Book Reviews

Additions to the Bibliography on Mind and Consciousness

compiled by Piero Scaruffi

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Valiant Leslie: CIRCUITS OF THE MIND (Oxford University Press, 1994)

Valiant's "neuroidal model" attempts to explain the brain's prodigious capability to store and process information by assuming that neurons and neural connections have an internal structure which matters. Each neuroid is a linear threshold element, augmented with states and a timing mechanism (to reflect the synchronized rhythmic behavior of the cortex). Valiant assumes that a cognitive substrate made of a few elementary functions drives the neuroidal net. When one of these functions is activated by interaction with the environment, a neural circuit is modified, and such a change contributes to successive action in the environment. A detailed computational model is worked out.
Valiant starts by providing neurobiological details about the neocortex

Van Benthem Johan: THE LOGIC OF TIME (Kluwer, 1991)

In this 1983 essay Van Benthem believes that time should not be studied only with either the instant-based ontology or the interval-based ontology, but that both should be used at the same time. Ontological plurality is necessary to couple any theory of time with theories of other domains.
The second part of the book deals with temporal discourse.
The book covers all the main formal approaches to time in a very technical and comprehensive manner.

Van Benthem Johan: A MANUAL OF INTENSIONAL LOGIC (Univ Of Chicago Press, 1988)

Intensional logic is useful for semantically explaining intensional contexts in natural language through multiple reference. Intensional logic provides tools such as tense, modality and conditionals. Formal descriptions are given of applications such as temporal logic and intuitionistic logic.

Van Benthem Johan: LANGUAGE IN ACTION (MIT Press, 1995)

A lucid treatise on the logical foundations of categorial grammar that covers a broad spectrum, from lambda calculus to the theory of types, from proof theory to model theory. In the last chapter the author advances the concept of a "logic of information", with a modal logic of information patterns (to deal with the static structure of information representation) and a relational algebra of control (to deal with the dynamic structure of information processing) and a type-theoretic dynamic logic that integrates the two aspects.

Varela Francisco, Thompson Evan & Rosch Eleanor: THE EMBODIED MIND (MIT Press, 1991)

Following Merleau-Ponty's philosophical thought, the authors argue in favor of a stance that views the human body both as matter and as experience, both as a biological entity and a phenomenological entity. Drawing inspiration from buddhist meditative practice, they tackle the nonunified character of the self and propose an "enactive" approach to cognition: cognition as embodied action (or enaction), evolution not as optimal adaptation but as "natural drift". In the context of emergence and self-organization, the book finds scientific evidence for the emergent formation of direct experience without the need to posit the existence of a self. The mind is selfless. "Self" refers to a set of mental and bodily formations that are linked by causal coherence over time. The self as the homunculus inside our head is an illusion. At the same time the world is not a given, but reflects the actions in which we engage, i.e. it is "enacted" from our actions (or structural coupling) and filtered by our common sense.
Organisms do not adapt to a pregiven world. Organisms and environment mutually specify each other. Organisms drift naturally in the environment. Environmental regularities arise from the interaction between a living organism and its environment. The world of an organism is enacted by the history of its structural coupling with the environment. Perception is perceptually guided action (sensorimotor enactment). Cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor activity that enables such a process. Perceptually guided action is constrained by the need to preserve the integrity of the organism (ontogeny) and its lineage (phylogeny).

Varela Francisco: PRINCIPLES OF BIOLOGICAL AUTONOMY (North Holland, 1979)

The book merges the themes of autonomy of natural systems (i.e. internal regulation, as opposed to control) and their informational abilities (i.e., cognition) into the theme of a system possessing an identity and interacting with the rest of the world.
The organization of a system is the set of relations that define it as a unity. The structure of a system the set of relations among its components. The organization of a system is independent of the properties of its components. A machine can be realized by many sets of components and relations among them. Homeostatic systems are systems that keep the values of their variables within a small range of values, i.e. whose organization makes all feedback internal to them. An autopoietic system is a homeostatic system that continously generates its own organization (by continously producing components that are capable of reproducing the organization that created them). Autopoietic systems turn out to be autonomous, have an identity, are unities, and they compensate external perturbations with internal structural changes. Living systems are autopoietic systems in the physical space. The two main features of living systems follow from this: self-reproduction can only occur in autopoietic systems, and evolution is a direct consequence of self-reproduction.
Every autonomous system is organizationally closed (they are defined as a unity by their organization). An autonomous system cannot be described without describing its observer. Varela presents a computational framework (the calculus of indications) within which features of processes of systems (such as distinction, whereby unities are differentiated, recursion and self-reference, whereby unities are constructed) can be formalized. A unity becomes specified through operations of distinction (necessary conditions on the relations among its components) by an observer in the tradition. The input/output paradigm is replaced by a circular paradigm, which follows from the closure thesis.
The structure constitutes the system and determines its behavior in the environment; therefore, information is a structural aspect, not a semantic one (there is no need for a representation of information). Information is "codependent". Mechanisms of informatin and mechanisms of identity are dual. The cognitive domain of an autonomous system is the domain of interaction that it can enter without loss of closure. An autonomous unit always exhibits two aspects: it specifies the distinction between itself and not-itself, and deals with its environment in a cognitive fashion. Every autonomous system (ecosystems, societies, brains, conversations) is a "mind" (in the sense of cognitive processes).

