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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

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An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 1999, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions and topics.


It was asserted in class that "the brain is behavior ... there isn't anything else". If you are (appropriately) skeptical about this assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will not be accountable for in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and explain why. If you are (equally appropriately) inclined to agree with the assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience of it), you think will be most difficult to make sense of in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and suggest how these might usefully be explored. Or discuss the significance of the assertion, what broader implications it does (or doesn't) have.

Name: Patricia Kinser
Subject: Brain vs. Mind/Soul
Date: Tue Jan 19 21:13:54 EST 1999

Class discussion today was quite thought-provoking. As I stated in class, it is disconcerting to assert that the brain controls all behavior and there are no outside forces, such as a soul or a mind. It is logical that the brain, which is the center for movement, thought, speech, etc... controls every bit of behavior. We are who we are- defined by our beliefs, our dreams, our fears, our needs, our experience, etc... which all come from processes in the brain. However, it is difficult to convince oneself of the absence of soul when one has lived an entire life believing in such an intangible definition of "self" and even after-life. Assuming that our behavior, our "Selves" are controlled solely by the brain, then once we die, once our nervous system is terminated, then that is the end. There is no after-life. Our brains and ourselves remain dead. Is life really reducable to mere chemical mechanisms?

I believe that it is possible to incorporate both belief systems (i.e. brain= proprietor of behavior vs. brain+soul=ourselves). I'm not quite sure how, but I believe it! Of course, every day more research is conducted where functions of the brain are connected to neurobiological mechnaisms. So, logically, the thoughts and beliefs that we have would eventually also be reduced to these same mechanisms. However, it is not incorrect to attempt to challenge these findings and support the possibility that there COULD perhaps be both a brain and a mind/soul. How do we balance our (i.e. our culture/society) insistent trust in science and our classical and hopeful insistence on faith and the presence of a God??

"Thought-provoking" is a pretty good thing, and I thought the discussion in class was too. I heard your "disconcerting" thought, but we really didn't have much of a chance to talk about it so I'm glad you wrote. I doubt you're the only one in the class who finds the "brain=behavior, there isn't anything else" assertion disconcerting. Indeed, its an actively debated proposition among people who have done a lot of thinking about it (see, for example, a set of papers on "materialism and dualism", part of a resource list of papers on consciousness by the philosopher David Chalmers), and was called "the astonishing hypothesis" in a book with that title by the biologist Francis Crick (Touchstone, 1995). The Self and its Brain by the philospher Karl Popper and the neuroscientist J.C. Eccles (Springer-Verlag, 1985) is a serious effort to have "both a brain and mind/soul", as you put it. So, it is of course not incorrect to be willing to challenge the proposition that brain=behavior. As with any scientific assertion, it needs to be evaluated in terms of its effectiveness at summarizing observations to date, and with the understanding that future observations may require re-evaluation.

One's inclination to challenge the "brain=behavior" assertion almost certainly depends in part of how "disconcerting" one finds it. And that, in turn, depends in part on how one has thought of things in the past. People (like myself) who didn't grow up with the idea of a "soul" are probably less likely to be disconcerted at the idea of "brain=behavior", although there is still some tendency to think of "mind" and "self" as distinct from brain. No "after-life" as a consequence of "brain=behavior"? That depends a bit on how one conceives of such a thing. For my part, I'm comfortable (for the moment) with the notion that people live on in the effects they have had during their life on the things around them, including the effects they have on the brains of other people.

That said, it should also be said that being disconcerted isn't necessarily a bad thing, by any means. One might, in fact, make an argument that all good science is "disconcerting" in the sense that it provides an opening to possible ways of seeing things other than those one has been used to using. Maybe "disconcerting" is the potential to think new thoughts, and develop new beliefs? And maybe the feeling, along with the thoughts, beliefs, and potential to change them are inherent in the "neurobiological mechanisms", and so don't disappear when they are understood in those terms?

A thought provoking message, obviously. Thanks Stay skeptical, of course.

Name: Paul Grobstein
Subject: First week
Date: Thu Jan 21 12:36:34 EST 1999
Thanks for an interesting first week. Here's a topic for the weekly essay:

It was asserted in class that "the brain is behavior ... there isn't anything else". If you are (appropriately) skeptical about this assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will not be accountable for in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and explain why. If you are (equally appropriately) inclined to agree with the assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience of it), you think will be most difficult to make sense of in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and suggest how these might usefully be explored. Or discuss the significance of the assertion, what broader implications it does (or doesn't) have.

Remember, though, that, if so inclined, you're welcome to write instead about any other thoughts that got triggered by our discussions this week. I was intrigued, for example, by the fact that "dreaming, playfulness, creativity" didn't make it to our list of aspects of behavior until the very end. Why was that? I was also interested in the notion that we put "thinking" off to the side, as perhaps not a "behavior" in the sense of observable, and by the suggestion that maybe it was (at least part of) what didn't appear as a "response" for some "stimuli". It also suddenly occurred to me that there is another way in which our orignal conceptual model of how the nervous system works (the stimulus/response box with a network of connections running from one side to the other)is demonstrably wrong: I'll save that for a later discussion, but you might have thought of something yourself. And how good WERE the arguments for switching from a stimulus/response to an input/output paradigm? Could we or could we not incorporate the observations discussed so far in the former? Are there really any difference in the two ways of thinking about the matter, and if so, what are they?

Sorry, don't mean to run on. Just some thoughts I was having. Stay (or don't stay) with the first topic, as you like. And remember it's your current thoughts, not your final word, so think of it just like our conversations: a way of thinking together. And that this is just a beginning, so you don't have to say everything you're thinking. A paragraph or two on a part of it will be fine. PG

Name: carly cenedella
Subject: comfort with the soul/mind/God???
Date: Thu Jan 21 12:47:19 EST 1999
I don't understand why people are more comfortable with the ideas of mind and soul than with the brain. To me, the idea that the brain is the only transmitter of behavior is "comforting" because the brain is tangible. I can study the brain and have a chance to understand more of people's behavior and I can build my knowledge to better control my life. Further, I feel the thought of my behaviors being under the control of a God or a mind or a soul that I can not test or understand is disconcerting. I would feel as if I had no control over my situation-that my learning, experiences, thoughts and feelings were somehow useless because I couldn't control my destiny anyway. I am frightened by the thought of some other power overriding the knowledge stored in my brain.

A question that I struggle with more is how can our limited conception of brain function explain all of the behaviors that people perform. How can a group of people watch the same film and take away different themes or different feelings? The film was the same input for everyone, but how does the brain of each individual process that input and arrives at different responses. How does each person's brain differ are there similarities? How can you predict behavior?

I also wrestle with questions about abnormal or diseased brain function. How can it be ameliorated? What can it tell us about normal brain function? I have worked with many patients with depression, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. It is hard to watch these individuals suffer and not want to find a way to "cure" the brain.

The project on Human Fetal Transplants on the course web site really excites me. I have done research and written about this procedure before, and I really feel that it holds great possibility. It has the possibility of helping Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's with brain cell transplants, to help diabetics with islet cell transplant, to quicken wound healing with skin cell transplants, and on and on. Yet some groups still hotly contest the use of stem cells because the source of stem cells can be considered "life." I don't consider an unused fertilized egg on the freeze in some in vitro fertilization clinic life, but I definitely can look at a grandmother with Parkinson's disease or a person suffering from diabetes and see life. My view on this I suppose leads right back to my original discomfort with idea of souls and minds and God. I see the practicality of using fertilized eggs to help people not some moral, spiritual issue about the beginning of life. Likewise, I view behavior as coming from the brain not some other intangible.

I look forward to the rest of the class to explore philosophical and physiological questions of brain function. The class presents an opportunity to hear other people's views. The electronic forum has been very interesting.

So, you're a materialist and pragmatist, impatient with the unknown since it gets in the way of fixing things, huh? Nice to have both you and Patricia in the class, and in the forum at the outset since together you lay out so nicely the poles of reaction to the "brain=behavior" assertion, along at least one axis. Yours is a clearer statement than I've heard before of why one might find the brain=behavior assertion appealing. Thanks. As for your question, we talked briefly about the brain=behavior implication that every individual's brain must be different (since they exhibit different behaviors). We'll talk more about this, and some other reasons why people (or even one person) might have different reactions to the same movie. Predictably? That's a very interesting question which we'll talk more about too. (PG)

Name: Alicia Zukas
Subject: Seeing is Believing
Date: Thu Jan 21 16:14:48 EST 1999
The brain is behavior, because if behavior (as we had defined it) is simply visible movement or response, we can incorporate the philosophical "tree falling in the woods" concept. We make something exist by the way our mind perceives it. Patients with a neurological disorder (such as Alzheimer's) believe their hallucinations as if they were reality. The brain is powerful enough to create images and prejudices and therefore controls all aspects of life.

"The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" ( a German film from 1919): the characters of the movie were in an insane asylum and the destruction and action that happened to the world throughout the course of the film simply took place in their minds; they created the destruction. Philosophically, a universe which is not perceived by an "intellect" does not exist. Intellect, of course, meaning a mind. If the brain physically controls the mind and thought (which most of us agreed was the neurological like of the tangible to the intangible) and the mind determines reality, by definition brain-->mind-->reality-->behavior. By the way, please forgive me, my web browser will not allow me to "review for editing" so I'm going to submit it as is- hopefully I did it correctly.

Hmmmm. Very interesting issue: whether there are actually things "out there" or whether instead we make them up. Its an issue we'll have a lot to say about as the course goes on. But are hallucinations, in and of themselves, really an argument for "brain=behavior", as you seem to imply? In fact, the phenomenon of people reporting seeing things which other people don't has in the past been interpreted as evidence for an influence on behavior of things outside the brain (and is still so regarded by many people today). What does one need to turn the argument around? Your mention of Dr. Caligari suggests an interesting way to explore this. Clearly by 1919 the idea that strange things could "take place in the mind" rather than by being transported to other worlds or spoken to by spirits or gods was sufficiently established as a possibility to play a role in story telling. I wonder how early one can detect that theme in art and literature? Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Princeton University, 1976) might be a good place to start exploring this if one were interested.

Let me know if you still have "review for editing" problems. You forgot an end of bold-face tag (</b>) and I added it. PG

Name: Kimberly Bibbo
Subject: General Comment for Professor Grobstein
Date: Thu Jan 21 18:19:45 EST 1999
In class, since you did assert that there was the brain, and nothing else, is this your personal belief, or did you assert this to stimulate conversation? I was just curious what you felt. Thanks. Kim B

That depends a bit on what one means by "personal belief". I'm not committed to the assertion, if that's what you mean. I've always been interested in "unusual" experiences, things that make one question the ways one uses to understand things. So I'd be pleased/excited to turn up something that seriously challenges the "brain=behavior" notion. On the other hand, there are an awful lot of observations which make best sense in those terms, with more coming every day. That makes it a good enough assertion so that I use it pretty generally and generally find it helpful ("believe in it"). Now, want to tell us what you think of it? PG

Name: Debbie Plotnick
Subject: Current mind/body/soul thoughts
Date: Fri Jan 22 13:22:00 EST 1999

For the majority of my life (thus far) I have believed that all that there was to me, and to other beings, with respect to that which is thought of as mind/spirit/soul was contained within the nervous system of each respective body. Perhaps there was a twinge of discomfort that the nature of such was transient and self contained. However, I accepted, believed and appreciated the romantic sentiment implicit in the notion presented to me as a declaration of love by my scientist/engineer husband: "my chemicals like your chemicals."

