A piece of our mind
October / November 1976
From “Pharmacology and the Brain”: Since ancient times, drugs have been used to restore mental health or explore the mind. It is said that the Homeric doctor Polydama presented Menelaos and Helen with “a cure against sadness and anger, a cure to survive despair” on their return to Troy. There are countless number of medications that can make the mind think today. Others are changing the course of medical practice; others are changing the fabric of our society. Many have much greater flexibility of action and fewer side effects than ever before. The advancement of such drugs is paralleled by our increasing understanding of how drugs work at the molecular level to change behavior. In this regard, one of the most fruitful research methods has involved the study of how nerve cells communicate with other cells in the body, and how different drugs modify this communication.
May / June 1987
From “Designing Computers That Think The Way We Do”: Neuroscientists have realized that the architecture of the brain is essential to its functioning. Individual neurons are not intelligent on their own, but when they are connected to each other they become intelligent. The problem is, no one knows how they do it. That’s not how neurons are fast: sending their electrochemical messages to other neurons, 100,000 times slower than a typical computer switch. But what our brains lack is the speed they make with “wetware,” as it’s sometimes called. The brain contains from 10 billion to a trillion neurons, each of which can be connected to anywhere from 1,000 to 100,000 others. If this vast network of interconnected neurons formed the largest conspiracy we call our mind, perhaps a vast connecting network of mechanical switches would be a thinking machine.