Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Brain Behavior Institute - Session 11



Output Architecture, Continued

Reflecting on our own activities, our own laboratory in education

"Although I was intially uncomfortable with the fact that Paul makes up his own words to call things (!), cables, boxes, stories, I function, central pattern generator) , I have come to see that it is a really useful way to explain concepts to us/students. However, if I am having a conversation with someone who does not use this vocabulary, it would be really handy if I knew what word he/she was using to refer to the same process/structure ... I'd like to hear, as we go along, how "normal" people refer to some of these things!"

"I also sometimes feel the impatience of wanting to move faster. During these times I find myself riffing off what Paul is saying either by searching for stuff that is related on the interent or by jotting down my thoughts. It reinforces for me the idea that any group of people is made of so many different types of learners, with so many different types of agendas, level of previous background and interest in the material. I love the online form for this purpose. It allows us to make our points, explore what interests us and engage other people in meaningful diversions that don't slow down the pace of the overalll class. It also allows us to ask our own sets of questions."

"I realized that sometimes I need the discussion to clarify and deepen my undestanding of the concepts being presented. The difficulty, then, is to determine which principles need more time and which can we move through faster. Further, is there a way to determine if all those in the class feel the same way about the same principles."

I didn't particularly think about developing lesson plans or learning additional computer tools, and wouldn't necessarily have thought I wanted that. As it turns out, it has been useful and interesting for me to spend time developing these skills/lessons ... I ultimately came to view the afternoons ... as good opportunities to do some work that I wanted to do anyway, on developing new ideas for teaching about the brain, so the afternoons ... turned into good focused study/work sessions for me"

"I am seeing people in my family a little differently from what I saw before."

"Brain & Behavoir has given me a different perspective on how I look at these students."

"I would like to hear more about how to apply this information we are learning to the classroom… teaching strategies, methods, application…"

Student and teacher priorities

"I think in terms of helping people be comfortable with the computer, perhaps the 'teaching fellows' could be introduced as, and function more as, teachers/helpers in that regard."

Review (and completion of output side)


  • Central pattern generation, corollary discharge
  • Gene/environment interaction
  • Motor influences on perception
  • Distributed control - multiple interacting boxes, lots of loops (motor to sensory as well as sensory to motor)
Since we are seeing and accepting evidence that the motor system has stuff stored up in the central nervous system then we can ... conclude that the brain is to blame for every action or behavior of individuals. It looks like external forces do not play a serious role in the behaviors exhibited ... But what about children that do things they saw an adult doing? Is it that they already have this in them and just got activated by seeing someone do it? ... Tola
Compliance is perhaps a poor choice of words ... Pro-social behavior may be more appropriate ... Grace I love jazz music but want a beautiful symphony in my classroom. My opinion is that there is a way to conduct it ... Joyce Emergent Pedagogy: learning to enjoy the uncontrollable - and make it productive

Finishing up a look from the output side

Where is "drive", "choice", "will"? The I-function?


What particular aspect of our discussions of the motor side of the nervous system seem most useful for your classroom, for your teaching in general? Write some thoughts/questions in the forum area.


LuisanaT's picture

The relationship between teaching and being professional

Just to reiterate something mentioned but (at least from my knowledge) never recorded on serendip.

In principle professionals should be able to comfortably alternate between professional concepts and lay/comfortable terms that is accessible to the maximum amount of people. But in practice that is not true, one reason being because they are working with other professionals having all of the jargon be common language, allowing the esoteric behavior to speed up communication.

One way to distinguish between being skilled and being talented in that skill would be in the persons ability to put their information in laymen terms. If you can do that successfully then, I feel, that shows a sign of mastery and in that sense all teachers should be masters.

bronstein's picture

Phantom pain, reflexes, and LeChatelier

Friday's discussion on phantom pain led nicely into the discussion of reflex action, which, in turn, brought to mind the chemical principle that so many students "just can't" seem to fully internalize: LeChatelier's Principle. But more on that shortly.

The nervous system was described as constantly comparing actions with expectations. Mismatches produce dissonances: discomfort, pain or nausea.

So, the description of phantom pain as a "dissonance" between a motor action and a sensory response that doesn't match makes a lot of sense . . . and may answer a question I've held that has gone unanswered for a long time.

