Steven Rose

What has always obsessed British biologist Steven Rose is the relationship between mind and brain. His approach to understanding this relationship has been to look for ways in which we can locate changes in behavior, thought, or action, which can be mapped in some way onto changes in physiology and biochemistry, and changes in structure in the brain, that is in processes that you can study biologically. For most of his life the search has been focused on how we should understand learning and memory.

Rose points out that the reason for this is obvious. He is an experimental scientist. "I work with animals," he says, "and when an experimental animal learns, it changes its behavior. And it's always easier to measure change than stasis in science. You can then ask what changes happen in the brain when an animal learns a particular task, and you can study those changes in ways that we can manipulate in the laboratory. When I started doing this, back in the late 60s, early 70s, this was a deeply unfashionable field. People thought these were questions beyond the edge of science, you couldn't actually touch them. Now it's the hottest area in neuroscience."

Steve and I got together in New York after he attended the memory meeting at Cold Spring Harbor, which is the home of molecular biology and molecular genetics. "Jim Watson decided a few years ago that the focus of neuroscience should be learning and memory," he said, "and he started setting up molecular techniques and genetic techniques there, with some very bright guys working on it. They have a conference every two years, and we have a matching conference in Britain and across the rest of Europe. And these are the questions which now we're beginning to approach for molecular answers."

At Cold Spring Harbor, Rose was talking about his discovery of a new molecule "which seems to be able to rescue the memory loss that you get with the disorder of the Alzheimer proteins. What started as a sheer intellectual excitement also looks like it's going to have rather significant human payoff, and that's good news."


David G. Myers

"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

Inspired by last year's The World Question Center,psychologist David G. Myers, asked his own version of the Edge Question of some of psychology's leading lights. He received responses from Eliot Aronson, Daryl J. Bem, Ellen Berscheid, Gordon Bower, Noam Chomsky, William C. Dement, Paul Ekman, Rochel Gelman, Jerome Kagan, Walter Kintsch, Elizabeth Loftus, Jay McClelland, Don Meichenbaum, George Miller, Martin E. P. Seligman, Mark Snyder, Larry Squire, Shelley Taylor, Endel Tulving, Phil Zimbardo.


Geoffrey Miller

Geoffrey Miller is known for his research which focuses on evolutionary psychology and sexual selection. In this regard, his work is in the tradition of scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, and Steven Pinker. In support of his views on sexual selection, his published academic papers, conference talks, and colloquia, range across the areas of visual perception, cognition, learning, robotics, neural networks, genetic algorithms, human mate choice, evolutionary game theory, and the origins of language, music, culture, intelligence, ideology, and consciousness.

Miller believes that our minds evolved not as survival machines, but as courtship machines."Evolution is driven not just by natural selection for survival, but by an equally important process that Darwin called sexual selection through mate choice.," he has noted. He proposes that the human mind's most impressive, baffling abilities are courtship tools, evolved to attract and entertain sexual partners. By switching from a survival-centered view of evolution to a courtship-centered view, he attempts to show how we can understand the mysteries of mind.


How Is Personality Formed ?

Frank J. Sulloway

"A few months ago, a group of authors gathered at a country house in Connecticut for a weekend, taking walks in the meadows and woods, dining alfresco and talking about their work. They did not, however, discuss movie rights, the fate of the novel or the current rash of memoirs. They talked about multiple universes, the philosophy of mathematics and the nature of consciousness.

.....This was a pastoral salon in which cosmologists, cognitive scientists, linguists and invertebrate paleontologists could discuss the evolution of the universe and the problem of whether 1 plus 1 equals 2 is a tautology, a logical formula with relevance only to itself, or whether it has a necessary connection with the physical world. It was a meeting at which the authors could consider the question of whether there are questions that are unanswerable, in principle......At the gathering in Connecticut.....were Steven Pinker ("How the Mind Works"), Lee Smolin ("The Life of the Cosmos"), Daniel Dennett ("Consciousness Explained"), Alan Guth ("The Inflationary Universe"), Nicholas Humphrey ("A History of the Mind"), Niles Eldredge ("Reinventing Darwin," "Dominion") and Frank Sulloway ("Freud," "Biologist of the Mind")."

-James Gorman, The New York Times , 10/14/97 -Science Times, p1.

That weekend at Eastover Farm in rural Connecticut was my first opportunity to meet Frank Sulloway, a fascinating character who, while never having held a formal academic position, has had an important impact on contemporary thought.

His first book, a biography of Freud, looked at the legendary figure as a scientist. His landmark study of birth order (Born to Rebel), based on 26 years of research and writing, is perhaps as important for applying the scientific method to the study of history as it is for his insight into the topic of the book. In it, Sulloway brings to bear what he calls "hypothesis testing, which is a method that saves us all from becoming either astrologers or psychoanalysts."

In this way he connects with the others in the third culture, i.e. "those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."


How Subconscious Thoughts Cook on the Backburner
William H. Calvin

According to theoretical neuroscientist Bill Calvin, treating consciousness solely as awareness or attention greatly underestimates it, ignoring the temporary levels of organization associated with higher intellectual function. "The tasks that require consciousness," he says, "tend to be the ones that demand a lot of resources. Routine tasks can be handled on the back burner but dealing with ambiguity, groping around offline, generating creative choices, and performing precision movements may temporarily require substantial allocations of neocortex."

Recently, Calvin has proposed "a specific mechanism (consciousness as the current winner of Darwinian copying competitions in association cortex) that seems capable of encompassing the higher intellectual function aspects of consciousness as well as some of the attentional aspects. It includes features such as a coding space appropriate for analogies and a supervisory Darwinian process that can bias the operation of other Darwinian processes."