I also had been until recently both a practicing Jew and an Atheist. A Jew because that was the nature of the behavioral conditioning of my heritage and upbringing. And also because I have come to appreciate the value of ritual and tradition. But I could find no comfortable way to deal with the concept of "God."

But throughout my life, with greater frequency of late, I have come to seriously question my previous assumptions. One of the reasons for re-examination is because of certain experiences that I have had on definite, definable and documented (as well as some "fuzzy") occasions. These experiences often have included the express recognition of others. It is my perception and belief that these experiences were such that my consciousness (mind/spirit/soul?) had reached beyond the confines of that which contains of my nervous system (i.e. my body) to interact with the consciousness of other individuals.

However, I do understand that the nervous system, most especially the brain, does control and offer the explanations for the nature of how we beings behave and perceive ourselves and one another. I very much wish to explore these issues in a scientific manner, and I am confident that science will have many explanations to offer. I am especially looking forward to exploring such in "The Neurobiology of Behavior". But because my experiences have included a sense of an "inter-connectedness" among beings, I am now able to participate in a core rite of Judaism that had previously eluded me. I find that I can honestly recite Judaism's central prayer, "The Shema," that states: "God is One."

Thanks for the expressive and valuable connections to personal experiences/feelings. Maybe by the end of the semester, you can whisper in your husband's ear a slightly modified form of his sentiment: "The organization of my chemicals likes "the organization of your chemicals". The distinction is subtle, but will, I hope, become clear as the our discussion goes on. The chemicals themselves are almost certainly the same in you and your husband (and me, and everyone else, and cats, mice, perhaps crayfish, and so forth). Which, if brain=behavior means the differences (and correspondences) must have to do with how the chemicals are arranged.

Is there something which can "reach beyond" the nervous system, and interact with a similar something in others? Certainly many people have experiences of such a thing, as you describe. And for many purposes (including ritual and tradition), what is important is the experience, rather than what underlies it. For the brain=behavior question what is at issue is how reliable one's experience is in revealing the underpinnings, a matter to talk more about as we go on. PG

Name: Jessica Zaldivar
Subject: the brain box
Date: Sat Jan 23 16:03:39 EST 1999
Since I came into the class mid-week I feel like I also missed some important parts to this discussion so please excuse me if I am a bit slow to catch up. The more I think about this weeks topic the more I find myself siding with the assertion that the brain really is behavior and that everything comes from the brain. I tried to come up with things that I considered to be outside the body such as dreaming or feelings brought on by incredible pieces of music but I can place all of these things in the brain. I also agree with one of the other postings that by thinking something we make it real in some way. In that aspect then, everything is in the brain. I do not like the brain box model because i did not see where choice came into it at all. I also did not agree that input A caused output A when many times it is a combination of different 'inputs' that only creates one 'output' ot none at all. I thought the arguments for switching from stimuli to input were good. I think stimuli implies a response while input does not necessarily imply an output. I hope I am not missing the point of all of this.

No, I don't think you're missing the point of all this at all, and you seem to have caught up without any problems. Are you comfortable that "output" should be substituted for "response" (like "input" for "stimulus")? The question, of course, is what could cause an output, if not an input (or even a combination of inputs)? And, to think more about, why exactly do you think dreaming or strong reactions to music are in the brain, rather than in the mind, or the self, or (see below) the heart? PG

Name: Laura Gosselink
Subject: How can I know what is real
Date: Sat Jan 23 20:47:26 EST 1999

How can I understand behavior accurately? Or for that matter, how can I accurately understand anything at all? All that I understand as "true" or verifiable arises from observations construed by my senses. My understanding of what constitutes reality has changed and developed over time through a continuous learning process in which I have mentally structured the "input" (see, I was listening in lecture) provided by my senses, giving it form and meaning. In giving shape to my world in this way, I have continuously asked myself: is what I perceive valid/true/"real" or not? What has been my "reality check" in testing the validity/truth of my understanding of the world?

I think my "reality check" is found in continued observation of and interaction with other human beings and with the world itself. This reality check has provided me with conflicting evidence regarding the existence of intangibles such as the soul. On the one hand, the people in my world have largely supported the notion of intangible forces such as souls. Yet my observation of and engagement with my world has provided me with no "hard" evidence directing me to the conclusion that there is such a thing as a soul.

It certainly seems possible that "god" exists. However, once one opens the can of worms of what is "possible" without the constraints of empirical verifiability, then anything goes. Isn’t it also possible that I am not writing this: that the reader (if anyone is willing to read this) is simply dreaming of reading; that we all are part of some greater entity’s dream; that there are an infinite number of "angels" dancing… and so on? With this in mind, perhaps I can defend the brain is behavior assertion using the scientific method as the measure of reality. Anything that does not have the quality of being readily observable or quantified cannot offer itself to be examined. If it cannot be examined with our senses, then we cannot examine the validity of its existence. We cannot use the scientific method to generate hypotheses that can be accepted or rejected. Without empirical observations, the notion of a "god" is simply another variant of what is "possible." This seems a satisfying argument for me against the utility of considering the soul a locus of behavior. I do find I can act/manipulate/influence/create/adapt/etc. most efficiently when I utilize strictly what is known/probable/empirically verifiable. Attempting to account additionally for all that is merely "possible" can certainly bog things down a bit.

The absence of "proof" for the existence of the soul has been disappointing to me because I think there is a great deal of inspiration and comfort to be found in the spiritual beliefs I was raised with. But I do appreciate the relative simplicity and clarity of a world unpopulated by divine or supernatural forces. I have done some volunteer work with people who hear and see things that other people do not. It is much simpler to interpret their behavior as the result of an unusual brain state/condition (schizophrenia) than it is to complicate the equation by blaming spiritual forces. When the hallucinations of schizophrenics can be controlled with drugs, there seems no need to confuse the understanding of their behavior with notions of spiritual possession or influence. However, some of the physicians working with these people believe that when patient spiritual beliefs have been addressed as part of their total care, they fare demonstrably better. Evidence for the existence of a soul? Or evidence for the power of the belief systems contained in the brain?

Very interesting essay. You've nicely posed a number of the issues we'll explore as the course goes on, including the nature of what we experience as "reality". And you make a very interesting distinction between what is "empirically verifiable", and what is "possible". Which in turn raises an interesting question: if the "verifiable arises from observations construed by my senses", where does the "possible" (but not empirically verifiable) come from? William James wrote thoughtfully about this question is his then discipline defining Principles of Psychology, and retained a life-long interest in the meaning and significance of "spiritual beliefs". You (and others) might enjoy reading some of his work (including "The Will to Believe"), if you're not already familiar with it. I hope you'll contribute more from your volunteer experiences, and we can think more about the interesting question you pose: if addressing spiritual belief is therapeutically effective, does this indicate that there is something more to behavior than the brain, or that belief systems in the brain need to be taken into account? PG

Name: David Benner
Subject: brain=behavior?
Date: Sat Jan 23 21:49:20 EST 1999
There is certainly a lot of compelling evidence to suggest that all that defines behavior exists in the brain since the Central Nervous System is responsible for coordinating, processing, acting, etc. However, other than a list of things that fall under "behavior" do we have a clearly defined notion of it? It seems to me that much of the debate regarding what is and what is not disconcerting revolves around issues of personal identity with the implicit assertion that our selves are defined by our behavior. Perhaps this view of human beings is related to the way in which we understand the brain. We look at the brain in terms of its structure and its function. By defining people as simply functional units, as well, we may be missing something. I have no problem asserting that behavior exists in the brain, but where in the brain is the subjective experience, or, more importantly, awareness and understanding of it? While there may not be anything to behavior that cannot be explained by the brain, I'm not so sure that having a complete understanding of behavior enables us to "know" a person.

There is still some "I" who acts in all cases, an actor who exists prior to each action. The abstract, enigmatic "I" cannot be objectified since it is impossible to infer causality or design from actions. "I" think that our being subjects in a linguistic sense and our ability to experience life in a conscious state make us who we are, i.e. different in nature from others, not necessarily in degree of difference in brain chemistry. As for the "I", why not call it a soul? "Soul has strong religious connotations, but it captures what is not available to an observer, and as the root of both action and experience, there is a moral and meditative dimension to it.

What prompted me to think of this distinction was what would happen if someone went in and rearranged my neurons and pathways so that they are identical to someone else's. Would that make me the same person as my "twin"? While we might behave in the same way and share memories, our beings would still be distinct. If we were both in the same room, a third party would not say that we were the same person because we occupy different space, there still exists a clear distinction between the "original" and the "copy," and because we both have diffe

Very interesting issue, and a new one in the context of our discussion here: is there something more to be accounted for than simply how a person behaves as observed from the outside? Is there in addition an "I", which underlies actions but isn't adequately accounted for by observing them? Could two people have identical nervous systems but be different "I"'s? Could a nervous system exhibit all the behaviors of an individual without an I? Its a set of questions which is being actively debated in the philosophical literature at the moment; you (and others) can find some starting places to explore it on Serendip if you're interested. And we'll certainly talk more during the semester about whether there is an "I" in the sense you define it, and what that would imply for the questions you pose.

Your essay looks like it got clipped, huh?. If you like, I can add the missing lines. PG

Name: Rachel Berman
Subject: Sense and Madness
Date: Sat Jan 23 23:55:46 EST 1999

Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye -
Much Sense - the starkest Madness -
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail -
Assent - and you are sane -
Demur - you're straightway dangerous-
And handled with a Chain -
-- Emily Dickinson

This poem, interestingly enough by Emily Dickinson, sheds more light on the concepts that where brought up during class discussion. In one of its definitions, madness is said to be “marked by intense and often chaotic activity.” This conjures up in my mind the idea of the second model of the nervous system that we spoke of. It may be perceived as less ordered than the stimulus/response model and can even be associated with nonsensical chaos because we often do not exactly know where the input goes and which route it takes. Many people feel more comfortable by forming simple connection between concepts such as the stimulus/response model does, perhaps it makes life more bearable. However to “a discerning eye,” making “sense” of such things as the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior requires a more complex, and in many ways incomprehensible (mad?) model of behavior.

As was mentioned in class, epilepsy was viewed as a form or spirit possession and during that time if anyone made the assertion that the brain controls this phenomenon, that individual would be deemed “crazy” and “handled with a chain.” For someone like myself, who began to question the entire scheme of the universe from the begging of abyss to the present, that was nicely laid out for me by my Rabbi, it is quite natural to accept the “brain=behavior” model primary for the fact that overwhelming scientific evidence pinpoints the brain as controlling a wide range of behaviors that were previously explained by some other concept such God. If in fact scientists will some day be able to connect all sorts of behaviors to the brain and no other concept will be needed, (even behaviors such as love that many seem to be uncomfortable viewing as a mere series of chemical reactions because it “takes away” from the feeling itself), that does not make us any less human or unable to feel. Nor does it make life any less exciting, simply understandable.

