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How Intelligence Happens

How Intelligence Happens

John Duncan
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    How Intelligence Happens
    Book Description:

    Human intelligence is among the most powerful forces on earth. It builds sprawling cities, vast cornfields, coffee plantations, and complex microchips; it takes us from the atom to the limits of the universe. Understanding how brains build intelligence is among the most fascinating challenges of modern science. How does the biological brain, a collection of billions of cells, enable us to do things no other species can do? In this book John Duncan, a scientist who has spent thirty years studying the human brain, offers an adventure story-the story of the hunt for basic principles of human intelligence, behavior, and thought.

    Using results drawn from classical studies of intelligence testing; from attempts to build computers that think; from studies of how minds change after brain damage; from modern discoveries of brain imaging; and from groundbreaking recent research, Duncan synthesizes often difficult-to-understand information into a book that will delight scientific and popular readers alike. He explains how brains break down problems into useful, solvable parts and then assemble these parts into the complex mental programs of human thought and action.

    Moving from the foundations of psychology, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience to the most current scientific thinking,How Intelligence Happensis for all those curious to understand how their own mind works.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16873-0
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue The Cows in the River and the View toward the Malecón
    (pp. 1-8)

    It is a midsummer’s afternoon; with my brother and sister I lie on the riverbank, too idle to relaunch our raft, watching the flicking and splashing of a small group of my father’s cows at the water’s edge. They, too, are dazed by the heat; over the water are clouds of dragonflies; there is the smell of cows, the river, hot summer grass. Perhaps I am nursing my bare foot; this field has thistles.

    The cows have come to the water to drink. Now they stand cooling in the current, ears and tails flicking at flies. One looks up to...

  5. Chapter 1 The Machine
    (pp. 9-24)

    Thirty years ago, I took a train to Heathrow. I was meeting a good friend, one of many I had made in two years of postdoctoral work at the University of Oregon. This was his first visit to Britain. On the ride back from the airport, looking out over the manicured hedges and fields of the English countryside, he said with wonder, “Oh man, what a conquered country.” Very occasionally, flying over Siberia or Greenland, I have looked down on a country that seemed largely unconquered. Otherwise, though, our environment is shaped and filled by the products of the human...

  6. Chapter 2 A Regularity
    (pp. 25-54)

    The understanding of intelligence has many sides. The first part of my story is the troubled idea ofdifferencesin ability from one person to the next. Often, this is taken to be the central question of intelligence, which I think it is not. Still, study of this question has led to some remarkably stable and informative discoveries. The study of differences, it turns out, is a valuable entry point to a much bigger picture.

    Differences in ability raise immediate concerns. A friend once told me that my interest in this question would make “everybody in America hate me.” I...

  7. Chapter 3 Inside
    (pp. 55-72)

    In chapter 1, I discussed how strange it is to adopt the psychologist’s perspective—to look at ourselves, not from the inside out, but from the outside in. This becomes even stranger when we look right inside the box and consider that somehow the selves we know emerge from a soft bodily organ. It is somehow hard to believe that the mind is created by the biological tissue of the brain.

    Yet, soft, fatty, honeycombed with tiny blood vessels, this at the same time is the person who admires the sunset, writes a novel, or is enraptured by a baby....

  8. Chapter 4 Making the Link
    (pp. 73-115)

    In some ways, Spearman’s ideas map well onto the modular mind and brain. Recall that, for each task we might undertake, Spearman proposed two kinds of contribution. First is thegfactor, a general ability to do many things well. Second are thesfactors, the individual skills, knowledge, aptitudes that bear on specific activities. In any particular task, the two factors combine to determine the overall level of performance.

    Evidently, thesfactors sound a lot like the modules we might see from neuropsychology or functional brain imaging using MRI. Just as we see after brain damage, Spearman’s theory...

  9. Chapter 5 The Demystification of Thought
    (pp. 116-150)

    It is time to return to the Cubans in their plaza. We saw earlier the power of the innate releasing mechanism, or IRM, in explaining animal behavior. As one IRM after another is triggered by its releasing conditions, a complex, goal-directed sequence of behavior is produced: the male stickleback attracts the female to mate, the toad approaches and eats the worm. Now it is time to consider our own sequences of goal-directed behavior: the fisherman steering his boat, the driver of the bicycle taxi adjusting his canopy. Here IRMs will not do—we need an equivalent idea that addresses the...

  10. Chapter 6 Up Close
    (pp. 151-181)

    In chapter 4, I described studies of damage to the frontal lobes and the arresting insights they can produce. Neuroscientists often argue that the study of damage is the gold standard for deciding on the functions of a brain area. If a function is changed when an area is damaged, this change shows that the area was in some way essential to that function. The contrast is often made with physiological methods like functional MRI, which measure what the braindoesas it works. If a particular brain area switches on when we recognize a face, this may not mean...

  11. Chapter 7 The Box
    (pp. 182-205)

    We think of ourselves as reasonable beings. As discussed in chapter 1, we habitually explain our actions by the reasons that drove them. We value reason as perhaps the most human of our human characteristics. In the previous chapters we have built up a picture of what reason means in the mind and brain, as knowledge is assembled into long sequences of thought and action approaching a final goal.

    Essential though it is to our view of ourselves, reason is fragile. When we say that we were distracted, tired, or forgot, we acknowledge limits to our reason. Indeed, it is...

  12. Chapter 8 The One Sure Thing
    (pp. 206-224)

    There is a risk to avoid in popular science. This is the atmosphere of unquestioned authority; the scientist explains, the reader learns. Science, though, is always provisional, not a final truth, and the adventure lies in the process, the struggle for understanding. When science is explained, the things that are explained are ideas and the observations on which those ideas are based. Ideas develop; ideas should always be questioned. In science as in life, the one sure thing is change.

    At the heart of human intelligence, I have suggested, is the multiple-demand system of the frontal and parietal lobes. Its...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 225-236)
  14. Index
    (pp. 237-244)