bits and brains

Bill Skaggs skaggs at bns.pitt.edu
Mon Jan 3 09:46:23 EST 2000


joshcahoon at cs.com (JoshCahoon) writes:

> How do people go about estimating the informational capacity of the brain in
> terms of bits? And how do they apply bits to the capacity of consciousness? I'm
> reading The User Illusion by Tor Norretranders, and he keeps contending that
> consciousness processes about 16 bits per second, while the entire brain
> processes about 11-16 million bits per second. Do ya'll think there is any
> basis for these estimates?

Are you sure you're stating these numbers correctly?  16 bits per
second seems much too low -- that's less than 3 ascii characters per
second!  

As for the brain, the number also seems too low.  There are around 10
billion nerve cells in the human neocortex, and I think most people
would say that each one processes at least a few bits per second
(though it isn't clear how much of this processing is actually
*used*).  This would give on the order of 100 billion bits per
second.  

If the numbers you give were in bits per *millisecond* rather than
bits per second, they would be more reasonable.

	-- Bill




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