Technology isn’t as clever as we like to think

The more that neuroscientists learn about the brain, the less they know. Hardly a day goes by without some piece of research leading us to question how our brain works, just when we thought we were coming to an answer.

For several years now, psychologists have remained somewhat dumbfounded by the phenomenon of the split brain. This is the situation that occurs in some people who have epilepsy and who are treated by a highly controversial piece of brain surgery. The neurosurgeon literally divides their brain in half.

Your brain is made up of two halves which are connected; they are wired up with all sorts of complicated circuitry so you can see, hear, talk and think. So you would think that if a person’s brain is divided into two, those essential connections would disappear. Well, you would be wrong.

Someone with a divided brain does not become two individuals in one; they don’t suffer from a split personality or have two senses of consciousness. Apart from some minor impacts on vision and perception, the divided brain carries on functioning perfectly normally with no real impact on the individual. This suggests that a connection remains between the two halves of the brain, in spite of the surgeon’s scalpel.

Clearly, the human body is much more complex than we think; it can cope with dramatic changes to our brain. For instance, if a stroke victim has damage to their speech centres in the brain, they can learn to speak again, by transferring speech to another part of the brain.

We might like to think that computers and modern technology are clever, but they are pretty dumb in comparison. Divide your contact database, for instance, into two separate halves without a connection between them. Would it work? Not a chance. Or take Google’s famed algorithm for search, slice it in two and see what results you will get. Some hope.

So why do we put our trust so much in technology when it is clearly rather stupid in comparison with the human brain? This is the sort of question that might get debated by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology whose annual meeting is currently taking place in the USA. But it does raise an important issue for Internet business owners.

Many people use separate databases for their newsletter mailing list, their customers and their contacts list. The distribution of data in this way is a supposed safety net – if one database dies, at least you have the others. If, however, you only had one database with everything in it – and that died? You’d be stuffed, the theory goes.

But these divided databases are unlike a divided brain. The separate databases don’t have any connections and so you can’t easily and quickly gain any benefits. The power of the human brain resides in its connectivity which is retained even after surgery. Your business data needs connecting if it is to also provide your organisation with marketing and sales power. And that means having one database, because computers are too dumb to be able to work with disconnected sets of data. In the online world I only know of one database that is able to do everything you need for an Internet business – 1ShoppingCart.

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