Computers and Brains

Why the brain is not like a computer:

Why the brain is not like a computer

For readers wishing to understand why the human brain is not like a computer, I would highly recommend a 2007 blog article entitled, 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers, by Chris Chatham, a 2nd year Grad student pursuing a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Colorado, Boulder, over on his science blog, Developing Intelligence. Let me say at the outset that Chatham is a materialist who believes that the human mind supervenes upon the human brain. Nevertheless, he regards the brain-computer metaphor as being of very limited value, insofar as it obscures the many ways in which the human brain exceeds a computer in flexibility, parallel processing and raw computational power, not to mention the fact that the human brain is part of a living human body.

Anyway, here is a short, non-technical summary of the ten differences between brains and computers which are discussed by Chatham:

1. Brains are analogue; computers are digital.

2. The brain uses content-addressable memory.

3. The brain is a massively parallel machine; computers are modular and serial.

4. Processing speed is not fixed in the brain; there is no system clock.

5. Short-term memory is not like RAM.

6. No hardware/software distinction can be made with respect to the brain or mind.

7. Synapses are far more complex than electrical logic gates.

8. Unlike computers, processing and memory are performed by the same components in the brain.

9. The brain is a self-organizing system.

10. Brains have bodies.

As a bonus, Chatham adds an eleventh difference between brains and computers:

11. The brain is much, much bigger than any [current] computer.

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  • Make sure to read the comments on that blog post if you’re really interested in the topic…

  • without actually going to read the comments (cheer ray) I suspect that this whole discussion would quickly boil down to sematics.

    Not “like” a brain – how like does something have to be before a simile is appropriate? I would say that a computer is “like” a brain in many respects. It’s certainly more “like” a brain than it is like a bucket of yellow custard. But once again, it depends on which characteristics one is using in the comparison. These things always just end up being word games…

  • DRT

    My fav – 10. Brains have bodies