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From the simple to the complex
Anatomy by Level of Organization

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Our most primitive behaviours (like our reflexes) are concerned with the present. These are the only kind of behaviours in which reptiles and all the other less evolved animals can engage.

In humans, our learned behaviours add our past experience to our present actions. Behaviours of this kind did not really begin to develop until the first mammals emerged.

Our imagined behaviours respond to the present through past experience, by anticipation of the future result. Though present in rudimentary form in other primates, imagination is the most specifically human characteristic.


Whatever behaviour we initiate, be it drinking, playing, reading, making strategic alliances, or making eyes at someone, it is always because we are subjectively feeling certain needs.

On the psychological level, these needs generate a state that we experience as a motivation to act.

But an endogenous motivation is not enough to reach the threshold that triggers action. Likewise, not every external stimulus that is meaningful to us will necessarily trigger a behaviour.

A behaviour will not occur unless there is a concordance between the two. If you are not feeling hungry, you will not eat that roast that’s just coming out of the oven. And even if you are feeling hungry, you will not sit down at the table if there is nothing to eat.

The following diagram shows how a specific situation leads to a specific neural activity pattern in a person’s brain that in turn leads to a specific behaviour.

Credit: Jacob L. Driesen

Note how the specific behaviour goes back and modifies this person’s environment, which in turn affects this person’s brain. Thus, even outside the organism, we find the same kind of feedback loops that are essential to its internal functions.

Tool Module: Cybernetics

As far as the ultimate origin of behaviours is concerned, you will have to go back to the origins of the universe itself to find the answer!

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