Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Actions are motor, visceral, or mental

The behavior of an animal with a nervous system is the result of the activity patterns of its effector neurons, as they are translated into observable actions If the nervous system generates integrated behaviors in large multicellular creatures called animals, then defining behavior as any observable action means that understanding animal behavior requires understanding how […]

Intelligence is behavioral flexibility

Adaptability is only part of the story: intelligence is the ability to act now for the maximum possible future There are several definitions of intelligence, generally focused on problem-solving and adaptability that lead to successful outcomes. One way to generalize all these definitions is to recognize that intelligent behavior is that which perpetuates the system,…...

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More cortical neurons, more self-control

Nervous systems, and brains in particular, add flexibility to behavior, making it much more than simple responses to events. Sure, responding (or not) is a behavior in itself. But when a nervous system is involved in organizing, shaping and eventually controlling the behavior, the intrinsic properties of nervous systems allow them to spontaneously generate actions; impart context to behavior, including a past history; anticipate future…...

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It’s never too late for new music

There’s an urban legend going around that it’s normal and expected for our musical taste to “freeze” in time, so that once we’re adults, our brains would be stuck on the playlist of the songs we discovered as teenagers. Supposedly, because of a “loss of plasticity” in the reward system, we would be fated to […]

Behavior with a nervous system becomes flexible and complex

The brain builds a space-time continuum of integrated states between body and mind. Two distribution systems allow large organisms to function as an integrated whole. One of them is the immunoendocrine system, which, through the release of substances into the circulatory system that thus have a broad action, allows for the slow and lasting (stable)…...

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Behavior is any observable action

All behavior has an agent, who need neither be alive nor have a brain Behavior does not require a nervous system – a set of organs and tissues made up of excitable cells that transmit signals rapidly throughout the body. If behavior is defined simply as observable actions in a given context, then plants have […]

Behavioral flexibility is intelligence

Multiple definitions of intelligence exist, usually focused on problem-solving and adaptability that lead to successful outcomes. One way to generalize all of these definitions is by acknowledging that intelligent behavior is behavior that perpetuates the system, which by definition amounts to maximizing its outcomes. As pointed out by physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, intelligent choices and actions are those that maximize future…...

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Animal behavior is patterned neuronal activity

In animals that have a nervous system, all motor, mental and visceral actions (and therefore behavior) are the product of neuronal activity. When neuronal activity in the relevant structures or pathways is disrupted or impeded – for example, with anesthetics -, that behavior stops. But this does not yet explain what is it about neuronal activity that…...

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Behavior with a nervous system becomes fast, flexible and complex

Two distribution systems allow large organisms to act as integrated wholes. One is the immunoendocrine system, which through the release of wide-acting substances in the circulatory system allows slow and lasting (stable) integration of bodily functions. The resulting integrated behaviors take seconds to minutes to occur, and last for hours to several days, as long as the substances released are still active. The other is…...

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I don’t know when to stop

Another transatlantic flight, another six hours of non-stop work. Tied to a chair, with no options but to go to the toilet or grab something gluten-free from the tray served as a meal, with no emails, internet, messages, students or dogs and cats around my desk wanting attention, I write very well. What else is […]

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