MOST IMPORTANT PAPER
OUTLINE OF A FUNCTIONAL MODEL OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
1964



PAPER published in GENERAL SYSTEMS
1966
ORIGIN OF ORDER IN BEHAVIOR



PRINCETON OBITUARY


BIBLIOGRAPHY
of ďTYPED PAPERSĒ 1958-74



BIOGRAPHICAL MOVIE
25 Min



ON MENDEL
     

   Peter Putnam (b 1927, d 1989) was not widely known in his lifetime, however he exerted a powerful influence on his immediate circle of friends and colleagues.  His influence is likely to spread in the decades to come as the world catches up with his pioneering studies on the operation of the nervous system. Armed with this insight, (how the nervous system works) Putnam worked out its implications for virtually every branch of human knowledge, from the foundations of mathematics and physics, to psychology, the arts, social science, the diversity of human cultures, history, religion, and philosophy.

     

          DARWINIAN PRINCIPLES

  Putnam was the first person to see (1964 paper) that the human brain functions on Darwinian principles.

  The differentiation and emergence of new neural pathways in the brain manifests itself, in the world, as new human behaviors and new social institutions. The neuroelectric activity in the brain takes place on the order of milliseconds. Contrast this to the differentiation and emergence of whole new species in the natural environment, over decades, millenia, and millions of years.

  Though the time constants are different, the essential Darwinian principles of random variation and natural selection, identified by Putnam in his model as random search and relative dominance within the nervous system, are fundamentally the same.  This is clearly shown in: ON THE ORIGIN OF ORDER IN BEHAVIOR, Peter Putnam, Robert Fuller, "GENERAL SYSTEMS", 1966.  That short article (36 pages) is reproduced in full on this website.

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ON HEBB AND PUTNAM

In his book "The Organization of Behavior, A Neuropsychological Theory", published in 1949, Donald O. Hebb enunciated what is now known as the "Hebb Postulate", which states that "When an axon of cell A excites a cell B and repeatedly and persistently takes part in firing it, some growth process or chemical change occurs in one or both cells such that A's efficiency in firing B is increased." (p. 62)

Peter Putnam's "Neural Conditioned Reflex Principle" (NCRP) is an alternative statement of Hebb's Postulate, and involves an expansion of it to include the establishment and strengthening of inhibitory or negative facilitations, as well as the excitatory or positive correlations, which are encompassed in the Hebb Postulate. 

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EXTENDING HEBB 

Putnam's NCRP (Neural Conditioned Reflex Principle) reflects the critical importance of the inhibitory activity of the nervous system in the shaping of the pathways of relative dominance whose excitation leads to the emission of behavior.  No stable neural pathways or circuits of relative dominance with associated learned behavior could ever emerge without the fundamental activity of inhibition within the nervous system as the source of self-regulation of neural circuitry. 

Putnam's nervous system model provides an elaborate and detailed explanation of the interaction between both positive and negative facilitations within the nervous system that result in the differentiation of the patterns on neuronal activity that lead to learning of new behaviors and the ever-increasing complexity of the organization of the nervous system and of its effective behavioral emissions in the widest variety of environmental contexts.

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   MOST ORIGINAL IN PUTNAMíS WORK

What is perhaps most original in PP's work is that he tried to place our subjective experience of consciousness -- all the stuff we tell ourselves about our "selves" -- in the context of a mechanistic view of mind which sees it arising out of electrical interactions governed by the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. In other words there is the view that all brain function, including man's, is a Darwin machine in action, and on the other hand there is the interior view we have of ourselves as being "Barry" who likes X and hates Y and feels this and that and reacts this way and that way and it is all so very important to Barry whether he lives or dies, etc., etc., and how can this be made consistent with the idea that we are embodied in a very special type of self-organizing neurobiochemical machine operating in accordance with the laws of physics.

In a phrase how does consciousness relate to mechanism. PP explored this and probably did more to square these two perspectives than any other physicist/theoretical neuroscientist/ philosopher to date.

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   FIRST TO SEE

His Nervous System model had antecedents, especially in Hebb, and also the whole class of experimental findings of the neuroscience of his time (late 50ís early 60ís).  However, he was the first to see (late 50ís early 60ís) that the time was ripe and enough experimental evidence was available to begin the construction of an overall functional model of the operation of the nervous system.  The accumulating evidence from the neurosciences to date continues to confirm the broad outlines of his NS model.

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   CURRENT PRACTICE

Hebbian plasticity; distributed neural networks; computational and connectionist modeling; the idea of conflict and conflict resolution Ė these are ideas in Putnamís model that date to the late 50ís and early 60ís.  The model of the brain that is currently emerging within neuroscience gets closer and closer to Putnamís ideas, set down so many years ago.

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   BEST EXPOSITION

The best exposition of Peter Putnamís model is in: OUTLINE OF A FUNCTIONAL MODEL OF THE OPERATION OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM: Peter Putnam/Robert Fuller, 1964.  This paper is included on the website, below.

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