Mr Hawkins' dream was to encapsulate a basic theory of intelligence in a straightforward plainly written book. Written with science writer Sandra BlakMr Hawkins' dream was to encapsulate a basic theory of intelligence in a straightforward plainly written book. Written with science writer Sandra Blakeslee, "On Intelligence" combines Mr Hawkins' motivational autobiography, a scientific treatise on natural and artificial intelligence, and a philosophical discussion delivered in a no-nonsense, unembellished, yet stimulating narrative.
At its core, "On Intelligence" postulates that all higher cognitive functions are built on a single relatively simple algorithm replicated across the neocortex. This hypothetic "basic cortical algorithm" is described as a predictive autoassociative hierarchical network. Left to its own devices, such a neural network should spontaneously generate stable invariant representations of regularities in the environment giving birth to perception, behavior, thoughts, consciousness, and imagination. If we could only mimic Nature and build such a network in silicon, we should be able to make computers that learn, think, and imagine. Mr Hawkins admits that most of these ideas are not original and his contribution is to organize them into a coherent hypothetical framework.
How credible is Mr Hawkins' hypothesis? How do we know the brain does this? How do we know that such an artificial model would exhibit animal-like intelligence? Mr Hawkins' answer is: be optimistic -- we are way overdue for some kind of a general theory of the brain. In a break from scientific form, Mr Hawkins does not seek out contradictory evidence. The autobiographical sections carries an air of a quixotic struggle against the errors and prejudices of the scientific and corporate establishments of the past and present, who lack the audacity to imagine that a comprehensive theory of intelligence could be within reach. In its more technical sections, the book identifies specific cortical structures responsible for these computations in rather computational than biological terms. No experimental evidence and no working computer models are described or reviewed critically. Instead, the key premises derive from introspection and personal interviews with authorities on the subject, e.g. "I had spoken to several ... experts and asked them to explain..." Mr Hawkins mixes experimentally supported findings with speculation and swiftly decides standing controversies without identifying them as such, leaving a casual reader with an exaggerated impression of how much is understood about cognition. In this way, the book often reads rather like marketing material for a specific approach than a thoroughly researched thesis presenting latest scientific findings.
Every neuroscientist strives to intuit a fundamental principle behind the ocean of facts about the nervous system and every computer scientists dreams of creating systems that could develop intelligence. Yet Nature is slow to give up her recipes. By helping envision what the answers could be, "On Intelligence" stands to inspire the budding scientist and engineer with the confidence to probe into the most daunting natural phenomenon that is intelligence. And it is for its enthusiasm and inspiration that "On Intelligence" earns my four stars....more
I enjoyed reading this book immensely, although it does need to be taken with a sense of humor in places.
Santiago Ramon y Cajal instructed his followeI enjoyed reading this book immensely, although it does need to be taken with a sense of humor in places.
Santiago Ramon y Cajal instructed his followers to build character in order to become fully dedicated to the task of collecting detailed data about nature and fully immersed in a narrow niche that one is studying. He cautioned against getting caught up in useless distractions: excessive theorizing, authority worship, gossip, or relationship troubles.
The following quote sums up a great deal of the value system that Dr. Cajal prescribed to young scientists:
...a scholar's positive contribution is measured by the sum of the original data that he contributes. Hypotheses come and go but data remain. Theories desert us, while data defend us. They are our true resources, our real estate, and our best pedigree. In the eternal shifting of things, only they will save us from the ravages of time and from the forgetfulness or injustice of men. (Kindle Locations 934-936).
Of course, the chapter on marriage and relationship advice is hilarious:
For the man of science, the aid of a wife is just as necessary in youth as in old age. A woman at one's side may be likened to a knapsack in battle: without the accessory one fights unencumbered, but after the battle, then what? (Kindle Locations 1078-1079)
I can see why so many find this book useful and inspiring. I did enjoy the vivid description of the author's state of mind through her experience of aI can see why so many find this book useful and inspiring. I did enjoy the vivid description of the author's state of mind through her experience of a massive stroke and the long journey to recovery. However, I must give the book one star for the dumbing down and misrepresenting facts about the brain and for the new-agey drivel toward the end.
Here are just a couple of paragraphs showing how loose the author is with facts:
The superficial layers of the cortex, which we see when we look at the external surface of the brain, are filled with neurons that we believe to be uniquely human. These most recently “added on” neurons create circuits that manufacture our ability to think linearly–as in complex language and the ability to think in abstract, symbolic systems like mathematics. The deeper layers of the cerebral cortex make up the cells of the limbic system. These are the cortical cells we share with other mammals. The limbic system functions by placing an affect, or emotion, on information streaming in through our senses. Because we share these structures with other creatures, the limbic system cells are often referred to as the “reptilian brain” or the “emotional brain.” When we are newborns, these cells become wired together in response to sensory stimulation. It is interesting to note that although our limbic system functions throughout our lifetime, it does not mature. As a result, when our emotional “buttons” are pushed, we retain the ability to react to incoming stimulation as though we were a two year old, even when we are adults. (pp. 17-18). Kindle Edition.
Every sentence here was nonsense. Uniquely human neurons in the superficial layers? Really? What kind of neurons? What does it mean? Is sensorimotor cortex uniquely human or just its superficial layers? We only share the limbic system with other mammals but not the rest of the cortex? The limbic system never matures? What does that mean? Reptilian or "emotional" brain? Is the author referring to the long-rejected triune brain hypothesis?
Our visual field, the entire view of what we can see when we look out into the world, is divided into billions of tiny spots or pixels. Each pixel is filled with atoms and molecules that are in vibration. The retinal cells in the back of our eyes detect the movement of those atomic particles. Atoms vibrating at different frequencies emit different wavelengths of energy, and this information is eventually coded as different colors by the visual cortex in the occipital region of our brain. (pp. 20-21). Kindle Edition.
What billions of tiny spots with molecules vibrating at different frequencies? Definitely not the most accurate description of optics or of phototransduction....more
Textbooks on physiology are replete with cartoons of interacting molecules that attempt to convey only the relevant information without preserving detTextbooks on physiology are replete with cartoons of interacting molecules that attempt to convey only the relevant information without preserving detail, proportion, or scale. "The machinery of life" is a simple and visual primer to cellular physiology that conveys an accurate sense of proportion and relation between the major molecular ingredients of life....more
A loved reading Dr. Yalom's frank accounts, especially of his own feelings toward his patients. The book is a quick and engaging read that can be enliA loved reading Dr. Yalom's frank accounts, especially of his own feelings toward his patients. The book is a quick and engaging read that can be enlightening at times....more