Brains as analog-model computers

Oron Shagrir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Computational neuroscientists not only employ computer models and simulations in studying brain functions. They also view the modeled nervous system itself as computing. What does it mean to say that the brain computes? And what is the utility of the 'brain-as-computer' assumption in studying brain functions? In previous work, I have argued that a structural conception of computation is not adequate to address these questions. Here I outline an alternative conception of computation, which I call the analog-model. The term 'analog-model' does not mean continuous, non-discrete or non-digital. It means that the functional performance of the system simulates mathematical relations in some other system, between what is being represented. The brain-as-computer view is invoked to demonstrate that the internal cellular activity is appropriate for the pertinent information-processing (often cognitive) task.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)271-279
Number of pages9
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to the participants of the Workshop in Computation and Cognitive Science for discussion and comments. Special thanks go to Frances Egan, Gualtiero Piccinini, Richard Samuels, and Mark Sprevak for detailed critical comments on early drafts of this article. This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation, grant 725/08.


  • Analog computers
  • Computation
  • Computational neuroscience
  • Representation
  • Simulation


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