Computers have certainly come a long way with the newest advance being artificial intelligence, the promise that computers will duplicate the human mind. Wonderful, and perhaps frightening as these machines will be, they could ever think as we humans do because a brain and a computer operate differently. Whereas a computer uses a binary code whose combinations and patterns of the two letters create ideas, pictures, sounds, etc, each of which are stored in one area, the brain works by creating patterns of connections between neurons that are located in multiple areas. Whereas a computer is analogous to a file cabinet, the brain is an interactive system. Computers and brains have their weaknesses and strengths.

By the way it stores information, a computer, unlike a brain never loses information, or makes a mistake. Looking for a photograph of Abraham Lincoln can never result in a picture of a bearded Amish farmer. A New Jersey area code can never come up as a New York one. Another plus is that information can never be lost.

Since in the brain, ideas are the consequence of complex, multi-neural connective patterns, it has the capacity to recognize similarities. Whereas a voice activated computer may not recognize a word if mispronounced, the brain will. The reason is that the mispronounced word will stimulate a pattern of neural connections that will be close enough to the original pattern so as to be recognized. This phenomenon explains why we appreciate caricatures. Another brain advantage is that old connections can come apart, allowing these neurons to create new connections making fresh thoughts/memories. Consequently, whereas a computer has a finite ability to learn, the brain’s capacity is infinite.

Unfortunately, the brain’s system of storing thoughts has shortcomings. Recognition of similarities can result in mistaken identity, which is why in jury trials eyewitness accounts must be corroborated with other evidence. This never happens with a computer. Another problem is that with memories stored over wide areas, they can be misplaced which is explains the phenomenon of having something at the end of your tongue. Being able to disconnect neurons so as to create new ones while useful, results in permanent loss of what may be important information.

But the most problematic shortcoming of the brain’s mechanism is that it leads to inaccuracies of thought. This is not so much a problem when we are dealing with the physical world, but it is problematic when engaging in abstract thinking. This explains why engineers designing, say a bridge, will come together with practical solutions for the design, while politicians figuring out what laws to enact often become mired in arguments. It also explains why people are subject to severe lapses in judgment.