Computer vs Brain
“Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking”
-Johan Wolgang von Goethe
Years ago, this quote used to intrigue me, it still does, but it got me thinking, hence this article…
What is knowing?
A state of being aware or informed.
What is looking?
My art teacher used to tell me,
“Draw what you see, not what you think you see”
This statement changed my life back then, and helped me to copy my surroundings more accurately. The awakening, was the realisation that you can change the way you perceive the world.
To break the scene apart and assess the world in terms of curves, lines, texture, shade, balance, harmony, variation, rhythm, patterns, dimension, colour and contrast. To not see a face, but to see a pattern of circles or squares or perhaps triangles depending on their features. To measure distance and proportion by the shapes in proximity, and dividing or duplicating those shapes within the object. Each object is merely mixtures, variation and repetition of similar and dissimilar shapes.
Back then, the realisation that intricate paintings which seemed to have a multitude of colours consisted of only 3–5 colours, blew my mind. “Seriously?!…only red, blue, yellow, black & white?…I don’t believe you.” Until proving it to myself, I thought she was testing my gullibility. She taught me that combining the 3 primary colours created black in art and in science, light was comprised of the spectrum of colours. It got me thinking, why? Why would combining all the colours give you 2 polar opposites in these 2 categories. This was the first decision I made to try to view the world in terms of art and science. I know that makes no sense rationally. But in my head it made sense at the time. I do however still believe that art and science were never opposing constructs, when they were the yin to the others’ yang. They compliment each other. Balance each other.
To this day, I still can’t help zooming into objects or blurring my vision by half closing my eyes when I view my surrounding, just to view the overall shades and shapes and compare against zooming in on specific parts and focusing again. I have always questioned if I’m looking at things the right way. Or thinking about it accurately, or am I merely assuming. (Yet, I still catch myself assuming).
Basically, looking is visual perception. And visual perception is subjective. The way we automatically organise or group information, fill in the blanks and interpret information is influenced by the brain. And what we don’t see is affected by our cognitive biases. If we aren’t aware of our biases, we leave ourselves open to a lot of misinterpretation. There are over 100 cognitive biases which can mess up our thinking.
If we review the visual phenomenon of multistable perception, we can see that our visual system is able to interpret or organise stimulus in different ways. And when viewing ambiguous images, the mind is able to see both interpretations of the image, but not simultaneously. Once seen it can’t be unseen. This shows the subjective nature of visual perception. It all depends on what you choose to focus on.
What is thinking?
To interpret, represent or model the world experienced, and make predictions. To make sense of the world.
The process of thinking about thinking? Or cognition of cognition.
Includes, language-acquisition, altered states of mind and consciousness, visual perception, auditory perception, emotional perception, short-term memory, long-term memory, storage, retrieval, perceptions of thought and more.
What are the existing theories about the brain?
Some theories make sense, some just don’t. Some refer to increasing creativity by better understanding “moments of insight”. There are theories that analytical people use one side of their brain more, while creatives use the other side. From these theories, there are assumptions that creativity doesn’t involve analytical or critical thinking, or that analytical/logical thinkers lack the ability to be creative. There is also research and evidence to disprove this.
I’ve met some creatives, who believe that there is something special in them, that they are different in some way. As if they are higher beings. This makes no sense. Being creative isn’t a superpower, everyone is creative. It’s a way of thinking or a process, or a lifestyle. It’s being fearful, yet pursuing despite your fear, it’s being open to trying new things. And not caring about making a fool of yourself. It’s filling your senses and experiences with different things, (even consuming mundane things, normal things). Just as anyone else who’s passionate about any other thing would be. If you do anything for a long time, you become this. And this is your curse or blessing.
The patterns you create in your life are the patterns you create in your thoughts.
There are also other theories that acknowledge that different tasks require different modes of thinking or mental processes.
Personally, the only analogies which have made the most sense during my research are the ones relating the brain to computers. I find this manner of articulating the idea to be easier to digest, as it is the one which helps shed light and assist in simplifying how the brain works. In turn, it helps us to understand ourselves a bit better.
Brain vs Computer similarities
Input (keyboard/mouse/wacom) : Environment — which is taken in by our sensory organs* ( eg, sense of balance, ears, touch, smell, taste etc. )
Our visual system is part of the central nervous system which gives organisms the ability to process visual detail. How is information encoded? Info is given meaning — we process in visual, acoustic, or semantic ways (relating to meaning in language or logic). It detects and interprets information from visible light to build a representation of the surrounding environment.
- Afferent neurons: receive information from our sensory organs and transmit this input to the central nervous system
- Efferent neurons: send impulses from the central nervous system to your limbs and organs
Monitor: our visual system
Display settings can be adjusted (600px x900px; 1280px x800px) or even colour display settings vary — this can be compared to how everyone sees differently, eg. some of us wear spectacles, some are colour blind…like a screen which hasn’t been calibrated properly. And some are blind, so their other senses would be heightened in order to function in the environment.
