Week 1: If the brain IS behavior (there isn't anything else), what aspect of behavior will be most difficult to account for?


I'd say that the most difficult thing to understand about behavior based on the brain is consciousness. The processes involved in consciousness, although (I am convinced) they are purely biological, are at this point extremely difficult to access. Because the problems of consciousness involve not only the brain's mechanisms but the interface between these mechanisms and our perceived mental states, it is much more difficult to devise experiments that make contact with the elements of consciousness than, for example, more overt behaviors such as movement. Psychophysical experiments can tell us a great deal about the way mental processes appear to operate, but getting at the perceptual states associated with the processes always requires the use of the subject's report of his or her experience. There are intriguing data from many of these experiments, however, that give us hints about some of the inner workings of consciousness. The phenomenon of red/green phi motion, as reported in Daniel Dennett's _Consciousness Explained_, is one - the fact that side-by-side red and green spots that flash in an alternating pattern casue the observer to perceive motion during which the spot turns green before the green spot actually even appears (and on the first trial, no less) is amazing. This has lad theorists to postulate such mental processes as "referring backwards in time" in consciousness, which is a tempting thought given the data. Dennett disagrees that a theory of post-hoc perceptual adjustment - the "Orwellian" theory, as he puts it - is necessary, and instead proposes a "multiple draft" model of consciousness, in which different threads of information are simultaneously active. In this model there is no specific place in the mind/brain in which things become conscious (this is not a new idea, but the idea of a center of consciousness is hidden in the speech of many unsuspecting psychologists); nor is there andc identifiable _time_ at which they become conscious as there is no true mental locaus of consciousness. All of this makes me think that there must be, somehow, a way to reach the essence of such questions experimentally.


In thinking about the question "Is the brain behavior?", my greatest difficulty was that I feel the term "behavior" is ambiguous. I always thought behavior involved some action or inaction (i.e. walking, talking, sitting, doing nothing), but our class list included more abstract terms; like style, personality, love, and curiosity. I feel there are behaviors associated with things like curiosity (looking for things, etc.), but I'm unconvinced that "curiosity" and the other aforementioned things are behavior. To clarify my understanding of the word "behavior," I looked it up in The Random House Dictionary (Stein, 1978). The definition was: "manner of behaving or acting. 2. the action or reaction under given circumstances." For "behaving," it said "to conduct oneself in a particular way." To me, that implies "behavior" involves specific, observable actions. With that disclaimer aside, I'll now discuss looking for problems with the assertion "the brain is behavior" from the viewpoint we discussed in class.

I would tend to agree with the equation of brain and behavior (with the exception of the little problem I mentioned about the muscles involved in specific behaviors, like walking). I did spend the week, however, racking my brain and the brains' of friends and family trying to think of incongruencies. I have to admit, the arguments I have are a little flaky, but for what it's worth: Life after death experiences: If one ceases to have brain activity, how could people that have come back to life all remember walking toward a light and deceased loved ones? If it was just one person that reported this, I could understand that they might have been delusional (after all, I would imagine that death is traumatic), but how could so many people have the same experience? I discussed this with Professor Sternberg, and she said maybe it's due to a flood of neurochemicals upon coming back to life. Couldn't/has this ever been tested?

Beginning of neural activity: I understand that somewhere around the fifth month of gestation is when the fetus begins to have brain activity. What causes the first action potential? How can there be electrical activity where there was none before? Could it be started by the soul? Professor Sternberg suggested that the beginning could be pre-programmed by genes, but where does the electricity come from? (I know this is weak, but I'm doing the best I can.) Incidentally, I've heard that a fetus sucks its thumb while in utero. Do you know when it starts doing this? (i.e. before or after the beginning of neural activity?) Past lives: I understand that under hypnosis, some people have remembered past lives. (By the way, there's a great book called Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss if you're interested in this.) I know there's no way to prove this, but in many cases, there's no way to disprove it either. Ghosts: If all consciousness/existence ends with brain death, how does one explain ghosts? If only one person sees an apparition, I could understand it being a construct of his/her mind, but what about when several people see the same ghost and describe it the same way? I know there might be some physical explanations that just haven't been discovered yet in some cases, but I think it's worth thinking about. Mediums: Along the same lines, what about people that say that they can communicate with the dead? I know that in most cases they're charlatans, but I understand that some can tell people things that they couldn't possibly have known. That's the best list I could come up with. I know that they almost all deal with things that are usually considered "flaky," but I think a lot of them haven't been completely explained away yet. I look forward to hearing your responses!

Stein, Jess (ed.), The Random House Dictionary, Ballantine Books: New York: 1978.


Input and output are fine terms but it is obvious to me that "stimuli" can be created in the brain and this perplexes me. The results are emotions not based on outside facts. Its great that a cricket turns its head when it hears a sound. There is an obvious reason for that. Sound triggers axon to deliver information to the brain where reads it then triggers a reaction, the head turning. Fine, but what about emotions, why do we have them. What evolutionary good does it do for humans and I believe many animals to morn the loss of a friend or relative? Are emotions actual outputs, can moods by considered a reaction? They are something we take for granted and sometimes we can place our mood back to an event but sometimes we cant. How can the brain simply manufacture a stimulus? As well what decides that the emotion created will be sadness or happiness, etc? These are just questions I have in response to the idea that the brain is all there is for a living animal. As a scientist I believe this to be possible but my "gut" tells me there is more. Simply sayings like gut instincts show that for many generation humans believe there is something internally about them besides their brains that affects their attitudes and judgements. As well if there is only a brain where do guesses come from? Is everything based on at least a tiny bit of past experience, it would seem that it would have to be because I dont know how a brain could say choose one road over another having no idea which way to go? When I guess I feel as though Im stretching out with my instincts, I guess this could by ESP of some sort. If intuition is the baby steps of full blown ESP then perhaps the brain could be involved with that as well. Another problem in my head is how all brains have to be different for behavior to be different. Say there are two identical twins born. They have same genetic material, have mostly the same experiences yet one grows up enjoying Mozart and the other wants to study Math. Are these difference purely experiential, perhaps how their parents treated them? Are aspirations and preferences genetic? It would seem to me that these two would think more alike then anyone else on this world but Im not sure that in actuality they do. What besides experiences and genetics can cause a specific kind of thinking? Sorry I had mostly questions although the more I think about these questions the more possible answers I come up with.


Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the brain to understand is its behavior during altered states of conciousness, particularly dreaming. Even with extensive dream research many questions remain unnswered. For instance, the common themes of dreams between people of diverse backgrounds and/or cultures, the brain's ability to reproduce the same dreams over and over again, the adaptive advantages of dreaming and finally the purpose dreams serve in our life. Due to the recent advances in technology and the apparent rise in the amount of funding given to dream labs; it has become possible to monitor brain's activity while in the process of dreams. The basic process of dreaming occurs in four stages of progressively longer duration as sleep deepens. The body undergoes about four of these cycles per night with the actual dreams occuring the fourth stage, known as REM sleep. Interestingly enough, humans are not the only organisms with the ability to dream. Extensive research with cats shows that these (and presumably other) mammals have quite vivid dreams. Based upon these findings, scientists have found that the brain stem acts upon the body to induce a state of paralysis on the body to prevent us from acting out our dreams.

This leads to a variety of evolutionary questions. If our early ancestors which lived in more hostile environments than our own and needing to be alert more often, were subject to these bouts of partial paralysis and deep sleep periodically during the night, wouldn't natural selection favor another pattern of sleep over this one found in the present day? However, the argument may be made that these periods of dreaming gave the body a chance to sort out the events of the day thus producing more psychologically sound cavemen/cavewomen. This pattern would also encourage lone bands of nomads to group together; encouraging safety in addition to more and better sleep for all concerned. Finally, it remains to be seen how people across a diverse cultural and societal spectrum are able to experience the same or similar dreams. Even in the most rigidly controlled experiments, subjects will manifest the input in a variety of interpretive dreams. Although the physical process of dreaming is known, can science actually influence, predict, understand or interpret dreams with any degree of accuracy in the future?


