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Neurobiology and Behavior, Spring, 2009

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

2009 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

Introduce yourself in the forum area below ...

  • What distinctive experiences/characteristics do you bring to the conversation this semester?
  • List three questions that you'd like to see explored during the semester.


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 additional 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
Reality and Virtual Reality
Where Does it All Come From?

27 January

Check out posts below for a sense of the breadth of perspectives/interest in our working group, and for some suggestions about directions to go to begin exploring particular interests.

Interesting, relevant article in past Sunday's NYTime magazine: What Do Women Want?

17 February

In Pain and Joy of Envy, the Brain May Play a Role ... NYTimes SciTimes

First web paper due a week from today. See web paper assignment, including procedures for paper submission in hard copy and on-line.

17 March

First web papers available, commented on on-line, emails to come. Second web paper due 7 April.

Summer research opportunities, summer teaching intern opportunities. Contact me if interested.

Working group on brain and mental health open to all interested. Contact me for further information.

26 March

Emails on first web paper have been delayed but are in progress. Because of delay, second web paper due date has been extended to 14 April.

7 April

Emails on first web paper have all been sent; if you haven't gotten one let me know. Second web paper due 14 April.

See Shakespeare Had Roses All Wrong for more on the constructedness of the senses.

See Painted Bride/Serendip exhibit on constructedness of science.

See Brain Reserchers Open Door to Editing Memory for how NOT to write a web paper.

23 April

Index for second set of web papers available

Third web paper and book commentary both due for seniors by 5 pm, Saturday, May 9, for all others by noon, Friday, May 15. Submit on line ("text only") as well as in box outside my office (by email with special care).

28 April

Third web paper and book commentary both due for seniors by 5 pm, Saturday, May 9, for all others by noon, Friday, May 15. Submit on line ("text only") as well as in box outside my office (by email with special care).

Visit the course forum area once more (at least) and leave thoughts about where you started, where you've gotten to.



Serendip Visitor's picture


If all my memories and the enviorment has played role in were I am today . if I was able to have those erased and artifical ones put in for example the years of drug abuse and the gukt and shame takin away what would happen ? would I be a new person if so to what degree would eraseing th ese memories effect me

sophie b.'s picture


 Hi I'm Sophie Balis-Harris and I am a sophomore Political Science major at Bryn Mawr. I don't really know exactly how much experience with related fields I can bring to this class, but I am excited about the material. I suppose that in Political Science we learn a lot about what motivates groups of people to act in certain ways, which relates to this course. 

1.  I was recently reading an article in the NY times that discussed how without the use of calendars or natural indicators of time our "internal clock" is very skewed, and how the brain can skew time based on emotions- meaningful or painful experiences can often seem more recent than they actually are simply because they are important parts of our recent memory. I thought the article was an interesting addition to our class discussion of how time is a social construction, and it made me wonder exactly how much of the world around us is a construction of the brain?

2. One of my concentrations within poli sci is peace and conflict studies, and we often discuss the ways that average people can be driven to commit horrific acts of violence in times of conflict. I often wonder if this capacity for violence is hidden within us all, and simply switched on during conditions of extreme duress or if there is something more to it. In short, I suppose I would like to learn a little bit more about the role of the brain in violent behavior. 

3. I also find pyschosomatic illnesses very interesting- how is it that our emotions can dictate our physical well being, and why is our mental health linked so heavily to our physical health? 

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mmg's picture

Just a bunch of neurons and all that

Hi I am Malli, a freshman at BMC. At this point I am toying with the idea of chemistry major with a creative writing minor. I live in Bombay, India and I am a Bengali. My family’s moved around within India and I have been to six different schools. Among the things I love are Indian food, beaches, sleep, my cat, plane rides (any journey actually) and discounts.   

 In my senior year I had to write a paper about the extent we agree with Chomsky’s quote - “... we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology.” I love reading and it has always fascinated me how novelists portray human characters and thus behaviour. I remember the dreams the protagonist has in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and thinking about how much that says about his psychology. In any case, my love for reading developed in me a fascination for human behaviour and my interest in neurobiology. I feel that the brain has very many interesting things to teach us and part of the reason it is so fascinating is that it is after all, just a bunch of neurons! Just a bunch of neurons controlling the world, our world.



  1. If Brain = behavior, my question is how can other external factors be corporated into this equation? What of individual culture, class, family upbringing, education and so forth? Are we what our brains are, or what our brains make of these factors? Also, what about two people who grew up in exactly the same external environment, but have completely different identities? How is it that their individual brains respond differently to the same external factors?
  2. I saw in a movie recently that a pregnant lady was listening to Spanish tapes because she’d read that the child can start grasping language inside the fetus. Given that she wasn’t entirely making this up, how does the brain begin to grasp and comprehend language at such early stages?
  3. I am fascinated by repressed memories. How does the brain decide which memories to repress and lock away? What makes some childhood memories extremely vivid?
  4. I heard that out of the eight hours that a normal human adult needs to sleep, two hours is deep sleep and the remaining six are just REM. What does the brain do at this time? On a slightly different note, is it possible to do away with dreaming – what is its significance in our lives?
vcruz's picture


Hi everyone, my name is Vivian Cruz Pena and I am a junior at Bryn Mawr with a Political Science major. I was born and raised in El Salvador and moved to MA when I was 13. I still miss the tropical weather of my country very much, but also love all the different weather seasons that I now experience here. Science has never been my strength, so I really love the "loopy" kind of science that we'll be learning this semester, I love the idea of having no definite answers or outcomes because that way we feel more free to dig deeper in our analyasis and discussions. One of the places that I love the most is the beach and I wonder how is the combination of that tranquility, beautiful sight, and soothing sounds work in our brain to cause a sense of peace and relaxation? I also would like to know what are the chemical reactions that are released (or not?) when we laugh that cause us to feel better and changes our mood? Like others, I also wonder how the dreams work in our mind? I dream a lot, especially when I'm worried or too anxious about something, so I'm intrigued about how the brain processes my thoughts and makes them (or combines them, or something like that?) into a dream??

