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