Leading neuroscientist Montague takes a biomechanical approach to explain the mental processes that occur in decision-making.
Like computers, the human brain processes data and produces a result—but with a twist, declares the author. The gray area of computational neuroscience lies in the value judgments that occur in biological systems. Nature, Montague posits in his debut, has equipped the biological machine with the added ability to determine the significance of a computation. Moreover, by storing these valuations as a byproduct of computation, the mind adapts and becomes increasingly more efficient. Repeated exposure to a typical risk-reward scenario, for example, causes the mind to anticipate outcomes. Montague revisits many of the old “right-brain” scenarios with a “left-brain” approach. With a graduate student, he replicated the famous “Pepsi Challenge” and found no relationship between the drink selected in the test and the drinks that subjects actually purchased in the stores. Though Montague’s research is thorough, his explanations vary from wry to impenetrably abstract, and the definition of value remains elusive. Value may be a burst of dopamine, a goal created from a pattern of inputs from the environment, an abstract emotion such as trust, or anything in-between. The essence of Montague’s work is that biological machines assign a value “tag” to each piece of data that they process. Whether tiny bacteria or human being, this is what differentiates us from the machines we create. The “soul” of the human machine may be the sum of these value tags. The answer to the titular question is itself a value judgment based on individual experience.
An analysis that will appeal more to engineers than to behaviorists and psychologists: informative, but with a relatively narrow audience.