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Neurobiology and Behavior, Spring, 2008

Welcome to the home page of Biology 202 at Bryn Mawr College. Pleased to have you here. I'm looking forward to an interesting,enjoyable, productive semester of "getting it less wrong", and hope you are too. Let's have some fun, and see what we can all make out of it together.

Students (and visitors) should be aware that this is a "non-traditional" science course in several respects (see below, and Science as Story Telling in Action for further background)


Literary and historical starting points

The Brain - is wider than the Sky -
For - put them side by side -
The one the other will contain
With ease - and You - beside-

The Brain is deeper than the sea -
For - hold them - Blue to Bue -
The one the other will absorb -
As sponges - Buckets - do

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As syllable from Sound -

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Mind and Body:
Rene Descartes to William James

The course is organized in relation to the following general presumptions (see syllabus for specifics):
  • Neurobiology, like all science, is an ongoing process of trying to make sense of the world and one's relation to it by a recursive and unending process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Neurobiology is of interest and is accessible to everyone, and is an essential tool in the repertoire of anyone who is themself trying to make sense of who they are and how they relate to the world around them.
  • Neurobiology, like all science, is best assimilated by a process in which students themselves work through in their own minds and in relation to their own experiences and understandings relevant observations and the summaries of those observations suggested by others. Education, like science, should be an ongoing process of making observations, summarizing the observations, and using the summaries to motivate new observations.
  • Neurobiology, like all science, is a social process, one in which the observations and tentative summaries are shared among individuals, so that each can benefit from the ongoing inquiries of others. For this reason, students (like faculty) will be expected to actively engage in all aspects of the course, including making thoughts in progress available not only to other students in the course but to the world at large by way of an on-line forum and web papers.

Course Syllabus

Course Schedule

Course Announcements

Course Lecture/Discussion Notes

Course Forum Area

Web Paper Assignment

2007 web papers

2008 web papers

Some Literary and Historical Starting Points

Course Evolving Book List

Course Evolving Web Resource List

Neurobiology and Behavior Resources on Serendip

Mental Health Resources, from Serendip and the Center for Science in Society

Access to previous course years

Course announcements


Browse around. Get a sense of what's here, and how it does (or doesn't) relate to things you might be interested in. Look for things that surprise you, cause you to think differently (rather than things that are what you expect, support the ways you already think). Think about what you think you know about brain and behavior, and why, and what puzzles you, and why (what IS "thinking"? and what's it good for?). And expect to be wrong, over and over again. That's the best starting place ... for any kind of scientific inquiry. And the best way starting place for the productive sharing of ideas with others as well.

Some recent and ongoing conversations you might find interesting and, perhaps, want to participate in ...

The Novelist and the Neurobiologist
The Art Historian and the Neurobiologist
The Psychoanalyst and the Neurobiologist
The Empirical Non-Foundationalist and the Phenomenologue
Exploring Mental Health
A Working Group on Elementary Science Education

29 January

Interesting piece in Sunday's NYTimes Book Review on a new book by Anne Harrington called The Cure Within: A History of Mind-Body Medicine. Directly relevant to some of the issues raised in our course forum this past week. Perhaps a book for commentary, or take off for web papers? Also relevant for some broader issues, as per Evolution/Science: Inverting the Relationship Between Randomness and Meaning. Continuing discussion welcome there, and/or in course forums. Also recommended: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (re consciousness and differing realities).

Glad to see forums bubbling, not only with thoughts but with conversations. Check back occasionally to see what thoughts you've triggered in others. Along which lines, the brain = behavior issue ...

5 February

Interesting piece in Sunday's NYTimes Book Review on a new book by Anthony Appiah called Experiments in Ethics. Might be good take off point for web paper (first paper due in 3 weeks; see Web Paper Assignment) and/or good book for commentary

Enjoying rich forum conversation. Along which lines, the semi-autonomous input/output boxes within input/output boxes model ...

12 February

More on pain in last Sunday's NYTimes magazine: The First Ache. Also an interesting piece in Saturday's NYTimes business section: My Cortex Made Me Buy It

First web paper due 26 February (2 weeks from today). See Web Paper Assignment

Forum bubbling, from there on to ....

19 February

Sunday NYTimes Magazine: Taking Play Seriously. See also Serendip's Playground.

First web papers due in class (hard copy) and on line next Tuesday. See Web Paper Assignment for info on electronic submission.

Last week's forum, batteries, and beyond ...

27 February

Summer internships

First web paper index

The battery analogy and My last word on batteries

Back to receptor potentials and on to synaptic potentials/synaptic integration

18 March

First web papers enjoyed, commented on on-line, further comments by email this week

Second web papers due 8 April

On from building blocks to architecture

25 March

Comments on first web papers emailed; contact me if you haven't gotten one yet (except Alspector, Ambash, Asabere)

Second web papers due 8 April

Back to output architecture

1 April

Second web papers due 8 April

The Murky Politics of Mind Body, NYTimes Week in Review, 30 March 2008 (see also The mind-body problem: in theory, in life, in politics)

Back to output architecture (in new place)

8 April

Second web papers index

No class a week from today

Back to from the motor to the sensory side

22 April

See posted second web paper comments, further comments by email this week

Third web paper and book commentary due Friday, May 10 (seniors), Friday, May 16 (others)

Back to reality

And on ...


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