Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2002

Forum Archive - Week 2

So ... we've got input/output boxes inside input/output boxes, LOTS of them. And brains which seem to differ in organisms who behave differently. What does that do for our "brain=behavior" discussion?

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  looking for ... ?
Date:  2002-01-30 22:19:41
Message Id:  782
You can find last week's thoughts in the archive.
Name:  Kornelia Kozovska
Date:  2002-01-31 02:29:48
Message Id:  784
I just read a very interesting comment about the way we can include in the scheme we are creating religion and beliefs, and the fact that everything is relative and we don't have a piece of proof for any of those hypothesis - be it that all is in the brain and there is no outside factor such as some religions suggest or the opposite.
I am not sure if I can put myself into the category of the people who support the idea that Brain=Behaviour. It seems to me that attributing everything to certain chemical reactions, because the processes in the brain do come down to these processes, would dicard, as was mentioned by many people, subjective reactions caused by such things as listening to music, smelling a flower, or enjoying a beautiful view. These experiences are not common to all people, so it is hard for me to imagine how you would explain the weird, sometimes euphoric feeling, that they may bring, to the brain. and how is it possible that they happen sometimes and other times not.
and i also do believe in the concept of the soul which i cannot disregard and still cannot accept a theory that it actually can be part of the brain. because, it is unmaterial, at least the way i think about it.
I am not sure if such a discourse can ever reach an end point; probably it should not in any case. But it is extremely interesting to try and see how different people build/create the paradigms/systems in which they operate and how they try to expalin the cause and effect relationships in them.
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  after two weeks ...
Date:  2002-02-01 08:21:19
Message Id:  799
You're free, as always, to write about whatever you've been thinking about this week, from lecture/discussions or from the web browsing you've started to do for your web papers (right?), or from ... whatever. But, if you need a topic to get you started, how about:

So ... we've got input/output boxes inside input/output boxes, LOTS of them. And brains which seem to differ in organisms who behave differently. What does that do for our "brain=behavior" discussion?

Name:  Rebecca Roth
Subject:  Input/Output Boxes
Date:  2002-02-02 15:45:46
Message Id:  803

We know that different organisms behave differently. Since different organims behave differently is it because their brains are different? Or is it because there is more going on?

Breaking down the components of the brain and behavior is useful, but it is also becomes very complicated. Afterall, the brain is composed of different parts. One can combine different information and get different results; therefore getting different outputs. Now would this just be leading to different behaviors?

In the examples, the boxes have to process the input. So what is coming out of the box, which would be the output, may not be what exactly what goes into the box. To me, our experiences and prior behaviors are always going to effect these outputs.

How does the brain understand what exactly these inputs are? How does the brain and nervous system know exactly what to do? Wouldn't there have to be other outside behaviors and responses coming in?

Name:  Beverly Weiss
Subject:  inputs/outputs
Date:  2002-02-03 12:49:52
Message Id:  806
Boxes within boxes within boxes…all having inputs and outputs until we reach the neuron. After exploring smaller and smaller sections of brain tissue, the magnified slides from mammal to frog do indeed look very much alike. Since the cells on the slides are made up of neurons, all containing chemicals that “speak” to other neurons, inputs and outputs will vary depending on the complexity of the brain. The inputs will be “processed and read.” and the behavior will occur according the genetic code that makes every living thing unique, coupled with the environmental factors that cause each living thing to behave in a specific way.

Since the input is filtered down to smaller and smaller components, does input change as it progresses down to the next smaller level, or is the message delivered in its entirety along its axonal path until it is received by the brain and then processed in the appropriate area of the brain? Do all messages reach the brain in only one form, as an “on or off” chemical response of the neurotransmitter?

After the neurotransmitter is processed by the brain and sent off to the peripheral nervous system, are the outputs also an on/off reaction, or do mitigating factors have the ability to change the output? If this message relay system is all due to chemical reactions in the synaptic cleft, where does the DNA affect behavior?

There does not appear to be any conscious awareness of this process, and it happens in a microscopic amount of time, whether the “animal” is asleep or awake. Since this system is chemically fueled, at what point in this process do living creatures (no matter how sophisticated) make decisions? What happens in the tiniest box that allows for the output not to need any input? How can it generate input from within?

Name:  cb
Date:  2002-02-03 16:42:15
Message Id:  807
Behavior in animals and humans are quite different and so are their brains. It makes sense that because the brains vary, the behavior does as well. There is a drastic difference a frog’s brain and a human’s brain, and the behavior is hugely different. But, so are their bodies. Does that matter in regards to behavior?

