Why we view the brain as a computer

Oron Shagrir*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


The view that the brain is a sort of computer has functioned as a theoretical guideline both in cognitive science and, more recently, in neuroscience. But since we can view every physical system as a computer, it has been less than clear what this view amounts to. By considering in some detail a seminal study in computational neuroscience, I first suggest that neuroscientists invoke the computational outlook to explain regularities that are formulated in terms of the information content of electrical signals. I then indicate why computational theories have explanatory force with respect to these regularities:in a nutshell, they underscore correspondence relations between formal/mathematical properties of the electrical signals and formal/mathematical properties of the represented objects. I finally link my proposal to the philosophical thesis that content plays an essential role in computational taxonomy.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)393-416
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements Thanks to Arnon Levy, Gualtiero Piccinini, Haim Sompolinsky, Jonathan Yaari and two anonymous referees for many insightful comments. This research was supported by The Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 857/03).


  • Computation
  • Content
  • Explanation
  • Information


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