The working of the human brain has always fascinated scientists. One of the questions concerning the brain is whether it works like a classical computer or not. University of Colorado researchers now seem to have an answer to this question. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, of the U.S., they have described experiments that show a similarity of the working of the human brain to computers. In particular, our ability to make sense of known objects placed in unfamiliar contexts — recognising a familiar face in a new crowd, for example. The brain employs a system very similar to the “pointer” system used by computers — a pointer indicates to a computer in which location a piece of information is stored.

To perform the test, the team made up sentences in which known words are used in an unfamiliar way, not even necessarily used in a sensible way, and tested the brains ability to recognise them in this unfamiliar context.

For instance in the sentence “I am going to desk you” the noun “desk” is used as a verb; even though the sentence does not mean anything, we recognise the word “desk” and that it is used as a verb here.

So it is clear that the brain processes sentences in terms of its parts. But the way it does this has not been understood so far.

The scientists in the University of Colorado, Trenton Kriete et al, show that the connections in the brain between the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia perform the role of the pointers. The brain, however differs from a computer in the sense that while a computer can simply be programmed to use a pointer, this ability has to be learned by the brain.

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