BRIGHT AIR, BRILLIANT FIRE by Gerald M. Edelman

BRIGHT AIR, BRILLIANT FIRE

On the Matter of the Mind

KIRKUS REVIEW

 ``Strenuous'' is how Nobelist (Physiology or Medicine, 1972) Edelman describes the difficulties readers will encounter as they ply their way through yet another texty analysis of what it means to be a mind. Like Stephen M. Kosslyn and Olivier Koenig (Wet Mind, p. 235) and Israel Rosenfield (reviewed below), he likes to use old words in new ways, to coin complex hyphenated forms, and in other ways to multiply the prolixity level. Indeed, the three volumes complement one another. All speak to the need to ground analyses of mental functions in brain biology; all abhor cognitive-science approaches that look to the computer as the model of how the brain works. Edelman's approach is based on his theory of neuronal group selection (``TNGS''), which says that groups of neurons compete in the course of brain development, with surviving groups subject to a second selection in which specific pathways and synapses are strengthened according to whether they yield good or useful outcomes to the organism. Finally, there are broad, reciprocal interactions across neuronal groups that yield numerous brain ``maps.'' These ideas mark an evolution of Edelman's earlier work in immunity and development, in which Darwinian selection also figured. Indeed, evolution is key to Edelman's thinking. He, like Rosenfield, sees the emergence of a primary consciousness (possessed by birds and mammals?) rooted in the present and a high- order consciousness (and self-consciousness) occurring in humans as the result of the development of language. Edelman's many allusions to pivotal thinkers in philosophy and science enrich the historical context of his discussions. In the end, however, even he admits the daunting nature of the challenge. How to deal with logic, art, creativity, motivation, emotions? How to relate the importance of social interaction in development and throughout life? We can not yet, and perhaps never will, eliminate philosophy or psychology from the discussion.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1992
ISBN: 0-465-05245-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1992