SandraGandarez's picture


I'm Sandra Gandarez and I am a sophomore biology major/education minor. I am the first generation in my family born in America, and the rest of my family still has a very Portuguese oriented belief system. I am also the first in my family to come to college. My family, especially my grandmother, is also incredibly religious and me and my brothers joke that if she doesn't get into heaven we're all doomed.


1. What happens to people who are "brain-dead"?

2. What mental and chemical reactions are the causes of love?

3. How we make decisions and how they are influenced internally and externally? 

kdillard's picture

Course Intro

My name is Kira Dillard.  I am a junior Anthropology major from Scottsdale, Arizona.  I am an only child although I had many, many pets growing up.  I am very interested in the overlap between Anthropology and Biology, specifically the evolution of the brain and behavior and the role their development played in the course of human evolution. 


-What is conscience/morality?  Is it innate?  Is it taught? Can a person exist without it?

 -If behavior is not simply the result of chemical reactions, what other options are there that can explain behavior and the mind?

-  How can the ego be explained scientifically?  Evolutionarily, what is the significance/purpose of the ego?  What part does it play in the survival and success of homo sapiens ?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, evolution, anthropology

Merlin Donald's Origins of the Modern Mind impressed me. So too did Christopher Will's The Runaway Brain.
Anna Dela Cruz's picture

Intro and Inquiries

Hello my name is Anna Dela Cruz, but please call me DC. I am a junior biology major with an insatiable fascination with art and fashion. Just recently, I serendipitiously encountered an emerging field in science that aims to understand beauty from a biological standpoint-- bioaesthetics. Finally, a subject that combines both of my loves! The field of aesthetics is more closely associated with philosophy than with biology. Descartes believed beauty lies in symmetry. But what drove him to such conclusion? So question 1: What is the physiological basis for determining if something we see is beautiful? 

To me, art is very much driven by emotion--to harness that intense feeling and pictorially, and consciously recreate it, even using symbols/objects to represent intangible subjects. Which leads me to question 2: What allows the human brain to form associations between emotion and objects to therefore utilize such objects to represent the emotion? 

Of all the artistic movements, Surrealism is what intrigues me the most. It was a very multifaceted movement driven by intense emotions such as paranoia as well as dreams. So question 3: What are the biological mechanisms that allow humans to dream? Do dreams mean anything? Are there universal symbols in our dreams or are the symbols in our dreams purely personal and it is solely up to the individual to infer the meaning behind them? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain and beauty

Max86's picture


Max Scherrer here. I am a single child from an upper middle class family in severe debt. Neither of my parents have college degrees and I will be one of the few in my entire extended family to receive one. I was born and raised in Los Angeles (Hollywood) California and have been accordingly influenced by the attendent culture (s), elitism(s), and can certainly imagine that it has affected my behavior.




1. Acquisitiveness - When is an extreme cocern for accumulating more money an indicator of fitness, or respectively, a detrimental pathology?

2. Altruism/Selflessness - To what extent can "selflessness" be explained or reconciled with the standard biological imperatives recognized. Is there such a thing as pure altruism, seperate or extricable from darwinian advantage/incentive? if so what are the implications?

3.   Sociability - How would one discuss the distinction between intro- and extroverts from a neurobiological standpoint? What can one say about the development, psyche, or general nature of one or the other? Are there significant socio-biological implications for one type over the other or is such a distinction fundamentally unscientific? Is one capable of a more fundamental egotism? 

4. What does neurobiology have to say about Solipsism?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, individuals, sociability

Have a look at Individuals and Cultures ....
hlee01's picture

About Me and Questions

My name is Hanna Lee. I love almost all tropical fruits, and I think my love for them comes from eating a lot of tropical fruits as a toddler in the Solomon Islands. I’ve lived most of my life in the suburbs of New Jersey. I grew up going to church with my parents every Sunday. While I am a Christian with some conservative views, I am politically liberal.  Like a couple of people in the class, I have multiple identities that wrestle with one another; and, therefore my values and views are constantly shifting. I find parts of me in the Korean culture, American culture, Christian community, and Bryn Mawr communtiy.



  1. Do soul mates exist? I learned in my intro Bio class that pheromones control/work with attraction, and birth control pills and perfumes can mask peoples’ pheromones and thus alter people’s attraction to one another. The brain controls our bodily functions including pheromone production, so how does the brain work to find one’s soul mate? Also, can the brain find one’s soul mate despite the use of birth control pills and perfumes? If pheromones mainly work in finding one’s counterpart, then can we make drugs to make people fall in love?
  2. In North Korea, the government advocates early education in worshipping their dictator so that there are less revolts/oppositions. This sort of brainwashing is a core part of the North Korean government. How does brainwashing work and can drugs be developed to model it?
  3. Some people are steadfast in their beliefs and some are not. Is there a neurological difference that causes this difference in people?
  4. There is a period when people can learn language, however when that period has passed, people cannot learn any language at all. Why is this when they have all the brain capacity to do so?
  5. Supposedly, most people use 10% of their brains. What does the other 90% do?
nafisam's picture


Hello all,

My name is Nafisa. Like many others in the class, I grew up with two cultures. My parents are from Nigeria, and I was born in the U.S. Because of this I have always been concerned with how I "behave" within each setting, and have been conscious of following the "rules" of each culture. I tend to look at issues pertaining to behavior from a rigid scientific standpoint, as this usually helps me to unify ideas and make sense of things in a comprehensive manner.


Some questions I have:

1. What types of biases occur when determining "good" or "bad" behavior?

2. How have innate urges evolved over time?

3. What chemical changes occur in the brain after trauma, and what determines if these changes occur for a long or short period of time?


Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder: implications for brain = behavior might be a good place to start for expxloring question 3.
Sarah Tabi's picture


My name is Sarah Tabi, and I am a senior premed Chemistry major at Bryn Mawr.  My family is from Ghana, but many of my family members live in London.  Sadly, I do not speak the language.  I am also the President of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  As a devout Christian and a Chemistry major, I am able to strengthen and balance my faith through science.  I am interested in the areas of the human mind that science has not completely been able to satisfactorily explain.

Some questions I have is:

  • What is the evolutionary significance of human the ability to dream? 
  • What is the chemical difference between physical and emotional pain?
  • What is it that fosters the human need for long-term companionship?
Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and pain

bpyenson's picture


Hi everyone,


I'm a little late posting an introduction.  I'm a senior Biology major (BMC) and Geology minor.  I pursued molecular biology and geology originally in college because I liked how both revealed stories of the natural world.  I went to the MBL at Woods Hole last fall to study environmental science for a semester, at which point I decided I was more interested in the things that lived in an environment, why they lived where they did, and how they managed to survive, physiologically and behaviorally.  So, I was fortunate to study microbial ecology on the West Coast this summer and took Greg Davis' great course in Developmental Biology last semester.  Some of the most perplexing issues in development emerge from studying how the brain and nervous system develops and its plasticity to a changing environment.  As a result, I think neurobiology and behavior are interesting because of the many 'black boxes' in our current understanding of the processes and am excited to explore issues in the discipline this semester.


Some specific questions I want to explore:

1. Are their universal characteristics of language in all life?  What form does this language take (e.g. sound waves, cell signals, action potentials)?  How has this language changed (or not changed) over natural history and evolution?  How do we think it will change in the future?

2.  At what point should we (or do we) draw the line on sentient and/or cognitive life?  Why?  I think this issue has a lot to do with what we 'define' as alive or not?  For instance, do viruses think?  Why or why not?

That's all in my cranium at the moment.  I'd be interested to hear what others think about this.

shikha's picture


I'm Shikha, a senior Biology and Computer Science double major at Bryn Mawr. Due to my computer science background, I often think of the brain as a type of computer.

I was born in India, but I have grown up in 6 countries. As I learned how to adapt to and respect different cultures and societies, my mind became more receptive to various ways of thinking and learning. My experiences in different countries have added a rich cultural diversity to my life, which I hope to bring to our discussions. I have spent most of my life in Europe and have constantly struggled to balance the Western values I learned at school and saw outside my home in general, and the Indian values I was taught and expected to follow by my parents.

My eldest brother is mentally handicapped and despite being 9 years older, he has almost always been mentally younger than me. I'm sure my interest in the brain stems from trying to understand his condition as well as wanting to explore ways to help him. I hope to get a Phd in Neuroscience and spend most of my life studying and researching some aspect of the brain.

In the past two summers, I have worked in two computational neuroscience labs. In one I studied cognitive-motor behavior in Parkinson’s disease patients to develop rehabilitative strategies for patients in early stages of Parkinson's disease. In the other one I worked on a neuroeconomics study which uses functional MRI of subjects engaged in economic behavioral tasks. I also currently work in Dr. Greif's lab in which we are studying the expression of synaptotagmin, a transport protein, during early neurite development in vitro using rat sympathetic neurons. All this research is extremely interesting and I can bring my experiences from working in these labs and doing empirical research to the discussion.

I have been thinking about a lot of brian-related questions simply because I have been reading a lot about the research going on at graduates schools I have applied to.


1. What are the neural correlates of consciousness?

2. Why do some people experience phantom limbs?

3. How do social factors affect the decisions (especially economic decisions) people make?

ilja's picture


Hi, I’m Ilja

I have lived in some very different environments and I like to seek new experiences with people from different cultures. I have experienced some very diverse people and ways of life. I speak English as a second language. I am more aware of the typical American habits than others since they are unfamiliar to me. In my old school we had a strong focus on questioning the knowledge that you gain in life and I hope that this class will force me to continue questioning my knowledge and beliefs.


Good an evil; what is our conscious? Where is it? Are there specific parts of our brain that make us act according to our moral code? Are some people more moral than others?

Free will; is there a difference between the human brain and the brain of other animals in terms of instincts? To what extent can we choose how to respond and act?

