Forum Archive - Week 2
Different organisms behave sort of the same but sort of differently; their nervous systems are sort of the same but sort of different; their nervous systems look more and more similar at smaller and smaller scales ... does this make sense? does it make you think differently about the nervous system? about behavior? what new questions/issues does it raise?
Name: Stephanie Habelow
Date: 2003-01-28 18:35:41
Message Id: 4311
Last week I was fence-sitting regarding the claim that brain = behavior, but now I feel inclined to say that it could go either way. By this I mean that while our brain does control our behavior, our behavior is often the result of an external input. For instance, we are often influenced by what we read in the newspaper or in magazines, and also by other people's opinions. In this sense, I don't think it is specifically the brain that dictates our behavior, but whatever it is that affects us. I think the question we are discussing (whether there's nothing more to behavior than the brain or not) may become a question of the extent to which brains affect each other.
Name: Tung Nguyen
Date: 2003-01-29 02:02:51
Message Id: 4318
I have to admit that I am a bit uncomfortable with dealing the topics of the central nervous system and how it relates to behavior through the use of cause and effects (or at least it seems for now that this is the path that we are on). But I also admit that these topics, although laced with uncertainties, are extremely fascinating especially since we are trying to gradually build our understanding of the CNS and behavior by starting out with the simplest model and working forward so that our knowledge can be "progressively less wrong."
In my own opinion, the idea of CNS=behavior is very shaky. In one perspective, it is easy to see behavior as the result of the CNS and considering the evolutionary and genetic aspects. In another perspective, a very abstract one, there seem to more to it. What accounts for thoughts, dreams, ambition, and faith?
Name: Danielle McManus
Date: 2003-01-29 20:10:12
Message Id: 4323
I agree with Stephanie's comment that external stimuli have an impact on behavior, but I disagree that this idea indicates that behavior has less to do with the brain and more to do with the environment. Elements of our environment which affect our behavior--other people, for example--don't directly affect our behavior. The fact that another person is present doesn't change how we behave; it's our perception of that person's presence, through sight, sound, smell, etc., which produce an affect after being perceived by the brain. Without the brain, we'd be unable to receive environmental stimuli--the perceptions would have no destination and no interpretation. So in that way, the brain is still responsible for behavior as the receiver and interpreter of environmental stimuli.
Name: Sarah Feidt
Subject: interesting article
Date: 2003-01-30 02:33:49
Message Id: 4326
I came across this article while I was working at the ops desk, sorting printouts. The headline caught me, and I stayed late to read it. I thought I'd post it here for you all to enjoy:
I find a few things interesting about this article, which essentially documents a journalist's participation in a neurological experiment aimed at inducing a "vision of God." A complex series of electromagnetic pulses are sent through a specific area of the brain, an area which is supposedly responsible for sensing the presence of onesself and others. The scientist (and to some extent the journalist) conclude that this may be an explanation of "God" -- nothing more than a human vocalization and rationalization of a neurological perception. He even touches on a theory that this perception is residual genetics from ancient humans whose minds were less sophisticated.
I am particularly interested in the way that the journalist addresses the fact that many theistic people would have no problem believing this, because "God created the brain, of course that's how it would happen." He says, "Who among all the churchgoers and alien fiends will let some distant egghead... spoil their fun?" This seems to be inherently dismissive of a non-disprovable point of view. I personally agree with that statement -- I believe that this experiment is simply revealing a mechanism, one that I believe God designed and uses.
Of course I can't prove that. But really, science isn't supposed to prove, remember? Science is interested in disproving things. So shouldn't we be less interested in, "I don't believe that because you can't prove it," and more interested in, "That's not something we could ever disprove"?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Subject: week 2
Date: 2003-01-30 11:47:11
Message Id: 4328
As always, you're free to write about whatever you found yourself thinking about from class or readings or whatever this week. But, if you need something to get you started, how about ...
Different organisms behave sort of the same but sort of differently; their nervous systems are sort of the same but sort of different; their nervous systems look more and more similar at smaller and smaller scales ... does this make sense? does it make you think differently about the nervous system? about behavior? what new questions/issues does it raise?
Subject: crickets and sexuality
Date: 2003-01-30 16:52:10
Message Id: 4329
Today in class, we discissed the fact that there is an area of the hypothalamus called the SDN, and learned that this area is substantially larger in males than in females, and that its size has an effect on our own sexual orientation. On Tuesday, we spoke of how some female crickets, when placed near a speaker emitting sounds of male cricket songs, would turn towards the speaker. However, other female crickets, rather than turning towards the speaker, would turn away upon hearing the male crickets' songs being played through the speaker.
These two things led me to wonder: Do homosexual crickets exist? Do crickets even have a sexual orientation? And if so, is it determined by the size of the SDN area of the hypothalamus of the cricket? While the female may have turned away from the speaker due to the Harvard Law of Experimentation (under controlled conditions, an animal will behave as it pleases), could it have done so because it was a homosexual cricket? And do homosexual crickets even exist? Just curious...
Name: Nicole Megatulski
Date: 2003-01-31 00:40:48
Message Id: 4331
Today's discussion about how if behavior is different, the brain is different made me wonder how you explain different behavior among members of the same sex. In class it was noted that men and women have differences in their brains which result in different behavior but what about between members of the same sex? Are these differences in brain structure observed between humans of the same sex that have different behavior, like some women have higher metabolisms than others or some men may have more aggression (due to hormone levels) than others? Have these different behaviors yet been linked to different structures in the brain? I think they would be but how much is really known at this time? On a side note: Last week's discussions about the relation/dependence of brain and behavior have heightened my sensitivity to the subject in daily life. One brief example was that today in ballet class, my teacher corrected the class on their pirouettes (turns), explaining that "your brain can't shut down while you are turning...It must keep thinking while you are in mid-spin." The thought of the brain telling the brain to keep paying attention is interesting to me. The notion of your thought in your brain (rather than a sensory nerve input) telling your brain what to do is something I've never thought about before. What my teacher was saying, was that we should continually have a picture in our brain of what we want to do and consciously tell the brain to replicate that image through movement. If this is true, then the input and output originate and manifest themselves in the same organ (albeit different locations)--the brain!
Date: 2003-01-31 01:15:53
Message Id: 4332
I am slightly confused by Rachel's message. I thought Prof. Grobstein said that that section of the brain had to do with "menstrual behavior," "cycling behavior." Did I hear him wrong? Or am I missing something?
