For about as long as we have had anything considered to be a computer, we have compared it to our brain. Since we continue to try to create artificial intelligence that is like a human brain, we alternately have used computers to try to understand our brains.
Is it a fair comparison? A computer has storage. So does a brain. Different computers have different processing speeds. Check on brains. We always talk about computer memory, and we talk a lot about our human memory.
Both use electrical signals to send information, though the brain uses chemicals and computers use electricity. The nervous system is high speed but the computer is faster.
What about those on or off (binary) computer switches? Our neurons also fire on and off.
Computer memory can grow by adding computer chips. The brain has plenty of memory space and it expands by making stronger synaptic connections.
But they are not really the same things. Computers are faster than brains and computer memory is more precise. But humans have more storage capacity. And computers still can’t nuance memory access like a brain.
A typical computer runs on about 100 watts of power, but a brain only needs about 10 watts. Super energy efficient.
The computer as brain metaphor has been the dominant metaphor in neuroscience, but now it has fallen out of favor. In fact, it might even have sent scientists in the wrong direction for decades. How about your brain is a transducer?
What is a transducer? It is a device that converts variations in a physical quantity, such as pressure or brightness, into an electrical signal or vice versa. They are all around us – microphones, loudspeakers, thermometers, position and pressure sensors, and antenna.
The brain is still pretty much a mystery. It’s not a mystery like ghosts, but more of a mystery like dreams. For example, my fingers are right now putting pressure on my keyboard and moving a mouse and both movements and pressures are causing transduction. Analog is converting to digital. Words are appearing on the screen. The words – converted to bits – are flying through the air in my family room to a wireless WiFi point and then flying through a wire off to a server in the “cloud” that might just as well be in the real clouds.
But let’s back up to before my fingers started putting pressure on keys. Organic transduction via our sense organs — eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin — is happening. I can’t even comprehend what effect electromagnetic radiation, air pressure waves, airborne chemicals, liquid-borne chemicals, textures, pressure, and temperature are having on my writing right now. Electrical and chemical activity in my brain is somehow sending those words in a reasonable order down to my fingertips.
Thank you evolution for all the forms of transduction we possess. And thanks for most of the forms of transduction that humans have invented and are still inventing.
There are still some missing transducers. I can’t connect to plants or the universe. I know there are those who say via things like ayahuasca that they can connect to the unseen. Religions all seem to offer connections to a transcendent reality. Neither path has worked for me.
Let’s see if transduction theory catches hold and leads to a better understanding of the brain or the universe.