Vladimir Vernadsky: THE BIOSPHERE (?, 1926)(Synergetics, 1986)

Vernadsky ranked living matter as the most powerful of geological forces (he even described how life opposes gravity's vertical pull by growing, running, swimming and even flying). Vladimir even thought that the Earth is developing its own mind, the "noosphere", the aggregation of the cognitive activity of all its living matter, a precursor to Gaia.

Von Bertalanffy Ludwig: GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY (Braziller, 1968)

A textbook, introduction and history (by the inventor himself) to the discipline of general systems, which emerged out of the need to explain phenomena in a variety of fields and out of the need to provide a unified view on all types of systems. General systems theory was born before cybernetics, and cybernetic systems are merely a special case of self-organizing systems.
The classical approach to the scientific description of a system's behavior can be summarized as the search for "isolable causal trains" and reduction to atomic units. This approach is feasible under two conditions: 1. that the interaction among the parts of the system be negligible and 2. that the behavior of parts be linear. Von Bertalanffy's "systems", on the other hand, are those entities ("organized complexities") that consist of interacting parts, usually described by a set of nonlinear differential equations. Systems theory studies principles which apply to all systems, properties that apply to any entity qua system. Alternatives to system theory include compartment theory (which views a system as a set of units upon which boundary conditions and transport processes bear), set theory, graph theory, information theory, automata theory, game theory, decision theory, etc.
Basic concepts of systems theory are introduced: every whole is based upon the competition among its parts; individuality is the result of a never-ending process of progressive centralization whereby certain parts gain a dominant role over the others;
General systems theory looks for laws that can be applied to a variety of fields (isomorphisms of lawin different fields), particularly in the biological, social and economic sciences (but even history and politics).
A subset of general systems theory is open systems theory. A change in entropy in closed systems is always positive: order is continually destroyed. In open systems, on the other hand, entropy production due to irreversible processes is balanced by import of negative entropy (as in all living organisms). If an organism is viewed as an open system in a steady state, a theory of organismic processes can be worked out.
Even better, a living organism can be viewed as a hierarchical order of open systems, where each level maintains its structure thanks to continuous change of components at the next lower level. Living organisms maintain themselves in spite of continuous irreversible processes and even proceed towards higher and higher degrees of order.
The author also examines Whorf's hypothesis and the relativity of categories (which are assumed to depend on both biological and cultural factors)

Von Neumann John: THE COMPUTER AND THE BRAIN (Yale Univ Press, 1958)

Von Neumann describes the neural system of the brain from a mathematical point of view, i.e. viewed as an automaton, using techniques and concepts of the digital computer.

Von Neumann John: THEORY OF SELF-REPRODUCING AUTOMATA (Princeton Univ Press, 1947)

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Vosniadou Stella & Ortony Andrew: SIMILARITY AND ANALOGICAL REASONING (Cambridge University Press, 1989)

A collection of papers from a workshop.
Lance Rips focuses on the distinction between deep (based on underlying properties) and perceptual (surface) similarity. Rips opposes famile resemblance models of categorization with a model of inference to the best explanation.
Lawrence Barsalou emphasizes the instability of concepts that affects both intra-category and inter-category similarity. Ryszard Michalsky presents a theory of concept definition whereby concept meaning is defined by a base concept representation and an inferential concept interpretation.
Analogical reasoning is discussed by Dedre Gentner, whose structure-mapping process relies on relational commonalities rather than mere similarities of features.

Vygotsky Lev: MIND IN SOCIETY (Harvard Univ Press, 1968)

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Vygotsky Lev: THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE (MIT Press, 1964)

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