Name: Andy Greenberg
Subject: An article about "Parasomnia"
Date: 2003-01-31 20:49:19
Message Id: 4338
I'm sorry to ignore Prof. Grobstein's question, but I just read an interesting article in NY Times Magazine entitled "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Deer." Here's the link:
This article describes a group of patients who suffer from what scientists call "Parasomnia," in which they unconsciously perform waking actions in their sleep. Besides a lot of very entertaining and sometimes very frightening descriptions of what these patients do during their blackout periods, the article raises the question "Do these events arise from subconscious desires and conflicts created by life experiences, or is the problem simply one of neurological disfunction?" The answer, given in the article, seems to be that in almost every case, the answer is anatomy, not psychology. But I would be a very bad student of this course if I didn't ask the question, what is the difference in the two? How do experiences and memories which give rise to psychological problems differ from merely anatomical anomalies that cause similar problems?
Subject: Seems Walt agrees with Emily.
Date: 2003-02-01 00:07:53
Message Id: 4339
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul? And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
~Walt Whitman "I Sing the Body Electric"
Whitman's I Sing the Body Electric on line .... PG
Name: Michelle Coleman
Subject: What factor does "Anatomy" play in "the way we the brain structures are put togeteher" ?
Date: 2003-02-01 11:37:53
Message Id: 4340
In class on Thursday we explored the various types of brains and looked for characteristics that made them similar and different. We ended with the idea that most brains were essentially the same, and all began with a simple component, the cell (neuron). We however, did not consider environment or anatomy of each specific species. For years we have tried to uncover why even cave men of different origins had somewhat differing brains (larger/ smaller, etc...). We concluded however, that this had to be due to their environment, the way that they lived in order to survive, and the way that their bodies had adapted to the necessary environmental hazards. *When glance at these brains in class of different species, should we be in fact keeping this in mind? For instance, the cross indent on the brain of the raccoon mentioned by Prof. Grobstien is characteristic of that animal due his specific paw motors behavior which is characteristic of his environment (due to his spinal cord configuration it would be more comfortable to walk on all fours), and additionally, due to his feeding habits walking on all fours and have fine motor skills in all paws is helpful).
What I am trying to propose through all of this information is the idea that environment may effect our behaviors, leading to changes in the structure of our brains and therefore the appearance of our brains. A good example of this scenario can be seen when we consider the story of the Wild Boy (the boy who was left out in the wild to be raised by animals in an uncivilized manner). While, the researchers who investigated him suggested that he might have Autism, they at the time did not have the technology to clearly determine whether or not he had structural or visual differences in his brain compared with other humans.
(I think that his probably did).
Please feel free to add your ideas and questions in regard to this posting.
Name: Elizabeth Damore
Subject: Nervous System
Date: 2003-02-01 12:41:39
Message Id: 4341
It's hard to find a link between the various sorts of nervous systems and behavior each type of animale has, mainly due to the close similarities yet important differences we have discussed in class. Although the behavior of different animals may seem similar, little quirks prevent scientists from being able to define behavior in a concrete fashion. The same frustrations apply to individual nervous systems. The diversity between types of animals and their behavior makes me wonder if there is a distinct gap in behavior from one animal of a species to the next. Of course, each human behaves differently in situations, but does this mean they lack a uniform behaviorial response?
Name: Shanti Mikkilineni
Date: 2003-02-01 16:05:19
Message Id: 4344
It seems that while we are analyzing the brain of humans and other animals we're falling into the trap of trying to be too specific. Of course every human has a different brain as do all animals. The similarites that connect all living things are very vague and at best we can hope to understand only a small piece of it all. Just because we are all human doesn't mean that we share identical brains. But we do all share the identical organ. What is different between all of us isn't the brain itself, it is the outputs and thought processes of those brains. We all have identical brains in that they are all connected to the rest of our bodies and all of our neurons share the same biology. while we keep saying all of our brains our different, it seems that we should really be saying that our behavior is all different. It is the behavior that individualizes us, not just the brain. I think a certain respect is demanded from us as we cannot hope to fully understand the brain, at best we have at present a summary of observations that seems to make the most sense, but does that mean that it is necessarily the best summary? I think there are other things at work in behavior that we wouldn't agree with due to lack of proof but are we sophisticated enough to understand all of the many things that go on in our brains and bodies?
Name: Kelvey Richards
Date: 2003-02-01 16:06:38
Message Id: 4345
The relationship between brain and behavior and why behavior differs between individuals seems to be based on the fact that behavior is a reflection of how a person perceives a situation. That perception, in turn, is based on individual experience and characteristics. A color blind person may run a red light, which for the pedestrian crossing the street, a random behavior is witnesses. Emotion is based on a perception of a situation and often a reflection of previos experiences. Individuality is created as a template of a brain is organized and the boxes are connected in particular ways due to a complexity of factors that reflect a perception which is unique to an individual.
A factor that is difficult to understand within 'brain=behavior and there is nothing else' and the current model, but possible to observe is that of preminitions. Behavior, an output that is external to the brain, whereby no obvious external input but rather an internal input is apparent. Why does someone tell a loved one not to board a plane that crashes 2 hours later? We observe an action, there is a change in behavior but how does the brain receive an input from the future? I guess that is really a question for the funtioning of the brain?!
Name: Tiffany Litvine
Subject: The nervous system
Date: 2003-02-01 16:33:34
Message Id: 4346
I was thinking about professor Grobstein's comment, that the behavior and the nervous systems of different organisms are sort of the same but sort of different. Yet if you look at their nervous systems at smaller and smaller scales, they become more and more similar. This makes sense to me since all organisms are made up of cells and cells are essentially the same in all organisms. Following this idea one could say that their behavior should be the same since they have the same neurons. I feel that the difference in their behavior arises from the way the neurons are connected rather than a difference in the neuron structure. Therefore it makes sense to say that neurons are the same in all organisms, but that their behaviors and nervous systems differ.
I was also intrigued by Thursday's discussion on the activity of an isolated nervous system, for example the brain kept in a jar. Does it think? I agree with the "autonomy"model of the nervous system where no sensory input is needed to work, but I don't feel the type of activity would be thinking. How could the brain think if it has no sensory input? What would a brain think about if it couldn't see or hear or feel anything? Would the brain have any information to think about? I believe that the activity would simply be the one of keeping itself alive, therefore metabolizing glucose and performing other functions to work. I do not think that there can be thinking if the brain does not know anything in the first place. I guess I am just not sure what type of activity an isolated nervous system could have. I hope that further discussions in this class can clarify this for me.
Name: Amelia Turnbull
Date: 2003-02-02 13:21:28
Message Id: 4347
During our discussion on the differences in brains between different species and within the same species on Thursday, I started to think about the nature/nurture question. I am interested in the different environments that an animal can be raised and the effect of those environments on the central nervous system. For example, I believe that scientists have shown the effect that excessive amounts of alcohol can have on a fetus while it is developing in the womb. While the genetic structure of the brain of that fetus could be very similar to another fetus that developed without the influence of alcohol, the CNS of fetus that was exposed to large amounts of alcohol could have serious problems that the normal fetus could not have.
On a different tact of the same issue, I remember reading for a class or hearing on a Discovery Channel program that when a baby is born it has the capability to learn all languages and when babies begin to babble, they actually make all of the sounds in every language around the world. However, the baby's parents only respond to and reinforce the baby when it makes the sounds included within their native language. As certain sounds are made by the parents and reinforced by the parents when the baby makes them, the baby's brain selectively reduces the number of sounds that baby makes and can distinguish between. I believe this is why scientists believe that is favorable for children to learn other languages as young as possible as is difficult to regain the ability to make those sounds after it is lost in early childhood.
Date: 2003-02-02 15:29:06
Message Id: 4349
I'm also interested in the nature/nurture issue that exists in talking about individual brains. How much of individual brains are different as a result of genetic programming and how much are different as a result of social and environmental influences that have altered the way your brain processes inputs and outputs. It seems like your brain is initially set up in a way that is similar to everyone else's, just as DNA codes for all hearts to pump basically the same and all lungs to breath basically the same. However, at the moment that you are exposed to conditions outside of this, even in your mother's womb, which of course varies from person to person, and this interacts with the different traits passed on to you, your brain, unlike other organs in your body, takes these varying inputs and reorganizes and forms connections that make you the individual brain that you have and continue to form. Moreover, I would say that environmental and social influences have the more important role because they can make you the individual that you are- more so than your genes can. If you think of all the experiences and thoughts and images that you encounter that affect who you are and how your brain thinks and reacts, these seem far too numerous to compare to the traits that you inherit. Although, I honestly can't quantify the individual traits you inherit. It also seems like you can counteract or subdue these inbred traits with environmental and social conditions that train you otherwise. However, it seems much more difficult to unlearn something that you have learned by nurture. For example, it seems easier to train a wild dog from birth to be domestic rather than to take a domestic dog who has lived in the wild all his life and try and return him to domesticity.
Date: 2003-02-02 16:47:41
Message Id: 4350
The fact that nervous systems become more and more similar the closer we look proves that there is an inherent similarity between living things. Just as all matter can be reduced to identical basics (electron,proton, and neutron), the NS of living things can be reduced to analogous structures. However, these fundamental likenesses do not necessarily translate to absolute behavioral likenesses. For example, if the primary structure of two proteins are identical but they have different quaternary or tertiary structures (perhaps due to their environments), their interactions and activities will be different. An organism's behavior depends not only on the small-scale building blocks, but how these blocks are assembled. The assemblage of the nervous system (and theoretically behavior) seems to depend on the aggregate of factors such as environment and past experiences (which can be inscribed personally, genetically, etc).
Name: Neela Thirugnanam
Date: 2003-02-02 16:50:11
Message Id: 4351
Sorry, Anonymous is me
Date: 2003-02-02 17:14:50
Message Id: 4352
I think I agree with Shanti in the sense that we are being too specific about the brain and its effects. Yes, the brain is biologically similar, but the fact that there is no one person that is exactly the same (in terms of behavior) shows us that environments play a much larger role in who were are and how we act, more than the biological structure of the brain itself.
Name: Grace Shin
Date: 2003-02-02 17:34:30
Message Id: 4353
The illustration about the brain still functioning without the actual body is believeable... but is that what brain was meant for? i mean, if the brain "functions" without doing anything... if there really are things being generated inside the brain without input/outputs... i feel like there needs to be a new definition of "functioning". To me, even if the brain is "generative" if it has no purpose (or output), then it is not really doing it's thing (whatever THAT may be...). I feel like this makes us question what exactly is the purpose of the brain? i mean, if it is merely to be "generative", i don't know... but that just makes me uncomfortable. I've been trying to figure out all weekend why that makes me uncomfortable... but I haven't quite figured it out yet. Does anyone ELSE feel like this? maybe the idea that we are controlled by our brain, and that this brain is just merely an input/output box, that when left in a "jar" can still be generative... i want to believe that there has to be more.
Thinking about that, i was watching the movie AI this weekend, and if we are truly controlled by this input/output box, and if brain = behavior is true, then we'd also all have to believe that there is some higher being who creates and controls this box... (like the science behind the little boy in the movie). We are just like robots being controlled by some higher being. What do you think about this then?
Furthermore, if we do say that the box in box in box theory is plausible, and neurons make up the smallest of these boxes for all vertebrates, then it's pretty crazy how much variation there is in the way they are all put together!! I mean, we are all so different from each individual who are all different from every different animal. I think I still need to digest things, but there are just so many different thoughts going on in my head that i'm really curious to see what else is ahead in this class!
Name: Grace Shin
Subject: interesting article
Date: 2003-02-02 17:42:21
Message Id: 4354
as i was reading this, i thought of this class... maybe some of you would like to comment on this... =)
Name: Kathleen Flannery
Subject: autonomy model
Date: 2003-02-02 20:39:27
Message Id: 4355
I'm with Tiffany regarding the whole isolated nervous system conversation. I understand the autonomy model and why it doesn't rely on sensory input.. but I became confused when someone asked in class if the whole leech phenoma was similiar to the movements animals' bodies make after they've died (twitching, the whole "chicken with their head cut off" deal, etc.) Isn't this just adrenalin in the muscle tissue causing convulsions? Is this at all related to the whole autonomy model or am I wrong for the week?
Subject: the debate goes on...
