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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index N > Category: Nervous System

Nervous System Quotes (34 quotes)

Besides electrical engineering theory of the transmission of messages, there is a larger field [cybernetics] which includes not only the study of language but the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society, the development of computing machines and other such automata, certain reflections upon psychology and the nervous system, and a tentative new theory of scientific method.
In Cybernetics (1948).
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Chemically induced hallucinations, delusions and raptures may be frightening or wonderfully gratifying; in either case they are in the nature of confidence tricks played on one’s own nervous system.
In 'Return Trip to Nirvana', Sunday Telegraph (12 Mar 1961), as collected in Kaleidoscope: Essays from Drinkers of Infinity, and The Heel of Achilles and Later Pieces and Stories (1981), 80 (source cited on p.72, footnote).
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Even today I still get letters from young students here and there who say, Why are you people trying to program intelligence? Why don’t you try to find a way to build a nervous system that will just spontaneously create it? Finally I decided that this was either a bad idea or else it would take thousands or millions of neurons to make it work and I couldn’t afford to try to build a machine like that.
As quoted in Jeremy Bernstein, 'A.I.', The New Yorker (14 Dec 1981), 57, 70.
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God may forgive your sins, but your nervous system won't.
Anonymous
This is not a statement made by Alfred Korzybski, although he quoted it and attributed it as "an old maxim" in the Introduction to the second edition of his book, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics (1941, 4th ed. 1958), xxxvii. It is included here to provide a correction for readers who find it listed elsewhere as an original quote he made.
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I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature… the belief has been forced upon me…
Firstly: Owing to some peculiarity in my nervous system, I have perceptions of some things, which no one else has… and intuitive perception of… things hidden from eyes, ears, & ordinary senses…
Secondly: my sense reasoning faculties;
Thirdly: my concentration faculty, by which I mean the power not only of throwing my whole energy & existence into whatever I choose, but also of bringing to bear on anyone subject or idea, a vast apparatus from all sorts of apparently irrelevant & extraneous sources…
Well, here I have written what most people would call a remarkably mad letter; & yet certainly one of the most logical, sober-minded, cool, pieces of composition, (I believe), that I ever framed.
Lovelace Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford University, 42, folio 12 (6 Feb 1841). As quoted and cited in Dorothy Stein (ed.), 'This First Child of Mine', Ada: A Life and a Legacy (1985), 86.
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I can say, if I like, that social insects behave like the working parts of an immense central nervous system: the termite colony is an enormous brain on millions of legs; the individual termite is a mobile neurone.
In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony(1984), 224. Note: Spelling “neurone&rdwuo; [sic].
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I have never had reason, up to now, to give up the concept which I have always stressed, that nerve cells, instead of working individually, act together, so that we must think that several groups of elements exercise a cumulative effect on the peripheral organs through whole bundles of fibres. It is understood that this concept implies another regarding the opposite action of sensory functions. However opposed it may seem to the popular tendency to individualize the elements, I cannot abandon the idea of a unitary action of the nervous system, without bothering if, by that, I approach old conceptions.
'The Neuron Doctrine-Theory and Facts', Nobel Lecture 11 Dec 1906. In Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921 (1967), 216.
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I propose to substitute the word 'autonomic'. The word implies a certain degree of independent action, but exercised under control of a higher power. The 'autonomic' nervous system means the nervous system of the glands and of the involuntary muscle; it governs the 'organic' functions of the body.
'On the Union of Cranial Autonomic (Visceral) Fibres w;th the Nerve Cells of the Superior Cervical Ganglion', The Journal of Physiology, 1898-99, 23, 241.
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It is now widely realized that nearly all the “classical” problems of molecular biology have either been solved or will be solved in the next decade. The entry of large numbers of American and other biochemists into the field will ensure that all the chemical details of replication and transcription will be elucidated. Because of this, I have long felt that the future of molecular biology lies in the extension of research to other fields of biology, notably development and the nervous system.
Letter to Max Perua, 5 June 1963. Quoted in William B. Wood (ed.), The Nematode Caenorhabditis Elegans (1988), x-xi.
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Men are noisy, narrow-band devices, but their nervous systems have very many parallel and simultaneously active channels. Relative to men, computing machines are very fast and very accurate, but they are constrained to perform only one or a few elementary operations at a time. Men are flexible, capable of “programming themselves contingently” on the basis of newly received information. Computing machines are single-minded, constrained by their “pre-programming.”
From article 'Man-Computer Symbiosis', in IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (Mar 1960), Vol. HFE-1, 4-11.
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Now, there are a very large number of bodily movements, having their source in our nervous system, that do not possess the character of conscious actions.
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One day when the whole family had gone to a circus to see some extraordinary performing apes, I remained alone with my microscope, observing the life in the mobile cells of a transparent star-fish larva, when a new thought suddenly flashed across my brain. It struck me that similar cells might serve in the defence of the organism against intruders. Feeling that there was in this something of surpassing interest, I felt so excited that I began striding up and down the room and even went to the seashore in order to collect my thoughts.
