This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202

2006 First Web Paper

On Serendip


Lori Lee

The Brain- is wider than the Sky-
For put them side by side-
The one the other will contain
With ease- and You- beside-
Emily Dickinson wrote of "the brain" [nervous system] being wider than the sky and containing all. But how is it then that such processes and concepts exist which are wider than the sky and our brains? How is it then that the brain is capable of creating and understanding ideas, concepts, abstractions, which are not in its own range? And how can these ideas exist separate from the nervous system? Specifically, how does mathematics fit into the range of the brain? How does the brain create a concept of a number or theory or postulate that is greater than itself? And how can physical structures controlled by the material nervous system exist beyond the nervous system? How can the brain be wider than the sky if the circulatory system of a human can exist without the body and the nervous system?

In considering mathematics, ? is the most controversial number, as it is infinite and irrational. What makes no sense and is left unexplained in Emily Dickenson's poem would then be the rationalization for the "brain's" ability to create something that does not exist, and only exists to some extent of human knowledge and capability. In terms of the material nervous system, a statement is being said about whether or not the brain is really wider than the sky. If the brain were wider than the sky, then how does organ transplantation occur, and how does the circulatory, i.e. the heart, of an individual continue to pump blood through the body, when the body doesn't exist, and the nervous system is not physically connected to the circulatory system anymore?

Like the worm whose nervous system was removed from his body and placed in a Petri culture, the circulatory system outside of the body and detached of the nervous system functions as it normally would, and as if it believed it was still in its body. Unlike the nervous system of the worm who showed action potentials and electrochemical signals that were typical in swimming, oblivious to its actual surroundings, the circulatory system stays constant, and is dependent upon its environment, as it has its own regulation and rhythm as long as it's provided with the proper environmental conditions.

In George Johnson's article in the New York Times, "Useful Invention Or Absolute Truth: What is Math?," he attempts to set a standard for what mathematics really is. The major issue lies in understanding whether we believe that math is a construct of human imagination, or something that is truly grounded in everyday life. "While science is anchored in observations of the physical world, Dr. Hersh insists that mathematics is more of a human creation, like literature, religion or banking." But if Dr. Hersh is right about math, then how is it possible to "imagine" a system that cannot be solved by its creator, one that life happens to obey the laws of, and one that is endless. If ? is so mysterious and infinite, then how can the brain rival it's own infinite creation?

The nervous system, is undoubtedly a material structure, but its creations are emotional, physical, internal, external, everything! If Emily Dickinson is right [that is if "right" exists], then the circulatory system is a creation of the nervous system, as is the sky and all concepts we are familiar with. But does Emily also mean that the material, tangible, and physical structures of these, more-or-less, organ systems are also a part of the nervous system? Because this then raises the issue of organ transplantation, and a physiological system's ability to sustain regular processes when it is isolated in a culture away from the body and the nervous system. If a heart can continue to beat and pump blood throughout the circulatory system independent of the nervous system, then a much larger issue is at hand, which emphasizes that the circulatory system must be different and separate from the nervous system, brain, and thus Emily Dickinson is wrong, and the brain is not wider than the sky.

In seeing that there are systems that exist outside and isolated from the nervous system, through the analysis of organ transplantation, we show that maybe the brain is not everything, and that Emily Dickinson may be wrong. In discussing the meaning and origin of mathematics began with the notion that the brain is able to rival such systems that, assuming Emily Dickinson is right, it creates. ? is infinite, but so is the brain, but how can the brain comprehend what it does not know and cannot compute? But this discussion of the brain's rivalry with its own products led to a discussion of mathematics in terms of the brain: whether the brain creates math and a system of scientific processes like a fairy tale, or whether math is just something that is derived from the nature of our lives.

Ultimately, the brain produces an abundance of outputs, and these outputs can be as simple as involuntarily moving muscles to creating concepts about the origin of mathematics, or the existence of one system which consists of all other systems, or the mathematical system and order by which life obeys. And this further emphasizes the ability and versatility of the brain, but in the end only serves to prove that neurobiology is not just sensory, motor, and inter-neurons, but the patterns of their interactions as well as these interaction's contact with the larger human that contains the brain, and this individual's patterns of interaction with the environmental conditions by which they face.

1) Archived articles

2), Forum Area on Serendip website

3)New York Times Article

4) Campbell N., Reece J. Biology. New York: Pearson, 2005.

Course Home | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:53:11 CDT