Evolution: to what extend is the human body capable of keeping up with the changes in society and the rapid development of human intelligence?

Leah Bonnell's picture

Leah's Intro

My name is Leah and I am a sophomore biology major. For almost all of my life I've lived in suburban Boston with my younger brother, twin sister, and parents. Some random facts about me that have shaped who I am: My mother is a Korean immigrant and my father is Caucasian, so I can easily relate to the dual identity Dr. Grobstein mentioned in class. I was not raised with a religious background and consider myself an outsider to religion in general. I have an extremely close relationship with my twin sister. 



1.) Is it society or brain chemistry that causes teens, particularly troubled teens to act out/ struggle? If both are factors then how does one untangle outside influences from more inner influences?

2.)  I'm interested in phantom limbs and what ramifications they have in our understanding of the brain. If we are able to perceive limbs that don't exist, then how much of what we perceive is made up by the brain?

3.)  Scientists are currently looking for the "gay" gene. On a moral level, is this something scientists should be looking for?


Paul Grobstein's picture

twins and the brain

I just finished reading Divided Minds: Twin Sisters and Their Journey Through Schizophrenia. Very interesting in re "outside" and "inside" influences. And perceiving things that "don't exist," and twinness, and "dual identities."
Kevin Anthem's picture

Hello Mr. Paul Grobstein!

Hello Mr. Paul Grobstein! (or Professor Paul, if I may)

I'm Kevin. I merely stumbled upon this great avenue for learning science. I'm not really a science buff here, but I do want to learn some real science bits. While I may have simply forgotten everything my biology teacher taught me, here are the top three questions that popped up instantly.

1. How does the placebo effect really work? Does it do any good at all?

2. Is it possible that from a scientific standpoint, religious prayers are actually psychological therapy? Or maybe prayers = energy?

3. Is there a scientific basis for mental telepathy? Is it even possible?

Thanks in advance!

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain "science"

Glad to have others, particularly those who don't think of themselves as "science buffs," join in. See What IS Science?
hamsterjacky's picture

Hello it is Jacky Barikdar

The first 6 years of my life, I grew up in Bangladesh, which can be considered the complete opposite of the US. My family tries to follow the traditional bengali culture's ways, but I kind of try to mix them both. As such, I can add a cultural perspective to this course. Also, I am a pre-med student, and I have very personal experience with diabetes, heart problems, and mental disorders, such as depression. As such, I can also add a medical and psychoanalytic POV to the course. I am coming into this course thinking mainly about the mental/psychological components of neurobiology, and thus, I am constantly thinking about treatments that do not necessarily include drugs.


3 question:

What chemical pathways and processes are influenced by pet therapy?

Why is there a great human obsession for control?

What are emotions?


Paul Grobstein's picture

Mental health, emotion

Perhaps of interest to you ...

OrganizedKhaos's picture

Me, Myself, and I

My name is Kerlyne and I am a Sophmore at Bryn Mawr. I grew up in the great city of BOSTON, MA where I attended  Boston Latin School which sought to "ground me in a contemporary classical education in preparation for successful college study, responsible and engaged citizenship, and a rewarding life." They definitely wouldn't go for the "loopy science" way of life. This may have been a major reason for my choice of a Liberal Arts education!

Currently  I am Pre-Health and deciding whether to go with a major of Anthropology or Biology. This summer I interned at Blue Cross Blue Shield in their Behavioral Health department and was lucky enough to create a complete database of resources for their new Outcomes project which sought to seek out and accurately treat potential high risk cases before they could be hospitalized. They did this by using survey scores and graphing patterns generated by a computer. This was really interesting and of course designed to save the insurance company money. At times it felt like Big Brother. This is what led to my interest in continuing my exploration of the mind.

Questions/Issues of interest:

1.  Does music/media really have an affect on the mind?

2. What is the conscience and how does it work?

3. The concept of "brain dead"

Paul Grobstein's picture

conscience and the brain

Conscience, as opposed to consciousness? That's an intriguing issue. Check out Marc Hauser and Jonathan Haidt.
Bo-Rin Kim's picture

Hello, my name is

Borin Kim, and I am a junior pyschology major/NBS concentrator at Haverford College. I was born in Korea and moved to the States when I was six months old. I lived in and around the Washington DC area until fifth grade when my family moved back to Korea. Having spent ten years in America where I was labled as a "Korean" and ten years in Korea where I was labeled as an "American", I have always been part of the minority and am therefore used to seeing things from a different, uncommon perspective. Frequently going between the two cultures has also made me flexible in my thinking and open to new ideas. My Christian faith also greatly influences how I see and understand things. I think humans are the most fascinating subject of study--especially in terms of how their physical brains give rise to conscious thought and emotions. I am especially intrigued by the differences in thought that exist in different communities (cultural, religious, etc.) and whether these differences can also be linked to biological/physical differences in brain structure. While the questions in the area of neurobiology and behavior are are a few that come to mind:

1. What are dreams? How are they linked to our consciousness?

2. Does stress cause headaches? If so, how does a mental state like stress, manifest in a physical condition?

3. How does consciousness arise from physical matter (the brain)? I know this is like one of those big questions the course will explore...but it just really fascinates me. If our thoughts and temperaments differ, does that also mean that our brain structures/chemistry also differ? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain and cultures

Yep, "dual consciousness" can indeed make one more "flexible ... and open to new ideas," and "differences in thought exist in different communities" creates interesting challenges/opportunities for thinking about the brain. Have a look at

jlustick's picture

A bit about me

I have discovered that I have a cross-disciplinary mind and enjoy thinking about things from various perspectives, simultaneously incorporating scientific, literary, psychological, economic, and medical lenses, among others. My training as an English major and premed student has cultivated this inter-disciplinary approach, discouraging me for settling for a single theory, rule, or formulation.


