Biological computation: hearts and flytraps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The original computers were people using algorithms to get mathematical results such as rocket trajectories. After the invention of the digital computer, brains have been widely understood through analogies with computers and now artificial neural networks, which have strengths and drawbacks. We define and examine a new kind of computation better adapted to biological systems, called biological computation, a natural adaptation of mechanistic physical computation. Nervous systems are of course biological computers, and we focus on some edge cases of biological computing, hearts and flytraps. The heart has about the computing power of a slug, and much of its computing happens outside of its forty thousand neurons. The flytrap has about the computing power of a lobster ganglion. This account advances fundamental debates in neuroscience by illustrating ways that classical computability theory can miss complexities of biology. By this reframing of computation, we make way for resolving the disconnect between human and machine learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-78
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Biological Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Biological computation
  • Biological information processing
  • Computation
  • Computational theory of mind
  • Neural computation
  • Neurocardiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biophysics
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Biological computation: hearts and flytraps'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this