What worries me more is the idea of control which Carly Cenedella brought up in her comments. If we can reduce certain complex behaviors, say aggression, to certain processes in the brain, then we could perhaps tell by the integration of neurons and by the chemicals which are utilized, whether someone will exhibit certain behaviors. Conclusions could be drawn and one is born with the knowledge of what is inside his/her brain and how those connections will manifest themselves in his/her life. This type of knowledge is indeed disconcerting. But no matter where our future discoveries will lead, I am prepared to let the truth “dazzle gradually” and keep in mind that “much madness” is often the divinest sense.

Thanks for adding another Emily Dickinson poem to our conversation; its a nice one I hadn't run across before. Interesting woman, interesting thoughts, interesting brain. I wonder how it came to be as it was? An interest of yours by any chance?

So you think the second model is more mad than the first? Hang on, its going to get more so. Which raises a number of interesting questions. If brain=behavior then the model has to be no less mad than behavior, yes? Otherwise it would imply that we were "less human". Understandable? That's an open question, for both us and the model. What exactly does one mean by "understandable"? My guess is that it won't include "controllable", and perhaps not even "predictable" (if we take the Harvard Law seriously). We'll see if there is some other useful sense of "understandable".

I did, by the way, change the formatting of the poem so its closer to the printed version, by using <br> instead of <p>. That makes a line break without giving the extra space that separates paragraphs. Hope you don't mind. PG

Name: Eric Banks
Subject: A pompous point of view
Date: Sun Jan 24 15:01:09 EST 1999

I am not taking this course, but am interested in this discussion.

What are all these thoughts concerning the nature/origin of behavior? It is amusing and interesting to entertain notions of some intangible forces having some control over the behavior of human beings. But, let’s think for a moment. Actually, let’s think empirically for a moment. If some "force" is not observable, it is beyond the realm of science. If you are in the proximity of someone who is physically ill, and then develop similar symptoms of illness, do you ask yourself if the person you were exposed to was possessed by "evil forces" or do you wonder how the virus/bacteria entered your system? Do you wonder over the infinite permutations and combinations of what is possible or do you use the principle of parsimony? Questioning whether or not there is a "god" is analogous to questioning whether or not you got sick from those dreaded "evil forces." If a thing cannot be observed, it cannot offer itself to scientific examination. Before the scientific method emerged, you may have had your arteries opened to cure your illness. Hell, it was "possible" that bloodletting would cure you. Our universe could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; which could be a speck of dust in an infinitely larger universe; and so on. All this is "possible", but it is most probable that such speculation is ludicrous and potentially dangerous. If there is no empirical evidence – nothing that can be tested with the scientific method – don’t satisfy some emotional need to explain something that cannot be explained. Yes, it may someday be empirically feasible to know and explain everything concerning our existence, but until that day, let’s not waste our time pondering untestable possibilities.

So, I’m an empiricist. I think the reader understands my thoughts on the subject of "god" and what is possible. Trying to be as arrogant and pompous as possible (while still being correct!), the only realistic viewpoint for an intelligent and educated human being to have regarding the existence of such possibilities is that of agnosticism. Because there is no direct evidence that supports or denies the existence of a "god," it is not rational to be an atheist or a believer.

Why is there such an emphasis on the unobservable when it comes to discussing human behavior? I guess we like to feel that we are somehow more important than we are. It is comforting emotionally to think that we are all part of some "plan." I’m more interested in the observable "truth" than feeling good.

Back to the brain/behavior conundrum. Everything that we can observe; everything that science has to offer regarding this immense, leviathan of a brain-teaser points to the brain being the source of all behavior. We must, however, have a biological support mechanism for the brain. I would think that it would be obvious to most that if we yanked the brain and central nervous system out of any individual human being, there wouldn’t be much "behaving" following such a procedure. The brain needs its support mechanism in order for it to remain "functional."

Sorry for the sarcasm and arrogance of my writing but the mere idea of debating whether an unobservable "god" is responsible for our behavior is intellectually repulsive to me. We are not far removed from a time in our history when "witches" and other "evil" forces were viewed to affect our behavior. Human beings were persecuted or killed because others believed that they were "possessed" with unseen forces. And it was fear of the "unknown possibilities" (and probably the search for power) that drove their tormentors. Let’s not revert to those "glory days."

I am now thinking of Carl Sagan. I wish I could be as articulate and eloquent as he was in his defense of science and rational thought. In his book, "The Demon Haunted World," he stressed the importance of logic and the scientific method. He also warned of the pitfalls of believing in such "mystical" things as the power of crystals and "ESP." I feel that I am doing Sagan a great disservice just by mentioning his name. I know I am not as persuasive and mellifluous as he was. (Yes, I looked up "mellifluous" in the thesaurus!) But, in any case, I’m getting tired of this. Why don’t we all just go out and join a cult? Thats a form of behavior.

I've left your contribution in our forum, since responses to it contributed to some of the class participants' following essays. For the future, though, would you please post in Serendip's general Brain and Behavior forum (see above)? Posting here is for those who are attending the course. Thanks. PG

Name: Emma Kirby-Glatkowski
Subject: Behaviour from the brain?
Date: Sun Jan 24 15:20:09 EST 1999

I consider myself to be a scientist and when addressing the question of behavior it is only logical that the brain controls all behaviors. I do not believe in a soul or any other part of the person that would control behavior. In looking at evidence found in a previous college seminar course concerning understanding, I have become comfortable that everyone understands things in a different manner than everyone else. I reached this conclusion by arguing that everyone has a unique brain and so therefore their understandings or the world around them would also be unique. Because I have accepted the idea that understanding comes from the brain, it is relatively easy for me to accept that the brain controls all behavior.

Although I have accepted this concept at the scientific level, I was rather reluctant to do so at other levels. Human beings are an incredibly diverse species who are capable of so many different types of singular behavior. We are able to make both conscious and unconscious choices about an infinite amount of information. However, to have the brain control all of that through a series of electrical and hormonal signals is kind of disturbing to me. My first thoughts on the matter tend to run in a very uncomfortable direction. It tends to take something very personal, my behavior and thoughts, and turn it into something very impersonal. If the brain controls all behaviors it is then implied that in time all behavior will be explained in a very impersonal way. The entire idea is very threatening to me. It seems to take away my choices, my feelings, and my free will.

Although it still tends to make me a little nervous, I have found a way to make it seem less threatening. In all reality, I am not losing my thoughts and feelings. I merely understand where they come from which is an incredibly interesting concept. I still am able to make choices, that is part of what the brain does. As long as I believe that I can still make choices and that choice is part of the brain, I can easily accept that the brain controls all behaviors. In this way of thinking, free will is not compromised and control is not lost. Only when I lose control over my behavior do I feel truly threatened.

I'm flattered you're coming back for more. And pleased to have you around, since we can continue comparing notes about how we see the world, and the place of science in that. Sounds like it will all work IF it is really true that brains are different in different people, and IF we can find the "personal" and "free will" in the nervous system. Which is not so much a "logical" question as an empirical one, yes? PG

Name: Patricia Kinser
Subject: "truth" and "reality"??
Date: Sun Jan 24 16:13:47 EST 1999
In response to Eric, many people who have posted admit that a belief in a soul/mind/God is rather comforting. However, it is important to note that many people who have posted that they believe that there is no soul say that they are more comfortable with having the scientific "answer" that brain simply equals behavior. You accuse those who have a believe in the soul to not be in search of the truth, but rather to only want to feel good. I don't think it is as simple as that. In my search for "truth" I would like to keep all of the possibilities in mind; what if in our "scientifically" based searching we neglect to pick up on an idea because it has been presented in a religious fashion?

On a different topic, Laura talked of the hallucinations of schizophrenic patients. In looking at the brain activity of these patients, we see different patterns than would be seen in a "normally" functioning brain. Why must we neglect the idea that these "hallucinations" of these patients could actually be occuring? How can we say that their reality is incorrect. Couldn't it be that our realities are "incorrect"? Let me explain- blood flow imaging shows that schizophrenics may have alterations in functional lateralization of the cerebral hemispheres (Rosenzweig, 580). Perhaps, due to these changes, these people have an altered yet more perceptive view of the world? Perhaps we cannot reduce others' realities to being hallucinations simply due to the fact that the workings of their brains are different from ours? On the same note, perhaps we cannot reduce others' beliefs in soul/mind/God because the cannot be seen using a PET. Just an idea...

I agree that, as scientists (or even as curious people), one oughtn't to reject possibilities based on their sources/origins (just as one shouldn't accept them for that reason). Hallucinations are an interesting issue, and we'll talk a fair amount about whether one can or cannot say from brain activity what is "real", and where the idea of a "reality" comes from. The problem gets more interesting if one accepts that all brains are different. What then does one mean by "normal"? On the other hand, if brain=behavior, then "soul/mind" perhaps SHOULD be apparent in brain activity? Have you read any Oliver Sachs? His book Anthropologist from Mars has some descriptions of "altered yet more perceptive" (or at least uniquely perceptive) results from brain damage. Keep having ideas. PG

Name: Kathryn Ho
Subject: Brain vs. Heart
Date: Sun Jan 24 16:22:13 EST 1999
You have asked us to examine how what we have now discussed in class relates to how we understood the brain and behavior prior to the discussion. I think I have mixed feelings. It is, indeed, comforting to know that we can pinpoint behavior so concretely upon one tangible object and therefore we may be able to alter problems that at one time were beyond the realm of the brain. The idea that if all behavior is solely due to the brain than we are left vulnerable is also a good point but seems to have an upside to it as well... If the brain is this tangible mass, then shouldn't be able to innovate and begin to understand how to fix it? Who knows if this is even possible, but shouldn't it be?

But I think I do still have a qualm with the "brain, and only the brain, controls behavior" idea. I would like to continue to believe that my heart continues to control some of my behavior. So you might say that your brains controls your heart so your brain controls that behavior, but in my head, I believe the heart to be a more intangible concept that directs behavior, much like the mind or the soul... I think that losing the idea of guidance by the heart is difficult. It is even more difficult when you look at the alternative, which is quite cold and clinical and leaves little room to link behavior to emotion.

Maybe it will turn out that we have been innovating, in the sense of "fixing" the brain all along? Maybe that's what child-rearing, education, various forms of psychotherapy have been all about? As for the heart, we certainly don't want to lose that, but maybe its actually in the brain too? Descartes' Error, by the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio, makes a strong argument that emotion is not only a central element of brain function but a central element of "wise" behavior as well. PG

Name: Deborah Silvis
Subject: the science of the soul
Date: Sun Jan 24 16:25:54 EST 1999
I think that, when attempting to tackle a topic like the brain-behavior dichotomy, one's natural inclination is to wax philosophical. This may be due partly to our incomplete picture of the brain's full faculties; it is easy to tune in to psychospiritual thoughts about the brain/mind/soul at the expense of pure, empirical, scientific questioning. I am deeply intrigued by the lifes' works of two scientists who have tried to reconcile the spiritual and scientific bases of neuroscience. One is a Bryn Mawr grad, Candace Pert, who discovered the opiat receptor and who currently investigates mindbody science and its relation to AIDS. The other is Fancis Crick, who we all know developed the structure for that beautiful stuff that holds the secrets of our brains in the first place.

