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Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature Viking, 2002.

I quite like Pinkerís book and think that some of the reviews (such as Patrick Batesonís in Nature) are off the wall in misreading it.  This in not a book about nature-vs-nurture in the usual sense but a much broader book about three beginnersí mistakes (my term, not Pinkerís): The Blank Slate, the Noble Savage, and the Ghost in the Machine.  Pinkerís concern is not only that they appear to be wrong but that the policies based on them are likely to do more harm than good.   Some quotes:

The new scientific challenge to the denial of human nature leaves us with a challenge. If we are not to abandon values such as peace and equality, or our commitments to science and truth, then we must pry these values away from claims about our psychological makeup that are vulnerable to being proven false. [p. xi]

[O]ur understanding of ourselves and our cultures can only be enriched by the discovery that our minds are composed of intricate neural circuits for thinking, feeling, and learning rather than blank slates, amorphous blobs, or inscrutable ghosts. [p.72]

The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestion of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions - "some" versus "all," "probable" versus "always," "is" versus "ought" - are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. The analysis of ideas is commonly replaced by political smears and personal attacks. This poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute.
     The denial of human nature has spread beyond the academy and has led to a disconnect between intellectual life and common sense. [p.x]
                           -- Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate (2002)

The latter quote gives you some idea why some people are going to have strong feelings on the subject. But Pinkerís is a humane and thoughtful book, and deserves all the attention that it gets.

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Cognitive Sciences Collection

There is, of course, a lot of overlap between cogsci and brains (in which I've placed the more neurological and psychiatric titles).

