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An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 2000, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions and topics.
"Brain and behavior are the same thing; there isn't anything else." What are the implications of, problems with such an assertion? Whether you're skeptical or not, explain why, and consider what kinds of new observations might cause you to think differently.
I was also intrigued by the end of the article which explained that there has been synchronous evolution of the transmitter (male song) and the receiver (the female song preference)
And thanks, Melissa, for getting the forum rolling. There are indeed some subtleties in thinking about genetic/environmental interactions in behavior/brain. Maybe the "input/output" way of thinking of things (and some other "box" ideas) will help to sort them out? Yes, I agree that the parallel effects of genetic changes on both song production and song recognition is among the most intriguing things in the article. "Synchronous evolution" doesn't quite account for parallel effects though, I don't think (one could have "synchronous evolution" of male song production and female song preference without the two processes involving the same genes). Moreover, as I recall, it turns out that temperature variation (among other things) also produces correlated changes in song production and preference. Other ways of accounting for this? Might make an interesting web paper topic (so too would the neurobiology of other male/female complementarities).
Was interested in a suggestion from one of you (Josh?) after class that the experience of pulling your hand away from a hot flame, before realizing you had been burned, also raised interesting problems for our spaghetti bowl/phone switchboard model of the nervous system and how it works. As Josh? pointed out, that would seem to imply that the cognitive event (the "experiencing" of something) either wasn't part of the nervous system, or wasn't part of a linear sequence of causal events which resulted in moving the hand. Its a sort of problem we'll run into a number of times this semester. Maybe, for the moment, its enough to say that it isn't at all obvious how "experiencing" something would be accounted for using the spaghetti blow/phone switchboard, and so maybe that's another reason to change it?
Looking forward to hearing what you've been thinking about after two meetings together. Here's a general question to get you started (but you're free to write about something else if its more interesting to you):
"Brain and behavior are the same thing; there isn't anything else." What are the implications of, problems with such an assertion? Whether you're skeptical or not, explain why, and consider what kinds of new observations might cause you to think differently.
As far as the posted question, I am not sure that I need to feel as uneasy about the concept of "the nervous system and nothing else", but partially because I think that it may not have to be as limiting as we think. But part of this may be because I am taking some license to test out some thoughts that push the limits of the statement. I think I need to preface this by saying that I am taking a not-for-credit seminar course on alternative medicine and the healing arts which seemingly flies in the face of this class in its approach and philosophies. So I think that I am going to spend this semester challenging my thinking in a lot of contrasting ways...at the outset, I have this feeling that I am somehow going to be able to resolve the two and find links, an idealistic prospect!! So here is my basic reflection after basically one meeting of each class...the term "input" is very very broad and the expansion that we have done to include also arrows starting from inside the box is a beginning. From the point of view of this class, something like spiritual influences, it at first seem, would come from inside the box. On the other side, there is some carefully controlled published scientific research to suggest that there could be some "input" not from within (within loosely operationally defined to be learned knowledge about prayer having some sort of placebo effect). But as our general model exists now, there could be an input arrow for spiritual influence (I would imagine that to many it sounds impossible that the model could fit a spiritual arrow from outside into the model...I know it does to me) I bet that as we get more specific the mechanism by which this arrow would act will well be challenged and the published article (something like "San Francisco Prayer Study" from the mid 1980's) does not offer an answer for the mechanism, but nonetheless has some pretty amazing findings under well-controlled conditions. I can go into the details of the article more (and
Interesting article in the NY Times Sunday Magazine on 9 January 2000: The Placebo Prescription, by Margaret Talbot. And a paper here by a student in Bio 202 last year. So ... will be interesting to see how your "alternative medicine and healing arts" course intersects with this one. Agree very much that carefully defining what we mean by "input" will be key. Would indeed be interested in more details about the article you have in mind.
As for the hand and the flame .... I'm not ready to use the term "cognitive event" in this course (and may never be). The problem for me is that, like "stimulus" it carries too much baggage. Can we just say that the hand pulls away (an output is generated) before one becomes aware of the experience of pain (as well as of any intent to move the hand)? And that this is in fact a pretty sophisticated behavior to be doing without "thinking about it" (or having thought about it)? Hence "cognitive" if you like, and don't presume that means anything more than "sophisticated". Whether its happening faster than the time it takes sensory input (thanks) to "reach the brain" is an as yet unsettled question (in our discussion so far) and a good one to ask (the answer is probably no). Is it based on "acquired" or "instinctual" knowledge is another good question which we will also have to think about how to answer. For the moment, though, the important point is that it occurs "without experiencing the input or thinking about the output", much as does leg withdrawal in Chrisopher Reeves (as we subsequently talked about). What that suggests is that in addition to a fast/slow, instinctive/acquired, "cognitive"/something-else dichotomies, there is a "conscious/unconscious" dichotomy to think about. And I wouldn't presume (we'll look more into this) that they are all the same thing. A skilled athlete, for example, frequently reacts so fast that they are neither aware of the input nor of generating an output until the whole thing is over. Instinctive or acquired?
