Human brain computer analogy

Is it time to move past the

Throughout history, people have compared the brain to different inventions. In the past, the brain has been said to be like a water clock and a telephone switchboard. These days, the favorite invention that the brain is compared to is a computer. Some people use this comparison to say that the computer is better than the brain; some people say that the comparison shows that the brain is better than the computer. Perhaps, it is best to say that the brain is better at doing some jobs and the computer is better at doing other jobs.

Let's see how the brain and the computer are similar and different.


Both use electrical signals to send messages.
The brain uses chemicals to transmit information; the computer uses electricity. Even though electrical signals travel at high speeds in the nervous system, they travel even faster through the wires in a computer.

Both transmit information.
A computer uses switches that are either on or off ("binary"). In a way, neurons in the brain are either on or off by either firing an action potential or not firing an action potential. However, neurons are more than just on or off because the "excitability" of a neuron is always changing. This is because a neuron is constantly getting information from other cells through synaptic contacts. Information traveling across a synapse does NOT always result in a action potential. Rather, this information alters the chance that an action potential will be produced by raising or lowering the threshold of the neuron.

Both have a memory that can grow.
Computer memory grows by adding computer chips. Memories in the brain grow by stronger synaptic connections.

Both can adapt and learn.
It is much easier and faster for the brain to learn new things. Yet, the computer can do many complex tasks at the same time ("multitasking") that are difficult for the brain. For example, try counting backwards and multiplying 2 numbers at the same time. However, the brain also does some multitasking using the autonomic nervous system. For example, the brain controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure at the same time it performs a mental task.

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