Derek Bickerton, Language and Species (University of Chicago Press, 1990).
        "[We] can understand neither ourselves nor our world until we have fully understood what language is and what it has done for our species. For although language made our species and made the world we inhabit, the powers it unleashed drove us to understand and control our environment, rather than explore the mainspring of our own being. We have followed that path of control and domination until even the most daring among us have begun to fear where it may lead. Now the engine of our quest for power and knowledge should itself become the object that we seek to know."
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Derek Bickerton, Language and Human Behavior (University of Washington Press, 1995).
To quote the book review by George Johnson in the New York Times Book Review of December 10, 1995: "Midway through his book, Mr. Bickerton asks us to consider how truly wonderful are mundane activities like a boxer pummeling a punching bag or a dancer stretching in front of a mirror. 'Look at how alien these behaviors are to any species but our own,' he writes. 'Try to imagine a tiger practicing its killing technique in the absence of any prey, or a gazelle practicing its latest escape maneuver in the absence of any predator. . . . Doing a special, individualized thing simply to be able to do it better on some future occasion is uniquely human behavior.' The same could be said for theory building, this marvelous ability to spin engaging scientific tales."
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Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Information Age (Faber and Faber 1994).
        "Not only is the text a distillation, a dramatic shaping of materials, but to process it we must apply a very exclusive sort of focus. The result is an altered state of awareness, a kindled-up sort of high."
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Richard Byrne, The Thinking Ape: Evolutionary Origins of Intelligence (Oxford Univ Press 1995).
Among other things, it has one of the best short summaries of the many attempts to teach animals the rudiments of language.
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William H. Calvin, The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (MIT Press, 1996).HBT
Unlike my other books, it’s more for scientists than general readers — but then I have worked harder (glossary, tutorials, cartoons) to help out fans of science. Chapter titles are: The Representation Problem and the Copying Solution, Cloning in Cerebral Cortex, A Compressed Code Emerges, Managing the Cerebral Commons, Resonating with your Chaotic Memories, Partitioning the Playfield, Intermission Notes, The Brownian Notion, Convergence Zones with a Hint of Sex, Chimes on the Quarter Hour, The Making of Metaphor, Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind.
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William H. Calvin, How Brains Think: Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now (Science Masters, BasicBooks, 1996).HBT
A dozen translations are pending. It expands on my October 1994 Scientific American article to address the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and language.The chapter titles are What to Do Next, Evolving a Good Guess, The Janitor’s Dream, Evolving Intelligent Animals, Syntax as a Foundation of Intelligence, Evolution On-The-Fly, Shaping Up an Intelligent Act from Humble Origins, and Prospects for a Superhuman Intelligence. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists.
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William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann, Conversations with Neil’s Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language (Addison-Wesley, 1994).
It’s a tour of the human cerebral cortex, conducted from the operating room, and has been on the New Scientist bestseller list of science books. Chapter titles are A Window to the Brain, Losing Consciousness, Seeing the Brain Speak, If Language Is Left, What’s Right?, The Problems with Paying Attention, The Personality of the Lowly Neuron, The What and Where of Memory, How Are Memories Made? What’s Up Front? When Things Go Wrong with Thought and Mood, Tuning Up the Brain by Pruning, Acquiring and Reacquiring Language, Taking Apart the Visual Image, How the Brain Subdivides Language, Why Can We Read So Well? Stringing Things Together in Novel Ways, Deep in the Temporal Lobe, Just Across from the Brain Stem, In Search of the Narrator. It is suitable for biology and cognitive neuroscience supplementary reading lists.
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William H. Calvin, The Ascent of Mind: Ice Age Climates and the Evolution of Intelligence (Bantam 1990)
This is my book on the ice ages and how human intelligence evolved; the “throwing theory” is one aspect. It is suitable for high-school and undergraduate projects in neurobiology and anthropology. My Scientific American article, “The emergence of intelligence,” (October 1994) also discusses ice-age evolution of intelligence.
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William H. Calvin, The Cerebral Symphony (Bantam 1989)
This is my book on animal and human consciousness, using the setting of the Marine Biological Labs and Cape Cod. It's the predecessor of How Brains Think. It is suitable for high-school and undergraduate projects in neurobiology and psychology.
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William H. Calvin, The Throwing Madonna: Essays on the Brain (McGraw-Hill 1983, Bantam 1991).
17 essays: The Throwing Madonna. The Lovable Cat: Mimicry Strikes Again. Woman the Toolmaker? Did Throwing Stones Lead to Bigger Brains? The Ratchets of Social Evolution. The Computer as Metaphor in Neurobiology. Last Year in Jerusalem. Computing Without Nerve Impulses. Aplysia, the Hare of the Ocean. Left Brain, Right Brain: Science or the New Phrenology? What to Do About Tic Douloureux. The Woodrow Wilson Story. Thinking Clearly About Schizophrenia. Of Cancer Pain, Magic Bullets, and Humor. Linguistics and the Brain’s Buffer. Probing Language Cortex: The Second Wave, and The Creation Myth, Updated: A Scenario for Humankind.
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Terrence Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (W. W. Norton, August 1997).
As I said in The New York Times Book Review (10 August 1997):
        In our evolutionary ascent from an ape-like ancestor, we gained our most prized possession, the mental abilities that underlie language. We're still trying to figure out what language is (from monkey cries to structured syntax), how it works (the short-term processes in the brain that construct and deconstruct utterances), and why it evolved (the Darwinian processes that bootstrapped it over the long run).
        That's what Terrence W. Deacon's book, "The Symbolic Species," is about. His first section is on symbols and language, the next tackles the brain's language specializations, and the last addresses the coevolution of language and the human brain, ending up with Darwinian views of consciousness. It's a work of enormous breadth, likely to pleasantly surprise both general readers and experts. Continued....
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anthropology, biology, cognitive sciences, ethology, climate, evolution, brains, language, the future -- not to mention Patrick O'Brian novels and the Science Masters series.