Why I Am Not Totally Convinced That Brain IS Behavior I still think there may be something else out there. Whether you want to call it a soul or a separate self or whatever is up to you. Why do I think this? Because I'm a good Catholic Mass-goer, for one, but also because I can't figure out why else a placebo could cure an illness. In drug testing, placebos often have 30-40% effectivemess rates. If the illness, either psychological or physiological, is due to some kind of "malfunction" in the nervous system (i.e. a chmical imbalance), only the prescribed drug should have an effect. A couple grams of sugaar should not. The placebo seems to work merely because the people taking it BELIEVE it is working. This faith has some kind of power to heal. Amazing.

An example: Health food stores sell the enzyme tyrosine, proclaiming that it will make you happier and give you more energy. Tyrosine is the amino acid from which dopamine, the neurotransmitter or reward, is made in catacholanergic neurons. The formation of tyrosine, however, is under negative-feedback control by limiting the amount of the enzyme necessary for the conversion. So no matter how much tyrosine a person takes, it will make no differnce b/c the enzyme is saturated. The health food junkies still swear by it, though, so SOMETHING else is going on--perhaps the separate SELF is taking over?


In this essay I will first raise my objections to the proposition that Òbrain is all that there is to behaviorÓ. After that, I suppose this proposition is true for more narrow definition of behavior than the one we encountered in class (or rather how I understood it in class). Based on this assumption I will try to come up with an example of behavior that would be hard to explain if the given proposition is true.

It seems to me that the assumption that brain=behavior has a logical flaw. We have to admit that brain by itself is incapable of generating behavior. Yes, it is a necessary condition for behavior (i.e. no brain => no behavior (??? is that really true?)), but it is not a sufficient condition. There are other things that are necessary for certain types of behavior. For example, there can be no walking without legs: although the brain sends an impulse for walking, it can not be fulfilled. There can be no writing without an instrument for writing (pen, pencil). My point is that there is nothing that brain can do by itself. Logically, behavior implies brain but not the other way around. This means that we can not put an equal sign between brain and behavior, at least in this broad understanding of behavior.

Suppose we define behavior more narrowly, as mere physical process of communication of messages (stimulus - >response). Then we could say brain (or more exactly nervous system) is the same as behavior. It seems to me that in this sense any behavior can be explained in terms of brain. I was trying to come up with some peculiar behavior that brain would not be able to process and although it took me quite a long time, I think I have something. I think that if the brain is doing the Òwork of behaviorÓ (transmitting of neurons), can we inquire about brain using the facilities of brain? For example, when I think about my brain, is this behavior the same thing as brain? Or more generally, self - perception seemed very hard to conceptualize in terms of brain. I recognize myself means my brain recognizes itself (I is in the brain, as we said). Where did the (continuous) stimulus for self-recognition come from?

This is just a thought. At this point, I donÕt completely understand this matter. It certainly seems to me that I find myself somewhere on the border of biology and philosophy when I think about self-perception and I am eager to submerge more deeply into these questions as the semester goes on.


I had a couple of thoughts about the past few classes. I have been pondering the idea of what we classify as a stimulus and what as a response. In the psychology classes I have taken so far I had the sense that a stimulus is an action that is experienced by an organism and that this action creates a reaction in the organism which we classify as a response. The idea of a stimulus resulting in no response at all is an interesting one. It may be that animals that rely on reflex action are more likely to fall into a stimulus response category of behavior than other animals. It just so happens that the more an animal relies on the stimulus response mechanism, the less "intelligent" it seems to us as humans. Since we know that a neocortex is found in mammals and is more folded or convoluted in more "intelligent" mammals, we may be able to make a generalization about the presence of the neocortex and intelligence. Perhaps the presence of the neocortex implies that the animal has developed more ways to respond to a stimulus and therefore needs more actual brain matter to carry out interim behavioral decisions. Since the neocortex in intelligent animals such as humans is larger in proportion to the other structures of the brain, perhaps this is what has a more to do with our behavior than the structures of the brain or nervous system that controls stimulus and response.


