Your brain is not a computer. It may perform computations, but it’s nothing like the device that carries out spreadsheet calculations. Here’s a way to be completely sure of that contention: Imagine a friend shows you a picture of Abraham Lincoln and asks you to identify the person in the photo. Assuming you are an American, within a half second you have the answer. Because the neurons of the brain transmit signals rather slowly, we can calculate that you came up with Abe in about 100 discrete steps.
Give a super-computer that same problem and it will move thousands of times faster, yet it will take trillions of steps to search it’s database and finally return the answer (if it can). If we next cover up half of Abe’s face and ask you who it is, your response is faster still. Retrieving that information was quick and effortless. The computer, on the other hand, is now in big trouble. Nowhere in it’s prodigious database is there a half-picture of Abe Lincoln. Even at trillions of calculations a second, it can’t find a match. Somehow your brain can find Abe in 100 steps or less, and the computer can’t do it with trillions. Brains are not computers. They don’t need programming. They learn by themselves through exposure to the world.
Although both are capable of performing simultaneous operations (parallel processing), brains operate using an interconnected patterns of neurons—the cells that make up the brain—and they transmit, store, and fetch information using patterns that are formed through an electrical and chemical connection—the junction between neurons called the synapse. This paper focuses on the neuron as the fundamental unit of leaning and memory. As Joseph LeDoux asserts in “The Synaptic Self”: “The particular patterns of synaptic connections in an individual’s brain, and the information encoded by these connections, are the keys to who that person is.”