This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
2002 Third Paper
What are impulses? We experience impulses every day. Why are you wearing your orange shirt today? Why did you pick a salad for dinner instead of steak? Why did you drive one route to work as opposed to another? I suppose some people are more spontaneous than others, but can impulses be called sporadic? Uncontrolled? Are they valid choices you have made - or are impulses something we do not realize we are powerless to? Can we choose to say certain things? Do we have any choices? Who, or what rather, is in control?
Some people have impulses that are not conducive to the decorum of society. Some people cannot explain their need, their impulse, to shout obscenities, to make strange faces at strangers, or to excessively mimic others around them. Tourette's Syndrome is one example of a disorder that causes a person to be overwhelmed by impulses to say and do things that they cannot control. Do impulses have varying degrees? And can some people more efficiently control these impulses, or channel the impulsive thoughts into something other than actions? Is our behavior conducive to the ability to monitor numerous impulses of all degrees? And I wonder what role I-function plays in behavior, if behavior is explained in terms of controlled impulses.
I wrote my last paper on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and the implications that this disorder has on our understanding of the I-function. OCD patients are overwhelmed by the impulse to do certain actions or rituals that calm their fears. These fears might be of germs, heights, strangers, or something less common. OCD sufferers are treated by attempts to help the patients teach themselves to overcome their impulses that relieve their unfounded fears. The question that arises is how the OCD sufferer can be aware of their unrealistic and unprecedented fears, but cannot control their impulsive behavior? We are not conscious of the blind spot when our brain 'fills in' the empty area created by the blind spot, and thus have no control over our blind spot. However, OCD patients are aware of their brain's autonomous control over their behavior that causes obscure actions and thoughts that are typical of OCD patients. The I-function is not involved in the blind spot, but is it or is it not involved in OCD behaviors? How can the OCD patient be aware of what is going on, but not be able to control himself? Surveys show that eighty percent of the American population experiences violent and upsetting thoughts, which are speculated to occur due to automatic associations produced by the brain (10). Can we control any of our thoughts? Are we all as helpless as OCD patients, but we just are upset by this fact to a lesser degree than OCD patients seem to be? Are these thoughts impulses which are an integral part to being human?
One can bring bodily processes under conscious control with biofeedback. Biofeedback may be defined as the technique of using equipment (usually electronic) to reveal to human beings some of their internal physiological events, normal or abnormal, in the form of visual and auditory signals in order to teach them to manipulate these otherwise involuntary or unfelt events by manipulating and displaying signals (11). This is an interesting concept when thinking about OCD patients, and also persons without a specific mental disorder. The ability to incorporate the I-function into facets of the human body's working is unimaginably amazing and unprecedented. The things that you do not normally know are going on in your body can become conscious and controlled through the help of mechanics and computers, what could be the implications of this? Even in the field of athletics, biofeedback plays a very important role, because people have discovered that proper training methods and the appropriate instrumentation can remove mental blocks preventing one from achieving higher performance. Biofeedback trainers have worked with ice figure skaters, marksmen, hockey players, gymnasts, runners at all levels, often at the elite olympic level. Biofeedback is the most direct method to change the biofield (both brain and body-field) and thereby improve physiological and psychic conditions permanently (psycho-neuro-cybernetics) (11). Have we, as intelligent beings, surmounted the boundries of our own consciousness and created an ability to allow our I-functions to reach beyond natural thresholds?
There are many kinds of impulses, on both macro and micro levels. On the most basic scale, impulses can be described in physics textbooks as relating to forces and momentum. Physics defines impulses as either instant and permanent or instant and impulsive. Instant and permanent forces are summed during integration. Instant and impulsive forces get reset to zero after occurring (12). Physics seems to claim "impulsive" as pulsating and non-cumulative; this does not take into account the cause of the force that is pulsating. There are impulse magnets that are made of a coil of wire that is non-magnetic when it is not charged, but when an electrical charge is sent through it, it creates a magnetic field. The electrical charge is "pulsed" or sent through the coil for a very short time via a capacitor bank (3). This is a magnet that impulsively attracts metal objects - it is not consistent. However, in terms of human beings, impulsive behavior is not so much displayed as "pulsating," but more so as intermittent and unmethodical. Impulsive behavior can be observed, but we cannot yet understand the source that is "pulsed or sent through the coil." For example, we do not know the cause of OCD, or why some people react differently than others to the same stimulus.
