In The Algebraic Mind, Gary Marcus attempts to
integrate two theories about how the mind works, one that says that the mind is a
computer-like manipulator of symbols, and another that says that the mind is a large
network of neurons working together in parallel. Resisting the conventional wisdom
that says that if the mind is a large neural network it cannot simultaneously be a
manipulator of symbols, Marcus outlines a variety of ways in which neural systems
could be organized so as to manipulate symbols, and he shows why such systems are
more likely to provide an adequate substrate for language and cognition than neural
systems that are inconsistent with the manipulation of symbols. Concluding with a
discussion of how a neurally realized system of symbol-manipulation could have
evolved and how such a system could unfold developmentally within the womb, Marcus
helps to set the future agenda of cognitive neuroscience.
Anyone interested in the computational theory of mind and in how the
machinery required for the requisite neural structures develops should read this
book. It is a masterpiece of clear exposition from someone who has thought long and
deeply about these questions.