I said to myself that, if my supposition was true, a splinter introduced into the body of a star-fish larva, devoid of blood-vessels or of a nervous system, should soon be surrounded by mobile cells as is to be observed in a man who runs a splinter into his finger. This was no sooner said than done.
There was a small garden to our dwelling, in which we had a few days previously organised a 'Christmas tree' for the children on a little tangerine tree; I fetched from it a few rose thorns and introduced them at once under the skin of some beautiful star-fish larvae as transparent as water.
I was too excited to sleep that night in the expectation of the result of my experiment, and very early the next morning I ascertained that it had fully succeeded.
That experiment formed the basis of the phagocyte theory, to the development of which I devoted the next twenty-five years of my life.
In Olga Metchnikoff, Life of Elie Metchnikoff 1845-1916 (1921), 116-7.
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Physiology seeks to derive the processes in our own nervous system from general physical forces, without considering whether these processes are or are not accompanied by processes of consciousness.
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The central nerve chain of an invertebrate such as the lobster runs beneath its alimentary canal, whereas the main portion of its rudimentary brain is placed above it, in its forehead. In other words, the lobster’s gullet, from mouth to stomach, has to pass through the midst of its brain ganglia. If its brain were to expand—and expand it must if the lobster is to grow in wisdom—its gullet would be squeezed and it would starve.
In Epilogue, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), 516.
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The electric age ... established a global network that has much the character of our central nervous system.
Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man? (2nd Ed.,1964), 302.
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The fate of the physiology of the brain is independent of the truth and falsity of my assertions relative to the laws of the organization of the nervous system, in general, and of the brain in particular, just as the knowledge of the functions of a sense is independent of the knowledge of the structure of its apparatus.
Critical Review of Some Anatomical- Physiological Works; With an Explanation of a New Philosophy of the Moral Qualities and Intellectual Faculties (1835), 237-8.
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The inhibitory nerves are of as fundamental importance in the economy of the body as the motor nerves. No evidence exists that the same nerve fibre is sometimes capable of acting as a motor nerve, sometimes as a nerve of inhibition, but on the contrary the latter nerves form a separate and complete nervous system subject to as definite anatomical and histological laws as the former.
'On the Structure, Distribution and Function of the Nerves which Innervate the Visceral and Vascular Systems', The Journal of Physiology, 1886, 7, 40.
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The name chronic alcoholism applies to the collective symptoms of a disordered condition of the mental, motor, and sensory functions of the nervous system, these symptoms assuming a chronic form, and without their being immediately connected with any of those (organic) modifications of the central or peripheric portions of the nervous system which may be detected during life, or discovered after death by ocular inspection; such symptoms, moreover, affecting individuals who have persisted for a considerable length of time in the abuse of alcoholic liquors.
Published in Swedish in 1849. Translation quoted in William Marcet On Chronic Alcoholic Intoxication (1868), 21.
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The nervous system is the most complex and delicate instrument on our planet, by means of which relations, connections are established between the numerous parts of the organism, as well as between the organism, as a highly complex system, and the innumerable, external influences. If the closing and opening of electric current is now regarded as an ordinary technical device, why should there be any objection to the idea that the same principle acts in this wonderful instrument? On this basis the constant connection between the external agent and the response of the organism, which it evokes, can be rightly called an unconditioned reflex, and the temporary connection—a conditioned reflex.
The Conditioned Reflex (1935), 249.
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The question of a possible physiological significance, in the resemblance between the action of choline esters and the effects of certain divisions of the involuntary nervous system, is one of great interest, but one for the discussion of which little evidence is available. Acetyl-choline is, of all the substances examined, the one whose action is most suggestive in this direction. The fact that its action surpasses even that of adrenaline, both in intensity and evanescence, when considered in conjunction with the fact that each of these two bases reproduces those effects of involuntary nerves which are absent from the action of the other, so that the two actions are in many directions at once complementary and antagonistic, gives plenty of scope for speculation.
In 'The Action of Certain Esters and Ethers of Choline, and Their Relation to Muscarine', The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 1914-15, 6, 188.
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The road to the general, to the revelatory simplicities of science, lies through a concern with the particular, the circumstantial, the concrete, but a concern organized and directed in terms of … theoretical analysis … analyses of physical evolution, of the functioning of the nervous system, of social organization, of psychological process, of cultural patterning, and so on—and, most especially, in terms of the interplay among them. That is to say, the road lies, like any genuine Quest, through a terrifying complexity.
In 'The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man' (1966), The Interpretation of Cultures (1973).
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The role of inhibition in the working of the central nervous system has proved to be more and more extensive and more and more fundamental as experiment has advanced in examining it. Reflex inhibition can no longer be regarded merely as a factor specially developed for dealing with the antagonism of opponent muscles acting at various hinge-joints. Its role as a coordinative factor comprises that, and goes beyond that. In the working of the central nervous machinery inhibition seems as ubiquitous and as frequent as is excitation itself. The whole quantitative grading of the operations of the spinal cord and brain appears to rest upon mutual interaction between the two central processes 'excitation' and 'inhibition', the one no less important than the other. For example, no operation can be more important as a basis of coordination for a motor act than adjustment of the quantity of contraction, e.g. of the number of motor units employed and the intensity of their individual tetanic activity. This now appears as the outcome of nice co-adjustment of excitation and inhibition upon each of all the individual units which cooperate in the act.