Candace Pert's hypothesis, which she presents in her book Molecules of Emotion, is that by establishing the biomolecular basis for our emotions, we can find the crucial link between mind and body- between brain and behavior. What appeals to me about her research is the seemingly paradoxical nature of her belief system. That is, while she is a true reductionist, believing that we are really nothing more than the chemicals of which we are composed, she is able to possit that some of these chemicals may just have aggregated to form a mind or a soul. Those of you whose belief system includes both a soul and a brain can find comfort and mentorship in Pert's words.

Francis Crick entered the field of neuroscience a little over a decade ago when he began his research into what he calls the "scientific search for the soul". He officially presented his views in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis. In it, he describes the basics of the psychology and biology of vision which he goes on to relate to human consciousness. Consciousness, he says, is directly linked to the human soul. His empirical investigations into this soul-consciousness-vision link form the basis of his "astonishing hypothesis"- that there is a soul and that it's existence can be elucidated by studying how the brain "sees". So, Crick, as well, has been able to reconcile the mind-brain problem. I apologize if this comment reads like a book report, but I think it is of the utmost importance in this debate that one stick as closely as possible to the empirical, experimental side of the fense, to look at the actual research, and to decide from that whether the mind and the soul should enter into our discussions of the brain and behavior.

No apologies needed. Its valuable to have connections made to other materials, so everyone can look at them and see what they make of them. Crick, if I understand him correctly, isn't so much arguing that the soul "is directly linked" to consciousness and hence to the brain as he is contending that consciousness (and hence the soul) are aspects of brain function (i.e. brain=behavior). Pert similarly, I believe, though I haven't read her book yet (want to do a review of it for us?). What's common to both of them is a willingness to take human experiences as a given, and ask how they could be accounted for in terms of organized matter. In that sense, they are neither of them strictly "empirical, experimental"; they are both starting with terms summarizing human experience outside of brain science, and using a wish to understand them to motivate new observations on the brain. That's not a criticism, much good science is of this form, but neither is it really withholding judgement on whether "the mind and the soul should enter into our discussions of brain and behavior", is it? PG

Name: Joe Xiong
Subject: Brain=Behavior
Date: Sun Jan 24 20:59:28 EST 1999
From a scientific point of view, the brain does control all forms of behavior. It is the relay center where all the information is processed and then sent out to other various regions of the body. In this respect, yes the brain equals behavior. This answer stems from how one defines behavior. In the literal sense, behavior is a movement that is observed, but how then does one explain the concept of the soul and mind? Thus, I fell very reluctant to accept that the brain equals behavior. I believe that though the brain helps explain how one reacts outwardly, it does not explain everything. I think that the brain is not the only answer to how one understands behavior. Maybe it is just me, but I do think there is something as a soul, that the brain and soul work together. And maybe, there is no scientific way of finding a concrete answer.

We'll see if we can sharpen the "outward/inward" dichtomy as the course goes on. Behaviorist psychology adopted a strictly outwardly observable definition for behavior. We have already admitted a necessity to account for some inward things, and perhaps even some only inwardly observable things. Maybe that could turn out to be all of them?

Name: jess
Subject: brain=behavior
Date: Sun Jan 24 22:00:28 EST 1999
I never believed in the story of Adam and Eve, but after class last Thursday I had an intense desire to believe, I left wanting to believe more than ever in its actuality. Because of our discussion I feel like I have to grasp for the meaning of life- that if brain equals behavior, nothing really matters. It's like a video game where once you die, the game is over and you cease to exist in any form. We all want to believe in something else, but with more and more technological breakthroughs, that spiritual quality seems to become less possible.

In some ways it is comforting to have something tangible (like the brain) to believe in and explain how we behave. Each day more is learned about why we behave the way we do, but the frightening thing, the thing which is so hard to draw the line at is when, by asserting that brain is behavior we justify criminal acts and excuse would-be offenders. With the ongoing research in psychology, many defendants are now claiming defenses such as temporary insanity. It brings up questions of whether we have control over our life and the decisions we make. The implications this has on the legal system and the act of putting criminals back on the street is dangerous territory and we are coming closer to crossing it everyday.

You're raising several different issues each worth exploring further. Aren't there ways things could "matter" even if one's personal existence came to an end (the impacts one has on the world, on others, and so forth)? Could one perhaps build a "spirituality" around something like that, rather than on continuing personal existence? What if it DOES continue to emerge that more and more aspects of behavior make sense in terms of brain organization and function? Does the notion of personal (and criminal) responsibility disappear, or simply take on a new meaning? Human perspective on these sorts of matters has changed a number of times in the relatively short time of our recorded history. Maybe it will (is?) again? PG

Name: David Mintzer
Subject: brain-mind
Date: Sun Jan 24 22:15:03 EST 1999
The mind-body question is an issue that I have discussed in several psychology and biology classes. For me, it's something that I don’t think I will ever be able to resolve through objective reasoning and science. I have always felt that there is something more to me than just the organ in my head. I know that my eyes have receptors which respond to light and that my brain converts this information into electrical and chemical signals. But I don’t think that it is the brain that sees . I (and I don’t know what this I is) see. Obviously if the eyes or certain parts of the brain are damaged, we can not see, but I prefer to think that the brain enables me to see (the brain does not see, it is an intermediary between myself and my environment) Experience-- seeing, thinking, etc-- does not seem to be something that a complex web of electrical signals can be capable of. I know that this is completely subjective, and probably rather shortsighted. Maybe in the next 50 years we will be better able to classify the brain and understand how it is capable of experiencing the world.

As far as the study of psychology and neurobiology and its practical applications, I think it is mostly irrelevant whether we believe in a soul, or some aspect of self which cannot be tangibly classified. Accepting that the brain affects our basic functioning and that its damage leads to serious consequences, we can understand, at least on that level, how we interact with our surroundings and can develop treatments for disorders. Returning to the question of sight-- we know that if certain areas of the brain are damaged, sight will be impaired. Does this mean that section of the brain is what sees? It doesn’t really matter whether we believe this to be the case or cling to our subjective belief that mind is something more intangible. Science can only treat the human condition through what is directly observable and treatable. On that level, I can accept the brain’s primary role as it reacts to my environment and controls my behavior.

An interesting dichotomy: the conceptual versus the practical. The funny part of the history of science is that efforts to deal effectively with the practical seem to inevitably intrude into the conceptual. That "I" and how it works relates to a number of practical problems (criminality, insanity, education), and so is unlikely to be immune from investigation. A key question is whether to have "always felt that there is something more to me than just the organ in my head" is reliable evidence. Could a brain be organized so as to give that "feel" without its actually being so? Have you looked at Daniel Dennet's Consciousness Explained or T. Norretrander's The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size? Both raise some interesting questions about how seriously one can take how one's self feels to oneself. PG

Name: Mary Bartek
Subject: Brain=Behavior?
Date: Sun Jan 24 23:08:06 EST 1999
The brain seems to control the behavior of animal, including humans. The extreme alterations of personality that can occur when the brain is modified indicate that the essence of a person, personality, originates in the brain and the nervous system. While more complicated aspects of behavior, such as language, thought, and reason, are difficult to explain through science, I can not think of a reason why they could not be understood through extensive study of the brain.

Yet, the nervous system is not an isolated system. It is, of course, part of the whole body, which is not an isolated system, either. The things that we eat, breath, and touch influence us, and therefore our brains, chemically and psychologically. Additionally, the other brains in other bodies influence individual brains and bodies physically and psychologically. The environment seems to have a profound impact on the growth and development of people, including their brains. While the brain seems to control the behavior of the animal of which it is a part, the environment seems to control the brain. Humans, for example, are very social creatures. Social interaction with other humans is essential for normal development. Part of that social interaction is, ideally, affectionate attachment with other people. Without affection and attachment, the brain of the developing person will not grow properly or function normally. This deformed brain will control the behavior of this individual. Yet, the brain did not control its own development. Environmental forces influenced the growth of the brain, so the brain is not completely in control.

While this model of behavior makes sense to me, I also see it as a potentially dangerous view. If people are not in control of themselves, then they cannot be responsible for their actions. Yet, I believe that individual responsibility is essential for society to function. Perhaps this belief is misguided, but I will have to think for a while longer before I make any conclusions.

Fair enough. Certainly the brain is not an isolated system but rather a part of a larger web of interactions. And certainly it is affected by other elements of the web, just as it affects others elements. So the brain is not "in control" of behavior. That, though, wasn't quite the assertion, which was instead "brain and behavior are the same thing". Which would mean that the brain is affected by all the other things in the web of interactions. AND that it affects them, rather than simply being determined by them? If the latter is so, then we would still have a basis for personal responsibility, no? So, in a sense, we're asking the same question about the brain that we might in the past have asked about behavior (or the individual). Is it simply a function of the influences which things outside it have on it, or is there something more going on? Can we find in the brain something which gives it choices to make, in some meaningful sense? If so, would that satisfy you?PG

Name: adrianne lord
Subject: Brain is Behavior?
Date: Sun Jan 24 23:22:10 EST 1999
The brain is presented as the end-all explanation to account for people's behavior which differ from the "norm." Someone mentioned schizophrenics and i would like to elaborate on this. Whether someone is shicophrenic, bipolar, hypomanic, or depressed, doctors treat their illness with medication that will alter their present state of thinking. This way of practice implies that the brain is related or has a strong influence on behavior. Despite textbooks and the numerous amount of research explaining various brain functions, i question myself to say that brain=behavior. I understand that with time and technology, one day, mankind may actually be capable of explaining every part, function and pathway of the brain but until then, i feel that people should be hesitant to say that one thing controls another.

I am not saying that the brain does or does not control behavior because this is the kind of topic that cannot be answered after a week of thinking. It takes years (in my opinion) to think and analyze the various concepts on the brain and why people behavior how they do.-

I have one question which I can not answer: How can the brain explain something like falling in love? Falling in love is a behavior. So, are there pathways for unobservable behaviors as well? Yes, the brain has the amygdala which is associated with emotion but is this the place that decides when is the right time for such a behavior? or is there something outside of the brain, something abstract that does this? --- As for now, i can not say yes or no on whether brain equals behaior.

Its ok, you can certainly have some more time to think about it. On the other hand, you sure you're not just reluctant to admit you have an opinion? Everyone thinks about behavior and how to account for it, from the time they're born, and has an explanatory framework for it which is the best they've been able to come up with given their experiences so far. Your "falling in love" question suggests you do too, and it includes some "unobservable" things which you suspect are different from "observable" things which DO have to do with the brain. So let's see, as the semester goes, how well an unobservable/observable distinction does or doesn't hold up. PG

Name: Lauren Hellew
Subject: brain = behavior?
Date: Mon Jan 25 00:43:21 EST 1999
I have spent some time considering this question and, although I do have some mixed feelings, I am inclined to take the position that the brain does equal behavior. I can understand how such an idea might be disconcerting, however, I would have to agree with the others who have said that believing that the brain equals behavior is actually more comforting than not. Theoretical concepts like the mind and the soul are nice but they are intangible. The brain, on the other hand, is tangible... I can study it and potentially understand it (although I certainly don’t claim that I - or anyone else for that matter - can truly understand what is going on in the brain).

