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An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 2000, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions and topics.


Do you think differently about behavior now that we know something about neurons, and if so, how?

Name: Paul Grobstein
Subject: week 6
Date: Thu Feb 24 17:56:48 EST 2000
Some of the wrote here last week, web papers notwithstanding, and I've appended those to the previous week's file, if you're looking for them.

Really pleased by the wealth of perspectives/information provided by the web papers, most of which are already posted here (thanks to your commitments to web skill development).

And ... we're through (pretty much) talking about the properties of neurons. Nice lead-in in class today: there MUST be something more than bags of saltwater with variably ion permeable membranes; could be other some other properties of neurons or something about how they're combined at higher levels of organization. Before we go into that, though, it might be fun to revisit the last question you wrote about here: is there anything about behavior to be learned from studying the properties of individual neurons and, if so, what might it be? We hadn't yet talked much about properties of neurons when you wrote about that question, and now we have. How have your feelings on the matter changed (you can look back at your earlier answers). Do you think differently about behavior now that we know something about neurons, and if so, how?

Or maybe revisiting the old question might not be fun? An alternative would be to browse one or another of the newly posted web papers, and write about how it relates to the old queston, or to your own paper, or to other things that have been on your mind. Or, as always, you can write about anything else that this week's classes made you think about.

Name: Stephanie Wall
Subject: who's the boss?
Date: Sat Feb 26 11:42:29 EST 2000
I think we have a lot to learn about behavior from studying the properties of individual neurons. First, we now know that neurons may have regions of high Na+ permeability and may spontaneously generate action potentials. So behavior can arise purely for internal reasons. To me, this is the strongest piece of evidence yet that the brain and behavior are equivalent because it seems to explain, in part, how thinking occurs. But why do some regions of neurons have high Na+ permeability (enabling them to start signals spontaneously), and others do not? And what, really, do variable membrane permeabilities have to do with “thinking”, or for that matter, with behavior? The mechanics of the connection are becoming harder to deny, but it still doesn’t intuitively make sense to me that thinking, or behavior, can be reduced to ionic concentration gradients, selective permeability and passive current flow.

From looking at neurons, we can also see that signals can be changed inside the brain by how much neurotransmitter is released at the synaptic cleft. Also, signals can stop inside the brain, for example when an action potential reaches the end of an axon and stops because there’s not enough current to depolarize the postsynaptic element. Does this explain how I can memorize material for an exam, then promptly forget it? Is this the “in one ear and out the other” phenomenon? Also, since action potentials are created anew in each neuron (depending on a summation of all inputs), we know that each individual neuron is an opportunity to change or stop a signal. Since there are 1012 neurons in the brain, there seems to be an inconceivably large opportunity to change a signal from the outside, or to start or stop a signal. How does this happen in an orderly manner? When each individual neuron adds or subtracts all inputs from hundreds of other neurons, and that signal gets passed on to be added to hundreds of other signals, it seems to me that the output/behavior is random. Who’s in charge here?

Our discussion of the anatomical specificity of neurons helps with these questions, but also raises other questions such as, why doesn’t the signal from the outside world (i.e. thunder) determine the signal produced in the brain? If the meaning of a signal in the brain depends solely on the line carrying it, then I have some questions about whether any sights, sounds, tastes, smells, exist at all. If we can taste Beethoven and hear a sunset, then what of “objective” reality?

Name: Jennifer Webster
Subject: neurons and behavior
Date: Sun Feb 27 11:36:32 EST 2000
Our discussion of the properties of neurons over the past week or so has explained two significant aspects of behavior: signals can start from withing the nervous system, eventually generating an output of some sort and an input can trigger a signal which stops withing the nervous system, never generating an output. These are two key ideas of the nervous system as a box theory that have now been accounted for on a molecular level.

Our study of the properties of neurons has also led to other concrete conclusions which influence the way we think about behavior. For instance, the concept that it takes time to think comes from an examination of the basic properties of neurons and action potentials. Also, understanding that an action potential is triggered due to the sum of many synaptic potentials gives us a picture of neurons being linked in webs rather than chains. This vision of neuronal networking leads us easily to think about larger brain structures and about neurons functioning as groups, which will very likely give even greater insights into behavior.

