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The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside -

The Brain is deeper than the sea -
For - hold them - Blue to Blue -
The one the other will absorb -
As sponges - Buckets - do

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As syllable from Sound -

Emily Dickinson

Brain and Behavior


Who are you? Who are others?

What makes you you? Why are you the way you are?

Why are others the way that they are?

How are you and others the same? different?


Is it possible that everything one is, does, and experiences is a function of the brain, just as Emily Dickinson suggested nearly one hundred and fifty years ago? Could it be that one is who one is because of what one's brain is? And that becoming something different means changing the brain? If so, what are the implications of this? Do we lose something, or is the brain actually big enough, as Dickinson suggested, to contain everything? If so, what might we be able to do that has never before been possible? What are the risks, the gains, the new landscapes which would be opened to explore?

The exhibits and materials collected here are intended to make it possible for you to share some of the kinds of experiences which suggest that indeed the nervous system may be the heart of the matter and to think about the implications and the new questions this raises. Your thoughts are welcome in the on-line forum for the general topic of brain and behavior, as well as in the forums associated with the pages/exhibits linked below.

"What the empirical evidence tells is that, far from being meaningless, we are, individually and collectively, equipped not only to appreciate meaning but, even more importantly, to continually conceive and revise it. The evidence suggests that to be human is to be a meaning maker, individually and collectively."


Nervous System Basics

The Neurobiology of Vision

"Reality": Construction, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction

Variability, Diversity, and Creativity

Exploration and Understandings

Mind, Body, and the Self?

Free Will

Social Organization


Mental Health

Growing Points

Additional Resources

= interactive exhibits
= includes on-line forums

Nervous System Basics
The brain is a biological/material system. It's activities reflect the complex organization of large numbers of simpler elements. What can we say in general about these elements and their interactions?

Neurobiology and Behavior: A course and conversation (Biology 202) including associated notes

Time to Think? The question in a larger context: Does brain = behavior? An interactive exhibit.

Comparative Brain Organization An exhibit exploring the similarities and differences in brains across animals.

Different Behaviors, Different Brains? An exhibit.

Brain Size and Evolution Illustrated lecture notes.

Genes, Brains, Behavior A resource page.

The Neurobiology of Vision
Work on the visual system has contributed importantly to understanding how much of what we see is a construction of our brains.

Seeing More Than Your Eye Does Does your brain make up stories? A "blindspot" experiment. An interactive exhibit.

Seeing More Than Your Eye Does, continued Map your own blindspot. An interactive exhibit.

Tricks of the Eyes, Wisdom of the Brain Does your brain throw things away? An illustrated exhibit.

Contrast/Color "Illusions" Are visual illusions "tricks"? An interactive exhibit.

Presumptions Underlying Contrast Illusions Is "reality" constant? An interactive exhibit.

Spiral Illusion An interactive exhibit involving perception of color.

Ball and Shadow Illusion An interactive exhibit.

"Reality": Construction, Deconstruction, and Reconstruction
What one sees (or hears or feels or tastes or smells) is... reality? Or a construction of the brain? A construction that might be different individuals with different brains? Different for the same individual at different times? If so, what would this mean about what it is to be human? About human interaction?

Ambiguous Figures An interactive exhibit.

Hofstadter's Road Sign An interactive exhibit.

Chance in Life and the World An interactive exhibit exploring chance, randomness, and order.

Perception: From Five Senses Through Synthesia and Beyond An essay associated with The Brain Constructing the World exhibit.

Getting It Less Wrong, The Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism A published paper.

Illusions, ambiguous figures, and impossible figures: informed guessing and beyond An illustrated essay.

Paths to Story Telling as Life: Fellow Traveling with Richard Rorty An essay and on-line forum.

From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond: Towards Empirical Non-Foundationalism as a Guide to Inquiry A published paper (Word file).

Variability, Diversity, and Creativity
Thinking about ourselves in terms of brains can give us new appreciations of the origins and importance of variation and diversity, both of which are important underpinnings of creativity.

Variability in Brain Function and Behavior An article on the neural uncertainty principle.

Diversity and Deviance: A Biological Perspective An essay.

Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences (Spring 08) and associated on-line forums.

Diversity: beyond issues of fairness? An on-line forum.

Does Biology Have Anything to Contribute to Thinking About Sex and Gender? Lecture notes.

Making Sense of Diversity: A conversation at Bryn Mawr College Archived notes and forum discussions.

Creativity, the Mind, and the Brain A senior thesis.

The Gift of Saturn: Creativity and Psychopathology An essay.

Exploration and Understandings
If everything is in the brain how does that influence what we understand about "understanding" and how we achieve understandings?

The Three Doors of Serendip: Making Sense of Understanding An interactive exhibit exploring what it means to "understand" and on-line forum.

Simple Networks, Simple Rules: Learning and Creating Categories Can simple things learn? An interactive exhibit and on-line forum.

Pattern Detection and Serendipity Can you find Serendip? An interactive exhibit.

