Pattern Thinking

Pattern Thinking

Pattern Thinking

Pattern Thinking


Coward develops a system model for the human brain based on a new physiologically based theory of learning and memory. Arguing that the brain can only be fully understood by application of consistent concepts to both psychology and physiology, he proposes that the necessary concept in constructing a model of brain function is the pattern. He then designs a model called the cascaded pattern extraction hierarchy to explain the functioning of the brain, showing that the brain can be visualized as a pattern extraction template, in which successive layers are able to extract increasingly complex patterns from relatively simply input.


This book about understanding the human brain as a system had its origins in the early 1980s when I was part of a team developing a product composed of many interworking computers. This product was designed to support a large number of simultaneous activities, including providing both a range of services directly to users and the real-time functions associated with managing a complex telecommunications switching system.

I became intrigued with the idea that very complex systems could be designed at all, and what this implied for understanding the brain. Of course, the latest technology has always had a way of becoming used as a model for the brain. In their time, the steam engine, the electro- mechanical telephone switch, and the computer have all been pressed into this service and proved inadequate. Once the sheer complexity of the brain becomes apparent, one is suspicious of complete models based on other systems.

The significance of the multicomputer system in this context was rather in the design process for systems of such complexity. This design process is based on understanding the total system, with all its millions of lines of software and billions of transistors, at the highest level of abstraction and on many lower levels of greater detail.

A computer system has the ability to perform a vast range of functions, from video games through word processing to air traffic control. Many functions can be performed simultaneously on a single system. At a fairly high level of description, every function is the effect of a package of application software, running on digital logic based hardware with a von Neumann architecture, under the control of an operating system. At a very detailed level, every function depends on voltages changing the conductivity of tiny regions of semiconductor. The . . .

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