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Simone Shane's picture

Continuing thoughts...

A lot of people seem to still be having trouble conceptualizing the brain as a computer. I too am having this difficulty, but I think that is primarily because I don't know much about computers and computing networks. I was thinking a lot about the brain's plasticity--that is, it's ability to heal itself and make up for missing or damaged pieces--and ability to rewire or add new perceptions. I really like Caroline's observation that while computers cannot take much abuse in their hardwiring, brains seem to be quite able to do this. jwong continued this line of thought bringing up the brain's ability to gain new abilities, such as a "sense of direction."

I too find the ability of the brain to self-modify fascinating. I remember learning about a study where a woman was blindfolded 24/7 for a ridiculous amount of time while she was taught how to read brail. She was soon able to read brail as easily and quickly as actual blind people, which is not an easy task for seeing people. Most interestingly, when they measured activity of her brain while reading brail, they saw that the area normally used for processing sensory information was highly active. Thus, the brain used its vision center, which no longer was receiving visual input, to better process the sense of touch. Interestingly, however, when she was no longer blindfolded, she could no longer read brail as quickly and the her vision center was not as active while reading it. It seems as though that area's first concern is visual stimuli, but can also be used for tactile stimuli when not otherwise engaged. On a side note--could this finding help uncover something about synithesia? I'm not sure if they're relate, but the rewiring of senses sounds pertinent.

Going back to the question of the brain vs computer, I ask whether these abilities to heal, learn, adapt, and modify changes this analogy? We have stated that the brain may not be a computer, but a network of computers. Doesn't there have to be someone to rewire plugs b/w computers when there's something wrong? Certainly computer networks cannot grow new connections everytime something is learned. In this way, looking at the brain as a network is just as faulty as looking at it as a computer. However, as I said, I know very little about computers, so I may be mistaken... 


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