Mode and Behavior

30 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012

Date Written: August 1, 2012


This document collects a number of blog posts on the theme of behavioral mode. In this form the idea originates with Warren McCulloch, one of the grand old men of neuroscience and cybernetics. This conception would also give basic credence to the psychoanalytic conception of organ modes — oral, anal, and genital — though, ironically, McCulloch had little use for Freud — he entitled one of his papers “The Past of a Delusion” as an allusion to Freud’s The Future of an Illusion.

McCulloch’s idea is simple: The most basic decision any vertebrate can make is to commit to some mode of behavior — such as exploring, eating, courting, fighting, playing, etc. Any more specific direction is elaborated from within one of these modes. What gives MuCulloch’s idea its force is his argument (and accompanying model) that modal commitment was mediated, not by the most sophisticated and evolutionarily advanced brain tissue, but by the most elementary and evolutionarily old brain tissue. This tissue, known as the reticular formation or the reticular activating system, is at the core of the brainstem. In effect, it has veto power over the cerebral cortex, but also, the power to activate the cortex.

The seven posts in this document explore the implications of McCulloch’s conception of behavioral mode. In particular, these seven posts explore the implications of mode for our understanding of art and our construction of the self. They also lay the foundations for a pluralist view of the world.

Keywords: McCulloch, brain, reticular formation, brain stem, poetry, art, mind, neuroscience, music, language, pluralism

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., Mode and Behavior (August 1, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

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