The finding could help researchers better understand the functioning of human intelligence.
In a review of biological computer models of the brain appearing in the Oct. 6 edition of the journal Science, O'Reilly contends that the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia operate much like a digital computer system.
"Many researchers who create these models shun the computer metaphor," O'Reilly said. "My work comes out of a tradition that says people's brains are nothing like computers, and now all of a sudden as we look at them, in fact, in a certain respect they are like computers."
Digital computers operate by turning electrical signals into binary "on and off states" and flexibly manipulating these states by using switches. O'Reilly found the same operating principles in the brain.
"The neurons in the prefrontal cortex are binary -- they have two states, either active or inactive -- and the basal ganglia is essentially a big switch that allows you to dynamically turn on and off different parts of the prefrontal cortex," O'Reilly said.
The brain as a whole operates more like a social network than a digital computer, with neurons communicating to allow learning and the creation of memory, according to O'Reilly.
However, the computer-like features of the prefrontal cortex broaden the social networks, helping the brain become more flexible in processing novel and symbolic information, O'Reilly said.
The prefrontal cortex is the executive center of the brain and supports "higher level" cognition, including decision making and problem solving. Researchers believe that the prefrontal cortex is critical to human intellectual ability, and better understanding it is crucial to understanding more about human intelligence, according to O'Reilly.
If researchers can gain a better understanding of this synthesis of the prefrontal cortex and the brain as a whole, they could be on the way to a better understanding of human intelligence.
The best way to do this, O'Reilly says, is by developing more biologically based computer models of the brain to help researchers understand how the biology of the brain works, and eventually provide insights into what makes us so smart.
"Modeling the brain is not like a lot of science where you can go from one step to the next in a chain of reasoning, because you need to take into account so many levels of analysis," O'Reilly said.
O'Reilly likens the process to weather modeling.
"Most weather models don't exactly represent what happens in a low-pressure system, but they do capture some global features," he said. "If you capture the essence of it, it tells you a lot about how the system works. It's the same premise when it comes to modeling of the brain."
Randall O'Reilly | EurekAlert!
Collagen nanofibrils in mammalian tissues get stronger with exercise
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering
New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule
12.12.2018 | UT Southwestern Medical Center
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy