Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2002

Forum Archive - Week 8

We got the idea of the "I-function" originally from thinking about Christopher Reeves, way back at the beginning of the course. It arose again in thinking about "pain", and again in connection with thinking about spastic paralysis resulting from neocortical damage. How useful is this concept? In thinking about behavior? In thinking about the nervous system? What new and relevant observations might come from our current inquiry into the input side of the nervous system?

Name:  Kathryn Rorer
Subject:  Encapsulated "I" Function
Date:  2002-03-29 03:07:18
Message Id:  1635
Throughout this course I have focused on the idea that the "I" function provides the greatest evidence for the brain=behavior theory. However, now it seems that the "I" function is not as essential for the theory as I thought. The brain has many ways of doing the same things, and some of these don't reach the "I" function. First came the idea of propriceptors and phermones. Both of these generate action potentials but do not reach the "I" function so we don't experience them. However this doesn't mean that they don't affect our behavior, they do. This also raises the question of whether extra sensory perception exists. It seems plausible that it does since the brain is capable of having sensory channels that don't reach the "I" function. Many people report having an experience where they know something, but didn't experience learning it and can't explain why they know it. A similar phenomena which is far more common and much less disputed is tacit knowledge. This is when a person can do something well, but can't always explain to someone else exactly how they are doing it. Many activities are performed better without thinking, such as driving, riding a bike, or playing a sport. All these things needed to use the "I" function when the person was learning the skill, but after a while the activity becomes automatic or involuntary. The "I" function seems to work better with a limited number of things. However it is very common for people to do many things at once which probably means many of these actions that could be voluntary are being performed involuntarily. This is important because it highlights the idea the brain has more than one way of doing things.

All of these ideas support the encapsulated "I" function theory which is that the "I" function gets some information but not all sensory input. This theory could help explain why we are sometimes unaware why we feel a certain way or why we do something. At the same time, it is a little scary to think that we can be influenced to act a certain way by something that we have not experienced and are totally unaware of. It suggests that we don't actually have as much control over our bodies as we like to think we do. It also suggests that the "I" function is a small piece of the nervous system and perhaps we don't use it as much for everyday activities as I thought we did.

Name:  Claire A. Albert
Subject:  A Beautiful Mind
Date:  2002-03-30 21:32:48
Message Id:  1641
We've often discussed "A Beautiful Mind" as the Schizophrenic character's illusions and world are all real to him. I find this issue intriguing as his perception of things are just as real to him, as day and night is real to me. As we have learned, corollary signals create perceptions and expectations. I wonder if his illusions are due to corollary discharge signals which have gone haywire? A malfunction in his re-afferent loop could also account for such behavior as outputs can cause inputs in his NS, thus causing never-ending signals which could trigger such illusions.

The Andrea Yates recent trial created a stir of controversy and put the issue of mental illness in the forefront. It cannot be denied that the murder of five children is a horrible crime which should be punished. However, I was a bit disheartened as I heard the prosecutor claim something along the lines that "mental illness should never be an excuse." Such statement simply illuminates the ignorance which our society has toward such disease.

Name:  Hilary Hochman
Subject:  subjective experience, objective behavior
Date:  2002-03-31 16:24:33
Message Id:  1645
I think the insight that experience is subjective has a critical but distinctly limited utility in scientific inquiry: keeping it in mind keeps us honest and accurate as we observe and analyze behavior, but keeping it always at the forefront of our minds would leave us paralyzed and unable to pursue any scientific inquiry based on [more or less] objective observations. The only legitimate fields of inquiry would be introspection and epistemology -- yuk. How can I know what another feels? I can't -- I can only extrapolate and infer, and constantly and consistently test my hypotheses and reexamine my always provisional conclusions. I agree that the smart money would be on the proposition that apparently sentient organisms with nervous systems organized along similar lines to our own feel pain, but perhaps the bet will never be definitively settled and that money will remain in escrow.

Looking forward, I'm curious to see how analyzing the perception and use of input [stimuli] will [and will not] revise our model of output [behavior].

Name:  Shannon Lee
Date:  2002-04-01 00:52:44
Message Id:  1653
I previously thought that most of my behavior was controlled by the I-function, discounting behaviors such as breathing and heartbeat. After further thinking and class discussion, I have started to notice how much I do without consciously choosing each step of the behavior. It is very interesting that one can drive home and never remember the process after arrival. How do these processes in the brain work? Does the I-function, after deciding to drive home, turn over the behavior to motor and sensory neurons to be executed. At what point, what amount of stimulus must occur, to trigger the I-function to refocus on the behavior such as driving home? If all goes smoothly on the trip home the I-function may not be aroused often to the process, but if another car suddenly pulls out in front of the car, the I-function becomes very alert and conscious of the situation. It seems we do things all the time without the I-function, but it is constantly checking in and out to make new or more important decisions. What makes the I-function tune into different behaviors? Does the I-function receive increased stimulation, demanding attention focused to specific neurons, when a conscious decision must be made. It is very interesting that so many behaviors can be carried out without the I-function, and that many of the behaviors are best carried out without the I-function.
Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  The "I-function"?
Date:  2002-04-01 11:09:07
Message Id:  1655
As always, you're free to write about whatever has been on your mind, but there's a good start from the above on the following if you'd like to weigh in ...

We got the idea of the "I-function" originally from thinking about Christopher Reeves, way back at the beginning of the course. It arose again in thinking about "pain", and again in connection with thinking about spastic paralysis resulting from neocortical damage. How useful is this concept? In thinking about behavior? In thinking about the nervous system? What new and relevant observations might come from our current inquiry into the input side of the nervous system?

Name:  priya
Subject:  more questions
Date:  2002-04-01 12:06:53
Message Id:  1656
Our recent discussions of sensory perception have raised several questions in my mind. In particular, if the only way that we know the world around is through sensory perception, then does an external reality exist outside of our brain? It seems that such a scientific perspective lends credence to the Humean (David Hume?) philosophy.

Another question I have concerns how individual minds experience things differently and in the same way. For example, we can all agree that sugar tastes sweet. On the other hand, a glass with water in it can be seen as half full or half empty. I'm not talking merely about semantics, but about how people see things. In particular, I wonder what determines sensory focus. In class we talked about the extent to which people experience motion sickness. We said that the fact that some people experience motion sickness and others do not can be explained in terms of an individual's sensitivity to mismatch between expected and actual input. It seems to me that this is another instance that illustrates that there is something beyond the brain (however small it may be). More specifically, one's ability to tolerate mismatch is determined in part by previous experience and genetics.

In addition, how does our model account for the conscious and unconscious alteration of the ability to tolerate levels of mismatch? In particular, certain senses can be refined in response to specific circumstances. Alteration is also clearly exhibited by individuals who have lost the ability to use one of their senses.

Name:  Rebecca Roth
Subject:  "I-Function"
Date:  2002-04-01 13:35:42
Message Id:  1659

The "I-Function" seems to be useful in explaining behavior. However, so many behaviors are very complex. It can allow certain instances of behavior to be explained that might otherwise not have. Do we really have conscious control over our actions or are we just a bundle of neurons firing certain patterns that results in our behavior? Are all our actions/decisions really on the conscious level? We would want to think that we make conscious decisions. It just sounds safer. To me it seems as if the "I-Function" has to change with experience. Do all species have an "I-Function"? Can we even show that they have an "I-Function"? It is important to look closely at involuntary and voluntary functions. But to me it still seems hard to look at how exactly we can control and examine the "I-Function"? If we look at people who can't move their legs, they are still exhibiting some form of behavior. Aren't they? They know they can't move their leg—which shows that somewhere there aren't connections taking place. Some people are more sensitive to pain than others—is that a result of their "I-Function"? Do our "I-functions" really make us the people who we are? Is the "I-function" making our final decisions?

Name:  Kelli
Subject:  The problem of pain
Date:  2002-04-01 18:35:32
Message Id:  1660
I would like to return to the topic of pain for a minute. Last week I asked in class whether or the deliberate, focused supression of pain could be effective, and it was concluded that this would be true in certain people, to a varying degree.

