After Phrenology

After Phrenology: Neural reuse and the interactive brain

Michael L. Anderson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press,
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    After Phrenology
    Book Description:

    The computer analogy of the mind has been as widely adopted in contemporary cognitive neuroscience as was the analogy of the brain as a collection of organs in phrenology. Just as the phrenologist would insist that each organ must have its particular function, so contemporary cognitive neuroscience is committed to the notion that each brain region must have its fundamental computation. InAfter Phrenology, Michael Anderson argues that to achieve a fully post-phrenological science of the brain, we need to reassess this commitment and devise an alternate, neuroscientifically grounded taxonomy of mental function. Anderson contends that the cognitive roles played by each region of the brain are highly various, reflecting different neural partnerships established under different circumstances. He proposes quantifying the functional properties of neural assemblies in terms of their dispositional tendencies rather than their computational or information-processing operations. Exploring larger-scale issues, and drawing on evidence from embodied cognition, Anderson develops a picture of thinking rooted in the exploitation and extension of our early-evolving capacity for iterated interaction with the world. He argues that the multidimensional approach to the brain he describes offers a much better fit for these findings, and a more promising road toward a unified science of minded organisms.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32067-2
    Subjects: Psychology, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    When you start to think about it, phrenology wasn’t such a bad idea. Certainly it is not deserving of the degree of scorn that is heaped on it, so much that a book about neuroimaging entitledThe New Phrenology(Uttal 2001) will be immediately understood to be a trenchant critique. In fact, by introducing the doctrine of phrenology, Gall made a number of extremely important contributions to neuroscience. Consider some brief excerpts from his letter to von Retzer, where he convincingly established the brain as the organ of the mind:

    I adduce the following proofs:

    1. The functions of the mind...

  5. Part I: Brains
    • 1 Neural Reuse and the Need for a New Approach to Understanding Brain Function
      (pp. 3-44)

      The notion that brain areas are highly selective and exhibit considerable specialization has been the dominant guiding idealization in the brain sciences for many decades. In the selective brain each neural region responds to a restricted class of inputs and contributes primarily to a single cognitive domain such as language or motor control. The rapid acceptance of this doctrine was spurred in part by Paul Broca’s (1861) description of the patient “Tan,” whose stroke-induced injury to a region in left frontal lobe left him unable to utter anything but that eponymous syllable yet did not impair his ability tounderstand...

    • Interlude 1 On the Importance of Neural Teamwork
      (pp. 45-48)

      Since the original invention of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the early 1990s, both the field of neuroscience and the public at large have become nearly obsessed with the technique. The result has been literally tens of thousands of functional brain-imaging studies investigating the neural underpinnings of everything from addition to addiction. Indeed, the beautiful pictures that fMRI produces have become so ubiquitous in both the public and the scientific imagination that we might fairly call the last 20 years of cognitive neuroscience “the age of the image.”

      That was then; this is now. Although we should not expect...

    • 2 Interactive Differentiation and the Search for Neural Coalitions: Neural Reuse in the Functional Development of the Brain
      (pp. 49-76)

      In the first chapter I laid out some of the evidence that individual regions of the adult human brain are functionally diverse—used and reused in many different tasks across various cognitive domains. Moreover, we saw evidence that achieving functional specificity is a matter of assembling the right coalition of neural partners to accomplish the task in question. And finally, we reviewed some of the reasons that such a functional structure makes evolutionary sense, in terms of the efficient use of metabolically expensive and relatively scarce neural resources. But one question that was left largely unexplored related to the biological...

    • Interlude 2 You Are Not Your Connectome! Sorry, Understanding the Brain (or People) Will Not Be That Simple
      (pp. 77-80)

      Sebastian Seung’s video “I Am My Connectome,” from the famous TED Talks series, has gotten over half a million views. His bookConnectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are(Seung, 2012) has gotten immense amounts of positive media coverage. The National Institutes of Health are spending many millions of dollars on a large, multi-institution project tomapthe human connectome. And a recent article in theChronicle of Higher Education, “The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality” (Goldstein, 2012), details the impact that connectomics—the study of our brain’s neural wiring diagram—is having on fringe science such as...

    • 3 Neural Reuse in Contemporary Cognitive Science
      (pp. 81-108)

      At its core, neural reuse is a framework for understanding how the different parts of the brain are deployed and redeployed in support of cognition and behavior. The previous two chapters detailed the evidence that individual anatomical neural units—at multiple physical scales—are functionally differentiated from one another without necessarily being specialized for a single function and are used for multiple cognitive and behavioral purposes. In fact, we reached the conclusion that neural reuse may well represent a fundamental evolutionary and developmental mechanism for efficiently eliciting complex function from metabolically expensive neural tissue. This apparently simple fact about brain...

    • Interlude 3 The Dynamic Brain: What Your Brain Is Doing When Itʹs Not Doing Anything
      (pp. 109-112)

      Over the past few years there has been growing interest in something called “resting state functional MRI,” a technique for seeing what your brain is doing when you aren’t doing much of anything at all. It turns out that brains at rest are pretty restless, consuming far more energy than they do whendoing. More interesting, “resting” activity is not random but highly coherent, consistent, and predictable. The discovery of the brain’s characteristic resting behavior led some years ago to the postulation of a “default network” for the brain—a set of regions that consistently cooperate to do … well,...