I am especially interested in the idea that disordered brain function causes disordered behavior and that if the brain can be “cured” so will the disorder. What is psychopharmacology is but a method of manipulating behavior by altering the chemicals in the brain? I find this to be a comforting thought as well because it means that that these disorders are explainable and potentially treatable. Of course, this is also a dangerous thought because there is so much that we don’t know about the brain and the mechanisms by which it controls behavior. Several disorders have been mentioned including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease, and all are good examples of disorders which can be treated with medications. However, such medications do not have the same effects on everybody and, in fact, do not help some people at all. For example, if depression is caused by a deficit in serotonin, then drugs which increase the amount in serotonin in the brain should help to treat the disorder. Interestingly, while such drugs help a lot of people, they do not work for others at all. Also, drugs which act on other chemical systems in the brain can effect mood and are used to treat depression in some people. Although I do think that the brain equals behavior, I do not pretend to understand how. In fact, I think it will be a long time before we have any real understanding of the brain and the mechanisms by which it controls behavior.

Psychopharmacology is certainly a piece of evidence for "brain=behavior". But, as you say, the same treatments may be effective for one person, not so for another. Maybe because their brains are different? implying that different brains may exhibit behavioral "disorders" similar enough to appear to be the same? If so, characterizing the brain instead of behavior may be more effective. We'll see, and maybe acquire SOME understanding of the relation between behavior and brain mechanisms along the way? PG

Name: Alexandra Smith
Subject: brain = behavior
Date: Mon Jan 25 01:07:31 EST 1999
As a student of science as well as a practicing Catholic, I have found a deep internal conflict when attempting to answer questions about the workings of the brain. While the scientist in me wants to explain behavior solely in terms of a tangible brain, I find it disconcerting that my beliefs can be pinpointed to neurotransmitters and electrical signals. Until now, I have therefore attempted to separate my scientific thoughts from my faith. However, presented with the idea that brain = behavior, I believe that while much can be learned from understanding the workings of the central nervous system, we must also take into account other factors. Some of these, mentioned in class, were interaction with other beings, previous experience, environment and the rest of the body. I think that all of these play a crucial part in studying behavior.

Just think, if all of our brains are physiologically the same and function in the same manner, what makes our thoughts different from one another? We can clearly see a difference between a normal brain and an abnormal brain from today's technology. However, what is the visible difference between normally functioning brains? To me, this question can only be answered if we consider these other factors. I believe that they have a tremendous contribution to the study of behavior because they provide a sense of individuality and of self. Therefore, while we can study general activities of the brain that are common to all people, I do not think that it is possible to attribute personal expressions such as religion, creativity, morality, inspiration and motivation entirely to the brain. It is more comforting to believe that, along with the brain, there must be some intangible mechanisms driving these processes.

J.C. Eccles, a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist, also needed to bring Catholicism and science together, and did so by suggesting a brain/soul interface (see note to Patricia Kinser at the beginnning of this week). On the other hand, it is certainly true that, if one looks closely enough, that there are differences not only between "abnormal" and normal brains but between "normal" brains as well (which raises the interesting question of what defines "normal" and what "abnormal"). And that these differences reflect interaction with others, environment, the rest of the body, and so forth. So maybe one doesn't need an "intangible" to account for the individual and personal? PG

Name: Kimberly Bibbo
Subject: Weekly thought paper
Date: Mon Jan 25 01:44:48 EST 1999
As many other students have already posted, the brain/behavior issue is one I have already thought about quite a lot. I would definitely argue in favor of there being something much more than simply the brain and nervous system responsible for human behavior. I propose that a soul or a mind is definitely present in human beings. My logic for this is simply all the different nuances and facets of any one person's personality. If the brain was the only thing controlling behavior, why would people be so radically different, when there are not drastic structural differences in the brain?

More importantly, however, is the idea of how people became so diverse from an evolutionary view. If environment and genetics are the two factors that can influence behavior, wouldn't all of early man have been identical in ideas and functioning? What force would act upon the brain to give rise to new ideas? A lot of behavior can be found in different regions of the brain (i.e. hippocampus and memory) but there are just too many factors, such as how emotion varies and how ideas and brain functioning are not controllable that leads me to definitively believe there has to be something else besides the brain and nervous system. Otherwise, people would probably not be as diverse in their ideas, beliefs, and just overall demeanor as they end up being.

On a more personal note and less scientific bent, I refuse to believe that there is no soul or mind inside every person. There is too much that is unexplained, such as instances of telepathy, that would not be accounted for just in the brain. Perhaps the parts of the brain that humans supposedly do not use are actually something that science can not tangibly, at least at this stage, reach that actually contain a mind or soul. These components, I believe, would make up the parts of personality, private thoughts, and uncontrollable emotions and ideas that can not be accounted for as of yet.

Hmmmm. Something outside the brain or some part of the brain that scientists have yet to adequately investigate? Either is possible, of course, but they have quite different implications for the brain=behavior question. As for diversity, that depends a lot on what one means by "drastic" structural differences. One can get pretty substantial differences in behavior from pretty small differences in brain structure, and since there is a lot of structure there there is almost certainly plenty of room for people to be different from one another. Is a combination of different genetic influences and different environments enough to produce all the differences between people? Now THERE's an interesting question. Is there somehow something within the brain that could produce different ideas even given identical genomes and environments? We'll explore that as we go on.

Name: Jason Bernstein
Date: Mon Jan 25 02:13:51 EST 1999
The comments posted by Eric Banks were right on the money. I wish he were in this class--I'm sure he would make some valuable contributions. Eric, could you tell us who you are?

The notion that some of the concepts we have been using (soul, mind, self, spirit) stem from non-brain or non-biological sources does speak to a species-wide arrogance, a sense of self-importance that is unfounded, that is, not based on evidence. The percieved existence of these concepts is just a testament to the power and complexity of our brain. We should be proud that we are the only species with the ability to feel like we have a soul--do we have to attribute it to supernatural forces? While the universe (and the physical rules which govern it) may not be accidental, I believe that organized life is indeed no more than a chance event, an event that is probably happening in lots of other places in our universe of 125 billion galaxies, each containing around 50 billion stars (yes, it's that big). I'm quite willing to accept the fact that I am merely a temporarily hyper-organized bundle of molecules, and nothing more abstract than that, a bundle which will soon become disorganized. If we start attributing souls and afterlives to eachother, where do we stop? Do bacteria have souls and afterlives? Perhaps I should say a prayer every time I swallow, because I'm killing a couple million of 'em. Let's just accept that our brain is a super-organ (the superest thing in the known universe) which can concoct almost any feeling or idea (and even trick itself), and move on to explore that organ, not getting caught in the progress-halting net of unempiricism and emotion-based conjecture.

So, yes, I think that brain=behavior. So which behaviors are hard to account for? A lot of them, I bet. Some of the capacities of animal brains are almost as amazing as some human capabilities. The way some animals are able to interperet and manipulate the nuances of their environment entails a lot that we still can't understand. But the hardest stuff for neuroscience to account for, I think, is deep human thought, the kind of thought that involves no immediate input and leads to no immediate output necessarily, the stuff exemplified by that statue "The Thinker". This is where we take stored information and somehow play around with it to yield new information, like a poem or a scientific theory. I look forward to following (partaking in?) the process of figuring this stuff out.

Sounds like you can stand in adequately for Eric. But why attribute soul/mind/self/spirit to "species wide arrogance", "getting caught in the progress-halting net of unempiricism and emotion-based conjecture"? An interesting property of "hyper-organized bundles of molecules" like ourselves is the continuing effort to make sense of things, and to share the sense we make of them with others in order to make better sense of them. Arguably, "soul/mind/self/spirit" are terms that emerged from those intrinsically empirical processes: the observations that one could not account for in terms of processes known at the time. If so, the issue now is not what is or is not "unempirical and emotion-based" but rather the extent to which one can or cannot account for those kinds of observations given processes more recently recognized. PG

Name: Marion Howard
Subject: Brain=Mind
Date: Mon Jan 25 02:34:36 EST 1999
I tend to think that belief in heaven and hell and reincarnation is an individual's way of coping with the fact that they will end one day. They don't want to think that this is all there really is. I don't believe that there is a Marion essence that will exist long after I'm gone. Because of this belief, I sometimes feel disappointed that I'm not a very important component in the universe, with nothing immortal about me. Then there are other times when I feel in awe of life and the uniqueness of everything. Just thinking about how amazing we are and how the world is so complicated makes me happy and gives me the feeling I imagine others get from their faith in an afterlife. It gives me a sense of importance and permanency in a way that I really can't explain. The incredible way the brain and body must function in order to produce our consciousness and everything is absolutely amazing to me. It is very appealing to me to believe that this is the answer-that the brain defines who we are and that what we might call our mind and our soul is really just matter.

When Prof. Grobstein suggested that the nervous system was all there is to a person's Being, it made a strong impression on me. After hearing his powerful statement and noting the strong reaction I and others in the class felt, I realized I haven't really given much thought to my belief in the brain as the source of who I am. I normally believe in something because all of the "evidence" I know of points to that conclusion. I realized when he made that statement that I have no more concrete justification for my assumption than do people who believe in a soul. I do, however, think that justification exists for my belief, I just don't have the knowledge to support my point of view yet. I have taken for granted the fact that the brain can account for everything in human behavior, assuming I couldn't understand it but that someone somewhere did and I would trust them. That's really not a good reason for believing something, and I hope that after taking this course I'll be able to better justify my belief that the brain is the mind.

One doesn't, of course, have to be immortal to be important ... and, in a universe of the richness and complexity ours is proving to have, there are lots of ways to be ... meaningful. Yeah, that's more or less how I feel about it too. Equally importantly, one wants to inquire into one's own beliefs, whatever they are. I'm glad you're willing to come along for the trip, wherever it comes out. PG

Name: Eric Banks
Subject: response to Kinser's "truth" and "reality"??
Date: Mon Jan 25 07:32:52 EST 1999
Again, I'm not a student in this class. And, Jason, I'm a friend of one of the students in class.

Ms. Kinser's response to my first commentary is correct. It's "possible" that schizophrenics are in touch with a more "correct" reality than "normal" people are. But I think she missed the main point of my first argument: without the constraints of empirical verifiability/testability, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!

Ms. Kinser would like to keep all possibilities in mind - or at least the religious ones. She wouldn't want "to neglect to pick up on an idea" because it had been presented religiously. I know it is difficult for most people who have been socialized by a Christian culture to accept that our notion of a "god" is simply another variant of what is untestably "possible." The belief in a "god" is no different from believing in any one of an infinite amount of untestable possibilities. So why give the notion of a "god" more intellectual weight than any other untestable "possibility"?

I am distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically. Religion - or really its use - can connect people together, can serve as a great solace in an otherwise hostile environment, but it can also hinder and harm. Both Galileo and Darwin faced tremendous opposition for their empirically derived theories from those entrenched in religious doctrine. "Heretics" and "witches" were burned at the stake.

If it is possible for religious "believers" to contain their faith within their private lives - then I have no problem with their beliefs. But if they attain positions of power and attempt to legislate or influence others based only on those beliefs - then I do have an objection. Dr. Anthony Fauci (I hope I spelled his name correctly!) is a practicing Roman Catholic. He is also a scientist and was/is the director of a governmental agency (NIH or Center for Disease Control - I think). In any case, even though he is a Roman Catholic, he recommends the use of condoms to control the spread of HIV. Dr. Fauci is able to separate his personal beliefs from his public responsibilities as a scientist. Hopefully you, Ms. Kinser, and the many other intelligent and educated "believers" like you, can do the same.

