Associate Professor of Psychological Science Daniel Graham explores his theory of the internet brain in a blog for Psychology Today.
In a new blog featured in Psychology Today, Associate Professor of Psychological Science Daniel Graham introduces his theory of the internet brain by asking readers to consider not just whether they’d choose chocolate or vanilla gelato on a hot summer day at the boardwalk, but also how their brain communicates that decision.
“… the front part of your brain needs to tell speech production areas near your temples which word to vocalize,” Graham writes. “Both outcomes—‘chocolate’ and ‘vanilla’—were equally possible before the decision was made. Somehow, the brain is able to pass the message to the right place.”
The author of An Internet in Your Head, forthcoming from Columbia University Press, will use the Your Internet Brain blog to explore the new theory about the brain that compares its operation to how the internet works.
To read “Introducing Your Internet Brain,” continue below or click here.
Introducing Your Internet Brain
A new theory about the brain compares its operation to how the internet works.
Posted Feb 02, 2021
It’s a hot summer day and you are walking on the boardwalk by the seashore. You excitedly approach a gelato stand and are faced with a choice: chocolate and vanilla?
Somewhere in your brain, probably near your forehead, there are collections of neurons that initiate your decision. Neuroscientists have shown that monkeys making similar decisions have neurons in the front of their brains that accumulate evidence about which choice is preferable, seemingly based on memories of which choice brought a bigger reward in the past. Once these neurons tally enough evidence, they become excited, cementing the decision in neural activity.
But what is not known is how the message relaying this choice is communicated to its destination. After deciding, the front part of your brain needs to tell speech production areas near your temples which word to vocalize. Both outcomes—“chocolate” and “vanilla”—were equally possible before the decision was made. Somehow, the brain is able to pass the message to the right place. Crucially, it does this without changing the network of neurons in your head. The brain doesn’t disconnect and reconnect particular parts of the network to get the message across, nor does it grow new connections to do this.
Neuroscientists are starting to realize that the brain must flexibly send messages over a wide network in order to accomplish lots of tasks like this. The network communication going on in our heads contributes to pretty much everything we experience, including our perceptions, thoughts, actions, and even our consciousness.
This blog explores the internet metaphor for the brain, which posits that large-scale intrabrain communication is performed using internet-like strategies.
The brain and the internet have similar network architecture. Both have short network distances between any two components. As with social networks, where any individual is just a few friendship links away from anyone else, most parts of the brain are just a few hops from almost any other part.
Brains and the internet also face similar challenges in terms of getting messages across the network. Both require the ability to pass messages to more than one destination, as with the gelato choice. Brains and the internet also need to deal with message collisions and to allow interoperability among different message types. I argue that the brain would do well to use internet-like solutions to solve these and other problems.
Understanding the way our brain communicates within itself is crucial for understanding our unique cognitive abilities and it points toward a new era of research in brain science. My forthcoming book, An Internet in Your Head, lays out the case for the internet metaphor in detail.
Already, scientists who work in the field of network neuroscience are tentatively moving in this direction. In future posts, I will highlight the latest findings that add to this body of emerging knowledge. I’ll discuss how this new way of thinking can help us in our daily lives and could inform our approaches to brain enhancement.
What is most exciting is that scientific knowledge gained through the internet metaphor might help us develop remedies for the mind and behavior when there are malfunctions or disorders.
We are still far off from practical solutions based on the internet metaphor. But my goal is to point toward new and promising avenues of research that make use of this idea and that could help us get there. If we can, that would be better than chocolate gelato on a hot boardwalk.