The assertion is that I am my mind, and my mind is my brain and therefore I am my brain. For me personally, the most difficult things to prove in this assertion are that the entire complexity of our natures can be condensed into such a tiny organ and the explanation of "miracles" and the soul.

When I think in the sense that if someone becomes brain dead they are no longer alive, their bodies may be kept ticking artificially but they are essentially gone, then this assertion makes sense to me. However, looking at it from the viewpoint of my religion (Hindu), I do not see how you can explain the existence of the soul. If I am my brain then when I die, my brain dies and thus my soul does too. Although I am not that religious I still do believe that the soul does not die but is passed on. How will I be able to explain the presence of a soul if I am willing to accept this argument.

The human nature is extremely complex. The things that we do, the intensities of our emotions, our intelligence, our ignorance and our differences from other human beings just all seems to be too much to be contained in our brains. It is difficult to believe that our brains is what we are all finally reduced to. I find it difficult to believe that we can prove that our brains are so immensely powerful.

One often hears of miracles occurring with humans having near death experiences. It is not unheard of that when there is no hope for recovery of a "terminally" ill patient that something happens which causes them to make a miraculous recovery. I think it will be hard to contribute such occurrences to our brains alone. I do not think that this assertion is so outrageous but at the same time I am not completely willing to accept that our brains is all there is to us and that is where it stops. It will be interesting to see if by the end of this semester I will have any answers to my questions.


The hardest concept for me to get used to, or to believe in the class, was probably the distinction between brain and mind. I never attempted to clearly define the concept of mind, and even though I knew that it is not physically present inside my skull, the notion that it is what I "think with" was somehow more acceptable than reality. I thought that my central nervous sytem, my brain, controls all the things which happen without me thinking of them, i.e. breathing, walking, the command of my voice; yet my mind is what I think with, what makes me dream, something where I get my emotions. Actually, I don't think I ever tried to convince myself that I was one whole person instead of a separate me -- my mind, thoughts; and the rest which was somehow different. I asked some friends whether they distinguished between brain and mind, even though mind is an abstract idea, and everybody I asked said that of course there is a distinction -- "brain is something for math and science, while mind is imagination, dreams, poetry", seemed to be a variation of the most common response. Perhaps this mind is a figment of our imagination, yet it is as though a totally objective and real object -- a brain, gave rise to a conscience, a reflection of reality, which is a mind. This seems to be a rather poetic idea, yet I think that it is simply too hard to comprehend how just one organ of the body is dreams, emotions, thoughts, and at the same time the control of reflexes, feelings (of which we are not conscious), and IS conscience.

The one behavior (?) which is extremely fascinating to me is the beginning of thoughts. Especially when I'm in the process of concentrating on something, like listening to a lecture, the course of my thoughts is frequently totally disrupted by some unrelated and seemingly irrelevant concept or idea, (which I can't understand either because I never thought about it, or because it is something I suddenly remembered after a very long time). Often I can find some explanation for the particular thought, sometimes even recognize how it appeared-- find associations by which it came -- yet more often than not, it seems like the thought has nothing to do with me and just appeared from the outside.


When first faced with the argument that the brain (and associated structures) is behavior, a number of questions came to mind. Previously I had thought of the brain as a control center for thinking and processing the inputs which lead to our behavior, but not necessarily as being our behavior. Furthermore, other factors, aside from our brain alone, seem to shape and to influence our behavior such as society and the environment in which we live. From a number of studies performed on this issue by psychologists, this can not be disputed. Finally, the last question was 'what about feelings?' Feeling and emotion are definitely a part of behavior, yet it seems awkward and difficult to believe that they are the brain.

After much thought over how these objections might be explained under the assumption that the brain is behavior the first two issues can be resolved. I feel fairly secure in disregarding those first two concerns and accepting that they can be logically explained. Before, I was thinking of the brain and behavior having two distinct and separate functions. However, since the brain processes the inputs and decides the correct course of action (i.e., what output to do) by initiating and transmitting the appropriate signals/impulses to produce an output or not,it does seem to be behavior. More specifically, when we walk to class, we walk because the brain walks (not physically, but more by making the body move from the signals that are sent), therefore, leading to our physically walking.