There are boxes inside bigger boxes and so on, and the littlest boxes symbolize nerve cells (which also contain parts of the cell). Between the arrows is the box, (or between the neurons is the synapse) the box that we know not much about. We know that this box does not need to have input. So, it seems to me that this box constitutes such things as thinking, conscious and unconscious, and perhaps dreaming thinking. Does it follow then, that thinking occurs between the synapses?

So this means that there are boxes that require input. That is, for some thinking, input is needed, and for other thinking, input is not needed. And so, does it mean that between the arrows, or between the neurons, thinking occurs… and that this is due to the synaptic transmission? If this is the case, then solo box, the one without the input can create its own thinking own synaptic transmission.

Thus, if we simply think about something negative (without any input), like a person cutting us off on the highway, causing a near death experience, then we can cause the release of corticosteroids, which then cause stress and a feeling of negative emotion? Does that mean that first we think, then we feel? It seems to me that this view is open not only to Biologists.

Back to the animals…. if we have these kinds of boxes in our brains which incorporate thinking, then do animals think too?

Name:  Shannon Lee
Subject:  brain = behavior #2
Date:  2002-02-03 20:42:44
Message Id:  809
The idea that there are many input/output boxes inside input/output boxes inside the brain is a supporting factor for the idea that brain = behavior. These many different boxes suggest that inputs can be processed and manipulated in many ways to bring about many different outputs from a certain input and the same output from many inputs. There are boxes holding experiences and emotional and physical states of the body at the time. These influences already in the brain have an impact on the outputs, many times resulting in different behaviors depending on the individual. The idea of many input/output boxes within one another within the brain supports the brain = behavior idea by offering a degree of explanation concerning individuality.

The idea that brain = behavior is also supported by the fact that organisms that behave differently often have differently structured brains. For instance a cat has a much smaller forebrain than a human and also relies more on instinct in life than humans. A human is known to suppress the instinctual drives with the more complex forebrain and depend more on analyzing and problem solving skills in life. The forebrain is also a newly evolved portion of the brain, which offers explanation on why humans have depended less on instinct and more on complex thought process as the species has evolved.

Also the cat, which has a neocortex, is able to develop a sense of loyalty and affinity toward other animals including humans, even those not responsible for feeding the animal. The frog, however, will never enjoy or be emotionally rewarded from sitting on the lap of a human and being stroked on the head. The frog depends even less on emotion and more on instinct than a cat while carrying out its daily activities. If the presence of a neocortex suggests more complex thought process and more emotional attachments, then differences in brain structure influencing differences in behavior supports that brain = behavior.

Name:  Ricky
Subject:  weekly thang
Date:  2002-02-03 21:50:43
Message Id:  810
From our class discussion,I was feeling the model about boxes within boxes within boxes. It kind of reminded me of when I would ask my parents a question whne I was younger. They would answer it but then it would cause me to question the answer and so on. I do agree with the model that the whole input/output system is complicated. However, the model still leaves many questions unanswered such as how many boxes are there? Does everyone have the same amount? Does everyone's boxes perform the same duties? What makes my boxes different from the person next to me? If we both supposedly have the same composition in brain matter, what in our matter accounts for individuality? Since there may be millions and millions of paths, will the message still remain the same or become chopped up?(Coming from experience of playing the Telephone game as a child and remembering how distorted the message was after it made its path through the ears of ten people) What happens if one of our paths just breaks down? Will that breakdown affect the other paths? Will we still be able to perform the same output if a path breaksdown?

I began thinking about the neurological degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and wonder how many pathways must have been destroyed or terminated because of the disease? How many pathways does it take before you can no longer have access to long-term memory or to not be able to perform daily activities like brushing your hair or eating with a fork? How does the brain change with these diseases?

On to the comparison of brains information.... From examining slices of brain tissue, we observed that the compositon of the brain was almost alike. So what does that information tell us? Well,it first verifies the theory of evolution since we all seem to be made up of the same materials. Second, I believe that it helps with the brain=behavior dispute because we see that as the behavior becomes more complex so does the brain. The frog, camel, ant, snake, and etc., who have smaller brains in size, seem to have behaviors that seem more simple to humans. With the human brain, I believe we have more complexity dealing with decision-making, will, emotion, and others. I am not saying that other animals do not have emotions but there doesn't seem to be a intricate process in expressing them. For isntance, a dog wags his tail when he is happy/ friendly; however, a human may smile at you and it could mean that they a delighted to meet you, just smiling to hide they are talking badly about you, or just thinking about themselves and showing the world they are happy not necessarily with you. I believe that the increase wrinkles of the neocortex symbolizes more room or space for behavior to change. In accordance to the model, it allows more space for movement of neurons and pathways to the boxes. Looking at the behavior of animals, we all seem to share a basic behaviors such as hunger and searching for food, reproduction, and death. However, there is more variation in behavior as the brain becomes bigger and more wrinkled such as deciding to cook food than hunt or, instead of mating with some partner, going to a sperm bank or invitro. Those are just some thoughts.......

