Sunday, July 29, 2007

Emergent People

And last one for the night...

This one goes out to all the engineers/computer scientist types that ask me if the brain is just like a digital computer. If you are new to neuroscience, this idea has probably crossed your mind (it did for several of the first year undergrads I TAed). The answer is, as you are first learning, that isn't a bad way to think about it. But, after a year of study, you should be properly convinced that this is far from the truth. Some mentors don't even like to entertain the idea and consider it in poor form to promote such an inaccuracy, but I think computers and computer technology speaks to the understanding of information processing that most people can relate to. Personally I went from:

Brain as a computer (in high school) -> Okay, I understand computers better. Brain is a multiprocessor, parallel computer -> Okay, I understand biology better. Brain as a horribly imprecise computer filled with error correction (mid-undergrad) -> Brain as a probabilistic, nonstationary, computational grouping of evolutionarily molded structures intimately interwoven and so hypercomplex that we're still scratching the surface of what is happening at the very edges (now, though I would need much more space if I wanted to be accurate).

I guess my point is that in order to teach/learn neuroscience, you have to start from some point of reference you are comfortable with, and using the digital computer as that point doesn't bother me. It does warrant a few disclaimers, but unless you intend to go into hardcore molecular neuroscience, the comparison works. After all, it is a comparison, not an equivocation.

Anyhow, here ya go. A couple quick media articles that my radar picked up, spanning a few years. There's plenty out there, but internet news bites don't substitute for a good foundation in neuroscience.

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