The final aspect of neuronal function that greatly influences my feelings about behavior is the idea that a behavior is usually the result of removing an inhibition rather than an actual excitation. This view changes the perspective from which we look at almost any behavior.

Name: hillary bobys
Subject: feb 27
Date: Sun Feb 27 12:24:27 EST 2000

i am unsure of how the past few weeks of class have affected the way i think about behavior. i have been taught basic biological psychology many times over and it is impossible for me to look at the information presented in class with a fresh view. these are subjects i have been thinking seriously about for almost three years now, so i will share some of my current thoughts, although not necessarily stemming from this class in partiular.

i am a proponent of the emergent mind hypothesis. as a biopsych student, i think of behavior molecularly, but i cannot discount the idea of mind, soul, etc. as beyond the brain. i believe it is a property that emerges as a result of exactly the neural fuctioning we have been discussing. if for no other reason than adding a little mystery to life, than this is what i believe.

in previous classes, i have dissected brains of a few different organisms. to talk about a molecular level of the brain and then to see it as whole, tangible object that can be held in one's hand is an awe-inspiring thing. i most interested in helping people, so i often see the brain as a puzzle. manipulating the puzzle works on all levels in the brain, but seeing and touching such a complex piece of equipment is a powerful feeling. being able to go from ions and neurotransmitters to the brain as an organ is a a challenge i hope we soom face.

Name: Maria Vasiliadis
Subject: History
Date: Sun Feb 27 16:57:45 EST 2000
I was very interested in the topic Mrisdula decided to write about. I think we can learn a lot from history and the past. The paper leaves readers proud of the discoveries made and the progress that has been accomplished in brain research, it also leaves you hopeful for future findings and discoveries.

From the Egyptians to the Greeks various scholars had their own explanation of the brain and how it works. No matter how ludicrous it might seem to us today, I find it fascinating that people believed what scholars told them. Plato’s theory of the brain is a prime example of this. Since he thought the brain produced semen and “flowered” the female, men were thought to be dominant and women were excluded from most activities. Imagine if this was flipped our society might have been totally different. The faith we sometimes have in science and scientists theories is fairly strong. Today I believe we are in a much more proof oriented basis, were we are trained to be somewhat skeptical of what others say. Back then I don’t think they had that opportunity.

Another important point made is that in order for progress to be made individuals need to be curious enough to explore and find answers to the unknown and not allow faith alone in higher powers and beings be the explanation.

Science made the brain interesting but philosophy kept the interest going. Descartes’ claim to fame, or at least one of them was the saying “ I think, therefore I am”. Descartes’ philosophy as Mridula stated is called dualist because he claimed that the world consists of two sorts of basic substances--matter and spirit. Matter is the physical universe, of which interacts with the body but can, in principle, exists without it. It is interesting to think of the implications that these ideas have on brain and behavior, in relation to what we are discussing in class.

Name: Melissa
Subject: Just Think Positively
Date: Sun Feb 27 17:36:20 EST 2000
I decided to read Cameron's paper because it sounded like it might be complementary to the topic that I did-namely psychoneuroimmunology. And it was--in fact this paper does in fact make reference to psychoneoroimmunology. I thought that the paper was insightful and easy to read --good job! The whole area of the impact of imagery fascinated me most. When I was reflecting on psychoneuroimmunology I was thinking mostly about how to change the inputs to your nervous system (factors like social support, fun and relaxation, and putting yourself in positive situations), but with imagery it, as Cameron explains, draws upon the brain's ability to start signals from the middle of the box, just through imagining that you are surrounded by the people who love you even when they are not there or you can visualize yourself swimming through the ocean on a warm day, even if you are in fact sitting in a stuff office--that's pretty neat!

I was also interested to read the part about the impact of endorphins and can attest to the fact that I feel much better both physically and emotionally after a long jog (although I also like Cameron's endorphin release of choice-laughter!)