I can't resist responding, but if we're going to continue the dialogue, let's do it in a more appropriate forum, ok? I'm copying this note of yours and my reply to our Science and Culture Forum, where any interested others can find it and any continuation, and contribute themselves.

Yes, of course, "religion - or really its use - ... can also hinder and harm". The same, unfortunately, is true of science as well. "Distrustful of those who base their behavior and views on that which cannot be tested empirically"? This would be paralyzing if taken to an extreme. For two reasons. First, life frequently demands actions which require judgements beyond those for which one has a firm empirical base. Second, without pre-existing views the grounds for which are uncertain, empiricism itself has no base from which to grow (and continue to develop). "Separate personal beliefs from public responsibilities"? I don't think anyone every fully does this (or could do it). Empiricism itself is based on a view that cannot be validated empirically: the view that what empiricism leads to is necessarily in some sense better than what non-empiricism leads to.

Don't misunderstand. I am, I'm pretty sure, at least as much of an empiricist as you are. Empiricism is though, for me at least, a means rather than an end, a tool justified as the best available for the continual testing of given understandings, and as providing a resulting impetus for more comprehensive understanding. For this reason, I'm perhaps less inclined than you to insist that people need to be avowed empiricists to be taken seriously. Significant candidate understandings may arise in a variety of ways; some may in fact arise only in brains which are not wholely constrained by an empiricist perspective. What's important (to me at least) is not the origin of the candidate understanding but rather its usefulness in the process of continually deriving and testing broader understandings. PG

Name: Caroline Choe
Subject: Brain=behavior?
Date: Mon Jan 25 08:38:36 EST 1999
I agree with Patricia and the others who feel a bit disconcerted by the notion of brain equaling behavior, and that everything associated with behavior is derived from this one organ in our bodies. Yes, current research is leading us to look more into the brain itself to uncover the mysteries of how we behave, but I'm not really sure if there ever will be a day when all the complexities of the brain are fully understood.

I continue to place hope in the fact that there must be more to this life, than being existant for a short amount of time. It's amazing to to know that there are those who almost make it seem as if humans are like computers - that we're each placed with a different program, to "perform" or conduct ourselves in a certain way which is contrary to our own free wills.

One thought/curiosity that interests me is of how mothers are able to respond and express love to their children - at times, going to the extreme of sacrificing her own life for her children...

Maybe "the complexities of the brain" can be understood and there will still be enough unpredictability in behavior to make it fun/interesting? We'll talk more about the relation between the brain and computers. Its not at the moment a very good analogy, for a number of reasons, including the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior. Mother love is an interesting problem, part of a more general set of problems having to do with the origins and nature of the balance between competition (usually emphasized, for historical reasons) and cooperation in biological systems. The biologist Lynn Margulis has tried for years to call more attention to the latter, and has a new book you might be interested in. PG

Name: Lacey Tucker
Subject: The role of experience in behavior
Date: Mon Jan 25 09:40:56 EST 1999
I intuitively agree that our behavior can be accounted for by the brain and the nervous system. My conceptualization of spirituality, fate, karma, creativity, mind, etc. is that they come from parts of my brain that I cannot consciously access, but that present themselves to me. I believe in these concepts, though I have tried to streamline my beliefs by moving their source inside myself. These intangibles exist because we invent them somehow. Like Carly, I am comforted that it all exists inside of me, excited to learn further explanations for behavior based on this, but respectful of the mysteries that are in there, perhaps beyond explanation.

This discussion of Brain=Behavior harks back to one that has resonated for me since I was an undergraduate, concerning the connection between beiological vision and perceptual schemata. This is the idea that even though the healthy human eye always contains the same physical apparatus for sight, we often see things in a way that is individually unique. The book Art and Illusion by E.H. Gombrich is concerned with this notion as it relates to both the creation of art and its interpretation by viewers. He states that "all thinking is sorting, classifying. All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons." This suggests that the sume total of each individual's life experiences ifroms the way in which we view a piece of art, or why the artist paints a scene the way he does (or how we interpret a play or a movie).

This concept works for me in the present discussion as well. In 1996 I wrote that "perceptual schemata are individual cognitive patterns which are cyclic and constantly modified through interaction with the environment. Thus the manner in which an individual will perceive something is based on the experiences has had in his lifetime. (Neisser)." Aspects of Self which we find difficult to link to neurological sources are in fact "inventions" of the brain. Our particular outputs are informed by our unique experience in the world. This goes along with our reconstructed paradigm from class on Thursday (input A does not necessarily produce output A) and with Rachel Berman's comment about the chaotic nature of the routes input might take once "inside the box." Without any real scientific knowledge (yet?), I intuitively feel that our experiences in life continuously contribute to the way in which our neurological wiring presents itself through benavior. By this I mean that prior experiences somehow make a neural route taken by a given input more or less likely. Is this a way of defining personality? Is this why the input of new ideas and experiences can so alter our sense of "I" or "Self?"

To wrap this winding thought up, I'll mention my fascination with the idea that throughout history there is the constant repetition of human ideas and perceptions (like religion), and that this could be due to tbe repetition of human neurological mechanisms throughout time.

Your "intuition" represents a quite sophisticated perspective, one in which the self is continually being reshaped by one's experiences and in turn shapes those experiences. I'd like to hear more sometime about how you came to it. Yes, it fits a number of the observations on the brain we'll talk about this semester. Do you mean "repetition" literally, or some kind of recurrence with advancement, more like a spiral? What has happened to the human brain across history is a fascinating set of questions. Have you looked at Merlin Donald's Origins of the Modern Mind (Harvard University Press, 1993)? PG

Name: Nicki Lynn Pollock
Subject: Behavior->Mind, Brain, Soul?
Date: Mon Jan 25 11:05:21 EST 1999
I came into the classroom prepared to learn about and explore behavior in terms of the brain- how it functions, grows, makes connections, and is influenced. I was not raised in an environment where soul and/or an "inner self" were possible components of "me". Early on I became interested in biology, and since high school I have come to believe in nature and the interactions of atoms, molecules and their combinations.

I do not find it hard to believe that our personalities are a product of our brain and its interactions and connections. To make the brain and nervous system accountable for behavior makes it very easy to describe why people are so different. Our biologies are different, and this may be caused by genetics and/or environment.

Our brains are constantly influenced by genetics and the environment. Each of us is most likely differing in genetic make up, and the experiences we have in the world also vary greatly. It is these two factors that I believe intertwine to influence our brain and nervous system, making us behave the way that we do.

Of course, because I feel this way I must also then embrace the idea that there is nothing after we die- no after-life, no heaven-like place where our minds or souls can go to exist for eternity. I am sorry for that, but I accept that as the way of things. Although, I can't say that I'd be disappointed (or even surprised) to find out that there was such a place because you just never know.

Sounds like your up-bringing and mine were pretty similar. Maybe then it has also occured to you to wonder whether, within the context of atoms, molecules, and their combinations, whether the combination of genetics and environment tells the whole story, or whether, still within that context, there is something more? Its a question we'll want to look into as the course proceeds. PG

Name: Andrea Byrd
Subject: Brain Equals Behavior
Date: Mon Jan 25 11:58:09 EST 1999
After Thursday's class there was one thing that stood out in my mind. I think that the brain is the main interactive center for the body which in turn encourages the soul, mind, and the self. Thus, brain equals behavior. The brain itself is just one of the many behaviors that our bodies undergo to function normally. So, when I talk about the brain being behavior, I am speaking in a biological way. Since the brain is seen as a system which takes in information, tries to make sense of this information, then generates a response, it is indeed behavior. The responses that are given from the brain can be tangible things we see. This helps to explain how the brain becomes behavior. The brain works to influence the soul, mind, and the self by means of the information it is given. With this in mind, I am not sure how to answer the question of how much of the soul, mind, and the self is found in the brain. I think that they all are part of the brain, but I am not sure how much. It could just be that the soul, mind and the self dwell within the complete body in which they allow the body to react based on the many influences given by the brain.

Do you think there's a difference being "speaking in a biological way" and speaking in other ways? If so, it would be good for biology, and for other things, to try and say what that difference is, to see whether one can combine the various ways and come up with one more general way. Would it include the words "brain" together with "soul, mind, and the self"? Or would we use different (fewer?) words? PG

Name: Jessica Brock
Subject: What about environment?
Date: Mon Jan 25 17:38:14 EST 1999
When you first made the claim that "the brain is behavior ... there isn't anything else", I was appalled. Not so much because I believe in the mystical properties of the individual, but because I strongly believe that environment has considerable control over the brain and/or behavior. Like someone mentioned in class, if you're kept in a closet for the first 12 years of your life, your brain will be underdeveloped. No one would come out of that experience having a healthy developed brain. Therefore, can't one say that the environment was responsilible for the underdeveloped brain, and that the brain, no matter the variation possible, is not responsible for this underdevelopment?

Other controversal issues come to mind. If the brain is behavior, then the theories suggested in The Bell Curve could actually have some truth to them. If the IQ scores for a race show a certain scoring trend, then can you really say that IQ scores reflect that race's brain content? I believe that if these IQ scores do in fact show a trend, that a considerable factor effecting these scores is the environment in which the individual developed in, that most people subjected to a similar situation would ultimately follow a similar trend.

As we discussed in Thursday's class, the inputs go into the box, and different paths based on the individual's brain produce different outputs, but I am wondering how different these outputs will be from one individual to the next. It seems like a very rare person who could escape the significant impacts of environment like being kept in a closet or experiencing racism.

I certainly didn't mean to argue that the environment doesn't influence behavior, but rather (as I've said in some of my responses above) to suggest that to the extent the environment influences behavior it does so by influencing the brain. That the genome does as well (influence both behavior and the brain) is equally clear, from observations of a sort we'll discuss in class. All of this does indeed bear on the kinds of ideas put forward in the Bell Curve, but, in my view, comes out as an important counter to those ideas rather than a support of them. PG

Name: Melissa Bromwell
Subject: disagreement that all behavior is afunction of the brain
Date: Mon Jan 25 18:58:36 EST 1999
As a future psychoanalyst, I am unable to accept that all behavior is a function of the brain per se. I make a distinction between the brain and the mind and I also believe in a soul. I must admit that I have only taken Biology 101 and 102 and therefore do not have as much knowledge of biology as others; my beliefs are based on my knowledge of psychology and what I know of mental illnesses. I have never been able to accept that mental illness is a product of brain dysfunction; rather, I believe it is the result of psychosocial factors throughout a person's life, often stemming back to childhood. As a neuroscience concentrator, I am obviously aware of the literature that asserts there are pharmacological bases of all mental disorders, yet I put very little faith into these theories. I have known many people with a variety of mental illnesses for whom medications do not provide any relief. For these people, my family and friends, psychotherapy has been the only thing that has helped. I cannot ignore the fact that many individuals do improve with the use of medications; however, their illnesses usually return. In the world of psychology, I view medications as a quick fix, a way to get rid of the symptoms for a period of time, without solving the real, central problem. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that mental illness does not have its roots in the brain, but in the mind - the abstract entity that I believe is responsible for things such as personality, morals, and emotions.