Name:  Amy Cunningham
Date:  2002-02-04 10:56:20
Message Id:  811
Since organisms that behave differently have different brain structures, I think that this does indicate that to some extent brain= behavior. However, there are so many other factors that contribute to an organism's behavior, such as the environment that it lives in and how the huge number of neurons in their brains interact. I think that it's difficult to know exactly how much the structure of the brain contributes to behavior because of the huge complexity of the brain and because we don't really know how to define the "boxes" that make up the nervous system. Additionally, you have to look at the question of whether the nervous system has borders and the implications that this has for the brain=behavior idea. I think that the nervous system doesn't really have borders, since it is always interacting with other parts of your body and responding to outside stimuli.
Name:  kelli
Date:  2002-02-04 14:36:40
Message Id:  812
The comparison of brain tissue in frogs, humans, cats, etc suggests that, physiologically, animals are related and have similarly functioning systems, but share enough differences to reconcile variation in behavior. Hence, we can apply the "box" model discussed in class to all organisms possessing a nervous system that processes input. It might then be interpreted that the degree of processing and the sophistication of the corresponding output is what is measured to determine the highest level of function. Yet, what accounts for emotion? How much does instinct or genetic disposition contribute to our behavior? If we share roughly 98% of our genetic material with apes, why don't we behave more like apes? My best explanation is that not only are brain systems organized differently, but also that certain pathways are more frequently used and further developed. Perhaps the unit of storage, memory, is such a pathway and allows for more connections to be made, therefore leading to more complex emotions and other behavior that we consider "advanced."
Name:  Balpreet Bhogal
Date:  2002-02-04 16:35:27
Message Id:  813
Observing the brains from different species during Thursday's lecture was quite fascinating in my opinion. Looking at the brains of different species under no magnification, there is obviously a difference is shape, size, etc. But, I found it very interesting how when we observe the brain tissues from different organisms at higher magnifications, they look very similar to each other. It makes one question the brain=behavior theory in that, if under high magnifications the brains are physiologically similar, why do these organisms behave differently? If these brains were similar, and one agreed with the brain=behavior theory, then it would be reasonable to say that these species do behave similarly. But this doesn't seem to be the case. So, why?

Perhaps, although the brain tissues at a high magnification do look similar to each other, it is the way the brain tissue interacts with each other in general that causes the differentiation of species' behavior. For example, if you had two buckets of Lego with the same exact pieces in each bucket, you could find more than one way to use them. You could make a ship, or a plane; or maybe even a building or a house. But even though these structures were made from the exact same pieces, they ARE different structures. Perhaps this is why although the brain tissues are similar at a high magnification, the species still behave differently from each other.

Name:  biz martin
Subject:  first time user
Date:  2002-02-04 16:55:25
Message Id:  815
when you look at the brains of different species and they differ in shape and size at x magnitude, but then brought down to the cellular level they are pretty similar, it seems like there is a pattern.

maybe there is an outside blueprint that accounts for the building parts AND for the various differences between you and me...or us and them. the whole idea of a greater blueprint overlying everything has always seemed very cool and at the same time kind of uncomfortable for me. if i can see a blueprint or a plan in the greater scheme of the world, what does that mean about my beliefs? do i believe in a god, who created a "blueprint" that is too huge for us to see, so huge that it encompasses space and the universe all the way down to cells, or does it mean that the world was created in an ordered way and that order goes all the way up from cells to the solar system and god is simply one more part of this universe created in the minds or hearts of those who believe?

when the people in class who have been bringing up religion start talking about how the brain=behavior doesn't account for religion, i have to say, so what? i have always felt like religion is something humans created and have adapted our lives around. i don't disbelieve in god, but if this being does exist, then he/she exists in ourselves. it's not something you can prove. it's something you believe in.

it's not like the mere existence of religion should blow the argument brain=behavior out of the water just because you can't fit religion-as-autonomous into it. it actually kind of reaffirms my feelings that the brain does equal behavior because if you believe in god, supposedly what you believe in should affect your behavior. god is a belief that not everybody has, so why should the fact that this model may not account for god mean that this model is not less wrong?

hehehe...i don't really want to re-read that to make sure my double negs add up...but do you know what i mean?