This same idea of the nervous system constantly making comparisons also explains how reflexes work. The same can seem to be said for nonsentient physical systems. Hence, . . .

LeChatelier postulated that all chemical systems at equilibrium when put under a stress will react so as to minimize the stress. For instance, if the temperature rises, the system moves in an endothermic manner so as to absorb the extra heat and lower the temperature. If an acid is added, the system tries to generate more base to neutralize the acid (minimize the pH change).

The reflex action was described in terms of a sensory nerve bundle that measures the length of a muscle. If the muscle lengthens, the nerves enervate to contract the muscle -- in order to maintain the original length -- or "minimize the change" like LeChatelier's Principle.

So, our nervous sytems have evolved according to simple physical principles, which, to a degree, is a bit "unnerving" to realize.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Cognitive unconscious as "society of mind": implications?

A couple of thoughts this year that I want to remember (because of the new thinking of drives in terms of negative feedback loops in the cognitive unconscious) ...

"Choices are being made all the time without our thinking about it/being aware of it"

The multiplicity of specialized modules in the cognitive unconscious ("society of mind") means that our behavior is sometimes dominated by one "drive" (eg thirst) and other times by other drives (eg social contact), without our paying attention to the shifts. And yes, as per Joyce, some social institutions (not only religious) work very hard to influence which unconscious modules are expressed (Euripides' Bacchae re Dionysius).

"I don't know what I know how to do (or not do) nor ofte what I want to do (or don't want to do) except by watching myself do things, or having others tell me what I'm doing."

A consequence of the mutliplicity of the cognitive unconscious, and its rather spare reporting to the I-function. Helps to account both for the significance of social interactions and the role of psychotherapists as both story faclitators (to come) and "cables" (making up for absence of internal communication).

jrlewis's picture

What about repressed

What about repressed memories? Woud those be memories inaccessable to the I-function, but not necessarily to the cognitive unconscious? I know it is an extreme example, but I am interested in all aspects of memory.
joycetheriot's picture

Reflections Do we

Reflections Do we (teachers/students) allow most classroom events to settle out of our brain into the cognitive subconscious? After taking B&B last year, I occasionally felt (saw?) the course information ping-pong around my cognitive subconscious while I was teaching my high school students. It was as if these B&B connections would rise to the top of my awareness like air bubbles that would disappear when other priority tasks would pop them. However as I take the course again this year I am finding that my cog/sub is able to offer not only the information that I took in last year but that I am also able to remember the same connections that partially floated to the surface while teaching in the past year.

Without the distractions am I now able to pull my I-function into play and actually formulate new ideas about the series of connections? I’m excited about the new theories that I can investigate in my classroom.

Seta Palmer's picture

Reflection - I-Function

The brain is constantly changing due to all its activity. The I-Function helps us to correct problems, errors in reasoning, and prevent them from reoccurring. The I-Function and the cognitive unconscious seem to work helping one another. Although no one box is in charge they effect one another and work together. I would like my students to achieve a balance in their I-Function and their congnitive unconscious so that they use their brain to be productive and creative.
Babtunde A Oronti's picture

Taking it into the classroom

If we can put all we have learned so far about how the brain operates from one person to another with particular reference to it's randomness, individuality creativity etc and apply it to our classrooms, it is possible to come up with a positively productive and seemingly orderly outcome that will surpass our imagination compared to if we decide to stick with our former impression of compliance and relative order in our classrooms.


Putting this impression into perspective, the first issue I need to address is identify the qualities embedded in my students from the time they step into my classroom in September and see each of them as a contributor to what will be the outcome of the whole group socially, academically and emotionally at the end of the school year. I’m in effect looking at all (teachers and students) as contributors of various inputs which will culminate in a richer output compared to if all the input is expected to come from me as the teacher.


In conclusion, the first task that educators have at the beginning of the school year is to discover the qualities embedded in the students they are going to work with (not teach) for that particular year and take advantage of it rather than suppress it.

joycetheriot's picture

Best Practices

Who could have imagined that to

 know thyself  

is to recognize and understand thine-own cognitive unconscious.  


