Neurobiology and Behavior

It was suggested in class that brain and behavior are the same thing, in the sense that all aspects of behavior and human experience correspond to activities of the brain. If you think this is so, describe what aspects of behavior and/or human experience would be most difficult to account for in these terms. If you doubt the suggestion, explain why.

Meghna Agarwal

Is the brain equal to behavior? Does the idea of religion and culture stem from behavior, or is it some unexplained thing that people try and use the brain to explain? Does it have to do with the mind, or the brain alone, or together? Some would argue against the notion that the mind and the brain are one and the same. Others would say that the mind is only possible if the brain exists. Most evidence leads to the theory that brain is behavior. A good example of this fact deals with the different levels of nervous system organization in different animals. With increasing sophistication of the nervous system, the animal can perform a more complicated action, and along side it a more involved thought process. This can explain the reason why frogs are not serial killers, or why birds can't smile.

Everything is controlled by the brain, even extraneous thoughts and ideas that would seem more like the definition to the "Mind." The brain is the mind. Less sophisticated animals don't have emotions, or say a belief in God. Why is this so? It can be assumed that their brains don't have the capabilities to understand such complicated processes. Why else do they not have different races and cultures from the same species? Using this example, the level of organization a brain has determines the level of thinking, and how much of a "mind" the organism really has.

Levels of organization and comparison among animals are both interesting approaches that we'll make use of in the course. I'm less sure you want to try and use them as compelling evidence. Are you sure, for example, that birds don't have emotions, or, for that matter, that they don't believe in God? How would one know whether they do or not? PG

Adam Alboyadjian

In the 1950's, Karl Lashley dedicated his research to the search for the center of learning in the mammalian cortex. He called this proposed learning center the 'engram', and believed that it was a specialized nucleus somewhere in the prefrontal lobes. When, after exhaustive experimentation involving lesioning the cortex and searching for learning defecits, he failed to uncover such a brain structure, he modified his theory to propose that learning takes place diffusely throughout the cortex, an idea called the Theory of Mass Action.

Many of the things that are difficult to account for presently in terms of physiology may work in this way--things like conscience, self-awareness, and will cannot be disproved to be functions of the nervous system just because there is no single identifiable brain structure responsible for their occurrence. Their presence may rather occur in neural circuits scattered throughout the brain, some interconnected with other "I-function" circuits, others with regions of the brain relating to emotion and other sensations. No-one can stick an electrode into any one area of the brain and stimulate feelings of consciousness, nor lesion a particular gyrus and turn off free will.

In the years following Lashley's work, many functions of memory and learning have been localized to the hippocampus and the process of long term potentiation. Maybe eventually all of the things that we are worried about defining as neural functions will be localized too...but it won't bother me too much if they aren't.

Nice that someone else has read Lashley. And nice suggestion as to what the difficult problems are and why. Localization is real, in the sense that different local regions of the brain do different things ... but what is localized in any given region has rarely (never?) turned out to be what people were looking to localize. Is a bit like roses and tulips discussed in class today: yes, they are different; yes, the brain distinguishes them, but it does so by patterns of activity distributed across lots of things. Maybe we shouldn't try and localize "the things we are worried about", but rather see what local regions DO and expect "the things we are worried about" to emerge from the interactions of regions doing THOSE things? PG

Daria Babushok

Honestly speaking, the simple phrase "brain is behavior" did not seem very convincing to me at first, but after pondering about it for a while I came to the conclusion that it is probably true. Brain, or to be exact, the nervous system, can really explain a lot of things in a person's behavior: for example, when a person feels physical pain (indisputedly, nervous cells are involved here in transmitting the signals from the affected organ to the brain), the person's behavior pattern changes. Such a person reacts to the pain by doing things he ordinarily would not have done: moaning, whining, being very irritable, etc. Also, nervous system can be effectively used to explain certain emotions such as anxiousness, fear, depression. I also think that one of the strong arguments in favor of such an explanation for behavior would be the experiments of hypnosis (hypnosis affects the brain which is a part of a nervous system) where a person is hypnotised to do certain things. Such a person can be induced to behave in different ways similar to the ways a person would respond to the different stimuli.

Some of the behavior that could be most difficult to explain by studying the nervous system would be the things that are the hardest to put our hands on. Among such things are our thoughts, which are not material. By thinking people can create new things such as poems, scientific discoveries, music, etc. If all of this could be explained in terms of the nervous system, then, in principle, with sophisticated enough technology, one could make a robot that would be able to write poetry about its feelings and concerns, write beautiful music and discover the new Periodic Table in its dream.

I also think that one of the hardest things to explain in terms of the nervous system would be our sense of humor. I mean, not the mechanical substance of laugh, but why people find things funny. I think that this is one of the most personal and unique things about all of us. This would be very hard if not impossible to explain why humans find some things funny, and some not, and why our senses of humor differ from person to a person.

I would also think that among those "hard-to-put-your-hands-on" phenomena one would find love. One might say that love is but mere chemistry, but I think the platonic side of love could be hard to explain in terms of the nervous system.

There are many other examples of "hard-to-explain" things one could think about such as feelings of guilt, image of self, attraction to things (i.e. some people love cars), compassion, etc. But even though there are many blank spots in this perception of behavior as our nervous system, I agree that this is probably the simplest and the most effective way to learn about behavior.

Interesting. Wonder whether there is any common characteristic to "hard to explain" things which might help think more about how they do (or don't) relate to the brain. Individuality (most "personal and unique") is one possibility. Think, though, we can come to account for that it terms of the brain. PG

Kelley Bagby

What causes cricket males to sing? Two consequences I can think of that come about from a male cricket's singing are the attraction of a female and the exhibition of aggression towards any other males present in the area. The act of singing accomplishes both of these tasks, but the question of which consequence led to the other comes up. In a lecture about evolutionary processes in a different class I learned about the mechanism and function of behaviors. The mechanism of a behavior is the actual process of the behavior and the direct results of this process, while the funcion of a behavior refers to the longterm consequences of the behavior, which are indirectly correlated to mechanism. If the mechanism of a behavior is evolutionarily successful, it follows that the function of that behavior will also develop by natural selection. Perhaps in this case, the initial mechanism of singing was used to warn other males in the area of the singing male's presence, since the traditional mating ritual may be preceded by a fight over the mating rights with the female between two competing males. This call eventually became associated by the female to the actual act of mating. Indirectly, the singing of the male lead to the attraction of the female who was interested in mating. The male who sang must have won enough competitions to have been selected for, so this became a pattern in behavior for crickets-the mechanism of singing to initiate or scare away competition led to the indirect function of attracting females interested in mating.

Fair enough, and important. But there is also a more immediate question. Why did THIS male cricket sing at THIS particular time? As we talked about in class today, that boils down to a question of whether there was an external triggering "stimulus", and hence to the interesting question: can a nervous system generate output irrespective of input? PG

Amber Baum

"More things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in my philosophy" I have always been able to separate any personal beliefs about God, the existence of the soul, etc. from my understanding of scientific discovery and its possibilities. Therefore, while I can understand the revolutionary nature of the postulate that "the brain is behavior", it is not revolutionary to me; indeed, it is not very noteworthy at all. As one student skeptically proposed in class on Thursday, I do believe that religion and science have historically been two contrary modes of explanation of the physical and inner world--religion explaining what science cannot at any given historical point (I do not think that they have to exist in this way, but that's another story). If I have faith in anything, I have faith in the ability of science to describe our physical world. The inner life of homo sapiens is a part of that world, and I need no spirit or soul to explain to me "consciousness" or "personality".

Therefore, the brain-behavior postulate, which breaks ground only in its denial of metaphysical ideas like the soul, can explain any and all behaviors. However, I feel it necessary to point out that this statement, which sounds oh-so-profound, is meaningless to our understanding of the brain or of behavior because it is so obvious. From where else would objectors have behavior arise? Any objections to it (aside from objections which would expand the statement to "the CNS is behavior" or "the CNS and the hormones in the bloodstream are behavior" or "the CNS, blood-borne hormones, and all genetic material are behavior" and hence remove that rhetorical brevity that so effectively stuns credulous undergraduates) are based in an acknowledgement of the metaphysical. I find the physical world and its products wondrous enough without such metaphysical concepts.

Needless to say, I'm personally comfortable with a position not much different from yours. On the other hand, we're both very much in a minority, not only historically but in present time. There have been, and are, MANY more people who (quite successfully) make sense of the world using concepts in addition to the brain to characterize behavior, and most of our social/moral/legal codes do so as well. For this reason alone, its worth trying to carefully lay out for oneself why one would adopt such a contrary position. Even more importantly, by doing so I (and perhaps you) might learn (from those who have different experiences and syntheses of them) something that would expand my own perspective. Certainly seems worth the undertaking, no? PG

Erin Brown

One of the concerns often raised regarding the brain and its embodiment of behavior is the ability of the brain and behavior to be altered using drugs. In many ways this is seen as frightening to many who fear this suggests the loss of freewill and control of one's behavior because of the brains responsiveness to and reliance on chemicals. However, I would counter that this represents not a loss, but a regain of freewill.