"Competing for Consciousness", derived in part from Calvin's 1996 book The Cerebral Code, is presented simultaneously on EDGE and as a plenary talk for the Tucson III consciousness forum.



A Debate
Steven Rose, Steven Pinker

On January 21st, Steven Pinker and Steven Rose debated each other in an event chaired by Susan Blackmore and held at London University's Institute of Education under the sponsorship of Dillon's and The London Times. Over a thousand people attended-and the event was sold out within three days of being announced. I wish I had been there.

No two individuals better illustrate my notion of a "third culture" which "consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are."

In this culture, there is no canon or accredited list of acceptable ideas. The strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.

The Two Steves have serious disagreements. But whether it's Steve Pinker weighing forth on the notion that the "problems for our ancestors were subtasks of one big problem for their genes" or Steve Rose asserting that "it is in the nature of living systems to be radically indeterminate, to continually construct their-our-own futures," their debate, their disagreement sharpens and clarifies.


Questions and Answers
Steven Rose, Steven Pinker

[On January 21st, Steven Pinker and Steven Rose debated each other in an event chaired by Susan Blackmore and held at London University's Institute of Education under the sponsorship of Dillon's and The London Times. Part I of "The Two Steves," was published on EDGE 36 (March 10th) and is available on the EDGE site. In Part II Pinker and Rose answer questions from the audience.]

QUESTION for STEVEN PINKER: What do you believe consciousness is?


Marvin Minsky

"[People] like themselves just as they are," says Marvin Minsky. "Perhaps they are not selfish enough, or imaginative, or ambitious. Myself, I don't much like how people are now. We're too shallow, slow, and ignorant. I hope that our future will lead us to ideas that we can use to improve ourselves."

Marvin believes that it is important that we "understand how our minds are built, and how they support the modes of thought that we like to call emotions. Then we'll be better able to decide what we like about them, and what we don't—and bit by bit we'll rebuild ourselves."

Marvin Minsky is the leading light of AI—artificial intelligence, that is. He sees the brain as a myriad of structures. Scientists who, like Minsky, take the strong AI view believe that a computer model of the brain will be able to explain what we know of the brain's cognitive abilities. Minsky identifies consciousness with high-level, abstract thought, and believes that in principle machines can do everything a conscious human being can do.

"Marvin Minsky is the smartest person I've ever known," computer scientist and cognitive researcher Roger Schank points out. "He's absolutely full of ideas, and he hasn't gotten one step slower or one step dumber. One of the things about Marvin that's really fantastic is that he never got too old. He's wonderfully childlike. I think that's a major factor explaining why he's such a good thinker. There are aspects of him I'd like to pattern myself after. Because what happens to some scientists is that they get full of their power and importance, and they lose track of how to think brilliant thoughts. That's never happened to Marvin."

MARVIN MINSKY is a mathematician and computer scientist; Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; cofounder of MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Logo Computer Systems, Inc., and Thinking Machines, Inc.; laureate of the Japan Prize (1990), that nation's highest distinction in science and technology; author of seven books, including The Society of Mind.

What Are Numbers, Really? A Cerebral Basis For Number Sense

Stanislas Dehaene

Introduction by
John Brockman

Stan Dehaene is a thirty-two year old mathematician turned cognitive neuropsychologist who studies cognitive neuropsychology of language and number processing in the human brain. He was awarded a masters degree in applied mathematics and computer science from the University of Paris in 1985 and then earned a doctoral degree in cognitive psychology in 1989 at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is at present a researcher at the Institut National de la Sante in Paris.

Dehaene claims that number is very much like color. "Because we live in a world full of discrete and movable objects, it is very useful for us to be able to extract number. This can help us to track predators or to select the best foraging grounds, to mention only very obvious examples. This is why evolution has endowed our brains and those of many animal species with simple numerical mechanisms. In animals, these mechanisms are very limited, as we shall see below: they are approximate, their representation becomes coarser for increasingly large numbers, and they involve only the simplest arithmetic operations (addition and subtraction). We, humans, have also had the remarkable good fortune to develop abilities for language and for symbolic notation. This has enabled us to develop exact mental representations for large numbers, as well as algorithms for precise calculations. I believe that mathematics, or at least arithmetic and number theory, is a pyramid of increasingly more abstract mental constructions based solely on (1) our ability for symbolic notation, and (2) our nonverbal ability to represent and understand numerical quantities."

He argues that many of the difficulties that children face when learning math and which may turn into full-blown adult "innumeracy" stem from the architecture of our primate brain, which has not evolved for the purpose of doing mathematics.

It is his view that the human brain does not work like a computer and that the physical world is not based on mathematics -- rather math evolved to explain the physical world the way that the eye evolved to provide sight.


THE REALITY CLUB: George Lakoff, Jaron Lanier, Rafael Núñez, Margaret Wertheim, Howard Gardner, Joseph Traub, Steven Pinker, Charles Simonyi

Parallel Memories: Putting Emotions Back Into The Brain

Joseph LeDoux

We have to put emotion back into the brain and integrate it with cognitive systems. We shouldn't study emotion or cognition in isolation, but should study both as aspects of the mind in its brain.

Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux seeks a biological rather than psychological understanding of our emotions. He explores the differences between emotional memories (implicit--unconscious--memories) processed in pathways that take information into the amygdala, and memories of emotion (explicit--conscious--memories) processed at the level of the hippocampus and neocortex. 


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