Cybernetics is a part of science that has attempted to understand and explain, and model with computer networks, the relation between input and output. The feedback system of the human neural system is complicated, and if more well understood can possibly offer a better understanding of human impulses. According to cybernetics, the human brain and nervous system coordinate information to determine which actions will be performed. Control mechanisms for self-correction in machines also serve a similar purpose. This principle, known as feedback, is the fundamental concept of automation. One of the basic beliefs of cybernetics is that information can be statistically measured in accordance with the laws of probability. Purposive behavior in humans or in machines requires control mechanisms that maintain order by counteracting the natural tendency toward disorganization (9). Computer networking has modeled the feedback mechanisms that are the basis of our own behavior, but our individual configurations are not well understood. Is creating hypothetical parallels between neural and computer programs able to aid in our understanding of automation, the involvement of I-function, and impulsive behavior? Computers do not have I-functions, so this may be a hopeless attempt at systematizing the basic human condition.
When you think of impulsive behavior, do you imagine it as being a good thing or a bad thing? I was very surprised that most of the places that "impulsive behavior" is discussed, whether in written work or conversation, is usually with a negative connotation. If impulsive behavior is not in accordance with society's norms, such as with a mental disorder, it is discussed with either pity or condescension. Why is it that impulsive, or unfounded, behavior is so immoral? Is it the fear that people have for the unknown? Or is it the fear that they themselves could possibly one day lose control of their impulses and become like those with so-called disorders? It can not be explained why Tourette's Syndrome patients can not suppress their impulsive tics and shouts. Even religion shows dissention towards impulses - and deems them as evil. As stated in the Old Testament, 6:5, God sees that the problem with man is his 'yetzer' ("impulse" in Hebrew), and 'yetzer mahshevet libo' (literally "the impulse of his heart's thoughts" in Hebrew). Here the Bible addresses itself to the psychological basis of the human condition, restating the classic philosophic problem; how could a good God create evil? The Bible only hints at the problem, namely that the qualities with which God found it necessary to endow humans for them to carry out their tasks included impulses that humans could not control. The political implications of this are extraordinarily important. Man is not naturally good but, as Freud put it, a bundle of impulses in desperate need of expert management. If God cannot control man's prior actions through what He has implanted within human beings, then any effort to establish a political framework for humanity must be based on this reality. Evil impulses must be recognized as inevitable and arrangements must be instituted for their management (7). Therefore, religion requires a person to be the best that they can be in managing evil impulses. But how can all impulses be evil? Impulses are the basis of human behavior and if every behavior was censored out of fear of evil, what would the human race become?
There are many attempts to not only understand what causes a person to behave upon impulses, but there are facets in life that try to control these impulses. Yoga and mediation are some forms of control. Instead of relying on and being moved by the normal human impulses, one seeks contact with the soul deep within and acts from that center with its guidance. In effect one suspends and offers up one's own impulses, feelings, understanding and will power so that a higher impulsion, truer knowledge and more powerful will can act through one. By this means the seeker gradually comes more in contact with a higher power and the higher power enters into and takes hold of his entire inner life and all one's outer circumstances (8). Turning one's energies inward and focusing on perception of one's inner thoughts and feelings seems to be one method that works for some people to control impulsive thoughts and behaviors. I think that prayer and religion work in this same way, in a calming manner to the human race. But I cannot help but wonder, what is the great societal need to manage one's own inclinations and impulses? Are they dangerous? Evil? A form of weakness? Does impulsive behavior show a loss of control of our I-function?
Some impulses, such as artistic impulses, are not weaknesses. Musicians and artists create their works of art based on impulses that they learn to appreciate and become more aware of. Art schools encourage students to become more aware of their own tastes, inclinations, impulses and passions (6). Also, following one's inclinations, or "gut feeling" about a person or a situation can be advantageous to successfully surviving that situation. This borders more on natural instinct, but I think that impulsive behavior must have an instinctual basis because neither instinctual behavior nor impulsive behavior seem to involve the I-function. These behaviors occur without thought, almost automatically. Do we need our I-function for survival then? If instinctual and impulsive behaviors occur everyday without our own forethought, with out our conscious I-function aiding in our decisions, then what is the purpose of our I-function? If impulses and instinctual behaviors occur almost intrinsically, to what degree can we change or alter our responses - or can we at all if the I-function isn't naturally involved?