Name:  Hilary Hochman
Subject:  Boxes All the Way Down
Date:  2002-02-04 17:02:41
Message Id:  816
"Boxes all the way down": using the smallest box, the neuron, to create structures of increasing complexity and inifinite variety offers a pleasantly [and deceptively?] simple solution to the brain = behavior question, or at least the subquestion: if the brain = behavior, how do we account for the infinite variety of behavior? By an infinite variety of brains.

Similarly, what seems like a deeply emotional response can be explained by the organization of neurons transmitting information from the environment: a familiar smell often evokes memories and emotion much more effectively than a familiar sight or sound. Turns out that the olfactory nerves transmit much more directly to the limbic system than do visual or auditory sensory nerves. Nauta, W.J.H. and Feirtag, M. The organization of the brain. Scientific American, September, 1979. Stack the neurons differently and it would be vision that created such an emotional response, and the domino effect on behavior would begin.

The boxes all the way down model, however, does not offer [to me] as satisfying an explanation for the Harvard Rule of Animal Behavior. We can account for any living organism's unpredictable behavior by attributing that apparent unpredictability to our ignorance. If we knew enough about the organism's brain, and could control all external input, perhaps the behavior would be entirely predictable. Neuroanatomy is destiny. But what this model seems to omit is randomness. Perhaps sometimes there is no reason for a behavior, no neurobiological explanation -- maybe sometimes the cricket just doesn't sing, and if you looked at his brain and his environment, there'd be no way to say why.

Name:  sook chan
Date:  2002-02-04 18:29:58
Message Id:  817
We learnt in lecture that different organisms with different behaviors have different brain structures. This makes sense for the brain equals behavior concept: if brain equals behavior, then organisms with different brains will express different behaviors. This idea is also supported by analyzing the different behaviors of animals. Humans have a clutter of common behaviors that is expressed by all humans, however, how does one explain the individualistic qualities of humans as related to the brain? Why is it that one person cries when sad, and another gets angry? The box concept of the nervous system shows that an input goes through a box of many boxes, and when other conditions are right, a certain output will result. This output is located at the brain. However, also located in the brain is free will. If one decides to walk instead of run to a destination, or one prefers to clean instead of cry when sad, does that mean that their brains are structured differently? Different emotions have been pinpointed at different parts of the brain, hence if a person is always angry, does it mean that he has a more sensitive anger spot? Maybe, or maybe it was the experiences in childhood that causes him to be unable to control his anger. Past experiences and results of situations can shape ones behavior in the future. A child who is constantly burnt by cigarette butts by his father panic every time he sees someone light a cigarette. A child who is constantly exposed to movies of crashing planes may be afraid of flying. Are all these memories and past experiences embedded within these boxes of the nervous system? What makes a spider-phobic’s heart palpitate when she sees a spider and a regular person raise his foot to squish it? I do believe that the different structures of the brain explains the differences in basic behavioral characteristics of organisms, and the ability to store memories and information related to the size of the neocortex. The ability to learn from past experiences or have these past experiences be embedded in ones’ memory, affecting his future responses, may be located in the “boxes” of the nervous system. Input travels into these boxes, sparking memories and past experiences, and the difference in output depends on the differences in one’s experiences.
Name:  Natasha Gjivoje
Date:  2002-02-04 18:59:50
Message Id:  818
This discussion is becoming more and more interesting...i have slowly started to better understand the notion of brain = behavior through the examples that we discussed in class such as: the differences in the size of human brains as compared to cats, dogs, and frogs. Even more specifically, the idea that brain= behavior is furthermore supported (at least in my opinion) by the fact that the male and female finches act differently and that their brain are different. But what does that mean for humans? I understand that human brains are different (some people's brains are larger than others etc) but is that the only thing that accounts for our difference in behavior from person to person and from gender to gender? Could the fact that every person is different from all other individuals (even identical twins are act differently from eachother) an example of how difference in the brain accounts for individuality? If this is true, then where does the element of a person's disposition, up bringing, similarities with parents come in? Do certain aspects of our upbringing, for example, change our brain structurally over time and that is why I act differently and perceive things differently then lets say, my friend Shannon? Or does my brain stay the same structurally and this "up bringing" information is processed in some other way?
Name:  Tara Monika Rajan
Date:  2002-02-04 20:07:26
Message Id:  819
I think that the reason why people act differently has much to do with the biological structure of their brain. No two people have identical brains (unless they are identical twins) just like no two people have exactly the same eyes or hair, or other physical property. Since there is so much hereditary variation in humans, everyone’s brain is at least slightly different than someone else’s. This would mean that if the boxes within boxes model is accurate, everyone would have slightly different boxes in their brain. All humans would have the same basic brain structure, but small differences in each box. This could explain why people act differently, i.e. why some people cry when they are sad and why others get angry. Everyone is at least a little bit different, genetically. However, I also believe that personal experiences can influence the way people act. Everything that people experiences is recorded in the brain and probably stored in the memory. Assuming this is true, the brain then does govern behavior almost entirely since it keeps track of past experience as well as provides for variation from others.
One thing that I am interested in is how does the brain remember things? How does the memory component of the brain work? And since our brains are much different from those of other animals, is there a difference in specific functions?
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2002-02-04 20:16:28
Message Id:  820
I was thinking about this weeks discussion on the brain being a input/output box containing smaller input output boxes. I was browsing the web and read an article about how the hypothalamus plays a part in controlling our appetite
Name:  Cindy Zhan
Subject:  hypothalamus
Date:  2002-02-04 20:40:32
Message Id:  821
previous message cont....

