How It Works… The Computer

Boing Boing Gadgets posted this funny bit of explanation humor — a reworking of a 1979 book explaining computer technology.

How It Works... The Computer

The original is fun too, even aside from the entertainment value of clunky hardware and 70s office-wear. I’d like to find some more books from this seres (published by Ladybird Books). Thanks to reduced smoke and mirrors, it’s usually easier to understand core concepts by examining older versions of technology.

I particularly like this tidy illustration of binary code:

Binary Code

Brains Be Different from Computers

Don’t leave good metaphors lying around unattended, or somebody might get hurt. Up to a certain point, a good metaphor does wonders to facilitate understanding. But as you get deeper into a subject, a metaphor will become less and less accurate. And if you don’t toss the metaphor when it starts to go bad, it will actually block deeper understanding.

So, metaphors get you over a learning hump, but you can’t be too devoted to them. They’re like training wheels that… . That one fell apart before it even got started.

Anyway, one of the biggest, hairiest, most useful and potentially most troublesome metaphors of our time is the idea that computers are brains (and vice versa). This one is so mighty, in fact, that it’s easy to forget it’s actually a metaphor. And if you take it too literally, you’ll fundamentally misunderstand both computers and brains.

In a new smarty-pants post on Developing Intelligence, Chris Chatham puts computers and brains side by side and rattles off 11 metaphor-busting differences between them. In the process, he sheds a lot of light on both. For example, difference number 8 is that in the brain, processing and memory are handled by the same components. One effect of this is that you can easily overwrite a memory with an inaccurate version in the process of remembering it. Please, remember with care.

In addition to the illuminating explanations throughout, I really like how Chatham gets some more use out of a metaphor before chucking it. Once you’ve learned all you can by seeing two things as the same, see what you can learn by investigating how they’re different. Good trick.

[via Cognitive Daily]