Brain not like a computer…it’s continuous

Cognitive science is continuing to deliver compelling and intriguing new data that makes one ponder. This Cornell news release highlights some very interesting new research: “The theory that the mind works like a computer, in a series of distinct stages, was an important steppingstone in cognitive science, but it has outlived its usefulness, concludes a new Cornell University study. Instead, the mind should be thought of more as working the way biological organisms do: as a dynamic continuum, cascading through shades of grey.

This paragraph was the essence of the study: “In his study, 42 students listened to instructions to click on pictures of different objects on a computer screen. When the students heard a
word, such as “candle,” and were presented with two pictures whose names did not sound alike, such as a candle and a jacket, the trajectories of their mouse movements were quite straight and directly to the candle. But when the students heard “candle” and were presented with two pictures with similarly sounding names, such as candle and candy, they were slower to click on the correct object, and their mouse trajectories were much more curved. Spivey said that the listeners started processing what they heard even before the entire word was spoken.”

Isn’t that really parallel computing of some kind? While reading this news release, I immediately thought about how a robot built with multiple sensors and parallel processors — all aware of each other and in sync managed by the primary “brain” CPU — would more quickly make decisions of this type and could be set up to outperform a human on a task like the one in this study. I understand the independent yet parallel processing each of us do (touch a hot stove and the autonomic nervous system processing has an immediate reaction pulling your hand off without “main CPU” involvement) and would bet that each of these processes could be boiled down to an “on” “off” binary-like state.

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