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Brains as Scientists

Brains as Scientists

Notes for a discussion with students in the Bryn Mawr College Science for College program

Paul Grobstein, 24 June 2008


From the Reflex Brain to the Exporatory Input/Output/Input Brain: The Inside/Outside Loop

Reflex brainLoopy brain
The problem Another loop

The brain is built to explore

The Bipartite Brain: An Unconscious/Conscious loop


Taking a serious look at the blindspot Taking a serious look at the anatomy

Seeing more than your eye does

The bipartite brain

Illusions, ambiguous figures, impossible figures

The brain is built to be an informed guesser/reviser/creator


The Social Brain: An Interpersonal Loop


Brains are built to compare/contrast each other's observations/stories 


A Scientist's Brain ....



Built to observe, guess, create, share, revise ... and, most importantly, always be skeptical


Paul Grobstein's picture

Science for College is like ....

Thanks all for sharing stories. I enjoyed it, learned from it. The parallels between brain and scientist got clearer in my mind talking with you about them. In particular, I hadn't before heard myself say that ambiguous figures were comparable to the multiple stories that could be told by scientists about a given set of observations. And I agree that the story needs also to account for "the random output we see in dreams" (see Inverting the Relationship Between Randomness and Meaning and Chance in Life and the World and Variability in Brain Function and Behavior). Interesting to think about what "irrationally," or "selfishly," or, for that matter, "human" means from this perspective.

A set of bottom lines that occurred to me right after we finished ...

  • Don't be afraid of trying things out; enjoy it
  • Don't be afraid of seeing things in more than one way; enjoy it.
  • Don't be afraid of seeing things differently from other people. Share it; enjoy it.
Relevant for science, the brain, and life in general? Thanks again. Hope the rest of the summer goes well for you. Wander Serendip, and stay in touch if you find it interesting.
Emily B.'s picture

the brain

the brain is like a tree

I think that the brain is like a scientist; however, it only works if you look at the most perfect scientist (and the most perfect brain, I guess). In relation the brain's ability to make stuff up, there is no bias. The brain does not tell its owner that it is filling something in or covering something up or that the monster in the dream is not real, it just does it, accepts it, and moves on. The scientist knows that he or she must retest and change a variable. So the brain is like a scientist, but it fools itself into refusing to retest.

Leigh's picture

The brain is like a scientist.

The brain is like...a mother board.

Ok so maybe not a mother board since our brain as far as my understanding doesn't need input to generate an output. Out brain actually creates output in order to expect an input. It's a scientist making predictions about what it may observe depending on what output is used. This makes much more sense than the simple stimuli = response. This story doesn't account for the random output we receive in dreams and when our brain has absolutely so stimuli. So really our brain is like a scientist.

Ruby's picture

The Brain

My first metaphor: The brain is like a puzzle . The pieces need to fit together to make a larger picture --coherent thought.
The brain as a scientist makes sense. It is a 'good story'. The idea of learning as getting things wrong makes sense as well --that your brain has expectations and by getting those expectations wrong you learn something new. It makes sense because that way it seems as if you would be able to expand your knowledge. If you got something correct it seems as if you would have already known the thing. The brain as a scientist is a very interesting story.

J.Metzger's picture

Brain as Scientists

The brain is like the boss of your body.

It was really cool to discuss how our brains are like scientists. I really never thought about it that way before. It was especially weird to hear about how the leech would still have outputs without inputs. It just brings the brain into a whole new light of how we make things up and make new observations without us even knowing.

Brittany H's picture

Brain as a Scientists

the Brain is like a capital city, in which your body is the whole country.

I liked the Brain as a scientist model better than the traditional model because it explains why the nervous system is still working even when your not thinking, like when you are sleeping. I also thought it was cool how the brain can make things up like with the paper with a dot and a cross on it.

Fabienne a.k.a Peachesz's picture

The Brain as a Scientist

"The brain is like a storage with empty and full, discovered and undiscovered boxes" --> Fabz 2008

Jessica Watkins's picture

The Brain

"The brain is like a tree; it starts out as one root, grows with core knowledge, and shoots off in different subdivisions of thought. You cannot know everything at once, just like you cannot count all of the leaves on the tree."

The brain is even more amazing than I thought. The fact that it can control and create so much without me knowing exactly what is happening is awesome, but a little scary.

Anonymous's picture

The brain as a scientist

The brain is like the electrical system of a building.

I can see the brain as a scientist in the ways discussed, but also in other manners. The brain can behave irrationally or selfishly and is, essentially like a scientist, human.

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