1. To what degree are interpersonal relationships grounded in biology? Are humans hardwired to be dependent upon each other?

2. Why does a single individual use different methods of decision making for different decisions? Why do different individuals make decisions differently?

3. Are humans rational, and is there such a thing as rationality? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

interdisciplinarity, rationality, and the brain

For more on interdisciplinarity, and "rationality," see The Humanities and the Sciences: Learning from Each Other. For more on why "a single individual uses different methods of decision making for different decisions," see Making Sense of Understanding and Marin Minsky's The Society of Mind.
eglaser's picture

Erin Glaser

I am one of four children with an older sister and a younger sister plus a younger brother. Neither of my parents graduated from college and I am the first in our family to consider going to graduate school. I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia a wealthy, predominately white subarb that would rather consider itself to be a part of DC than Virginia. My parents are divorced but out of economic necessity they still live in the same house. Over the course of my life, I have had a managerie of pets including dogs, cats, parrots, fish, hamsters, guinea pigs and a handful of tomagotchi's. Although I have lived in the same room of the same house all my life, I have traveled to Northern Ireland and The Philippines to stay with friends in both countries. I love watching horror movies in order to make fun of them. I am a devout protestant who wants to major in anthropology.


My questions for this class are:

How is  behavior reflected on anatomy and vice versus?

Why do we feel compelled to believe in the imporbable even when there is little to no empirical evidence backing it up?

Do advances in technology and science improve the human condition? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and anthropology

Crystal Leonard's picture


My name is Crystal Leonard and I'm a sophmore at Bryn Mawr. Several people in my immediate and extended family have various neurological disorders. As a result, I am aware of how the brain can cause unusual and/or disruptive behaviors in an individual, despite their consious desire to act "normally". I'm also knowledgeable of the current ways in which doctors use chemistry to attempt to alter the brains, and thus the behaviors, of these individuals.


3 questions that I would like to see explored this semester are:

1. What is the internal voice and how is it formed?

2. How do the chemical interactions in the brain lead to a person's "inner being/soul,etc"?

3. How does positive touching affect a person's brain chemistry/behavior?

Paul Grobstein's picture

the brain and inner voices

A really nice, possibly relevant book is Daniel Smith's Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Border's of Sanity. See also some of the on-line discussion of Hypnagogia: A Bridge to Other Realities.
Brie Stark's picture


My name is Brielle.  My parents were driving about in New Jersey while my mother was seven months pregnant and passed a billboard to the beach city of Brielle, NJ -- and it stuck. 

I grew up in New Jersey but for the past 8 years I've lived in rural Ohio on a small horse farm.  I have experienced both the culturally diverse east and attended high school in an area where two people of color were all that showed diversity in the entire school. 

I work at Recreation Unlimited, an adventure camp in rural Ohio for people with disabilities.  My passions are developmental disorders, seizures, and traumatic brain injury.  I have worked with people, mostly children, with disabilities for seven years.  I like to think I have a unique outlook concerning the way people with disabilities perceive the world and how they feel that they are perceived because of the close interactions that I have had, including personal care, overcoming recreational challenges and growing socially.  I am always looking for opinions from other people to help increase my knowledge of this subject.

1. How does perception and the role of thinking warp/change after receiving significant trauma?  What physical changes in the brain cause behavior changes? 

 2. How do people labelled as mindblind, like those with autism, perceive the behaviors, emotions and ambitions of surrounding people?  Is this a behavior that can be learned over time or is there an inhibitor (like a chemical) preventing the learning? 

 3. What causes the response of choosing to isolate another person?  Is this a chemical balance that we are born with or a behavior that we have learned socially?

Paul Grobstein's picture

mental health and "disability"

ddlag's picture


Hi my name is Dean Laganosky and I am a senior from Wilmington, DE. I am a very analytical thinker, and as a Pre-Med Biology Major, have been exposed to an education primarily dictated by scientific fact and what is typically perceived as irrefutable truth. This academic background, however, has fueled a distinct curiosity in how the beliefs that a certain individual may have don't necessarily have to be incorrect if they oppose these specified 'universal truths'.
As far as other aspects that make me a unique contributor to this class, I am a collegiate baseball player for Haverford College who was drafted professionally in 2008 by the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball Organization. Also, I lived on a dairy farm this past summer for three months, which has provided me with a unique perspective on the ways in which some people live.

Three questions that I would like to explore during this course:
-the limitations/size of the physical and mental universe
-perceiving in higher dimensions
-the reason for life and sense-based perception and the role/existence of an afterlife.

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and the bigger questions ...

re "limitations/size of the physical and mental universe" see The Scale of Humanness and Serendip's Key to the Universe. Maybe also relevant are Reality and Virtual Reality? and Where Does it All Come From? A Conversation.

