Monday Open Question: Does anyone actually know what a ‘reflex’ is?

It has been a while since I have done one of these…

As I was working on a fellowship application last week, I realized that I did not know whether what I was studying would count as a ‘reflex’ or not. What was the definition?  Is something not a reflex simply when we have a hard time mapping the input to the output? The canonical reflex arc kind of gives us one definition, but a good definition will be general – applicable to both mammals and non-mammalian creatures (dragonflies, antlions, worms). I asked on twitter and got some unsatisfying answers.

Is everything that is fewer than n synapses a reflex? What if those connections are mediated by state in some way (say, a peptide) so that some mapping from sensation to action depends on hunger, on mood, on whatever else? Are the only actions that are not reflexes those that are not dictated by sensory input…somehow? Is this just a lazy way to beat up on invertebrate neuroscientists?

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