“Making A Brain Map That We Can Use”

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Does it make any more sense to try to describe what a brain does based on its physical components than it does to describe what a computer does based on the plastics and metals that make it up? Philosopher Alva Noë grapples with this question on NPR‘s Cosmos & Culture blog.

“The big upshot of Turing’s insight (actually, the insight was first formulated in these terms by the philosopher Hilary Putnam, who was my teacher) is that the sorts of functional organization that make a computer what it is don’t ever reduce to facts about material composition of computing machines,” writes Noë. “And that’s true even if, as a matter of fact, physical systems can and do perform computations.”

Making A Brain Map That We Can Use (NPR Cosmos & Culture, January 16, 2015)

1 COMMENT

  1. “Does it make any more sense to try to describe what a brain does based on its physical components than it does to describe what a computer does based on the plastics and metals that make it up?”
    There’s an answer to this question already. We have a complete wiring diagram of an earth worm (Caenorhabditis elegans) – that is we know the identity, position and connections made by every single neuron in its body and still we don’t know how it “works” functionally. Every insight into the function we have so far comes from time-consuming experiments with neurophysiology, behaviour, cell and molecular biology which target one tiny aprt of the circuit for one behaviour at a time. Knowing the “hardware” is somewhat helpful in that but it’s really just a tiny part of the whole process.

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