This appears to sound like yes, there isn’t anything else, but if we look closer at ourselves and at others we can see that the brain is not all we are. As human beings we are not limited to the body and the physical which we call the brain. Our being is made up of spirit and most importantly of mind. The spirit and mind allows humans to reach a higher level of consciousness and sensitivity. The mind allows us to explore new levels of awareness and understanding.
What is the mind? When I refer to the “mind” I have to relate back to the brain. The example that comes to mind, hahaha, is a box of crayons. Imagine that each sentence in the first paragraph is a different color, this is what the brain does, it colors everything you see in the universe and eventually develops into the mind. The box as a whole becomes our thinking, our mind and the brain facilitates this. The mind is very different from the brain; the brain is a machine but the mind and spirit well we can think of it as a warm machine.
I like your box of crayons, and think we'll indeed find that the brain "colors" everything. But I'm not yet sure I see how/why you go from that to "the mind is very different from the brain". If it were to turn out that the brain not only colors things but is also a "warm machine" (I like that image too), would you be more comfortable with mind=brain? What exactly is it that "warm machines" do that cold ones don't?
I'm on your side, I think. But why exactly? What is it that inclines you and me to suspect/believe that soul=spirit=mind=brain when others believe otherwise? And how can we productively talk to one another about it? Are there things to share that might affect how others (and you and I) think about it?
I am skeptical of the assumption because of the implications. It scares me to omit ideas of free will, spirit, creativity, and education from our lives. It seems as though we create them out of necessity and whether or not they do exist (is that a legitimate term?) is a frail point. They serve their purpose in whatever ways they may.
Our discussion on whether or not output may occur with no input led me to the idea of sensory deprivation. Although I know little on the topic (it is something I would like to know more about), it seems that people are indeed of capable of creating within the brain "something" that provokes a needed output. Maybe some of you all could enlighten me on this subject. Why does the brain need to do this when the body is being deprived of input? Is it the mind emerging from the brain?
Not sure about need to "resolve this cycle". And not (yet) questioning the "outside world" (though we will have to look at this issue later in the course, I think). Can we be comfortable, for the moment, being brains which learn from each other? I do agree, though, that we ought not "to omit ideas of free will, spirit, creativity, and education"; hopefully we'll find that the brain is "big enough" for them. Sensory deprivation is a VERY interesting subject; might well be worth looking into for a web paper.
Well, I have cousins who are identical twins. Since they have exactly same sets of DNA, I imagine that their brain are set in the same, or at least in a similar way. However, they do not behave in the same way all the time. In fact, they are very different. So, what can be said about this?
For my first reasoning, I have thought of "spirits". If their spirits are different, then it will not matter whether their brains are set similarly or not.
However, I want to stick to the idea that "Brain and behavior are the same thing; there isn't anything else." This statement suggests that my cousins have their brains set differently. How is a brain set, then? For my identical twin cousins behave differently, something other than genetic materials must contribute to the developement of a brain. Probably, their experiences allow the different setting of their brains. Since they have had dissimilar experiences everyday, they have unlike memories stored in their brains, which then cause diverse behaviors.
As I have written this, I have just realized that the spaghetti-bowl model of the nervous system does not work well, for it lacks the storage space for memories. Maybe the nervous system (or "brain" - just to be "poetic") is like a box with a whole bunch of cords with sensors hanging out from one side for "input", a spider-web like cords and some storage spaces (or recycling bins) inside, and many different cords on the other side for "output". The box should contain some sensors, too, to detect internal changes. And, maybe an alarm clock connected to some of those internal sensors. I mentioned a spider-web like cords and not spaghetti noodles because one "input" can cause several different "outputs", and a combination of various "inputs" can result in one "output".
I very much like the way you've thought through the issue of behavioral similarities and differences in identical twins (its a subject we'll come back to, one for which I hope you'll tell us more about your cousins, and one which might make a good take off point for a web paper). Yes, the differences suggest there is more to "setting" a brain than the genome; experiences are one explanation for differences, and we'll talk about another one later in the course (want to try and guess?). I like too your spider-web with storage spaces (we'll need to find those) and alarm clocks (why did you include those?).