    After reading the article, I realized that the hypothalamus is a good example of a smaller box processing the input of food( or lack of) and effecting the out put of behavior, which is whether to eat less or to eat more. According to the article, fat cells produce a protein called leptin and the leptin comunicates to the hypothalamus which then regulates metabolism. Leptin is manufactured by the gene OB. If the gene is defective, then the protein will also be defective, resultling in inrregular regulation of behavior(food intake)

Just as there are different ways to arrange the neurons in our brain. There are also different ways that our genes are arranged. Therefore, there is no surprise that defective genes of leptin does occur.

i was wandering, how does the box diagram account for the affect of genes on our brains that effects our behaviour. I was also wandering, if a person decide to control their appetite dispute the effect of the hypothamus telling them to eat. Which boxes is responsible for this "stubborn" behavior.

Name:  Michelle Tahmoush
Subject:  learning vs. structure
Date:  2002-02-04 20:59:41
Message Id:  822
There are obvious diffeerences between species and even between gender in their brain size. Some crude observations can be made from this fact. For example, the cerebellum in cats is relatively larger in cats than it is in humans. Thus, the human are more clumsy than cats in terms of movement. Another example is that only one gender of the finch can sing. There are anatomical differences seen between these genders.

What I find interesting is the distinctions that cannot be explained by differences in brain size or structure. Why is it that people react diffferently to the same situation. For the most part, human brains of the same gender are similar. There can be differences in the amount of certain neurotransmitters or hormones that can effect mood, but I think a large part of the differences can be explained by learning. This then goes back to the nature versus nurture question. Inevitably, I think that both have a large part that contributes to the behavior of an animal.

Name:  Serendip Student
Subject:  pathways
Date:  2002-02-04 21:00:10
Message Id:  823
I found the human/animal brain comparisons to be quite helpful in understanding many things, but at the same time I was left wondering about pathways.

Ricky said it best in message #810: "What happens if one of our paths just breaks down? Will that breakdown affect the other paths? Will we still be able to perform the same output if a path breaksdown?...How many pathways does it take before you can no longer have access to long-term memory or to not be able to perform daily activities like brushing your hair or eating with a fork? How does the brain change with these diseases?"

This excerpt stood out because this is probably one of my biggest fears of old age. I've often wondered why with age, people become virtually unrecognizable to themselves and their loved ones. The complexities and systematic nature of the brain reaffirms my fear and the possibility of it becoming a reality. To add to the flurry of questions, what is involved with the evolution of the brain? How many of these critical pathways can I count on, or do some naturally breakdown from illnesses caused by old age.

Essentially I'm left wondering -- how long will I (my brain) have control over my own behavior. Should I expect to gradually forfeit said control over time? But then what am I scared of, time or my own brain? The more questions I pose, the more I convince myself that my brain isn't a fascinating mystery, but a scary feature, autonomous of all logic, reason and most of all - control.