How does this relate to/square with being an "analytic thinker"?

cc's picture

I was made in the U.S. and

I was made in the U.S. and born in Canada, and then I lived in China with my grandparents for two years. The rest of my life was spent mostly in North Jersey, where I moved from town to town almost every year until fifth grade.
I am a frosh at BMC, and I plan on majoring in either Biology or Psychology.

What I'd like to explore:
1. Dreams: how our brains form them, if/how recurring themes/dreams represent our subconscious thoughts.
2. Mental "illnesses": are they chemical, how do they form/occur.
3. Personalities: what makes each of us think and react differently to the same idea/topic?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brains, mental illness, chemistry

3. That we have different brains?

2. Exploring depression: drugs, psychotherapy ....

jrlewis's picture

I am a local girl who chose

I am a local girl who chose to stay close to her horse(s).  We are so close that my horse and I sleep under the same roof, her in a stall with straw, me in bedroom and bed.  This setup has made it possible for me to spend a significant time observing the behavior of horses.  However, I have spent almost no time studying their brains.  Hopefully this class will add some breadth to my experience with behavior, brains, and the relationship between the two.  I have also spent some time thinking about human brain, mind, and behavior.  I took a course last semester on mental health and the brain, spent some time in therapy, experienced or forgot six concussions with post-traumatic amnesia, and observed the progression of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. 

I would like to learn more about the differences between humans and animals.  Specifically, how it relates to differences between their brains. 

The neurobiology of gender and sex interest me.  Beyond the role of hormones… I have a really great story about the behavior of two mares and some hormones gone wrong.

I am curious about the connection between behavior and the unconscious. Or perhaps our lack of conscious awareness of our behavior?  I think this plays some part in therapy.  

Paul Grobstein's picture

human/animal brains

Temple Grandin provides an intriguing perspective on humans and animals. See her earlier Animals in Translation and her recent Animals Make Us Human.
BMCsoccer01's picture

Introducing Myself

Hi, my name is Collette Pullion, I'm from South Jersey and am a senior psychology major at Bryn Mawr. I also am a Pre-Medical student and am hoping to matriculate into Medical School next year. I am a collegiate soccer athlete and have been for all 4 years. In terms of what I can bring to the table for this class...I am a devout Roman Catholic and am continually trying to become more & more self-aware. Thus, I chose psychology as my major in order to better understand the mind, people, & the behavior associated with mankind. In addition, I constantly struggle with scientific faith versus my faith. This involves both faith in mankind & facts about science. Because I am a collegiate athlete I appreciate other people's points of view on topics and really try to absorb any beneficial characteristics or behaviors that others embody.

Three Questions:
1) Do our dreams have meaning?
2) Are conditions like fibromyalgia real?
3) How much of our genetics (the family we are born into) affect who we grow up to be?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and faith

Maybe there isn't any necessary "faith" in science and so less conflict with religion than one might think? Interesting set of issues. See No Need for Drawing Lines in the Sand and The Life of Faith is Not a Life Without Doubt.
Lisa B.'s picture


My name is Lisa and I am a junior biology major at Bryn Mawr. I always had a curiosity in biology, but a major in biology was not always my first choice. Because most books I read as a child had a historical theme, I dreamed of becoming a history professor. Then my opinion changed in the summer of 2003 while dissecting a shark in my neuroscience and neurology course at Yale University. At first I was disgusted at the handful of overachieving high school students tearing apart the shark’s flesh, but then my mentality suddenly changed. When they tore open the stomach to find a baby crab I became fascinated with the dissection. My summer at Yale, combined with other biology related experiences, drew me to major in biology and enroll in neurobiology and behavior at BMC.

During the course of the semester I would like to explore these three topics:

(1) What have studies shown about a possible association between artificial sweeteners and cancer?

(2) How was phrenology used to determine an individual's psychological attributes?

(3) What are some experimental intervention research methods used to understand the human brain? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

history of neurobiology

Carl Zimmer's Soul Made Flesh is a nice account of a key historical period.
hope's picture

Hi. I'm Hope. I might major

Hi. I'm Hope. I might major in biology. Here are my questions:

Why do people like scary things like roller coasters and horror movies? Do any other animals do scary things on purpose just for fun?

why do we have religion? is their a biological reason why some people believe in religion and others don't?

 why do people commit suicide?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and religion

Redefining God takes an interesting look at this realm.
BBC's picture


Hi, I'm Becca and I'm a Haverford psychology major. I have been juggling pediatric medicine (primary care or neurology), child psychology and elementary school education as possible career venues for many years. Neurobiology has implications within each of these domains, as does it's application to human behavior. In pursuing my pre-med and psychology aspirations, I have taken courses in cell biology, neuroanatomy, organic chemistry, and cognition. I hope that my experiences learning about the workings of the human body and mind from within many different scientific contexts will allow me to bring integrated and distinctly developed thoughts on neorobiology and behavior, especially where development is concerned. I have spent many summers and semesters working in various labs that study Autism from a range of viewpoints. I've been exposed to, and hope to bring to this class, neurological, genetic, cognitive and diagnostic perspectives on pervasive developmental disorders.

My questions are:

1. To what extent does language development follow a strict neurological pattern? To what extent is socialization a contributor? Does exposure to language from social contexts/the human environment affect the neural development of language centers (aside from atrophy of structures involved in differentiating between certain sounds after the critical period)?

2. What neurological structures are implicated in theory of mind? How does theory of mind dictate behavior from a neurobiology standpoint?