Our attention mechanisms would receive the information from external stimuli/environment… experienced/transformed through our senses. Electric neural activity which is fed back to the brain, it is then encoded (changed) and stored.
Our memory is an amazing thing, it allows the perceived item to be converted (framed) reconstructed and stored within the brain, and then recalled later from short-term or long-term memory. This data is then compared to existing information and combined with previously stored information to complete a task.
What is even more amazing is the fact that we aren’t even aware of how much we take in.
Reinforcing thoughts, feelings, learnings by association. The more you think about something, or what you’ve associated with those things/people/tasks, the more automatic it becomes. Just as electricity follows the path of least resistance, like your neurons firing off impulses would travel the stronger, reinforced pathways (ways of thinking) in order to assess, calculate or generate ideas. Which would would further reinforce this pathway, and make it more likely that this path would be followed again. Hence why we remember information we use more frequently.
On the downside, we can also think of it as short circuits in the brain. (It has many paths it could take, but it will continually take the path it’s used to…so we would need to consciously start creating new ways of thinking). Or rather, developing our other thinking processes, which we use less frequently.
Both humans and computers have multiple forms of memory.
CPU Cache (Central Processing Unit) : (working memory)
Working memory, holds information available for processing. This is important for reasoning, guidance of decision making and behavior
How we process & retrieve information, how we actively manipulate information during a task. Anything that occupies working memory reduces ability to think. As we only have a limited capacity of awareness. (We have our senses, our reflections, but although a multitude of ideas are swimming in our minds, we can only truly focus on a limited number of things at a time. (Just as your computer slows down when you have too many applications open and not enough RAM) — solution either increase RAM or limit the number of open applications ( increase mental capacity/resilience/concentration/focus by reducing the number of distractions/cognitive load/choices). This is explained by Hick-Hyman Law in that the time taken to make a decision increases when there are too many choices.
RAM (Random Access Memory): Hippocampus (deals with short-term memory)
The memory you will use to recall and complete immediate tasks/actions RAM allows quick access to any location in the memory.
The main disadvantage of this form of memory is its liability to change rapidly and unpredictably : you turn off your computer and it is gone. But we have better programmes which autosave….So could we change ourselves to have photographic memories and autosave too?
The memory content stored in the hippocampus is transferred to another brain area the cortex, for long term storage. This process happens when we are turned off (during sleep). Until we can figure out how to have a photographic memory, sleep is important. As well as continuously using new learnings. When we apply something we’ve learned, we remember it better.
Harddrive (HD): Cortex — Stores information (long-term memory)
RAM transfers information to the HD, where all data and programmes get stored. Just as our own data gets stored in our long term memory (during sleep — likewise with a computer when you turn it off, memory is transferred to the HD for long term storage). When recollecting old memories, time can vary to complete this process. Just as time varies when reading from the hard drive. Hard drive can have very different read/write speed depending on where the memory is stored. This process is reversed when you turn it on to make the best usage of the fast RAM. (Perhaps there is some use in a power nap to quickly restart your own machine of intelligence).
There are many similarities, and many differences too.. but one main difference, is that computers lack emotions and experience. Although machine learning gives computers the ability to learn without straight forward instructions, this isn’t the same. A computer can’t be affected, or rather, it’s user can’t leave an impression on it. ( how cool would it be though, if the original computer, was like a person, who changed and evolved into the computer it is today…eg, with a sense of history, growth — a self improving machine, gaining increased awareness of itself and the world it exists in as time passes ). Ha, imagine meeting a macbook, in the midst of an identity crisis…
Our thinking can also be thought of as 2 opposing systems
1.Fast thinking: Automatic/no effort or 2. Slow thinking: effort/deliberate, dealing with complex mental computations
- System 1 = little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. (subconscious)
- System 2 = associated with the subjective awareness or experience of agency, choice, and concentration. (conscious)
Of 2 Minds: How Fast and Slow Thinking Shape Perception and Choice [Excerpt]
To survive physically or psychologically, we sometimes need to react automatically to a speeding taxi as we step off…
Both systems are active in our waking state. But our attention is limited. The division of labor between these 2 systems are highly efficient: minimizing effort and optimizing performance.
Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control is common in our lives. Like forcing our attention in a boring meeting. Or deliberately avoiding procrastination in order to do the things which help us in the long run. Procrastination is a learned. And it can be unlearned too. Once you eliminate procrastination and replace with completing a goal, the reward and sense of accomplishment allows you to easily continue pursuing more goals instead of returning to this habit. Everything is simply habit.
One of the tasks of System 2 (conscious) is to overcome the impulses of System 1 (subconscious). In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control.
And in other ways our brains are like computers, with cognitive biases being compared to glitches.
There are also tons of differences…in brain vs computer…but that’s another article all on it’s own.
So…can we change the way we think? Eg. can a creative thinker become more critical in their thinking or visa versa? Yes! To find out how, read the next article.
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