Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2004

Forum 4

Name:  Sonam
Date:  2004-02-03 10:12:59
Message Id:  7936
Is god moving my finger?

I was raised as a Buddhist and one of my understandings about the practice of Buddhism is that while we are here on earth, we are given the tools to do what we want - good or bad or nothing at all. What we do in this life is upto us. Biologically, God has "fixed" how we are in this life based on our past life behaviour. So, "good" biological traits based on how "good" we were in our past life (our choices, actions) and "bad" biological traits reflecting how "bad" we were in our past life.

But again, if we are given "good" biological traits, we are still tested in this lifetime on whether we take advantage of these traits or if we can overcome the "bad" ones.

An emotion like jealousy - either being jealous or the degree of jealousy we may feel - which we feel that we have no control over, in Buddhism, the test is that you must recognise this and try to change this negative trait.

I think that's a really simple interpretation. But I just wanted to see what you all think about this idea.

Name:  Michael
Subject:  # of Neurons in Perspective
Date:  2004-02-03 14:53:49
Message Id:  7945
One way to put the number of neurons in the human body in perspective. (10^12 neurons) are on the same order of magnitude as the federal deficit.
Name:  Jean
Date:  2004-02-04 00:41:39
Message Id:  7958
Disclaimer: In light of recent comments I am presenting ideas to consider in order to clarify the meaning of the certain religious aspects brought up into this forum . While religious beliefs are a type of behavior exhibited by people, currently they are not believed to explain the connection between the nervous system and behavior exhibited (except for the fact that religious behavior can stimulate a variety of emotions which can be caused by neurological changes).

In response to Allison's post, I must question the definition and implications of a "soul". This idea raises certain questions which (not only in the realm of this course) must be considered. Many religions believe in an afterlife (a plane where the soul is to be found after the death of the body) and the following questions are an inquiry into these religious beliefs: 1) How does the believed entity of a soul effect the biological makeup of the nervous system or initiate behavior? 2) What is the composition of the soul? If it interacts with the nervous system it would imply it was materialistic and if that were the case how would it survive after the death of the body (being that even inanimate objects breakdown after time? 4) What role would this soul play in someone's life being that the soul was said not to be involved with perceptions, processed inputs, the unconscious, or personality?
I would also like to find out about what is meant by the statement death is the end of change. Death can refer to the ending of a physical or cognitive state (by death of a cognitive state I mean something that wipes out cognitive ability such as a lobatomy). It also depends on your definition of the time period because it could be the events leading to this death, the instance you enter death, or the time after death has occurred. The term change has different implications at these different times periods (i.e. the body is still changing in the process leading to death, but in the minute time afterwards it is not changing).
In response to Amanda's post, I feel that the universe is the perceived environment around us, but even if it was referring to a divine power, we still need our nervous system to form ideas and interpret information among other things. In many religions as well they believe that you can pray by yourself directly to a divine being, which is a form of communication in which a religious leader is not need.
Finally, I would like to address Sonam's comments. By biological traits, It is implied that they are genes because the term traits usually implies inherited characteristics. Therefore if God has "fixed" biological traits that we have in this life time based on our behavior in past lives, the following must be considered: 1) Does this fixing of traits by a higher power imply that God effects what specific egg is fertilized by a certain sperm in order to select certain traits an individual will have? 2) If a person acquires a genetically inherited illness, does that mean that they were bad in their previous life? 3) By the testing described (" you must recognize this and try to change this negative trait"), does that mean that a person with a genetically inherited illness failed the test if they do not seek treatment?

Maybe this is just my warped way of interpretting these statements, but I hoped the raised interesting insights into the comments posted previously by others.

Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  self as a parasite
Date:  2004-02-04 11:56:10
Message Id:  7962
In response to Emma and Allison, I think that the self is less like a parasite, but more that the mind and body share a symbiotic relationship from which the self emerges. The mind and the body depend on each other to survive and through the task of surviving the self is realized
Name:  Katie S.
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  more on religion
Date:  2004-02-04 22:42:52
Message Id:  7972
I have a question about one of the points that was raised in class tuesday regarding the "stabilizing" effect of religion on the brain and brain activity. I think I remember someone saying that the study looked at people of different religious faiths, but does anyone know if this study looked at people with various levels of commitment to religion? Would you find different levels of stabalization among, say, an Orthodox believer (or someone that puts religion at the centre of their life) and someone who maybe just attends church services or what have you once a week? Does the amount of time devoted to prayer have any affect, or do you think it is just the more qualitative act of praying that makes a difference?
Name:  Shadia
Subject:  Language and Behavior
Date:  2004-02-05 00:25:49
Message Id:  7977
I found Tuesday's discussion about parents changing the pronouns associated with characters in books and playthings in order to affect their child's behavior intriguing. I've often wondered about the powerful relation between language and behavior. As a native French speaker, I remember asking my parents why certain objects had a "gender" (e.g. "la table" vs. "le mirroir"). It is a difficult concept to understand if you speak a language (like English) where that isn't the case; I've noticed French students here often interchange "le" and "la". But what I find interesting is that although Arabic, like English does not ascribe feminine or masculine traits to objects, people in Morocco, where French is widely spoken, do not confuse "le" and "la". Rather everything is referred to in the masculine, even females! (i.e. "il est" will be used to refer to "She is"). To a certain extent I think this tendency reflects a lot about the male-dominated society I live in and I wonder if this is not a semi-conscious attempt to affect the people's behavior by propagating that belief....
Name:  sonam
Date:  2004-02-05 01:30:40
Message Id:  7981
this is in response to jean's comments above.


1) Does this fixing of traits by a higher power imply that God effects what specific egg is fertilized by a certain sperm in order to select certain traits an individual will have?

yes, i think that is what is implied...that god is a scientist. the whole idea of the body (or "shell") being separate from the soul is something central to buddhist beliefs. so, maybe it all depends on how this soul deals with the type of "shell" given to him by god.

2) If a person acquires a genetically inherited illness, does that mean that they were bad in their previous life?

i do think that some people interpret it this way: people who do "wrong" in their past life or lives may have disadvantages (not just biologically...can be financially or other ways). but another way to think about this, i think, is that a person with an illness may still be a positive-thinking person who tries to live the best life possible. whereas a person who does not have a disease but may be someone who is easily jealous of other may let this become a disadvantage in their lives.

3) By the testing described (" you must recognize this and try to change this negative trait"), does that mean that a person with a genetically inherited illness failed the test if they do not seek treatment?

well i guess it's not about seeking treatment but rather trying to handle this as best as you can. i put "good" and "bad" traits in quotes because, as i said before, the whole "test" seems to be that you have to overcome the "bad" traits and take advantage of the "good" traits. thus, blurring the whole "good"/ "bad" thing.

i know i sound like some bad talk show host right now but i'm just trying to understand these beliefs myself. but i'm glad you asked these questions because i do constantly question these beliefs (and as a result, horrify my pious mother). questioning definitely has streghtened some of my beliefs. again, since it's all about interpretation, i'm sure someone else could come up with a clearer/better interpretation or explaination. by bringing god and/or religion into this discussion, i'm thinking that we can inspect/question all areas in order to be "less wrong."

Name:  Emily
Subject:  The "I Box": Not (good) enough
Date:  2004-02-05 12:04:17
Message Id:  7988
I think that the "I box" is useful. It certainly helped us to explain, in very simple terms, Christopher Reeves's 'paralysis.' However, it seems to me to be an oversimplification. Saying that what Dickinson meant by the YOU in "the one the other can contain--with ease--and you beside" is nothing more than the I-box implies that all of the higher mental functions of the brain, those illusive behaviors (?) are contained within this one box. I know that, like all of the other boxes in our model, the I-box must contain smaller and smaller boxes down to the neruon, but even this doesn't seem an adequate explanation of the mystery of consciousness and self. To me, the self/mind/consciousness/identity/etc, all of the unquanitfiable properties of the brain, are an incredibly complicated thing...i picture them arising from, but not being a physical part of, the brain. I see them hovering, kind of mist-like, above/around/within the brain, not residing in a specific box, no matter how commplex the organization of this box may be. I concede that perhaps this I-box is the neuronal circuit(s) that gives rise to this immaterial entitiy, but I cannot accept that the entire complexity of human identity is contained within a physiological pathway and nothing more.

