A&O – DEEP – PHYSIOLOGY (6-05-2017)


13 c. medieval medicine – veins




Every living thing is a sort of imperialist, seeking to transform as much as possible of its environment into itself… When we compare the (present) human population of the globe with… that of former times, we see that “chemical imperialism” has been… the main end to which human intelligence has been devoted.  (Bertrand Russell, 1960)

 “La fixité du milieu intérieur est la condition d’une vie libre et indépendante” (“Constancy of the internal environment is the condition for a free and independent life,” (Claude Bernard  1865)

Physiology emphasizes the continual dynamic flux of countless interacting processes

Collectively these maintain HOMEOSTASIS:

the balance of multiple processes and multiple levels of organization that maintain steady state of the body 


OUR VASTLY COMPLEX organ, THE BRAIN, is at the center of our interest

Like all living entities, the brain can be characterizes according to three main processes:


METABOLISM A&O emphasizes our capacities and competence in detection and perception of phenomena, the most interesting of which may be works of art and artifacts. Then, the cognitive processes by means of which the “meaning” (“connections”) is established and applied to meeting our biological needs.  An, finally, how the meaning we extract is translated into adaptive action.  All this depends on meeting our most basic need: physiological stability–or at least predictability.  ETHOLOGISTS appreciate that all behavior occurs in and interacts with, a context that gives it adaptive meaning. [recall, “real animals in their real world”] Contexts are internal as well as external. We are organisms in the midst of an ecosystem–but current understanding is that the ecosystem is as much within us as outside.     

    • Metabolism is not just about energy—how the body handles nutrient fuel and converts it to useable energetic currency. Metabolism also encompasses synthesis, modification, and exchange of the building blocks for all aspects of cellular function and acts as a sensor and regulator of cellular activities, in which individual moieties within metabolic pathways influence cellular responses. A substantial amount of the energy taken in each day is required to simply sustain life; the energetic demands of physical activity are superimposed on a vastly integrated machinery. Metabolic status has been linked to innumerable diseases and disorders, including those most prevalent with age (13).” (Rhoads & Anderson 2021) 


    • DEVELOPMENT: “Pathways and factors that are readily targetable in young growing animals may not be as sensitive or even responsive in older animals, and young models fail to capture the aged environment and may miss interactions that emerge as a result of intrinsic differences in metabolic status” (Rhoads & Anderson 2021). (from A&O notes on DEVELOPMENT)
  • the BRAIN is at the center of our interests in understanding how communications works within and between our organs (and even our endosymbiotic organisms, biota) as well as the external environment.  The brain resembles a single organ, but it is a constellation of multiple functional units that are integrated with each other at several different levels of organization. It evokes a sense of a MOBILE of many carefully balanced elements such as an  Alexander Calder artwork  :  A very broad and compelling sense of the interaction of multiple units working together comes from considering the two hemispheres of the brain, understood after they are separated from each other:  Read Wolman’s news article from the journal NATURE (it includes a good account of split brain research that provided these insights)… (including comments by a split brain patient and an old (1970’s) short video of early research nicely explained–and not much has changed)

MUDDLE ALERT!  The perils of “localizationalist” views of brain function: The “narrow localization” of Broca and other nineteenth century neurologists, who likely enjoyed the waves of popular enthusiasm for phrenology .   Allan Schore presented Hughlings Jackson’s “view of how the brain operates … to emphasize the fact that the problem of emotion, [for example], cannot be understood with a localizationist perspective, one that still dominates neuroscience.  … Along these lines, in the context of cognitive neuroscience, Goldberg (1995) argues convincingly for a paradigmatic shift from modular to interactive brain systems (1996, p. 34).      

  • THE BRAIN IS NOT ALONE:  behavior (including consciousness) is NOT the brain alone: this is explored by philosophers and researchers that speak of EMBODIED COGNITION –the integration of the BODY and the BRAIN in the creation of MEANING.



There are many systems in the body which, because of misuse or misfortune, may have their services to the organism as a whole so altered as to be actually harmful.  Thus vicious circles of causation become established which may lead to death… The development of pathological functions in a system is quite consistent with its usual performance of normal functions…  The problem is presented of attempting to learn under what circumstances the transformation occurs.  And so, in an examination of the bodily changes which characterise the strong emotions, we may admit the common utility of the changes as preparations for action, we may admit also that such changes may become so persistent as to be a menace instead of a benefit, and we may also be stimulated by this contrast to attempt to understand how it may arise.” 

W.B. Cannon, Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear, and Rage.

in DEEP ethology, PHYSIOLOGY involves the proximate processes by which homeostasis is sought.  Each process and its host tissues and organs are in constant flux and communicate with each other in ways that enable every other process to make support or make compensating adjustments.  These communications are cell-signaling, endocrine processes, and the nervous system.  When the countless adjustments that internal processes make require an organism to act–especially change its relationship to its environment–we can observe the external signs of the internal processes: behavior.   Here the interface between the inner world of the organism and its outer world.  

     ETHOLOGY, The INTEGRATIVE BIOLOGY of BEHAVIOR is most fully understood from the perspectives of four broad areas (as biologists study them): DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY and how they are brought to bear on BEHAVIOR (“DEEP ETHOLOGY”

  • DEVELOPMENT–change in an individual across its lifespan–is both a consequence as well as a cause of physiological activity which begins at the subcellular level as genes are activated and deactivated … 
    • Genes operate in response to internal and external information, and different arrays of genes function in systems that have a distictive outcome– but these systems are more-or-less susceptible to environmental influence: they are (at one extreme “OPEN GENETIC PROGRAMS” (very responsive to their environments at one or more points) or “CLOSED GENETIC PROGRAMS” (very resistant to change).  Coordinate these ideas with the DEEP ETHOLOGY GLOSSARY entry for EPIGENESIS also DEEP ETHOLOGY NOTES for epigenesis].
  • ECOLOGY  is concerned with the environment in which an organism finds itself and with which it must cope to meet its BIOLOGICAL NEEDS.
  • EVOLUTION–change in organisms transmitted from past generations … and likely to be transmitted to future generations:  Ancestors and descendants.   
    • Maintaining metabolism and homeostasis is a priority, then other needs can be met. Challenges to meeting all these needs result in more-or-less STRESS: A stressor is any challenge–real or perceived–to meeting a biological need evokes a generalized response that reallocates energy to the processes that might cope.  The process can often be graded so that the physiological response to a stressor will match the seeming urgency of the coping response needed: from barely perceptible microstressors, to an existential crisis,  Responses can range from increased motivation (as in coping with cognitive dissonance) to a pitched emergency response.  COGNITION plays to this only when “lower” mechanisms (such as local reflexes) seem inadequate.


(an aside about TRAITS:  The organism possesses millions of traits, hierarchically organized and more-or-less interconnected within and between hierarchical levels.  Physiology, unlike descriptive morphology or cytology represents DYNAMIC traits.  They are the “manifest processes that sustain the health of an organism.”  We can typically take only a snapshot of a process although technology in recent decades has enabled multiple high-speed snapshots (movies, videos).  So it is always more-or-less of a fragment of the processes.  That may seem sufficient for an immediate question, but future questions will require more accuracy and precision.   This dynamism: always in flux or at least poised for rapid action is the essence of  the organism itself, but is is something we cannot yet capture.  See the DEEP ETHOLOGY GLOSSARY entry for TRAITS