WHAT IS A SUPERCOMPUTER?
To figure out why our brains are supercomputers, we have to find out what a supercomputer is. The Encarta World English Dictionary defines a supercomputer as a "high-speed computer." It goes on to elaborate and describes a supercomputer as "a state-of-the-art computer with the highest processing speeds technologically possible at a given time, used for solving complex scientific and engineering problems." So, basically, a supercomputer is a computer that is very, very, super-fast. Impossibly fast! (with rdude's budget for computing devices). Or, more correctly, it's the fastest possible computer. And a computer is a device used for storing and retrieving data, linking data to other data, performing calculations with or transforming data in some way, and acquiring new data. Now that we know what a supercomputer is, we can compare our brains to supercomputers.
"The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office."
-- Robert Frost
COMING TO YOUR SENSES
In the definition of computer, you probably noticed that the theme was data. Everything that a computer does has to do with data in some way. To do anything with data, data must first be acquired. For a computer, data comes from keyboards, mice, microphones, digital cameras, or any input device that interfaces with your computer. Data is stored in databases. For you, data is acquired from your six senses: hearing, proprioception, sight, smell, taste, and touch. For you, acquiring data is a supercomputer-like action in itself. Pretend that your keyboard is how you "talk" to your computer, and your computer can "hear" what you type. Have you ever typed so fast when many, many programs were open that it took your computer a few seconds to catch up? That usually doesn't happen to humans. Our buffers don't get full, causing our friend to have to wait five seconds before we can process what they said. Why? If you have a PC camera hooked up to your computer, pretend that it's the computer's sense of "sight". Well, unless you have a very nice PC camera, if you move even a little too fast, the camera won't see you. Things have to move much faster for humans to miss them. Why?
Because you can deal with all the data streaming in from your senses fast enough to be able to deal with more data without missing anything, millisecond after millisecond. That is way, way fast. Faster than your laptop or your desktop. Faster than Everything (wow!). If you think back, you'll remember that a supercomputer is a computer that is way, way fast. Your brain is a supercomputer because it is so friggin' fast!
Another amazing feature of your supercomputer, your brain, is its seemingly unlimited and unparalleled memory storage capacity. You've probably never had to buy your brain a new hard drive, have you? I made a four-minute video that takes up about 34 million bytes of space. My entire computer has less than 7 billion bytes of total space. That means that my entire computer can only store about 3 and a half hours of video in AVI format with Indeo compression. As you sit in your chair, think back and reconstruct memories, whether they are pictures, sounds, tastes, smells, thoughts, or a combination of all those. You will quickly exceed the storage space of any computer. Your brain does not know a limit when it comes to memory. There has never been anyone who knew so much that they couldn't remember anymore. Your brain is a supercomputer because you have more memory storage capacity then your computer, all your friends' computers, and Everything, combined.
"Memory is a man's real possession... In nothing else is he rich, in nothing else is he poor."
-- Alexander Smith
ONE MAKES TWO
A computer can find a solution to a problem. That is a fact. But if you give it a relatively simple problem, like finding the most efficient method of taking a shower, eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, checking your email, and leaving for work, it will be unable to find the solution in any reasonable amount of time. This is because there are variables involved that are too large for the computer to consider. They are not too large for your brain to consider. Your brain can consider many, many things to find a solution. Your brain will usually find a better solution to a complex problem faster than a computer will. Your brain is a supercomputer because it can solve complex problems that a computer either cannot solve or cannot solve in a reasonable amount of time. My average typing speed is somewhere around 130 words per minutes. Sometimes, I reach the low 200's. However, when I use the calculator on my computer and type with the numerical keypad, my friends can still come up with answers to math problems faster than the calculator can. Your brain is a supercomputer because it has the ability to find the answer to a problem faster than a computer.
IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE
Pick any simple physical operation that you can do, and you'll find that it's really not that simple. Somethingfornothing's example was wiggling your fingers. Something even simpler will work. Pat yourself on the back. Do you realize how many senses you've just used: proprioception, sight, and touch. If you patted yourself hard enough, hearing should also be on that list. Let's review what happened, all in less than a second:
- You saw the instruction to pat yourself on the back. Your brain thought about what this meant.
- Your brain sent the location of your back, along with instructions to pat it, to your hand.
- You saw your hand move towards your back. Your brain was able to recognize it as your hand.
- You felt your hand touch your back and heard your hand pat your back at the same time. Also occurring seeming instantaneously was your brain triangulating the sound, to find that it came from your back, where your hand patted it.
- Your brain was able to conclude that the sound was your hand patting your back.
- Your brain was able to conclude that the "pat" operation was successful.
Also occurring during this entire time was constant proprioception: you knew where your hand was as it moved through space. And remember, all this happened in about a second. Your brain is a supercomputer because
it can process data and perform consequential actions very
The following is a list of all the reasons your brain is a supercomputer that I have covered:
- because it is so friggin' fast!
- because it has unparalleled and unlimited storage capacity
- because it can solve complex problems that a computer can't
- because it can find the answer to a problem faster than a computer
- because it can process data very fast
Now take that supercomputer brain of yours and go do something useful!
Encarta World English Dictionary
lost sock center points out that the brain isn't the fastest possible computer, as it could get faster, and machines could also be faster. And that the human nervous system relays signals slower than computer chips.