Over the normal sunday night dinner and ice cream bar, I was discussing with my friend whether learning about the microscopic events (such as an action potential) is essential for learning about the whole. She was quick to reply that the whole is much more important and hence, we should study the whole and spend less time on the smaller pieces. I thought about that and I made an analogy to that of working with a puzzle. It is true that the finished product, the whole puzzle, is the goal, but in order to reach that, you must examine, shuffle, and fit in place the small pieces. Eventually, everything falls in place, and a clear picture emerges. This is similar to behavior; we have to understand what happens at every neuron in order to string the neurons together which in turn creates a pathway for behaviors to be communicated and understood. So....the answer to whether it is worth spending a week on action potential is a big Yes for me. Although it is hard to grasp the concepts because they are occuring so frequently and on a level that the human eye cannot see, it is these action potentials that are the reason we have movement, thought, etc. You simply can't learn about one without understanding the other. If I follow this reasoning then, because we have no clear answers to behavior, we still have issues with action potentials and small events that have to be dealt with before behavior can be more clearly explained.

I waslooking at the class's essays from last week and, after reading Erin Brown's about the paralyzed friend who had cut himself before the race and wasn't aware of it, I started questioning just how action potentials occur. If there is no leg movement, that can't mean that there are no action potentials, can it? Does this mean there are only resting potentials in the affected limbs and, since there is no movement, there are no action potentials? (now I am REALLY confused). Is it possible that there are different types of action potentials that cause different types of behavior (just a thought)? For example, one action potential causes movement whereas another action potential causes feeling, etc.--I'm not sure if this makes any sense. Also, while in a biopsych tutorial, we were discussing biofeedback, and that makes me curious about how action potentials are affected by such practices as Chi. If we can control certain behaviors, then we must be able to control the smaller steps that make up behaviors.....so does this mean that we can control our action potentials?

Regardless of all my questions, I do believe that any class that plans to investigate and possibly understand behavior must spend time learning the cellular steps--without these, the behaviors will never exist.

Very interesting/thoughtful, thanks. The parts versus whole issue indeed turns up in lots of contexts ... and has, I think, a general answer as you've give it. Properties of parts may (or may not) be directly responsible for properties of whole, but are, at a minimum, necessary to understand what properties of whole are conceivable (since they must derive from properties of parts). And, in this case, some more immediate significances to properties of neurons. No, there AREN'T different action potentials for different behaviors. They're all the SAME action potentials. So how can there be different behaviors? Or movements sometimes, not others? Good question. What it must (and does) imply is that not only the properties of the neurons (action potentials) but also how the neurons are organized and interact is a key factor in behavior. As we'll talk about. PG