Secondly, I still believe that society influences how we behave, but by influencing the brain. Brains are constantly changing from the new facts we learn or the old ones we forget. For example, from society and our past experiences we learn things from them that cause our brains to change. So if our brains are changing due to what we extract from the enviornment, our behavior is changing accordingly too. Therefore, through this connection I can see how society's influence over behavior (or the brain) can be explained while maintaining that the brain and behavior are one in the same. Although I can accept how the brain is behavior in reponse to the above two issues, there is one factor that stands in the way of my complete acceptance of the argument - feelings. Ever since I can remember, people have always alluded to the thought that thinking and feeling were two different things, although both contributing to behavior. It was as though thinking was the brain, but feeling was the heart and the body. In addition, there is the famous saying, "Follow your heart," which people have been following for years. Even from personal experience it is hard to believe that feelings are the mind (which is the brain, in argument). As a dancer, I have been taught to feel the movements and the music. In other words, every part of my body should be expressing what I am feeling in the inside - "dancing from the heart". So when I try to accept that the brain is feeling and the heart has no role in the matter, it is very difficult to disregard what I have been taught for more than twelve years. Moreover, how do we really know that the heart can not feel? Does a vegetable (a brain dead person) not have feelings? Even though brain dead people can only live by artificial means, does that mean that they can't feel just as they can't live independently? One may argue that when the brain is dead, there is no more emotion either since the brain is unable to send instructions to the heart to beat, meaning that the person is essentially dead. Yet for a person on a respirator the heart is beating though the brain is not functioning. So one could argue that since the person is living (in a sense) s/he could also still be feeling despite the lack of consciousness and the lack of ability to express himself/herself. I guess it just depends on what one believes or thinks, because it does not seem as though this could ever be proven or disproven.

On the other hand, the argument that the brain is behavior does seem to make sense because when we feel, we are consciously aware of what we are feeling, which corresponds to feeling being thinking which is the brain. In addition, since feeling is behavior that means that the brain is behavior. Yet it is very difficult to accept this even though it seems to be making some sense. Therefore, going back and forth on this issue, I am not sure where I stand at this point. Maybe it is a question of following my head or my heart... Who knows?


In regard to the assertion made in class on January 23, 1995 that the nervous system is behavior and therefore understanding the nervous system is all that is necessary to understanding behavior, two problems with the assertion have arisen in my mind. How can behavior, which is at times a very abstract matter, be defined and explained by a concrete substance? I can accept that many aspects of behavior are indeed controlled by the brain such as eating, sleeping and even emotions. However, it is very difficult for me to comprehend how something as abstract as morality is controlled by the nervous system. How do we obtain a sense of morality innate in all humans from the nervous system? The assertion that morality is made up of interactions between neurons, cells, and biological substances seems quite illogical to me.

Another problem with the assertion is: what about instances of documented supernatural events such as "demon possession", telepathy or ESP in an individual causing him/her to display behavior outside the realm of behavior an individual is capable of? I once viewed a taping of a teenage girl who claimed to be demon possessed. While possessed, she would speak in a voice range she was not physically capable of and at one point four strong men attempted to lift her up and were unable to. A mechanical device then tried to lift her and it was also unsuccessful. These unnatural abilities could only be explained by the presence a foreign spirit in her body. She displayed moments of extreme anger, nervousness, happiness, etc. so the demonic spirit in this individual also displayed elements of behavior such as emotion without a physical brain.

Also, it seems that telepathy and ESP would fit into the assertion if there was some physical interconnectedness between the nervous systems of different individuals, but there is no such interconnectedness so how are these two aspects of behavior explained? With the numerous documented supernatural events, isn't there a strong case for something more (soul, spirit, etc.) than just the nervous system controlling behavior?


