Musical metaphor of the brain

Your brain works like an orchestra, composing tunes attuning to your environment. This is a musical offering as an alternative to a brain like a computer.

The metaphors you use, frame your thinking. Using the machine or computer metaphor to describe the working of your brain, makes you wonder why neurons work with synapses and not with direct connections. here is my answer to the question posed on Quora.

The architecture of a brain differs radically from the architecture of a computer. You better not compare a brain and brain cells to a computer with components transmitting signals; for one thing, because a brain came before a computer. The metaphors will never match.

I hear music

I prefer a metaphor based on music: the brain takes part as an organ (pun intended) in an ensemble of “playing instruments”. The individual parts – the cells – play their own tunes – like cello’s (!) – and attune to other cells. They make up an orchestration which is in tune with their counter parts and subsequently their environment.

I think it is important to note (!), that they not only play their own composition (!) but also compose their own works (a.k.a. “opera”). The different patterns of interactions, one could call melodies or moods (!). Like in any musical offering: molto con vivace, allegro, andante, largo, … all in tune with “the audience” or environment. A program now consists of several musical parts, like a musical, opera. This is why human being like musicals and The Sound of Music.

Also neurons work rhythmically: they have a certain “firing frequency”, which shifts depending on their mood. When exited (!) they fire rapidly OR more slowly then their basic rate. And some do it vice versa: more rapid when at rest and more slowly when exited. Using the synaptic gaps, which can be inhibitory (slowing down) or increasing. they invite other cells to join in more, of to become more silent.

This composition (or architecture) enables a living organisms to stay “tuned” to its environment. Combining bio-electrical frequency dependent signals from neurons with chemically induced excitation or inhibition of these signals AND at the same time using these as cues to grow or shrink the number of neurons and their connections (a.k.a. learning), creates and maintains the structural coupling of organisations with each other.

You should reverse the question: why don’t computers tune their frequencies and connections by learning from the programs they’re running?

The invention of a computer changed the self-image of human beings. We used to think we were intelligent animals, now we seem to think we’re just stupid, slow machines. We didn’t change, our thinking did. It’s time to change our thinking again and design systems that can think for themselves.


Now, a facilitator acts as a composer – creating a composition of sessions, parts, arranger – adapting the composition to the situation and the group, a conductor – guiding the participants to “play along”, and an instrument player – like the leader of a jazz band. You allow for the dissonant, the blue notes, the contre pointe, as they’re the “key” for resolving the situation. You switch between these positions and trust the band (probably a better name for a team) to perform.

About Jan Lelie

Met diversiteit kom je verder, wanneer je elkaar beter begrijpt.  Jan Lelie kan helpen. Ik faciliteer besluitvorming met behulp van mijn mind@work methode. Sommigen noemen het agile, anderen lean of serious play. Het zit er allemaal in. Daarnaast geef ik workshops en master classes aan professionals die zelf beter willen faciliteren.
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