Not Binary

The metaphor of brain-as-computer is surprisingly prevalent in business. Trainers talk about changing the software of their subjects; human processes are reduced to linear diagrams that seem to eliminate ambiguity. With this goes the notion of brain-as-territory-to-be-colonised very popular among advertising folk. (One of the big media independents calls itself MindShare).

I’ve always felt like a misfit in this world of diagrams as my own brain seems obstinately non-linear. Lately (like for the last 47 years or so) I’ve noticed that most of the people I run into have been showing signs of this non-linearity too. Clearly I mix in the wrong circles as in the airport bookshops everyone seems to be after business books that say it’s all just following seven steps.

Anyway it now turns out (surprise) that our brains are nothing like computers, as this interesting neurophilosophy post points out.

It has long been known that cells of the invertebrate nervous system produce graded potentials, whereby the amount of transmitter released is proportional to the intensity of the stimulus. We now have evidence that mammalian neurons can generate graded potentials as well – they are not simple on/off switches, and the action potential is not all or nothing.

Hat tip: The indefatigably analogue Dave Snowden (get well soon from those undercooked sausages, Dave)

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