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Daniel C. Dennett, Brainchildren : Essays on Designing Minds, 1984-1996 (Representation and Mind Series; MIT Press, 1998).
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Daniel C. Dennett, Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness (Science Masters, BasicBooks, 1996).
        "There is no step more uplifting, more momentous in the history of mind design than the invention of language. When Homo sapiens became the beneficiary of this invention, the species stepped into a slingshot that has launched it far beyond all other earthly species in the power to look ahead and reflect." (p. 147)
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Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster 1995).
        "Let me lay my cards on the table. If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I'd give it to Darwin, ahead of Newton and Einstein and everyone else. In a single stroke, the idea of evolution by natural selection unifies the realm of life, meaning, and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law. But it is not just a wonderful scientific idea. It is a dangerous idea."
    Danny Yee, in his review of DDI, said:
Dennett begins by explaining why he thinks Darwin deserves the prize for the "single best idea anyone has ever had" and why his idea was (and is) so revolutionary, so dangerous. He illustrates this with a brief account of pre-Darwinian ideas -- with Locke as an exponent of the traditional viewpoint and Hume as someone who came very close to Darwin's insight. The key elements of Darwin's "dangerous idea" are a denial of essentialism and an understanding of natural selection as a substrate neutral, algorithmic process, applicable to an extremely wide range of phenomena and capable of achieving immense feats by slow accumulation over large extents of time and space.
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Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained (Little, Brown, 1991).
"Human consciousness is just about the last surviving mystery. A mystery is a phenomenon that people don't know how to think about -- yet. There have been other great mysteries: the mystery of the origin of the universe, the mystery of life and reproduction, the mystery of the design to be found in nature, the mysteries of time, space, and gravity. These were not just areas of scientific ignorance, but of utter bafflement and wonder. We do not yet have all the answers to any of the questions of cosmology and particle physics, molecular genetics and evolutionary theory, but we do know how to think about them.... With consciousness, however, we are still in a terrible muddle. Consciousness stands alone today as a topic that often leaves even the most sophisticated thinkers tongue-tied and confused. And, as with all of the earlier mysteries, there are many who insist -- and hope -- that there will never be a demystification of consciousness." See George Johnson's New York Times book review.
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Daniel C. Dennett, The Intentional Stance (MIT Press, 1987).
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Daniel C. Dennett, Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (MIT Press, 1984).
Danny Yee writes:
Dennett's basic thesis is that most of the fuss about free will has been caused by the summoning of bogeymen - non-existent and sometimes barely credible powers that are supposed to be able to interfere with our free will in a deterministic universe. The opening chapter, "Please Don't Feed the Bugbears", looks at some of these bogeymen, and discusses the more general use of "intuition pumps" (stories that appeal to our human level intuition to prejudice us for or against more technical ideas). The following chapters lay the groundwork for understanding different conceptions of free will: the second discusses "reason", the third "control" and "self control" and the fourth "self" and ideas of "self-made selves". These concepts are set within an evolutionary context.
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Daniel C. Dennett, Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology (MIT Press, 1978).
        "Homunculi are only bogeymen if they duplicate entirely the talents they are rung in to explain.... If one can get a team of relatively ignorant, narrow-minded, blind homunculi to produce the intelligent behaviour of the whole, this is progress."
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Daniel C. Dennett, Content and Consciousness (Routledge and Kegal Paul 1969).
Dan's D. Phil. thesis at Oxford in 1965, the first of the modern darwinian approaches to mind. "What is needed is for some intra-cerebral function to take over the evolutionary role played by the exigencies of nature in species evolution; i.e., some force to extinguish the inappropriate.... This would have the effect of pruning the initially unstructured connections along lines at least compatible with and occasionally contributory to the appropriate inherited links already endowed by species evolution.... The process is a repeated self-purification of function, gaining in effectiveness as more and more not inappropriate structure becomes established."
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Merlin Donald, Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Harvard University Press, 1991).
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Walter J. Freeman, Societies of Brains (Erlbaum, 1995).
        "Having played its role in setting the initial conditions, the sense-dependent activity is washed away, and the perceptual message that is sent on into the forebrain is the construction, not the residue of a filter or a computational algorithm. A requirement for this process of "laundering" is for spatial coherence, which arises from cooperativity over the cortical populations. This process of replacement of sensory inputs by endogenous constructions in perception constitutes the basis of epistemological solipsism in brains."
