Cerebral Mechanisms in Behavior the Hixon Symposium

By Lloyd A. Jeffress; California Institute of Technology Hixon Fund | Go to book overview

The Problem of Serial Order in Behavior

K. S. LASHLEY Harvard University and the Yerkes Laboratories of Primate Biology

The previous speakers have approached our common problem by considering the properties of the elementary units of which we believe the cerebral structure to be built up. They have considered the kinds of neural integration or behavior which can be anticipated from those properties. The remaining members of the symposium have in their research been concerned chiefly with the analysis of complex behavior, seeking to derive general principles of neural integration from the infinitely complex products of that integration. Our common meeting ground is the faith to which we all subscribe, I believe, that the phenomena of behavior and of mind are ultimately describable in the concepts of the mathematical and physical sciences. In my discussion here, I have deliberately turned to the opposite extreme from the neuron and have chosen as a topic, one aspect of the most complex type of behavior that I know; the logical and orderly arrangement of thought and action. Our discussion so far has dealt chiefly with the conditions of input and of immediate switching in the nervous mechanism, without explicit consideration of what is already going on within the system.

My principal thesis today will be that the input is never into a quiescent or static system, but always into a system which is already actively excited and organized. In the intact organism, behavior is the result of interaction of this background of excitation with input from any designated stimulus. Only when we can state the general characteristics of this background of excitation, can we understand the effects of a given input.

The unpronounceable Cree Indian word "kekawewecbetushekamikowanowow" is analyzed by Chamberlain (7) into the verbal root, tusheka, "to remain," and the various particles which modify it as fol-

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