For many people with mental disabilities it is difficult to control their own behavior. This suggests that the malfunction causes a loss in self controll. For example, a person with the disorder Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder will often find it difficult if not impossible to concentrate or focus on most things for long periods of time. In my experience with people with this disorder this causes a great deal of frustration because they are not able to do what they want to because of this loss of controll. With the administration of drugs such as Ritalin the brain chemistry is affected and becomes more "normal" and a large degree of control is regained. This shows that the drugs can be beneficial in returning a brain to a state wherein it can react as the will of a person wishes. The research on brain makeup and chemistry does not represent the loss of freewill because of a dependence on chemicals, but rather the regain of self control for many.There are many serious concerns about the effects of chemicals on brain activity, such as the effects of illicit drugs. The effects of many of these drugs, such as LSD or herione, cause drastic changes in behavior and loss of ability to think and reason in a rational manner. Often time freewill is altered in these cases and self control is lost. However, this is usually the result hoped for by people willingly taking these drugs o their own volition.

Reliance on chemicals by the brain does not call into question the existence of freewill but rather suggest that in normally functioning brains the chemicals and brain activity actually provide for it. Changes in this makeup whether from disorders such as ADHD or use of illicit drugs show how freewill is affected by changes in normal nuerochemical makeup.

Fascinating and very sophisticated approach to the matter. Many thanks. Do agree that pharmacological manipulation can be seen as enhancing rather than demeaning humanness and human responsibility in many circumstances. What had not thought about so clearly as you put it is the argument from pharmacology that "free will" is indeed a property of the brain. Yes, indeed, material manipulation of the material brain can both lessen and enhance "free will". Interesting to see whether we can make clear in the course how THAT is possible. PG

Valentina Buj

The central nervous system governs our actions. It is the central processing unit, of everything we do, everything we create. Every living thing has been subject to different stimuli from birth, and even the same stimuli is interpreted differently according to one's set of paradigms. The repository for memory and reasoning is in the complex organism that we term the brain and from there stems the world as we perceive it. Behaviour is the way we interact with and respond to our surrounding environment. All the mechanisms that interpret or carry out these behaviours are found in the central nervous system. So it can be said that "the brain" is behaviour. But there are certain aspects of what we call life that are harder to explain with this hypothesis.

The concept of soul is very difficult to interpret. We would like to believe that there is something more eternal than just this $5.49 collection of chemicals and flesh, that we call the body. The brain in order to justify this need that have thought up for ourselves, has generated an abstract idea that we term "soul". As with many other things, the aura, the guardian angel, that some believe to be parts of ourselves, these are creations of the imaginative and reasoning side of the brain. We can think ourselves into believing that we need something and the immensely powerful brain will create the answer.

The brain as I conceive of it, is divided into many parts each of which interacts in ways which are so all encompassing and complex that we cannot completely decipher it. The mystery that is the brain is large enough to hold all that we do not understand and more that we have yet to discover.

The brain is a highly creative entity, which is capable of dreaming up infinitely abstract concepts and presenting them to the world in such diverse forms as science and art, yet it is all response and creation with our inner universe. The concept of creativity, is one of these harder concepts to explain only in terms of the brain. Many would like to believe that it is the divine gift of a muse that it comes from some region far from us, and that the body is merely the vessel of its interpretation. But somewhere in the deep regions of the highly convoluted mass above the neck, there is a region from wherein stems our creativity. We contain the power in our brains to create creativity and invent gods to whom we can attribute such "gifts", all encompassed in behaviour.

The concept of self too, is more all encompassing than just the brain. Self is an awareness of who we are, and what we are doing here more than just filling up space. It is a sense of higher purpose, which is hardest to explain in terms of only the brain. We want to feel part of a complete web, and to fulfil some destiny, or else forge our own. We extend this imaginative abstract, including the ego, to the body which contains us and our personal space. We have an area around and within us, which we always hold secret, but how and why is hard to explain in terms of behaviour. Why are we self contained, why are made into one being ?

The collective unconscious too, is difficult to explain. The feeling of identity with a whole mass of people, and a group as a culture. The sense of belonging and being which is more than just interpersonal interaction but a sense of being right where one belongs. These are the inherited dreams of generations, which are more than genes but an important sense of identification with those who have gone before. Within this too there is the feeling of deja vu, which though not scientifically proven is still a part of us, the idea that we may have lived before and passed through other lives, and we carry the memories with us. Instinct is part of this collective unconscious. These are interior feelings which give us guidelines on how to survive, but yet the way in which we either choose to follow or deny our instincts is part of the reasoning which is behaviour.

Fear, too, is harder to explain. Why we fear, and why is it that we fear certain things, sometimes seems completely irrational. We do not know why we fear, only that it is a protective survival mechanism, imparted by the brain. That which we fear may indeed be harmful to ourselves, consciously or unconsciously. Fear may indeed be part of the brain because we can learn to master it, and so learn from it and cease to fear it.

The conscious and unconscious while being explanatory precepts are still hard to explain in terms of the brain. They are in a sense our "excuses" for the way in which we live. We say that there is an unconscious in our minds which we do not use. Some part of our brain which is hidden away and works in mysterious ways to solve that which our active, "conscious" reasoning cannot not sort out.

All of the above are abstract concepts which the brain has created in some way or another to explain what it has sensed and so reason it so that we can deal with it. It is very difficult to deal with the unknown that has no name. We must name that which is pertinent to us, so that we can have it as part of our makeup. This too is part of behaviour and so contained within the brain.

The need to have a control center within us, something that we are masters over is one of the main reasons why we concentrate our behaviour and perceptions of behaviour in the brain. It is a terribly difficult concept to conceive that we may indeed not be masters of ourselves, but that there is something external to us. Thus brain is behaviour is very true, it contain ourselves completely, how we choose to live and interact with the world, but there are still some aspects of this life which are hard to explain.

Emily Dickinson agrees with you: The Brain - is wider than the sky - For - put them side by side - The one the other will contain With ease - and you - beside. I too think largely as you have written. And yes, of course, questions remain. The nature of coherence, both internal ("one being") and social ("sense of belonging") is a big one. Related to this are the issues of "control centers" and the distinction between internal and external.

We'll take at least a crack at all this, neither expecting to get it "right" but believing we can (because of the brain and the interaction of brains) get it less wrong. PG

Laura Chalfant

Amy Chanlongbutra

Lindsay Claps

This is a question of nature vs nurture. I think of a situation like two boys who have the same chemical imbalance in the brain, one boy grows up in a loving family with a great childhood, the other one grows up in a dysfunctional family whose mother sexually molests him. If the brain accounted for everything (all behaviors) then both boys would grow up sex offenders. This could also be true for those who are religious. They have a belief in God, which is described to be spiritual. Perhaps, it is more chemical, maybe the environment of being in a church community releases positive chemical charges. One can rationalize any beliefs or any behaviors of someone through explanations of the brain but that is not necessarily the entire story. This is a very philosophical question. Many people hope that there is more to us then all inputs and outputs. I don't know what the brain CAN NOT account for. I can rationalize everything in terms of the brain but I don't think it is only the brain. I am hoping this class will bring a little clarification to the subject of the capabilities of the human brain.

We'll try. In meanwhile, remember to keep in mind that the brain is not a fixed but rather a constantly varying thing, affected by its own activity (resulting from, among other things, experiences). So the brains in the two boys, if their experiences were different, would be expected to be different. PG

Catherine Clark

If the brain is behavior, one encounters the problem of a proof. Some functions and behaviors will be much easier to account for than others. I believe that accounting for the processes which relay a "change of mind" or a new decision will be the hardest to account for.

Why, when the same stimulus is used in a control environment, do we see a representation of the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior? Why would it seem like the brain had simply given up and chose not to follow its previous pattern of behavior? Looking a little bit deeper, why may a human decide upon one behavior and before the behavior has been executed, change it's mind? Second thoughts, something we all have one time or another, could be simply a reanalysis of the information. However, I must question why the brain did not make the latter decision first instead of deciding upon one action and the redeciding?

If the brain is behavior, the question of spiritually will most certainly be raised. What of Saul of Tarsus? Did the brain just want to see an image of God? Many people will argue that God chose Saul, an evil man, and converted him to good, when in fact the brain is behavior, and the brain must have made a conscious or subconscious decision to "see" God and change the man's pattern of behavior. If Saul's pattern of behavior were to simply make a 180 degree turn, then we must assume that something in the brain itself was altered. We must assume that there was a logical reason the pathway of the previous behavior was altered and a new behavior displayed.

