Computer metaphor not accurate for brain’s embodied cognition

It’s common for brain functions to be described in terms of digital computing, but this metaphor does not hold up in brain research. Unlike computers, in which hardware and software are separate, organic brains’ structures embody memories and brain functions. Form and function are entangled.

Rather than finding brains to work like computers, we are beginning to design computers–artificial intelligence systems–to work more like brains. 

About Mark H

Information technologist, knowledge management expert, and writer. Academic background in knowledge management, social and natural sciences, information technologies, learning, educational technologies, and philosophy. Married with one adult child who's married and has a teenage daughter.

3 thoughts on “Computer metaphor not accurate for brain’s embodied cognition

  1. This reminds me of the principle reason why the meme thing never really led anywhere. Memes are informational replicators that reside in mind/brains. By definition, they replicate via imitation. But when one brain receives a piece of information from another, that receipt process is nothing like copying information from one computer hard drive to another. Instead, a highly personalized representation of the original meme is created in the recipient. It is not like DNA replication. Memes just are not good replicators. — Paul

    1. Zakstein makes a compelling argument. It’s interesting that both the cybernetic and the ecosystem metaphors emerged from general systems thinking. When I was studying GST in the early 1980s, the models of mind were complex adaptive living systems. Living systems have characteristic functions, including information processing. The error is to make the linear sort of information processing associated with traditional computers the entire model. Also, organisms learn (in several senses, including unconscious conditioning and conceptual knowledge acquisition and modification) and exercising influence over learning outcomes can have meaningful parallels with programming. I agree with the author that the information processing metaphor has been radically overextended (as metaphors tend to be), but there’s still value in thinking about how brains process information and how behaviors and concepts are formed (some aspects of which parallel ‘programming’ in a general sense).

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