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James Gould and Carol Grant Gould, The Animal Mind (Scientific American Library, 1994).
        "What makes the wasp's behavior more like that of a computer than an architect is the lack of any comprehension of the goal. Instead, the insect focuses on a series of immediate tasks. This distinction between "local" tasks, which could be accomplished by innate programming alone, and "global" goals, which may require a more complete perspective and understanding of the need a behavior serves, will be crucial to our analyses of more complex behavior."
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J. Allan Hobson, The Chemistry of Conscious States (Little, Brown, 1994).
        "The intense visual images of our dreams are like the visual hallucinations that frequently occur in toxic states like the DTs. Our conviction as we dream that the physically impossible events we experience are real is like the delusional belief that is the hallmark of psychosis. The stories that we concoct to explain improbable and impossible dream events are like the confabulations of delirium. The intense anxiety we suffer during nightmares approaches that experienced by people with panic disorder. And the poor memory we have of dreams once we awaken from them is similar to the memory lapses experienced by Alzheimer's patients and people with other tragic forms of dementia."
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J. Allan Hobson, The Dreaming Brain (BasicBooks, 1988).
        "People are, and have been, unhappy with the idea of gods as insane, and must believe that their nocturnal visitations have a point, however obscure.... Complementing the notion of an external agency is the out-of-body experience that may occur in nocturnal dreams or in the transitional states between waking and sleep. In these states, it seems that a part of the self (the soul or the ego) leaves the body and becomes an external agency. It may even seem that the soul wanders abroad, exerting its action in places remote from the body. In this way, magical interventions can be achieved, and the notion of gods as external agents is complemented by the sense of being visited by disembodied spirits, with agency power. [Hobson goes on to develop his thesis that dreams are largely meaningless, except as evidence that there are free-wheeling mechanisms in the brain juxtaposing things]."
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Douglas R. Hofstadter, Metamagical Themas (BasicBooks 1985).
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Nicholas Humphrey, Consciousness Regained (Oxford University Press, 1983).
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Ray Jackendoff, Patterns in the Mind (BasicBooks 1993).
        "Over and over, inflection, nonstandard word order, and recursive embedding appear in normal language learners during the critical period -- whether or not these features are present in the input. Over and over, these features are missing in language learners who are genetically impaired or past the critical period. In these less optimal circumstances for learning, basic word order and rapid effortless vocabulary acquisition are retained; yet not even these are present in the apes.... The evidence, therefore, points to a division of language acquisition into more and less specialized parts, some of which are uniquely human."
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Kay Redfield Jamison, Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (Free Press 1993).
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Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (Knopf 1995).
        "There is a particular kind of pain, elation, loneliness, and terror involved in this kind of madness. When you're high it's tremendous. The ideas and feelings are fast and frequent like shooting stars, and you follow them until you find better and brighter ones. Shyness goes, the right words and gestures are suddenly there, the power to captivate others a felt certainty. There are interests found in uninteresting people. Sensuality is pervasive and the desire to seduce and be seduced irresistible. Feelings of ease, intensity, power, well-being, financial omnipotence, and euphoria pervade one's marrow. But, somewhere, this changes. The fast ideas are far too fast, and there are far too many; overwhelming confusion replaces clarity. Memory goes. Humor and absorption on friends' faces are replaced by fear and concern. Everything previously moving with the grain is now against - you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and enmeshed totally in the blackest caves of the mind. You never knew those caves were there."
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Mark Johnson, Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics (University of Chicago Press 1993).
        "[There is] a deep tension and dissonance within our cultural understanding of morality, for we try to live according to a view that is inconsistent with how human beings actually make sense of things. I am trying to point out this deep tension, to diagnose the source of the dissonance, and to offer a more psychologically realistic view of moral understanding -- a view we could live by and that would help us live better lives." (p.19).
        "Narrative is not just an explanatory device, but is actually constitutive of the way we experience things. No moral theory can be adequate if it does not take into account the narrative character of our experience." (p. 11)
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Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason (University of Chicago Press 1987).
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George Lakoff, Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don't (U of Chicago Press, 1996).  amazon.com

