[CogSci] Subject: New book Brain Mechanisms: Linking Cognitive Phenomena to Neuron Activity

Andrew Coward andrew.coward at anu.edu.au
Tue Sep 21 10:35:32 PDT 2021

Dear colleagues,

I would like to bring to your attention a book that has just been published. The book, Brain Mechanisms: Linking Cognitive Phenomena to Neuron Activity,<https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Mechanisms-Cognitive-Phenomena-Activity-dp-1525597906/dp/1525597906/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1631881084> describes how to understand higher cognition in terms of anatomical, physiological and chemical processes in the brain using techniques based on how we understand the operation of complex electronic systems.

A brain has absolutely no resemblance to an electronic system. Nevertheless, how we go about understanding complex electronic systems has some important lessons for how to go about understanding the brain.

Brains have huge numbers of neurons, and understanding obviously cannot be based on simultaneously imagining the ongoing activity of all these neurons. Some way must be found to organize all this information in a way humans can handle.

A complex computing system can have hundreds of billions of components like transistors. Engineers could not design such systems by simultaneously imagining the activity of all the components that could be involved. Rather, the design information is organized in such a way that all design tasks are within the mental bandwidth of a human designer. The techniques to achieve this involve hierarchies of description, carefully managed use of approximation, and the ubiquitous use of just two types of information process: instructions and data read/writes.

Natural selection pressures have resulted in brain architectures to which analogous techniques for organizing information can be applied. The pressures have resulted in the ubiquitous presence of two types of information processes in the brain, condition definition/detections and behavioural recommendation definition/integrations. These information processes are completely different from those in computing systems, but they allow creation of analogous hierarchies of description. Such hierarchies of description make it possible to achieve an intuitively satisfying understanding of human memory, consciousness and self-awareness in terms of the activity of the billions of neurons. A blog<https://www.landrewcoward.com/blog.html> touches on some of these ideas.

The book is available at Amazon.com<https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Mechanisms-Cognitive-Phenomena-Activity-dp-1525597906/dp/1525597906/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1631881084>
Download a sample chapter<https://www.landrewcoward.com/brain-mechanisms-293375.html>
Video of recent lecture at Florida State University<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ibl-i7-ie6I>

Andrew Coward
Australian National University
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