Mathematical behavior without a brain?

I have made the argument on more than one occasion that a refreshed look at mathematics may help illuminate the relationship between our experience of the physical and our experience of the thoughtful. Mathematics is a discipline characterized by complex relations among abstract things but, as has been explored from many directions, the action of […]

The plasticity of grids, in our heads and otherwise

Familiar mathematical structure is found in the neural activity that governs how the body orients itself and navigates its environment. Grid cells are neurons, found in areas neighboring the hippocampus, whose individual firings line up in a coordinate-like pattern according to an animal’s movement across the full extent of its environment. Their grid pattern acts […]

Where does the mind begin?

The slow and steady march toward a more and more precise definition of what we mean by information inevitably begins with Claude Shannon. In 1948 Shannon published The Mathematical Theory of Communication in Bell Labs’ technical journal. Shannon found that transmitted messages could be encoded with just two bursts of voltage – an on burst […]

The geometry of everything

The idea that geometry in Gothic architecture was used to structure ideas, rather than the edifice itself, has come up before here at Mathematics Rising. But I would like to focus a bit more on this today because it illustrates something about mathematics, and mathematics’ potential, that the modern proliferation of information may be obscuring. […]

Evolution, life, and computation

A recent issue of New Scientist featured an article by Kate Douglas with the provocative title Nature’s brain: A radical new view of evolution. The limits of our current understanding of evolution, and the alternative view discussed in the article, are summarized in this excerpt:

Any process built purely on random changes has a lot […]

“…an anchor in the cosmic swirl.”

Looking through some blog sites that I once frequented (but have recently neglected) I saw that John Horgan’s Cross Check had a piece on George Johnson’s book Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order. This quickly caught my attention because Horgan and Johnson figured prominently in my mind in the late […]

Shared paths to Infinity

My last post focused on the kinds of problems that can develop when abstract objects, created within mathematics, increase in complexity – like the difficulty of wrapping our heads around them, or of managing them without error. I thought it would be interesting to turn back around and take a look at how the seeds […]

Thinking without a brain

Can the presence of intelligent behavior in other creatures (creatures that don’t have a nervous system comparable to ours) tell us something about what ideas are, or how thought fits into nature’s actions? It has always seemed to us humans that our ideas are one of the fruits of what we call our ‘intelligence.’  And […]

Representation, action, and mathematics

Today, I involved myself in a debate that hasn’t gotten very loud yet and, perhaps for that reason, I felt like I was going around in circles a bit. The questions I began trying to answer were sparked by a Mind Hacks post entitled Radical embodied cognition: an interview with Andrew Wilson. Wilson’s ideas challenge […]

Pattern, language and algebra

I’ve spent a good deal of time exploring how mathematics can be seen in how the body lives – the mental magnitudes that are our experience of time and space, the presence of arithmetic reasoning in pre-verbal humans and nonverbal animals, cells in the brain that abstract visual attributes (like verticality), the algebraic forms in […]