Inhibition as a Coordinative Factor', Nobel Lecture (12 Dec 1932). Nobel Lectures: Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941 (1965), 288.
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There isn’t one, not one, instance where it’s known what pattern of neural connectivity realizes a certain cognitive content, inate or learned, in either the infant’s nervous system or the adult’s. To be sure, our brains must somehow register the contents of our mental states. The trouble is: Nobody knows how—by what neurological means—they do so. Nobody can look at the patterns of connectivity (or of anything else) in a brain and figure out whether it belongs to somebody who knows algebra, or who speaks English, or who believes that Washington was the Father of his country.
In Critical Condition: Polemic Essays on Cognitive science and the Philosophy of the Mind (1988), 269-71. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 180.
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This integrative action in virtue of which the nervous system unifies from separate organs an animal possessing solidarity, an individual, is the problem before us.
The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1906), 2.
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Three engineering students were discussing who designed the human body. One said, “It was a mechanical engineer. Just look at all the joints and levers.” The second said, “No, it was an electrical engineer. The nervous system has thousands of electrical connections.” The last said, “Obviously, it was a civil engineer. Who else would run a toxic waste pipeline through a major recreation area?”
Anonymous
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We are just beginning to understand how molecular reaction systems have found a way to “organize themselves”. We know that processes of this nature ultimately led to the life cycle, and that (for the time being?) Man with his central nervous system, i.e. his memory, his mind, and his soul, stands at the end of this development and feels compelled to understand this development. For this purpose he must penetrate into the smallest units of time and space, which also requires new ideas to make these familiar concepts from physics of service in understanding what has, right into our century, appeared to be beyond the confines of space and time.
Answering “Where Now?” as the conclusion of his Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1967) on 'Immeasurably Fast Reactions', published in Nobel Lectures, Chemistry 1963-1970 (1972).
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We can trace the development of a nervous system, and correlate with it the parallel phenomena of sensation and thought. We see with undoubting certainty that they go hand in hand. But we try to soar in a vacuum the moment we seek to comprehend the connexion between them … Man the object is separated by an impassable gulf from man the subject.
In 'Address Delivered Before The British Association Assembled at Belfast' (19 Aug 1874), in Fragments of Science for Unscientific People: A Series of Detached Essays, Lectures, and Reviews (1892), Vol. 2, 194-195.
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We come back then to our records of nervous messages with a reasonable assurance that they do tell us what the message is like. It is a succession of brief waves of surface breakdown, each allowing a momentary leakage of ions from the nerve fibre. The waves can be set up so that they follow one another in rapid or in slow succession, and this is the only form of gradation of which the message is capable. Essentially the same kind of activity is found in all sorts of nerve fibres from all sorts of animals and there is no evidence to suggest that any other kind of nervous transmission is possible. In fact we may conclude that the electrical method can tell us how the nerve fibre carries out its function as the conducting unit of the nervous system, and that it does so by reactions of a fairly simple type.
The Mechanism of Nervous Action (1932), 21.
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We have learned that there is an endocrinology of elation and despair, a chemistry of mystical insight, and, in relation to the autonomic nervous system, a meteorology and even... an astro-physics of changing moods.
Literature and Science (1963), 90.
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When we talk mathematics, we may be discussing a secondary language built on the primary language of the nervous system.
As quoted in John C. Oxtoby and B. J. Pettis (eds.), 'John von Neumann, 1903-1957', Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society (May 1958), 64, No. 3, Part 2, 128.
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With the nervous system intact the reactions of the various parts of that system, the 'simple reflexes', are ever combined into great unitary harmonies, actions which in their sequence one upon another constitute in their continuity what may be termed the 'behaviour'.
The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1906), 237.
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Worry affects circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system, and profoundly affects the heart. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.
Leonard Louis Levinson, Bartlett's Unfamiliar Quotations (1972). Cited in Bill Swainson, Encarta Book of Quotations (2000), 624.
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Zoocentrism is the primary fallacy of human sociobiology, for this view of human behavior rests on the argument that if the actions of ‘lower’ animals with simple nervous systems arise as genetic products of natural selection, then human behavior should have a similar basis.
…...
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[Mercurial medicines] affect the human constitution in a peculiar manner, taking, so to speak, an iron grasp of all its systems, and penetrating even to the bones, by which they not only change the healthy action of its vessels, and general structure, but greatly impair and destroy its energies; so that their abuse is rarely overcome. When the tone of the stomach, intestines, or nervous system generally, has been once injured by this mineral ... it could seldom be restored.
Quoted in Wooster Beach, A Treatise on Anatomy, Physiology, and Health (1848), 177.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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