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Published: December 30, 2016

If You Think Your Brain Works Like A Computer, Scientists Prove You Wrong

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Try to recall what a one dollar bill looks like in your mind. If you can, draw one out on a piece of paper.

Maybe it’ll look a bit like this:1

Not bad, but there are details missing. Your mind recalled key information but, crucially, your brain didn’t retrieve an exact blueprint of what a dollar in cash looks like.

This, according to Robert Epstein, a well-known senior research psychologist, shows why the singularity is not possible. It is why we will never download a human mind to a computer, and why we won’t be able to achieve immortality through downloading in the process.

Our Brains Don’t Store Memories Like Computers Do

Well, drawing a one dollar bill while looking at one as reference would provide a much more precise outcome.2


Our brains do not work like computers.

This idea, Epstein claims, is an outdated metaphor “which dominates human thinking, both on the street and in the sciences.”3

Our brains simply do not contain memory banks, nor do they store representations of stimuli in the same way that a computer does. Despite some scientists’ beliefs, studies have shown that specific memories are not stored in individual neurons4. Large areas of the brain have been shown to become active, even in ordinary memory recall.

The dollar bill example, outlined by Epstein, shows us that we’re much better at recognising things than recalling them.

As Epstein says,

“when we remember something (from the Latin re, “again”, and memorari

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, “be mindful of”), we have to try to relive an experience, but when we recognise something, we must merely be conscious of the fact that we have had this perceptual experience before.”

The way we react to the external world is based on recollections of past events, which guide us on how to proceed in the present. We cannot retrieve data from our brains, we simply visualise things we have experienced or seen in our past.

We are organisms, not computers. Get over it.

We may not have the capability to download our minds into cyberspace, and dreams of living consciously in a digital realm may be off the mark. The brain is made up of roughly a hundred billion neurons, which are interconnected in 100 trillion ways, meaning it could take centuries just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity.

This should be a source of inspiration though, Epstein claims,

“We are organisms, not computers. Get over it.”

We are unique, not just in our genetic makeup, but also in the way our individual brains evolve over a lifetime.

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Featured photo credit: Brain Chemistvia brainchemist.wordpress.com

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