Not at all. You've very much raised some interesting, significant, and quite germane issues. I hadn't thought about calligraphy (don't know much about it, would like to know more), but the general issue you raise is, I think, similar to that that arises with skilled athletic performance (see my comments on Melissa's thoughts above). Is the brain actually "numbed", or is it instead active but in a different "state"? If the latter, what is that state and how does it come about? And, indeed, there is some reliance, in both situations, on "spontaneity". Does that mean something outside the brain, or is the brain big enough to contain that as well? We'll certainly look into questions of this sort, and the relation between "meditative" states and brain function might well be an entry into an interesting web paper (Meditation and the Brain, by a student in last years' course, would be one place to start).
I think that it’s easier to accept the reductionist point of view that we are all just a bunch of nervous systems taking up space, if we acknowledge that we as humans, (from an evolutionary standpoint) have a particularly well developed brain that allows us to be aware of some of our own actions, feelings, and behaviors. The mere fact that we can think about what it is our brain is doing, how it is being processes separates us from most other species. Sure, other animals experience emotions, but how many of them know that if they get depressed there are drugs that will help them. How many of them are aware that there are drugs that will change their mood, and that this could potentially change their idea of what their “normal” mood state is? I would say not many. Of course, we have know way to gage what the subjective state of any animal is, because they can’t tell us. That’s the major problem with any research in the study of emotion though.
I liked someone’s point at the end of class that we have to be careful about how we define inputs and outputs. I would argue that there can be internal, external and neither events that trigger output. For instance, sexual behavior. What would be the input for the activational hormones that occur during puberty? If we’re talking about biologically developed behaviors, we have to consider time as one of the inputs. I also liked what someone else in the forum was saying about how this model does not account for memories. What if memories were inside the box, or had their own box within the box? I don’t think we necessarily have to confine ourselves to thinking that the box can’t have more than one compartment or outboard.
I agree, and indeed you've anticipated the direction we're going: there are LOTS of boxes. And, indeed, some of them ought to be active "on their own" (ie with no external input): sexual "awakening" a good example. As for animals, I agree with your last point: they MAY not have subjective states but we don't in fact know (subjective states in non-humans might make a good web paper; we'll come back to the general issue in connection with Reeves' spinal cord). Which leads on to your more general point: the wish of humans to "have a particularly well-developed brain" and to assert "superiority" (over both animals and each other). Would this necessarily be more so if "brain=behavior"? Seems to me that the historical record shows a strong tendency along these lines long before anyone entertained the brain=behavior hypothesis. Maybe the latter, if accepted, would actually lessen that tendency?
I wonder what exactly a brain getting tired is. because all the involutary functions continue as normal but the ability to use the mind can actually decrease to the point of shuting down. how is it that certain nerves can continue to funtion when others needs to rest.
I am not sure if the brain is all there is but the model we have in class definalty does not work. There are times when an input will take a very long time to produce a output. I think that we have to add to the model processing centers in which many imputs must go through and get shunted to their proper place. Kind of like the US mail in which every thing designated for not here must all got to another place to be resorted and when there are a lot of imputs they back up and take a while to be processsed.
Actually, I suspect that pulling your hand away from a hot surface is NOT learned (how would we find out? what kinds of observations would give reason to believe one way or the other?). My guess is that children are warned to stay away from the stove not because they wouldn't pull their hand away if it got too hot but rather to keep them from having their hand get hot in the first place. Maybe much of our nervous system is actually "involuntary" but people try and get us to be more "voluntary"?
Interesting question: brain "getting tired", and the "involuntary" persisting. Will talk more in the course about the "voluntary"/"involuntary" distinction (see some of Joon's and Melissa's thoughts and my reactions to them above). Wonder whether there's enough on this subject to make a web paper? There may not be, but its a very interesting question to think about.
So too is the issue of why things "take time" once into the nervous system. Your mail metaphor is one possibility, but there are some others too that we'll talk about. Can suggest others?
If we truly follow this mind over matter theory, then our senses could possibly be misleading us to discover more aspects or traits of our own bodies...or "vessels" that just house our nervous systems. Here's another question that always comes up with the mind over matter debate- if the brain is truly the center for all beliefs, thoughts, actions etc and our senses are really just messengers for the brain....are our beliefs, thoughts and actions etc implanted within our brains before we're even born? If we solely depend on our nervous systems, then let's take a subject like math or chem and we would have to say that we were born already knowing calculus and chem, but it took "x" amount of time to discover our skills in the subjects. In a nutshell- what would our minds think about if our bodies really didn't exist and our nervous systems functioned on their own?
