Brain Arousal and Information Theory: Neural and Genetic Mechanisms (Hardback)
  • Brain Arousal and Information Theory: Neural and Genetic Mechanisms (Hardback)

Brain Arousal and Information Theory: Neural and Genetic Mechanisms (Hardback)

Hardback 224 Pages
Published: 01/12/2005
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Arousal is fundamental to all cognition. It is intuitively obvious, absolutely necessary, but what exactly is it? In Brain Arousal and Information Theory, Donald Pfaff presents a daring perspective on this long-standing puzzle. Pfaff argues that, beneath our mental functions and emotional dispositions, a primitive neuronal system governs arousal. Employing the simple but powerful framework of information theory, Pfaff revolutionizes our understanding of arousal systems in the brain.

Starting with a review of the neuroanatomical, neurophysiological, and neurochemical components of arousal, Pfaff asks us to look at the gene networks and neural pathways underlying the brain’s arousal systems much as a design engineer would contemplate information systems. This allows Pfaff to postulate that there is a bilaterally symmetric, bipolar system universal among mammals that readies the animal or the human being to respond to stimuli, initiate voluntary locomotion, and react to emotional challenges. Applying his hypothesis to heightened states of arousal—sex and fear—Pfaff shows us how his theory opens new scientific approaches to understanding the structure of brain arousal.

A major synthesis of disparate data by a preeminent neuroscientist, Brain Arousal and Information Theory challenges current thinking about cognition and behavior. Whether you subscribe to Pfaff’s theory or not, this book will stimulate debate about the nature of arousal itself.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674019201
Number of pages: 224
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


The author’s contribution to our understanding of arousal mechanisms [is] both innovative and challenging… His most remarkable contributions are his repeated mention of the interplay between arousal systems and manifestations of cognition and emotion, his focus on information theory as a means of understanding arousal systems as universal response potentiators, with bilateral and bipolar properties. This book will be read avidly by those who are interested in any of the above-mentioned issues and by those who simply want to get a fresh look at the concept of arousal. In either case, the author’s intentions will be unmistakable: challenging readers to combine evidence from different fields and integrate it into a series of questions to guide much-needed research. - Maura Pilotti, Metapsychology Online

Brain Arousal and Information Theory is a major step in the development of the 24-hour model of mental behavior that Freud envisioned and that psychology has ignored until now because of lack of data… Although this volume does not do it all, it does fill in some of the understanding of the complex brain mechanisms behind mental behaviors. As such it is a big step in support of those who have argued for the continuity of cognition across the wake-sleep states as well as affect regulation. Once they accept the challenge of accounting for cognition and emotional behavior across the 24-hour cycle, researchers into brain–behavior relations will find this book to be a resource of value. - Rosalind Cartwright, PsycCRITIQUES

Donald Pfaff’s book is highly innovative. He addresses a classic problem in neurobiology which has lain fallow for decades. Central nervous system arousal is fundamental to emotional and cognition yet I don’t know of any other book or article that so thoroughly delineates the mechanisms and function of arousal in the brain. In addition to reviewing a huge body of neuroanatomical, neuropsychological and genetic data, Pfaff proposes a daring new theoretical approach based on information theory. Despite the technical nature of the book, Pfaff’s main points are easy to understand. Pfaff has virtuoso command of the literature and has given us a brilliant set of new thoughts. - Dr. Helen Fisher, Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University, author of Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love

Donald Pfaff provides fresh ideas for the framework of an old concept, ‘arousal.’ He takes the reader through the history of how the concept evolved and embraces the modern era by incorporating genetic findings into the established neurobiology underpinning arousal. This is not simply a review of the subject but a synthesis of old and new experimental findings to provide new ideas generated by a deep understanding of the subject. Updating one’s knowledge is a pleasing experience, but being provoked to reconsider the subject in a new way is intellectually rewarding. Donald Pfaff achieves this distinction in Brain Arousal and Information Theory. - E. B. Keverne, University of Cambridge and Fellow of the Royal Society

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