Date: 2003-02-02 21:04:23
Message Id: 4356
I agree with Clare's comment...just because it has been proven and scientifically concluded that a particular gene has a vital influence on a particular behavior it does not imply that the gene is solely responsible for that behavior. For example, I am not a science major so please correct me if I am wrong, but is it not true that the same combination of genes may produce completely different behaviours for a person in different environmental circumstances. In my opinion, in higher organisms like the human race,the environment and geographic population around you play larger factors; these in addition to the genetic make-up determine the role of learning in the development of behaviour in these organisms. Pretty vague? I agree. Just a thought I am still working around.
Name: nicole jackman
Subject: songbirds and sexual preference
Date: 2003-02-02 21:10:25
Message Id: 4357
Last class we discussed the idea that in order for there to be different behaviors, there must be diversity in terms of the brains that people / animals possess. One example used to demonstrate this was songbirds. The brain of a male songbird is structurally different from that of a female songbird, and that is to be expected. A male produces a song in order to court the females of the species. Therefore, this particular area of the male songbird's brain is large and highly developed, and the same region in the female songbird is substantially smaller. Experiments have been done to examine the learning of species-specific songs. The male songbird listens to the vocalizations of their fathers and other males of the species. The process of hearing their species-specific song occurs during a critical period. Animals that are reared in isolation or deafened during development produce a highly degraded song. This leads me to my question. What happens to the brain of a male songbird that is deafened during development, reared in isolation, or never hears the songs of the males within his species? Does this particular song center of the brain atrophy like muscle? Do you need to use it, otherwise you will lose it? Does it become more similar to the brain of a female?
This leads me to open a potential can of worms. There have been many studies performed examining the brains of heterosexual and homosexual individuals to determine whether or not there are any differences. If male songbirds do not hear the songs of other males in their species, their behavior is different from the behavior of normal males in the species. This suggests that their brains are different from normal male songbirds. It seems possible that if humans are not exposed to certain sex-specific input from individuals of the same sex that their brains may be different which can lead to same-sex sexual preferences. If this is true it does mean that homosexuality is not a choice, but it could be a manifestation of the environment that a person is in during a critical period in their life (one where sexual preferences are being hardwired into the brain). I haven't really done any research on this but I did find a link to someone in neurobiology and behavior that did a web paper on this particular topic. It's just a start for anyone that wants to know more about this.
Subject: some comments
Date: 2003-02-02 21:23:00
Message Id: 4358
Hmmm...one of the questions that really struck me last week was "are nervous systems different if behavior is different?" I don't entirely agree with that, because I was thinking about behavior differences among the same species. Humans don't all act the same way, but that doesn't necessaily mean that their nervous systems are different. All humans' nervous systems are structured the same way. Any kind of injury, stresses, or malformations inflicted on the human nervous system can certainly damage the nervous system and cause behavioral abnormalities (as opposed to what is considered "normal behavior"). So yes, in this scenario, even though the behavior is different from the norm, the person still possesses the nervous system that every other human has.
Subject: neocortex and emotions
Date: 2003-02-02 21:34:27
Message Id: 4359
As a result of our class discussions this past Thursday, I have been perplexed as to the exact function of the neocortex in the scheme of evolution and development of neural pathways and its relationship to emotion. Britannica encyclopedia suggests emotion activated by discrimination of stimulus features, thoughts, or memories require that the information be relayed from the thalamus to the neocortex. Hence, the neocortex can be associated with neural pathways that I perceive as more complex. Does anyone know if the thickness of the neocortex has increased with the evolution of man? And is it just to assume that if an animal does not contain a neocortex that it cannot experience thoughts or contain memories?
Subject: Variations on a theme
Date: 2003-02-02 23:04:43
Message Id: 4361
I remember learning in my High School biology course that there was
only a miniscule (1%- I think) difference between the DNA of monkeys and humans. From that I assumed that there were general similarities in the brain systems of different creature, in essence I believed that all living things were variations on a theme. In our Thursday lecture, as we compared different Nervous Systems, I wondered what the point was of so many organisms having like brains. Nature is never whimsical nor superfluous. We can assume that through evolution, creatures whom had certain neurological traits survived, accounting for the cross-special traits identifiable in Nervous Systems. One would assume that that would make everything similar and dull. But look at what a 1% difference in DNA structure leads to! The manner in which we viewed the Nervous System on Thursday, is comparable to viewing Monet painting from afar: all you see is a nice picture. However, if you get a little closer you begin to see a wealth of unimaginable detail- - whirls of dizzying color and strokes that seem so alive, you take a step back just to clear your head, and from that distance all you see is a deceptively simple picture that disguises another world.
Date: 2003-02-03 00:44:25
Message Id: 4363
For the past two weeks, we have been discussing whether brain=behavior. As of late, though, we have been assuming that the two are in fact the same during our discussions. This assertion led us to say that since different animals have differently shaped brains, they must have different behaviors. This claim seems true enough since frogs behave differently from squirrels. But what about two brain specimens of the same species? People pride themselves on being unique, that there is no other person who is exactly like them. This seems like a valid statement when moving even just one seat over in a classroom changes your whole experience and perception of what is happening.
People continually respond differently to the same situations. Now, if we are to continue with our previous line of thinking, this means that no two people have identical brains. My question now is, if you dissect two human brains will there be obvious morphological differences? We already learned that men and women have differences in their brains; so let's suppose that we're examining two brains of people of the same sex. Now, for argument's sake, let's suppose that the two brains we examine have no physical differences. Does this necessarily mean that the brains have no differences, thus making the two people identical? Or can we say that not all of the differences between two distinct brains are physical?
Subject: order, complexity, differentiation
Date: 2003-02-03 11:00:25
Message Id: 4366
For the past several days I keep coming back to the idea of organization vs. chaos, illustrated by the grid of dots that we looked at the other week. The image of 'order' emerging from 'chaos,' and the ability of simple patterns to combine into a complex system, is fascinating to me.
I was actually discussing this with a friend the other day, and we started talking about what could be at the foundation of these models--perhaps a set of operating systems that allow for the patterns to be organized and performed. In the grid-of-dots example, there was a specific algorithm, based on a set of simple rules, that the computer applied in order to determine its action. Maybe, then, could there be algorithms in the brain of humans (and other creatures) that determine action? Such algorithms would of course be very complex--but perhaps still quantifiable, if we were able to deal with the massive amount of information involved. If a computer can model the flight of a flock of birds, it seems that more complex models could also be possible.
