23 Nov
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This Is Your Brain on Minicomputers

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"His brain is like a computer." "I think of that and my head just goes (insert explosive sound here)!" "She knew the answer before the question ended."

The human brain has long been known as a sophisticated computer. Now, a new study says that groups of microscopic brain cells formerly regarded as mere wiring deserve a special classification: Minicomputers carrying out groups of complex tasks -- boosting the brain's processing power far greater than what scientists originally believed.

"Imagine you're reverse engineering a piece of alien technology, and what you thought was simple wiring turns out to be transistors that compute information," said neuroscientist Spencer Smith, also the study's lead author. "That's what this finding is like. The implications are exciting to think about."

How exciting? Functions that were previously thought to have been handled by an entire neuron -- which can be thought of as switching stations that process the brain's electronic signals -- now look to be handled by only one portion of the neuron's many branches. Which frees up the rest of that neuron -- as well as many of the other 100 million neurons stuffed into your skull -- to handle even more processes. Just like minicomputers can handle more than one process at a time. Usually.

It's important to note that the study was done on the brains of mice, though, as one researcher noted, the discoveries would likely be "...widespread across many brain areas and indeed many different animal species, including humans."

And while the current research is aimed at better comprehending brain circuitry, the findings might eventually help to understand brain disorders.

Taking the concept of computer repair to a whole new level.


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Read 3297 times Last modified on Saturday, 23 November 2013 05:08
Jim Lillie

Jim began writing for newspapers and designing for publishing companies at a time when both industries were just beginning to make the switch from manual to digital platforms. Jim lives in Boulder, Colorado with his teenage son.

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