I have a particular interest in the biofeedback method of pain treatment. Biofeedback is simply a tool that allows an individual to become conscious of, and control, certain physiological processes. All three levels of the nervous system are targeted: the voluntary, autonomic, and sympathetic. Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of such treatment when used in concert with other medical treatments, and when used as the only method of treatment.

In reading about biofeedback, one of the most compelling statements to jump out at me explained that chronic pain can "rewire" the nervous system to become more pain sensitive. This was used to promote the utility of biofeedback, but I thought it held particular relevence to our discussions.

We have discussed how the nervous system affects the individual, either with or without reaching the I-function. And we considered pain in the context that a mismatch occurs. However, how does prolonged mismatch reroute the nervous system into becoming more sensitive? And how can biofeedback alter these patterns of mismatch? In a scientific context, does biofeedback prove that the I-function can indeed alter the body? Does this support mind-over-matter to a greater degree than we previously acknowledged?

Name:  Amy Cunningham
Date:  2002-04-01 19:16:50
Message Id:  1661
One of the interesting issues brought up in class was the issue of sensing and perception, and how we're not conscious of all of the information that our nervous system gathers (through proprioreceptors, hormones, etcetera). To me this says that there is a separation between the I-function and other parts of the nervous system, but that these perceptions taken in from these other parts could influence the I-function in some way.
Name:  Sarah Eberhardt
Subject:  Muscles in regard to the I-function
Date:  2002-04-01 19:23:08
Message Id:  1662
In high school anatomy classes, we learned about smooth muscle versus skeletal muscle: skeletal muscle was under our conscious control, while smooth muscle was controlled by a part of the subconscious. However, while the physical division between the two types of muscle cells is clear-cut, the actual degree of consciousness needed to control the skeletal muscles varies greatly. At some times, it seems almost as if the part of the brain that controls the smooth muscle is running some of the skeletal muscle as well. Much of our actions seem to be carried out on automatic pilot. In other words, the I-function of the brain does not come into play nearly as often as I had previously supposed. It makes changes in actions when necessary, but many of the actions themselves are performed through subconscious channels like muscle memory. When throwing a baseball, your brain will automatically guide your arm without the I-function needing to govern the action. However, if you are trying to improve your pitch by paying close attention to the mechanics of your throw, your I-function does become involved in controlling the motion of your arm. It also can control your arm in a roundabout fashion: if you aim at a mark on the wall, it is your I-function thinking about where to throw, but the muscles of your arm automatically adjust themselves without any specifically directed thoughts on your part. How does the I-function perform its override of the automatic function of the muscles? Why does this often make it more difficult to throw? What exactly is muscle memory, and what process occurs in your brain during a thought-out throw versus an automatic one?
Name:  Michelle Tahmoush
Subject:  A Beautiful Mind Continued
Date:  2002-04-01 20:51:34
Message Id:  1663
I was interested in Claire's topic of A Beautiful Mind. I have actually read the book and have done a lot of research on schizophrenia. It turns out that the film (although done wonderfully) was a bit Hollywood. Most schizophrenics including John Nash only have audial hallucinations. John Nash did not see people, but could hear different voices commenting on the situation he was in. I think it was easier to create people for the film rather than just voice overs.

There are many different factors that seem to attribute to the list of symptoms that are generally thought of as schizopphrenia. Genetics, in utero viruses, even the number of children in a household and whether the family owns a cat has been linked to increasing the prevalence of schizophrenia. There are many subtypes of schizophrenia, but the major reason that the positive symptoms of delusions and hallucinations are thought to be an excess of the neurotransmitter dopamine. These positive symptoms are actually due to over stimulation to the environment.

