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Brain Science and Human Behavior (repeat)

Due to strong interest in this topic, "Brain Science and Human Behavior" will be repeated on Sunday 2 Feb. Since the waitlist is so long, new signups should RSVP to the Feb 2nd edition of the topic.

How does the emotional brain (the so-called limbic system) work? Is there a rational part of the brain or are we all emotional creatures? Why does every excitatory center in the limbic system seem to have an inhibitory center to counterbalance it? What is the evidence in support of the James-Lang theory of emotions, namely, that the state of your body tells the brain what to feel? If a human brain consists of about 100 billion neurons each with about 10,000 connections (known as synapses) which communicate to each other by pumping neurotransmitters stored in vesicles into the gap between neurons, why are our brains not completely awash in noise and misfirings and confusion? How can individual differences and diverse responses to experience manifest in the working of the brain? Where are concepts & categories stored in the brain? What are the difficulties and challenges in studying the brain?

This discussion is based on a 1½ hour video lecture called "Limbic System" from Robert Sapolsky's free on-line course "Human Behavioral Biology" (although the course is introductory in nature and concerns a vitally important subject, this lecture gets a little bit technical at times. Understanding the details is not important, instead I recommend listening to get a sense of the big picture). The video depends on four lectures that introduce some high-level but technical details of Brain Science including the basics of neuroscience and endocrinology.

• The Limbic System. You may be able to follow this video without first watching the four supplemental videos below, but it assumes some familiarity with neuroendocrinology. During the discussion, I will try to explain anything you could not understand during the discussion (although I am not a neuroscientist I have watched each video twice and I've taken extensive notes). Read my notes on Sapolsky's limbic system video. Here are the notes of "a Sapolsky fan" on the limbic system.

Background Videos: These videos explain basic ideas about the neuroendocrine system that constitutes modern brain science from the perspective of Human Behavior. Understanding Sapolsky's video on the Limbic System will be significantly improved if you watch these videos first:

• Introduction to Neuroscience IMy notes on the Neuroscience I video.

• Introduction to Neuroscience IIMy notes on the Neuroscience II video.

• EndocrinologyMy notes on the Endocrinology video.

• Advanced Neurology and EndocrinologyMy notes on Sapolsky's advanced neuroendocrinology video. The notes of "a Sapolsky fan" on advanced neuroendocrinology.

This topic is a repeat from the one on Sun 12 Jan.

I have led several prior discussions on Robert Sapolsky whose descriptions (and videos) you may enjoy. The Uniqueness and Evolution of Humans (15 Apr 2012) which is based on a Sapolsky lecture. The other discussions have been based on Sapolsky's course BIO 250, HUMBIO 160: Human Behavioral Biology. There were two discussions on "The Evolutionary and Genetic Bases of Human Behavior" which covered videos 2-7 of the course on  14 Jul 2013 and 27 Jul 2013, two discussions on "The Biology of Learning" which covered videos 8 & 9 of the course on 10 Nov 2013 and 30 Nov 2013.

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  • MARY O.

    IIt was good. I think we are a long way from really getting an understanding of how brain and consciousness are connected

    1 · January 25, 2014

  • CJ F.

    As I mentioned the main video for tomorrow's discussion is Robert Sapolsky on the "Limbic System":

    But if you have 22 free minutes after watching that one, here is an exquisite bonus video of Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman:

    Our brains define who we are. He explains that consciousness is "the broom closet in the mansion of the brain".

    He gives some good examples for tomorrow's discussion: Phineas Gage whose behavior changed after a metal pipe went through his skull, Charles Whitman who started having angry thoughts which led to his killing 14 people and wounding 39 others due to a tumor in his amygdala, an anonymous 40 year old man who suddenly became a pedophile (cured by brain tumor removal), and a quick reference to Parkinson's patients who become gamblers.

    Watch Eagleman's 22m video:

    January 17, 2014

  • CJ F.