I do believe that the brain is behavior, most convincingly because the trend of evidence seems to suggest it. There will be behaviors and processes which will be hard, maybe impossible to account for. Yet, when presented with all the evidence and forced to make a decision, a well-informed person will go with the best model.

Its not always so easy to decide on the best model. Maybe there are always at least several equally good models? Anyhow, you raise some very interesting issues. What IS involved in "changing one's mind"? Does something change when one (or Saul) does that? That, at least, I think we can come up with an answer to. PG

Melanie Cree

It has been said that the brain can account for all forms of behavior, and for the majority of the time this is true. Emotions and behaviors associated with them can be the result of stimuli or hormones, but are all the direct result of the nervous system. Some belive that humans are unique in that they have a "mind" or a "soul", but both of these can be dramatically altered and effected by a variety of so called mind-altering drugs. These drugs do nothing more than effect the brain, and thus show that both the mind and soul are dependant on the brain. But there are two things that are very difficult to prove.

The first deals with identical twins. These twins would have the same DNA and thus the same brain. In many twins, there are identical habits and personalities. There have been multitudes of stories of the twins separated at birth and reunited as adults. They have the same hobbies, similar looking homes, spouses, jobs, etc. But then what accounts for the identical twins that are not alike in behavior? Perhaps you could attribute this to cytoplasm differences in the original split of their two begining cells, but then why would this happen with some twins and not with others?

The second thing that is hard to identify with the brain is the sense of death that some people have for a loved one. While this is not a common phenomna, it is documented in common science. Again, this is common between twins, but also happens between spouses and other family members. If a person is not near their dead loved one, and everything is controlled by the brain, how can people know of the death. Is the notion that the psychic world exists perhaps true? And if so how?

Nice argument from drug effects. Will talk more about identical twins, but remember that brains change depending on their own activity, so there is an available possible explanation for differences in brains (and behavior) in identical twins. Both an obvious one and a more subtle one. Psychic world an intriguing question, has interested brain researchers since William James. Will try and get to it, at least indirectly, later in course. PG

Erica Dale

Bernadine Dominique

Jessica Dunne

I think that behavior must be defined as output from the brain, and so I have had a difficult time separating the two. I think that almost all behavior can be accounted for in terms of nervous system output stemming from brain activity. After recognizing and interpreting environmental cues and integrating them into signals recognizable to the nervous system, the brain then channels this information to the appropriate area and we behave accordingly. Although this is over-simplified, it serves as an elementary model for behavior. The only idea that I found could not be fully explained by this model is differences among monozygotic twins, that I think was mentioned in class. If twins share exactly the same genetic make-up, and are exposed to the same environment, why are some twins so totally different from one another? I guess this can be answered in part by saying that each interprets stimuli in their environment differently and their subsequent behavior is effected by their own distinct interpretation, and then distinct nervous system processing. But, if their brains are identical, why should they process information differently?

Will talk about twins some more later. But certainly implication of brain=behavior is that if twins behave differently, their brains must be different. Obvious question is how they got to be different. Any guesses? PG

Laura Edwards

Victoria Elison

It seems to me that the issue of explaining the behavior strictly in terms of the Nervous System raises many questions that are generally approached from various points of view. Yet, I believe that the connection between Nervous System and behavior is an incredibly strong one and I do think that any kind of behavior can be explained strictly in terms of Nervous System.

I think it would be difficult to explain preferences, that is "likes" and "dislikes", in terms of the Nervous System. Exactly why do we like doing certain things, eating certain foods or being around certain people? It seems that collecting the sets of preferences of different individuals would result in completely random combination of data.

Even though, one could probably find the connection between personal experinces and the resulting "likes" and "dislikes" of nay one individual, I believe that it would be difficult to pin-point exactly what is involved in the decision of 'liking' something and 'disliking' something else. Then again, it is not clear whether the problem would lie in finding the direct link between the Nervous System and the behavior or whether the difficult part would be identifying and defining this behavior.

Interesting issue, whether the problem is defining the behavior or the link to the nervous system. Regardless, we will certainly look into nervous system things that would help explain why various "like" and "dislikes" might be present. PG

Erica Finanger

I am not completely comfortable with the assertion that the brain is behavior. Somehow it seems to be an oversimplification. However, as I considered this statement and the question of exactly what could not be explained with it, I was unable to find concrete examples of such "behaviors".

Here are some of the thoughts that I came up with as at least behaviors that require more justification. One seemingly obvious answer is God. I beleive that one's faith is given directly from God. This alone however does not contradict the assertion since the behavior of faith could have been part of what is present as part of the brain.

The one thing I think is hardest to account for would be one's conscience. I think that all human beings share this behavior I'm calling conscience. Conscience is the same in everyone and is never altered. It is an unexplained and unquestioned understanding of what is right and wrong. How each individual processes and alters this inate feeling is where the brain enters into the person's behavior. I exclude the conscience from one's brain because I believe it is itself inalterable. It can not and does not change as everything else it the brain is able to do.

Thanks. Nice examination of own thoughts, with clear issues resulting. Which raises the obvious question: is conscience really the "same for everyone" and "never altered"? And an even more general issue. Many people would argue that things which are unalterable can readily be understood in terms of the brain, but alterable things ("choice") require something else. Its interesting that you turn the issue around, suggesting that it is the "unalterable" that requires something other than the brain. PG

Ariadna Forray

Every aspect of human behavior can be accounted in terms of the brain and the nervous system. However, things such as self-awarness, thoughts, emotions and are harder to prove. Unlike reflexes and breathing, these "behaviors" cannot be easily studied by stimulating different parts of the brain or nervous system. Self-awarness, thoughts and emotions are greatly influenced by an individuals culture and environment. This makes the behaviors more complex and harder to simplify and break down into specific brain functions. It is very difficult to understand something like thoughts in terms of the brain since they are a built in process that we use to understand our surrundings and our own brain and nervous system. Until we have the technology to gain a better understanding of the workings of the brain, behaviors such as these will continue to be dificult to explain in terms of the brain.

Interesting. But not entirely clear whether you think these are aspects of behavior which are difficult to explain in principle or simply hard to gather relevant information about. Emotions, certainly, can be "stimulated". Some of the other things you mention are less clear. Again, is it a technical limitation or an in principle one? Let's see as the course goes on. PG

Erica Fulton

I have a hard time thinking of any behavior as completely unaccountable for by the brain. What is hardest to account for depends on how we define terms. The more abstract something is that we denote as behavior, the more difficult it is to account for. Also, no behavior can be seen as all or none as perhaps the presence or absence of an object on a table. Even that is debatable if we reduce the object to subparticles, in which case the object may only be partially there.

At some level, everything involves the brain. That is, the brain is accountable for behavior in the sense that it receives input through our senses: input which may or may not result in an observable response. "Observable" is important because only behavior which we can measure through tests, scans, or electro-recording is behavior which we can infer is in part caused by the brain. Conclusions about the origin of abstractions like morality and love can only come from observed correlation between brain activity and the subject's overt response which we label as the abstraction, say, love. Love may or may not be solely the responsibility of the brain. Since love deals with input from the environment external to the nervous system and its expression involves behavior originating in the brain, there is some accountability of the brain for such abstractions. We could measure physiological responses of a subject who speaks of loving someone but they aren't easily distinguishable from the responses during other emotions, say, a crush on that person. It would be very difficult to show changes in the brain that directly correlate with the changes in what a subject reports is a crush to what a subject reports is love. Also, we can't know if something "spiritual" acts on the brain at some point during this process. If so, some thoughts and feelings may not be completely accountable for by the brain.

Interesting issue: are there "non-observable" aspects of behavior. Certainly in practice, at any given state of understanding/technology. But in principle? People do have trouble (for a while) distinguishing a crush from being in love, but usually get it straight eventually. Are the two initially distinguishable in terms of brain function? Or does that distinction too appear only eventually? Nice question. Presume "spiritual" also offered as an "in principle" non-observable? Let's see at the end of the course whether we still feel a need for "in principle" non-observables. PG

Christina George

Stating that the brain is behavior answers many questions concerning the relation of the two constructs. It claims that all constructs controlling behavior can be understood in terms of the brain and that there are external proponents that influence the brain such as culture, environment, genetics, instinct, creativity, and even morality.

The question that remains is where these influences are derived from. Certainly genetics and environment are derived biologically and are thus described in terms of the brain without question.

Where do culture, morality and and creativity derive themselves? In terms of culture, for example: the points of desiring power and order in life can be understood through consideration of survival instinct. HUmans, for example, have developed a culture where education, money, and attracting other human beings is of primary focus. These things are all results of survival. Getting a good education leads to money which in turn leads to well being. What can not be understood in terms of the brain is the reason for which we as humans care so much about surviving.

Through study, certain biological factors such as hormones, can most probably be linked to survival tactics, yet the reason for the body's formation of such is unknown.

