Thursday, August 18, 2011

Neural Biology

With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln
If you only had a brain
- Dorothy to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz

My latest commuting lecture series is Biology and human behavior : the neurological origins of individuality by Professor Robert Sapolsky. It's fun to listen to but I have mixed feelings about not watching it on DVD.

1. Reason to watch DVD: The professor makes frequent references to displays, "as you can see on the right...". Fortunately most (all?) charts are in the course book.

2. Reason not to watch DVD: The professor is very entertaining but visually distracting. (see image).

With each lecture Sapolsky introduces a new part of our mental anatomy and explains what can go wrong with too little or too much information to the brain.

The Great Courses webpage says,
"The course opens with an introductory lecture and then proceeds to Modules I and II, which start at the level of how a single neuron works. You build upward to examine how millions of neurons in a particular region of the brain operate. The focus is on the regions of the brain most pertinent to emotion and behavior.

Modules III, IV, and V explore how the brain and behavior are regulated. First, you cover how the brain regulates hormones and how hormones influence brain function and behavior. Next you examine how both the brain and behavior evolved, covering contemporary thinking about how natural selection has sculpted and optimized behavior and how that optimization is mediated by brain function. Then you focus on a bridge between evolution and the brain, investigating what genes at the molecular level have to do with brain function and how those genes have evolved.

Module VI examines ethology, which is the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitats. The focus in these lectures is on how hormones, evolution, genes, and behavior are extremely sensitive to environment.

Finally, Module VII explores how the various approaches—neurobiology, neuroendocrinology, evolution, genetics, and ethology—help explain an actual set of behaviors, with a particular focus on aggression. The final lecture summarizes what is known about the biology of human behavior and probes the societal implications of having such knowledge."

Bottom Line

The human brain & body are amazingly complex.

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