Vinod Goel

Vinod Goel is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at York University in Toronto and the author of Sketches of Thought (MIT Press).

  • Reason and Less

    Pursuing Food, Sex, and Politics

    Vinod Goel

    A new, biologically driven model of human behavior in which reason is tethered to the evolutionarily older autonomic, instinctive, and associative systems.

    In Reason and Less, Vinod Goel explains the workings of the tethered mind. Reason does not float on top of our biology but is tethered to evolutionarily older autonomic, instinctive, and associative systems. After describing the conceptual and neuroanatomical basis of each system, Goel shows how they interact to generate a blended response. Goel's commonsense account drives human behavior back into the biology, where it belongs, and provides a richer set of tools for understanding how we pursue food, sex, and politics.

    Goel takes the reader on a journey through psychology (cognitive, behavioral, developmental, and evolutionary), neuroscience, philosophy, ethology, economics, and political science to explain the workings of the tethered mind. One key insight that holds everything together is that feelings—generated in old, widely conserved brain stem structures—are evolution's solution to initiating and selecting all behaviors, and provide the common currency for the different systems to interact. Reason is as much about feelings as are lust and the taste of chocolate cake. All systems contribute to behavior and the overall control structure is one that maximizes pleasure and minimizes displeasure. 

    Tethered rationality has some sobering and challenging implications for such real-world human behaviors as climate change denial, Trumpism, racism, or sexism. They cannot be changed simply by targeting beliefs but will require more drastic measures, the nature of which depends on the specific behavior in question. Having an accurate model of human behavior is the crucial first step.

    • Paperback $45.00
  • Sketches of Thought

    Sketches of Thought

    Vinod Goel

    Vinod Goel argues that the cognitive computational conception of the world requires our thought processes to be precise, rigid, discrete, and unambiguous; yet there are dense, ambiguous, and amorphous symbol systems, like sketching, painting, and poetry, found in the arts and much of everyday discourse that have an important, nontrivial place in cognition.

    Much of the cognitive lies beyond articulate, discursive thought, beyond the reach of current computational notions. In Sketches of Thought, Vinod Goel argues that the cognitive computational conception of the world requires our thought processes to be precise, rigid, discrete, and unambiguous; yet there are dense, ambiguous, and amorphous symbol systems, like sketching, painting, and poetry, found in the arts and much of everyday discourse that have an important, nontrivial place in cognition.

    Goel maintains that while on occasion our thoughts do conform to the current computational theory of mind, they often are—indeed must be—vague, fluid, ambiguous, and amorphous. He argues that if cognitive science takes the classical computational story seriously, it must deny or ignore these processes, or at least relegate them to the realm of the nonmental.

    As a cognitive scientist with a design background, Goel is in a unique position to challenge cognitive science on its own territory. He introduces design problem solving as a domain of cognition that illustrates these inarticulate, nondiscursive thought processes at work through the symbol system of sketching. He argues not that such thoughts must remain noncomputational but that our current notions of computation and representation are not rich enough to capture them.

    Along the way, Goel makes a number of significant and controversial interim points. He shows that there is a principled distinction between design and nondesign problems, that there are standard stages in the solution of design problems, that these stages correlate with the use of different types of external symbol systems; that these symbol systems are usefully individuated in Nelson Goodman's syntactic and semantic terms, and that different cognitive processes are facilitated by different types of symbol systems.

    A Bradford Book

    • Hardcover $52.00
    • Paperback $25.00