Chapter 6: A Web of Neurons
What’s the connection between the brain and Web sites? The brain has networks of neurons that form a semantic network of memories, and the Internet has a World Wide Web of Web sites. Web sites are the software of the Internet, just as memories are the software of the mind.
What’s interesting is that the Web is growing far faster than is the evolution of the human brain. Five million years ago, the brains of our evolutionary cousin, Australopithecus, weighed about 450 cubic centimeters, the same as that of the present-day gorilla. By 500,000 years ago, the brains of the Neanderthals had more than doubled in size to around 1,000 cc. More recently, the brains of Cro-Magnon grew 50 percent larger than that, or roughly equivalent to the modern human brain.
That rate of growth may be fast, but it’s nothing compared with the growth of the World Wide Web. In its first ten years, the Web grew by 850 percent per year. By 2008, there were about 175 million Web sites. To be sure, it would have to grow much more to catch up with the brain’s 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connections, but the Web is on track to grow much faster than the human brain.
Yet we already have something approaching a semantic network online. Just as healthy neural networks create memory systems, the Internet enables the World Wide Web. Just as memories connect to related memories, Web sites connect to related Web sites. As a result, both the brain and the Internet are brimming with ideas, good and bad. In other words, Web sites are memes.