The Brain: Intel Inside?

When I’m not busy studying psychology, playing karaoke or persuing any of the other wonderful pass-times that we find as university students, I do like having a play on the computer. Now, please don’t judge me, I got bored of playing Grand Theft Auto long ago, and I am certainly not addicted to World of Warcraft. I enjoy real computing: programming, making websites, getting stuff to work and so forth.

Cognitive psychology is the study of how information is processed in our minds. It’s a study of knowledge, and how our brain manages “attention, creativity, memory, perception, problem solving, thinking, and the use of language.” (Neisser, 2009) This type of psychology has developed mostly since the 1950’s, and has been quickened through the use of computers.

The idea of using computers in the study of cognitive psychology is to replicate mental processes to learn more about them. Cognitive theorists have suggested that the mind contains similar logical methods to those of a computer. Ideas have also been proposed, that use neurons and their connections as a model for data structures and neuron firing, and spreading activation as a basis for algorithms. While there is no single computational research method, studies combining computation, mind and brain work together to help us deduce new ideas . (Thagard, 2011)

Critics of the idea say that a computer uses only syntax (instructions) in order to do its job. A computer cannot change its mind, it requires user intervention. The human brain processes are so intrinsic that they cannot be fully defined by a programmer. At best, computational processes interpreting activity can only be assigned to mental processes. It is even argued that the brain is not an information processing device at all (Searle, date unknown) In addition, the rate at which technology advances brings ever changing ways in which we program, meaning new methods of programming can come to light, that disprove previously accepted computational theories. (WikiEd, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign)

I observe that various cognitive processes can be represented better than others, the deeper processes being naturally harder to replicate. We certainly can use computers successfully to some extent to hypothesize cognitive processes and make predictions. What is interesting to me is that many of these studies began in the 1960’s, when a whole city had ‘a computer’, and programs were punched in to tape rolls. My computer now has a dual core processor, but even eight core processors are widely available. Think about that in the context of how many things the human brain can process at once. And that’s not to mention the advancements in all the other component parts of modern computers. How much more do computers represent the human mind now? And how much more could they?

Can Computers Learn?

From the 1983 film: Wargames


7 thoughts on “The Brain: Intel Inside?

  1. There is always a very distinct style with your blogs and it works well for you. The addition of a picture definitely grabs the attention and helps to process what is being discussed. The comparison between the mind and computers is certainly a valid one. I favour the humanist approach and behavioural more than any of the others and as such very much do not favour the cognitive and more biological approaches of psychology. The mind is certainly far more complex than any computer ever will, that is beyond our limits to simulate something quite that complex. Although this state will never be reached, the gap certainly is narrowing.

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog and like your style. I think that computers at present are no where near the level same of complexity as the human brain although one day in the future I can see this happening. However, it made me think that if we can make a computer like the human brain would we then rely on it for answers to the questions we have and possibly be led away from the truth. We may ask it for the route of a mental disorder and because of its programming it would lead us to one answer but because of the uniquness of each individual lead us away from the real cause. I think the future holds many possibilities in this area and it is exciting to see what is created.

  3. I enjoyed the picture, the read and the blog in general. It’s a good topic to discuss as I’ve seen it a lot of times where the human brain is compaired somewhat to a computer. Although I agree that in places it’s a far stretch computers are advancing very quickly, and in the realm of robotics advancements are being made to create more and more human-ish robots.
    One of the best known examples of this is Asimo, who can now walk, run, climb stairs but also learn and distinguish types of objects from one another. Admittedly this isn’t exactly like a human brain, but it’s getting closer to acting as a human would, and it may be possible in future to learn about how the brain works from robotic imitations of people like Asimo.

    Unfortunately it will always be a machine though… Well unless you’re going into sci-fi, so I don’t think we will ever truely be able to determine how the mind functions from computer systems, maybe the routes it might take to form conclusions, and the processes, but not what actually happens or why it happens…

    Not sure I like the idea of robots that act exactly like people though, creeps me out a bit

  4. The cognitive approach assumes that the workings of the mind are comparable to the proccessing done by a computer- the computer analogy. This works in the sense that a computer recieves input (instructions typed on its keyboard), processes the information internally (in it’s CPU), and eventually produces output (display on the monitor screen). In the same way, our mind recieves input (from our senses), proceses this input (thoughts and feelings), and produces observable output ( our behaviour). However, the computer analogy is far from perfect as there are major differences between the human brain and a computer. Human thinking tends to be very imprecise, which can be seen from memory experiments, while computer fuctioning is very precise and can handle a vast amount of information reliably without distortion. Furthermore, even the most up-to-date computers are not self-aware. Philosopher Ayer stated that it is very difficult to ‘allow machines as inner life, to credit them with feeling and emotion, to treat them as moral agents’. There are many weaknesses to this analogy and I believe that computers have a long way yet to develop before they could ever truely represent the human mind, if that could ever be possible.

  5. It has been said that the brain is the most complex thing in the universe, certainly much more powerful than even than the most powerful super computer, but is it it not conceivable that one day a computer may be as good? At the rate that technology is developing the thought of one day creating a computer with artificial intelligence is not simply science fiction speculation. The question is whether we could ever truly create something that is comparable to the human mind. I found your blog to be very interesting and your style to be easy to read and informative.

  6. Written with immense clarity, with a structured continuous comparison of the computer and the brain! – Lovely. The aforementioned possibility for deduction within the potential combination of the computer, brain and subsequent mind is a notion with an exciting disposition – yet, simultaneously, an intimidating notion that tingles our trivial fear of world domination by machines. Unfortunately, like the machines requiring ‘user intervention’, humans do as well to varying extents – dependent on the circumstances affecting their life (i.e. disabled, on life support, etc). A computer, or any device of a similar nature, is not ever to obtain a value substantial or even competing to that of the human brain and psyche. Consider the figurative ‘algorithm’ for, for the sake of consistency, typing on a computer. The processes required for even lifting a finger would, I presume, be of a essence that would inundate a computer itself! Or, perhaps the ubiquitous anecdotal ‘evidence’ of how a baby may recognise and identify, and thus react to a face in figurative ‘lightyears’ faster than a computer. Quite the compelling, unconventional yet thought provoking entry, concerning a topic that may affect us within the future. Thank you.


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