    • 4 Do Brain Regions Have Personalities of Their Own? Toward a Dispositional Neuroscience
      (pp. 113-152)

      Over the past few chapters I have tried to paint a picture of the overall functional architecture of the adult human brain that (1) permits a kind of comprehensive abstract image of its functional structure, (2) illuminates its evolutionary and developmental origins, and (3) does justice to the significant functional complexity of its individual parts. I have also suggested that many elements of this picture sit uneasily not just with some leading theories of neural architecture such as modularity but also with the prevailing interpretive framework adopted in the cognitive neurosciences, which centers on the analysis, decomposition, and localization of...

    • Interlude 4 The Eyes Have It: Unraveling the Brain by Tugging on a Retinal Thread
      (pp. 153-158)

      I recently attended a fantastic lecture by physicist-turned-neuroscientist Sebastian Seung of MIT, held as part of the Bio-X seminar series at Stanford. The lecture showcased recent research on the structure and function of the retina and in particular on the mechanisms behind the cells that allow us to perceive motion, which, I think you will agree, is a pretty important ability to have. Now you might wonder why I am writing about eyes in a book about the brain, but as my ophthalmologist wife likes to remind me, the retina is part of the brain—the part of the body...

  6. Part II: Bodies
    • 5 Brains and Their Bodies
      (pp. 161-204)

      Over the course of this chapter I lay out a picture of the place of organisms in, and their epistemic relationship to, their environments that is explicitly inspired by ecological and evolutionary considerations. This is followed in chapter 6 by an account of the brain mechanisms that mediate and modulate the sensorimotor coupling in support of environmentally situated adaptive behavior. The reason for this approach is simple: if we are ever going to understand brains—what they do and how—it is crucial to understand what it is theyneedto do for the organisms that have them. And I...

    • Interlude 5 Network Thinking
      (pp. 205-208)

      One of the things that everybody knows about motor cortex is that it is organized somatotopically, with each small region of the cortex responsible for managing the movements of each small part of the body. The idea is illustrated in one of the most iconic images of neuroscience: the motor homunculus (Penfield & Rasmussen 1950). That grotesque humanoid is shown draped over the motor cortex like a lounge singer across her piano in probably every Introduction to Psychology textbook on the planet, where it is presented as a paradigmatic exemplar of brain organization. Both the explicit claim it makes and the...

    • 6 Embodiment, Computation, and Control
      (pp. 209-238)

      To this point I have been asserting that the componential computational theory of mind (CCTM) offers an inadequate architectural framework for understanding the brain. More particularly, I have argued that the kind of local functional specialization and static componentiality assumed by CCTM does not do justice to the dynamic complexity seen in the functional organization of the brain. In fact, as we saw in chapter 2, the case of sensory substitution and the possibility of dynamically establishing novel neural partnerships to support new behavioral capacities suggest that a scientific focus on a perception-oriented modal organization for the brain might be...

    • Interlude 6 Is Our Brain as Good as It Gets?
      (pp. 239-242)

      Evolution is typically presented as the ultimate Horatio Alger story: up from the primordial muck we came, with each generation and successive species fitter—better, faster, stronger, smarter—than the one before. Tales of brain evolution offer few exceptions to this script: mammals are smarter than reptiles, primates are smarter than other mammals, and humans smarter than other primates (politics notwithstanding). Popular science (and science fiction) abounds with speculation about what heights we might scale next.

      But a recent article fromScientific American(Fox 2011) showers a bit of acid rain on this ticker-tape parade. If you take a look...

  7. Part III: Beings
    • 7 Languaging with an Interactive Brain
      (pp. 245-280)

      Questioning and answering, requesting and commanding, declaring, promising, and apologizing are all things we do largely with and through language, through speaking and listening. Indeed, one might say in general that language is something wedo(Austin 1975).

      [T]o speak and to listen and respond to talk, that is to indulge as talk-in-interaction, and to write and read, and to use language in modern hybrid media, imply involvement in actions, in acting in and through language. Such a perspective will highlight dynamic processes; as several authors have claimed quite emphatically, discourse is aprocess. Thus, for example, Potter et al....

    • Interlude 7 What Mindedness Is
      (pp. 281-288)

      Recent advances in theoretical cognitive science can be fruitfully characterized as part of the ongoing attempt to come to grips with the very idea ofHomo sapiens—an entity at once biological and intelligent—and among the more striking developments has been the emergence of a philosophical anthropology that, contra Descartes and his thinking thing (res cogitans), instead puts doing at the center of human being (Anderson 2003; Chemero 2009; Wheeler 2005). This shift in our understanding of human nature is owed proximally to the work of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty but also has clear precursors in such figures as William...

    • 8 A Functionalist Neuroscience for the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 289-304)

      In thePrinciples of Psychology(1890), William James advocated for a psychology rooted in the study of the brain and shaped by an understanding of evolution. Modern psychologists, James wrote, must be “cerebralists” (James 1950, p. 5). And yet psychology could not beonlyabout the brain.

      [I]t will be safe to lay down the general law thatno mental modification ever occurs which is not accompanied or followed by a bodily change. The ideas and feelings, e.g., which these present printed characters excite in the reader’s mind not only occasion movements of his eyes and nascent movements of articulation...

  8. Appendix: Twenty-Three (Hundred) Open Questions after Phrenology
    (pp. 305-314)
  9. References
    (pp. 315-372)
  10. Index
    (pp. 373-386)