Our Mental Software and Hardware
I have sometimes written about our mental software and hardware
without explaining it as well as I could. So when I got the following
e-mail from a subscriber to the Brainpower Newsletter, I decided
to not only answer him directly, but also to put that answer
here on the site.
The Question: Now and then you mention how the brain
has hardware and software, and that intelligence can be improved
through improving your software more than the hardware. Could
you clarify what constitutes hardware and software? For instance,
would learning memory techniques be considered improving your
My Answer: "Software improvements" definitely
include learning memory techniques.
Here's the short version of the difference between mental
software and hardware: The hardware is the brain and the software
is the mind. Now a longer explanation...
In addition to memory techniques, other examples of "software"
would be problem solving skills, math skills, and even "people
skills"-- all things that can be learned (or should we say
"installed") by anyone who has a basically healthy
brain. Practicing some of these skills might exercise the brain
(the hardware), and so improve that too, but they are primarily
about learning new systems and using the brain in new ways.
"Hardware improvements" can come from mental exercises
that are mostly about the "workout" itself (in other
words not used primarily as ways to train the mind in new ways).
They can also be had from ingesting certain substances that affect
the brain positively (brain drugs and supplements--short or long-term
effects), eating a diet that's good for the brain, or doing physical
exercise to improve blood flow, and so on.
All of these things in both categories can make for more powerful
thinking, but in my experience it is changing, updating or adding
new software--the programming, to put it another way--that usually
makes the most profound changes for the better. Most of the time,
in any case.
This wouldn't be true if someone were suffering from a severe
nutritional deficiency of some sort that affected the brain negatively,
or had a head injury. In these cases, the person might have to
work on the health of the hardware (the brain) first, just to
get it to a level of function where the mental software improvements
could be worked on.
I hope that explains it a bit better, but there is nothing
definitive about this. The idea just provides a differentiation
and perspective that I find useful.