A simpler analogy is the reason for which we cry. Biologically speaking, a stimulus, either external or internal, signals sadness or anger to the brain, thus causing the reaction of our tear ducts to generate tears. Why do human beings get sad or angry? It is understood that external factors exist that displease human beings,but why do they displease them as opposed to just motivating them to change their situations?

Therefore, accounting the origins of behavior itself such as emotion to the brain remains in question. Biologically behavior is understood yet the causes of biological function have yet to be resolved if the above theory is to be used.

Interesting issues, which we will try and address. Some of them clearly require an appreciation of evolution. Part of an explanation for what an input is pleasing or displeasing has to do with internal organization of the brain which in turn reflects development which in turn reflects genetic information. But there is more there than that. Why sit and be displeased, as opposed to acting to change things? What distinguishes the two situations? Nice question, let's see if we come up with some sense of an answer for it. PG

Rashna Ginwalla

The classic dichotomy of mind vs brain seems to be a matter of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The brain, neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters, nerve fibres, electrical impulses- these are all part of a "greater" whole that seems to incorporate an added dimension.

Human beings have created myriad explanatory constructs so as to exert a sense of "self", a sense of external and internal "awareness" that strives to shrug off their absolute dependence on the physical realm. Consequently one endeavours to develop a "higher" sense of "self" that transcends one's physical environment. Thus Eastern theologies urge that suffering and hardship must be borne stoically, in order to advance the evolution of the soul. Ironically, the idea of "me, myself and I" exist within the confines of the physical brain, or so it must be believed currently, for lack of evidence indicating otherwise. Disconnecting the mind from the brain cannot help but hinder a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.

It seems that it will eventually be possible to account for both sides of the dichotomy, indeed, the paradox, of mind and brain, in terms of the brain. Yet to explain the phenomena of consciousness, individual identity, a sense of "person"- briefly, the link between physical reactions and processes occurring within the body and brain, and the manifestations of these processes, which collectively are termed "behaviour", seems to be what scientists and philosophers will have the hardest time explaining.

Fair enough. More than fair enough. Two questions, maybe. Coherence (sense of self) and the feelings associated with the experience of the brain working (consciousness). Not sure we'll fully handle them (or are yet fully handleable, but we'll at least get to them). PG

Erin Green

It is a difficult notion to accept that as human beings we do not exist outside of our biological boundaries, and yet, is there any other legitimate explanation of our being? Composed entirely of atoms, we are limited to existing as purely biological constructs, but the complexity, quality, and value placed on life seems so much greater than a jumble of neurons and the mass contained in our heads. There are a number of different arenas of human life that are difficult, if not impossible, to account for purely in terms of biological elements.

The first of these is the idea of choice and free will, primarily as manifestations of the mind. If human action and thinking is determined by the flow of electrons and the movement of molecules, then can choice and free will truly exist? Why are one person's choices different from another's? To determine the existance of choice and free will, one would need the sceintific capability to follow the actual path of the decision making process within the brain, which is most likely a very difficult route to follow.

The larger entity of which choice and free will are only mere pieces is the mind, which means that it is even more difficult to account for it in terms of biological elements. The boundaries of the mind are ambiguous and non-specific, and therefore, attempting to account for its activities, or determining whether it even exists, becomes even more difficult. A similar situation arises with the soul, as there are many contradictions to its mere location, and certainly its existance, purpose, and influence over humanity.

Another complication arises with the assertion that the brain is the defining element of humanity, being where does our individuality, identity, and diversity of culture then come from? We are all composed of the same materials, and yet we are so different from individual to individual and we have created so many diverse cultures, and cultures within cultures, as a species. It is difficult to comprehend how the same set of molecules in very much the same organization can create such vast differences in appearances, personalities, beliefs,and choices in humans.

There are still a number of other areas of human life which are difficult to account for with such a model of humanity, such as the idea of spiritual healing, concepts of self-awareness, creativity, and genius and so on. It appears as though such a model needs more time and technology for the analysis it deserves.

Let's give it at least a semester and see? Very interesting issues raised. There are LOTS of different ways to combine atoms and/or cells, so getting lots of different things isn't in principle so hard. And we'll work our way through some examples of choice and even (I think) "free will". The boundedness question though is a harder one (for me, at least). The brain is certainly bounded. Is there something bigger ("mind"?), with more fluid boundaries? Probably. But understandable as interacting brains? Nice question. Let's think about it together. PG

Margaret Gruen

Reema Habib

Valerie Hildebrant

Erin Hunter

Humans have always attempted to explain every aspect of life in concrete terms. In order for something to be real to us, we must make it at least somewhat tangible, and we do this by subscribing abstract ideas to physical realities. Humans have done this,specifically with the whole idea of the mind and soul and the brain. We attempt to make sense of the mind and soul in terms of the brain. It's not that I think that this is a bad idea, but I simply believe that problems arise when we try to attach these abstract things to something physical like the brain.

One idea that troubles me is that I don't understand how one can describe how something like hate is created within the brain. What could possibly cause one person to hate another? I can almost see how love could be described in terms of cranial activities, like dopamine giving the person pleasure while they are in love. Hate, therefore, could possibly be created by substances that inhibit the production of dopamine, but would the lack of dopamine create such an intense feeling as hate? Ambivalence, maybe, but I don't see how someone would feel hate just because they are receiving enough dopamine.

I also don't understand how the intense mother-child bond could be created by the functions of the brain. Does the child become trained, like in Pavlovian conditioning, to respond directly to its mother? Because it would become dependent upon its mother, does this strong attachment then lead to the mother-child bond. I somehow feel that more must be behind this bond to make it so intense.

However, I don't have the answers either. I guess that it's better to be able to understand some of the behaviors caused by the brain than to not understand any. We have come a long way from the days when people believed that seizures were caused by possessions, and maybe someday I will better understand the brain and thus understand other behaviors. As of now I now that I still have a lot to learn, and can't wait to find out whatever more I can. The brain enthralls me, because it is so complex and there is still so much that it unknown about it. We only use a small percentage of our brains, who knows what the rest of our brain controls? Maybe someday we will even discover that what we now accept as truth is way off base. How exciting.

I'm with you. Exciting indeed, PARTICULARLY if discover way off base. And do agree with you that trying to find explanation in material things is itself a strategy whose usefulness will always be subject to further testing. On the other hand, your start on accounting for abstractions in terms of material things is pretty strong, and I can see some obvious hypotheses as extensions (hate as active release of something rather than reduction in dopamine release?, mother/infant bonds developing from something other than Pavlovian conditioning?). So maybe ... ? We'll see (of course). PG

So Yun Jung

Lobina Kalam

At our last class, Dr. Grobstein asserted that he believed that the nervous system can be equated with behavior. The class then debated over what the exact definition of behavior is and that perhaps Dr. Grobstein's definition of behavior was more encompassing than those of students. I personally believe that anything that goes on with our bodies or our minds while there is some electrical activity in the nerovus system is behavior. Our state of consciousness itself is behavior. Sleep is behavior, dremaing is, thinking is, just being alive is behavior. We run into problems when we start to think of the soul and what that exactly means to each of us. It begins to tap into the realm of religion and philosophy, things that cannot be proven. As a scientist, I would say that what we call our soul is merely our physical state of consciousness. It is the culmination of every memory, every instinctual drive, every learned act, every connection in the brain that has been and will be in existence from our birth to our death. This intricate set of circuitry is what, when put together, gives our consciousness and what we finally call our soul. I want to think that there is more to humanity than pure science but I do not know how to justify it.

There is, of course, a LOT more to humanity than pure science. The interesting question is whether what science discovers can account for all the richness of humanity. And that, of course, is still very much an open question. If it can, then the richness of course must remain, since it is inherent in what is being accounted for. Is that an adequate justification for your wish? PG

Donna Kaminski

The concept that brain is behavior is an interesting notion that undoes many assertions that are made everyday. Control-obsessed man has been raised with notions of free-will and self determination that bring about several assertions. In example, man believes that he walks, sees, studies, thinks, watches, and is. More importantly, he believes that he has choice over these actions, an ability to choose whether he wants to do them, and inherently control over the brain in making these behavioral decisions. It is therefore most difficult to account for free-will and soul with regards to this brain-behavior relationship.

What is most abstract about the position of free-will in this relationship is man's desire to pursue his free will and control all aspects of his behavior. As a child, man is instructed to do complete arbitrary tasks which he is held accountable for: taking out the trash, doing homework. When not doing them, man is reprimanded for not having executed his will to complete the tasks. His brain is not blamed for the behavior, man is. The concept of free will commonly is placed outside of the brain, when really it's place is inside the brain. Free will and choice are thereby inseparable from the brain. This implies that man truly cannot isolate his behavior from the brain. He cannot say, my brain wants me to do this, but I am going to do that. The freedom to override the behavioral decisions of the brain does not exist. And this perhaps is the most perplexing concept to understand. Why? Because we are a society of choice.