I see the nervous system as our only link to the outside world. It would be a shame to figure out that the outside world is not really there and all of my friends have been completely constructed by my brain. Of course the nervous system matters in that we would be lost without it, but I believe our brains have a complimentary relationship with the outside world, linked by our sense perceptions.
"Brain=behavior" wasn't intended quite so broadly as to imply that there is no outside world, but only that, as you say, it is the brain (rather than anything else) that interprets and acts on the outside world. We'll see, though, that that's not quite so innocuous, and actually does raise questions both about how we know there is an external world there and about how much is there "before we're even born". So keep those curiousities in mind.
I am not even sure if I am fully convinced that brain and behavior are the same thing based on the model from our class. Please feel free to correct me if I have misunderstood it but in our model, the box represents the brain and the output behavior, yes/no? If the answer is yes, I am confused as to how brain and behavior can be the same thing if brain produces behavior or behavior is the result of activities in the brain. Also, if brain and behavior are all there is, why do we need the input, because the presence of input means that brain need to be triggered by something in order to produce some kind of behavior, doesn't it? Then, there needs to be something more than brain and behavior.
I guess I am thinking of behavior as not only output but also all the internal experiences and processes we have that sometimes lead to output (and sometimes don't). Certainly there is "input" as well. Is that ok, or you do you want to talk a bit mnore about "spirit, soul, and mind"? What arguments do C.S. Lewis and others make? Are they actually saying something which is inconsistent with the "brain=behavior" idea or perhaps something which would hold whether or not "brain=behavior" (hmmmm, THAT might make an interesting web paper topic).
I do think and have always thought that much of our reality is created by our brains. We surely control our emotions, opinions and behavior. And I think it's reasonable (may lightening not strike me) to say that the idea of a god(s) may have been created in order to provide a comfortable explanation for why things happen as they do. (It also alleviates responsibility when things run amuck to think that someone/something is in ultimate control.) But I don't think anyone has proof of god. And if they claim to have such proof, how can we be sure it wasn't imagined or produced by an overactive imagination? Along similar lines, I think the concept of the soul and/or heart as being separate entities is clearly fiction. I do enjoy the romantic idea that the heart and soul are separate compartments within our bodies whose jobs are to focus on love and morality and not concern themselves with intellectual or practical thought. But again it's a little too romantic/simple be plausible.
So here's where this brain-nothing-else theory falls apart for me; Am I imagining that the sun is shining brightly above this apartment building right now? Or that it is 17 degrees with a wind chill or ridiculous proportions outside? Or that it snowed on Thursday and my car was covered in about 4 inches of white fluff? Surely I didn't make the snow fall with my brain. And what about disease and infection? Yes, our brains allow us to feel the effects of sickness and create a fever and send leukocytes flying around in our blood vessels, but what are these viruses? Creations of our minds again? I don't think so. So how do you explain the weather patterns and presence of viruses in terms of this hypothesis? That's where I'm puzzled.
Like the way you think through, write about this (though I'm not sure I would always be willing to give up something just because its "too romantic/simple"; there is a place for such logic, even in science). As for the weather, "brain=behavior" wasn't intended to exclude the possible existence of an outside world and resulting inputs to the brain, but ... (see my response to Christina above).
First, "the brain is all there is" seems to leave no room for any belief in a higher power. Is G-d simply a thought that humans devised to explain the world? Is G-d only needed in the absence of science? Also, the mind, soul, spirit, and even reason are devised by our brains to make us feel superior to other animals. I wonder if a person raised without any knowledge of the existence of religion would ever recognize any spirituality in the world by him/herself. Also, if this statement is true, what does it say about the moral obligations of people? Without anything outside of us, why do people have obligations to society? Is interaction needed? Studies have shown that people need interaction with other humans to survive, so a source of inputs is vital for the brain to work correctly. Assuming that inputs are needed, are the expressions of outputs needed? I would answer yes that outputs are needed, because without outputs, what is the point of the brain? Still it is interesting to think about if a living brain can survive without output.
Also, if the brain is behavior and there is nothing besides the brain, it seems to answer the question of are people by nature good or evil. For the most part I would suggest that people are by nature good. If society is only influenced by the brain, society seems to be on a track that is just, or at least attempting to be just and good, so therefore people are by nature good. Then can people turn bad? If they do, is their brain influenced by an outside source or are they born that way?
