Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Books: "The Recursive Mind" by Michael Corballis

This post, and all others on BrainBlog, are written by Anthony Risser for his blog BrainBlog. The appearance of this entry, and others, on different websites, framed under different websites, or not at the BrainBlog URL do not have my permission. All rights retained.

Michael C. Corballis
The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization
Princeton: Princeton University Press (2011)
ISBN 978-0-691-14547-1

This is the first time I have read any of the several philosophical books that Michael Corballis has written. I am more familiar with his scientific publications, some of which are core “must reads” for any budding neuropsychological researcher. In “The Recursive Mind,” he outlines his approach to placing the relationship between language and thought. This is an issue that has compelled thinking in neurophilosophy for many decades and remains hotly debated and discussed. In this new book, he explores the landscape of this relationship in a manner different than the somewhat predominant “language centric” philosophical approaches – giving primacy to thought.

Contrary to individuals like Chomsky, he sees thought and other cognitive functions (specifically memory) as the key holder to the human species and our civilization. It is not thought that bent to language, but language that has adapted itself to the vastness of human thought. Corballis presents an argument that language has evolved to the form we know it today to allow individuals to share their memories and plans and, as such, to bring to the present events that are not present in the immediate environment and, indeed, are imaginary, hoped for, or fictional. His description of the roles of different types of memory functioning is written in a very understandable manner.

The book provides a broader framework for understanding language in human evolution aside the far more reported and known Chomsky-based models.

It is recursion, in this perspective, that underlies this vast cognitive capacity. Recursion has expressed itself in several key human mental faculties: language, theory of mind, and what he refers to as “mental time travel” to the past and the future. Recursion developed in the human neuropsychological toolkit. It required advances in the central nervous system’s memory systems and in our neuropsychological capacity for hierarchical organization, both of which are consequences of the human brain, rather than the brains of other animals.

You might ask yourself, ‘What is recursion and what is it doing here?’ I did. That’s one reason why you might want to take on this book.

He has an accessible writing style for individuals like myself who are definitely not fluent in these philosophical approaches. Insightful and with humor, he brings the reader along through a fairly complex landscape. Readers who pay attention to footnotes will enjoy and find additional meaning from them in this book.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Books!

Taking a look this week at new texts in introductory neuroscience & neuropsychology and at new books about the brain written for a general audience. It is always a fun activity to see what's out there, and the selections just get better and better each year!

What are your favs of 2011?

Upcoming Event: Cambridge, UK (12-16th September, 2011)

Summer School in Applied Psychometrics

From the website:

Date: Monday, 12 September to Friday, 16 September
Location: Peterhouse College, Cambridge
Time: All Day Event

"Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) is a popular and rapidly evolving area of psychometric research that builds on a long-standing methodology of self-report questionnaires. Today the assessment, analysis and interpretation of these questionnaires and of Patient-Reported Outcomes (PROs) rely upon a variety of modern psychometric methods that might be beyond the typical methodological/statistical training that researcher of related disciplines receive. This Summer School will cover the fundamentals of psychometric test theory as applied to HRQoL and PROs, with particular emphasis on latent trait/ Item Response Theory (IRT) models and methods, and will include practical sessions and data from real-world applications trials and cohort studies. The Summer School is supported by the ESRC RDI (Researcher Development Initiative) in Applied Psychometrics and is primarily intended for UK/EU academic staff and postgraduate students.

"Interactive practical sessions using Mplus and R software are run throughout the workshop using examples from a diverse range of PRO applications. Necessary introduction to the software packages will be given. This course is particularly suitable for academic staff and graduate students, but we also welcome researchers working in or alongside the pharmaceutical industry and in clinical practice.

Event homepage

The Guardian's Science Weekly Podcast: Blogging the Brain

This week's podcast includes The Guardian's new neuroscience blogger, Mo Costandi.

Listen to the podcast

Friday, August 12, 2011

Obituary: Byron Rourke, Ph.D.

Award-winning U of W prof dies
AUGUST 12, 2011 6:55 AM

Click here for full article and photograph

With a long string of letters following his name, Byron Rourke could have settled down anywhere in the world.

"He was born, raised, had a wonderful life in Windsor and eventually died there and he wouldn't have had it any other way," said Phil Rourke, Rourke's oldest son. "He had lots of opportunities to move elsewhere and every time he thought about it he said 'no, I'm going to make it here.'"

A retired University of Windsor professor of psychology and the recipient of numerous prestigious academic awards, Rourke died Wednesday at the age of 72.

Growing up in Windsor, Rourke attended Assumption high school before receiving his honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Windsor.

He the received a master's degree and PhD at Fordham University in New York before returning home to live and work in Windsor.

"He married a Windsor girl and produced four boys who grew up in Windsor," Phil said. "It's kind of a reverse of New York, if you can make it in Windsor, you can make it anywhere."

Rourke has been regarded by some as North America's preeminent child-clinic neuropsychologist and was the recipient of a membership as a Fellow in the Royal Society of Canada, a Gold Medal Award from the Canadian Psychological Association and an investiture into the Order of Canada.

Though Phil and his brothers would often become "guinea pigs" for his father's graduate students, he said having a child psychologist as a father provided them with pretty normal childhood.

"I had asked him once why he went into child psychology and he said it's because children have a chance," Phil said.

"If they get some serious diagnoses early on you can make a difference and I think that's what really what drove him."

Rourke, who Phil described as a "hulk of a man" with a "booming voice," filled his retirement with photography, philosophy, travelling, Tiger's baseball and playing the piano.

Rourke had beaten colon cancer and suffered a stroke about five years ago before he died in his sleep Wednesday.

He is survived by his wife Carolyne of 47 years, his sons Phil, Sean, Damon and Bernie and nine grandchildren.

Visitation for Byron Rourke will be held at Windsor Chapel Funeral Home, 1700 Tecumseh Rd. E., today from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. A memorial mass will be held on Saturday at Our Lady of Assumption Parish, 350 Huron Church Rd., at 10 a.m.