From Molecule to Metaphor

A Neural Theory of Language

In From Molecule to Metaphor, Jerome Feldman proposes a theory of language and thought that treats language not as an abstract symbol system but as a human biological ability that can be studied as a function of the brain, as vision and motor control are studied. This theory, he writes, is a "bridging theory" that works from extensive knowledge at two ends of a causal chain to explicate the links between. Although the cognitive sciences are revealing much about how our brains produce language and thought, we do not yet know exactly how words are understood or have any methodology for finding out. Feldman develops his theory in computer simulations—formal models that suggest ways that language and thought may be realized in the brain. Combining key findings and theories from biology, computer science, linguistics, and psychology, Feldman synthesizes a theory by exhibiting programs that demonstrate the required behavior while remaining consistent with the findings from all disciplines.

After presenting the essential results on language, learning, neural computation, the biology of neurons and neural circuits, and the mind/brain, Feldman introduces specific demonstrations and formal models of such topics as how children learn their first words, words for abstract and metaphorical concepts, understanding stories, and grammar (including "hot-button" issues surrounding the innateness of human grammar). With this accessible, comprehensive book Feldman offers readers who want to understand how our brains create thought and language a theory of language that is intuitively plausible and also consistent with existing scientific data at all levels.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. I. Embodied Information Processing
  4. 1. The Mystery of Embodied Language
  5. 2. The Information Processing Perspective
  6. 3. Computational Models
  7. II. How the Brain Computes
  8. 4. Neurons and Other Cells
  9. 5. The Society of Neurons
  10. 6. Nature and Nurture
  11. III. How the Mind Computes
  12. 7. Connections in the Mind
  13. 8. Embodied Concepts and Their Words
  14. 9. The Computational Bridge
  15. IV. Learning Concrete Words
  16. 10. First Words
  17. 11. Conceptual Schemas and Cultural Frames
  18. 12. Learning Spatial Relation Words
  19. V. Learning Words for Actions
  20. 13. Embodied Knowledge of Actions
  21. 14. Learning Action Words
  22. VI. Abstract and Metaphorical Words
  23. 15. Conceptual Systems
  24. 16. Metaphors and Meaning
  25. 17. Understanding as Simulation
  26. VII. Understanding Stories
  27. 18. The Structure of Action and Events
  28. 19. Belief and Inference
  29. 20. Understanding News Stories
  30. VIII. Combining Form and Meaning
  31. 21. Combining Forms--Grammar
  32. 22. The Language Wars
  33. 23. Combining Meanings--Embodied Construction Grammar
  34. IX. Embodied Language
  35. 24. Embodied Language Understanding
  36. 25. Learning Constructions
  37. 26. Remaining Mysteries
  38. 27. All Together Now
  39. References and Further Reading
  40. Index