GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

July 2, 2014

Brain as computer

Filed under: GA — Q @ 9:22 am

The basic premise of much current brain research seems to be that the brain is a biological computer and evolution is the programmer. Theoretically, then, we should be able to find the codes and understand the working of the brain. According to a 2010 article on CNET:

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have spent the past few years engineering a new imaging model, which they call array tomography, in conjunction with novel computational software, to stitch together image slices into a three-dimensional image that can be rotated, penetrated and navigated. Their work appears in the journal Neuron this week. To test their model, the team took tissue samples from a mouse whose brain had been bioengineered to make larger neurons in the cerebral cortex express a fluorescent protein (found in jellyfish), making them glow yellow-green. Because of this glow, the researchers were able to see synapses against the background of neurons. They found that the brain’s complexity is beyond anything they’d imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study: One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor–with both memory-storage and information-processing elements–than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth. (Elizabeth Armstrong Moore CNET).

A high end computer chip such as the Intel Quad i7 has 731 million transistors, which act as switches. The human brain, on the other hand, has an estimated 86 billion neurons and 1000 trillion synapses “In a related finding there was a new article that suggests the difference between human and other primates is the space between neurons in the prefrontal cortex, with humans having more space, which is speculated to allow more connections.” (Ward Plunet Link)

The fact that the brain is many times more complicated than a computer does not, by itself, refute the analogy. It does seem significant, however, that no computer yet devised has any degree of consciousness.

Scientists have been very succssful of late in manipulating living cells, especially in tinkering with the DNA, to create new plants and so on. But they are not yet been able to create life in the laboratory, starting with non-living compounds.

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