The constructs of our life as we know it depend on this notion that man has ultimate control and the ability to decide (that would seem to be free from the brain). Burger King asks us to choose, "with ketchup or mustard?". My mother tells me that I have the ability to resist the peer pressures of friends. College tells us to discipline ourselves, to control and maintain the schedules and routines of everyday life. We believe that all of this lays in our desire, our free-will, and that we, the mortals, then tell our brain what to do. We create this separate notion of free-will to empower ourselves, but indeed, it may not be true. It may be that, given the brain = behavior principle, our free-will is not a separate entity from out brain. Indeed, man's autonomy and seemingly endless control over his actions is, perhaps, less will based and more based on the neural interactions within the brain and nervous system, contrary to what man's desires would like to believe. And even his desires are the brain, just as is his thoughts, his walking, and his studying. The brain = behavior principle humbles man's ego, his desire to control all and to control the brain so much as to overpower the brain. Ultimately, it undoes the ego-centric notion of everyday behavior we as a society have come to accept.

Lovely, and very thoughtful essay. I very much agree with you that a better understanding of the free-will/brain connection could well lead to a (desireable) change in the kinds of demands and expectations we place on people. No, of course, we can't control "everything", and a clearer understanding of this might, ironically, give us all a greater capacity to influence what we CAN influence. PG

Leland Kass

"Brain=Behavior"? As scientists, we can manipulate the brain to ellicit certain responses, but after years of experiments,we still have no absolute explanation for why certain behaviors occur. A scientist can predict a cricket's movement, but he can only do so 70% of the time. What about the other 30% and why?

All behavior is a product of the brain because without a brain there is no behavior. It must be understood, however, that there are other factors which influence behavior such as experience, perception of situations, and nuturance. The environment is extremely accountable for various responses. Much of this returns to DNA and nature versus nurture; our genes guide us to certain environments and, similarly, the environment can affect gene expression.As much as behaviors can be altered by fluctuations in brain chemistry, they can be altered by factors beyond the physical brain.

There is also the question of free will and choice. Do we really have control over our own behaviors (it is just too scary to succumb to the idea that we are "machines" which function only because of communications at nerve synapses!!). I definitely think that chemicals and nerve firings play an integral role in behavior, but it must go beyond that in order to account for the variability in behaviors from person to person and situation to situation. The fact that each person makes personal decisions, feels individual emotions, holds different beliefs etc. cannot be overlooked. Whether voluntary or involuntary, conscious or unconscious, all behaviors are unique. It is easier to focus on the physical brain for answers, but this fails to explain the numerous questions of why and how. The brain itself is a STARTING point for understanding behavior, but we must also look to the the mind and the outside world.

Betcha we can come up with explanations within the brain for variability. If so, will you be satisfied? Or still want some "mind" in there? PG

Mona Khan

Noreen Khan

Personally I do believe that all or almost all actions can be explained by this assertion, however there are a few aspects that are hard to account for. This is mainly because many details of how the brain works are not understood right now. Therefore it is hard to see actions such as thinking, choosing, reasoning, and learning explained simply by chemical processes and electrical impulses. I think it is because we don't completely understand the brain that we find these unaccountable, but I ceratinly do believe they are processes of the brain. These complex functions do occur in the brain, but we just don't know how. How do we store information in our brains, how does memory work? What kind of chemical processes in our brains do we label and know as thinking and reasoning?

Hopefully we will be able to better understand how these processes work and we will be more comfortable making the claim that brain is behavior.

Nice questions. And yes, we'll get to most of them. But why are you so convinced brain is behavior? And why think it would be a good thing if we understand the processes well enough to be persuaded it is so? PG

Upama Khatri

There is definately a relationship between human behavior and the biological and electrical reactions that take place in the brain. I think that there is no doubt there. It is a remarkable thing when we are able to explain abstract phenomena, such as thinking, learning, and remembering, in terms of concrete observable reactions in the brain. This kind of insight on the brain-behavior connection is crucial in the formulation of solutions to behavioral abnormali- ties. As an example, today we can say with as much certainity as allowed in science, that memory consolidation takes place primarily in the hippocampus and is related to the production of CREB proteins. This is an extraordinary discovery with many potential applications, the most straightforward one being the treatment of poor memory through the possible administration of drugs. But although there is a direct connection here between an abstract process and biological reactions, I still feel that we don't have the whole picture, that their is a crucial piece that we are missing or possibly overlooking. I find it hard to see the connection between the biological processes taking place in my head, the firing of action potentials, etc. and say the picture of a tulip that I am forming in my mind at this particular instant. I find it hard to avoid the word "mind" because the concept that the brain is "it" doesn't seem to explain such things as the genertion of images in ones head or dreaming.

Fair enough. Will indeed talk about what is going on the image generation, both seeing and dreaming. And then see what you think. PG

Juliana Khowong

This remarkable statement that appears to neatly account for the basis for all human action poses a dilemma. For, if one can state and believe in this assertion, then one must attribute the origination for this theory to the brain, which as the statement implies, is and encompasses all behavior. Yet, if the brain is behavior, then in a catch-22 like fashion, we can only think and behave so far as only our brain permits. Thus we cannot truly study the brain if the brain actually leads us into all of our behavior, because our studies would be an output of our brain functions. In essence, this statement does not take away 'free-will', as one student said in class, but it almost puts a limit and a control to human behavior. For example, in investigations of artificial intelligence, we would be able to program intelligence and true original thought (not neccessarily solely quickness in computations and information searching as computers allow us), only so far as we would be able to think ourselves.

In class several students wanted to add to the statement additional qualifications such as, "Behavior is the brain, plus the soul, the environment and input, etc." For me, adding these factors into what accounts for behavior strengthens the statement, because it is difficult to account for all of our complex actions from one physical source.

In the extreme sense, this statement cedes control of human behavior from the person and accounts for it in an object. Yes, part of behavior involves choice and decision making, but there are definite limits to what options the brain sees and processes as thought. This reasoning only strengthens the assertion that this statement places the brain before human actions, leaving us with little freedom of thought and a boundary in undertaking neural studies. However, it can be said that it is quite impossible for any of us to exhause the vast resources for thought in this world, and that this limitation is so far from reaching, that it seems to be almost non-existant.

Very interesting issues. Yes, indeed, there is a "loopiness" in the whole enterprise: the thinking about the brain is being done by the brain, and hence presumably changing the thing which one is trying to understand. And yes indeed, if behavior is ultimately a material assembly, then presumably it has some limitations (though, as you say, we may still find a route to "free will"). I'm not sure, though, that either point constitutes a strong argument against the brain being equivalent to behavior. Both "loopiness" and limitations are characteristics of behavior, no? PG

James Killinger

What does the fact that 70% of the female crickets move towards the loudspeaker playing the male cricket chirping indicate?

The fact that 70% of the sample crickets move towards the loudspeaker indicates that there is a trend for female crickets to respond to the sound. There can still be variables that are unknown that could effect both the migration and the non-migration, however.

Perhaps some of the 30% that did not migrate were not part of the same species of cricket that the sound came from. Perhaps the female cricket was not at a stage where she was biologically prepared to reproduce with the male crickets. Maybe the female crickets were not listening to the loudspeaker and were distracted by another sound. I'm not so sure I know enough about the inner workings of the brain of a cricket to know exactly what thier instincts are telling them to do.

On the other hand, 70% is a pretty large percentage of crickets doing the same thing. Sure some of the crickets may have randomly wandered over to the loudspeaker out of boredom, but the trend indicates some sort of reason to follow the sound. In trying to put the same experiment into human terms--the only terms I feel any confidence making any conclusions upon--the same experiment would be pretty indicative if one particular sound interested women enough to at least check out the loudspeaker.

The reading, "The neurobiology of cricket song," lends some credence to the thought that the female crickets are attracted to only the sound of thier same species, but also fails to address the possibility of female crickets attracted to the sound for solely mating puposes--neglecting pure cricket curiousity.

"would be pretty indicative of ...?" Sure, there is evidence that male sound attracts female crickets. Its that it doesn't ALWAYS do so that poses the next questions. You've done a pretty good job of starting to list some reasons (and hence of suggesting possible things that must be somehow in the box). We'll try and formalize this tomorrow. PG

Jennifer McCallum

I agree that the brain "is behavior." I went through a great struggle and many conversations with others to try to find a behavior for which I would find no link to the brain, or would have difficulty in showing a link. A housemate had mentioned a book she read written by a doctor about the case history of a women who had severe phobias. Unexpectedly, through hypnosis, the doctor came to believe that the woman's fears originated in a past life. The doctor, as I am told, kept mentioning his credentials to reinforce how he is trained (I suppose) to rely on scientific evidence. Upon hearing this profound and inexplicable event, I thought I had found something to contradict "brain is behavior." ( I am assuming that I may call psychic ability, or ability to remember a past life a behavior.) However, after pondering this thought I came up with what I think to be a possible explanation for remebering a past life.

