The Shortcomings of Physiological Psychology

In Psychology 2F36, we examined how biological psychology is more than a body of facts and that it determines our view of human nature. For the most part, it is agreed with philosophical claims and assumptions that all of our thoughts experiences and actions are direct reflections of the activity of the brain, and that everything we do can be traced to physical aspects of the brain. This though has created a debate that is ongoing and complex as there are always issues concerning what the real relationship between the mind and body is. It is important to study the mind, and as we do attempt this, we do it through gaining an understanding of the physiological perspective and inner neuronal workings. I will examine physiological psychology in relation to our class this year, look at the shortcoming of biological psychology in looking at the mind brain relationship matter, and finally conclude with which of the two perspectives that have been argued in the mind brain relationship I agree with. That of Charles Sherrington and Sir Russell Brain.

In the movie, the search for mind we examined what the mind is and what the brain does. We learnt that mind is a process and that what is meaningful to the mind is meaningful to the brain. We looked at the issue of consciousness and unconsciousness and their roles in brain and behavior. (Good, 2001). In the movie, is the brain really necessary? We examined cases of hydrocephalus a disease where there is an excess build up of cererbro spinal fluid in the cranium thus forcing brain matter into a ring formation with an enormously enlarged third ventricle in the middle. (Andrews, 1997). In the cases we saw in the movie, although they were missing most of their brain, these people were highly intelligent and fully competent although they pretty much do not have brain. Therefore, this leaves us with the question, as the movie title is the brain really necessary. In relation to psych 2f36, we can ask how the explanations of physiological psychology shortfall in explaining our behavior do.

When studying physiology in Psychology 2F36 we began by examining neural systems. These systems composed of intricate, minute pathways of neurons, glia cells and synapses work synergistically to convey messages from the brain to body and vice versa. Electrochemical patterns are elicits though stimuli sending messages and creating neuronal excitation or inhibition in turn causing some sort of arousal/ experience. Physiological psychology can explain to us the pathways, why and when the neurons fire, and the pathways of impulses through our brain and body. It can explain to us in detail the action potential of a neuron, how it reaches excitation or inhibition. We learn the importance of neuronal activity in behaviors as it elicits different behaviors through its path. Physiological psychology on the other hand cannot explain issues of brain size and intelligence, and how those with more or less area for neuronal activity (even in those that are directly associated with certain behaviors) differ/come to be/function. We saw this in the movie is the brain necessary where people with limited brain tissue function beyond capacity. It also cannot explain our conscious experience of stimuli to reaction on our interpretation there of. People’s different reaction and behaviors to different situations/impulses/stimuli are also left vaguely explained.

In the second quarter, we examined sensorial systems including vision audition pain, olfaction, and taste. We looked at the differences in the types of systems and their mechanical and chemical components. We looked at reception, transduction and coding, and how each sensory neuron conveys a different type of experience. From a physiological perspective, the sensorial systems can explain the pathways of vision audition and the mechanical and chemical senses. We can see how/why and when we see hear, feel taste, smell, and the interaction of all these events. We cannot learn from physiological psychology why people experience different tastes /likes/dislikes in food, or beverage. Why some people are obsessed with their body and weight and why they eat, or why some people suffer form eating disorders and why some do not. We cannot explain why some react differently to the different stimuli of these systems such as pain noise light. How sense triggers memories/feelings is another issue that cannot be explained.

Next, we examined the motivational systems of sleep hunger, thirst and temperature regulation, their set points, the concept of homeostasis and the triggers and fluctuations around the set points. We learned the limitations to all and advantages, how we physiologically maintain our systems. We can explain why we need to sleep, and they cycles of it. We examined our biological clock and how it works, why we need to rest conserve and sue time to store along with its functions, and the hormones and chemicals in the brain and body that have roles. We can learn why body temperature is important and how it is maintained. Why we get thirsty and the different types of thirst, and the importance of digestion and liking of food. In physiology though we cannot explain why some eat drink or sleep more than others in all cases, or why they enjoy different food fluid or sleep conditions. Why some can function with less sleep than others, why some people experience temperature different, and why some suffer from eating and sleep disorders and other do not. Why some obsess over eating or sleep and others could care less.

Finally we ended the year examining higher cognitive skills and psychological systems When examine these skills and systems such as emotion, learning, memory and language we saw patterns of learning and memory such as habituation and sensitization, the roles of different parts of the brain in language how emotional states are reached and how they effect the brain and body. We also learned about stress, its effects on the brain and body and on the ANS specifically, and the consequential long and short term effects. We learned that emotion is difficult to categorize and identify aside form the actual internal state, the levels and possible eliciting stimuli, and how cognitive interpretations differ for everyone. We cannot learn through physiology why some people do not get stressed or upset in certain situations, why some experience different emotions in different scenarios and the differences in intensity for different people and scenarios. We can see why some learn better or faster than others, why people excel as some skills and some do not. We cannot observe directly differences in memory storage and retrieval, or why some suffer for deficits or damage differently than others. We also can observe the difference in levels of language acquisition, and explain why we can learn language and other species cannot.

The blueness issue debate between Sherrington and Brain represents the difficulty posed when we attempt to understand how mental life can be explained in terms of bodily events. Sherrington questioned our ability to understand the conversion of neural activity into consciousness experience, and Brain believed that our lack of understanding was not a reflection on the relationship between physiology and psychology but rather a function of our state of knowledge. I agree with Sherrington who acknowledges the role of physiology but questions how conscious experience comes about. The sensation of abstract objects, which our brain perceives but our mind, understands, and holds value and feeling towards. I think that we can begin to get “there” from “here” but will never really get there. We can understand the processes but not the actual cognitive appraisal of that process and its outcome, and even that can be questioned as we saw in the movie is the brain really necessary these people had limited basis for physiology and still function in the same manner as most people having the same experience, intellect, abilities, etc. I feel that it will always be a debate, and we will never truly understand the full relationship between the mind and brain physiologically.

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