Knowledge is always worth the time spent learning it. However, apart from the intellectual satisfaction gained from learning about action potential and their transmission mechanisms, is it really worth spending so much time on action potentials in trying to understand the implications for the larger functioning of the nervous system?

There's always the danger of losing sight of the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. I feel that it is worth the time spent, as long as we are able to relate that new knowledge to the larger picture of the nervous system as a whole; as long as we are able to integrate the two together into an image that corresponds to experimental observations.

Additionally, even though we can conclusively describe the action potential in great detail, and potentially map out all the pathways that action potentials can take, would it really help in understanding the overall phenomena that are the results of such pathways, or would such knowledge eventually prove to be a hindrance to further understanding?

Using an analogy from physics, we think we understand the more complex atoms in a quantum mechanical probabilistic sense, but we cannot (yet) perform the descriptive mathematics beyond the hydrogen atom, for it is too complicated even for comntemporary computer technology. Similarly, we may be able to completely understand what drives the functioning of the neuron as an independent, autonomous unit, but when we get to the higher or more complex levels of understanding behaviour, perhaps the action potential and synaptic pathway model alone is inadequate.

In the same line of thought, it seems highly reductionistic to claim that the action potential (and all the interrelated potentials, gradients and structures that are implicitly involved in the generation, maintainence and transmission of the action potential) is all there is to the functioning of the nervous system and hence to behaviour. It would make the explanantory model required much simpler, admittedly, but do we know enough about the nervous system at this time to discard the possibility of the role of additional unknown factors?

We do know that action potentials throughout the body can be described using a single model. The question then arises of how different individuals perceive the same inputs in different ways, and often have different outputs? One possible answer may be that their nervous systems are wired differently and although the mechanisms of action potential generation and transmission may be the same in both individuals, the different pathways that those action potentials take accounts for the varied outputs that the nervous systems produce. But then HOW is the different circuitry produced, and why is it different, when both outputs (responses) may have the same desired effect? Why do different people, for example, have different pain thresholds, when a single withdrawal away from the causal mechanism would serve the organism just as well as a withdrawal accompanied by a verbal exclamation?

Interesting and appropriate generalities (forest or trees), AND specifics. Yes, DOES matter that all neurons basically the same in internal processing since that means there MUST be at least one additional important level of complexity (the wiring diagram). But yes, should also bear in mind that there are additional unknown factors operating at the lower level of organization. And next question also appropriate: if the wiring diagram critical (it is), how does IT get put together and why differently in different people (or differently at different times in the same person?). We'll talk a bit about the developmental problem, though its actually a whole course in its own right. AND about why it might vary, person to person, and within a given person. But we'll spend more time on the multiple important levels of organization (the boxes within boxes within ...) that one needs to make sense of the forest as it is at any given time. PG