Resume Reading — Context

Close
 

Context

Among its many peculiarities, the human brain has a habit of not responding in the same way to identical inputs. This may be due to…By Michael Segal

Among its many peculiarities, the human brain has a habit of not responding in the same way to identical inputs. This may be due to the fact that our eyes and ears are noisy instruments, or because signals move in a stochastic fashion from neuron to neuron. It may also simply be a matter of context.

When we hear a bell, our response depends on our experiential history. By definition, this history has changed when we hear the second bell. While this makes the interpretation of neurology experiments difficult, it gives us an advantage. State-of-the-art AI is flummoxed by small changes in context that we negotiate with ease.

Something similar can be said for gene networks. Genes code for proteins that in turn create a dynamic and self-organizing system, responding to conditions on the fly. Living things gain an immense adaptability. So much for genetic determinism.

The arc of science can sometimes seem to favor reductionism. These days, context is striking back.

Welcome to “Context.”


Lead image: MJgraphics / Shutterstock

Read the Issue
Join the Discussion