Associate Professor of Psychological Science Daniel Graham explores a new paradigm for how the brain works in An Internet In Your Head, to be published by Columbia University Press in May 2021.
While the human brain is often compared to a computer, a new book by Associate Professor of Psychological Science Daniel Graham posits that it more closely resembles a communication system similar to the Internet.
In An Internet In Your Head, to be published by Columbia University Press in May 2021, Graham argues that both the brain and the Internet route signals through their systems and require protocols to direct messages from one point to another. He theorizes that highlighting similarities between brain connectivity and the architecture of the Internet can open new avenues of neuroscience research and help unlock the brain’s deepest secrets.
“The Internet metaphor for the brain can help illuminate what we know about the brain’s workings, and as well as what we don’t know about the brain,” Graham says. “I believe it can guide the design of better artificial intelligence and my hope is that it can help us all use the stuff between our ears more effectively.”
The book was written to appeal general audiences, as well as the diverse range of people from across the dozens of disciplines that study the brain, including cognitive science, brain imaging, psychiatry and neurobiology. “Since people in all these areas don’t speak the same ‘language,’ or necessarily have the same assumptions about how the brain works, I aimed to write in the most accessible way possible,” Graham explains. “My goal is to convince people that thinking of the brain as an Internet-like communication system will be a fruitful research direction and ultimately help us build more complete theories of the brain.”
Michael Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at University of California Santa Barbara and author of The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind describes Graham’s book as “a must-read for anyone interested in the brain from the novice to the hardened professional” and notes that it “bravely challenges the standard dogma to reshape and reframe our thinking about the workings of the brain.”
Graham frequently collaborates with Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Yan Hao to test his ideas; the pair use numerical simulations of brain activity on the connectome, a map of anatomical networks in the brain. They recently published a research paper in the journal Network Neuroscience “showing that implementing internet-like principles on the connectome leads to activity patterns that are similar to real brains in surprising ways,” Graham explains. The paper is the result of research he and Yan began in 2017, in collaboration with Lauren Pomerantz ’18 and Zikai Zhu ’18.
Graham earned a B.A in physics from Middlebury College and an M.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in psychology from Cornell University. He joined the HWS faculty in 2012. His research spans computational and theoretical studies of natural vision coding in the retina and visual cortex, network science approaches to understanding dynamic activity on the connectome and human visual aesthetics and art-making from a statistical/computational point of view.