Brain Arousal and Information Theory: Neural and Genetic Mechanisms

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Overview

Arousal is fundamental to all cognition. It is intuitively obvious, absolutely necessary, but what exactly is it? In Brain Arousal and Information Theory, Donald Pfaff presents a daring perspective on this long-standing puzzle. Pfaff argues that, beneath our mental functions and emotional dispositions, a primitive neuronal system governs arousal. Employing the simple but powerful framework of information theory, Pfaff revolutionizes our understanding of arousal systems in the brain.

Starting with a review of the neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, and neurochemical components of arousal, Pfaff asks us to look at the gene networks and neural pathways underlying the brain's arousal systems much as a design engineer would contemplate information systems. This allows Pfaff to postulate that there is a bilaterally symmetric, bipolar system universal among mammals that readies the animal or the human being to respond to stimuli, initiate voluntary locomotion, and react to emotional challenges. Applying his hypothesis to heightened states of arousal--sex and fear--Pfaff shows us how his theory opens new scientific approaches to understanding the structure of brain arousal.

A major synthesis of disparate data by a preeminent neuroscientist, Brain Arousal and Information Theory challenges current thinking about cognition and behavior. Whether you subscribe to Pfaff's theory or not, this book will stimulate debate about the nature of arousal itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Metapsychology Online

The author's contribution to our understanding of arousal mechanisms [is] both innovative and challenging. . . . His most remarkable contributions are his repeated mention of the interplay between arousal systems and manifestations of cognition and emotion, his focus on information theory as a means of understanding arousal systems as universal response potentiators, with bilateral and bipolar properties. This book will be read avidly by those who are interested in any of the above-mentioned issues and by those who simply want to get a fresh look at the concept of arousal. In either case, the author's intentions will be unmistakable: challenging readers to combine evidence from different fields and integrate it into a series of questions to guide much-needed research.
— Maura Pilotti

PsycCRITIQUES

Brain Arousal and Information Theory is a major step in the development of the 24-hour model of mental behavior that Freud envisioned and that psychology has ignored until now because of lack of data. . . . Although this volume does not do it all, it does fill in some of the understanding of the complex brain mechanisms behind mental behaviors. As such it is a big step in support of those who have argued for the continuity of cognition across the wake-sleep states as well as affect regulation. Once they accept the challenge of accounting for cognition and emotional behavior across the 24-hour cycle, researchers into brain-behavior relations will find this book to be a resource of value.
— Rosalind Cartwright

Dr. Helen Fisher
Donald Pfaff's book is highly innovative. He addresses a classic problem in neurobiology which has lain fallow for decades. Central nervous system arousal is fundamental to emotional and cognition yet I don't know of any other book or article that so thoroughly delineates the mechanisms and function of arousal in the brain. In addition to reviewing a huge body of neuroanatomical, neuropsychological and genetic data, Pfaff proposes a daring new theoretical approach based on information theory.
Despite the technical nature of the book, Pfaff's main points are easy to understand. Pfaff has virtuoso command of the literature and has given us a brilliant set of new thoughts.
E.B. Keverne
Donald Pfaff provides fresh ideas for the framework of an old concept,"arousal". He takes the reader through the history of how the concept evolved and embraces the modern era by incorporating genetic findings into the established neurobiology underpinning arousal. This is not simply a review of the subject but a synthesis of old and new experimental findings to provide new ideas generated by a deep understanding of the subject. Updating ones knowledge is a pleasing experience, but being provoked to reconsider the subject in a new way is intellectually rewarding. Donald
Pfaff achieves this distinction in Brain Arousal and Information Theory.
Metapsychology Online - Maura Pilotti
The author's contribution to our understanding of arousal mechanisms [is] both innovative and challenging. . . . His most remarkable contributions are his repeated mention of the interplay between arousal systems and manifestations of cognition and emotion, his focus on information theory as a means of understanding arousal systems as universal response potentiators, with bilateral and bipolar properties. This book will be read avidly by those who are interested in any of the above-mentioned issues and by those who simply want to get a fresh look at the concept of arousal. In either case, the author's intentions will be unmistakable: challenging readers to combine evidence from different fields and integrate it into a series of questions to guide much-needed research.
PsycCRITIQUES - Rosalind Cartwright
Brain Arousal and Information Theory is a major step in the development of the 24-hour model of mental behavior that Freud envisioned and that psychology has ignored until now because of lack of data. . . . Although this volume does not do it all, it does fill in some of the understanding of the complex brain mechanisms behind mental behaviors. As such it is a big step in support of those who have argued for the continuity of cognition across the wake-sleep states as well as affect regulation. Once they accept the challenge of accounting for cognition and emotional behavior across the 24-hour cycle, researchers into brain-behavior relations will find this book to be a resource of value.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019201
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/2005
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Donald Pfaff is Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at The Rockefeller University in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Preface and Dedication

1. Toward a Universal Theory of Brain Arousal

What Is to Be Explained? Ethology and the Mechanisms of Arousal

Operational Definition of Arousal

A Quantitative Approach to Physical Measurement of Generalized Arousal

The Neurobiology of Arousal Constitutes an Interesting Application of Information Theory

Claims for This Chapter and Introduction to Chapters Following

2. Anatomy Is Not Destiny, but a Little Neuroanatomy Helps

Multiplicity and Redundancy of Ascending Arousal Pathways Prevent Failure

Primitive "Master Cells" in the Brainstem Provide a Neuroanatomic Core that Theoretically Matches the Behavioral Data

Long-Distance Lines Tuning Local Modules

Summary and Hypothetical Implications for Human Behavior

3. Arousal Is Signaled by Electrical Discharges in a System of Nerve Cells

Traveling Up the Brainstem

Special Cases: Olfaction and Vision

Informational Content Governs Amplitude of Response in Neurons Related to Arousal

Cerebral Cortex, the EEG

Electrical Activity in Three Arousal-Related Biological Systems

4. Autonomic Nervous System Changes Supporting Arousal; the Unity of the Body

Patterns of Autonomic Responses

Reformulations

A High Information System Shows Coordination sans Correlation

Supporting Hormone-Dependent Behaviors

Summary

5. Genes Whose Neurochemical Products Support Arousal

Genes Associated with Classical Systems

Genes Newly Recognized

Concepts and Questions

Summary

6. Heightened States of Arousal: Sex Compared to Fear

Sex Behavior's CNS Mechanisms Require Arousal

Generalized Arousal Affects Specific Arousals and Vice Versa

Contrast Sex and Fear

Applicability of Information Theory

Libido and Stress in Humans

Summary

7. Major Systems Questions about Brain Arousal Networks

What Are Universal Operating Features of Arousal Systems?

How Do We Meet the Requirement for Rapid Changes of CNS State?

Sensitivity and Alacrity of Response, Yet Stability? How?

Does Automata Theory Apply?

Questions in the Time Domain

Questions about Spatial Properties

Thermodynamics, Information Theory, and Questions for the CNS

How Does a Sine Wave Impact a Sawtooth?

Unity from Diversity?

8. Summary and Practical Importance: From Biological Mechanisms to Health Applications

Main Points

Applications to Human Conditions

Works Cited

Acknowledgments

Index

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