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After DigitalComputation as Done by Brains and Machines$
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James A. Anderson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199357789

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2018

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199357789.001.0001

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Human Understanding of Complex Systems

Human Understanding of Complex Systems

(p.57) Chapter 5 Human Understanding of Complex Systems
After Digital

James A. Anderson

Oxford University Press

An important tool for understanding new and complex systems is analogy. Analogies to brain function are often the most complex systems of the time. In the 17th century, complex hydraulic systems were common. Descartes proposed a detailed model of the brain based on a hydraulic system. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the telephone and telegraph systems were used as brain analogies. This analogy is useful for understanding system connectivity constraints and the practical need for a central exchange (“brain”) for switching and memory. An extreme version of the central exchange analogy was called behaviorism or S-R psychology, popular in the first half of the 20th century. Obvious problems with analogy are its basic untruth and a tendency for a complex system to be thought of as magic if its technological roots are lost.

Keywords:   analogy, Oppenheimer, behaviorism, S-R psychology, telephone, telegraph, Morse, robots

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