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Is Your Brain a Computer? Application Essay Example

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Words: 1083

Application Essay

Introduction

In my opinion, the human brain is very much like a computer. The only difference that I can detect is that the human brain is biological, while a computer is mechanical, i.e., a “hard-wired machine.” This viewpoint is nothing new, for it dates back to the late 1960’s when Atkinson and Shiffrin devised the modal model of memory which is now used in cognitive psychology via “analogous terms and their related functions based upon computers” (Online Lecture Notes).

According to Paul Reber, a professor of human psychology at Northwestern University, there are a number of similarities between the human brain and a computer. First, both are capable of storing information and data; and second, both possess the ability to use memory. Overall, a computer’s memory, “depending on the type, for example RAM (random access memory), also “forgets” things when it releases information it no longer needs” (2010), such as when a computer user deletes files or programs that clutter up the computer’s hard drive. Reber also notes that like a computer, the human brain can process a huge amount of information very quickly (2010). This raises an interesting question–how much information can the human brain hold and process? Obviously, quite a bit, but then we must ask, is there a limit to the amount of information that the human brain can hold and process as compared to a computer?

Types of Human Memory Systems

            What exactly is memory in relation to the human brain? As E.B. Goldstein relates, memory can be defined as the “processes involved in retaining, retrieving, and using

BRAIN COMPUTER                                                                                                 2

information” that is generated through various types of stimuli, images, events, ideas, and skills after the original information is no longer present.” But Goldstein adds that human memory goes far beyond “re-experiencing events, (for) we also use memory to remember what we need to do later in the day, to remember facts we have learned, and to use skills we have acquired” (2008). It should be mentioned that there is a huge difference between memory and learning, meaning that once a person learns something, it is never forgotten. In other words, short-term memories are not fully encoded in the brain as compared to long-term memories via “long-term storage systems that are involved in learning skills, priming, and conditioning.” Thus, learning “causes significant, permanent changes in the brain” that are “immutable” or stored forever (Squire, 2007).

There are basically four types of human memory systems or processes–sensory, short-term, working, and long-term. The first of these is related to exterior or environmental stimuli that activates the human senses like sight, sound, taste, and touch and which is stored in the brain for a short period of time, ranging from half a second to ten seconds (Online Lecture Notes). Goldstein provides one example of the trail left behind by a moving and lit sparkler; another example is the imagined remnants of a picture flashed before our eyes, such as on a TV screen when the set is quickly turned off. Computer-wise, sensory memory is not possible (at least not yet) because a computer is a mechanical device rather than a living biological entity.

The second type of memory system or process is short-term which can be defined as a “built-in mechanism for focusing cognitive resources on some small set of mental representations” (Online Lecture Notes) or as Goldstein explains it, short-term memory is

BRAIN COMPUTER                                                                                                 3

“Whatever you are thinking about right now, or remember from what you have just read” (2008), such as recalling an event that happened several minutes or hours ago, or remembering what someone said only minutes ago. Computer-wise, a good example is the data that is stored on a computer’s RAM processor but which disappears once the

computer is powered down or turned off completely. In other words, a computer’s short-term memory only remains as long as the computer is turned on; in contrast, short-term human memory can remain in the brain (i.e., the RAM processor) for either a short length of time or extended lengths of time.

The third type is working memory which encompasses “everything that is currently being thought over or processed” in the brain (Online Lecture Notes) or as Goldstein puts it, working memory “is a limited-capacity system for temporary storage and manipulation of information for complex tasks” like comprehension, learning, and reasoning (Baddeley, 2000, Goldstein, 2008). Several excellent examples of this type of memory processing includes reading a passage in a book and thinking about it for a specific length of time, and listening to a lecture while thinking about what the lecturer is saying. Computer-wise, information and data that is stored in a RAM processor remains there until a specific task is completed by the computer user.

The fourth type is long-term memory which encompasses all information and data that endures for an indefinite length of time or perhaps forever, due to being learned rather than simply remembered. This fourth type is wholly dependent on two specific processes–“encoding which is the process of storing information, and retrieval, the process of getting previously stored information back into working memory” (Online

BRAIN COMPUTER                                                                                                 4

Lecture Notes). Some good examples includes recalling an event that occurred forty or fifty years ago, and remembering how to ride a bicycle after not doing so for many years. Computer-wise, this can be compared to the hard drive which stores information and data

permanently (unless of course it “crashes,” thus wiping out all of the information, such as with a Windows operating system).

Conclusion

Therefore, the human brain is very similar to a computer in many ways, especially related to their capacity to use memory. However, there is one area that has not been mentioned so far–programming. Computer programs are programmed by human beings, but who or what “programs” the human brain? Many believe that the human brain contains a living entity which some call the soul. Thus, is the human brain “programmed” by Mother Nature (i.e., biology and chemistry) or is it programmed by God? So far, this question remains unanswered.

References

Goldstein, E.B. (2008). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience. Australia: Thomson Wadsworth.

Online Lecture Notes. Week 3: Overview. Cognitive Psychology.

Reber, P. (2010). How are computers like a brain? Retrieved from http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/are-computers-like-a-brain

Squire, L.R. (2007). Learning and memory: The Dana guide. Retrieved from http://www.dana.org/news/brainhealth/detail.aspx?id=10020

BRAIN COMPUTER                                                                                                 5

 

   HUMAN BRAIN COMPUTER
Sensory Environmental stimuli and
the senses
Not possible; a mechanical device
Short term Short-term mental representations Short-term information storage on a RAM processor
Working Temporary storage and the manipulation of information Temporary storage of information on a RAM processor
Long term Storage of information for long periods of time or forever A computer’s hard drive system

 

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