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"Nature, the IT Wizard"



Theoretical neuroscientist Tony Bell argues that the hallmark of biological computation is that information flows across multiple hierarchies of complexity, bubbling up from microscopic to macroscopic levels and back down again.

Simpler structures (like neurons) communicate with more complex structures (like areas of the brain), and vice versa. Computations are occurring on and between every level, from molecules to cells to organisms as a whole. There is a good deal of evidence that even the subcellular compartments within neurons are doing their own computations. Most recently, a study1 published in Nature in October 2013 showed that activity within dendrites (a compartment representing a neuron’s “input”) shapes the information processed by that neuron. Given this multi-level information flow, Bell argues that noise simply cannot be defined: Deviations from expectation should be interpreted as meaningful communication at another level of the complexity hierarchy.


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