Brain as Router

It’s always interesting to see how our understanding of ourselves. A [recent post at
Discover Magazine](http://discovermagazine.com/2010/nov/15-the-brain-router-in-our-heads-processing-bottleneck/) introduces the router as one way to imagine the brain:

> You can scan a crowded lobby and pick out a familiar face in a fraction of a second, a task that pushes even today’s best computers to their limit. Yet multiplying 357 by 289, a task that demands a puny amount of processing, leaves most of us struggling.
>
> For psychologists, this kind of mental shortcoming is like a crack in a wall. They can insert a scientific crowbar and start to pry open the hidden life of the mind. The fact that we struggle with certain simple tasks speaks volumes about how we are wired. It turns out the evolution of our complex brain has come at a price: Sometimes we end up with a mental traffic jam in there.

If you read the article, you’ll discover the experiments go back 80 years to 1931.

*Spoiler*: the brain has a refractory period. *Sigh.* Interestingly, and getting back to the router metaphor, the refractory period appears to be a function of a delay brought about by having to re-configure where information is getting directed within the brain. (The math problem that begins the article is never adequately explained by this model.)

The article concludes:

> If Dehaene is correct, the brain’s inner traffic jam may actually reflect a cunning evolutionary compromise. We face new and unexpected decisions many times a day. We couldn’t possibly carry a separate network of neurons for every response to every possible situation. But we can learn rules, and we can use those rules to rearrange an all-purpose router. One of the deepest flaws in our brains, then, might be a by-product of one of its most impressive strengths.