The journal article "The Neurobiology of the Cricket Song" discusses that the cricket song is genetic and therefore, for an individual species heritable. If I am correct, the article is saying that the neuronal patterns that allow for the song to be repeated is stored genetically and passed on to progeny.

With a very limited knowledge of the workings of the brain I have come up with a possible idea about what may be occuring to people who have memories of supposed past life. If, as in the cricket song, neuronal patterns are stored genetically, it may be possible for memory to be stored genetically, this is assuming that memories or learning somehow alter a neuronal "map" (for the sake of not knowing another word). If this is the case then it is possible that a person may store, however subconsciously, the memory of possibly a great grandmother. Therefore, what seems to be the remembrance of a past life, in actuality, would be the remembrance of an ancestor's memory.

I have another theory, but for the sake of brevity, I will leave you with the above.

As a non-skeptic, I am at a loss for finding a "non-brain" behavior.

Nice. Thanks for taking this seriously, involving others. Fascinating issue you've found. Yes, indeed, is possible for past experiences to influence "maps" ("connection pattern" probably a better word). BUT (as far as we know) that influence has to be in accord with laws of genetics, which mean the influence reflects not particular experiences of particular ancestors but rather the history of reproductive success of various connection patterns averaged (in some sense) over many generations of ancestors. Which means that the question of why this PARTICULAR perhaps correspondence of memory and past event still needs some explanation. Curious about your other theory as well. PG

Kelly Mack

For many years I have believed that the nervous system is behavior and that all forms of behavior can be explained by understanding the nervous system. Unfortunately because our current understanding of the nervous system is so undeveloped compared to infinite questions we have about behavior and mechanisms of the brain, that all the explanations we have are not nearly sufficient to completely understand behaviors. It is apparent to me that we need time (and lots of it) in order for behavior to 'make sense' to us.

The foremost problems I see in explaining are mechanisms such as emotion, opinion, and thought. These things are much more complex than reflexes because they involve whole halves of the brain which implies mixtures of chemicals, electrical signals, and probably other combinations of processes that we do not know about yet. Right now we theorize that emotions have a great deal to do with neurotransmitters because foreign chemicals such as Prozac can have emotional effects similar to chemicals naturally produced in the brain. But matching emotion to a single chemical is entirely too simplistic to explain the myriad of emotions that animals (such as humans) feel and attempt to express through subtle behaviors. Other thoughts must have this type of complexities as well. I do believe that we can eventually explain all these behaviors but it will take much more time. As for understanding simpler behaviors through the theory that the nervous system is behavior --we have already begun this development even by understanding reflexes as a stimulus detection and reaction through the relay of nerve cells.

Right now this theory about behavior sounds viable to me because I am willing to believe that more needs to be learned about the body, including the nervous system. I do have some personal questions in this subject because I believe to some extent that memory can occur as a physical experience. I have experienced a degenerative joint disease and in my opinion this physical connection to events means something when I try to remember. I suppose that if I try and relate this to a computer (which receives data in a similar way in which we think humans do) then the relationship between body and mind is non-existent. But, I strongly believe in such a connection through my personal experiences so this is something I want to explore along with my belief in behavior's direct relationship with the nervous system.

Interesting. Will look forward to hearing more about your experiences as we talk more about what CAN make sense of using the brain. Agree that matching emotion to a single chemical (a single anything) is too simple. Fortunately, we have lots of chemicals (and other things) to work with (though not as many as we have things to explain; how can THAT work?). PG

Maushumi Mavinkurve

Scientists have been struggling with the idea of where behavior comes from. The general idea is that the brain is behavior. This idea stems from the fact that if the brain of a human wasn't functioning then behavior wouldn't occur, or if the brain of a subject is altered then the subject's behavior would be altered as well. Everything can be explained scientifically through the brain. But in saying that the brain is behavior that would rule out the idea of the human self or soul.

Strong evidence leads scientists to believe that the root of behavior is the brain. This is because victims of severe head traumas that leave them in comas have no behavior. These victims often have to learn how to perform several simple behaviors, such as talking, reading, writing and walking, from the beginning. Other evidence shows that traumas such as this to the brain can alter a person's character and temperment altogether. For example there was a famous study of a rail worker who suffered and survived a head injury. Yet everyone around him beleived that he was a different person, because his character changed from a calm, good tempered man to a man easily aggrevated and arguementative.

Drugs also alter a subject's character. Today, people who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder often find relief in a drug called Ritalin. Studies have found that subjects who have taken the drug are often calmer and can focus for longer periods of time on things than when not on the drug. Another example of how drugs effect behavior is that the mental disorder of depression is found to be treated with drugs an example of one is Prozac. These studies have found scientists to believe that these are chemical imbalances within the synapses of neurons in the brain.

The study of behavior today seems to be leading to one direction: that our behavior can be broken down into simple chemical processes. But there is still the question of a soul. What is it that makes us smile when we see something beautiful such as a sunrise? There are certain things that cannot be broken down and explained chemically like our morals, choice and self-awareness. How can the brain explain sentiments, like pride, caring and hatred. Some people believe in a mind, which controls things like sentiment, morals, choice and self-awareness. Yet this mind must be in some way part of the brain because without a brain none of these behaviors can arise.

Nice beginning list of reasons to believe brain is behavior; we'll talk more about many of them. Are you sure that that idea "would rule out the idea of the human self or soul?" Maybe they too, like the smile, are "in some way part of the brain?" PG

Deborah Melnick

" The true embodied mind I envision does not reliquish its most refined levels of operation, those constituting its soul an spirit. From my perspective, it is just that soul and spirit, with all their dignity and human scale, are now complex and unique states of an organsim. " -Damasio (Descartes' Error)

I was thinking about this topic for a while. I think that there are some obvious things that cannot easily be accounted for in terms of our discussion on " brain is behavior." I am just as excited to sort of get rid of the brain is behavior because that statement turns us all into chemical and electrical robots. And there is no room for an inbetween with that statement. Some believe that we can explain "free-will, consciousness, thinking..." completely in terms of brain/behavior. However, that leaves no room for a soul and quantum physics.

I remember reading Descartes' Error and following the story of a man whose entire soul seemed to change after subtle damage was done to his ventromedial or dorsolateral sector of the frontal region of the brain. A warm man with a great personality became impulsive, nonempathetic, and lost executive function. Damasio basically made the point that he lost free-will, along with executive functioning, and therefore we can explain everything in terms of brain and behavior. However, many scientists who try to explain tha difficult things such as free-will do not leave it at just that, they throw in statements such as Damasio's mentioned above. If brain is behavior, then we leave room for little else.

My biggest concern is that by studying everything in terms of "brain is behavior" (as we do here in the states) we are ignoring other ways of healing.

To come back to (like everything else). On the other hand, if brain=behavior is understood to mean brain big enough to encompass everything in human experience then it should help us to understand (rather than eliminate) both "free will" and all (effective) forms of healing, no? PG

Nicole Miller

What about Extra Sensory Perception? At the risk of sounding like a devotee of a cheesy, worn-out sci-fi TV show that begs not to be taken seriously, I would assert that ESP is an example (but not the best example) of a behavior that is independent of the brain. In the generous sense we "agreed on" in class, ESP is a behavior--a behavior even more uncontrollable than subconscious thought, than dreams, than having to draw breath to stay alive. Assuming that it exists (granted I cannot prove that it does or doesn't), it just happens, unpredictably, regardless of the fact that the person who is perceiving is miles away from the source that is sensed, both physically and mentally. It is seemingly independent of both external and internal stimulae; it is just a response. It is awareness of the entrance of a body of knowledge that has traveled at infinite speeds across space into a person's consciousness, and it is pretty hard to explain away.

Fair question/concern. As you say, ESP may or may not exist, so whether we have to account for it itself is a bit up in the air (some of our discussion of sensory systems later in the course will at least help to define the problem of the existence of ESP). Clearly, though, some people (at least) have the experience of ESP, and so we would need at least to be able to account for the experience. Let me know at the end of the course if we don't make it that far. PG

Gemma Miranda

I agree that the brain is the basis of all the things that we have described as behavior in this class. Some things, however, can be accounted for by the brain more easily than others--such as physical actions, as opposed to non-observable behavior. Electrical stimulation of a certain region of the brain may result in the twitch of a certain muscle. But how is one to observe how abstract things like feelings/emotion are produced if it can only be acknowledged by the individual having those feelings? I guess if the person were conscious during experimentation, he or she would be able to articulate whatever thoughts or emotions were experienced at whatever probings, but emotions (as well as the meanings that are attached to words that describe them) are so subjective; I think it would be hard to reproduce the results of such an experiment, using different individuals. The act of believing is another thing that I think might be hard to account for.