One example of a weak impulse is that of addiction. These addictive cravings are, in reality, spontaneous nerve impulses. Even in the longer term, overwhelming cravings are outside the addict's control. The overwhelming craving for drugs or alcohol that endlessly defeats addicts is in reality a neurological impulse - and they have absolutely no control over the craving when it is triggered. All they know is that they want, need, and feel that they MUST have the drug. This "desire," this craving, is not a free choice (4). The rat's nerve impulse to use cocaine has nothing to do with free will. He will chose to have cocaine until death. This shows that impulsive behavior is independent of free will, and thus also free of I-function involvement.
Another impulse that displays weakness includes the followers of fad diets. The typical first impulse of those attempting to solve a weight problem is to start a diet, and the newer the diet the better. This almost never works permanently. While weight is usually lost by dieting, it rarely stays off, because its causes have not been eliminated In order to improve our mood we crave carbohydrates, which increases the serotonin level in the brain. However, when this is coupled with poor impulse control the problems are compounded (5). Can impulse dieter's help their weakness for over eating and trying fad diets?
Our society thrives on toying with people's impulses. The next time you are in a supermarket, take notice of the lighting, music and store displays. The goal of the supermarket is to keep you there as long as possible. Market research estimates that approximately $1.89 is spent for every minute a consumer is in the store. Techniques such as the physical location of store items, displays, and slowing down the shopper with lighting and familiar music will entice the shopper to spend more. The most common staples in the American diet are bread and milk. Ever notice that the milk and bread are at opposite sides of the grocery store? By stocking those items farther apart the shopper is exposed to more impulse shopping and spends more (1). There is great power in initiating a wanted impulse buying response with specific selected triggers chosen by advertising companies. Advertising companies have mastered the techniques that make the buyer most susceptible to buying. The advertising companies create situations where I-functions would not have time to affect the decision to buy. Items that are on sale are most likely at the end of the aisle so the shopper will be more likely to put them into the shopping cart. Lack of I-function seems to be a pre-requisite for impulse behavior.
What is notably interesting is our society's legal definition of impulses. In 1929, the Supreme Court case Smith v. United States introduced the "Irresistible Impulse Test," which emphasized an "uncontrollable impulse" to commit the crime, creating a new type of mental state that could be identified as insane. Can the presence of certain abnormal mental conditions remove blame from the offender? And how can the courts or any qualified doctor accurately determine if someone is legally "insane"? This also presents an interesting moral consideration of accountability-who is held accountable for what crimes, and who defines accountability? The irresistible impulse had to be strong enough that the offender could not stop himself even though he knew the act was wrong. How could the offender do such a thing when they indeed have an I-function? Is there some sort of abnormality in their I-function? Could they possible be aware of the malice they were demonstrating, and not be able to willfully stop? Because of these skeptical questions, many states are hostile to the insanity defense. In fact, in three states (Montana, Idaho and Utah) the insanity defense has been abolished. However, recently the insanity defense, though not widely used, has gained much notoriety in recent cases like Hinkley, the Unabomber, and even Lorena Bobbitt. The 1984 Insanity Defense Reform Act defines the legally insane individual as one that, "as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, is unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his acts."(2). This alteration of the insanity defense occurred because of the skepticism surrounding this 1984 trial involving the guilt of Hinkley. Hinkley pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to his attempted assassination of Reagan in 1982. The skepticism following his pardon ensued the alteration of the insanity plead. The new 1984 Insanity Defense Reform Act makes it impossible for the I-function to have been involved in the offender's malicious action. Now, a person has to prove that they had no conscious knowledge of the consequences of their deed - that it not only was an uncontrollable impulse, but that the deed was also done incoherently.
Human impulsive behavior is something that seems to be instinctual, and without the involvement of the I-function. Impulses are a part of everyone's behavior, some of which you are conscious of, and some that you aren't. The question is, how can you be aware of your impulses when they occur without any conscious consideration on your part? And if science can alter our ability to control and understand our human impulses, how is this evolving our own I-function?
1)The marketing of food and diets in America.
3)National High Magnets Field Labratory.
4)Addiction: It's a Neurological Disorder.
5)Dieting Impulses Lead to Weight Loss Blind Alleys.
6)Art School Requirements.
7)Noah, The Basic Flaw in Human Impulses.
8)Some Fundamentals of Yoga.
10)What is OCD?
11)Biofeedback: Origin and Summary.
12)Forces and Impulses.
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