But--what is the consequence of this to our idea of free will? Does free will disappear if everything is hard-wired? Or is our ability to make decisions only something we perceive to exist? (this question seems to tie into some questions raised earlier in this forum...) and, how does the formation of life systems fit into the theory of entropy?
Just to add a final thought, it seems to me that this movement from simple to complex, and from chaos to order, has a lot to do with biological differentiation. the formation of membranes. maybe the need for boxes??
(also, Sarah, thanks for the reference to W.W.)
Name: Luz Martinez
Date: 2003-02-03 13:23:50
Message Id: 4367
During lecture Thursday I had no problem accepting that a difference in behavior implies a difference in nervous system. What makes me unsure about the discussion is that some behavior in humans is very different and yet I assume that the nervous system is the same in all humans. So, what behavior is explained by the nervous system?
When I compare humans and other animals I am impressed with the amount of information that humans are able to store and what they do with the information compared to other animals. Maybe this has to so with the difference in behavior within the human population.
Subject: a brain w/out a body...
Date: 2003-02-03 14:28:56
Message Id: 4368
i really like thinking about this idea of a brain in a jar. what would it think? would it matter what it was thinking? would those thoughts count for anything? when we had the diagram in front of us of the nervous system and decided we would have inputs and outputs, someone mentioned that the outputs should be able to back in as inputs. i agree, and more than that, the way i have always seen the brain (or since i learned what i feel i know about how it works) is a cyclical system. there were no circles in that diagram, everything for the most part goes from left to right. so what happens when one side (the input) gets cut off? it would seem that everything in the middle shuts down.
we actually have a model for this, and we use it every night, without putting our brains in a jar. from what i have understood from sleep/dreaming reading (Hobson I believe is the neurologist who has done the most extensive work with this, though i don't discount Freud's work by any means) i have done, as soon as we enter sleep (not all of sleep, but especially REM, when we are dreaming) ALL external output does get shut out, and what we experience as we dream is a creation of the mind. that is maybe common enough knowledge, but the interesting part is that while all inputs are shut off, your the part of your brain that normally interprets inputs (the cortex) is fully functional and doesn't know that you are not awake. in fact our outputs need to be cut out as well, lest our bodies would be interacting with objects and people that are not really there and we could hurt ourselves. so we stay still, but inside our brain we are fully conscious, it is not that there is just a dreaming part of the brain that occupies you during the night while the rest of your brain gets rest. your eyes moving in REM sleep are a good example. they move because there are receptors in your eyes acting as if they are receiving input and interacting with that input, but instead of coming from a light source outside, that input is being produced singlehandedly by your brain.
one might say that dreams are odd and when you wake up you open your senses up to reality and can tell the differences, but i would not be so sure. what about hallucination? people who are hallucinating, and may be for any number of reasons, experience those hallucinations as if they were the reality, and they have no reason not to. because the place in your mind that you experience those images is the same no matter where the input is coming from. and there is nothing pure about the input you get from your outside world, we have all just learned to put the official stamp on that and disregard any others. and moreso the input you are getting from the outside world would be a jumble of electrical information without the imagery and other mechanisms making sense out of it, the same mechanisms that create dreams. the people who claim that life is nothing but a dream may not be so far off.
i also wanted to comment on some of the assumptions that we are making in class. i am ok with believing that songbirds have different brain mechanisms between the sexes, but that i am not sure that we know enough about the human brain to start making those distinctions in us. it makes me uncomfortable to read students' entries who saw that diagram showing a yellow or gray patch that was sizably different in two brains and now believe that we know something about the female and male sex differences, when i don't think we are close. however valid that study (showing the area that is thought to control menstral cycles?) may be, i bet i could find at least two or three more that refute it openly and can claim the opposite.
i personally would tend to agree with scientists who claim that there are differences (like the one that "seems" to facilitate menstral cycles), but i have also read enough research articles to have come to the conclusion that functionally speaking, we don't know the first thing about the brain.
Subject: genetics, brain, and behavior
Date: 2003-02-03 16:07:36
Message Id: 4370
the discussion in class about different brains producing different behavior lead me to think of twins. if monozygotic twins are genetically identical, then their brains would be physically identical, at least at birth, carrying, if prof. grobstein is correct, experiential information from ancestors as well as memories from the womb. i wonder how, if brain=behavior, two people who begin life with essentially identical brains, can develop into individuals as mentally different as twins can be? is it just their different experiences in life that create differences in their brains, leading to different behaviors? do identical twins really start out life with identical brains?
Name: Kate Tucker
Date: 2003-02-03 17:40:51
Message Id: 4371
I think it makes a lot of sense that organisms with sort of different brains have sort of different activities. The key factor here is (most likely) environment. Different organisms are exposed to radically different environments. Even when organisms co-exist in the same environment, they have some sort of difference in their activities or specific location that is different from other species. So they act differently. Even though the brain struture may be remarkably similar, different organisms are in different situations, and this is what leads to different behavior. The question this then brings to mind, is to what extent is it possible to change behavior in an isolated setting? If an organism has never lived in its natural environment, is it possible to make it behave more like another organism, one more adapted to live in a different setting?
Name: Laurel Jackson
Date: 2003-02-03 20:43:06
Message Id: 4374
In class on Thursday, I must admit, that when the topic of brain autonomy was first brought up, I tuned out for a little bit and began thinking about chickens. My great grandmother used to tell me stories about "back on the farm" they'd catch the chicken, slam it down on the block, and knock its head off. She didn't beat around the bush much. I am sure you all know that chickens run around after their heads have been cut off. Does the chicken die when its head is removed? Does it die when its headless body collapses? Why does it run around? Why doesn't it just stand up or dance? Does it run around because in its last communication with its brain, the brain was telling it to run away? Do the nerves remember the command to run? Just curious...