3. I'd like to talk about what sort of neurological research is out there about fight or flight response thresholds.

Paul Grobstein's picture

on the spectrum

I recently read/enjoyed Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's, by John Elder Robison. And earlier learned a lot from Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.
aybala50's picture


I grew up in a household with a very liberal American parent and a very conservative Turkish parent

Until the end of 8th grade, I lived in a society that stigmatized every kind of mental problem

I grew up in Turkey, a secular Islamic nation at a time in which Islamic fundamentalism is a major global issue

-Why does embarrassment increase heart rate and make people blush?

- Why do people care and is there a physical need to care?

- Is there a single personality trait that a person must have to avoid depression completely?  


Paul Grobstein's picture

the brain and interpersonal relations

Riki's picture

presenting Riki Gifford-Ferguson

I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I plan on being a bio major with an NBS concentration. I took the Brain and Mental Health last semester, along with Experimental Psychology, so I have a brief background with the brain but would like to learn as much as possible. The brain fascinates me; I don't know if there is one thing I like best about it. Its power continually amazes me. I like learning about mental "illnesses" and trying to remove the stigma surrounding them. I have some experience with a few mental "illnesses" which left me curious about their origins and effects. Some questions....

-  can we strengthen our muscles in our sleep through lucid dreaming?

- can the brain be connected directly to the internet? (I realize that it will take a few years for this to happen, if it is possible)

- can someone become a better mind-reader simply by practicing reading body language?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and (rest of the) body

Maybe start with ...

M. Jeannerod (1994) The representing brain: Neural correlates of motor intention and imagery. Behav. Brain Sci. 17:187-245.

Katie Englander's picture

My name is Katie and I am a

My name is Katie and I am a junior Psych major/Education minor at Haverford. I spent the summer teaching English to children with little to no prior understanding of the language. This experience has led me to examine how we communicate with individuals, especially when language becomes more of a hindrance than a helpful tool. In relation to this class, I expect that we will be able to communicate effectively, but the variety of backgrounds and disciplines will also present challenges. However, by working through these issues and looking at problems through different perspectives, I think we will ultimately benefit from the diversity within the class.


1) What happens in the brain when we have "Aha!" moments? (reach epiphanies, have breakthrough or novel ideas, solve complex problems)

2) Do other species (besides humans) actively and purposefully deceive others?

3) How does free will relate to neurobiology and chemical pathways?

Sam Beebout's picture

finding oneself/body and identity/creativity

My name is Samantha (Sam) Beebout. I grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and that has given me some perspective on feeling like I'm from the middle of nowhere, but also feeling like I can escape the rest of the world when I go home, especially when I'm out in the country. I'm analytical and like to turn things over and over in my mind. I like to make leaps of faith, and I can be stubborn and open-minded at the same time.

I'm really interested in my position in life right now about to graduate and trying to figure out what I want to do, where I want to do it, and who I want to do it with. I'm fascinated with this phase in particular because its so tied into me deciding who I am and who I want to be as an individual, and my sense of self is always in flux.

I'm also interested in how the body effects ones sense of self. This can go several ways. I'm interested in body image, but also the literal experience of being in ones body and the way senses, or limitations of one's senses, influence one's identity.

Finally, I'm interested in understanding where creativity comes from and the whole nature versus nurture pull behind talented people. I don't really have one thing in mind, I'm thinking artistic/musical talent, but I'm also interested in people's strengths and interests.

Adam Zakheim's picture


Hi. I'm Adam Zakheim. Born and raised in South Philadelphia, I had the unique opportunity to live in a culturally diverse city, replete with pride and history. My life at home, which stands on a foundation of torah and Jewish law, instilled in me a desire to co-exist peacefully and with sensitivity. Prior to Haverford, I attended the William Penn Charter School in East Falls, which exposed me to the Quaker sense of law, consensus and community. These experiences led me to Haverford, where I have grown to understand the value of individual consciousness and communal responsibility. I am an avid sports fan, who enjoys watching and playing most any sport (except for cricket). I am not discriminating when it comes to music and will listen to pretty much anything. My scholastic interests are not limited either, although I am majoring in classical history and chemistry. Otherwise, my interests include reading, going to the gym, traveling and learning how to make the perfect cup of coffee.

Questions I've always wondered...
1) What is sleep? And how does sleep deprivation affect the brain?
2) What is the physiological basis for road rage?
3) What affect does prolonged spaceflight have on astronauts? How do astronauts cope with the stress of space flight (such as being confined to a small capsule or space station and eating freeze-dried hot dogs for several weeks)?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and community

Check out The Brain and Social Organization / Culture? How compatible are "individual consciousness" and "communal responsibility"? What about the observations that "A significant number of mental health problems either derive directly or are significantly exacerbated by interpersonal and social/cultural variables (The Brain and Mental Health: PG Reflections)?
fquadri's picture

Fatima Quadri's Intro = )

I’m a twenty year old sophomore at Bryn Mawr. I’ve lived in four different states and two other countries. I have met all kinds of people and have heard their various life stories, ideas, and opinions. This is my personal proof that people are diverse. It has always fascinated me that the human race is rich in variety of thoughts, perceptions, opinions, interests, and much more, despite the fact that all of these come from an organ that pretty much looks the same in each person; that organ being the human brain. I’m interested in knowing how the brain can function in not only accomplishing its basic tasks (getting one’s hands off the lit stove) but also, how it functions to cause one person to be different from the next (nature versus nurture; how do interests develop?; how are men and women different via their brain science?).