I am somewhat disturbed by your claim that all behavior is essentially the brain. While any neurophysiologist would not dispute that in every thought, action, emotion or the like, neurons in the brain are being fired, this approach of the brain controlling everything falls into a category of biological reductionism which is hard for me to accept. If you stated that the brain is involved in every component of behavior, I would not be so vocal in my opposition. Nevertheless, as an anthropology major, I am very much aware of the forces that culture and society exert forces on and control behavior. Culture and society are not as tangible as the cerebral cortex, nonetheless, just because they are not quantifiable and are somewhat harder to describe and explore does not mean that their influence is lessened. For example: If two people were endowed with exactly similar genetic endowments, yet they were raised in different cultures the way they would react to different stimuli(like the death of a loved one) would be markedly different. In both cases the brain is involved in the behavior and actions, but in both cases the brain is influenced by cultural forces outside genetics. The brain merely provides us with a blueprint, in much the same way that a gene might pre-dispose us to cancer or depression, the brain pre-disposes us to certain behavior, but it is not the sole factor or most important influence. Reducing any analysis of behavior to the brain exclusively seems to be an easy way out. I accept that we are living in a world where prozac has replaced the psychoanalysts couch, and that more and more is being understood about the physiology of the brain, but it would certainly be a mistake t dismiss the influence of entities like culture and society on the behavior of people.


Subject: Describe the most difficult ideas in this course

It seems to me the difficulties that exist in understanding this course is in the fact that not everything about behavior can be easily defined; it is not as if one can say that behavior is represented by a set of well-documented notions just as a strand of DNA is a double helix of nucleotide bases. It may sound as if I am "copping out," but behavior, especially human behavior, is such a broad topic that it cannot be easily understood. The prospect of understanding our own sentiency seems fairly impossible - what makes humans more self-aware than say a sponge leads us to examine the physiological makeup of the brain and nervous system. At this point, the setup of the nervous system might be fairly certain yet how the various pieces interact to create certain responses/actions is not yet complete. However, even if the neurobiology is completely understood, the brain is so complex that there might be others reasons involved for specific actions/reactions to occur. I feel that even if research proves exactly which neurons affect one another in order to create a series of responses, I still will not be able to describe that I act only because of my brain and neurobiology. Research might be able to explain some of the reasons for the paths taken by animals with much smaller/less complicated nervous systems yet I do not believe that it could ever fully explain why humans behave as they do. Considering how humans have prefences, each person with his/her own taste, and many other particular aspects, I cannot see how biology can fully explain those pieces - i.e.- the personality. In a way, there is almost something spiritual about why humans interact as they do, which is another reason why pure biology may be incomplete in explaining it. Something completely beyond words might be beyond explanation even if it is a more scientific explanation.


While it is certainly desirable to formulate a model for input/output processing in the brain, it isn't bound to work all that well. It is important to look at cognition as a biological system, and thus as a highly variant and only semi-predictable process. Thus, problems arise when one tries to predict behavior based upon it. It makes sense that behavior is not going to be completely replicable. It certainly wouldn't be adaptive if an animal was predictable to the extent that its predator didn't have to stalk all that well in order to make a kill. In the same way, it wouldn't be adaptive if all representatives of one species had the same traits, and thus all were equally unprepared for any challenge posed by the environment. Variability is essential to life, and thus is implicit in the workings of the brain.

On the other hand, one may argue that behavior is often predictable. It is in the largest sense, but when put under a microscope, behavior would appear to vary from instance to instance. As observers, we are only going to report as variance what we can see - the cricket turns in the other direction. Because we are not looking closely enough, we don't note the cocking of the cricket head.

So behavior is never wholly predictable. This does not mean that there is no point in trying to understand cognition. There are, however, other things to keep in mind when assessing the process. In the same way that we are unable to detect certain nuances in behavior, we are not always able to detect subtle differences in the stimuli. Context proves to be a problem no matter what form it takes. Should we observe behavior in the natural context of the animal, we will miss many of the subtle signals directing the behavior of the animal, such as scent carried in the air. Because of our inability, we will never be able to say for sure what caused the observed behavior. If we observe the animal in a controlled laboratory context, there is the problem that the context will be unfamiliar and unnatural to the animal, and that the resulting behavior will be influenced by that. Which ever context one uses, one must be careful to pay attention not only to the intended stimulus, but to any other things which might become stimuli.

