Brain without mind: Computer simulation of neural networks with modifiable neuronal interactions

John W. Clark, Johann Rafelski, Jeffrey V. Winston

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Aspects of brain function are examined in terms of a nonlinear dynamical system of highly interconnected neuron-like binary decision elements. The model neurons operate synchronously in discrete time, according to deterministic or probabilistic equations of motion. Plasticity of the nervous system, which underlies such cognitive collective phenomena as adaptive development, learning, and memory, is represented by temporal modification of interneuronal connection strengths depending on momentary or recent neural activity. A formal basis is presented for the construction of local plasticity algorithms, or connection-modification routines, spanning a large class. To build an intuitive understanding of the behavior of discrete-time network models, extensive computer simulations have been carried out (a) for nets with fixed, quasirandom connectivity and (b) for nets with connections that evolve under one or another choice of plasticity algorithm. From the former experiments, insights are gained concerning the spontaneous emergence of order in the form of cyclic modes of neuronal activity. In the course of the latter experiments, a simple plasticity routine ("brainwashing," or "anti-learning") was identified which, applied to nets with initially quasirandom connectivity, creates model networks which provide more felicitous starting points for computer experiments on the engramming of content-addressable memories and on learning more generally. The potential relevance of this algorithm to developmental neurobiology and to sleep states is discussed. The model considered is at the same time a synthesis of earlier synchronous neural-network models and an elaboration upon them; accordingly, the present article offers both a focused review of the dynamical properties of such systems and a selection of new findings derived from computer simulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-273
Number of pages59
JournalPhysics Reports
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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