Reflex Action – A Brief Encounter

Mind is not an object: It’s a phenomenon. Human mind is an unimaginably complex phenomenon. The complexity of human mind is attributable to very intriguing but specific functions of human nervous system. The phenomenon of mind can metaphorically be described as the product of nerve actions. The nerve actions in this context are confined to the brain and the spinal cord which constitute the nervous system.

The whole actions and reactions of the living organism, the humans including, is guided and controlled by the string pulls of nervous system. The nervous system that constitutes the brain and the spinal cord ensures existence and survival of the organism. Any damage or destruction of the nervous system hampers or even destroys the mental and the body functions of the organism. Reflexes are the string pullers that stage-manage the nervous activities to enable the body to carry out its functions in the arena of existence.

A reflex is an action that takes place automatically in response to the stimulation of a nerve. The action is without conscious effort. This explanation conveys the essence of a reflex action. But it gives only a general idea. Though the reflex action is automatic and without conscious efforts, it still needs explanations as how reflexes are formed and how response to stimulation produces the action automatically without conscious efforts.

Ability to think, evaluate, assess and act is the faculty of human brain. May be, animals too think but their thinking is confined to areas of sheer survival. Animals cannot evaluate, assess, invent or create. They consume what is available around, they engage in what is facilitated by inborn instincts.

Humans communicate with the external environments through the sense organs. They are analyzers of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and sense of touching. These sensory experiences take place as a result of the excitation of the respective sensory centres in the cortex of the brain in response to stimuli emanating from the external environs. The entire process of execution of the sensory experiences is managed and controlled by the reflexes.

The reflex action is divided into two typical categories. They are the unconditioned reflexes and the conditioned reflexes.

Unconditioned reflexes are nerve connections which already exist at the time of birth. In bare language they are instincts. They facilitate such inborn body functions as heart beat, breathing, feeling of hunger and such other physical functions which sustain the bare subsistence of the organism as a living entity. These reflexes are there in animals, birds as well as humans. These reflexes are not formed on the basis of conditions. They are inborn nerve connections.

Conditioned reflexes are those nerve connections which are formed in the cerebral cortex after the organism is born. They develop as a result of the reactions of stimuli emanating from internal and external environments. The involvement of an unconditioned reflex is necessary for the formation of a conditioned reflex.

The formation of a conditioned reflex is well exposed by the famous experiments of Dr. Ivan P. Pavlov, on his pet dog. The dog while being fed with food, the sound of a metronome was introduced in its auditory environs. After repeating the experiment for a number of times, the dog started salivating without the presence of food when the metronome sound was introduced. The nerve connection which excited the salivary centre in the cerebral cortex of the dog in the absence of food was a conditioned reflex. The conditioned reflex here was formed with the active involvement of the unconditioned auditory experience imparted by the metronome while the dog was ingesting the feed.

Organism cannot exist after birth in the varying conditions on the earth without conditioned reflexes. The conditioned reflexes equilibrate the organism with the varying external environs. It is the conditioned reflexes that make the animal world as what it is today. The temporary conditioned nerve connections of reflexes make the animal world to survive and to exist as long as the nervous system continues to function. Reflex is the fountain head of mind-body consonance to equilibrate and adapt the organism with the changing environments of the material world.

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