How Thinking Works

Fuster, J.M. 2003, Cortex and Mind: Unifying Cognition. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Chapter 9 Epilogue on Consciousness.

In neural terms, what James 1890 called that stream of consciousness appears to consist of the sequential activation, above a certain level of threshold, of the cortical networks, cognits, that support those functions (249).

Another reason, in my view more profound and consequential, is the growing acceptance of the network model cognition, which holds that relations have the essence of meaning. Meaning is the phenomenal experience of relations and of the integrated unity and form, in space and time. That unity in space and time, which can derive from any cognitive operation, is one of the basic qualities of consciousness (215).

Perception is the recognition of categories of sensory stimuli, whether that recognition is conscious or not (251).

Thus, during the interval of a cross temporal transfer of information, working memory can be best characterized as a critical part of the remembered present, which Edelman (1989) identifies with consciousness (254).

Chapter 8 Intelligence

Here it is defined as the ability to adjust by reasoning to new changes, to solve new problems, and to create valued new forms of action and expression (213).

In more general terms, to attribute intelligence only to humans is to ignore its profound biological foundations. It is to ignore not only in that intelligence has a biological origin, but also that the development of human intelligence has occurred in a continuum of involving it means to adapt to the world (215).

The serial recruitment of hierarchically organized neural structures in the cognitive development of the child can be best understood in the context of the perception-action-cycle. This is the circular processing of information between posterior and frontal cortices in the integration of sensory-motor behavior, as well as in higher cognitive activities such as language. A posterior tier of hierarchically organized associative sensory area is reciprocally connected with a corresponding frontal tier of associative motor areas. In the integration of behavioral or cognitive actions, a continuous flow of neural processing takes place through and between those areas at various hierarchical levels. Goal directed actions of progressively higher complexity are integrated at progressively higher levels of the cortical hierarchies of the cycle (218).


Reasoning is the formation of the new knowledge, that is, the making of no cognits with existing cognits. The new cognits, which I called in inferences, may derive exclusively from pre-existing knowledge or from both pre-existing knowledge and new or recent sensory information. This definition of reasoning includes logical thinking, both deductive and inductive and a wide range of cognitive operations, from reflexive unconscious reasoning to a formal mathematics (224).

In conclusion, reflexive reasoning consists of the rapid, parallel, and unconscious processing of neural information between permanent cognits at relatively low levels of the cortical organization. A key component of that process would be expeditious matching of reality to existing cognits. inferences would derive automatically – reflexively – from that matching, without intervention of inhibitory feedback or the mediation of contingencies across time. Deductive reasoning, on the other hand can be conceived as an integrative process at the top of the perception-action cycle. Logical inferences are reached after sequential matching of alternative cognits against reality and against permanent cognits. Symbols and language intervene in the process; thus, so to the language areas of the left hemisphere (231).


Such is the evidence that (1) the human is not the only organism capable of making decisions; (2) not all decisions are rational; (3) some decisions at unconscious; and (4) and many decisions, indeed most, are in part the product of earlier experience of which we are not aware (implicit memory). Again we must descend to neurobiology to understand the roots of a cognitive function. (237)

The decision to act, that is, the choice of an action between alternatives( including not to act), is inextricably and by definition tied to the executive functions of the organism. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume, a priori, that in primates decision making is a frontal lobe function. However, any or all of frontal cortex in decision-making must be viewed as the upward expansion of the role of and hierarchically lower executive structures in action selection. Further in that role of frontal cortex must be construed within the framework of its input connections which provide antecedents to a decision, much as in reasoning those connections provide the antecendents to or premises of an inferences (237).

William James (1819) wrote that any choice of adequate behavior it requires, as a prerequisite, a choice of stimuli. That both choices may be conscious and guided by attention is here beside the point. The important point in James’ remark is that the decision to behave in a certain manner depends on the prior processing of certain kinds of sensory information. A decision, then, would be a product of perception (237).

In terms of the brain, the old argument between determinism and free will may be theoretically resolved on intermediate probabilistic grounds. On the one hand, voluntary action is the result of competition between multiple input signals of varying strength and probability that arrived from many sources in the cortex of the frontal lobe. On the other, voluntary action is the result of competition between alternate executive cognits encoded in these cortex (242).

Creative intelligence

It has been said that creative intelligence is the ability to invent goals, projects, and plans-in other words, we might say, to invent the future (242).

A reasonable assumption is that the creative process consists of the formation of new cognits, that is, new network representations in the cortex. These representations result mostly from divergent thinking as opposed to convert thinking. Convergent thinking consists of inductive and deductive reasoning, which converge towards logical inferences and the solution of problems(Guilford, 1967). Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is free of logical constraints, autonomous and to some extent free-floating, reliant on the imagination, and minimally anchored in the immediate reality. Creative cognits emerge mainly from divergent thinking.

To create, in the present context, is to make new cognits out of old ones. At the root of this process is the formation of new associations between old cognits. Thus, to reinvent the future is to reinvent the past by making new associations in it. The new cognits are potentially infinite, much as the old ones where, because the range of either is determined by the practically infinite combinatorial power of some 10 billion cells or subgroups ( i.e Modules, assemblies) of them. Therefore, the spread and configuration of created cortical cognits and their supporting networks are extremely variable. In as much as they contain perceptual components, they occupied postrolandic postsylvian cortex; inasmuch as they contain executive components( all do by definition, for creation is an active process), they occupied prefrontal cortex (246).


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Communications and Media Senior Lecturer at SAE Byron Bay Australia

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