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Kinsbourne, M. (2001). Mind and Nature: Essays on Time and Subjectivity: Jason W. Brown. Philadelphia: Whurr Publishers,2000, xvii + 181 pp., paperback $39.95. Neuropsychoanalysis, 3(2):253-255.

(2001). Neuropsychoanalysis, 3(2):253-255

Mind and Nature: Essays on Time and Subjectivity: Jason W. Brown. Philadelphia: Whurr Publishers,2000, xvii + 181 pp., paperback $39.95

Review by:
Marcel Kinsbourne, M.D.

The Generative Brain

Two centuries of research have yielded exponential gains in knowledge of the brain's diverse functions and their anatomical substrates. By “reverse engineering,” neuropsychologists and neurophysiologists have attempted to separate out the components, or primitives, that underlie cognition, teasing out cell assemblies, or even individual neurons, to which they ascribe specific roles in cognitive processes. This “localizationist” approach originated from the thoroughly unfounded but heuristic assumptions of Franz Joseph Gall at the turn of the 18th century. Although phrenology postulated the wrong components in the wrong places, the idea that function is localized in the brain, once it was operationalized in the study of people with focal brain damage, has been thoroughly vindicated. The inventory of validated modular brain functions that is now available is so rich that it is tempting for cognitive scientists to suppose that only a small step remains to instantiate a functioning and experiencing brain: to “bind” the elements together, by as yet undiscovered means. I call this the assembly theory of brain function. It encourages the fantasy that one could simulate the human brain in artifacts, with the expectation that humans' subjective experience would emerge spontaneously from the robotic assembly of capabilities. The emphasis on capabilities derives from the understandable but exaggerated emphasis on the brain as an adaptive device.

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