Getting Started

Of course, you can start anywhere you want and just plow right in. But this is a sort of guided tour, a quick overview of what's here, what state it's in and my plans for the future.

The Book Reviews
The central topic of this site is The Brain, how it's built, how it works and (as a bit of a side issue) how it got that way. The two primary side branches are consciousness and language.

Brain Function
To explore theories of brain function, some of the main places to look are Edelman and Calvin. Some collections covering considerable detail in specific brain areas, but lacking the broad, overall picture include Arbib, Large Scale Neuronal Theories and Models of Information Processing. I believe Grossberg's ideas on perception are of interest, although I do not yet have his book on the topic. But first, let's consider the matter of consciousness.

The study of consciousness is still largely in the domain of the philosophers. By and large, that community is still hung up on the horns of Descarte's dualistic notion that nothing that happens in the brain can really, fundamentally explain what it is that you feel when you feel something. Some notable exceptions are Dennett and Jackendoff (who would call himself a linguist rather than a philosopher). Surely the most extensive coverage is that of Chalmers. The various views range from McGinn's nearly total disbelief to writers like Hobson and Pinker, who relish the details and say that consciousness must work in some obvious way simply related to the brain. A good range of these opinions is presented in Shear.

A strong voice in psychological studies is Pinker, who also has an interest in language. A psychological view of consciousness is provided by Ornstein. Much more than a quick summary of the 1992 state of cognitive science, Broadbent offers deep forays into philosophy and AI. I was particularly struck by the gains achieved by Ballard as a result of a new point of view.

Language is surely the one capability which most sharply separates the human from any other animal. And the most widely read linguist is, without a doubt, Chomsky. The latest update of his current theoretical position is The Minimalist Program. A number of other linguists have published different views, ranging from the slight variations of Kayne to the radically different theoretical structures of Langacker or Bresnan. A view which incorporates a particular stance on evolutionary matters is that of Bickerton. Never one to think narrowly, Jackendoff has recently published views of language which encompass semantic systems as well as consciousness. The very breadth of views of language is a clear indicator that linguists are not yet agreed on how it works. Amid all the turmoil on the side of semantics and syntax, the areas of phonetics and speech are on a much firmer basis, with much of the emphasis on speech analysis being driven by recognition technology and cell phones. Just an example of the many excellent works in these areas is the recent book on English acoustics by Olive, A broad treatment in the form of an introductory text covering mainly the establishment (Chomskian) view of syntax is Radford, Two general phonetics texts, nearing 3 decades old but still widely used, are Ladefoged's Course in Phonetics and his earlier Preliminaries.

Neurology and ??
Along the lines of the brain explanation camp, the last few years have seen several neurologists and neurophysiologists take up the challenge of explaining consciousness. An excellent treatment may be found in Damasio. But this direction will quickly lead you into studying the brain itself. How does it do everything else. Consciousness fades.

Biology and Chemistry
The interesting thing about studying the brain is the wide range of talents which may usefully be brought to bear on the topic. Starting with molecular biology, some good material may be found in Black and Edelman. I have not included much material here on chemistry and my basic reference, a first edition by Lenninger, may be a classic text, but it is rather dated. I can't afford a newer edition "Lenninger".

Artificial Intelligence
A major branch of the topic of brain technology is artificial intelligence (AI). I am in the process of subdividing my topic category for this large branch, but the details are not yet clear. AI has been undergoing a major revolution due to the clash of neural network technology (see Rumelhart and Haykin) with the older ideas, described as rules, symbols, logic, and several other ways. A good, decade-old summary of the old way (GOFAI, good, old-fashioned AI) may be found in Boden.

A quick review of some of the math you should know is touched upon by both Ballard and Wilson. The latter book concentrates on nonlinear systems analysis.

I have just barely begun the task of reading, understanding and writing about the books I now have available. I don't expect to continue adding new books to the list at nearly the rate as I have done during the past year. But I do hope to more or less keep up in the fields I have set forth. I hope I am able to build the site up to some fraction of what I dream for it.

The Essays
The other major side of this website is the collection of essays. The essays serve two purposes; first, to act as a hub from which a number of related book reviews may be accessed, and second, to act as a broader platform from which I can raise questions, propose hypotheses, and other such matters, from a wider perspective than would be appropriate under the wing of a particular book. I expect the number of essays posted here to grow from the rather limited number at this point to a much wider range over the course of the next months and years.

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