November 27, 2019

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Note: Shimon Edelman has written three non-fiction books: [1] THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us about the Good Life [2012); [2] COMPUTING THE MIND; and [3] REPRESENTATION AND RECOGNITION IN VISION; and a novel in 2014 called BEGINNINGS. The books should be read and discussed throughout the Humanist Galaxy.

Edelman is Professor of Psychology at Cornell University and along with his books, he is the author of dozens of scholarly publications in theoretical neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and artificial intelligence, all focusing on reverse-engineering the human brain. He was trained as an electrical engineer, who was motivated to study the brain and use reverse engineering to apply conceptual tools from computer science to understand the mind.

Further, he explained in the book review for his novel, Beginnings, that he wrote the nonfiction science book, The Happiness of Pursuit, to explain (to readers and himself) what it means to be human and how that affects the ways in which we humans can be happy. Then he wrote the science fiction novel, Beginnings, in order to "take that quest to the personal level." [text paraphrased for coherence]. The following quotation is Edelman's statement about why he wrote the book:
    "At some point, as I grew older, I began to feel that most of the memories that define who I am are too elusive. My remembered life seemed all of a sudden merely a bare outline of a story, a pale ghost of what living it must have felt like. It was that feeling --- what it felt like to experience my life, to be me --- that I sought after.

    I started to ponder possible ways for a person to regain his or her past --- not just a few bits and pieces of it, but all of it. This book is a fictional account of one such effort... Those who go off into the desert do so, often, to leave the world of their past behind. What if there were a place where you could regain it instead?" from the publisher's promotional information for the book, Beginnings.
Using the concept of the mind as a computing device, Edelman explains how the human brain is highly active, being involved in patterned networks, and constantly learning from new experiences. He claims that our brains predict the future through the pursuit of many diverse experiences. In this context, we are rewarded both in real time and in the long run. Essentially, what matters is understanding that the meaning of life and pleasure-seeking are moment-by-moment journeys, rather than distant destinations.

Edelman argues that your mind is actually a bundle of ongoing computations and your brain consists of many possible substrates that can support them. Edelman makes the case for these claims by constructing a "conceptual toolbox" that offers readers a glimpse of the computations underlying the mind's faculties.

The "tools" are perception, motivation and emotions, action, memory, thinking, social cognition, learning and language. It is this collection of tools that enables us to discover how and why happiness happens.

He defines "cognition as computation" and uses the metaphor of the "brain as a machine" to explain the "free space" of your consciousness.

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What neuroscience can teach
us about the good life

by Shimon Edelman
Basic Books, 2012 (pages 237)

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Click or Tap Link for Outline and Reviews

What Neuroscience Can Teach
Us about the Good Life.