Monday, June 23, 2008

Big in Catalonia (with some loss in translation)

For speakers of Catalan, a Romance language spoken in Spain: here's a television interview (requires registration) with me on TV3, a major Catalonian station. The production values are excellent - I want the flashing neuron video in the background! I am overdubbed; the English is audible underneath.

At least one analogy didn't translate well. In the book we point out that the brain is more like a busy Chinese restaurant than a computer. People tend to talk about brains as if they were a sort of biological computer, with pink mushy "hardware" and life-experience-generated "software." But actions in computers occur according to an overall plan and in a logical order. The brain, on the other hand, is crowded and chaotic, and people are running around to no apparent purpose, but somehow everything gets done in the end. Computers mostly process information sequentially, while the brain handles multiple channels of information in parallel. Because biological systems developed through natural selection, they have layers of systems that arose for one purpose and then were adopted for another, even though they don’t work quite right.

Interviewer after interviewer asked us about this analogy in a friendly but puzzled manner. We finally figured out why in Barcelona, when we passed by a Chinese restaurant. It was deserted. Naturally, we had to regroup. In the next interview I said the brain was more like...a crowded tapas bar. The host smiled and everybody liked it. Whew!

If you prefer your interviews in English, here we are on National Public Radio and in person at Google. There are more interviews on our book's website,

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