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What is Thought? Book Announcement

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  • ericbbaum
    What is Thought? Eric B. Baum MIT Press 478p January 2004 *What is Thought?* proposes a model that explains how mind is equivalent to execution of an
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2004
      What is Thought?
      Eric B. Baum

      MIT Press 478p January 2004

      *What is Thought?* proposes a model that explains how mind is
      equivalent to execution of an evolved computer program,
      addressing aspects such as understanding, meaning, creativity,
      language, reasoning, learning, and consciousness, that is
      consistent with extensive data from a variety of fields, and
      that makes empirical predictions. Meaning is the computational
      exploitation of the compact underlying structure of the world,
      and mind is execution of an evolved program that is all about
      meaning. Occam's Razor, as formalized in the recent computer
      science literature, is explained and extrapolated to argue that
      meaning results from evolving a compact enough program behaving
      effectively in the world; such a program can only be compact by
      virtue of code reuse, factoring into interacting modules that
      capture real concepts and are reused metaphorically. For a
      variety of reasons, including arguments based on complexity
      theory, developmental biology, evolutionary programming,
      ethology, and simple inspection, this compact Occam program
      is most naturally seen to be in the DNA, rather than the brain.
      Learning and reasoning are then fast and almost automatic
      because they are constrained by the DNA programming
      to deal only with meaningful quantities. Evolution itself is
      argued to exploit meaning in related ways and thus to speed
      itself up in ways analogous to how it speeds our learning and reasoning.

      The ways in which evolved computer programs can exploit
      underlying structure of problems and thus "understand" are
      explored through computer simulations, discussion of the
      evolutionary robotic literature, and discussion of how humans,
      computer science programs, artificial intelligence
      programs, and evolved programs address problems such as chess, Go,
      planning, and interacting with the real world. A theory regarding
      evolution of cooperation among many agents (for example modules
      within a computer program) is discussed. Based on this discussion,
      new techniques for evolutionary computing are described and
      shown to result in powerful, human-like performance on problems
      such as Rubik's cube and some planning problems that foil AI
      approaches and previous evolutionary/genetic programming approaches.

      The origin and nature of language is discussed within the context
      of this picture. Why it took so long for evolution to produce
      language is discussed. Words are seen as labels for meaningful
      computational modules. Using the abilility to pass along programs
      through speech, humans have made cumulative progress in constructing,
      as part of their minds, useful computational modules built on top of
      the ones supplied by evolution. The difference between human and
      chimp intelligence is largely in this additional programming, and
      thus can be regarded as due to better nurturing.

      The many aspects of consciousness
      are also naturally and consistently understood in this
      context. For example, although the brain is a distributed
      system and the mind is a complex program composed of many
      modules, the unitary self emerges naturally
      as a reification (manifestation) of the interest of the genes.
      Qualia (the sense of experience of sensations such as pain
      or redness) have exactly the appropriate nature and meaning that
      evolution coded in the DNA so that the compact program behaves

      No previous familiarity with computer science (or other fields)
      is assumed-- *What is Thought?* presents a pedagogical
      survey of the relevant background for its arguments.

      Best price right now is at Barnesandnoble.com (BN.com) $32, with free

      To buy this book:
      Barnes and Noble.com:


      MIT Press:

      >From the back cover:

      "This book is the deepest, and at the same time the most
      commonsensical, approach to the problem of mind and thought that
      I have read. The approach is from the point of view of computer
      science, yet Baum has no illusions about the progress which has
      been made within that field. He presents the many technical
      advances which have been made -- the book will be enormously
      useful for this aspect alone -- but refuses to play down their
      glaring inadequacies. He also presents a road map for getting
      further and makes the case that many of the apparently 'deep'
      philosophical problems such as free will may simply evaporate
      when one gets closer to real understanding."
      --Philip W. Anderson, Joseph Henry Professor of Physics, Princeton
      University, 1977 Nobel Laureate in Physics

      "Eric Baum's book is a remarkable achievement. He presents a novel
      thesis -- that the mind is a program whose components are
      semantically meaningful modules -- and explores it with a rich
      array of evidence drawn from a variety of fields. Baum's argument
      depends on much of the intellectual core of computer science, and
      as a result the book can also serve as a short course in computer
      science for non-specialists. To top it off, *What is Thought?* is
      beautifully written and will be at least as clear and
      accessible to the intelligent lay public as *Scientific American*."
      --David Waltz, Director, Center for Computational Learning Systems,
      Columbia University

      "What's great about this book is the detailed way in which Baum
      shows the explanatory power of a few ideas, such as compression
      of information, the mind and DNA as computer programs, and
      various concepts in computer science and learning theory such as
      simplicity, recursion, and position evaluation. *What is Thought?*
      is a terrific book, and I hope it gets the wide readership it deserves."
      --Gilbert Harman, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University

      "There is no problem more important, or more daunting, than
      discovering the structure and processes behind human thought.
      *What is Thought?* is an important step towards finding the answer.
      A concise summary of the progress and pitfalls to date gives the
      reader the context necessary to appreciate Baum's important insights
      into the nature of cognition."
      --Nathan Myhrvold, Managing Director, Intellectual Ventures, and
      former Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft
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