Finally, what implications does this assertion have in the medicinal realm? Assuming that behavior is the brain, and the brain is a set of chemical reactions and electrical impulses, then behavior can only be altered by altering the brain. Can behavior really be changed through therapy etc? If the brain is behavior, it seems that the only way to change behavior is to treat the brain with different chemicals.
Glad you agree the assertion is one worth spending a semester exploring. It certainly is possible that there is no "G-d" and that humans aren't "superior" to other animals. Actually, though, some people have reached those conclusions without the "brain=behavior" idea There are a significant number of "religous" (or at least "spritual" traditions" that don't presume either idea. And which DO still recognize moral obligations, including obligations to society and to each other. So those too might be consistent with the "brain=behavior" idea? Something to keep an eye on as we go through the semester. Yes, also important implications for the "medical" realm, many currently already playing themselves out. Why should "treat the brain with different chemicals" be the only way to change behavior? Many medical types think so, but, on the other hand, if brain=behavior, the brain is changing all the time, whether one ingests chemicals or not, no? So there must be ways to change the brain other than with chemicals? Another thing to keep an eye on (and maybe a good web paper topic; there is increasing evidence that non-chemical therapy does indeed change the brain).
Nothing wrong with "bulleting", but remember to use <:p>: or things will all run together. Share your enjoyment of finding out what is wrong with our models and fixing them, and agree that we will need to do something about both "choice" and "randomness" as we go on (glad too to have another poet in the house). Are those why you're "still uncomfortable about equating behavior to our brain"? Or is there something else?
Interesting set of issues. What "signals" or "controls" the brain? Yes, the environment, what you eat, etc are provide "inputs" to the brain, i.e. "signals". But that's a little different from "signals" or "controls". Are you comfortable with "brain=behavior" if we agree that things influence the brain (as "input" signals) but it is the brain that decides what to do when those inputs occur? and, maybe, decides sometimes what to do even if no input occurs?
Second, I have always thought of the brain as being “greater than the sum of its parts.” In other words, the brain and its activity cannot be explained simply by the workings of its discrete components: neurons, neurotransmitters, synapses, etc. There is “something more” than what we understand of the mechanical processes of the brain. This “something more” is why we can say to ourselves, “I can’t believe that I just wrote that.” Who are the “I’s” in this statement? Besides, we simply do not understand the structural and chemical complexities of the brain well enough to explain human behavior, much less say that the brain equals behavior. Take addiction, for example. Let’s say someone is addicted to nicotine. The person’s brain “wants” nicotine. However, the person “wants” to quit smoking so therefore she reaches for a carrot. This seems to me to be an example of a person wanting something other than what his or her brain wants. And it seems that the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior, which says that under carefully controlled conditions animals act however they damn well please, flys in the face of the assertion that the brain equals behavior. If the brain equals behavior, shouldn’t we be able to predict with certainty an animal’s (or a human’s) behavior in any given situation?
If the brain is all there is, then I want someone to show me where exactly “consciousness” is located in the brain. And if the brain is all there is, then how do we explain, in terms of the brain, the existence of music, poetry or painting – where is creativity located in the brain? This assertion reduces all behavior to neuronal impulses, and I find the implications of that very unpleasant. It means that we cannot choose to love someone, that we are not responsible for our behavior, that there is no meaning outside of the chemicals in our brain. I do not want to live in such a Pavlovian world.
By the end of the semester, I may regret my words. But for now, let me just say that if I end up convinced that “brain and behavior are the same thing; there isn’t anything else”, then I will still argue that we should live our lives as if it were not the case.
Eloquent and appropriate. Clearly helps to sharpen/define the issues (at least some of them). Hope you won't "regret" your words, however it comes out at the end of the semester. Do agree that IF "brain=behavior" we are going to have to find it to be big enough to include unpredictability, creativity, and "consciousness". And we're going to have to figure out whether "choose" is Pavlovian or not. Let's see what happens?
Fair enough, though as things go on you want to have in mind as clear a set of concerns/skepticisms as you can manage. Yes, brain=behavior would imply that there is no "independent" brain and spirit, that the spirit (or self) isn't either controlled by or a controller of the brain but rather that it is a part of the brain. That's a good thing to be skeptical about, at least until we've looked more at relevant observations.
I have actually spent a lot of time this week discussing this issue with my roommate who is a philosophy major. She was telling me about the "brain in the vat" concept that is one of the first things taught in most epistemology courses. Basically, it says that we have no way of knowing that anything around us exists except for our brains, and that we could simply be rather than a conglomeration of bodies walking and talking and interacting simply a collection of brains sitting in a vat somewhere. I know this isn't a philosophy course, but I thought it was a really interesting concept to think about.