Name: Cordelia Stearns
Subject: nature, nurture, twins, and suntanning
Date: 2003-02-03 21:15:18
Message Id: 4375
The nature/nurture debate has probably fueled all of my favorite classes in college. Thus far, I think the professors that I agree with the most are the ones who address the topic not as nature vs. nurture, but as nature and nurture, and how they work together. Having one without the other would be like walking with one leg, but people (maybe especially academics) get very defensive about the side they take on things and seem to have trouble recognizing the delicate balance life falls in. I agree with Priya about one gene's ability to cause different behaviors or states in different environments. One clear example of this, and an example of nature and nurture working together, is suntanning. Suntanning is an adaptive response that our skin has to extra exposure to sunlight. It does not somehow change one's genome, but is a function of genes that have a little leeway in their control on your skin's behavior. This lets you get enough vitamin D when there is not much sunlight around, but also gives you some protection from UV rays in intense sun. This is a really simple example, but this should be transferrable to more complex and consciously controlled behaviors. Genes are NOT a destiny, NOT a program that makes you a robot. They have limits, but also extensive leeway. You cannot act outside of the limitations of your genome. However, judging by the immense range in human behavior and the striking similarities in our genetic makeups, these limitations are just not very limiting. Perhaps this explains why twins, who have identical genomes, can be so different. From the beginning, even in the womb, they are in different environments. One could have more space in utero, or get more food. The tiniest differences could cause huge impacts on their behavior. These differences signal the genes to cause certain behaviors or states that are adaptive or useful in some way. Thus, completely different people emerge. I personally think it is most interesting and, in some ways, beneficial to look at the differences in environment that cause extreme behaviors. For example, crime is highest where income is lowest. Do we think that people make less money because they have more criminal natures? Or do we think that people are driven to crime because of their poverty? I think (hope?) most people would lean toward the second answer. So then, in trying to diminish crime, should we simply dispatch all of our police force to poor neighborhoods and try to put as many low income people in jails as possible? Or should we strive toward a system in which resources are spread more evenly throughout the population? As you may or may not be able to tell, I'm in favor of number 2. We CAN determine, somewhat, what seems to increase the risk of certain behaviors. Should this obligate us to do something to prevent the risky ones?
Date: 2003-02-03 23:09:30
Message Id: 4379
I think that Cordelia makes a really interesting point on how twins, although they are brought up in a similar environment, with the same parents, etc., can turn out to be so different. If we were to answer this using that "balance" between Nature and Nurture, we could see how various experiences in utero as well as out in the real world can potentially cause the genes to react a certain way; thus the reason for any individuals person's behavior or way of thinking.
The problem with scientists allowing themselves to continue the debate on Nature versus Nurture is because we, as humans, want to know about the unknown. We want concrete answers which bring peace of mind and to suggest that "various factors from both ends, nature and nurture, affect an individual's behavior" is too general and evasive for us. This brings me to my question: Why must we know everything?? what in our brains/behavior makes us have this feeling of discomfort if we are unsure about our whereabouts, schedules, anything at all.
~ if anyone has any further information/articles on psychological tests of this sort which are done on twins.... please do post or email me about them because this specific focus seems very intriguing.
Name: Christine Kaminski
Subject: external stimuli
Date: 2003-02-03 23:48:45
Message Id: 4380
It is true that each nervous system looks more and more the same the closer it is examined, but external physical attributes have nothing to do with how the brain processes things internally to know how to react/behave.
I want to agree to a certain extent with Stephanie's comment on external stimuli having an effect on behavior. While I do believe that it is up to the brain of each individual to interpret things differently, I think that the environment has a lot to do with it as well. It has been seen even among us that people behave in a certain way, at least as a result of their specific parental upbringing and exposure to different culture and natural surroundings. I know that I personally see life differently as a result of abroad experiences, politics in our country, the culture of my family-basically everything in life changes the way we behave, the way we live.
Sure it's the way that the brain interprets things that determines how we behave, but I can't limit it to that. I think so many things have a factor in how we react to situations. I also think that I'm still sitting on the fence on the brain=behavior. I'm still so undecided but trying to work through it.
On a separate note, I often wonder how multiple personalities can be explained and the differences seen in each behavior. I had a professor who shared with my class a documented case study on one person who had 9 personalities. This same person had 8 personalities that were deathly allergic to vitamin C. However, the 9th personality craved it and could not live without it. How can this be when the vitamin C, as the scientific world would try to explain it, should have the same effect over its body regardless? It must be the mind controlling such reactions in the body. That story really amazes me and makes me realize the power the mind can have over one's body. How the brain might equal behavior in this case is something that has definitely stumped me.
Subject: altruism in primates
Date: 2003-02-04 00:08:03
Message Id: 4381
In class we discussed how the nervous systems of different species look more and more similar the smaller the scale and we've also discussed what can account for macroscopic differences and how these differences are connected to varied behavior in different species. Traveling up the evolutionary tree towards the branching of primates lead me to think about the concept of altruistic behavior displayed in primates vs. less evolved or "simpler" creatures. I watched a discovery channel episode on altruistic behavior. A monkey fought to protect the life of it's offspring at the threat of it's own while an injured water buffalo was stranded by it's herd at the threat of preying lions. Though monkeys and humans have different brains what about the primate brain gives rise to specific behaviors like altruism?
Name: Kat McCormick
Subject: Immediate Change
Date: 2003-02-04 00:28:59
Message Id: 4383
While reading comments posted in the forum, I noticed that many people are commenting on the unique aspects of human behavior: humans who, at least in appearance, have very similar brains. Our unique behavior, according to the brain=behavior theory, indicates that each human brain is different. As the forum evolved, people began bringing up points about nature vs. nurture, particularly with respect to twins. This lead me to thinking about something I heard over winter break: when you have a good conversation with someone, you are both changed before it is over. This idea of instantaneous change to a person intrigued me- when a person is "changed" by an emotional experience or the like, is this immediately reflected in the brain? And is this change physiological?
Subject: Wolf Children, Frog Humans
Date: 2003-02-04 00:38:28
Message Id: 4384
So, different organisms behave similarly, but sort of differently; their nervous systems are the same, but also sort of different, and their nervous systems look increasingly similar at smaller and smaller scales. I agree entirely with the idea that all organisms' brains are, for most of the part, essentially the same; in that we have the same basic components of the nervous system- a brain, nerves, neurons, connective tissues, etc. Because brains are so similar, but also different, organism's can therefore have similar behaviors. Being's that usually act one way, can thus "regress" back to a more basic behavior, or to the behavior of a "less advanced" organism. What I'm trying to say, is that if a certain life form is placed under a certain stress, or in a different setting, for an extended amount of time, it's behavior could change—due to the ability/need to adapt in order for survival, or its behavior will change because it could not fully adapt to a certain setting/environment.