I'm delighted to hear that you aspire to being a psychoanalyst. The mood of the times, for both intellectual and socio-economic reasons, tends to mitigate against people having such ambitions, and I think that's distinctly unfortunate, both for individuals so inclined and for public health. I share your skepticism that there are "pharmacological bases of all mental disorders", for reasons that have to do less with the failures (and successes) of medication, and more to do with my sense of how the brain (normal and "disordered") actually works. Hopefully this will become clear as the semester goes on, and we can talk more about it in the context of your aspirations. Suffice it, for the moment, to say that the brain certainly uses chemicals and can be altered by chemical treatments. The brain also depends on subtler organizations of other kinds, including prominently the "anatomical specificity" we just talked about in class yesterday. These forms of organization are not alterable at the necessary subtle scales by relatively grossly acting pharmacological agents. They are, I suspect, to varying degrees alterable by, among other things, the kinds of experiences one has in various sorts of interactions with others, including psychoanalysts. Hence my wish to encourage your career ambition. Notice, though, that we can agree on your skepticism about the equivilence between pharmacology and behavior without agreeing on your conclusion: that mental illness has its roots in the mind rather than in the brain. Let's see where you (and I) are on that one at the end of the semester. PG

Name: mahalia
Subject: Brain and Behavior
Date: Mon Jan 25 23:04:07 EST 1999
The implications of the brain as the sole controller of behavior did not trouble me until the idea was brought up that if in fact the brain controls behavior, and a person's behavior is in constant flux. The sum total of our behavior is, as I perceive it, what controls our how people determine ones'personality. Yet what people perceive as my personality, a view that can be constantly change and effected by their preconceived notions or a single act, was different in my reasoning, from what my actual persona was. I have always counted on the fact that there is a self, an I, that remains the same within me and is disconnected from others opinions of me and which acts freely from my surroundings.

Yet if the brain, which is in constant flux, controls a persons' entire personality, this implies that there is no continuous self. That with each shift in mood "I" become, in a sense, a separate being. Even more visible changes in the brain resulting in dramatic shifts in personality seem to uphold the idea of a constant flux in being. Take for example a person who has severe brain damage resulting from a trauma, and who afterwards is never perceived to have the same personality. Are they in fact the same person? Perhaps their physical appearance has not change, but their behavior, or personality has. If in fact the brain is the sole operator of personality than the ability to change the brain equals the ability to change the "self:" the being. This implies that ones behavior, how we are perceived to by other people, defines a person. Thus one can theoretically be more than one person, or more than one character, in a lifetime.

A very interesting set of issues. To think further about. One question is the relation between one's own sense of self and the self perceived by others. A second is the stability (or lack of stability) of something "in me". Just because there are some changes in the nervous system, it doesn't necessarily follow that there is nothing stable there. On the other hand, there are arguments, independent of the brain, that the "self" is an evolving thing rather than a constant one (there's an article related to this by a previous student). Maybe what one wants is both some ability to change and some stability? PG

Name: E. Hatfield
Subject: brain and behavior
Date: Mon Jan 25 23:25:19 EST 1999
In regards to the question about brain equaling behavior, I have always sided with those who assert that brain does equal behavior. As proof of this, I take those who use medication for disorders, as well as those who have disorders because of medication. Some people find it disconcerting that their emotional problems could be simply (or perhaps not simply) the result of some chemical imbalance or something of the like. I, on the other hand, take great comfort in this, since it at least partially allows me to abdicate responsibility. My roommate tells me that Dr. Laura calls this the year of the brain where no one has to take responsibility for their behavior. I hate Dr. Laura and I resent my roommate for making this comment.

The most obvious argument for the biological basis of behavior is that of the effect of drugs. Or that guy who got the pole stuck through his eye. I have a friend who did ketamine the other day. I mean, he did this awhile back and he has no present drug use issues. Anyway, he described the effects as quite dramatic. He even goes so far as to insist that he was transported to another world where he spoke with alien beings in a strange language. It would seem that if a physical substance could so dramatically alter perception and behavior, the biological theory would have a strong support from this. He also insists, however, that everyone in the room who was also experiencing ketamine had simultaneous group hallucinations, which they discussed afterwards. I guess this points to something spiritual or psychic, I don't know what, but at the time I simply dismissed it as the ravings of a drug-crazed intellectual.

In conclusion, though I cannot explain group hallucinations (yet), I find no discomfort in believing the basis of behavior to be wholly in the brain. I do not myself have any psychic abilities or any spiritual beliefs, but I have taken prozac and it made me sleep 16 hours a day.

Drug effects certainly provide one line of evidence for "brain=behavior", as you and others say. On the other hand, as you and others also say, they raise some questions: why are effects of drugs different in different people? what about the in one way or another "transcendent" experiences some people sometimes have with drugs? Let's see what sense we can make of all this by the end of the semester. PG

Name: Beth Varadian
Date: Mon Jan 25 23:36:14 EST 1999
I am torn on this subject of brain vs. behavior and how the brain may be all there is. I am a bio major and am inclined to think that because of evolution and our changing behaviors in relation sometimes to the changing brain, that the brain causes behavior. But, being a dreamer I have always thought that there was something special about every single person and that specialness was called personality. In our discussion the other day we only touched on what personality was and how it could relate to the brain. I believe many different things about personality and can't seem to find space for every explanation within the realm of the physical and chemical brain.

I am also trying to explain to myself the idea of thoughts and where they come from as well as where they go. When I say thoughts, I don't mean thinking as in solving problems but actual thoughts and dreams. These thoughts don't seem to have a place in the brain. I am struggling to think of where imagination and inspiration come from if the brain is all there is. Imagination and inspiration seem to come from somewhere else that does not seem as tangible as the brain.

I know that I am not being very concrete in any of my statements but I would like to look at the issue of brain and behavior from two different sides, biology and belief. These two topics can be seperated by the so-called "proven" and the "imagined".

I guess that the hardest thing for me is my belief in death and the existence of a soul or spirit. I can't shake my belief that after the brain dies, there is still something there.

Good, clear catalogue of concerns, to look back on at the end of the semester. Brains affect each other; would that suffice for there being "still something there"? "Personality" we should break apart more (the "many different things"?) before drawing a conclusion; its certainly not one thing or one place in the brain. And we certainly don't want to give up "imagination and inspiration". We'll see whether we can make sense of those. Actually, you're being quite concrete. Maybe the two sides are "currently adequately understood" and "not yet understood"? PG

Name: nicole stevenson
Date: Tue Jan 26 01:48:18 EST 1999
I believe that our bodies and our minds are seperate beings, the brain belonging in the body category. The brain is tangible, you can touch it, poke it, cut it, and thus manipulate it. I see the mind as a more abstract idea, which is influenced by the brain but not one and the same. The saying "follow your head not your heart" was coined for a reason. I sometimes know what I should do but desire and carry out a different path.

Phinneas Gage was not the same person after his railroad accident yet I believe his mind had not changed. His temperment changed but I venture to say that his morals, beliefs, and ideas about life probably did not. These things do not derive from our brains, but from our experiences and the influence of those around us. When we process those thoughts our brains are working, effort which can be viewed via technology such as EEG machines. But the thoughts come from the mind, not the chemical processes in the brain. I really cannot accept that the differences between person A and person B are due strictly to the differences in their chemical make-up. The cerebellum, a major structure in the brain, is an important component of the motor system. We know that damage to the cerebellum results in motor difficulties. This is true in all humanbeings. A structure does not exsist in the brain that makes one person Jewish and another Catholic, this is a choice. One the first day of class we listed choice as a behavior. One the second day of class Prof. Grobstein suggested that the nervous system makes up a person's Being. If brain=behavior and nervous system=being, nothing else, then why are we not all pretty much uniform, with the same religion, political views, morals, values, etc.?

On a slightly different vein...I know a doctor who has experienced much death and has a very strong idea about the differences between the physical body and the soul. She says that when a person dies, the entire room changes and suddenly feels colder. She believes that the body is a shell from which the soul carries out its duties. When the body ceases to function, the soul leaves to find another shell from which to operate.

I do not know if heaven or hell, reincarnation or nothingness exsists but I do know that there is a whole lot of stuff that cannot be explained. Certain things about behavior and action I believe fall into that unexplainable category, somewhere that is not discoverable simply within a structure in the brain.

What "cannot be explained" is, of course, not necessarily inevitably "unexplainable". No, I don't think there is a structure in the brain that makes one person Jewish and another Catholic. I do, though, think that being Jewish and being Catholic differ in a whole array of behaviors, and that the brains of different people might exhibit a whole array of small corresponding differences, which might result from a variety of things, including a "choice", itself an activity of the brain. Brain=behavior needn't imply either uniformity or simple, deterministic differences. Maybe the brain is as complex and multi-causal as one experiences oneself to be? And maybe what the brain perceives is the difference between a "live" physical body and a "dead" physical body? With that difference not yet explained but not necessarily unexplainable? PG

Name: Therese Ellsworth
Subject: Altered States
Date: Tue Jan 26 02:01:49 EST 1999
I don't consider science and faith to be mutually exclusive. Fact is, I have to take most science on faith since I have not the ability, the time, nor the inclination to actually test scientific "statement of facts." The idea that seemingly solid objects only appear solid to me but are really masses of swirling atomic particles is one I accept on faith. It certainly makes no sense to me! When asserting the pragmatism and testability of science, one should keep in mind that much science is pure theory that can't actually be physically tested at this time. And no, I don't really consider mathematical equations as proof of physical facts. Most mathematics I have to take on faith as well!

I've always considered the mind and the brain to be one and the same thing: the basic controllers of behavior. I've always defined the soul as the totality of a single person's being, that which makes him/her unique; a concept rather than some existent "thing" to be physically located somewhere within a person.

What intrigues me about behavior both as a student of this class and as a potential sociologist is individual behavior. What is it that makes, for example, siblings raised together--similar genetics, similar nurture, similar brain chemistry--actually make extremely different choices?

And, Eric: your arrogant and contemptuous attitude is both inappropriate and non-productive. We each pursue intellectual truth in our own ways, but intellectual discourse should be both informative and persuasive. To be both intelligent and intellectual does not preclude courtesy and tolerance. Your attacks on people who think differently than you is all too unpleasantly reminiscent of the Inquisition. I suspect that Copernicus would wince at the tone. One should also keep in mind that the scientific "truths" of one era have indeed become the nonsense and superstitions of another. And science sometimes takes some odd twists and turns. After all, leeches are back in in medicine now!

It is indeed worth making that point that "faith" is an important ingredient of science. Probably in at least three senses. One is, as you say, that no individual actually has the time to themselves make the observations that are summarized in "scientific statements of facts". We presume others to have checked those observations, and use the summaries on that presumption. A second is that, as William James described it, some things can only be found/brought into existence if one first believes in them enough to make the relevant observations. Scientific investigation often has this character: one believes enough in a particular hypothesis to use it as the basis for new observations. A third is a generalization of that: science proceeds on the "faith" that things are in fact understandable by repeated hypothesis generation and testing. It is, at the same time, worth making the point that a fourth sense of "faith" is not (at least in principle) a characteristic of science. All scientific understandings are (at least in principle) subject to future revision based on new observations. "Belief" is always tentative, rather than a fixed point around which other things revolve, and one takes everything as subject to inquiry, rather than demarcating certain things as unknowable.