Delighted that this course connects to some other ones, and even more so that it has you comparing notes/ideas with roommate/others. We'll be talking again and again about the "brain in a vat" notion, and about the kinds of observations which have been made/can be made to clarify some of the surrounding ideas. Like your "why couldn't it be?" thoughts; will be interesting to see whether you're closer to "it is" at the end of the semester.
The imput output model that we have used so far doesn't seem quite right to me. Especially with human behavior, we are not talking about inputs we are talking about experiences of inputs i.e. from a first person rather than a third person perspective. It is questionable as to whether studies of brain function could ever explain the experience of an event. For instance (and here i am borrowing from an article i read a few days ago from a philosophy of mind class) lets suppose that we encounter an alien race that has entirely different faculties of sensation from us (i.e. not sight hearing touch etc. but blight, blearing and blouch) It would be impossible for the alien species to ever understand what it is like to be sighted. No ammount of neurological study could ever provide the alien with an understanding of our sensory experience. conversely, though we may gain a great understanding of the aliens brain and neurological processes, in fact we may be able to draw a perfect map of inputs and outputs, we would never be able to understand the experience of being blighted. Let suppose now, that we are no longer dealing with differences in sensory faculties. Rather we are dealing with two human beings who have different symbolic (linguistic) relations to various phenomenon. does the argument from above hold that no matter what the detail and breadth of knowledge we can gather about neurological function, we will never be able to explain from brain function alone, the experience of the world within the framework of that symbolic structure. We cannot (at least i'm not conviced otherwise), through biology alone, explain the distinctively subjective nature of experience.
sorry that this is so disjointed.
Still Andrew, right? No, not too "disjointed". A good outline/summary of a "problem" that we'll indeed have to deal with. Any given observed "behavior" could in principle be done by a "mechanical" system which doesn't actually have, as we do, the "experience of behaving". Does this necessarily mean that the "experience of behaving" isn't itself a function of the brain (and hence must instead involve a little green man?). I don't think so. I do agree, though, that the "brain=behavior" idea is false if we can't somehow account for the "first person perspective" in terms of brain function. This doesn't, fortunately, require us to be able to experience "blightedness", but it does mean we must be able to understand where "blightedness" comes from. That much I think we can manage. We'll see. And we'll want to look into, as well, how much humans are (and are not) different from other animals.
My second point has to do with the "Brain equals behavior" statement and really it is a question. With this statement in mind why is there such a thing as learned behavior and does it exist? When I was young I was told not to jump on the bed for weeks, months, years even and it took falling off the bed and busting my head open to finally teach me not to jump on the bed. I would say that was a learned behavior because I didnt behave appropriately before hand and not do it. If it is genetically in a child to know the behavior of not jumping on the bed where was it when I needed it. If the brain is in charge of all activities including those types does that mean that there are dormant genes controling that type of "child like" behavior that become active when we just happen to mature. Or do we mature because those genes are switched on? I will have to think on it further.
Indeed worth thinking further on. Genes, as we'll see, are only part of what makes the brain what it is; experiences are also a part. So you don't in fact have to switch different genes on to get alterations in behavior. The brain can be altered by the experience without a direct reflection in altered gene expression. Interesting thoughts too about effects of the brain on disease. Worth looking more into to see how strong the evidence is for some of the things you're saying (maybe a good web paper topic?). And intriguing that many people would tend to see that such observations suggest the existence of a "mind" independent of the body/brain, while you're using them to come to the opposite conclusion.
Here's to "trying to prove it wrong", the best approach to science. And you've made a strong argument. Actually the "brain=behavior" notion was an effort to get people to think about giving up the idea of an independent "spirit" or "self", rather than to get people to give up the idea of a body (the brain is, after all, a part of the body). But brain scientists do indeed often forget that there is a body (the rest of the body) there, and then periodically rediscover it and its importance. So, I think you're right in saying "(the rest of) the body helps the brain develop". A neurologist, Antonio Damasio, has been making this point quite strongly in recent years (cf Descartes' Error and The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness).
One example of societal influences on people's behavior is peer pressure. The way a person acts, talks, dresses, etc… is influenced by what other people will think of us. Most people behave in a manner that they believe will get them accepted by society. So is it really possible in this case to say that the brain controls behavior?
The assertion that the brain is everything also implies that there is no mind, soul or conscience. I believe that these three things can co-exist and function within a framework in which the brain ultimately controls behavior.
