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Doctor using finger to hold a brain model with both hands in concept of taking care the brain
Doctor using finger to hold a brain model with both hands in concept of taking care the brain

Why the Brain Is Not at All like a Computer

Seeing the brain as a computer is an easy misconception rather than an informative image, says neuroscientist Yuri Danilov

This week, Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and neuroscientist Yuri Danilov continued their discussion of remarkable features of the brain with the question, “Is what we knew about the brain all wrong?”

An initial response might be: We should never be afraid to ask the question:

Is What We Knew About the Brain All Wrong?

Here’s an excerpt on how close AI is (or isn’t) to simulating the natural brain [14:30]:

Robert J. Marks: My field is artificial intelligence, artificial neural networks—and Dr. Danilo just rolled his eyes. And I probably agree with you. But how close is artificial intelligence to simulating the incredible things that happen in the brain?

Yuri Danilov: Maybe in fifty years I can answer this question, how close you are. But from my perspective, artificial intelligences are a fantastic direction with a great future but they have nothing to do with the natural brain.

It’s artificial intelligence in my eyes. It’s a a very nice attempt to emulate or imitate known—known—function of the brain, human brain. Because, to repeat the brain is impossible. Or at least, in the near future, it’s not even close.

Robert J. Marks: Do you think the brain is just a very, very complex computer that could actually be simulated, assuming a big enough computer… ?

Yuri Danilov: It is not a computer. The brain is not doing any programming.

Robert J. Marks: But is it following an algorithm?

Yuri Danilov: No.

Robert J. Marks: It isn’t?

Yuri Danilov: No.

Robert J. Marks: That is fascinating.

Yuri Danilov: Again, it is a separate discussion, extremely painful for many but it is something that is happening right now. Remember, I talked today about our technological development morphing how our understanding of the brain works. And the attempt to make a parallel between the brain and a computer is a result of our evolution, if you wish. Because… in the Seventies … it was a transistor and everybody thought it was very simple. They thought that each neuron is a transistor.

Robert J. Marks: Yes.

Yuri Danilov: Then it was, “Each neuron is a microchip.”

Robert J. Marks: Yes.

Yuri Danilov: Then each neuron is a microprocessor.

Robert J. Marks: Yes.

Yuri Danilov: Right now people are saying, each synoptical connection is a microprocessor. So if it’s a microprocessor, you have 1012 neurons, each neuron has 105 synapses, so you have … you can compute how many parallel processing units you have in the brain if each synapse is a microprocessor.

But as soon as you assume that each neuron is a microprocessor, you assume that there is a programmer. There is no programmer in the brain; there are no algorithms in the brain.


Seeing the brain as a computer is an easy misconception rather than an informative image.

Here are excerpts and links from the two earlier podcasts featuring Robert J. Marks and Yuri Danilov:

Do we actually remember everything? Neuroscience evidence suggests that our real problem isn’t with remembering things but finding our memories when we need them. One of a pioneer neurosurgeon’s cases featured a patient who could, unaccountably, speak ancient Greek. The explanation was not occult but it was surely remarkable for what it shows about memory.

and

Aging brains need exercise, not sofas for neurons. Neuroscientist Yuri Danilov reassures seniors, we do not lose neurons as we age. (This is Part 1 of Yuri Danilo’s discussion with Robert J. Marks.)

Further reading on neuroplasticity and the realistic hope for the healing of brain injuries:

How the Injured Brain Heals Itself: Our Amazing Neuroplasticity Jonathan Sackier is a pioneer in non-invasive techniques for speeding the healing of traumatic brain injuries

If Thinking Can Heal, Why Do We Need Antidepressants? J.P. Moreland, who struggles with anxiety disorders, likens medications to engine oil for the brain

Mind-controlled robot brain needs no brain implant

and

The placebo effect is real, not a trick. But the fact that the mind acts on the body troubles materialists. Such facts, they say, require revision


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Why the Brain Is Not at All like a Computer