Newell Allen: UNIFIED THEORIES OF COGNITION (Harvard Univ Press, 1990)

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Nicolis Gregoire & Prigogine Ilya: SELF-ORGANIZATION IN NONEQUILIBRIUM SYSTEMS (Wiley, 1977)

A milestone and monumental work that redefined the way scientists approach natural phenomena and brought self-organizing processes to the forefront of the study of complex systems such as biological and social ones.
The book introduces nonequilibrium thermodynamics, which leads to bifurcation theory and to the stochastic approach to fluctuations.
Under special circumstances the distance from equilibrium and the nonlinearity of a system become sources of order, driving the system to ordered configurations (or "dissipative structures"). In dissipative structures nonequilibrium becomes a source of order.
The multiplicity of solutions in nonlinear systems can be interpreted as a process of gradual "emancipation" from the environment.
A stunning number and variety of fields of application, from chemistry to sociology. In this framework the most difficult problems of biology, from morphogenesis to evolution, find a natural model. A thermodynamics of evolution and even equations for ecosystems are proposed.

Nicolis Gregoire & Prigogine Ilya: EXPLORING COMPLEXITY (W.H.Freeman, 1989)

An introduction to the theory of dynamical systems. After providing examples of self-organization in chemical, cosmological and biological systems, systems are partitioned into conservative systems (which are governed by conservation laws for energy, translational momentum and angular momentum, and give rise to reversible processes) and dissipative systems (which give rise to irreversible processes). Equilibrium states and nonequilibrium constraints are defined operationally, with the emphasis on fluxex between a system and the environment. A system subject to the action of a nonequilibrium constraint becomes susceptible to change as localized tendencies to deviate from equilibrium are amplified, thus becoming sources of innovation and diversification. The potentialities of nonlinearity are dormant at equilibrium but are revelead by nonequilibrium: multiple solutions appear and therefore diversification of behavior becomes possible. Dissipative structures emerge under nonequilibrium conditions. Therefore, nonlinear systems driven away from equilibrium can generate instabilities that lead to bifurcations and symmetry breaking beyond bifurcation. The methodology of phase spaces is introduced to study nonlinear nonequilibrium systems, leading to formal definitions of limit cycles, attractors, fractals, etc. Catastrophe and chaos theories are viewed as special cases. A model of bifurcation and evolution is worked out. The relationship between stochastic and deterministic behavior (between chance and necessity) is analyzed, as well as the origin of irreversibility.

Nicolis Gregoire: INTRODUCTION TO NONLINEAR SCIENCE (Cambridge University Press, 1995)

The ultimate textbook on nonlinear methods for describing complex systems. From an interdisciplinary introduction, the book goes on to introduce in a rigorous manner the vocabulary and tools of invariant manifolds, attractors, fractals, stability, bifurcation analysis, normal forms, chaos, Lyapunov exponents, entropies.


A revised edition of his seminal 1965 "Learning Machines".


One of the most popular textbooks of artificial intelligence. The focus is on production systems (heuristic search algorithms, resolution and unification, planning systems) with a brief mention of semantic networks.

Noe, Alva: ACTION IN PERCEPTION (MIT Press 2004)

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Norretranders Tor: THE USER ILLUSION (Viking, 1998)

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Norvig, Peter & Russell, Stuart "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach" (2009)

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Norwich Kenneth: INFORMATION SENSATION AND PERCEPTION (Academic Press, 1993)

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Nunberg Geoffrey: THE PRAGMATICS OF REFERENCE (Indiana Univ Linguistic Club, 1978)

There's a fundamental ambiguities in all terms: there is always potentially an infinite number of referents of a term, depending on the context. Nunberg argues that a term cannot have a standard referent, but its referents can be derived one from the other through a number of elementary functions (such as "owner of" or "location of") which can be recursively applied in any combination.
Four principles determine which functions a listener is going to employ to derive the most appropriate referent.
A term is used in a "normal" way when it is consistent with the conventions of the linguistic community.
A metaphor is a discourse in which the speaker a) employs an expression E to refer to F in context C even if there exists another expression to refer to F which the speaker knows it is easier to understand; b) knows that employing E is not rational but expects the listener to realize this and that he is aware of it; c) acts according to a cooperative principle and expects the listener to be aware of it. Metaphors are not an exclusive of poets. Quite the opposit: people who are not very fluent in the language tend to use metaphors more often.

Nunez, Paul: "Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality" (Oxford Univ Press, 2010)

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