Issue isn't so much whether brain "controls" behavior as whether it IS behavior. Social influences don't challenge this idea if one allows (as we do) that the brain has "inputs" which influence what it does. And we don't have to give up "mind, soul, or conscience" if we're willing to find them IN the brain. Would that satisfy your concerns? If the brain is "big enough", as Emily Dickinson put it?
Yes, but could also be that "our spirits, who we are" is a part of the brain, no? And that the brain (like "oneself") is shaped both by genetic information and by experiences? No, of course you don't have to decide yet (or ever, for that matter) but the possibilities are worth thinking about. Tough question, but interesting, no?
i also, like melissa, thought that the coevolution of females behavior and males songs was interesting. in regard to whether the genes (nature) or the experiences or environment (nurture) control much of the cricket's behavior, i would have to say that it is a combination of both factors. i always feel a bit skeptical when i read scientific articles (esp. the results sections). i always am unsure whether the laboratory conditions are representative of what happens in nature (the natural environment).
i also am not sure about the answer to the brain is everything... question. i feel that i agree with maria that there is some spirit but maybe the spirit is just an idea that is a creation of the brain.
in response to hiro's comment, i wanted to say that i feel (and i may be being redundant here) that with twins, both nature (genes) and nurture (environment & experiences) help shape a person.
my last comment is about the title of this course (excuse me if i sound naive): neurobiology AND behavior. what's the necessity of the AND? why use it if they are implied ot be the same thing? or maybe the course title tells us that this course is an investigation (just like everything else is) of that.
Yep, "an investigation ... of that". Of the bits and pieces that go into it (genes/environment among them), and of how/why one can meaningfully do the investigation. Happy to have you on board for the exploration, and will trust you to keep an eye on whether laboratory observations are or are not meaningful/helpful in understanding what goes on in less controlled circumstances (an interesting issue).
There is an ongoing debate called nature vs. nuture which poses a question- is it our genes or our environment that dictate who we are? I personally feel that both are essential factors in our personal development/behavior and I feel the same way about the brain- it and our environment play key roles in our behavior. I am very skeptical of the whole idea that one aspect can be in complete control; though I must admit my view has changed from the past. I used to believe that everything could be explained by biology; though, the more I learn about myself and the subject, the more I question its validity and supremacy.
Maybe it will help to distinguish "brain=behavior" from the ideas of "supremacy" and "control"? And from "hard wiring". IF "brain=behavior" then, as we talked about in class, the brain must be changing all the time (as we "incorporate our experiences"). So we're not saying the brain "controls" behavior or is "supreme" but rather that it IS behavior (and hence subject to all the influences that behavior is subject to). If so, would you still think there is "more to us than just a bunch of neurons ... that react to a bunch of chemicals"?
That's fine, we have a whole semester (and you can keep thinking after that too). Environment affecting behavior can be rephrased as environment affecting brain. "Free will", though, we'll have to look further into, and will later in the course.
I can accept the big bang theory and that humans evolved from a common ancestor with that of the great apes. However, I am still under the impression that something that exists beyond the realms of our nervous system is responsible for such evolutions. Just because science is able to explain the mechanisms by which we function, it gives me no cause to throw out all thoughts of the soul and mind.
Perhaps a threoretical experiment could shed more light on the topic. It would be interesting to see whether a cloned human would exhibit the exact same behaviours and personality as the parent. If in fact souls existed there would be a notable difference between the two subjects. But, if the subjects were identical in every way....then I suppose that we exist in our brains and nothing else.
Its an interesting and relevant experiment ... and not entirely "theoretical". We'll talk about various versions of it throughout the course. But why do you assume that "brain=behavior" requires that a "cloned human would exhibit the same behaviors and personality as the parent"? Maybe there's more to the brain than just genetics? Maybe "the mechanisms by which we function" are rich enough to account for "soul and mind", as part of the brain?
Yep, that's the idea (see above). But ... would putting the soul in "the intricate exchanges of neurons" actually make the idea "more compatible with many peoples' religions"? I'm not sure. Is worth thinking more about.
Perhaps in the scientific sense it is. Tests probably could be conducted to back this statement. Our behavior is probably linked to our brain. But can we actually say that the brain is everything when our brain can be affected so easily by circumstance beyond our control? As a few people already mentioned, identical twins or clones will share the same genes and thus their brains are at least initially the same. But due to differences in what their brain interacts with their behavior will most certainly be different. Another example is that while the brain may control our behavior, if a person has physcial limitations, these limitations will certainly make the person's behavior different than if they did not have this limitation. Thus the brain is affected by this outside influence. So its like saying does the brain control us and how we act towards the outside world? or does the outside world affect how the brain develops?
