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  1. #1
    Occasional Member Evan's Avatar
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    Default Is the brain a computer?

    i was in my social psychology class today, and my teacher started out saying "i'm gonna give a bunch of examples why the mind doesn't work like a machine." he then talked about human biases, how we aren't logical, blah blah, etc.

    i sat there wondering...how does human bias prove in any way that the brain isn't a computer? what does it mean for something to work like a computer, anyways? that the programming is flawless? who defined "flawless"?

    my take on it is that the mind IS a computer. it started out a few lines of code, and over time, new routines were added, and selected for or against. but it's a sloppy process. some routines would positively affect certain areas of fitness and negatively affect other areas at the same time.

    if the overall effect of the new routine was positive in terms of reproductive fitness, the trait would be selected for. but then we get these weird side effects. those effects can't really be easily edited, so instead, new routines would have to come in to fix problems, but those new routines would affect other areas, etc.

    so it's basically like nature writing a program where you start with one line of code, which has to compile properly. then all you can do is add a new line, which may or may not affect the lines that already exist -- the new program has to compile as well. each step you take has to be valid by itself! if you get unexpected or unwanted results, you can only add new routines, because deleting a line would most likely cause your program to not compile, since every routine refers to other routines.

    as a result of this coding process over time, we have these traits we call "irrational". but they're only side effects of routines which fixed some other improperly functioning routine.



    i mean, at some level, things are running deterministically (i know someone's gonna bring up quantum mechanics, blah...). it's not like some atom can just choose to not follow the laws of physics. there's a physical state your brain is in at each specific moment in time, determined by the positions of atoms and their charges, etc. each of those atoms follows the physical law (some giant function, if you will), and the next position and charge of the atom is the output of the function. so everything is a giant computer! the whole universe, even.

    thoughts?
    Last edited by Evan; 01-31-2008 at 03:21 AM. Reason: i used affects instead of effects! so dumb...

  2. #2
    no clinkz 'til brooklyn Nocapszy's Avatar
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    I think your teacher needs to reexamine her claim. Can I get a more full version of her testament?

    Without examining her claim more deeply I can only offer a little bit.

    Is she of the [ironic] persuasion that it has to be on a screen in numbers and letters for it to be logical?

    We're not always logical on the conceptual front, but we have to remember that brains haven't been used (to my knowledge) for that kind of thing for very long. However the brain, along with other mechanisms in the body have had time to season.

    The conscious mind doesn't consider all aspects of any given situation, but the brain does work by logical reactions. It monitors temperatures, and other processes throughout the body, and deals with any problems however it sees fit to. Just because it's not learned to cope with every possible problem doesn't mean its illogical, it just means it's inexperienced. Can't deal with something logically if you can't identify the problem.

    That being said, I wonder where your teacher thought computers came from. Does she not realize that a computer can only encompass the traits we implant? A computer, as I see it, works out the same kinds of problems as the frontal lobe, without the maintenance provisions of the other lobes.

    We could give those things to the computer and it would be able to clean itself, and make sure all contacts are soldered and the frame is on securely, but outside of that, it would be a waste. Just like much of the brain is now, similarly to several of our organs. We don't need them anymore.

    Environment is our engineer, with natural selection as its logic for deciding what is implemented, and what's not.

    Basically, I think that just because we don't see the logical maneuvers all fleshed out, doesn't mean they're not there.
    we fukin won boys

  3. #3
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    I feel like giving your teacher a headache... Well, I'll leave it up to you as to whether you want to mention this rambling model to him or not. It's very scientific lol!

    The brain... consists of two parts. Well 3, but we can combine two together... Okay, I'll give you all 3.

    You have the following:
    1. the conscious thinking mind (neocortex)
    2. the emotional brain (archecortex (typo?) the old cortex aka the limbic system)
    3. the reptilian brain (medulla/brain stem, the R complex)

    The logical thinking mind you can considered as conscious rational mind, and the other two let's lump them together as the unconscious mind. Sounds fair to you?

    Next part, let us define the term "computer" and "machine" (maybe I should have done this first but whatever!) What's a computer? Something that computes (another term for calculates). Before computers came out, a computer refers to a person that does computations. My old highschool computer teacher drilled that into my head. Anyways, to compute is to calculate something... machine like by following a given set of rules. A machine does not ever deviate from its programming. Hmmm his definition for "machine" included stuff that implicit but not necessarily true. What do I mean? "Human bias", "illogical". What is bias? Paying attention to the "wrong" input? As in believing in some facts/observations that is false or irrelevant to the problem at hand? Over-attributing the effect of one event on outcomes? If you think about it, that's not making that much sense. A computer/machine can do just the same. True, it has no emotional brain (or at least ones without emotional IA installed) and is less likely to be biased based on emotional involvement, but its still only as good as its programming... and what it has been given as input.

