Groping around a familiar room in the dark, or learning to read again after a traumatic brain injury; navigating a virtual landscape through an avatar, or envisioning a scene through the eyes of a character—all of these are expressions of one fundamental property of life, Alain Berthoz argues. They are instances of vicariance, when the brain sidesteps an impasse by substituting one process or function for another. In The Vicarious Brain, Creator of Worlds, Berthoz shows that this capacity is the foundation of the human ability to think creatively and function in a complex world.
Vicariance is often associated with proxies and delegates, but it also refers to a biological process in which a healthy organ takes over for a defective counterpart. Berthoz, a neuroscientist, approaches vicariance through neuronal networks, asking how, for example, a blind person can develop a heightened sense of touch. He also describes how our brains model physical reality and how we use these models to understand things that are foreign to us. Forging across disciplinary boundaries, he explores notions of the vicarious in paleontology, ethology, art, literature, and psychology.
Through an absorbing examination of numerous facets of vicariance, Berthoz reveals its impact on an individual’s daily decision making and, more broadly, on the brain’s creation of worlds. As our personal and social lives are transformed by virtual realities, it is more crucial than ever before that we understand vicariance within our increasingly complex environment, and as an aspect of our own multiplying identities.
In The Vicarious Brain, Creator of Worlds, Alain Berthoz defines vicariance as the substitution of one process for another, when attempting to achieve a specific goal. The forms of vicariance, which are so well described by Berthoz, are a product of our brain’s capacity for learning and creative divergent thinking. This book allows us to better understand how the human brain provides us with the remarkable ability to improve our quality of life.
Seeing things from multiple points of view is a skill that not all possess. Critical periods occur during the development of the brain for biocular vision, maternal bonding, and many other brain functions. Is it possible, as Berthoz supposes, that there is a critical period for being able to simultaneously hold different perspectives? If so, the implications are profound.
- 224 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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