Over the years we have used different metaphors trying to explain human intelligence. Each metaphor reflected the most advanced thinking of the era that spawned it. Those metaphors are stories we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand. But metaphors condition our thinking, and therefore our action plans.
In “The Empty Brain” Robert Epstein asks how much the information processing (IP) metaphor of human intelligence that dominates human thinking since mid-20th century, is preventing us from making real progress towards understanding the brain.
With a simple exercise involving a dollar bill, he makes the case that our brains do not store memories that we can retrieve at will. Our brains have probably evolved to make the most of the “external memory” that surrounds us.
If the IP metaphor is so silly, why is it so sticky? What is stopping us from brushing it aside, just as we might brush aside a branch that was blocking our path? Is there a way to understand human intelligence without leaning on a flimsy intellectual crutch? And what price have we paid for leaning so heavily on this particular crutch for so long? The IP metaphor, after all, has been guiding the writing and thinking of a large number of researchers in multiple fields for decades. At what cost?
The IP metaphor has had a half-century run, producing few, if any, insights along the way. The time has come to hit the DELETE key.