    A model of the human mind as a computer
    So I've said the brain can be split into 2 parts, conscious and unconscious mind. Both of which can be operated independently... In fact it's probably best to split the brain again in halves... The two hemispheres. The left and right brain can operate independently... The split brain patient is the perfect example. So what does this mean? The human mind is unlike the old traditional computer... more like the newer processor chips... dual core, parallel processing rather than serial processing. Parallel, not just 2 streams... but hundreds/thousand streams all operating together. There's bottom-up processing, there's top-down processing and there's also same level feedback/integrations etc etc. A complex system that we really know very little about. The human mind is made to keep us alive... not for self understanding.

    Cellular basis of neural networking
    So what do we know about the underlying mechanisms of the brain? I'm going to start off with a simple neural circuit. Something called Hebb's theory(?) of neural plasticity. So just image you have a bunch of brain cells (neurons) connected to each other. Every time a signal is passed from one to another, the physical connection between the two neuron is strengthen. A use and disuse thing... the more that signalling "circuit" is used, the easier it is to reactivate the next time around... and if you don't use it... it regresses and becomes more difficult to use. This is postulated as the cellular basis of memory. Memory is stored not inside cells, but in strength of connections between cells. Axons, dendrites, receptors etc... The details aren't important.

    So you have these simple circuits... let's just say they hold/pass along basic information. So how does a person operate? Input -> processing -> storage -> processing -> output. Simple schematic like that of any computer. What's input? Sensory input, input from your rational mind etc. That gets processed (mostly filtered to remove noise... junk that is not important at the moment). What's remaining is put through to your working memory. Call that a memory buffer in your mind. A place where you can integrate inputs with whatever you can pull out from storage. Obviously there's a limit to how much it can handle at once... hence the need for the initial filtering. (The limitation on working memory and computational power and how that affects thinking... I'll discuss that later). Right, so after integration... you come up with some sort of solution, on what you should do... how you should act etc... the output. Of cause all throughout the process, information is logged and stored simply due to activity within the neural circuit as mentioned before. The more you use it... the better ideas are connected/stored.
    Last edited by nightning; 01-31-2008 at 01:55 AM. Reason: It cut me off! *cries*

  4. #4
    ish red no longer *sad* nightning's Avatar
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    Default My post isn't THAT long! ;_;

    Limited memory and processing power
    Okay, so I said earlier that the human mind is inferior to a computer in terms of juggling many concrete pieces of information at once. We simply can't keep track of too many things at once. I believe short term memory has a capacity for 7+/- 2 chunks. Chucks as in separate items or grouped pieces of information. As to a computer... it doesn't have that sort of limitation.

    But what's the brain "built" for? Certainly not for coming up with correct answers... but for helping us survive. That's all that matters really isn't it? Survival. Well, you can sit there forever calculating the exact probabilities of what might happen and track the outcomes of every single possible action you can take. But if say a snake's going to strike at you... perhaps it's best just to do the automatic response and jump back? Utilizing a process known as heuristics... or rule of thumbs. The brain only cares about survival... of coming up with answers quickly so we can take advantage of opportunities despite our limited computational power. That's it's okay to make a mistake or two... so long as most of the time we ended up making the right decision within the time limit. This is where most of the human biases comes from. But it, in no way, takes away from the fact that the human brain is like a computer. It's just a very special type of computer.

    I can go on and on... This is a subject that greatly interests me... but I fear I'm boring people to death. Plus I have an 8am class to attend tomorrow. And it's getting late.
    Last edited by nightning; 01-31-2008 at 01:57 AM. Reason: Ah! It didn't like my +/- symbol... bad!

  5. #5
    Occasional Member Evan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nocapszy View Post
    I think your teacher needs to reexamine her claim. Can I get a more full version of her testament?

    Without examining her claim more deeply I can only offer a little bit.

    Is she of the [ironic] persuasion that it has to be on a screen in numbers and letters for it to be logical?

    We're not always logical on the conceptual front, but we have to remember that brains haven't been used (to my knowledge) for that kind of thing for very long. However the brain, along with other mechanisms in the body have had time to season.

    The conscious mind doesn't consider all aspects of any given situation, but the brain does work by logical reactions. It monitors temperatures, and other processes throughout the body, and deals with any problems however it sees fit to. Just because it's not learned to cope with every possible problem doesn't mean its illogical, it just means it's inexperienced. Can't deal with something logically if you can't identify the problem.