This issue of the I-box also begs the all-important question of What Is Humanity? Before today, I thought of humanity, in large part, as the "I", the observing ego, self-awareness, the ability to know that we know. But considering that the I-box may reside in any animal with a neocortex throws this off. It kind of scares me. I am willing to concede that many of the "fuzzies" in the world have personality, distinct selves, and some very high intellect. And from a young age I've advocated that my dog is as conscious as my self. But as a scientist, I must admit that this is probably not the case, that there is something in our consciousness that is unique to humanity. Let's consider my friend's cat, Misty, again. Misty fell off the roof and broke her back. Doctors were able to reconstruct her spine, giving her fulll motot and sensory control again. However, the last inch or so of her tail didn't seem to make it through. Misty is all white, but the end of her tail is sooty. She won't clean it; it seems that she does not acknowledge it as part of herself. Now, if this is simply the result of the severing of the tip-of-tail-to-I-box-cable, then wouldn't that mean that Misty, with her I-box, is just as human as I am? I'm willing to admit her personality, her intelligence, etc, but to admit that a cat is as human as I am, that there is nothing special about humanity...this is just too much. Which is why I believe there has to be something more to consciousness and self than just the physical entity of the I-box.

Name:  Dana Bakalar
Date:  2004-02-05 16:26:07
Message Id:  7992
In response to Emily- " then wouldn't that mean that Misty, with her I-box, is just as human as I am? I'm willing to admit her personality, her intelligence, etc, but to admit that a cat is as human as I am, that there is nothing special about humanity...this is just too much. Which is why I believe there has to be something more to consciousness and self than just the physical entity of the I-box. "

I dont think that the posession of an I-function box makes an entity conious in the same way humans are, necesarily. It means they have a major item in common- the sense of self- but there are other things which differentiate human minds from animal minds, like introspection, metacognition (thinking about thinking) etc.

Also, isnt it possible to have different types or degrees of I-box, so that a cat's box containes a sense of the body as belonging to the self whereas the human box contains that and more, or that to a higher level? And the interactions between the I-box and other boxes would also affect it.

Name:  Jenny Stundon
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  I-function
Date:  2004-02-05 20:11:24
Message Id:  7998
I think the I-function (I-f) is a useful tool for understanding the integration of input and output, and coming to terms with the ellusive concept of self. Perhaps thinking of the I-f in humans as a more complex system of boxes within boxes would account for what we consider our humanity? A seemingly endless series of boxes could exist inside each box- accounting for our ability to think about our thoughts, then take a step back and ponder the concept of thinking about thoughts, etc.

Exploring the concept of I-f also could be useful when studying mental illnesses. Some individuals with depression claim that they aren't themselves. Who are they then? Is this lack of self a malfunction of I-f? Some even go to extreme measures to regain their to feel alive, or feel like themselves again. Self inflicted violence has gained widespread attention but is poorly understood (like anything worth studying) and is often seen as a cry for attention rather than a disorder. Yet the people attacking their bodies claim it makes them feel alive ( Is this a way of forcing the body to be included in the I-f? Do these people get a reawakening of the I-f by inflicting pain on the body that somehow makes them feel alive?

I'm quite interested in the idea of I-f. It may not be accurate, but it definetly raises many interesting questions.


Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  the I-function?
Date:  2004-02-07 09:23:31
Message Id:  8004
As usual, you're welcome to write about whatever you've been thinking about because of class this week. Not only welcome but encouraged since the more ideas we have floating around the better for everyone.

If you're floundering though Emily/Dana/Jenny have already started on what I would have suggested as a possible topic this week: the "I-function" box. Does that work as a way of making sense of the observations on Christopher Reeves that we discussed? Are there other ways of making sense of those observations? What new issues does the story/hypothesis of the "I-function" box raise? Does it, for example, have any possible connections to the discussion of religious concepts that Sonam/Jean/Katie were having early this week? Is the I-function box a useful story? How seriously do we want to take it?

Name:  Kristen
Date:  2004-02-07 10:37:57
Message Id:  8006
The concept of the I-function is very interesting to me. I don't know how much I want to believe it, but it is a useful story since it makes sense of observations and it poses interesting new questions. It raises questions regarding the kinds of organisms that have this I-function and how exactly it works. What do we consider to be a part of this "I"?

The other concept that is a bit disturbing to the way I used to think about the nervous system is the idea that we shouldn't think of whole you pinch my foot and it withdraws as a reflex. In the past, I have taken biology classes that have spent much time discussing the "reflex." I was always told that a reflex occurs when a signal is sent from the sensory neurons to the spinal cord then to the motor neurons without first visiting the brain. (This emphasis on sensory and motor neurons is also why the idea that the vast majority of neurons in the nervous system are interneruons is quite shocking.) I guess this new concept of "reflex" goes along with the idea that the brain and the spinal cord are not really separate entities, but all part of one nervous system. I do like this new way of thinking along with the topographical organization of input and output signals, but I think it might take some time to get used to.

