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The Vicarious Brain, Creator of Worlds

The Vicarious Brain, Creator of Worlds

Alain Berthoz

Translated by Giselle Weiss

ISBN 9780674088955

Publication date: 01/09/2017

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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.

    —Kenneth M. Heilman, University of Florida College of Medicine


  • Alain Berthoz is Emeritus Professor at the Collège de France and Director of the Laboratory of Physiology of Perception and Action at the CNRS.

Book Details

  • 224 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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