    That being said, I wonder where your teacher thought computers came from. Does she not realize that a computer can only encompass the traits we implant? A computer, as I see it, works out the same kinds of problems as the frontal lobe, without the maintenance provisions of the other lobes.

    We could give those things to the computer and it would be able to clean itself, and make sure all contacts are soldered and the frame is on securely, but outside of that, it would be a waste. Just like much of the brain is now, similarly to several of our organs. We don't need them anymore.

    Environment is our engineer, with natural selection as its logic for deciding what is implemented, and what's not.

    Basically, I think that just because we don't see the logical maneuvers all fleshed out, doesn't mean they're not there.
    well, in defense of my teacher (a male BTW), he didn't really put much weight on his claim, it was sort of a digression at the beginning of the lecture. i really like him, he super smart/funny (a blatant ENTP).

    but it's just that his claim got me thinking on this subject, and i felt like ranting about it.

    he was still totally wrong, though, heh.

    and yeah, i agree with what you said.

  6. #6
    Occasional Member Evan's Avatar
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    2. the emotional brain (archecortex (typo?) the old cortex aka the limbic system)
    True, it has no emotional brain (or at least ones without emotional IA installed) and is less likely to be biased based on emotional involvement, but its still only as good as its programming... and what it has been given as input.
    i guess i'd argue that emotions are still governed by logical rules (that we don't know specifically). so there's really no computational difference between "emotional" actions and "cold, logical" ones.

    i don't even think you were implying anything else, but just wanted to say that.

    i agree with all the other stuff you said.

    someone needs to come disagree with us!

  7. #7
    Boring old fossil Night's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dissonance View Post
    someone needs to come disagree with us!
    For grins:

    Quote Originally Posted by dissonance View Post
    guess i'd argue that emotions are still governed by logical rules (that we don't know specifically). so there's really no computational difference between "emotional" actions and "cold, logical" ones.

    i agree with all the other stuff you said.
    In terms of functional process, I find that emotions are a series of evolutionarily-sharpened responses to environmental stimuli. Basic emotional valves (love; hate; anger) tend to accumulate around learned processes ingrained into our highly-evolved circuitry so as to better appreciate environmental dynamics. As emotional involvement increases, variant states arise: Fear and Hate; Love and Anger. As the complexity of our stimuli increases, so too does our intellectual adjustment to the perceived catalyst.

    Logic derives from a crystallized stream of mechanical thought and is as much a byproduct of our academic system as it is our historical context. Our logical basis is Aristotlean by design and has been developed from an ontological slant. As emotion expands into multi-textured layers, so too does logic: induction; deduction; and empiricism highlight some of the main intellectual excavations reason creates.

    As I hinted earlier, logic is culturally-centric. Were we colonized by non-Hellenistic folks, it is possible our formal system of thought would be an entirely different aroma, inclusive instead of conflated religious mantra v. (what is now) proto-Germanic empiricism.

    As a ying-yang symbiosis, emotion and logic cooperate into perception - the development of which is an association of overall intellectual acuity.

  8. #8
    Mud and rain and chaos... TickTock's Avatar
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    this is like saying the wind isn't a hair dryer.

  9. #9
    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    A computer is only able to follow a set of processes as carefully proscribed.

    The human brain undertakes processes, but the sentience is an emergent property of the multitude of activities underneath. A computer could perhaps eventually be programmed to do this, but not as we presently know it... it can only do what it is told.

    The human mind emerges from a sea of randomly firing neurones, triggered and adjusted by the environment it finds itself in.

    So no, in the purest sense the human brain is not *just* a computer.. by which I mean yes it computes but that isn't sufficient to create anything more than basic function.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lithium View Post
    this is like saying the wind isn't a hair dryer.
    It isn't if it's humid/rainy/foggy out.

    To continue the computer analogy, the human brain does have differences in how it works compared to most computers nowadays, in that its "hardware" changes in addition to software, and it in general seems to have a more nuanced "fuzzy logic" way of processing things in terms of decision making. The nerves involved in controlling balance, heart rate, sweating, etc., though, seem to work pretty much the same as automatic computer controls in places like car engines, chemical plants, on airplanes, etc.

    In terms of what computers do vs. the decision making parts of the mind, computers are pretty much information processors that can be programmed to do whatever the programmer wants it to do. Usually this means programming exact answers, because that is what is desired, but a computer could just as easily be programmed to say that 1 + 1 =3, or to use a random number to decide a solution, etc. Brains in living things seem to have a similar setup, in that they can be programmed for anything under the right conditions, though living brains seem to be more flexible at changing programming around than machine computers.

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