Essays on Science and SocietyEppendorf

Brains Don't Play Dice—or Do They?

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Science  01 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6158, pp. 574
DOI: 10.1126/science.1245982

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Life is often unpredictable. The brain thus needs to draw on past experience to prepare for future events. It does so by associating sensory stimuli, such as an odor, with desirable or undesirable outcomes. The smell of burning wood, for example, can evoke the soothing recollection of a cozy campfire or the traumatic memory of a burning house. It is through such associations that sensory stimuli that are a priori neutral become endowed with meaning. But life is full of possibilities. So how are associative brain centers able to account for an infinite number of possible associations?