Why Is the Human Brain So Efficient?

Liquin Luo | Nautilus

The brain is complex; in humans it consists of about 100 billion neurons, making on the order of 100 trillion connections. It is often compared with another complex system that has enormous problem-solving power: the digital computer. Both the brain and the computer contain a large number of elementary units—neurons and transistors, respectively—that are wired into complex circuits to process information conveyed by electrical signals. At a global level, the architectures of the brain and the computer resemble each other, consisting of largely separate circuits for input, output, central processing, and memory.

Which has more problem-solving power—the brain or the computer? Given the rapid advances in computer technology in the past decades, you might think that the computer has the edge. Indeed, computers have been built and programmed to defeat human masters in complex games, such as chess in the 1990s and recently Go, as well as encyclopedic knowledge contests, such as the TV show Jeopardy! As of this writing, however, humans triumph over computers in numerous real-world tasks—ranging from identifying a bicycle or a particular pedestrian on a crowded city street to reaching for a cup of tea and moving it smoothly to one’s lips—let alone conceptualization and creativity.

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(Illustration: Ana Aguirre Perez | Shutterstock)
The editorial staff of ORBITER magazine humbly pursues life's Big Questions, illuminating the human condition and our place in the universe.