Nice to have a potential sociologist around. Both for the contributions of your perspective and as a tester to see whether knowing something about how the brain works is useful for exploration of phenomena at higher levels of organization. My guess is yes, but keep me posted, huh? As for your question, its one we'll work around throughout the course and, yes, I think come to an answer for. Individual variation is a central problem for neurobiology, and probably ought to be a central tenet for sociology. PG

Name: ...sarah...
Username: ,
Subject: scattered thoughts...
Date: Tue Jan 26 04:17:13 EST 1999

As a biology and psychology major I immensely enjoy the dual perspective that experience in these subjects affords when addressing the brain/behavior inquiry. As an nbs concentrator I am forced to address the implications of the concentration's title "neural and behavioral sciences" -- funny -- even bryn mawr is not sure if they are one and the same. On that note -- my all too scattered thoughts...

Perhaps behavior is the wrong word. Perhaps the brain is being. That is, the brain is occurrence, it is existence. The very nature of the term behavior some how limits one's ability to perceive actions and reactions that extend beyond the physical realm as a form of such said behavior.

I am troubled by the reoccurring phrase "the brain controls behavior", even by those who insist brain=behavior. The will to impart a control aspect implies a means of discriminating between the brain and behavior. There is a difference between 4=4 and 2+2=4, eventhough one may correctly insist that we have attained the same answer.

The understanding of the nervous system as a 'complex and malleable set of synaptic connections influenced by and influencing the internal and external environment' remains for me essential to the brain=behavior argument. Peter's 304 cell and molecular neurobiology made it clear that as the brain acts/behaves changes, both temporary and long term, are taking place in the structure of the brain. Is it not phenomenal that the action of behaving may change the behavior itslef? In the brain box, with entering stimulus/input arrows and exiting response/output arrows, which follow some, albeit elaborate, pathway denies the ability of behavior to influence itself. Such a possibility is not and cannnot be accounted for by this model.

Finally, the ramifications of "the brain is behavior...there isn't anything else" causes me no undue stress. It seems likely that a brain which may conceive of eternity, expound on the brilliance of the hypercolor sky, and yet at times remain silent and feign ignorance -- certainly may hold within it's grasp the greater visions (god, soul, spirit, etc.) that we seem to cling to with such desperation.

Yep, I agree. "The brain controls behavior" tends to imply that the two are different things. That way of speaking, along with "I wanted to do this but my brain made me do that", would have to go if the "brain=behavior" assertion is accepted.

The reality is that the "brain=behavior" idea is a new one in human history. While behavior has been explored for millenia, and the brain for at least centuries, the explorations have, until recently, gone on more or less independently of one another, using different concepts and words. So its not entirely surprising that various degrees of distinction between brain and behavior persist in most peoples' minds. Nor that a distinction persists in the name of the concentration. As you say, the concentration is interesting because it gives one a "dual" perspective.

The real question, of course, is whether the "brain=behavior" assertion proves increasingly useful for understanding. If so, the dualism would be expected to increasingly disappear in the future, both in peoples' minds and in the concepts and words we use. Which probably means we need some new ones. "complex and malleable set of synaptic connections ..." may not be a bad starting place, but maybe we need some shorter phrases? PG

Name: Sancar Feyza
Date: Wed Jan 27 12:05:09 EST 1999
It must be admitted that the brain seems to be the one tangible explanation for behavior. Chemicals, electrical impulses, hormones, inputs and outputs are the only things that can be quantified, classified, and proven to exist. Assuming that only these factors play into the complex pattern of unique human behavior, it is implied that every being is actually identical in their fundamental components. It is already known that each individual has the same chemicals and hormones coursing through their neuronal highways. There is a generic connotation to all of the substances and mechanisms that play into human behavior ( Bill does not have his own special neurotransmitter). This concept seems dehumanizing, and non-differentiating. As such, there seems to be one and only one thing which differentiates one person from another: genetic predisposition and environment.

If this explains some of the fundamental individual differences between Jack, Joe, Mary and May, then what explains the individual variation in mental capability, the complexity of thoughts and actions. Why was Einstein able to create the theory of relativity and another human was not. There is no physical evidence which explains how and why these strange dreams of relative time and space inhabited Einsteins brain and no other. Moreover, the physical characteristics of his brain were observed to be no different than that of the average human. It could be considered a random(genetically random) event which ultimately led to Einsteins thoughts and thought processes (more lucrative neuronal communication, etc.).

But it is interesting to note that the randomness of nature is in fact orderly upon inspection. The theory of chaos displays the effects of randomnessthese effects being order. What explains such intricate order? How is it that a geometrically precise snowflake is in fact a compilation of random events (randomly assembles parts)? Perhaps there is an unseen force. I find it difficult to believe that random events can achieve such a level of order. The human body, including the brain, is based on a random and as such improbable assembly of parts. It would follow that at each level of evolution, this improbability is expounded as one improbable assembly evolves to make up another improbable assembly (just like the unfolding designs of a fractal). How does such improbability (which logically would have led to impossibility) become reality through the explanations of science? As much as my mind is open, I am not convinced. The evolution of thought and all of the attributes of the mind are even more improbable and are even more desperately lacking convincing scientific explanations.

Furthermore, for science to isolate the brain in explaining an orderly entity that has been created from chaos is a form of extreme and dangerous reductionism. One substituent part (such as the brain) cannot fully account for the whole (the complexities of human behavior). Similarly, with the chaos theory comes the notion that no one thing can be defined by a substituent part since that part is dynamic and unpredictable. Furthermore, to isolate one cause or explanation for behavior is to essentially disregard all other influences and possibilities. It is not the place of science to discard explanations (such as the intangible soul) which it cannot unequivocally disprove. As such, I find it extremely self righteous of science to respect and covet only the physical and generic when explaining something that is so complex. I think it is almost easier to accept and understand things that are explainable through science. It takes more courage and faith to believe in something which you cannot see, touch, smell or prove. As much as some may think that the unknown is somehow comforting, it is more than comfort that creates the belief in a soul or a divine being or force.

It seems that the notion of the absolute has spurred science and society into disregarding all that is intangible. As much as relativity may exist in physics, in no other realm of life or reality is relativity considered. In this case, a relativistic viewpoint is most useful--understanding the relativity of events and objects opens up a whole world of impossibility and intangibility. With this type of relativity, anything is possible (the world becomes much more amazing with unlimited possibilities). Why should 'absolute' science preclude the intangible or the metaphysical. Why must one exist without the other?

Artistic interpretation came into my mind when considering the endeavors of science. Consider a Jackson Polluck painting (perhaps autumn rhythm: #30-Looks like a dancing crowd). To the unaware observer, it appears as if the canvas has been bombarded by random streaks of paint. Paradoxically, when the observer steps back from a painting that was thought to have been created through random events (chaos), it mysteriously takes on a comforting image characterized by order and composition. When given the opportunity to observe the artist in action, however, it becomes obvious that each streak is applied with precision and the unexplained mutation from randomness into order dissolves.

When science attempts to explain such order with randomness, it takes on the role of the unaware observer. To scientists and other observers, nature looks orderly when viewed from afar, just as a Jackson Polluck painting. Mathematics and science has asserted that this order has been magically created by random events and improbable assemblies, just as the lay person believes that a Jackson Polluck painting is created by unorganized streaks of paint. The fundamental difference between the two paradigms is that science assumes that only parts (the paint, the paint brush, gravity) can be used explain the order that emerges from randomness. Unlike a Jackson Polluck painting, it does not become clear in nature that what seems like a random event may actually be carefully controlled and orchestrated by an artist. But who is to say that what we perceive as people to be random is not orchestrated by an unseen artist?

Interesting set of issues. One of the underpinnings of the brain=behavior notion that we haven't as yet discussed in class is an emerging, interdisciplinary "complex systems" perspective. What this perspective reflects, in part, is an increasing understanding (based on computer simulations) that interacting rather simple elements can yield surprising amounts of of order, even if the elements have a degree of randomness associated with them, and sometimes precisely because of a degree of randomness (which, to keep the story straight, is a different idea than chaos). This does not, of course, eliminate the possibility, that the order which emerges from apparent disorder is "orchestrated by an unseen artist, as in a Jackson Pollack painting. It does, however, raise an alternate possibility (which usually goes under the name of "self-organization"). The problem, of course, is how to distinguish between the two possibilities.

It certainly seems to be true, as you say, that the "tangible" fundamental components of the nervous system are the same in all individuals. It doesn't, though, from a complex systems perspective, follow that humans (and other organisms) can't be different from one another. What could differentiate them is their organization of those components, the ways they interact (an "intangible"?). If that reflected genome, environment, and perhaps a degree of randomness, then maybe we could have not only Einstein's brain but all the other different ones we observe, without dehumnization? PG

Name: E. Rodrigo
Subject: Brain and behavior
Date: Wed Jan 27 22:37:26 EST 1999
I believe that there is a soul and a conscience. I also believe that our brain dictates our behavior. I see the brain as the final judge and decision maker on what behavior we express. In these terms, my idea of behavior is the visible action that we perform after making a decision. Before making a decision, the brain takes other forces into consideration, like our conscience for example. It consults with the self before making its decision. Here I describe the self as different from behavior. The self affects what behavior is expressed but behavior alone does not constitute the self. The self is what I recognize as my soul. My self will remind my brain of what my values are. The brain will process that input and then tell my body what to do. The ultimate decision which ultimately dictate our behavior comes from the brain. This makes it possible to say "my conscience tells me to do one thing but my brain tells me to do another" in a particular situation.

The brain and the self have a give or take relationship. Sometimes the brain gives the self too much control that the conscience makes almost all the decisions. Perhaps this is why we have martyrs and people who care for others more than they care for themselves or the "too nice people". Other times the brain ignores what the conscience dictates and this is probably why we also have people who are very determined and practical, people who do not let anyone get in their way of success no matter what, people who we often say 'do not have a conscience'. And then there is a whole set of possibilities for the different combinations of how much control the brain and the self assumes and this is probably how we have different personalities (I do acknowledge that our brains are different from one another)

This is how I reconcile my beliefs. If I believed that self and behavior are the same thing and I believed that brain and behavior is the same thing at the same time then that would mean that if somebody gets a transplant of my brain (is that possible)then that person would be me. In effect a brain transplant would be synonimous to an identity transplant (in which case if you think about it, you (being the self) would actually be getting a body transplant. But I don't believe that this can happen and so I separate the self with behavior. That way all my brain cells (which are deciding on what to write on this page, after consulting with my values) will be happy. Sorry if I didn't make sense (to me this makes sense).

No apologies needed, it indeed "makes sense" of the experiences you describe, which I'm pretty sure we all have. There do indeed to be times when we are simultaneously inclined to act in different ways, and different people do in fact seem to resolve those different inclinations in different general ways. The only question is whether it is appropriate to attribute one of those inclinations to the brain, and the other to something else. An alternate possibility is that they correspond to distinguishable activities of the brain.

Can you imagine ways to discriminate between the two possibilities? It occurs to me that one implication of your way of making sense of the experiences is that "values" and "self" should be unaffected by things that alter the brain. Damasio's discussion of the case of Phineas Gage and others suggests instead that some forms of brain damage can indeed affect "values" and "self". If you add in those additional experiences to your own, what do you think? PG

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