"Computers are sequential, brains are associative" …

In Alan’s latest blog posting he’s been discussing his thoughts around the power of sequential thinking. It was one of the topics we discussed when he came to visit me before Christmas., I’m glad he’s written his thoughts down, I remember struggling with some of the finer points when we were talking about it that evening. This entire debate originally began from the deliberately provocative suggestion Alan made to a collegue that the computational power of the complete internet is now roughly similar to that of a single human brain, something I mentioned in a previous posting.

His colleague like many people dismissed the hypothesis as impossible because computers are indeed sequential and brains are associative, yet as Alan describes in his posting the very nature of how the brain deals with sequentiality that is in itself amazing. Although our brains are massively parallel few of us can actually consciously think about more than one thing at a time. We think about one thing and then another but as our attention shifts so too do all the mental associations that we make and all of this happens incredibly quickly but the point is it’s still sequential.

I can’t help but think Alan might be onto something when he says:

… slower timescales that allow fuller webs of association to build and decay, but maybe there are other intermediate timescales of attention switching as well.
If this is right then the rapid sequential shifts of attention could be essential for maintaining the individual identity of percepts and concepts.

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