Nice point. Yep, the brain affects the outside and is in turn affected by it. No single "control". Sounds a lot like behavior and "self", no? Which would fit the "brain=behavior" idea, yes? If we agree that it isn't that the brain "controls" our behavior but rather than it IS our behavior?
on a simple level, we all know (as college students) that too many drinks results in a behavioral change. we know that patients suffering from depression and that ilk are greatly transformed by the introduction of a little seratonin or exposure to a full-spectrum light to the brain. if any one followed the panagopolous vs. phillips academy case last year, you would have gotten a sense for the effects of medication on add and adhd, also behavioral problems created by chemical imbalances in the brain. a person can function or not, have violent tendencies, or have complete disassociation. i cannot believe that ideas such as "personality" are not the creations of chemistry.
yes, i do believe that there is a genetic pre-disposition to behavior, but those genes are only skeletal in this topic of brain and behavior. i am not convinced that we behave like our relatives solely because of learned responses. there is a starting point for most occurences in the wolrd. i think that those early exposures did, however, influence the form of our neuropathways and that those chemical trails are subject to change at any time and without notification to the customer.
i know that "the brain is everything," as pr. grobstein puts it, but i also (as i believe all humans do) need to believe i am special and unique - that i am not a chnace occurrence of the right chemicals at the right time and that the laws of chemistry are what shape my life, not me. i need to belive that i have a personality, a mind, and that i am unique in more than just a chemical way. i need to belive that bad things happen for a reason, so i believe in fate - an idea i know my brain cooked up to convince of the order in the universe and of divine justice. i don't know where emoptions come into the picture, but i am sure i will find out during this class. is that a large contradiction? - to believe in divine justice and that the brain is everything? i suppose one can say that we do have personalities and minds - souls in a non-biblical sense if you will - if we define our personalities by our behavior and we define our behavior by chemical reactions in the brain. but then we discount emotions from personality.
there again, i know that many of my emotions are chemical - the ones i put out. the ones that go in? i will conclude this entry by decisively writing that emotions are chamical, though they are not only in the brain "box" - which brings up more issues for me and that i will discuss next week.
Looking forward to the further discussion. Thanks, you've provided good reminders of an important set of observations that make it more likely that "brain=behavior" (or at least that behavior reflects the organization of material things): "chemicals" do indeed affect behavior, in large ways and small. And yes, of course, we will have to consider "emotions" (and will see observations suggesting that "chemicals" play a role in them). I'm not sure we can fit "divine justice" into the brain, but we certainly will find there an explanation for a sense of "uniqueness", in more than just a "chemical way".
Someone previously had discussed identical twins, who presumably start with the same brain, the same genetic material, etc. But identical twins are never completely identical in their behavior, attidudes, thoughts, etc, and can often be very different. What would account for this if we don't allow the environment to hold that role? It seems that believing the statement that the brain is all there is requires us to hold as well the nature position in any nature/nurture argument.
I prefer the statement that the brain and behavior are the same thing. With this statement, we can accept that nothing effects behavior directly except for the brain. However because we allow the environment to affect the brain, our begavior can be indirectly affected by the environment. This would allow for us to take a nurture position and account for the twins difference as resulting from their differing experiences and environments. these differences would cause different learning to occur, different dendrites to branch, and thus differences in their brains. It would be this fundamental difference in the actual brain that could be used to explain such differences in behavior.
Something else interesting along these lines was the idea that we don't need to give up the concepts of the mind or spirit as long as we incorporate them into the brain. It seems that our model with all of the "wires" before was highly lacking in that it had inputs, pathways, and outputs, but no inclusion of a "spirit", It seems to me that with the box model that maybe on of the boxes in the brain that interacts with signals in the brain could be a sort of spirit box. Just like "sense of humor" effects whetehr or not we smile at Professor Grobstein, so too could our "sense of spirit" affect how we act. I understand that even this idea can cause discomfort for those who believe that there is a soul or sprit that is separate from the physical sense and thus could not consist of the brain alone, but for me it has eased the uneasiness that I felt toward the idea that a brain, devoid of sprit in any way, could be affecting behavior. Supposing that mind, spirit, and other such thing are contained within the brain (maybe as inventions of the brain?) seems to make more sense to me as I think about how I think, feel, and behave.
I'm with you. Will be interesting, though, to see whether we're in a majority or a minority at the end of the semester. And is interesting to think about why different people are at different places on this question. Are there brains different? If so, why?