Whether we realize it or not, we think of our brains as computers. In neuroscience, the metaphor of the brain as a computer has defined the field for much of the modern era. But as neuroscientists increasingly reevaluate their assumptions about how brains work, we need a new metaphor to help us ask better questions.
The computational neuroscientist Daniel Graham offers an innovative paradigm for understanding the brain. He argues that the brain is not like a single computer – it is a communication system, like the internet. Both are networks whose power comes from their flexibility and reliability. The brain and the internet both must route signals throughout their systems, requiring protocols to direct messages from just about any point to any other. But we do not yet understand how the brain manages the dynamic flow of information across its entire network. The internet metaphor can help neuroscience unravel the brain’s routing mechanisms by focusing attention on shared design principles and communication strategies that emerge from parallel challenges. Highlighting similarities between brain connectivity and the architecture of the internet can open new avenues of research and help unlock the brain’s deepest secrets.
An Internet in Your Head presents a clear-eyed and engaging tour of brain science as it stands today and where the new paradigm might take it next. It offers anyone with an interest in brains a transformative new way to conceptualize what goes on inside our heads.
1. The Internet-Brain and the Computer-Brain
2. Metaphors for the Brain
3. What We Don’t Know About Brains
4. From Connectomics to Dynomics
5. How the Internet Works
6. The Internet Metaphor: First Steps to a New Theory of the Brain
7. Critique of the Internet Metaphor
8. The Internet Metaphor in Action: Emerging Models and New Technologies
9. The Internet Metaphor, AI, and Us
Daniel Graham is associate professor of psychology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
"Graham offers a fresh, insightful, and informative perspective on brain function, proposing that communication between neurons resembles signal passing in the internet as a novel metaphor to investigate the brain. He provides erudite discussions and presents compelling arguments in a lively and clear manner."
– Gabriel Kreiman, Harvard Medical School
"Ever since we began to explore the brain, we have used various metaphors, typically relating brains to machines. Von Neumann introduced the computer metaphor but the list of similarities faded away with time. Daniel Graham’s book updates the "brain-is-like" metaphor to encompass the internet. Unlike the computer, the internet is not a blueprint design but a constantly evolving system, much like the brain. Or perhaps it is not the entire brain but only the neocortex is like the internet, which contains all knowledge of the individual, the way the internet contains all factual knowledge of humankind. Yet, only through efficient searching can knowledge become accessible; luckily, there is the hippocampus, the brain’s search engine. Of course, metaphors can be reciprocated. Does the internet have plans, feelings, and intentions? Get your copy to find out."
– György Buzsáki, author of Rhythms of the Brain and The Brain from Inside Out
"In this timely book, the neuroscientist Daniel Graham argues eloquently for shedding the worn idea of brain as computer for that of brain as communication device – brain as internet. A must-read for anyone interested in the brain from the novice to the hardened professional, Graham's book bravely challenges the standard dogma to reshape and reframe our thinking about the workings of the brain."
– Michael S. Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind, University of California Santa Barbara, and author of The Consciousness Instinct: Unraveling the Mystery of How the Brain Makes the Mind
"Brain function cannot be fully understood without considering how neurons and brain regions connect and communicate. What are the principles that govern how rich and dynamic patterns of network communication organize and support mind and cognition? This book offers a truly enjoyable and accessible account of this important topic, as well as a fresh and thought-provoking perspective that bridges brain science and modern communication technology."
– Olaf Sporns, distinguished professor of psychological and brain sciences, Indiana University
"The brain and the internet both require flexibility for reliably routing information across growing and adapting networks. Graham’s accessible and scholarly book, which also considers mail and telephone networks, develops plausible similarities for how brains and internets solve routing problems."
– Chris McManus, professor of psychology, University College London, and author of Right Hand, Left Hand