ENG 894 Reading Notes: Neurobiology (Week 12)

I really enjoyed this week’s text mostly just because it was so out of my element and I like learning new things. Though a lot of the specific science isn’t very helpful for me in terms of my scholarly interests, one salient concept for me was the implications of neurogenesis. In the video they mentioned how parallels are often drawn between the brain and computers.

Line drawing of a face with desktop computer where brain would be. Picture has the caption
Image from http://www.science20.com/mark_changizi/why_doesn%E2%80%99t_size_matter%E2%80%A6_brain

However, the discovery of neurogenesis demonstrates how flawed this metaphor is. While the capabilities/ memory of a computer is fixed, the brain continues to develop, forging new neurons and new connections. One of the recurring themes for me in class is the value and limitations of metaphors, and that surfaced again in this week’s topic.

Check out this resource for more ways the brain isn’t actually like a computer.

I was also struck by the discussion of bidirectionality between the brain and our actions. One of the scientists highlighted that while he always thought that the brain controls our actions, the discovery of neurogenesis indicated that our actions within our environments can also shape the development of our brains.

Road sign with a double sided arrow
Image from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/bidirectionality

This sort of loop is fascinating, and really made me think of Bateson’s discussion of the immanent and transcendent mind. While the focus of neurobiology is obviously on the immanent mind, these things can never really be isolated. The brain can never be a network separate from the outside world. It is always connected to, affected by and affecting the world around us. This notion of networks interacting with other networks is an interesting way of thinking about networks that I haven’t really been focusing on so far this semester.


Annenberg Learner. (2013). Unit 10: Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co.


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