The human Turing machine: a neural framework for mental programs

Trends Cogn Sci. 2011 Jul;15(7):293-300. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.05.007. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


In recent years much has been learned about how a single computational processing step is implemented in the brain. By contrast, we still have surprisingly little knowledge of the neuronal mechanisms by which multiple such operations are sequentially assembled into mental algorithms. We outline a theory of how individual neural processing steps might be combined into serial programs. We propose a hybrid neuronal device: each step involves massively parallel computation that feeds a slow and serial production system. Production selection is mediated by a system of competing accumulator neurons that extends the role of these neurons beyond the selection of a motor action. Productions change the state of sensory and mnemonic neurons and iteration of such cycles provides a basis for mental programs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*