    The main video for tomorrow's discussion is the "Limbic System":

    Every circuit in the limbic system tries to influence the hypothalamus (the central hub of the neuroendocrine system) to control the organism. Each part can inhibit other parts. Is the brain hopelessly torn against itself?

    Do we have a rational brain? Sapolsky observes that all of us have made terrible emotional decisions under duress. Are we just emotional creatures with a few "rational" faculties? The prefrontal cortex provides impulse control. Is inhibition or negative feedback essential to rationality?

    In addition, does the body influence the brain as the James-Lang theory of emotion postulates?

    My full notes on the video:

    Notes from a Sapolsky fan:

    Watch the 88m video on the "Limbic System":

    January 17, 2014

  • Joe N.

    I will be leading a second repeat of this topic on Sunday, Feb 2nd. Anyone who is signed up or on the wait list for this meetup can switch if they want and sign up for that one instead. It will be based on the same material, but the focus may be slightly different.

    January 16, 2014

  • CJ F.

    The 4th of 4 optional background videos "Advanced Neurology and Endocrinology".

    Robert Sapolsky gives this lecture built on the 3 previous ones. This is his most technical video, but his main points are easy to understand. The details are in showing the mechanisms.

    There are 2 themes emphasized in this video: 1) there are many, many ways the nervous & endocrine systems can change their functions over time 2) there are lots of realms where individual differences can manifest (genetic & environmental).

    The video emphasizes the importance of negative feedback in regulation.

    The brain has lots of mechanisms for modulating "normal" neural and endocrine signaling systems. These mechanisms give us lots of room for individual variability and lots of ways to respond to experience.

    My extensive notes on the video are at

    Watch the 73m video "Advanced Neurology and Endocrinology":

    January 16, 2014

  • CJ F.

    The 3rd of 4 background videos: "Endocrinology".

    Chemical communication is essential for multicellular life. Even bacteria communicate chemically. Hormones are the blood-based chemical messengers of the endocrine system. Although slow, they provide for complex coordination of multiple systems and are therefore essential for complex human behavior.

    The hypothalamus is the region in the brain that controls the endocrine system through the pituitary gland. One of the important subsystems is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: the hypothalamus releases CRH --> anterior pituitary --> ACTH in the blood --> the adrenal cortex (on kidneys) --> release glucocorticoids (stress hormones) such as cortisol.

    Up- and down-regulation of hormones through feedback is vital.

    My notes on the video are at

    Watch the 49m video "Endocrinology":

    January 15, 2014

  • CJ F.

    The 1st and 2nd of 4 background videos are entitled "Introduction to Neuroscience I & II". Each is ~60 min.


    The basic structure of the nervous system: brain stem, cerebellum, frontal lobe, limbic system, etc.

    There are ∼100 billion neurons in the average brain each with about 10,000 connections (synapses) to other neurons, so ∼1 quadrillon synapses in your brain; ∼400 billion stars in the Milky Way, so ∼2000 times more synapses in your brain than stars in the Milky Way.

    My notes:


    Discusses memory & brain plasticity & the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is comprised of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS: growth, repair, & vegetative functions; acetylcholine) & sympathetic nervous system (SNS: fight or flight; norepinephrine).

    My notes:

    January 14, 2014

  • CJ F.

    Saturday's discussion on "Brain Science and Human Behavior" will focus on issues in this 90m Robert Sapolsky's video on the "Limbic System":

    There are 4 background videos on Brain Science that will help you understand more details:
    1. Introduction to Neuroscience I:
    2. Introduction to Neuroscience II:
    3. Endocrinology:
    4. Advanced Neurology and Endocrinology:

    If you only have time to watch one video, watch the main one on the "Limbic System":

    But if you have time, try to watch as many of the background videos as possible. If you have extra time, start with the video on Ethology which is referenced in the "Limbic System" video.

    Watching videos is optional, but will help us dig deeper.

    January 12, 2014

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