Specialized Areas of the Brain

This topic contains 5 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Reg the Fronkey Farmer 2 years, 5 months ago.

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    Moving to/from/in Places (only 9 minutes)

    (I’d like to talk someday about how a fairly constant, group-conscious awareness of compass and relative directionality and distance is built into American Sign Language conversations. )

    Analyzing Faces, Sounds, Others’ Thoughts, etc ( < 18 minutes)



    First, some terms and concepts, to highlight the underlying binary nature of how the nervous system and brain operate, although some of you may want to skip the details and jump into the video.

    • Our brain is a complex signal processor that evolved from simpler brains, that evolved from simple sensory and control circuits.
    • Brains receive sensory data as input, and provide control signals as output. In neuroscience, inputs are referred to as “afferent” signals, and output (e.g. muscle control) are referred to as “efferent” signals.
    • Before complex brains evolved, nerve systems evolved as simple communication channels to enhance communication and coordination between different parts of the simplest of animal bodies. In vertebrates, spinal columns evolved to support long nerve fibers for longer bodies; afferent and efferent nerve fiber channels are segregated and grow differently during fetal development.
    • Increasingly complex efferent nerve systems evolved into two, separate body control nerve systems: 1) a “sympathetic” system that stimulates action; 2) a “parasympathetic” system that inhibits action. For example, sympathetic nerves trigger fight/flight behavior, while parasympathetic nerves simultaneously suppress digestive activity to efficiently manage energy and resources during momentary crises.
    • Sympathetic control effects quick action, e.g. by flooding adrenaline into the blood for fight or flight, while parasympathetic control tends to act more slowly (which helps explain why it it takes so long to calm down after a sudden crisis).
    • Complex brain parts evolved that process the inputs received into outputs that control bodily processes as directly as possible, always evolving toward the quickest and most efficient way process sensory data to determine what is beneficial vs harmful, executing calculated body control, all (of course) to increase survival and (of course) procreation of viable offspring.
    • For humans especially, our brains evolved to not only learn well from such experiences, but to build complex communications (e.g. language) with fellow humans so we can learn from each other’s experiences.

    Now, let’s zoom out and consider the above physiological paradigm in our context of consciousness. Quite simply, based solely on the binary nature of nervous system and brain operation, our emotions and cognition operate mostly at a either positive vs negative, or good feeling vs bad feeling level. This is recently researched and described as “positive or negative valence“. The most common way to measure and document this valence is through experiments that demonstrate clearly whether an animal is repulsed or attracted to a stimulus. The neuroscience concerned with these studies is called Affective Neuroscience, originally coined by my research hero Jaak Pansepp (see video, below).

    (Just as a personal side-note, I used to confuse the words affective and afferent, but realize now how they’re similar but used in different contexts.)

    Now on to the show:

    Jaak refers to a couple of studies, for which I’ve found a couple current links, and then a third link for anyone interested in a fairly highly technical overview on affective neuroscience research:



    I mentioned this before but just in case it was missed, here is the final talk by Dan Dennett at a series of lectures given in Dublin last year. (Start at 7:00 if you want).

    List of speakers here with several talks that are relevant (or just interesting). 5 Nobel Laureates among them.



    Thanks Reg!

    Related to my previous post…

    I think it’s useful to know that Jaak sorted his primal list largely based on the order in which they probably evolved in brains, so it also reflects largely on which parts of the brain have the “deepest” physiology and evolved usage.


    More advanced emotions, brain parts, and behaviors can build somewhat (and so be related to) the less advanced ones. E.g. play is very obviously relevant to positive social interaction. (That’s not to say that humans can’t misuse “play” to a negative extreme! E.g. bullying, trolling, or other contemporary cultural pathologies.)

    As for how we define and understand consciousness, sometimes I focus on pathologies and atypical conditions, because even if we don’t personally/directly experience some things, we can still imagine what those conscious experiences in other people might feel like. For example deafness or blindness, genius vs challenged cognition, and so on.

    This video focuses on panic attacks and PTSD. I’ve skipped ten minutes into it in case you’d rather not watch all nineteen minutes.



    List of speakers here with several talks that are relevant (or just interesting). 5 Nobel Laureates among them.

    That is an awesome and challenging list! I’ll first see what I can find and share having to do with specialized areas of the brain.


    I bought 2 tickets before I finished reading that list!!  Took 2 days of work to attend 🙂 Got a meet and greet with Dan Dennett.

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