Biological Approach

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The Biological Approach
One of the most perplexing issues in psychology is understanding the relationship between the mind and the brain. We all recognize that we have conscious awareness of our surroundings, and also of ourselves (self-awareness). It is this experience which has normally been described as the mind. But what is the basis of the mind? Is it the expression of a non-physical soul, or is it a product of physical processes within our body? Philosophers and scientists have been pondering this question for centuries. Explaining the nature of consciousness (that is, the mind) was regarded by William James (one of the great pioneers of psychology) as the most challenging question for psychology to answer. Today, a hundred years after James made that comment, the challenge still exists. Physiological Foundations of Behavior

Underlying questions about mind and brain are a number of basic assumptions. Most physiological researchers today are materialists, who see both behavior and consciousness as simply the product of physiological processes. In essence, the brain is the mind. Thus, the task is to identify the structures and processes which produce conscious awareness. Among those who take this approach are James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA) and Dominic Domasio. Both are engaged in research aimed at supporting this view, and their work has drawn public attention. (See references below.) Arrayed against this stance are a number of opponents, who argue the issue on various grounds. Some physiological researchers have adopted a neo-Cartesian position, arguing that consciousness (and therefore the mind) is not localized in any brain structure, and can therefore not be unequivocally proven to be purely physical in nature. Among these are John Eccles, an eminent British researcher, and the late Wilder Penfield, a pioneering Canadian neurosurgeon. Another approach to the issue comes from those who connect mind to the sense of self. This idea also has Cartesian overtones, since the self is closely associated with the notion of a soul in traditional thought. While many variants exist, the basic argument is that the self is a phenomenological construction, which is both in continual flux, and yet experienced as an on-going identity. In this view, the mind/self may well be a product of physiological processes, but it is no more synonymous with the underlying structures than a building is synonymous with its builder. Roger Sperry, a pioneer in the study of hemispheric specialization, has described consciousness as an emergent process of the brain--a product of the whole, whose properties cannot be explained simply by studying the underlying structures. At present, of course, the debate cannot be resolved--the answer to William James' century-old question continues to elude us. Studying Mind and Brain: The Use of Case Studies

One of the earliest methods used to explore the workings of the brain was the detailed analysis of clinical patients--typically individuals who had suffered some type of physical trauma. Such case studies have often led to remarkable insights. For example, Pierra Broca in 1861 was able to identify an area of the brain involved with speech production (now called "Broca's area") based on studying an individual who for more than thirty years had suffered a fundamental language defect: he could understand spoken language, and could make various sounds, but could not produce coherent speech. Based on his behavioral observations and an anatomic analysis after the patient died, Broca concluded that speech capacity is located in the third convolution of the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere. This represented a dramatic advance in physiological understanding--forming a direct connection between the structure of the brain and behavior. In addition, Broca saw the broader implications of his analysis, asserting that all behavior can be associated to some specific mechanism/structure in the brain--a concept...
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