This week's essay topic: Does the view of the nervous system as boxes with smaller boxes within smaller boxes (i.e. an active autonomous system) that can generate its own activity independent of external stimuli, increase or decrease my comfort level with the idea that brain is behavior? The concept of the nervous system as stated above is helpful in terms of conceptualizing the nervous system as an active complex system that is influenced by and influences external and internal activity. This view helps me to conceptualize and better embrace the notion that " brain is behavior" because it provides a potential explaination for individual differences as well as for innate characteristicss. I find myself wondering about one of the current theoretical models in psychology and motor learning/control: the dynamical system theory (Thelan); and how this view of the nervous system might help to explain some of the concepts set forth in that theoretical perspective, i.e. that behavior is a result of any number of variables that are influencing the nervous system at any given time. This dynamical view moves us away from the traditional neuromaturational, stimulus/response view of the nervous system much like your analogy of the nervous system as boxes within boxes does. It would be interesting to examine the parallels in these two views. So although for the most part the view of the nervous system as boxes...is helpful for understanding how the nervous system functions, when we draw boundaries around things we can immediately find examples that do not neatly fit into these boxes. For example, thinking of the person(the "I" function) as one of the boxes limits the ability to appreciate how the person will impact on all other activity in the larger and smaller boxes. For example, a person with manic depression may respond and react differently when in the manic phase than when in the depressed phase. In this example, the "I function" influences every other aspect of behavior and nervous system functioning. How then can it be placed into one big box. It needs to be THE box that surrounds all others, don't you think? This concept was also brought forth in Sack's story of the "Last Hippie". Poor Greg, who had sustained brain damage from a tumor, had lost his autonomously driven personality. He could only generate interaction if it was initiated by someone else first. He needed a stimulus in order to respond. How can we put Greg's change in personality and his inability to spontaneously generate activity into a box when it affected every other aspect of his behavior? These are questions I will continue to ponder as we get further into the nervous system and it's relationship to behavior.
Very interesting issues and questions. Would like to hear more about Thelan (which I do not know about). As for boxes and their dimensions, that's a very significant set of problems. We could either give up the idea of boundaries or entertain the possibility that some bounded things influence LOTS of other bounded things. Or ... ? I tend to favor the second choice, but let's see whether/when/where we get into trouble with it. PG