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Creating Modern Neuroscience: The Revolutionary 1950s$
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Gordon M. Shepherd MD, DPhil

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195391503

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195391503.001.0001

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Theoretical Neuroscience: The Brain as a Computer and the Computer as a Brain

Theoretical Neuroscience: The Brain as a Computer and the Computer as a Brain

(p.218) 16 Theoretical Neuroscience: The Brain as a Computer and the Computer as a Brain
Creating Modern Neuroscience: The Revolutionary 1950s

Gordon M. Shepherd

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the development of theoretical neuroscience. The mid-20th century marked the emergence of several new fields that laid the foundations for general theories of brain function. McCulloch and Pitts applied the symbolic logic metaphor to nerve cell circuits, postulating that specific interconnections could perform basic logic functions such as AND, OR, and AND-NOT gates. John von Neumann drew on this idea of the brain in formulating the classical architecture of the digital computer. Developments in control theory, neurology, and adaptive behavior came together in the new field of cybernetics. The McCulloch–Pitts oversimplified neurons contributed to the rise of artificial intelligence and neural nets. Von Neumann eventually realized that the fundamental computational elements of the nervous system are not oversimplified neurons, but individual synapses distributed on dendritic trees. This insight anticipated current work on developing more realistic large-scale neural networks, drawing on studies at all the levels of organization covered in this book, to simulate how the brain actually carries out its functions.

Keywords:   theoretical neuroscience, brain, computer, artificial intelligence, neural networks, John von Neumann, McCulloch and Pitts

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