One question that I had about Cameron's paper, or one thing to think about is the multiple roles that optimism can play on health and recovery. I think that in addition to the impact that attitude (optimism vs. pessimism) can have in terms of the capabilities of the immune system (positive thinking--Cameron's focus) there is also the point that those who are optimisitc have better heatlh-related behaviors. They adhere with the medical treatment at a higher rate and just take better care of their body in terms of such things as exercise and nutrition. Just a thought to add on...

Name: Anna Arnaudo
Subject: Human Concerns/ Outside the Classroom
Date: Sun Feb 27 19:47:17 EST 2000
Two events that occurred outside of this class have prompted me to think about things that relate to this class. One was when I was sitting with my best friend reading an article in the Bryn Mawr bulletin about the labyrinth on campus. The woman that designed the labyrinth is a McBride that was trained in shamanism and an anthropology major like my best friend. In this article, the woman said that she had been diagnosed with cancer and the day before she went into surgery she rid herself of the cancer (by using her shamanism I believe). As my friend and I were discussing this woman, she promptly asked me “the scientific one” if I “believed” in such things. I, with hesitation, responded no and that maybe her change in condition was caused by some sort of natural remission. When looking at the web papers, this discussion caused me to take interest in Cameron’s paper. After all, just thinking positively was similar to the mind over matter issue raised by this woman. Although I did not find a concrete answer, what I read was very interesting. I have read about the placebo effect and double blind studies before. They appear to be undeniable. Yet I must say I still have doubts about this whole power of positive thinking concept.

I was at home last weekend and while watching TV I came across a TV movie from a book that I read in eighth grade- Flowers for Algernon. Basically, this doctor develops a technique that can change a person’s intelligence; therefore a mentally disabled person can be put on the intellectual par of a non-disabled person using this technique. However, there was a glitch in the procedure; after a while the effects of the technique reversed and the person went back to their own “natural” intelligence level. I was interested in the science of this whole technique and the possibility of this actually happening- both of which of course were glazed over in the movie. It seems impossible- way more so than repairing spinal cord injury. But I was more interested in the human aspects of this story. This man had a terrible time adjusting to his new life after this technique to subsequently have all of this supposed progress ripped away from him in the end. It made me wonder if he were not just better off being left alone. I do not see what he went through as progress. It is more an ethical issue than a biological one- a pattern that I increasingly see within my viewpoint of the sciences. I can see that others in this class are considering very human questions like these in their papers- like the effects of art on underprivileged children and just thinking positively.

Name: Sarah S Kim
Subject: Neurotransmitters
Date: Sun Feb 27 21:09:16 EST 2000
Since the beginning of the semester, it has been stated that the brain equals behavior. But since we have been studying and discussing the properties of neurons with more detail, my understanding of how brain equals behavior is made more clear with the role of the neurotransimitter in the brain. Researching for my web paper, I found that neurotransmitters were the chemicals we have been talking about in class. They are the chemicals that are secreted by the neuron to either stimulate or inhibit the signal, depending on what type of neurotransmitter it is and what region of the brain it is doing its work at. Whether these neurotransmitters decide to stimulate or inhibit greatly effects what kind of output is generated. In class, we discussed how inhibition of signals effects behavior -- how turning off something can DO something. For example, we talked about how cutting off the head of the chicken causes it to run around due to the removal of the inhibition. Because these neurotransmitters effect what kind of behavior is outputted, injecting other chemicals inside our brain would effect behavior due to the chemical effect it has on the role of the neurotransmitter. For example, alcohol is a drug/chemical that effects the neurotransmitters in the brain by increasing its activity -- by causing it to stimulate or inhibit more exteremly. This explains the different behaviors such as impaired judgement due to alcohol.
Name: Soo Yi
Subject: weekly essay #5
Date: Sun Feb 27 22:46:23 EST 2000
Since I don't have anything earth shattering or profound to say, I'd like to just comment on Susan's paper about Parkinson's disease. I think it's pretty interesting that scientists are trying to find ways to cure the disease instead of chemically treating the symptoms. They tried grafting which didn't work because the the grafts weren't able to make synapses with the nerves and therefore could not efficiently produce the necessary amount of dopamine reconfirming the notion that synapses are essential for communication between the systems in our bodies. It was cool to find out that implanting fetal tissue can form synpases and in turn produce dopamine. Even though this has only been done on laboratory animals, it's just amazing to know that people are finding out all these new ways to cure such devastating disease like Parkinson's.
Name: Vandana
Subject: brain, behavior
Date: Mon Feb 28 11:05:23 EST 2000
I found the last discussion about "seeing thunder and hearing lightning" in class quite interesting. I had not thought about crossing nerves and what happens when that is done. I think that it is beginning to emerge that the answer to whether the nervous system is equal to behavior has much evidence for it. I read Andrew's paper on OCD and the Brain and I thought it was really interesting that currently there are two main reasons that OCD occurs, one based on neurological data and the other on psychological data. Previously, I was not aware that there are theories that OCD is hereditary. It was great to learn how SSRIs work and affect seratonin levels, the prime neurotransmitter shown to be involved in OCD. I thought the figures were very helpful in understanding the difference between a brain of someone with OCD and one without OCD.
Name: Elissa Braitman
Date: Mon Feb 28 11:57:12 EST 2000
I, too, couldn't think of anything to add, really, to this week's discussion so I also decided to read a paper and comment on it. Because it's a topic that seems especially relevant to the present (the warmer weather and sun), I read Laurel's paper on Seasonal Affective Disorder.

It was interesting to learn that women suffer from SAD with three times more frequency than men. Also that light exposure affects serotonin and people with SAD cannot effectively regulate its levels and, therefore, crave carbohydrates to increase those levels.

My question now is, if this disorder follows a seasonal pattern (with an onset in fall and disappearance in mid spring), then what happens if it gets really sunny and warm for a few days in the middle of winter? Does the person feel normal again just for that time and then fall back into depression when normal winter weather returns? I guess so if it has to do with melatonin levels... affected by the amount of light present.

I'm also curious to know exactly how many people suffer from this (I don't know how many people the researchers Laurel mentioned were able to interview on the subject). Certainly a lot of people around here complain about feeling down, having less energy, etc in the midst of winter gloom, so how many of them are suffering from this Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Overall, very interesting and informative!

Name: Susan Lee
Subject: switched signals
Date: Mon Feb 28 13:56:41 EST 2000
Ever since we have discussed the notion of switching our eyes and ears I have been fascinated by the topic. At first it took me a long time to in fact understand that this is possible in theory because the way in which signals are stimulated do not matter as long as the AP is initiated. My roommate and I discussed the implications of seeing sound and hearing sight. The discussion got fairly technical as we tried to figure out for what ranges of sound that we find audible would be translatable into our range of sight. This topic raises a lot of interesting questions...such as could blind people be given sight based on what they hear and with this type of sight could they develop (not evolutionarily) some system analogous to echo-location.
Name: chrissy
Subject: confusion
Date: Mon Feb 28 15:08:49 EST 2000
Ok, naturally as the course progressed, I felt like I would have a stronger grasp on exactly what the brain and behavior are capable of. But...much to my surprise, I have more questions concerning confusion than I am comfortable with ( but I suspect that this method of constantly asking questions to disprove my point is the only way I might succeed in finding any type of answer).

To mix up matters just a little bit more, I have the the term "neurons have a mind of their own" stuck in my head. Now, since we learned that neurons do not necessarily have to be stimulated from an outside source, it dawned on me that what we perceive, touch, feel etc might not even exist. So how can a "normal" person (ie someone like a psychiatrist) judge what is reality and what is an alternate universe in his patient's mind. Aside from this, we've all come to the conclusion that everyone's brain is different, so in this case, how could we define normal. In our society, we define words and terms by their opposites- black versus white, good versus bad. But under these conditions where neurons can be affected from internal sources, how does that make us re-evaluate our world?

In conclusion to the neurons having a mind of their own. We learned about the changes in permeability and the ion flows that occur to bring about action potentials and resting potentials. The activity of neurons is the same, it just depends on the location and linkage of boxes. I find it weird that they play such a passive role in that the physical changes carried out are so deatched from the purpose. In other words, the neurons have no idea why these physical changes occur. This leads me to want to construct some kind of hierarchy within the nervous system, separating the actual physical function from the importance, amount of control and purpose of the brain, spinal cord and boxes.

Name: Andrew
Subject: Response 5
Date: Mon Feb 28 16:28:36 EST 2000
The discussion about why a chicken runs around when it's head is cut off due to the removal of the inhibition was interesting. So the chicken's impulse is to run around, but the brain stops the impulse. What are the human impulses? This kind of leads back to the discussion about Reeves- wouldn't his impulses from neck down be removed? So the human impulse is to do nothing? The same action in one animal is an impulse and in another animal it needs to be stimulated?

Since Thursday, when we discussed that nerves can be crossed and a person could then see thunder and hear lightening, I have not stopped thinking about this. It's fascinating. It is not the actual structures used to detect the senses, but the parts of the brain that the signals are sent to that are important. Can there be a sixth sense? Or maybe a seventh or who knows how many others that exist in certain regions of the brain, but do not have any connections to the outside world? Maybe a part of the brain would be able to function as an additional sense, but there is no way that signals can be sent to it. If somehow another sense were located, would it be possible that by attaching either the optic or auditory nerves to this location of the brain, the new sense could be manifested?

Name: rebecca
Date: Mon Feb 28 19:47:37 EST 2000
This idea of the origin of the neurons as oposed to teh type of signal reminds me of a discussion i once read in a book and have asked a number of people to their great confusion. The question is what is purple. I have had arguments with people over the color of various items which has lead me to the realisation that people can percieve things quite differently. It makes me wonder how other perceive the same sounds and colors i do. A large part of children's training in the first few years is teh training that aligns societys "norms" with the perceptions that they are born with. As a matter of fact our kindergartens test of enough maturity to enter was to ask teh kids what teh color of common objects were if they did not answer right then they were not ready.

In this example the behavior of identifying colors by name is the same in most people but the brain setup can be different.

Name: Cameron
Subject: potpourri
Date: Mon Feb 28 20:30:02 EST 2000
Well after reading several of the comments posted and thinking about some of my own there are a couple of subjects I would like to comment on. First of all I too am fascinated by the idea that if ever neuron in every compartment of the brain has the same potential to carry the same signals through action potentials and receiving the same neurotransmitters it is amazing we have different "areas" of the brain that control different things and only those things, such as sight, hearing, etc. If you placeda couple of hundred of the sight neurons with those specific neurotransmitters in the hearing section will they continue receiving "sight" signals or will they use their neurotransmitters to conduct new "hearing" action potentials. If the neuron has a specific set of neurotransmitters that carry specific inhibitory or excitory signals I think that there would be a bit of a confusion to say the least and those sight neurons would continue to try and send a sight transmission but be shut off when the hearing neurons intercepted the signal and could no longer conduct due to mixed signals. It would be an interesting experiment.

My second query has to do with the "more for removing inhibitions than excitory purposes" aspect. There are many chemicals that are very effective at causing changes in brain and behavior for their removing inhibition properties and now I understand that is true becuase they are working with the neurons own "desire" to act this way. Alcohol as mentioned before is definetely good at "seemingly" removing a persons inhibitions toward social scenes, or reckless behavior and this is a direct reflection of how the chemical ethanol effects the chemical signals in the brain. This chemical affects the neurotransmitters in several areas of the brain to increase activity in removing inhibitions and allowing many more signals to pass that are normally regulated. This increase activity and allowed activity of normally "controlled" activities in the brain can account for the dizziness a drunk person feels, the desire to speak everything on ones mind, or even in extreme cases to commit a behavior that the person "knows" is not right (the control over what paths the neurotransmitters remove inhibitions or excite has been overridden by the chemicals in alcohol) Another direct reflection of what happens in the brain is projected in behavior.

Name: Laurel Edmundson
Subject: Positivity
Date: Mon Feb 28 21:40:13 EST 2000
I find the topic of Cameron’s paper, Just Think Positively, extremely interesting. Having had no scientific proof to support it, it has been my experience that people who are able to think positively have an easier time in life all around—-they feel healthier, emotional difficulties and physical injuries seem to be less traumatic, relationships are improved, etc. I might also put exercise, or physical activity, in the category of methods to naturally (without medication) improve one’s state of mind. Those endorphins, extra oxygen, and natural light (as I found doing research on seasonal affective disorder) can really turn your mood inside out. Despite the fact that most of us know optimism and activity are healthy, a million excuses often prevent both-—not enough time, fatigue, sickness, a headache, or just an especially rotten day. If only we could make ourselves remember how much better we feel when we stop moping and get off our duffs…I do wonder about those people who seem perpetually invigorated and optimistic-—are they more proactive in their positive thinking/doing? Or are some people naturally more optimistic/energetic? That might be an interesting research topic. (There is something to be said for over-optimism, however. Namely, it’s annoying and I think unrealistic.)
Name: Mridula Shrestha
Subject: questions
Date: Mon Feb 28 22:03:09 EST 2000
A couple of classes ago, we were talking about how we only percieve a limited subset of reality, in the sense that we can't detect real events like electromagnetic radiation, etc. Now we're saying that if we cross the optic and auditory nerves, we'll see thunder and hear lightning. I am a little bit confused.

As cool as the whole seeing thunder and hearing lightning thing sounds, I'm not sure I understand it completely. So let me get this straight: we're saying that neural signals are basically the same, and what imparts meaning to them is their location, i.e., where they end up, right? I know you said that just as we do differentiate between different kinds of sounds and sights, we will then also be able to differentiate between them if our cranial nerves were crossed, only we'd see different tones of music and hear different shades of colors, etc. This is difficult to digest, because we seem to be saying that blue could be a sound, and all it would take to make us hear it is some simple-sounding neurosurgical meddling. So blue could then also be a smell, a texture, a taste? Is there anything that is characteristic of blue that is its own intrinsic property, not subject to our scalpel in the way that it will be percieved? I think of blue as a particular range of wavelengths of light: so as i understand it, this idea does not change the fact that it is a range of wavelengths of light, right? All this means is that the wavelengths of light induce neural signals that find their way to auditory areas in ther brain, and we hear the color? So how would blue sound? If it is the rate of firing that makes the distinction between colors or between sounds, etc, does this mean that every color that we recognize to be a distinct color invokes a characteristic rate of firing? If so, how do these characteristic rates for colors compare with the characteristic rates for sounds? Can we chart a relationship between the two, i.e., can we equate a certain wavelength of light with a certain decibel of sound? Are we saying blue could smell like a rose if the rates matched?

Also, this seems to imply that we can see with our ears and hear with our eyes, which seems a little counterintuitive. Are we saying a blind person, with terrible optic defects, can chose to sacrifice hearign to regain sight? Could you recieve auditory input and translate that into visual messages? Can we see flavors without the input ever going through our optic lenses? Has any such animal research been done? Are there any people that actually have some sort of networking mix up--it doesn't sound too impossible--that see sounds and hear sights? How do their perceptions compare with ours?

It all sounds so subjective (i realize we were supposed to leave that word alone for now, but i can't help it). It seems really amazing that we all can agree that something is red or high pitched or sweet. How can we ever be sure that we're looking at the same thing, and understanding it to be the same thing? I remember learning in a psych class that some ethnic groups, which don't have a name for the color say blue, will note no greater distinction between blue and green than between two shades of green. Seeing is believing takes on a whole new meaning.

Name: Hajira Amjad
Subject: week 5 response
Date: Mon Feb 28 23:10:03 EST 2000
In a conversation with a friend of mine recently, we were talking about (I actually do not recall what we were talking about) but she told me how she had experienced sleep paralysis. I found it fascinating and decided to read Hiro Takahashi's paper on sleep paralysis.

I not only learned about sleep paralysis but also more about the process of sleep. One thing I found interesting was how the brain sends out signals to the body during REM to control muscle contraction so that a person's body does not re-enact the dreams. It is during this phase that if a person wakes up, he or she feels paralyzed and can not move. In this case it can be observed how the brain is behavior. For instance there was the example of how the man with REM sleep disorder behavior acted out his violent dreams.

As I worked on my paper on OCD, read Hiro's paper on sleep paralysis, and in light of the class discussion on neurons, it struck me on how it does seem to be true that the brain is behavior. It seems that many behavioral problems can be at least partly attributed to chemical imbalances within the brain. I find myself, although still a little hesitant, leaning towards an agreement with the statement that the brain is behavior.

Name: Sangeeta
Subject: week 5
Date: Mon Feb 28 23:32:52 EST 2000

Since writing my paper, I, as most people, have realized that the brain does equal behavior. Or atleast, that is what most scientists are presenting it to be. Although there are experiments validating the role of the environment in affecting a person's behavior, the underlying statement in most of the studies that I read for my paper was that the brain affects all behavior.

When I read Christina's web paper, I was especially curious to read about the effect of art on an underprivileged child. I had heard of this premise before and did not understand the data supporting this until this paper. Her webpaper evidenced that the environment is not negated in behavior. Rather it affects the brain, which in turn affects our behavior.

Name: Ann Mitchell
Subject: inhibition
Date: Mon Feb 28 23:42:15 EST 2000
I find the concept of inhihbition at the level of neurons fascinating. The molecular proprerites of a neuron, as applied to a behavioral level create a whole host of other problems and other questions. I'm interested in how these groups of neurons then translate into a chronic inhibited state. I too, thought of alcohol as an excellent example proof that we can conceive of "normal" behavior as inhibited all the time. This raises issues of identity and definition of self. Is the unihibited person a "more real" version of ourselves? What is "normal"? Why do people seem to enjoy such a state of inhibition? Why does it allow them to act in ways uncharacteristic to their "normal" personality? Why would people want to do that? Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not exactly sure that it is the case that everyone is less inhibited when they are drunk. Does everyone conceive of themselves as uninhibited when they are drunk, or is it only those people that are more inhibited in the first place?

I also think that this example of alcohol exemplifies the profound importance of the role of drugs in research with neurons. Without the ability to use drugs to disturb the normal homeostatsis of the nervous system, it would be difficult to conduct research in this area. Another example I can think of is the bzd's, or antianxiety drugs. Is it justified to use these drugs in order to decrease anxiety so that we will "function better" under stress? Does functioning differently under stress as a result of a drug neccessarily mean that we are "functioning better"? Who decides what "better" means? The same issue arises with anti-depressant medication and bi-polar subjects. Some of the most creative, intelligent people in the world were manic depressive and only manifested their genius in their manic phases. If they had lived today, would their creativity be normalized in a wasteland of prozac?

Name: Laura
Subject: reality
Date: Tue Feb 29 00:25:55 EST 2000
I too was fascinated by the idea of seeing what we normally hear and hearing what we normally see. In response to Mridula, my sense of the whole idea is much like what you proposed: blue ekicits a certain firing pattern within a neuron, so if we spliced that neuron onto an auditory neuron, we would "hear" the sound that has the same rate of firing that "blue" does. I think, however, that it is important to keep in mind in this discussion that we have as yet been unable to connect neurons in the CNS (recall our discussion of rejoining the spinal cord). While the concept of "switching senses" is interesting, we are not at a point where we would be able to have blind people "see" their environment by cutting the auditory nerve and asting it to the optic nerve. I found it interesting as well that the idea that "blue" is only seen as different from "green" if there is a concept for each was brought up. It seems to me that this is sort of like the studies have shown that babies can detect all of the phonemes, but as they get older and dfon't use some, they are unable to detect some of these differences. It seems that there is some adaptive mechanism that allows for babies, who perceive all differences, to maintain senstitivity to differences only that are important in their environment. i think it is important to remember this when thinking about the results of crossing the auditory and optic nerves in a person in order to "see" one's environment. Because the signals now go to the visual cortex, sounds that may not hae been distinguished as different may be "seen" as different if the corresponding rates of firing had been differentiated previously.