Here are three questions that randomly popped in my head during class:

1)What is the brain’s activity during hypnosis and how does it differ from person to person?

2)How does the brain fall in love? (I personally don’t think it’s all about the heart)

3)What is the biology behind headaches?

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain and headaches

Purposeful Migraine - an intriguing paper by a student who suffers from migraine headaches.
Bbaum's picture


Bailey Baumann-Introduction

1. For the last couple years my 65-year-old grandmother has been living with us for the majority of the year. During these years she has become decidedly more impaired and has lost much of her memory and her ability to complete even basic tasks such as cooking and turning on the television without constant supervision and guidance. Because of her stubbornness she has not seen a proper doctor in many years but our family believes that she has developed a form of dementia or possibly Alzheimer’s. The experience I had with my grandmother was both devastating and intriguing because I literally saw her deteriorate before my eyes; I saw the breakdown on her memory and the slow death of her brain. Seeing my grandmother age has made me interested in the mechanisms that determine when and to what extent a person’s brain will chemically deteriorate as they age. I am interested in understanding the structural and chemical differences between the brains of children, adults, and older adults.

2. I also have a lot of experience with individuals that have developmental delays, especially Downs Syndrome. I have family members and several close family friends who suffer from the disorder and I have learned many things about the causes and defining features of the syndrome. I know the current treatments and I intimately understand the adverse effects that Downs Syndrome can have across a lifetime from infancy through adulthood. What I don’t understand is how the thought process of an individual with Downs Syndrome differs from my own thought process. For instance, when my family member with the disorder tells me he loves me, does he experience the same feelings that I experience when I tell him that I love him?

3. As we discovered in class on Tuesday, most of the class feels that they have some kind of split identity. I also feel that I have a split identity because of the vast differences in the socio-economic status of my parents. My mother grew up in an upper middle class home while my father grew up in a poor single family home. The differences in my parent’s upbringing have had an obvious effect on their personalities as adults. I have found that most individuals tend to interact and marry individuals that have relatively similar economic backgrounds and I would like to find some research on marriages and families that come from mixed economic backgrounds.


1. Are there any significant chemical and structural differences between the brains of individuals that have been identified as extroverts and individuals who have been identified as introverts? Are these terms both culturally and biologically significant?
2. Are there differences in the brains of individuals who consider themselves extremely religiously devout and individuals who identify themselves as stanch atheists? Does religious belief produce a very specific response, or is the same chemical reaction observed in individuals who have strong beliefs about anything such as animal welfare or abortion rights. In other words, does passion produce the same chemical response independent of the context?
3. This answer has probably already been explored many times, but I am interested in the similarities in brain activity between individuals that are dreaming and individuals who are experiencing a seizure. From my basic understanding, both situations occurs when the brain begins to fire at random, although in dreaming, the mind is able to function enough to string these firings together and form a semblance of meaning.

Paul Grobstein's picture

extroverts/introverts, devout/atheistic, etc and brains

If Emily Dickinson et al are right, then there MUST be differences between brains of any two people who behave differently, no? See, for example, Extroversion, Introversion, and the Brain. If brain differences were in fact found for any given comparison, what would the significance be?
Olu'Femi's picture

The Oral/Aural & the Impact of Voice on Psyche/Behvior Patterns

My name is Menda Olufemi Francois and I am a Brooklyn native but currently reside in the conservative, high-brow city of BOSTON! How appropriate, yes? I am a poet/spoken word artist, Mistress of Ceremony, and teacher, and dreamer.
I am a feminist interested in hip hop scholarship(again, how perfect!), particularly the culture's music, i.e. rap music, and the ways in which this musical genre's use of the spoken word manipulates the voice to convey as well as elicit certain emotions and behavioral responses.
In rap music, because it is an oral art form, the aural is key, so how does the speaker's accent(regional, like Midwest rapper Nelly or Southern rapper T.I.), delivery(fast like Bone Thugz and Harmony vs. slow and syrupy like Ma$se), vocal registers (high/low pitch)(among various other aesthetic and poetic elements) impact the listener's reception of what the speaker is saying?
Does any of this criteria impact how we "hear" the music? Hearing someone coo an expletive in a slow and flirtatious fashion versus hearing the expletive shouted in an angry manner, does this affect the psyche? And if so, how does it impact our behavior, both internal and external?
This is say(ask) how would the two separate experiences inform our understandings and conceptualizations around the word and its usage and how does this translate into a consequent/subsequent embrace or rejection of the word?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Prose and prosody

Interesting set of issues. There is in fact pretty good evidence that linguist content and "style" are processed in distinct locations in the brain before being combined into .... what we hear/experience. Cf The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief.
redmink's picture

Intro - Ahn Nyoung !

I was born and raised in South Korea until 9th grade.

I lived with my grandparents.

I can speak Korean.


Three questions to be explored during this semester:

1.  Where does curiosity come from? 

2.  How can I improve, maximize, and use both visual attention and auditory attention?  Which one is more beneficial in life?

3.  What is the biochemical mechanism of eye?  What is the relationship of this particular organ to the brain?

Paul Grobstein's picture


Maybe an interesting place to start: Creativity, the Mind, and the Brain.

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