Technology advancement calls for the reexamination of the brain

Technology advancement calls for the reexamination of the brain

It’s difficult to talk about the human brain without inadvertently talking about computers. “I’m still processing,” one might say, or “It is possible to do a quick download of the findings?”

There’s a reason computer metaphors are peppered across academic papers and lectures about the brain, according to Matthew Cobb, a zoologist and the author of The Idea of the Brain, a deep dive into the history of neuroscience. As he looked back centuries at early research into the brain, he kept running into older and older mechanical metaphors.

“I realized that at different times, one of the ways that people have conceived of the brain has been to draw a metaphor between what they think the brain does and the highest technology of their time,” he explained. Different generations of researchers drew connections between the brain and automata, electrical circuits, and the telegraph.

These technological metaphors didn’t just serve as illustrations for existing conceptions of the brain. Instead, Cobb said comparisons to inventions like the telegraph wire — which could transmit information from a central node to distant points in the countryside — actually helped researchers reimagine the brain, spurring leaps in their understanding of the structure and function of the brain.

“Once I’d realized that scientists were using these metaphors or these analogies, that actually enabled me to understand for myself why there have been changes and shifts in our understanding,” Cobb said.

Tools are not enough, Cobb argues: Researchers also need concepts or frameworks in order to interpret the data they gather from their tools. And technologies that have little to do with brain research have often inspired and influenced studies of the mind.

Source: Agencies

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