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A Free Book for a College Professor: Jerome Feldman (2006), "From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language" (Cambridge: MIT Press: 0262062534).

Filia: What's this in your mailbox?

Pater: It appears to be a book.

Filia: What book?

Pater: It appears to be Jerome Feldman (2006), From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language (Cambridge: MIT Press: 0262062534).

Filia: Why did you buy this book?

Pater: I didn't. They just sent it to me.

Filia: Why?

Pater: In the hope that I'll read it, and talk about it, and write about it, and influence people to buy it, and then they'll sell more copies.

Filia: But you are probably not going to do that.

Pater: I might.

Filia: And they're out the $30 cost of the book by sending it to you.

Pater: Actually, they are out more like $4. It costs a lot to create a book and set up the print run, but it probably costs only $4 extra to print 3001 copies of an academic press book rather than 3000 copies.

Filia: Still, how many such books do you get sent?

Pater: About one a day.

Filia: At an average retail price of?

Pater: About $40 a book. But I would have bought very, very, very few of them at that price.

Filia: If I were the Internal Revenue Service, I would say $40 a book x 1 book a day x 300 days a year = $12,000 of unreported income.

Pater: I would say that's a gross overestimate of the value of this fringe benefit, and why aren't you going after frequent flyer miles first?

Filia: And how many of them do you read?

Pater: I open them all.

Filia: And how many of them do you read?

Pater: I skim about half.

Filia: And how many of them do you read?

Pater: I read about a quarter.

Filia: Isn't that a horrible waste? All these books printed up and never read?

Pater: I give them away.

Filia: Is this a smart thing for a publisher to do?

Pater: Figure a $30 gap between the sale price of an extra book and marginal cost, each free book sent out has to generate only 1/10 of an extra full-price book in order to be a good idea from the publisher's point of view.

Filia: But what if a book the publisher sends out winds up in the hands of somebody who would otherwise have bought one?

Pater: From the publisher's perspective, that would be bad.

Filia: You read about a quarter of the free books people send you.

Pater: Yep.

Filia: But you read all the books you buy and pay for.

Pater: I try to.

Filia: And when a book arrives, you have no clue until you look at the invoice whether this is a book you ordered--and have forgotten you ordered it--or a free book the pubisher is sending to you.

Pater: I'm embarrassed to admit that's so.

Filia: The publisher is missing a chance. They should send you the book with an invoice saying $40 due. Then you'll think you ordered the book, you'll pay them $40 per book, and you'll read the books because you'll think you ordered it.

Pater: That strategy would probably work--for a while.

Filia: Are you going to read this one?

Pater: Yes.

Filia: Why?

Pater: It's on a fascinating topic, it's by a Berkeley professor, and it has a blurb on the back by somebody--V.S. Ramachandran--in whose lab Adrian Hon of PerplexCity worked for a summer.

Filia: Is that a good way to choose what to read?

Pater: It's a human way. We're semi-pack animals. Social networks are everything.


Jerome Feldman (2006), From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language (Cambridge: MIT Press: 0262062534).

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.

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