Therefore, contrary to what Michelle stated about the example of the Wild Boy [that he had "different structural or visual differences in his brain compared with other humans"], the Wild Boy example just shows that under certain circumstances (a different environment, with different external inputs, etc) an individual can behave differently because of the various inputs the brain is receiving=different outputs, which could be displayed externally through a certain behavior. The environment has an important role in shaping our behavior; however, in the end it is the brain that dictates how we will act. To me, the example of the Wild Boy just shows how environment can play a part in modifying a creature's behavior [to fit in with the behavior of organisms that are natural to the certain setting] by causing the brain to receive certain input, which would be expressed in "different" behavior than the "norm."
As an example, take the case of the two Indian children living with a wolf in its den (in 1920s). One was 8 and the other was about 1 and a half. Both had hard calluses on their knees and palms from going on all fours. Their teeth were sharp edged, they moved their nostrils as if sniffing food, and they ate and drank by lowering their mouths to the plate. They also ate raw meat, howled, and slept rolled in a ball on the floor. Speaking was difficult to both. Thus, to Kate Tucker's question, "to what extent is it possible to change behavior in an isolated setting? If an organism has never lived in its natural environment, is it possible to make it behave more like another organism, one more adapted to live in a different setting?" I think, yes it is possible..to a certain extent. As to whether you can make a frog act more like a human...
Subject: Brain Structures and Behavior
Date: 2003-02-04 00:39:05
Message Id: 4385
The aspect of the nervous system that I thought was the most interesting was the idea that an actual physical change in one's brain can account for changes in behavior. The example given in class was that an Alzheimer's Patient was missing parts of the brain that were present in a healthy brain. This made me think is this always the case? Does a physical change in the make-up of a brain always equal a change in behavior and if so can this help us predict or cure certain disease. The concept could also be applied to the neo-cortex being a structure that is present in most mammals' brains, but does this lack of a cortex directly relate to a behavior. In other words, can the presence or the lack thereof of structures in the brain account for specific behaviors?
Another thought/ question I had was pertaining to Parkinson's Disease. I wondered how the disease affects the nervous system and if patients are missing structures in the brain or something else that accounts for their behavoir.
Name: alexandra lippman
Subject: organization of nervous system
Date: 2003-02-04 01:36:49
Message Id: 4388
It makes sense that on smaller and smaller scales, nervous systems of different organisms look increasingly similar. This seems like it would tie into the definition of what a nervous system is and if the most basic components of a nervous system were not alike or the same, it might challenge why the term nervous system could encompass them all. To understand this more, I tried to come up with an analogy which might help me understand or visualize the situation. Hamlet and an Italian manual on how to operate an outdoor grill share the exact same alphabet, however, the varying organization of letters between them makes all the difference. Nervous systems, like books, may be made up of the same "alphabet," or fundamental components, but the differing organization of this "alphabet" can explain the differences in behavior between Professor Grobstein and a cricket.
Also even if nervous systems are very alike, even "identical," that does not seem to imply that the behavior will be the same. In particular I was thinking about how people only use a small portion of their brain. Therefore, even if the structures of two human brains were arranged along the same lines, different parts of the brains may be in use. The difference between which exact part of the brain is used, or which particular neurons are used, for a given activity or at a different moment in time, might translate into differences in behavior.
Name: Sarah Feidt
Date: 2003-02-04 01:46:22
Message Id: 4389
While reading through the forum, I was struck by many thoughts; one of them had not already made it into the weekend's postings. Hopefully my thought process is traceable:
Let's say for a second that the entirity of behavior/personality/personhood is contained in the physical brain (through its recording and processing of whatever internal and external influences it may have.) Then, any human with an active brain possesses behavior/personality/personhood. As a corrolary, one could ensure a body's possession of personhood by ensuring brain activity. Thereby, ending the brain activity of a body would end its personhood/life.
So what does that say about euthanasia and abortion? This whole brain activity theory would call into question the positions that a fetus (with brain activity) and a comatose individual (with brain activity) are 'not really people.' Earlier postings referred to experiences in the womb, and how they influence brain development to begin making differences in behavior. If an active, unique, behavior-influencing brain a person makes, how is a fetus not a person? Similarly, how is a comatose person "not there anymore"?
It's interesting that, in both of these cases, the individual whose brain activity is observable but whose behavior is harder to see, often resolve the question themselves: many fetuses, given time, provide ample evidence of personhood (though some die.) Many coma sufferers, given time, come out of their comas (though some die.) Is it possible that they were not 'really there' before, but are later?
Not if Emily is right... If Emily and Walt and Paul are right, then a living human with a brain is a person. Period. So where does that leave us?
Name: Enor Wagner
Subject: different brains
Date: 2003-02-04 02:26:44
Message Id: 4390
After class on Thursday I had a couple thoughts regarding the brain's role in human existence. One thing that perplexed me was Professor Grobstein's statement about the brain still functioning when separated from the body. If the central nervous system allows human beings to process regularly, then how would it be possible for the brain to still remain operative in a jar when detached from the spinal chord? Having a background more rooted in the humanities, thus leaving me with a less scientific concept of the nervous system's functionality, I have many theoretical questions concerning the implication for the very thought processes of mankind. If the possibility existed for the brain to act when isolated from the spinal cord, leaving only reflexive action and impulsive movement under the control of a central nervous system, would human thinking remain as complex as it is at this point in evolutionary history?
Another component of our discussion raised questions for me. Ignorant as it may be, I have always correlated brain size with level of intelligence. The dolphin brain in proportion to the human brain seems to be massive, yet the dolphin possesses less cognitive abilities than does the human being. However, the dolphin is one of the few sea creatures that classified as a mammal. I was wondering first - what is the feature of the brain that indicates the level of attributed intelligence? Furthermore, I have yet to discover any explicit or direct evidence of the relationship between the mammalian kingdom and intelligence. I am curious to discover whether or not the evolutionary encephalization of biological organisms can further elucidate the complex correlation between the physical and intellectual capabilities of animals.
Subject: an idle brain
Date: 2003-02-04 03:36:53
Message Id: 4392
Beliefs concerning the brain have been brought up on the forum as well as in class, which span from biological considerations of animated chicken bodies to the ever-present concern with a distinction between behaviors dictated by nature and those developed experientially. I'm completely overwhelmed! Although it may be a failure of my own to rely so heavily on scientific evidence, I need more factual, tangible support for an understanding of the relationship between human cognitive abilities and the brain itself before I can reach any conclusions relating to the origins of behavior. I hope that we continue addressing the biological and evolutionary nature of the human brain. I still remain puzzled as to the physiological basis of intelligence and the variability of animal (including human) behavior stemming from biological differences. It seemed in our last class that some relationships between the cerebral cortex, its foldings, and the increased surface area of the brain due to those foldings are being developed. I look forward to investigating those aspects of the brain, with the hopes that they can give some indication of a formalized relationship between behavior and physiological reality. More than that, however, I maintain a somewhat childish/idealistic hope of seeing holes in that relationship where human beings can remain more than a vehicle for a collection of gray and white matter.
