The Evolved Brain

My nonfiction neuroscience essay, “The Evolved Brain,” is up in the January issue of Clarkesworld!

I’d like to use this space for a bit of bonus content: the eleven links and footnotes I’d originally included. We decided to remove them during the editorial process, but if you want to see the sources for my claims, here they are for posterity:

  1. Dr. Marcus’ quote about what “No overarching theory of neuroscience could predict” comes from this New York Times editorial.
  2. For more details on the Information Processing (IP) model, this wikipedia page is a good place to start.
  3. The quotation “All models are wrong, but some models are useful” is generally attributed to George Box, in this book’s original 1978 edition. The variant “models have no truth value” comes from this 2013 article on Bayesian statistics.
  4. For “our decisions remain riddled with biases and errors” (and “sloppy and unreliable kludges”), I like to cite this wikipedia article. If you printed out that list of cognitive biases, it would stretch for 10.5 pages.
  5. “Moral uncertainty induces movement uncertainty” is reviewed in this article. It’s a more general phenomenon about cognitive states influencing action, but the more difficult yes/no judgment questions include ones like “is murder ever justified?” (See the “High-Level Decision Making” section, starting on page 4.)1
  6. “Conscious memory is an unreliable reconstruction” is a widely-known phenomenon, but there’s a good academic review here, and good wikipedia examples here (including the “see also” links at the bottom).
  7. The presence of separate systems for vision-for-perception and vision-for-action is a discovery of wikipedia-level magnitude.
  8. The way optical illusions separate vision-for-perception from vision-for-action was first confirmed here
  9. …and here is the specific example of the Ebbinghaus Illusion unaffected by vision-for-action. This is one of my all-time-favorite articles, because its main thrust is about the strange interaction between the two visual subsystems and handedness. But that’s a whole separate article.
  10. The role of the cerebellum in movement self-prediction has been understood since at least 1998.
  11. The Affordance Competition Hypothesis is best described in this 2010 review, but sadly not available for free anywhere online. The 2007 original article is available, but much less readable.
  12. If you want to watch those neurons following the ACH, those data originally come from this 2005 study, though you can find a lovely graphical summary in the article linked in #5, as well as the 2010 article in #11.

Finally, if you haven’t read the essay “The Brain is Not a Computer” (Aeon magazine, May 2016), I recommend it. I agree with its overall direction, and I think it makes a lot of good points, but it fails because it relies on a straw-man misunderstanding of the IP model, tied to the specifics of computer architecture. The internet is full of rebuttals, and largely fair ones. That’s why I wrote “The Evolved Brain” to show not why the IP model is wrong, but instead why it’s unhelpful, if your goal is to understand the human brain and experience.

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  1. This is the most controversial of my points, because it relies on counterintuitive data from the era of peak false findings in psychology research.

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