I was trying to apply these ideas to my own teaching practice as I listened to Paul’s explanation. In one way the reactive response of various students to the content that I may model in class could be just the cognitive unconscious plugging in at that moment. This may be an incorrect supposition, but I think initially the structure of new learning needs to be built in the lower ‘boxes’. There this framework will reside until such time that a newly woven meaningful structure can be built from the bones of cognitive unconscious by the I-function

Ayotola Oronti's picture

I-Function and Readiness

It is interesting for me to sum up the lesson this AM that the I-Function is not needed for every movement or motor skill though it is essential to learning new skills.

Though it got a little complex for me but I was able to relate this concept to my 16 months old nephew who was born prematuredly at 5 months pregnancy. I believe I am interested in watching him do every little thing because I am conscious of the circumstances surrounding his birth. I guess I am wondering if everything is fine with him. As I watched him play with the ballon which he calls ball, this morning, I observed that when I threw the "ball" on the flooor, to the right or left, he picked it up or kicked it back to me. When I put it on my head he thought for a moment but did not do anything. When I put it on his head he stopped for a few seconds then reached up for the "ball" on his head.

I would have been concluding that he may be slow, but I'm rethinking that now. He probably was engaging his I-Function in the new skill of reaching for the ball on my head and on his head. The time he got it together was when he reached up for it.

This reminds me of the concept of late bloomers; and it ties very well with the classroom situations. Some students get it right away whereas some take a while. I am convinced teachers need a lot of patience to handle the gap.
ptong's picture


So from what I understand, the neocortex allows us to inhibit patterns that we do daily, to allow us to learn new things. From the examples we discussed today, they all involved motor units. How does the neocortex inhibit patterns in parts of the brain to allow learning? What are examples of neuronal units being effected by neocortex?
Bernadine Dancy's picture

Refelections on Brain and Behavior

Since I have been in brain and behavior class. I will look at my class in a different perspective knowing that some input and output connections will cause people to perform differently. As the classroom teacher, I must continue to be creative to look for better ways to teach and to help students acheive.
cisrael's picture

good boxes

On boxes in the cognitive unconscious: isn't is true that there is not such thing as a 'bad' box? All the 'boxes' are doing is trying to help us survive as an organism, so their conflict with each other is not bad, even though it certainly can cause some negatative consequences, and their action needs to be 'managed'. However, these boxes, these drives are what keep us alive and so should be respected!

As for application to kids: when we see 'bad' behavior, I think we view it the same way; as the organism's/student's best attempt to survive in its system, even if it is a misguided and dysfunctional attempt.

jrlewis's picture

It sounds like you are

It sounds like you are talking about misbehavior in terms of conditioning or previous experiences. I like that idea a lot. As a student, who has had an ineresting set if experiences, I can say that sometimes my actions or responses must seem ridiculous to my teachers. If only they could understand what is going on with my brain. Or at least, for privacy's sake, admit that there might be something significant happening in my head. I agree with your assessment that a lot of my misbehavior is a result of my brain attempting to protect me, in its own misguided way.
Judith Lucas-Odom's picture

Morning Session I- Function

The cognitive unconscious it seems to be a very important part of what we are. It maintains us daily but we need a box to control it or again we become like the animals. Actions and reactions in our students, as they use their cognitive unconscious, seems to imply that maybe they don't have control of their basic self(instincts). I think the cognitive unconscious and the neocortex(I function) need a healthy balance. Is there one? How do we enable our students to create and be productive along with fitting in with what society demands?.... Or should we want to?
Cynthia Henderson's picture

The Stretch Reflex

Choices are being made in the cognitive unconscious in an on-going way'especially in drives.Circuitry in the brain has a variable set point.I will be more mindful of the I functionin my class.
jrlewis's picture

Making sense of a medical

Making sense of a medical story.  Parkinson's disease is a neurological illness caused by a decrease on levels of a neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the brain.  Symptoms include stiffness, loss of muscle control.  Ultimately resulting in behavior that appears to be a very extreme example of what was demonstrated this morning.  Traditionally, the most potent treatment is sinemet a drug that increases levels of dopamine.  It is able to prevent or ease the extent of the contractions or paralysis.  I think...

Cynthia Henderson's picture

Michael Jordan

Compliance is a set of socially accepted behaviors that is needed in the educational process.Sensory input and output are influenced by the environment.Learning is constantly taking place.
Cynthia Henderson's picture


Using the scratch program to teach movement in space to young students is purpose.It was innovative, interactive,and crreative.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
2 + 1 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.