Username:  jmaryasi
Subject:  the ever-present I-Function
Date:  2002-04-01 21:10:39
Message Id:  1664
As othere have noted, I too have begun to pay attention to my behavior, distinguishing between conscious and involuntary action. My understanding from my informal observations has been that the I-Function does not determine the final decision or action, but simply tailors it to the person. Hence, making us who we are. The end result will be constant, while the I-Function manipulates the path to the particular result. This may be incorrect, but I am working under the notion that the I-Function is concerned with internal experience and all that is connected to it. Therefore, is the external experience solely relegated to the brain?
Name:  Serendip Student
Subject:  the ever-present I-Function
Date:  2002-04-01 21:11:52
Message Id:  1665
As othere have noted, I too have begun to pay attention to my behavior, distinguishing between conscious and involuntary action. My understanding from my informal observations has been that the I-Function does not determine the final decision or action, but simply tailors it to the person. Hence, making us who we are. The end result will be constant, while the I-Function manipulates the path to the particular result. This may be incorrect, but I am working under the notion that the I-Function is concerned with internal experience and all that is connected to it. Therefore, is the external experience solely relegated to the brain?
Name:  sook chan
Date:  2002-04-01 22:22:31
Message Id:  1666
When I was thirteen, a close friend was hit by a car as she was crossing a busy road on her way to school. I still remember her telling me that all she remembered was that she looked down at her leg and saw bits of her bone sticking out her lower leg, but weirdly enough, she felt no pain. It was as if she was "in a dream". That idea seemed rather strage to me as even the slightest burn or scrape would make me whimper in pain. However, throughout my teenage years, there have been times where i have willed my head to stop throbbing, or calmed myself to ease away physical pain. However, the idea of expectation and perception of pain still intrigues me. In Malaysia, I have seen religous festivals whereby followers have dragged cars by strings attatched to hooks on their backs, yet, they seem to feel no pain. How is it possible that the I-function is able to intersept between the sensory neurons that transmits the physical input and the interneurons in the brain that integrates and processes this pain. Is it possible to dissociate oneself to such an extent as to tolerate burning coals or sharp piercings through the skin? The psychology field has identified the idea that children are able to dissociate themselves as they are being physically abused, and similarly, with people experiencing trauma. My friend could not remember a majority of the events that took place before, during, and even after the accident, as she was sent to the hospital, altough witnesses have told her that she was conscious during the whole entire time. Where does our mental defense mechanisms fit into what we are currently learning?
Name:  Aly D
Username:  adymkows@bmc
Subject:  Voluntary and Involuntary Movement
Date:  2002-04-01 23:28:35
Message Id:  1667
Before having this class, I was in the dark about the Nervous System. When we discussed Christopher Reeve's paralysis, I was surprised to learn that Christopher Reeve's nervous system still reacted to stimuli, even though he was not capable of commanding his body to move. I always pictured quadrapalegics as people uncapable of moving at all. The Christopher Reeve example showed that the I-function was a separate part of the nervous system. I feel as though the separation became more clearer to me during the last class when we discussed spastic paralysis and voluntary vs. involuntary movement.

It amazes me how most movements can be either voluntary or involuntary. Previously I thought all movement to be either/or. It also never occurred to me that the brain works by inhibition. I now understand how Christopher Reeve's paralysis can work the way it does. His I-function controls his voluntary movement, and thus because of the damage, he is unable to voluntary move. However, involuntary movement is not under the control of the I-function and thus because the damage does not affect this region, he can react without being aware. My question about this is, if the presence of a motor cortex correlates with the capability to make voluntary movements, then does that mean the I-function is located in the motor cortex? Also, because the motor cortex inhibits other parts of the brain, I wonder if animals lacking one have any other way of inhibiting behaviors. How can we be sure that a frog does not have another way of making voluntary movements?

