Re: What Is Behaviour?

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Thu Feb 29 1996 - 19:48:20 GMT

> From: "Dock, Jennie" <>
> Date: Wed, 28 Feb 1996 11:02:09 GMT
> What is behaviour, and what are the boundaries between behaviour and
> what the body does?

Actually, the question is about the boundary between what the BODY does
and what a part of the body, namely, the BRAIN does: between
"macrobehaviour" (bodily activity) and "microbehaviour" (brain activity).

Of course, the complication is that bodily activity is itself generated by
brain activity. But both are certainly "observables." Where does one end
and the other begin? Some test cases were pupillary dilation (when you
see something attractive or frightening), the galvanic skin response
(which is what the lie detector measures, the EEG (brain waves).

> I have always made this distiction by defining reflexes and
> behaviours. Reflexes are an unconscious, predictable reaction to a
> stimuli, whereas behaviour is where there could be a choice of
> actions.

You have just distinguished two kinds of behaviour: voluntary and
involuntary. But surely they're both BEHAVIOUR. (If not, why not?
Just about everything we DO has voluntary and involuntary components:
How could they ever be sorted out? And even if they were, why is one
behaviour and the other not?)

> For example, the dilation of the pupils, or brain waves-
> surely these are reflexes rather than behaviours.

Brain waves are more like involuntary behaviour than voluntary
behaviour (except in the case of biofeedback control experiments!), but
both of those are still behaviour, aren't they?

> This leads on to the
> question of whether an action can be behaviour if it is unconsciously
> performed. If a person is shown a picture of something repulsive, they
> may grimace, so this could be called a reaction. However, is getting
> out of bed in the morning, or making a drink of hot chocolate last
> thing at night, a reflex or a behaviour? These are performed
> unconsciously (at least by me) so they could be called reflexes. Maybe
> the question we should be asking is where the boudary between
> unconscious reflexes and conscious behaviour lies. Jennie

So far, you have distinguished voluntary and involuntary behaviour, and
perhaps conscious and unconscious behaviour (sleep-walking?). But it is
not clear at what point something the body DOES ceases to become
behaviour and becomes something else...

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