Name:  Michele Drejka
Subject:  neocortical significance
Date:  2002-02-04 22:01:11
Message Id:  824
The function of the neocortex and the fact that it is restricted to mammals are especially interesting to me. The function is intriguing because although a lot of it has been mapped out--- for example the frontal, parietal, temporal, occipital, and limbic lobes are responsible for motor control/planning/judgement, sensory information, audio and visual input, and emotion and memory (respectively), a significant part still has no apparent determined functions (called associative areas). I understand that all except for the limbic lobe (emotions & memories) and part of the frontal (emotion/judgement) have functions that amphibians, reptiles, insects, and all other non-mammals definitely posess in their capacities, but perhaps it is that their functions are more limited than mammals. For example, although a frog has audial senses, its not obvious that a frog appreciates Tchaikovsky. But it's not much more obvious that most mammals do either. Maybe it has to do with very primitive things in non-mammals, such as their only purpose for having audial senses is to hear a mating call, whereas mammals can learn to recognize sounds unrelated to the necessities of life (such as your dog recognizing the doorbell, the can opener, his own name, or the sound of your tires in the driveway). Since all brains of all organisms are comprised of the same unit, the neuron, the arrangement of neurons must be increasingly complex with greater mental capacity and more complex behavior, necessitating additional cortical surface area (hence, the folds)? However, although exposed cortical surface is greater in whales than humans, can there be any evidence that they can appreciate Tchaikovsky more than we do?

(i obtained the more technical information from these websites

Name:  Kathryn Rorer
Date:  2002-02-04 22:36:46
Message Id:  825
The boxes within boxes model and the comparisons of brains seems to explain a lot about why animals behave differently. The box model does a good job of explaining how a neuron, which is similar in many organsims, can be put to together in different ways to make very different structures. I especially like Balpreet Bhogal's comparison of neurons to legos, which said, "...take two buckets of legos with same pieces in each bucket and you could find more than one way to use them. You could make a ship, or a plane, or maybe even build a house." Also, even structures within the same species could have slightly different boxes, which would account for differences in behavior between individuals. Another thing that could explain the differences in behavior among individuals is that there are so many different pathways that messages can take to come up with an output.

However,there were some things about the model that I didn't think it did a good job of explaining. One thing is where does thinking and decision making come in? How does it work? How does a thought originate within the system without input? Or does there always have to be some type of input that triggers a thought? How do dreams and imagination fit into the box model? Are there boxes for each of these things? The box model seems a little to simple to explain how these processes work, unless they are incorporated within it and I'm just not seeing it.

Name:  Mary Schlimme
Subject:  Week 2
Date:  2002-02-04 23:58:32
Message Id:  826
I think that the boxes inside of boxes model helps explain the brain = behavior notion since it can account for (at least somewhat) the variability in behavior. Having multiple input and output pathways for each box can account for the variability in a particular person’s behavior – for example, just because a person is presented with a certain input does not necessarily guarantee that they will behave in a certain way every time, so having multiple paths for the signals to follow helps account for this variability. The boxes inside boxes model can also help explain the variability in behavior both between different individuals within a similar species and between different species. The existence of 10^12 neurons in the human brain provides further support for the brain = behavior notion since there are multiple organizational schemes of these neurons (boxes) that are possible and their interactions presumably cause different behaviors. We also saw in class that the cerebellums of humans, monkeys, cats, rats, and frogs all looked quite similar under higher magnification, which can both help and hinder this model. On the one hand, we can emphasize that these brains are all made of similar boxes (neurons) so we can ask how would it be possible for these animals to behave so differently and be capable of drastically different cognitive processes if their brains are made of similar components. However, one could stress that it is the arrangement of these small boxes (neurons) that determines the types of behavior and cognitive abilities that one will be capable of performing, which then supports the model. Does that then suggest that if we arrange the neurons of a frog to be exactly like a cat then the cat will act like a frog? Or if we arrange the neurons of person A to be the same as person B then they will both behave in the same? Doesn’t experience come into play somewhere too? These are some of the questions that the boxes model seems to leave unanswered, at least for now.
Name:  Sarah Eberhardt
Subject:  Blueprints of the brain?
Date:  2002-02-05 00:06:39
Message Id:  827
The theory of the input/output boxes makes the brain sound like nothing more or less than a computer, albeit biological in nature. With stimulus A, you get response B, and so on. Assuming this theory of “brain as a computer” is valid, is the difference between species’ brains simply a matter of the way in which the input/output boxes are arranged? Or is the difference something more basic, a change in the structure of the input/output boxes themselves? While major differences, like those between a human and a salamander, are certainly detectable at the neuron level, the differences are harder to discern when comparing, say, a chimpanzee to a human. Is the neuron structure of a chimp virtually the same as a human’s, and, if so, then what is the difference between the brains of the two species? Is it merely a matter of the blueprints of the brain, the way the “boxes,” so to speak, are put together?

