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EB Ver Hoeve's picture

The importance of the Organism

Drawing from observations of my big-eyed rusty red golden retriever, there are clearly times when behavior can not be predicted or explained. Kipling might be sprawled out on the living room floor one moment, and springing up to trot toward the front door the next. Why? Did he perceive a cue that I wasn’t able to perceive or interpret? We have been entertaining the idea that there doesn’t need to be an input for an output to occur. I am not sure. To me, there either was an actual input preceding the output (e.g. a sound of an outside car door) or there was an internal input, perhaps a false alarm that caused neurons to fire and for Kipling’s brain to respond as if the sound had occurred.

The most significant part of the input/output story for me is the role of autonomy within the organism. The input-output system can be thought of as a signal being sent, followed by a direct response. It’s easy to follow a linear system, and this pattern may work at some level for many of our actions and observations. But the reality is that the organism’s attention to, perception of, motivation, and threshold for responding to an output interacts with the strength of the input and the amount of other noise in the surrounding environment and in the system. At the most fundamental level, stimulus-response relationships may help to explain some behavior. But understanding increases exponentially for me when I take all of the imaginary input and output boxes (and all of their associated interactions with one another) and represent them all within a single O (for organism) placed conveniently between the input (stimulus) and output (response). In this way, I redefine input and output so that they no longer represent all external and internal cues, but instead refer only to external cues. I believe that separating the external inputs from the internal inputs is worthwhile not only because it seems like an important distinction but also because it might allow our conversation to expand. Like eambash, I think interneurons must play a significant role in the behavior of the O, but how? I am also intrigued by the concept of the threshold. With so many inputs coming in, is it possible for our brains to interpret them all? Which signals get recognized? Do we have any control over this recognition?

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