Suzana Herculano-Houzel

Crash Course Lessons

01. What is behavior? Try for free

Before you begin, ask yourself: What would you say is behavior? Is a brain needed for behavior? Does one even need to be alive to have behavior? What do nervous systems add to behavior? How do you define intelligence?

After your visit: Did your definition of behavior change? Do you agree that an oscillating fan has behavior? Would you say that your fridge is alive? (I would not; but how do we justify that statement?) If not, does it still have behavior? (I would say yes; what does your fridge do?) How does the behavior of plants compare to the behavior of animals? Would you say that plants have flexible behavior, compared to you? How about cats and dogs?

Exercise: Fill in the blanks

1. The difference between you and a pile of, say, 150 pounds of molecules is how your molecules are ____________________: into cells that build tissues that build ___________ that build the various systems that together form you. This is a whole process, and doesn’t happen at a snap of the fingers; it happens during ______________________.

2. Nervous systems are DISTRIBUTION systems; what they distribute are ____________ signals, which makes that distribution very, very rapid, which in turn is what allows nervous systems to make animal bodies function as an __________________ whole.

3. Nervous systems probably evolved several times independently, but no matter how varied, all of them have ___________ cells that cause changes in the body; ____________ cells that translate changes in the body into changes in their own activity; and ____________ cells that put the two together. All three cells connected to one another form a ________, which is the basic structure of all nervous systems.

4. The observable actions that constitute behavior correspond to ___________ of neuronal activity. Anything that modifies these (blank) makes behavior flexible.

  1. Observable actions | brain | life
  2. Organized | ganglion
  3. Diffusion | transport | electrical
  4. Flexible | past | future | intelligent
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