Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review of The Neuroscience of Freedom and Creativity: Our Predictive Brain (By Professor Joaquín M. Fuster)

Jaoquín M. Fuster, The Neuroscience of Freedom and Creativity: Our Predictive Brain, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

I guess that "exciting" is a relative term since one person's excitement does not constitute another person's ecstasy. If you're interested in neuroscience or the issues of freedom, language, and creativity--this book might be for you. The esteemed Professor Joaquin M. Fuster produces a book that is not written for beginners. Its strength is not accessibility, but the book contains innovative thoughts about the brain and how it relates to our freedom to choose without any prior/antecedent causes.

Fuster does not try to defend a "radical" type of free will. Rather, he apparently wants to contend that our ability to choose between two possibilities (call them A and not A), stems from the nervous system; particularly, from the cerebral cortex. He provides other qualifications on the kind of freedom he has in mind, but Fuster's account differs from other books I've read that allow the hypothetical Laplacean Intelligence to hinder them.

This book appeals to evolutionary developments and organic environments to support the idea that humans can decide between genuine alternatives. Fuster believes that evolution has brought something new into existence by making choice possible. He reasons that one integral factor in our ability to exercise freedom is language. Of course, it's important to understand what Fuster means by language and the relationship that he posits between language and our "predictive brains." This study has given us a lot to consider: it is the product of 50 years spent researching our awe-inspiring brain; one bit of data I am still pondering is how 99 percent of all actions are performed unconsciously. Is it true? And how does that idea affect human freedom?

See for a sample.


Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Thank you, Duncan. I checked and Fuster definitely gives 99 percent as the figure instead of 95 percent. Either way, it is mind blowing to consider 90+ percent of our actions being performed unconsciously.

Now from the website link, I cannot tell if the author is equating the unconscious processes he is talking about, with Freud or is he using unconscious as neuroscientists use the terminology? Guess I need to read the piece again. But his opening illustration reminds me how scholars often illustrate the Freudian id.

Looking at the article one more time, I see the 99 percent figure referenced, but then 95 percent is employed throughout the article. I agree that we likely don't know whether 95 or 99% is the correct number--or possibly less.

Duncan said...

I wonder if the mind somehow creates "subroutines" over time.

Like driving a car for the first time, so many details of the task have to be focused on but after nearly 30 years of doing this. I can hardly remember my journeys unless something eventful or usual occurs (it is a little scary now I think about it).

Motor learning building subroutines in the mind that can be interrupted or altered by a sensory trigger.

It is amazing how the mind constructs from limited amounts of data:-

One that fascinates me is how we hear music or dialogue in MP3 with the use of psychoacoustics.

Edgar Foster said...

That is a great question, Duncan. A neuroscientist would likely answer in the affirmative: the mind almost has to create "subroutines," as you say. I have experienced the kind of thing you mentioned, many times.

On a possibly different but related note, you might recall a study that was done some years ago, which suggested that British taxi drivers possess a mental map in their heads that enables them to know their entire driving route. The study pointed out that the mental map could possibly be explained by hippocampal activity.

Could the building of subroutines be explained by either another part of the brain or by active brain networking?

Duncan said...

Have a look at this:-

Only the women can do this successfully & it makes navigating London seem relatively simple.

Duncan said...

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, Duncan. I really like both of these links.

Edgar Foster said...

There is a difference between the taxi drivers and the women though. The study about the drivers was purely/for the most part about mental maps generated by the hippocampus. Not quite the same thing with the women, but still interesting nonetheless.

Duncan said...

What fascinates me about the women is that the scenery does change year on year with very limited markers & they are still able to hit a minute target. I have seen other programs about this and they say the men just cannot do it.

Edgar Foster said...

Overall, I am not disputing with you this time, but here is a study from 4/2017 that just adds to the mix, so to speak: