Traditionally studies of brain function have focused on task-evoked responses. By their very nature, such experiments tacitly encourage a reflexive view of brain function. Although such an approach has been remarkably productive, it ignores the alternative possibility that brain functions are mainly intrinsic, involving information processing for interpreting, responding to and predicting environmental demands. Here I argue that the latter view best captures the essence of brain function, a position that accords well with the allocation of the brain's energy resources. Recognizing the importance of intrinsic activity will require integrating knowledge from cognitive and systems neuroscience with cellular and molecular neuroscience where ion channels, receptors, components of signal transduction and metabolic pathways are all in a constant state of flux.