Basically, if one adds many condition boxes within the brain box and many possible stimuli to feed into the box concurrently, one can make a pretty useful model of the brain, but it has become rather complex and not quite as practical as one would like. Variation is not conducive to modeling, but it something that has to be dealt with if one is planning to model any biological system.


I had a great deal of difficulty writing this essay. It seems too simplistic to say " the brain is behavior." The brain, to me, is an organ made of cells, tissues, gray matter, which all work to coordinate the physiological functions of the body. While more abstract concepts such as beauty, love and meaning, are the result of the individualUs subjective experience in society. How can one point to a part of the brain and say, these cells are responsible for what a particular individual finds humorous? But we could probably trace the physiological response of laughter to a specific set of neurons. The individualUs response and experience are separate. Everything the body does can be attributed to the brain. But these actions are preceded by the larger social influences. It is difficult to explain various concepts of spirituality or a set of beliefs, which are present in every culture, solely in terms of the brain. I believe that humansU innate need to believe in God, their appreciation of art and music, for example, are strongly influenced by society and in turn impact their behavior.

The brain is an objective, scientific, material object; while the individualUs experience in the social world is subjective and intangible and can not be localized to a particular region or group of cells in the brain. I feel that it would be more accurate to say that behavior is regulated through the brain, but the brain is not solely responsible for all behavior.


Prof Grobstein- Sorry that this was a little late in coming. I was trying to generate some questions, or even just some thoughts on the stuff that we've covered. I spent a lot of time thinking and didn't come up with very much, but I guess that's because we haven't covered a lot of material yet, and I have high hopes for next week. So this week's essay isn't really an essay- it's mostly just a stream of consciousness about my hopes for the course. Anyway, I'm looking forward to talking about the neuron and its structure soon. I don't know if that's on the agenda or not, but I hope it is. I think that when we're discussing something as complex as the brain, it would be very useful to talk about a component of the brain that basically serves as the building block. I've spent a lot of time in my psych classes talking about the functions of neurons and neurotransmitters, and a chemical analysis of the brain's functionings would only add to our understanding of the complexity of neurobiology. I also wonder how we're going to discuss behavior. I had a lot of trouble at first with the lecture on behavior=brain, and was sort of astonished that I couldn't find words to express something I have been doing my entire life. I guess I wasn't the only person who had a bit of difficulty with this concept, but that also just goes to show you how I have a lot to learn about behavior. I never really cared about it that much, and if someone mentions behavior, I know exactly what they're talking about, but at the same time, I would be completely unable to define it. That's kind of a shame, being that behavior is such a basic part of life. So I hope I learn a lot about behavior in this course, and I would especially like to feel really confident about the assertion that the brain=behavior. That would make for a good working definition. See you on tuesday. Jen


We ended our first class meeting pondering the question of whether or not behavior can be explained in terms of the brain alone. As Dr. Grobstein paced the classroom with the cold, moist gray mass perched atop his fingers, it seemed a far stretch that the totality of our feelings, actions, dreams and self-awareness could be contained in this protoplasmic box. Yet the possibility is certainly an exciting prospect---if we could reduce our behavior and conscious existence to the confines of the brain, at least we know where to begin looking when we seek answers to existential and behavioral questions.

Although like any conscientious scientist, I'm ready and willing to be proven wrong, I believe the answer to our question is "no." My reasoning that we can't limit our understanding of behavior to the brain is similar to why we cannot disprove the existence of the soul: in order to do this, we must disprove an infinite number of other possibilities.

Yes, the brain's intricate construction could conceivably house everything that generates how we behave and what we feel. Perhaps even a great deal of evidence supports this concept and this evidence may be growing as we learn more about the brain, which has been called "the most complex object in the universe." Indeed we continually learn new ways that our brains are responsible for our actions and feelings. The field of neurological research promises to reveal many more of the brain's hidden secrets for years to come. I feel, however, that we can't limit our search for understanding behavior to the confines of the cranium. We already know of the enteric nervous system which surrounds the digestive tract, possessing by some accounts a "mind of it's own." Who is to say that there are no other hidden systems or forces that subtly or otherwise affect behavior? Starting with "what we know" about the brain does reveal important and exciting linkages between it and our behavior. To believe that what we now know will never lead us beyond the brain in understanding behavior might prove to be short sighted.


As scientific intellect progresses, less of our understanding is dependant on supernatural forces or events as relevant explanations. The more science probes, the more is dicovered; and what we regarded as mysteries before eventually become understood as the result of some chemical reaction. What is religion but a mystery anyway. But it the most mysterious things upon which the strongest of faiths are based. I have heard a widely acepted statistic that a majority of scientists are atheists; in fact most believe that there is undoubtedly and explanation for everything even for events that many would term miracles. Does such a fact give us a hint of what is to be expected of the future norm of thinking if we continue to find explanations for life's "mysteries"? Is the far past the only thing we will never be able to entirely verify, other that scripturally, and thus eventually the only thing left that would require faith in the unproven and the unread-about?

Already we have come to replace spiritual explanations with proof of physiological reasoning. But can the liklihood of events ever be proven, other than by the theory of probability? I have read a book called "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" which explains the occurence of unfortunate events as a product of mere chance. In the past it was of popular belief that there was a reason for everything, all of which tied back to God somehow . Misfortune accompanied ill actions and disease was a punishment for the sinful and relatives of the sinful. We have since found biological reasons for disease but we don't have such explanations for freak occurrences like automobile accidents. And it is merely chalked off as unfortunate that cancer is hereditary. Not many people believe that cancer, however explainable it is, is a curse God has placed on the family of the carrier.

If supernatural forces or faith in God are no longer relied upon as to explain events or health, then where does belief in the unbelievable play a part in our lives? Is it merely to aid is our positive thinking and thus happiness or is it a result of our imagination as a product of our fertile brain. Humans will eternally continue to ask "why" a demand an answer. When will sole science be satisfying enough that religion is no longer needed?


When trying to explain behavior, it is easy to consider only the brain, but this narrow approach leads to difficulties because not all individuals behave the same and individuals just aren't that simple. It is true that behavior is influenced by the brain. For instance, if a person is hit by another person, the signal might run from the place of contact to the brain and thn from the brain to the arm to hit the person back. In this sense, the brain does control behavior. However, another person's brain might not tell the arm to hit; it might tell the legs to run away. Assuming the two people's brains are essentially the same, what makes the behavior dramatically different. It could be argued that past experience influenced the behavior. If this is the ase, do experiences alter the brain, making it different from other brains. I think it has been sufficiently observed that people's and animals' behavior differ from other members of the same species from the time of birth. It could be that behavior is inherit, determined by genes, and is not controlled entirely by the brain. I think that behavior cannot be studied in the same way one would run a controled experiment, assuming cause and effect and assigning universal rules applying to all members of a group instead of looking at individuals.


The Beginning In trying to think about some aspect of behavior that will be difficult to understand in terms of the brain, two questions entered my mind: What is a behavior? And what is a brain? I thought about the first question because after reading and re-reading my class notes, I realized that behavior was not what I thought. I guess that it never occurred to me that behavior is a very encompassing word. For example, I identified/understood walking, sleeping, and eating to be behavior. But I did not see faith and hope as behavior. (I'm still having trouble understanding these things as behavior.) I asked the second question, because I wanted to know what brain is. It seemed to me that brain and behavior are very intricately connected or related, but how- I did not know. Vague ideas about brain being the tangible material that represented the very abstract idea of behavior crossed my mind if behavior is all the things that were listed on the board in class, but doesn't a dream seem abstract and tangible? I did not ask the question: what is a brain? earlier because I thought that I knew what it is. I thought that I knew the brain well enough to describe what will be difficult to understand it, in terms of behavior. Basically, I feel as though I don't understand the words brain and behavior well enough to make a relevant statement about them, and that I feel uncomfortable about the assertion that brain is behavior; behavior is brain. I don't know what is making me feel uncomfortable, except that "I feel like it."

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