GRE Reading Comprehension
By 1950, the results of attempts to relate brain processes to mental experience appeared rather discouraging. Such variations in size, shape, chemistry, conduction speed, excitation threshold, and the like as had been demonstrated in nerve cells remained negligible in significance for any possible correlation with the manifold dimensions of mental experience.
Near the turn of the century, it had been suggested by Hering that different modes of sensation, such as pain, taste, and color, might be correlated with the discharge of specific kinds of nervous energy. However, subsequently developed methods of recording and analyzing nerve potentials failed to reveal any such qualitative diversity. It was possible to demonstrate by other methods refined structural differences among neuron types; however, proof was lacking that the quality of the impulse or its condition was influenced by these differences, which seemed instead to influence the developmental patterning of the neural circuits. Although qualitative variance among nerve energies was never rigidly disproved, the doctrine was generally abandoned in favor of the opposing view, namely, that nerve impulses are essentially homogeneous in quality and are transmitted as "common currency" throughout the nervous system. According to this theory, it is not the quality of the sensory nerve impulses that determines the diverse conscious sensations they produce, but rather the different areas of the brain into which they discharge, and there is some evidence for this view. In one experiment, when an electric stimulus was applied to a given sensory field of the cerebral cortex of a conscious human subject, it produced a sensation of the appropriate modality for that particular locus, that is, a visual sensation from the visual cortex, an auditory sensation from the auditory cortex, and so on. Other experiments revealed slight variations in the size, number, arrangement, and interconnection of the nerve cells, but as far as psychoneural correlations were concerned, the obvious similarities of these sensory fields to each other seemed much more remarkable than any of the minute differences.
However, cortical locus, in itself, turned out to have little explanatory value. Studies showed that sensations as diverse as those of red, black, green, and white, or touch, cold, warmth, movement, pain, posture, and pressure apparently may arise through activation of the same cortical areas. What seemed to remain was some kind of differential patterning effects in the brain excitation: it is the difference in the central distribution of impulses that counts. In short, brain theory suggested a correlation between mental experience and the activity of relatively homogen- eous nerve-cell units conducting essentially homogeneous impulses through homogeneous cerebral tissue. To match the multiple dimensions of mental experience psychologists could only point to a limitless variation in the spatiotemporal patterning of nerve impulses.
The author suggests that, by 1950, attempts to correlate mental experience with brain processes would probably have been viewed with
- A indignation
- B impatience
- C pessimism
- D indifference
- E defiance
Correct Answer: C