Mind, Body, and the Self?
If the mind is in the brain and the brain, of course, is a part of the body, then the distinction normally made between mind and body needs to be reconsidered. How would we think differently about ourselves? Each other?

Writing Descartes: I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore... An essay with associated conversations.

The mind-body problem: in theory, in life, in politics A short essay.

Mind and Body: René Descartes to William James An exhibit with extensive documentation.

Buddhist Meditation and Personal Construct Psychology A senior thesis.

Exploring the Consciousness Problem A set of resources.

The "Nature" of Desire An illustrated senior thesis.

Measure for Measure: An Artistic Exploration of Eating Disorders, Body Image, and the Self A gallery.

Disability: Images and Thoughts A gallery with on-line forums.

Free Will
Supposing that in fact everything one is is a function of the brain. And the brain is itself organized matter. Does that mean that we are machines, in the sense that we actually have no influence over our own behavior? Or is there a way that matter could be organized that gives us some genuine capabilities of personal responsibility and free will?

The Free Will Problem Can you control what you do? An experiment with ambiguous figures.

Variability in Brain Function and Behavior An article on the neural uncertainty principle.

Evolution/Science: Inverting the Relationship Between Randomness and Meaning An essay and on-line forum.

Social Organization
What is culture? And how do individuals and cultures relate to one another? Can thinking about the brain contribute to new understandings and explanations of culture and social organization?

Competition and Cooperation aka Prisoner's Dilemma: Cooperate or compete? An interactive exhibit.

Ant Colonies: Social Organization Without A Director? An interactive exhibit.

Thinking About Segregation and Integration: An Interactive Scientific Exploration Using Models An interactive exhibit.

Individuals and Cultures A resource page of materials on Serendip and elsewhere on the web and on-line forum.

The Brain and Social Organization/Culture A resource page of materials on Serendip and elsewhere on the web and on-line forum.

Culture As Disability An essay exploring "disabilities", "abilities", and their relation to culture.

The Brain as a Learner/Inquirer/Creator: Some Implications of its Organization for Individual and Social Well Being An essay on brain research, past and future, and on-line forum.

Interdisciplinarity, Transdisciplinarity, and Beyond: The Brain, Story Sharing, and Social Organization A published paper on parallels between brain and social organization.

If everything is in the brain, then education is a function of the brain, a way of adding to and enhancing what's in the brain. And educators ought to think of themselves as nurturers of brain development. Does thinking about education in terms of the brain make a difference? If so, how? Materials below are aimed at these questions and encouraging further conversation about them.

Brain and Education: Thinking About New Directions and on-line forum.

K-12 Summer Institutes Notes and discussions from Bryn Mawr/Haverford Colleges K-16 Collaborations in Science and Mathematics Education.

Brain and Education An on-line forum.

Parallel Changes in Thinking about the Brain and about Education An illustrated outline.

Science as Exploration/Story Telling and The Brain as a Scientist/Explorer/Story Teller Notes for K-12 inservice day.

Mental Health
What is "mental health"? Can explorations of the brain help us to reach new and better ways of thinking about mental health?

Exploring Mental Health A collection of materials and resources aimed to promote "productive interaction among people from diverse perspectives... and continual exploration of issues relating to mental health and broader issues relating to body/brain/mind/self..." and on-line forum.

Exploring Mental Health: Neurobiology Materials that help to illuminate the relationship between brain and behavior, including internal experiences as well as an on-line forum.

Models of Mental Health: A Critique and Prospectus A discussion of and reflection on the "medical model" of mental health, a broader "biological/neurobiological/cultural" model, and further ways to conceive of better ways to think about mental health, and on-line forum.

Mental Health and the Brain A seminar course and on-line forum discussions exploring implications of past and ongoing research on the brain for thinking about the nature of mental health and about the value of various therapeutic and institutional approaches to mental health problems, Fall 2008.

Making Sense of Depression A collection of materials that can perhaps contribute to new and more useful ways of thinking about depression and on-line forum.

Exploring depression: drugs, psychotherapy, stories, conflicts, a conscious/unconscious dissociation? A paper and on-line forum.

David Hume: A Letter to a Physician Reprint of a letter describing Hume's experience with depression and on-line forum.

Genes, Brain, and Being Social: The Gregarious Brain a short essay from the Brain Stories blog and on-line forum.

Growing Points
An explosive growth of understandings of the brain has not only been occurring but is continuing. And associated with it come continually new challenges to older ways of thinking and new opportunities to conceive and reconceive what it is to be human. Links below are to materials related to current developments in understanding the brain and the implications.

Brain, Behavior, and Human Well-Being: Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences A seminar course and on-line public discussions exploring past and present research in the neural and behavioral sciences.

Brain Stories A blog reflecting on news articles and other current publications, and on-line forum.

The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist A conversation.

The Novelist and the Neurobiologist A conversation.

The Linguist and the Neurobiologist A conversation.

The Psychoanalyst and the Neurobiologist A conversation.

Additional resources

Book suggestions

External resources and links

Updated 9 Dec 2008 by Paul Grobstein and Laura Cyckowski.

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