Brain and Values: Is a Biological Science of Values Possible

By Karl H. Pribram | Go to book overview

2
On Brain and Value: Utility, Preference, Play and Creativity

Karl H. Pribram Center for Brain Research and Informational Sciences Radford University Box 6977 - R U Station Radford, VA24142 Telephone: 540-831-6108 / Fax: 540-831-6236 E-Mail: kpribram@runet.edu July 28, 1997


Abstract

At the Fifteenth International Congress of Psychology held in Brussels in 1957, I presented evidence from primate studies regarding the biological determinants of values. I stated then:

"the empirical relations that determine the value of a piece of currency depend, in part, on the utility of that piece of currency for any individual. The currency used in the primate neurobehavioral experiments reported was a food pellet or peanut. Two interrelated classes of variables have been abstracted by economists to determine utility: demand and expectation; two similar classes (need and probability distribution) can be delineated from the experiments reported here -- each of the classes related to a distinct neural mechanism. A still different neural mechanism has been delineated whereby (preferences among) values can be discriminated." ( Pribram, 1957, p. 82)

What follows here is an updated version of these findings and analyses, which provide the prologue to and organizational framework for the Proceedings of the Fifth Appalachian Conference on Behavioral Neurodynamics.


Familiarity

Take an often repeated experiment. Five hundred pictures are displayed for observation, then mixed with 500 others portraying somewhat similar subjects. Next the full set of 1000 pictures is displayed, and the observer has only to indicate which pictures are familiar and which are unfamiliar. Most of us perform this task with a remarkable 90% or better score.

Next we encounter a patient who experiences bizarre (to her) feelings of familiarity in places she is sure she has never been. Another patient complains that he has just the opposite experience: He comes home only to feel it, on occasion, to be strange and unfamiliar to him. These feelings of "deja" (already) and "jamais (never) vu" (seen), as they are called, are related to epileptic electrical discharges recorded from the region of the amygdala, an almond shaped basal ganglion (the Greek

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