Nice issue, and very important one: can one study things which are "subjective"?, i.e. things where what is to be accounted for is something which can be known only from the verbal report of a person? Hope we'll get a chance to talk about that in the course, since it comes up in a variety of important contexts. PG

Courtney Morris

As I thought about the questions to be addressed first this first essay, I found it difficult to come up with simple answer. I completely agree with the notion that most things make most sense in terms of the brain, and that most things can be accounted for in that way. So, the question I need to address was "what things are hardest to account for in this way?" It seems to me that each time I think of a possible topic, I can in one way or another make my way back to the brain. Philosophies, beliefs, behaviors, diseases, etc all seem to have a trace back to the nervous system. I did find, however, that the most difficult things to explain in these terms was the notion of a soul and spirit. Although I can see no separation between the brain and the mind, and I think one does not exist without the other, the soul and the spirit in both ancient and modern terms are not as easily explained. They have always been thought of as extensions of ourselves or even different entities all together; but what are they really? I suppose that each of these differs for each person depending upon his or her belief system, so I will address what is closest to myself: the Quaker idea of the "Inner Light." I guess you could say that if you "believe" in the Inner Light, that belief is associated with your brain. What I am trying to figure out is if we all do have this "Inner Light" through which the spirit of all of us(that of God in all of us) can be found, what is it in us that allows us to find that? An even more basic question(probably a more naive one) is "where is it?" I find myself moving onto a more spiritual discussion rather than a scientific one, but I think it was the certainty with which my Quaker elders spoke about this phenomenon that led me to ask exactly how tangible this is. Not only is it Quakerism, but most(if not all) other religions and beliefs have a notion of a spirit "within" all of us. It is this ambiguous "within" that I have difficulty finding. I am not saying that in one way or another specific links to the nervous system can't be found, but I think it would be difficult to do so. And sometimes that ambiguous "within" can be rather refreshing...

Wonderful essay. Thank you. I won't be worried about the ease of slipping between "scientific" and "spiritual" if you won't. "Where is it?" a very good starting question. And "does everybody have it? what allows it to be found?" excellent next questions. To keep mulling over. Quakerism is not (of course) on the course syllabus, but we will take about a number of examples of the "where", "does everyone have it?", "how do you find it" sorts of questions, and I'll be very interested in the extent to which you think they relate. PG

Karyn Myers

I agree with the assertion that the brain is behavior if it is assumed that the brain is the seat of the mind, or consciousness, and that the mind is capable of directing the behavior produced by the brain. That is to say, that within the brain there is a mechanism of some complexity that we refer to as the "mind" that serves, in cognitive terms, as a central executive in organizing and directing behavior.

The nature of the mind as such is not well understood either biologically or psychologically. The mind, therefore, cannot be dismissed as an archaic conception used to explain something we cannot yet fully understand in purely biological terms, as were the "evil spirits" once believed to cause seizures. As was mentioned in class, the "evil spirits" hypothesis has not been disproved; the understanding of seizures in terms of their apparent neurophysiological causes and effects is simply more conducive to modern methods of research and treatment. The same egotism in attempting to reduce the mind to a physical entity that can be conquered by scientists is narcissistic and probably foolish.

Nice idea, that maybe "mind" is a subset of (contained within) the brain. We'll certainly be looking in that direction as the course proceeds. And into the question of the extent to which it is "a central executive", as opposed to simply one of the many "boxes". (And we'll try and do it all as little narcissisticly as possible). PG

Jill Olich

Since the first day of our neurobiological behaviour class, we have been asked to consider the definition of "behaviour" and why the study of behaviour is signifigant. After throwing individual suggestions from the class on the board and trying to decipher whether these should be considered explanatory constructs of the behaviour or rather, essential basic pieces of our definition, we began to see a less amorphous description.

Either involuntary or voluntary, explanatory construct or essential bases, our suggestions range from emotion, instinct and thought to self-awareness, reacting and choice. Although one may realize the list is infinite in degree, it is of greater importance to realize that ambiguity, ambivalence and uncertainty exists with any factor relating to the definition of behaviour.

Continuing our discussion, we started to take the mind and soul into consideration. How much apart of behaviour is the mind? The soul? Many even dare suggest that the brain IS behaviour. And elementary speaking, seeing as though every brain is different, so too should be one's own behaviour. It is difficult however, to try and base something so imaterial, something so dependant on an individual's past experiences and thoughts on one single material object...the brain.

Clearly, this is as good a place to start as any, such a clear hypothesis could be disproven and perhaps it boils the problem down to a more elementary level by begining with a tangible object.

As for the question, Is the brain behaviour or does the brain CONTROL behaviour, I would tend towards the first suggestion. The brain could very possibly BE behaviour, taking into consideration, the stimuli-response workings of the nervous system, everything holds a pretty direct relationship and a behaviour as a result of the stimuli can befollowed through actual, physical occurrences in the brain. I do not believe that the Brain CONTROLS behaviour however, for, this suggests to me that the brain is making an actual conscious decision to react to stimuli the way it does. I see behaviour as a much less controled and more well....mindless reaction.I believe everything can be accounted for in the brain, however, everything is not controlled by the brain, this arena of complexity merely provides an space for evidence of physical and emotion changes to be witnessed.

Interesting. Clearly the material thing would have to change (experience) and be affected by its own activities (thoughts). That we'll clearly find is so of the brain. Can it also be "less controlled and more, well ... mindless"? Good question. We'll see. PG

David Rakoff

The brain as a black box. Processes input and produces output. Behavior is that output - be it digestion or copulation, thinking or feeling. I am interested in cognitive aspects. We have some notion of what happens in the brain to cause thirst or hunger, or to allow us to move, what is more tricky is to ask what the input is when somebody is thinking, feeling (emotionally), or recalling something. What is input for which the output is me feeling the desire to do my homework and type this paper? Thought in general would seem to be the brain giving input to itself rather than processing it from peripheral sensory neurons.

So the black box picture where there is a flux of arrows entering the left side of the box as input and exiting the right as processed output needs to be modified to look a little like magnetic field lines. There are some output lines that exit and go up and around and back in the left side as input lines. The brain can act like a big auto-recpetor.

Is this a possible source for definition of consciousness? A what level of brain complexity do we find this self-stimulation? Is their a neurological basis for it? Does this give rise to the the sense of self? IF all the input comes from the external then there is no room for a self...

The black box fails to account for different output from identical stimulus ( the Harvard law) and it fails to account for all the more complex functions of the brain like memory and language and emotion. Different parts fo the brain perform different functions. And regions have more than one function depending upon context. Perhaps if each region is treated as a black box that is connected to other box/regions in a network we have a better model.

Yep. Will need to modify the box, as we have started doing. Consciousness as maybe both auto-stimulation and self-stimulation? With internal boxes as inputs to each other? Will see how far we can get with that (and a few other things). PG

Roseann Schaaf

Certianly the brain plays a huge (if not the entire role) in behavior, however, I feel that reducing behavior to processing of inputs by neurons and neuronal tissue, devalues the complexity of human behavior. Human behavior is a complex product of not only stimuli reception and processing, but also of choice which is based on a multidimensional process of integrating past experiences, current perceptions, feelings and emotions with anticipation of how this choice or event might shape or influence future events. Let's take the behavior of choosing one's mate. The initial attraction stage might be influcenced by physical appearance (sensory reception and perception of features), ones odor, and ones preference for leisure activities. However, the choice will also potentially be influenced by their previous experience with similar or different individuals (past experience), the current situation and opinions from people that one respects. These perceptions and feelings are also influenced by the individuals expectations for the future: will this person enjoy children, will they continue to enjoy the same things in life, etc. Although all these factors influencing the choice are processed through the nervous system, they are influenced by an infinate number of variable along the way. Hence, the complex behaviors of humans are not only a result of stimuli and response, but also the choices, feelings, emotions and probably many other factors that I forgetting to mention. The point is , human behavior is complex, and I fear that atributing it the nervous system alone reduces it's complexity and richness untill we can understand "how" these processes occur. How does one make a choice? What factor's influence this choice? How is this process accomplished in terms of neuronal processing and brain function? Until we have the answers to these questions I feel it is a leap of faith to assume the all behavior is a result of nervous system processing. Although science has been able to demonstrate this in less complex animals, such as in the chirping of crickets, we have not been able to provide the physical evidence for this in humans. Neurotransmitters, neuropeptides and other chemical processing has provided evidence that processing of information is complex with not only several different types of neurochemicals, but also perhaps an infinite number of receptor types. What guides this compexity in terms of it's development and functional significance? Why do some individuals who develop pathological behaviors that respond to medications that are designed to mimick or replenish unbalanced or absent neurochemicals and others do not? Why do some individuals recover from CNS injury better than others? Until we have more substantial answers to these questions, we can only continue to seek answers through nervous system functioning; but I suggest we keep our minds open to other paradigms that might help us explain, and therefore develop treatments for disruptions in behavior.