This question ties in closely with the central anthropological question of the division of early man from the apes. Is it the pattern of our connected neurons that gives us the edge over our close relatives in this way? Or is it the structure of the neurons themselves? If it is the pattern of the connected neurons that determines the difference between humans and chimps, this would explain the human capability to both learn and comprehend more than chimps ever could. On a side note, are certain learning disabilities caused by a lack of development in the interconnected neurons?
Name:  Gavin Imperato
Subject:  Week 2
Date:  2002-02-05 01:22:36
Message Id:  828
In her bestseller "Playing in the Dark," Toni Morrison discusses how early American romanticism served as a sort of prophylaxis against the fear of boundarylessness and powerlessness that lurked in the collective unconscious of the growing nation. In some ways I see the "brain = behavior" argument and the "boxes within boxes" model of the nervous system as a type of prophylaxis against our own fear of the daunting complexity of the human brain. There is something inherently anxiety-producing about that which lacks boundaries. We gain power and understanding by imposing boundaries, and likening the nervous system to a box allows us to create the illusion of control. By defining the nervous system as a box with a definable inside and an outside, we give ourselves an easy starting point for the discussion of any brain/behavior related issue, no matter how complex. We can begin by first asking – is what we’re dealing with inside the box or outside it? This seems to be an oversimplified (but difficult to contest) way of understanding the nervous system. Maybe I’m off my rocker here, but there is something unsettling to me about the idea of the nervous system as a "box." While I can’t really disagree with the plausibility of this model, I’m still skeptical that it can sufficiently inform my current understanding of the complexities of human thought and behavior.
Name:  Aly
Subject:  Brain = Behavior
Date:  2002-02-05 02:32:34
Message Id:  829
I think that the lecture material and the diagram of the "brain" support the theory that brain = behavior. The pictures of the different animal brains add a visual aspect to the idea that different behaviors are the result of differences in the brain. By reading others' statements above, I have formed a stronger opinion than when this course first started. The correlation between more neocortex and more advanced thinking does not seem like just a coincidence to me. Humans seem to have the most advanced thinking abilities and also have the most neocortex (of the brains observed during lecture).

Someone previously mentioned that the size of the brain affects thinking, which makes me question whether that would mean animals like whales and dolphins had greater thinking capacities than humans. I often wonder if animals do indeed think like us. If our brains are all made up of the same building blocks, i.e. neurons, then I don't understand why the concept of animals thinking is so impossible to fathom. Well, actually I do. It would be much harder to eat a big cheeseburger if it were suddenly widely accepted that cows had the same thoughts and emotions as people.

I would really like to see how the brain is affected by mental illnesses and Alzheimer’s disease. Like many, I fear aging and fear that if brain really does equal behavior, then how will my behavior change as my brain deteriorates with age? The thought of losing my behavior makes me feel as if I am losing my sense of self, which frankly scares me so much that I do not want to think about it.

Name:  Peffin
Date:  2002-02-05 07:56:43
Message Id:  830
Some thoughts and comments:

- It is interesting to note that although the brain seems to differ in
organisms who behave differently, when the brain is sliced and
magnified, one discovers that the brain essentially came into being by
similar means in different organisms.

I can think of the brain as the basic ingredients for a cake. Every organism starts out with the basics, such as flour, eggs, water, butter, milk, and so on. But everyone (or everything) has different preferences (or rather what they need to survive and produce viable offspring). This means that on top of the basic ingredients someone (or something) may want more butter or more eggs (accounting for the different sizes of similar parts in different organisms). So simpler things will stop here with a simple cake. But as someone gets more experienced (or furthur down the evolutionary chain), things get more complicated. There are the addition of new ingredients, and the addition of new instructions.

- It seems to me that there is another way to intrepret "the boxes within
boxes model."

Rather than interpret the boxes as different parts of the brain, one could think of the boxes as different experiences that the brain has organized (?) into different categories. The brain uses experience as a reference to explain and affect future experieces. So when there is an input into the brain, the brain sends this to the boxes (experiences) that pertain to the input being experienced presently. Because each person has had differnt experiences and are made of different ingredients, outputs will vary.

- What about the box that can generate without input?

It seems that this box could be something such as the development of puberty. It is just a matter of time for the event to occur independantly of experience, action, thought, it is an innate body function.

