PSYC-373-01 THE ROOTS, GROWTH, AND FRUITS OF COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE
Spring for 2005-2006
Karl H. Pribram
ROOTS: The roots of cognitive science were nourished during the 19th Century. Anatomical and physiological experimentation resulted in the concept of an internal body environment that regulated itself. Relating brain autopsies to the behavior of the deceased individual gave credence to the idea that mental faculties are governed by distinguishable brain systems. Electrical stimulation of certain parts of the human brain’s cortex produced movements and resulted in experienced sensations. Discrepancies between the course of electrical stimulation of nerves and the elicitation of reflexes led to the concept of the synapse: a junction between discontinuities in nerve cells. Sophisticated models relating brain function to behavior were developed: notably those of Ivan Pavlov, Sigmund Freud and William James. None of these contributions were extant at the end of the 18th century.
GROWTH: The 20th Century was characterized by a tremendous growth of techniques to study the brain/behavior relationship. Attempts were made to create a science of psychology independent of brain research and independent of the verbal pronouncements describing a person’s introspections. This led to a series of different but related “behaviorisms”. John Watson espoused the idea that recordings from muscles would “give away” what they were experiencing and thinking. Clark Hull developed an engineering “Input-output”, stimulus-response, approach centered on learning, from which intervening processes could be quantitatively derived. Hull aimed to give meaning of these intervening processes by referring to the work of Pavlov, Freud and Watson. Other forms of behaviorism were more direct. These forms of behaviorism also centered on the learning process, giving emphasis to the role of reward and punishment. The latest of these was the contribution of Burrhus (Fred) Skinner. Skinner labeled his form of behaviorism “response-reinforcement”.
These forms of behaviorism each had strengths and weaknesses. As my research was contemporaneous with that of the behaviorists and, as a technical behaviorist, I occasionally collaborated and often had enjoyably critical encounters with them, the course will consist of a 21st century evaluation of the behaviorists contribution.
While behaviorism enveloped psychology, the techniques by which the brain could be studied matured. Neuroanatomy was enriched by the development of new techniques that could select out tracts in the nervous system on the basis of their chemistry. Neurosurgical micro-techniques were refined for applications in humans and brought to bear in animal experiments. (Pavlov in 1924 had complained that none of his brain operated dogs had survived: they had died either of epilepsy of brain abscess.) Electrical recordings (EEGs) could be made from the brain through the scalp. And fine wire and glass tubing electrodes were developed to allow recordings from single or small groups of brain cells.
Amplifiers, oscilloscopes and computers became available to record behavior and the electrical activity of the brain. All of this happened during my research career and made it possible to answer questions, answers that had, frustratingly, been beyond our reach.
Finally, imaging techniques have most recently become available that allowed scientists to look at a normal human brain while the person is experiencing, attending, problem solving and thinking. In this course we need to become aware of pitfalls that need to be avoided in interpreting the results of theses imaging techniques, pitfalls that led to errors that befell the scientists at the beginning of the 19th century. Hopefully, current science can avoid and correct such errors before they become corrupting.
FLOWERING: Now, at the dawn of the 21st century we are in a position to modify and go beyond the theories developed during the 19th century on the basis of the research accomplished in the 20th. Already much has been accomplished and some of the “hot” topics under current discussion will top off the course.
Course requirements: Every 2-3 weeks, students will be asked to write short essays about what they have learned. These will be take home, open book exercises. Collaboration between students is encouraged; but each essay must be forged and written by the student himself. No one knows what he or she knows until they have seen it in communicable form.
Prerequisites: PSYC-001 and a course in neuroscience or neurophysiology.
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Spring '06: Pribram, Karl H. (file download)
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