Yes, by all means, let's keep mind (brain?) open. At the same time, neither individual differences nor complexity per se seem in principle difficult to account for in terms of the brain. There's LOTS of things there, so lots of potential for both (as well as for feelings, emotions, choices). PG

Tijana Stefanovic

Mattie Towle

Alison Van Dyke

In order to assert that the brain is behavior, one must first take into account the mind's capacity to exert control over/direct the nature of behavior through mental functions such as emoting, thinking, feeling, etc. For example, the mere anticipation of a stressful event can initiate a whole host of physiological changes commaneered by the endocrine system which mimics sympathetic nervous system arousal. If we broaden the parameters of what we consider to be behavior to include mental functions, then in a sense we are asserting that the mind and the brain are one.

In order for this train of thought to be consistent, as mental functions/activity can affect physiology, then the reverse ought to hold as well, that behavior has the potential to influence the mind. Such appears to be the case with regard to facial expressions. Anthropologists and psychologists have widely found that not only are universal facial expressions used to reflect affective states but that the formation of specific facial expressions elicits corresponding affective states. For example, smiling has been found to elicit feelings of happiness. Such an example indicates that the body and the mind are so inextricably linked that the nineteenth century relegation of the automatic, involuntary, unconscious and reflexive aspects of behavior to physiology and the conscious, voluntary and non-rigid behaviors to the mind is no longer a valid disctinction.

Just as our mental states can affect our physiological responses and our behavior affects our mental states, brain structures have been isolated, the activity of which both drives behavior and reflects changes in our behavior. For example, the role of directing the regulation and maintenance of homeostasis within the body appears to lie within the hypothalamus. It works in conjunction with the endocrine system to motivate the initiation of "survival behaviors" such as sleeping, eating, and sexual activity. Two examples of localization of mental functions are the amygdala's role in the regulation of emotion and the mediation of reward and pleasure mechanisms by the ventral tegmental area, the medial forebrain bundle and the limibic system. Even complex mental functions such as learning are reflected in long-term changes in the influence of one neuron on the likelihood that an adjacent neuron will fire if it does. Changes in neural signals generated by the hippocampus can be observed when a rat engages in goal-directed behavior such as walking and exloring its environment.

In a sense, everything that we do, think, and are corresponds to our brains -- their structures and activation. The question then becomes one of if we all share the same basic brain structure, how do individual differences arise in behavior, personality, abilities, etc.? For many years, scientists thought that differences in intelligence were reflected in individual differences in the shape and size of the skull which was assumed to indicate the shape and size of the brain. Stemming from Gall's pseudoscience of phrenology, this tradition claimed that racial differences in skull shape and size relflected differences in mental abilities. While these ideas have been highly censured, and rightly so, this line of brain research focusing on the relation between differences in size and variation in function as expressed in behavior continues today. Researchers are comparing the sizes and shapes of brain structures such as the corpus callosum and the superchiasmatic nucleus in men and women as indication of gender differences in cognitive abilities. Other researchers have focused on differences in the size of INAH-3 of the hypothalamus in male heterosexuals and homosexuals as an indication of a biological basis for differences in sexual orientation. Admittedly, these assertions are highly controversial; however, they all suggest that our behaviors and our interactions with our environment both reflect and are reflected in brain structure and function.

Beyond structure and cell size, shape and density, it has also been found that neurophysiological changes occur in the brain as we interact with our environments and through our experiences in a larger sense as mentioned above. Given such changes, even though we begin life with very similar structures, as they develop, our brains are constantly changing at the neurochemical, structural and cellular levels. And it is in the nature of our interaction with our environments and in our innate ability to adapt to changes in our external and internal evniornments that our individual differences are reflected in not only our overt behavior but also in the complexity of the interconnectedness of our brains.

Very sophisticated treatment of complex subject. Indeed the causal arrows should be regarded as running in both directions in all the cases you describe. And while particular instances may be controversial, the general expectation that individual behavioral differences correspond to individual brain differences is to be expected on the brain=behavior argument. PG

Natalie Watson

One may program a computer to answer multiplication questions. One may program a computer to respond to different stimuli. One may program a computer to exchange information with other computers. Perhaps, one day, computers will even be programmed to behave just as humans. One can even 'tell' a computer that it exists, thus making it (technically) self-aware. However, is the computer conscious?

I see very clearly how almost all of human behavior is controlled by the central nervous system. I can even see that emotions are controlled by the nervous system, being necessary for human survival (fear, love etc). But I do not think that it is possible to prove that consciousness is 'just the brain.'

I think consciousness is more than being self-aware. I don't think a computer programmed to behave like a human would spend vast quantities of time thinking about thinking, wondering if it exists or why it exists. Therefore, though one may show that most human behavior is controlled by the central nervous system, I think it is impossible to show that such a thing is true for consciousness.

Nice way to pose the question. Maybe a computer "told" it exists wouldn't spend "vast quantities of time thinking about thinking", but how about a computer created so it works the same way as the human brain Maybe that's a natural (desireable?) consequence of how the brain works? PG

Dan Weiser

There are times when the body can let the brain down: body over brain. In this way, certain events and behaviors do not make more sense when thought of in terms of the brain. Two examples:

1. My friend and I are walking down an icy road when all of a sudden she slips and falls. She is acting in a certain way, and thus behaving, yet her brain did not control her initial slipping action. It was caused by the little ability that the body had to support itself in those conditions. The reason that my friend lost her footing may be because her brain realized that there was no traction and needed to compensate by slipping. The actual slipping, therefore, is a behavior, but the first moment that led to the slipping is harder to define in terms of the brain.

2. I have always been one to believe in brain over body, meaning that if I can convince myself of something and believe it strongly enough, then that is how it will be. For example, I feel that I am capable of preventing myself from getting sick most of the time because I do not allow myself to feel sick. That does not make too much sense. Another try: I can keep working even when my body tells me that it is exhausted and needs sleep (up to certain point). I thought that my philosophy was destroyed last year when I was told that I might be losing my central vision in my left eye because of macular degeneration. As soon as I was told that it was not macular degeneration and rather something called MEWDS that would get better, I felt my vision improve and also felt little discomfort. The power that the brain has over the body is incredible.

All of this is my starting point for the example that I am trying to present. A teacher of mine from high school is about 50 years old and suffering from Parkinson's Disease. He is an incredible man with a mind that works intriguingly well. Behaviors as a result of Parkinson's include nervous system degeneration. Explaining why these behaviors should happen to someone who obviously does not *want* them to happen to him is impossible. I understand that the behaviors and symptoms that result from Parkinson's are because of the brain. However, I do not understand why the brain loses control of the body. Part of explaining behavior must be explaining why the behavior occurs to one person and not to another. And then why some behaviors are necessary at all. I am confused on this topic. I thought that it was an example of body over brain because the brain loses control of certain parts of the body. Yet, I see how that is not really possible because the brain is always controlling every part of the body. Nonetheless, I think that explaining WHY certain things happen is one of the hardest things to account for and make sense of in terms of the brain.

The brain is behavior?... I am not so sure.

VERY interesting and nicely documented set of issues. Many thanks. Will try and unravel parts of them all semester. Are you sure you really want to think in terms of a brain/body dichotomy? The brain, after all, is a part of the body and Parkinsonism is actually a change in the brain rather than in the body (which does though, as you say, lead to reduced control of something over the body, of self?). On the other hand, clearly behavior reflects an interaction of brain with other parts of the body ... and so might be different if other parts of the body were different even if the brain were the same. That help to at least start sorting things out? PG

Sarah Zimov

I believe that one of the hardest things to account for in terms of the brain is personality. First of all, personality must be defined and that definition is certainly complex. I am defining it as the characteristics of an individual that are expressed through the thoughts and actions of an individual. This already makes it difficult to account for as there is no possible way in which to analyze the thoughts of an individual, because one can never know all of the thoughts of any other person. Some actions, however, can be analyzed in terms of the brain. These include certain mental conditions which can be corrected with drugs, such as manic-depression. Hormones also play a part in one's personality and are accounted for. The most difficult aspect of personality to account for is the acquired knowledge gained from one's environment. I equate the aquired personality with learning. We know that people learn by utilizing dendrites. It seems then that they are utilizing different dendrites through each social and environmental incounter. Therefore the sum of a particular person's usage of dendrites is a vital part of what makes up their personality. Although it would certainly be difficult to measure the exact usage patterns, it is almost of no use as a person is constantly reshaping their personality because each moment that passes creates a new environment and new learning experiences.

Personality definitely a problem. But is it a problem in principle, or a phenomenon that involves so many variables that one can't keep track of them all? You've done a good job, in fact, of subdividing "personality" into a number of different relevant parts. We'll talk about a number of those parts, and see whether "personality" could, at least in principle, be understood in terms of them. PG