- Summary of thoughts:

The introduction of the new observation that brains seem to differ in organisms who behave differently and 'the boxes within boxes model' seem to supplement the idea that brain = behavior. When first presented with this idea, we were posed with the question, if brain = behavior, then why are brains different. These new ideas, I think, make it more comfortable for people who did not agree with brain = behavior to better understand that it is not as dry cut as when first presented.

Name:  joan durso
Subject:  ?
Date:  2002-02-05 09:53:31
Message Id:  831
"Does the "brain = behavior" hypothesis fit your observations/experiences/ways of making sense of the world? If so, explain why. If not, explain why not. In either case, suggest new observations which might serve to further explore the hypothesis."

In response to this comment by Prof. Grobstein, I must dispel any assumption that I have made any sense of the world, let alone explained it!

After several days of ruminating about the 1/24/02 Brain=Behavior discussion, I am no closer to any conclusion. I have always considered the brain a processing unit; data is input, processed, and then output, output being behavior. The input varies and includes intangibles (feelings, thoughts, emotions) as well as tangibles (body chemicals, pharmaceuticals). The product of the brain is =behavior.

I believe in the existence of the soul and, heretofore, have seen no need to prove, disprove, or defend its existence. Where does conscience fit it? Is it part of the soul, or the brain? Is it measurable? Is the soul measurable? How? When? Where? I believe that input to the
Brain= Behavior (which is output that has been processed) but the Brain=Behavior theory seems to be an oversimplification of a very complex question.

Questions about processing data that is input into the brain further complicate the issue. Is all information processed in the same way? Although we choose much of the brain¡¯s output depending on our choice of response (behavior), there are some remaining questions. What about other output (i.e., reflex reactions, addictions)? Are these behaviors attributable to output without input? Are they spontaneous reactions? Chosen responses? What and how are the differences measured?

After Thursday¡¯s discussion, we have boxes and animals and a variety of different brains. We have more information and new observations, but the original statement continues to intrigue me (Brain=Behavior).

As class discussion continued, the increasing number of boxes in decreasing sizes led me to new observations. These new observations lead to new questions. OK! So what! Different brains = different behavior. Further discussions reveal that all brain matter is composed of neurons that are basically the same but are configured differently so that different species will process information in different ways. This information does not provide any new knowledge about how the input is processed by each individual species.

One final comment¡­.

Past experience further limits my conviction that brain=behavior. There have been times when it seemed to me that brains had little (or nothing) to do with behavior.

Date:  2002-02-05 12:33:03
Message Id:  832
You'll have to apologize for the length of my argument because in the process of posting I deleted my previous response.

The only way to resolve the variability and similarity between and amongst living things is to examine the nature of the biological basis of life itself?genetics. It is genetics that determines the development of the neural system in all organisms. In casual conversation an individual?s odd behavior is sometimes attributed to how he/she is ?wired.? It is the genetic code that determines the initial wiring of the neural system in any organism. This is not to say that once this wiring has been programmed it exists in vacuum uninfluenced by external factors. Variability in neurological development is not only a factor of ?intrinsic variability? as dictated by the genetic code; it is also a result of adaptations to external stimuli (the environment). In addition, it is important to recognize that these two factors do not exist independently of one another. On the one hand, it is possible to see how a single neuron in a mouse and a human can be so similar because there are only 4 molecules that code for the formation of a neuron. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that all the diversity in the natural world is a product of the combination of 4 molecules that make up the genetic alphabet. This is especially true considering that the percentage of the human genome that overlaps with certain species of primates is over 90%. Nevertheless, together these characteristics indicate that the smallest differences at the molecular level have significant implications at the macroscopic level. So, relating this back to the brain=behavior argument, I would change the equation to include genetics and the environment (genetics àßenvironment)àbrain=behavior). I find that the idea of complexity and diversity out of simplicity is initially a difficult concept to grasp given that as human we see ourselves the pinnacle of the natural world. Even so, when one accepts this to be true the models such a boxes in smaller boxes in even smaller boxes makes sense because it follows the pattern that exists throughout the natural world.

A few random thoughts:

In ?conversations with Niel?s Brain? the doctors manage to get predictable output by directly stimulating specific regions of the brain. More specifically, the doctors get output while isolating the input. What are the implications of this?

How does one explain yogis who are able to control their rate of breathing by controlling their minds and focusing their energy?

How does on account for being in a certain ?state of mind??

I?m not sure that the input/output box model and brain=behavior theory are capable of addressing these issues.

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