A particle of our mind

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October / November 1976

From “Pharmacology and the Brain”: Since ancient times, medicines have been used to restore mental health or to study the mind. It was said that Polymer’s Homeric physician gave Menelaus and Helen “a cure for sorrow and anger, a cure for despair,” on the way home to Troy. The number of exciting drugs available today is innumerable. Some have changed the course of medical practice; others have changed the structure of our society. Many of them have a higher specificity of action and fewer side effects than ever before. The development of such drugs is parallel to our expanded knowledge of how drugs act at the molecular level to change behavior. In this regard, one of the most fruitful research approaches involves studying how nerve cells communicate with other cells in the body, and how different drugs can alter this connection.

May / June 1987

From “Designing computers that think the way we do”: Neuroscientists have learned to understand that the architecture of the brain is central to its functions. Individual neurons themselves are not intelligent, but when they are connected to each other, they become quite intelligent. The problem is that no one knows how they do it. It’s not that neurons are fast: sending their electrochemical messages to other neurons, they’re 100,000 times slower than a regular computer switch. But the fact that our brain lacks speed, they compensate for the “wet dishes”, as it is sometimes called. The brain contains between 10 billion and trillions of neurons, each of which can be connected somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000 others. If this vast network of interconnected neurons forms a grand collective conspiracy that we call our mind, perhaps a vast interconnected network of mechanical switches can make a machine think.

July / August 2014

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