A piece of our mind
October / November 1976
Excerpt from “Pharmacology and the Brain”: Since ancient times, drugs have been used to restore sanity or explore the mind. It is said that the Homeric physician Polydama presented Menelaos and Helen with “medicine for grief and anger, medicine to survive despair” on the way back to Troy. The number of mind-blowing drugs available today is untold. Some have changed the course of medical practice; others have changed the fabric of our society. Many have greater specificity of action and fewer side effects than ever before. Along with the development of such drugs has come our increased knowledge of how drugs work at the molecular level to modify behavior. In this regard, one of the most successful research approaches has involved studying how nerve cells communicate with other cells in the body and how various drugs might alter this communication.
May / June 1987
Excerpt from “Designing Computers That Think Like We Do”: Neuroscientists have come to understand that the architecture of the brain is central to its function. Individual neurons are not intelligent on their own, but when connected to each other they become quite intelligent. The problem is, no one knows how they do it. It’s not that neurons are fast: by sending their electrochemical messages to other neurons, they are 100,000 times slower than a conventional computer switch. But what our brain lacks in speed, it makes up in “wetware”, as it is sometimes called. The brain contains 10 billion to one trillion neurons, each of which can be connected to between 1,000 and 100,000 others. If this vast network of interconnected neurons forms the great collective conspiracy we call our minds, perhaps a vast interconnected network of mechanical switches can create a thinking machine.