So many more implications of and problems with this crossing exist that I am content that for the time being it is not a possibility. However, thinking of the brain in this way has made me more convinced that, in a sense, the brain is all there is. While there are certainly signals coming in from the outside world, what makes our world the way that it is to us is where and how the brain processes these signals. Realizing how different, say, our perception of "sky" would be if things were switched, I see that the brain does, in a very strong sense, make oir reality.

Name: hiro
Subject: thunder and lightening
Date: Tue Feb 29 08:30:52 EST 2000
how are the neurons organized inside of the brain? i know that bones consist of many units called Haversian Canals, which are cocentric layers of cells and extracellular matrix. are there any units like that in the brain to form the "rinkled chunk"?

now, we have discussed about difference between visionary and auditory images, and said that the spots in the brain which process the information are different. is that the only difference? i think not only the place in the brain but also the organization of the neurons are somehow different in various spots in the brain. and, the difference in the organization causes the information to be processed as vision or sound.

back to the lightening and thunder issue. i am little confused about this. i understand that if we cut the nerve cords from eyes and ears and switch them, we "hear" the lightening and "see" the thunder. what i am not sure is: how do we "see" the thunder? does that mean that when we hear a thunder, the brain processes it as a vision and create a image of lightening in the brain? or do we see something really different?

in addition to the difference in the processing places in the brain, i think that vision and hearing are different because of the different receptors. eyes are designed to capture light. ears are designed to sense the sound wave, which vibrates the ear drum. don't they have important roles in vision and hearing even if their nerves are switched?

Name: Andrew Jordan
Subject: Lightning and thunder
Date: Tue Feb 29 13:08:08 EST 2000
I was intrigued by the idea of crossing auditory and optical neurons. It seems to me however, that if the brain is set up in functional units i.e. a hearing section and a seeing section, that those sections would be hardwired to respond to certain kinds of stimuli. If we crossed the two would it actually be possible for the hearing part of the brain to organize the data coming in from the optical nerve, or would we just hear static or a chaotic jumble of... whatever? How does the brain actually organize incoming data? In the case of crossing neurons, would the seeing part of the brain make something sensible (i.e. something recognizable) out of the incoming information from the auditory nerve? If so it raises interesting questions about brain organization. If something which is mismatched in the above sense, is actually made sense of by the brain, what accounts for this higher level ordering of things?

The other interesting question that occurred to me from this "crossing" notion, was whether the functional sections of the brain are developed as a person grows, or whether they are there from the very get go. If they are developed as the individual grows, would a crossing of optical and auditory functions in a baby actually produce a child who "heard" with the eyes, and "saw" with the ears? I guess that the idea of a completely different sensory apparatus shouldn't be that surprising. Different animals brains (bats for instance) probably have entirely diferent ways of processing the incoming information.

Name: amse hammershaimb
Subject: sigh. normal.
Date: Tue Feb 29 23:10:18 EST 2000
i am interested in exploring one of today's topics; do neurobiologists follow or create "norms"? not being a neurobiologist, my thoughts are limited, but here it goes. i think that norms shift throughout time. professor grobstein said that normal is a medical concept. i think normal is a way to describe trends observed in chemical activity in both the brain and the body. along that line, neurobiologists do define the range of the aforementioned trend. they are the scientists that conduct studies and observe chemical trends that affect behavior. they follow the trends, but define/create them. normal as it applies to the individual, follows the same pattern - a trend in the individual's chemistry. what is commonly observed has always served as the defintion of normal in society. as with most things, however, normal changes from circumstance to circumstance and context. i personally hate the word normal. what a way for others to define me - someone else's opinions and set of experiences applying to the me observed from a distance! why discuss the abstract normal in class when we can just use the term as a name for certain ranges within certain trends? i am interested to know how the rest of the class defines normal. i wouold rather substitute common for normal. i don't know if that is much better, but i think it is. i think normal is a judgement as unjustiifed as bad and good. why am i trying to define somehting that i believe isn't worth defining? something for which there is no definite answer? the whole thing makes me feel as frustrated as reading The Dialogues. it was just an idea that was thrown to the side in class and that i would really like to read more about. what is a normal definition of normal? what is our class's common definition of normal? or will we all decide that the definition of normal is a personal thing varying from person to person with no two identical definitions?

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