Marvin Minsky, Society of Mind (S and S, 1987, and don't miss the 1994 CD-ROM).
"We can program a computer to solve any problem by trial and error, without knowing how to solve it in advance, provided only that we have a way to recognize when the problem is solved."
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Steven Mithen, The Prehistory of the Mind (1996).

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Heinz Pagels, The Dreams of Reason (Simon and Schuster 1988).
        "We are evidently unique among species in our symbolic ability, and we are certainly unique in our modest ability to control the conditions of our existence by using these symbols. Our ability to represent and simulate reality implies that we can approximate the order of existence and bring it to serve human purposes. A good simulation, be it a religious myth or scientific theory, gives us a sense of mastery over our experience. To represent something symbolically, as we do when we speak or write, is somehow to capture it, thus making it one’s own. But with this approximation comes the realization that we have denied the immediacy of reality and that in creating a substitute we have but spun another thread in the web of our grand illusion."
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Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct (Morrow, 1994).
Danny Yee writes: "If human language is innate, then why is there such a variety of languages? Pinker devotes a chapter to exploring the ways in which languages vary, the ways in which they change with time, and some of the attempts at reconstruction of human linguistic history (including a reasonably even-handed appraisal of Greenbergian lumping). Separate chapters are devoted to language acquisition by infants, to the biological (genetic and ontogenetic) underpinnings of language, and to the evolution of language. Here Pinker disagrees with Chomsky, seeing no problems with a selective explanation for the evolution of language. The final chapter touches on other aspects of the human mind which seem likely candidates for innate "modules" and examines their relationship to linguistic competence." The non-Chomskian side of the story is in Michael Tomasello's book review in Cognitive Development 10:131-156 (1995).
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Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (W. W. Norton, 1997).
        An excerpt from chapter 1: "`A common man marvels at uncommon things; a wise man marvels at the commonplace.' Keeping Confucius' dictum in mind, let's continue to look at commonplace human acts with the fresh eye of a robot designer seeking to duplicate them. Pretend that we have somehow built a robot that can see and move. What will it do with what it sees? How should it decide how to act?
      An intelligent being cannot treat every object it sees as a unique entity unlike anything else in the universe. It has to put objects in categories so that it may apply its hard-won knowledge about similar objects, encountered in the past, to the object at hand."
From Mel Konner's review in Science:
        "Pinker has managed to write close to 600 pages about the mind while saying practically nothing about the brain. The pages are lively and informative, but with such an omission they cannot begin to answer the question posed by his title.
        Still, Pinker must be thanked for being one of the few cognitive scientists willing to try to take Darwin seriously. As long as cognitive science is ahistoric--treating the mind as if it had been born fully grown like Athena, out of the head of Zeus--it will continue to model minds made exceedingly slowly out of carbon less well than it models minds made by human hands from silicon. At least this book takes evolution seriously, which is more than can be said for almost all other books about cognition."
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V. S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain : Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (William Morrow & Company, 1998).
Publisher's Synopsis: In the tradition of the works of Oliver Sacks, this fascinating journey into the deep architecture of the mind introduces readers to a range of patients suffering from strange neurological afflictions, explains how Dr. Ramachandran's evaluations reveal what actually occurs in the brain, and explores what these findings reveal about dreams, laughter, memory, depression, body image, and language.
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Israel Rosenfield, The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten: An Anatomy of Consciousness (Knopf 1992).
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Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist from Mars (Knopf 1995)
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Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices (University of California Press, 1989).
        "Joseph [ten-year-old deaf boy raised without sign language] saw, distinguished, categorized, used; he had no problems with perceptual categorization or generalization, but he could not, it seemed, go much beyond this, hold abstract ideas in mind, reflect, play, plan. He seemed completely literal — unable to juggle images or hypotheses or possibilities, unable to enter an imaginative or figurative realm.... He seemed, like an animal, or an infant, to be stuck in the present, to be confined to literal and immediate perception, though made aware of this by a consciousness that no infant could have."
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Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin, Kanzi (Wiley, 1994).
        "Comprehension demands an active intellectual process of listening to another party while trying to figure out, from a short burst of sounds, the other's meaning and intent both of which are always imperfectly conveyed. Production, by contrast, is simple. We know what we think and what we wish to mean. We don't have to figure out "what it is we mean," only how to say it. By contrast, when we listen to someone else, we not only have to determine what the other person is saying, but also what he or she means by what is said, without the insider's knowledge that the speaker has."
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Wm James Linda Simon, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James (Harcourt Brace 1998). amazon.com
Mark Turner, The Literary Mind (Oxford University Press 1996).
"Story is a basic principle of mind. Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories. The mental scope of story is magnified by projection -- one story helps us make sense of another. The projection of one story onto another is parable, a basic cognitive principle that shows up everywhere, from simple actions like telling time to complex literary creations...."
     "A two-year-old child who is leading a balloon around on a string may say, pointing to the balloon, "This is my imagination dog." When asked how tall it is, she says, "This high," holding her hand slightly higher than the top of the balloon. "These," she says, pointing at two spots just above the balloon, "are its ears." This is a complicated blend of attributes shared by a dog on a leash and a balloon on a string. It is dynamic, temporary, constructed for local purposes, formed on the basis of image schemas, and extraordinarily impressive. It is also just what two-year-old children do all day long. True, we relegate it to the realm of fantasy because it is an impossible blended space, but such spaces seem to be indispensable to thought generally and to be sites of the construction of meanings that bear on what we take to be reality." [p. 114]
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