Subject: deviant behavior
Date: 2003-02-04 08:33:28
Message Id: 4395
We spoke in class about the differences in brains of creatures of the same species - a healthy human brain vs. the brain of a human with Alzheimer's - and its impact on behavior. We can consider socially deviant behavior. This kind of behavior clearly 'deviates' from the norm or the behavior exhibited by a mainstream, 'upstanding' specimen of our species. If brain=behavior does this imply that some people are inherently deviant or programmed for deviant behavior? If so, does this compromise sociological research that points mainly to environmental factors as to blame for socially deviant behavior? I guess all this behavior discussion keeps leading back to nature vs. nurture.
Date: 2003-02-04 08:47:58
Message Id: 4396
It is my understanding that all brains differ physically, even those of identical twins, which were formed by the same genes. Although the behavior of twins may be very similar—even in different environments -- their brains go through different processes to arrive the same results (Robert Sapolski, A Gene for Nothing, Discover, Oct 1997). These differences are evident not only in the location of metabolic activity but in the physical structure of the brain itself.
Subject: brain sex
Date: 2003-02-04 09:01:38
Message Id: 4397
From a Darwinian standpoint it is advantageous for a species to have distinctly male and female behaviors (roles). In ancient times when the males hunted and the females gathered food near the home & cared for the children, were brain areas sharpended to enable each sex to carry out their job? As women increasingly seek to do traditionally male behaviors, or males behaving like females, are the distinctions between the male and female brains, such as size of the preoptic hypothalamus or shape of the suprachiasmatic nerve of the hypothalamus, going to become less apparent?
Name: Tung Nguyen
Date: 2003-02-04 09:58:06
Message Id: 4398
While it is a struggle for me to explore and try to understand the concepts and notions of the CNS and its relationship to behavior, I find it equally hard and frustrated with the terminology that we use to understand and define those concepts. Like what Professor Grobstein said in class, what define a complex or advance organisms? What is intelligence and how can we measure it? What interest me the most from our last class discussion was the idea that the leech's nervous system was still generating electrical signals even though its removed from the body. What terminology can we use to describe this?
Aside from this frustration, it seems to me that there is much correlation between the NS and behavior because as it seems to me you can not have one without the other. However, I'm wondering whether this holds absolute truth? Are there any situations or instances that might contradict this notion (can't have one without the other)?
Name: Marissa Litman
Subject: Personality as an innate quality
Date: 2003-02-04 15:52:46
Message Id: 4399
I was wondering what others thought about the issue of brain=behavior in terms of newborn babies. Since I was little I have always thought that personality (behavior) is innate in most people, and after living for nineteen and a half years, I have concluded personally that such is the case. Of course there is the issue of environment and circumstance having an effect on individual's development, and also extraneous other issues such as brain damage as well. However, being seven years older than my younger sister, I have had the opportunity to see her grow into herself, and as far as I can see, her base personality, behaviors, and reactions are identical to what they were, practically the day she was born. I am making the assumption that genetics carry some sort of personality gene, and that innate initial base personality is strengthened and affected by upbringing and experience. For example, my sister as a child was very outgoing and strong willed, and she continues to be even now. You can witness the identical facial expressions and behaviors today that we can see in her in old family videos at her second birthday. Looking back upon my own life so far, I also see certain things that I learned at an early age still apply to how I approach things in life today. Of course, I recognize that parents are a large part of this process and I also can see how much similar to my mother I am, so obviously her influence has had an impact on me. I really feel that a lot of my behaviors and reactions and the way my brain functions is somewhat innate in my genetics, and would love to hear what others thought of this as well. Do we just run on human instinct as babies, or is there something else already in our genetic makeup that makes us the way we are?
Subject: regarding madeleine's brain sex
Date: 2003-02-04 20:44:03
Message Id: 4401
It wasn't always that the males hunted and females stayed home. In some civilizations (even in the past), I know that females played the dominant role. I don't know if their behavior was more innate or just plainly determined by their environment.
Subject: Philosophy's Part?
Date: 2003-02-05 00:03:54
Message Id: 4407
I can understand why it is compelling to feel significantly moved by the fact that we have "sort of diffrent but sort of similar" nervous systems in comparrison to other living organisms; that our nervous system is extreamly complex, and that we inturn, are extreamly complex. I also note all of the evidence that shows how the brain is changed by, before, or possibly after certain external, environmental, or random things. But it is the excessive generalisations and comparisons to other undefined things and concepts that is not allowing this concept of the brain = behavior to hold any substancial weight for me.
Strangely enough, there are some philisophical beliefs, however, that do help me to respect this theory, although still disagree with it. It may seem slightly too broad, but it does apply. William James believed in monoism; the belief that the universe is a whole organism. He explained that we collectively make up the "absolute mind." There is nothing outside of creation that "creates" creation. God, is in turn, creation. God is internal to the universe as the universe is internal to God. Descartes believed that we could not prove anything outside of our own minds, but began with the idea that one could not disprove "I think I am thinking," or "I think, therefore I am."
These concepts of James'and Descartes' would be able to translate to this problem of brain and behavior in this way: If all behavior is simply a direct result of our nervous system (leading some to question free will,) we must also acknowledge that we only see the brain through our ability to rationalize and identify, we only touch it through our senses, which are often wrong, and we know it to exist only with the assistance of thought. Thought ( a behavior) must exist within us long before the brain. And with philosophy seriously questioning what we can really know outside of our own minds, I feel that the mind is provable long before the existance of the brain. Although I do not doubt the existance of the brain, I think we can find a great and well supported "summary of evidence" for the mind existing seperate to that of the nervous system.
Send us your comments at Serendip
| Course Home Page
| Course Forum | Brain and
Behavior | Serendip Home |
© by Serendip 1994-
- Last Modified:
Thursday, 06-Feb-2003 11:51:22 EST