Name:  Gabrielle Lapping-Carr
Subject:  Unconscious I-function
Date:  2002-04-01 23:39:08
Message Id:  1668
I feel like we are slowly taking away peices of the I-function that we thought were significant parts, such as choice. This bothers me a little bit. I wonder if, instead, these new peices are really unconscious I-function. Take the example of driving a car. The I-function was what was taught how to drive, right? Somehow, the I-function had to learn how to drive and then transfer it into another subconscious or unconscious part of the brain. Is this part of the brain not the I-function? I think that it isn't by our definition. This is also how memory works. There is short term memory. When something is converted into long term memory from short it is actually being transferred from one part of the brain to the other. (That is my understanding at least!) So, maybe the workings of the I-function can be related to memory. The I-function learns something, such as how to point a toe. As the toe pointing is done repeatedly, the brain moves the action of pointing the toe from the I-function to the unconscious. The next dance move that is learned that contains toe pointing can be learned without having to think about the toe point. So, then the brain can focus on the new parts of the move.
Name:  Mary Schlimme
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Returning to the I-function
Date:  2002-04-02 00:04:15
Message Id:  1669
I think that the I-function is a useful concept to consider when thinking about behavior. The example in class about a paralyzed person who does not have control over his behavior, but will nevertheless catch a ball when it is thrown to him, illustrates the necessity of the I-function. In this example, the paralyzed person's I-function has lost control, but the body (and the nervous system) still have the ability to behave in certain ways. For this reason, I also think that it is important to consider the I-function when discussing the nervous system. However, I am a bit confused about exactly how important the I-function is, and the role it plays in choice. When we make choices are we really "choosing" something as a result of our thought processes, or is our choice simply the result of certain combinations of neurons firing that would have resulted regardless of how we thought about it? How does our current model account for thought about available choices – is thought the I-function, or is the I-function just the wish/choice to do something?
Name:  Gavin Imperato
Subject:  I-function
Date:  2002-04-02 00:14:37
Message Id:  1670
Aly talked previously about the idea that the I-function is a separate entity within the nervous system. I wonder if it was ever thought that what we now term the I-function was actually the nervous system itself. It seems to me that the idea of the I-function developed in response to a recognition that we are not in total control of our actions and behaviors at every moment in time. With the I-function defined as a separate it as a distinct entity, we can explain a range of behaviors. It seems that views about many issues in contemporary society (ethics, social responsibility, etc.) can be heavily influenced by conceptions of the I-function and human agency.

Have you ever seen Dr. Phil on the Oprah Winfrey show? In one episode Dr. Phil attempts to enlighten a woman on why she is persistently behaving a certain way. He keeps harping on the point that her behavior is obviously "doing" something for her otherwise she would not be continually engaging in it. He asks if she would go stick her hand in a blender, and she obviously responds "no." He argues that she wouldn't do so simply because sticking your hand in a blender just really doesn't work out for you. How does this idea of behavior – that it is ultimately driven to an end and directed to achieving something (a feeling, sensation, or other result) relate to the idea of the I-function? To what degree does the I-function simply serve to modify and alter behavior patterns that already exist? Humans are obviously not robots, but how much of human behavior is truly volitional? How do we go about drawing the boundaries?

Name:  Peffin Lee
Date:  2002-04-02 00:43:23
Message Id:  1671
Along the lines of Kelli's comment, I thought it would be interesting to bring up research that is being done about the short-term and more importantly the long term effects of a painful stimulus being delivered to new born babies during their early developmental stages. Recent research blames the increased sensitivity to pain in adults on a painful stimulus delivered after birth that caused permanent rewiring of the spinal cord circuits. For example premies show an increased sensitivity to pain as adults because they were exposed to harsh hospital environments.

Does that mean that because pain is a mismatch of interpretation of incoming signals that this new rewiring of the spinal cord is somehow rewired wrong (for lack of a better word)?

And what about studies that have shown correlation about babies, who are delivered by forceps, have a tendency towards bad behaviors .ie quick to become angry or violent? What role does the "I" function play?

Name:  Tara M Rajan
Date:  2002-04-02 09:13:55
Message Id:  1673
I think that the I function can only control out behavior to a certain extent. What about patients who are in the hospital but who are unconscious? It seems that these people are still behaving as they always would, but their I-function is no longer functioning. So is the I-function consciousness?

I also am interested in the comment on Dr Phil and his idea that people will only behave in a manner that is beneficial to themselves. If a person has a repeated pattern of behavior, is it necessarily a pattern that "work for them?" To me it seems that this is only true is the behavior involves the I-function. If the person is consciously performing the same behavior again and again, it is probably beneficial for them at least in some way.

Name:  alisa
Date:  2002-04-03 01:12:35
Message Id:  1692
Throughout our conversation about the I-function, it seems that its actual purpose in teh nuervous system is more complicated than previously thought. That there may be a greater seperation between the I-function and the parts of the nervous system as stated by Amy.
The comment and question stated by Gavin was quite interesting questioning the degree to which the I-function modified and altered behavior. I went on the assumption that the I-function didnt really play a role in our urge to achieve a particular would that be studied?

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