Name:  Eleni (Ellie)
Subject:  Electrics
Date:  2004-02-07 18:29:00
Message Id:  8015
In my Physics class on Friday, we were discussing electric potential, resistors, capacitators, etc. and talked a bit about the nerve being a real life case. It is pertainent to think of the nerve in terms of electrics and can possibly be applied to some of the questions posed surrounding the Christopher Reeves case. Think of the body as a number of circuts, and that a circut is complete if a point on the NS and a point somewhere on the body are connected and information can flow between them. Some actions require more than one circut. For example, the pinch toe-> foot withdraws-> say ouch requires 2 different circuts. In C.R.'s case, the 1st circut is complete (pinch toe-> foot withdraws), but the second one (pinch toe->say ouch) is dissconnected or damaged. This would make it possible for C.R.'s foot to withdraw, but not to say ouch. The question about spasms and how signals get spontaneously created-could that just be electrics gone haywire?
Name:  Erica
Date:  2004-02-07 19:19:46
Message Id:  8018
I think that the concept of the I-function is an interesting one, but at the same time, I think that it just makes sense. I think that it is necessary for there to be something in us that is noticeably different and distinct from behavior, and I believe that for right now, the I-function theory may work, or at least be a stepping stone to come up with something better.

I wonder more about what characterizes it, assuming it exists, and whether or not we are to assume that it is something that can't change. I would like to believe that the I-function, just like us, has its own inherent qualities, but that these can be reshaped and transformed into something else as a result of our external experiences and internal processes. Wherever these internal processes may occur, I don't think that a "loss of self" or some other mental un-health people may experience is due to a malfunction of the I-function. Instead, I think that everything that we experience within ourselves is simply who we are. There are things that may change our I-function, from good to bad, bad to good, or some other combination, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it is our "self" that is lost. It has simply changed.

Name:  Liz
Subject:  I Function
Date:  2004-02-07 21:45:24
Message Id:  8021
I found the discussion of the "I Function" in class on Thursday as very interesting. One question that I had in class was the issue of individuals who have disorders like multiple personality disorder. How is the idea of self in individuals with multiple personalities reconciled with the idea of the I function? Does one I function box exist that includes all of the different ideas of self or are there somehow multiple I boxes? Another way to say this: is the I function somehow fragmented or can there exist different personalities within one I function box?
Name:  debbie
Subject:  I Function...
Date:  2004-02-08 12:56:01
Message Id:  8025
The concept of an "I Function" box seems like a clean, concise way to explain Christopher Reeves' case and ones similar to his without being able to prove the I Function's actual existence. Why can't the "I Function" be the entire big box - the entire nervous system? Christopher Reeves also seems to confirm this theory. Some of the cables connecting smaller boxes within the giant "I" box have been disconnected causing his inability to sense that something has happened to him and that he can do something about it.

Regarding Christopher Reeves' condition, I thought about how an arm or a leg can be reattached when severed and regain much of its senses. I thought it may be possible to regenerate a "bridge" between the brain and spinal cord through transplant or the intentional regeneration of nerve fibers. I have long heard that neurons fail to regenerate, but is there a hormone or a gene in the body that supports the initial production of neurons? Perhaps that gene/hormone can be used to spur additional neuron growth and the creation of a new cable between the medulla and the spine.

Finally, in response to Eleni's comment on spasms, does an input from sensory neurons lead to an immediate output through motor neurons? If not, it seems logical that electric signals are running through interneurons and could get lost within all the boxes and trigger a different motor neuron response spontaneously.

Name:  Anjali
Subject:  Consciousness
Date:  2004-02-08 13:26:21
Message Id:  8026
I've been thinking about what Emma posted last Sunday- "are we one organism or many". I think in the end the answer to that depends a lot on what exactly is meant by the question- on how the word organism is being used. In one sense, each of our cells is a separate organism, so we are many organisms... But if you're using the word organism to mean a conscious organism- an organism with a unified sense of self- we are just one. None of the individual cells in our bodies are conscious. Or at least, it's very very unlikely that they are.

But then the idea that we're parasites living off our own bodies... That's a very, very interesting thought. I don't think there's any way to know. There's no way to disprove something like that, really, short of finding the root of consciousness in the brain- the exact mechanism by which millions of unconscious cells give rise to consciousness. And somehow it doesn't feel as though there'd be anything "exact" or simple about such a mechanism.

I used to have this weird idea, a couple years ago, that ran along those lines- of being a parasite in your own body. I used to wonder if I was just some nebulous presence sitting in the brain of someone else. Because you *don't* really have conscious control over most of the things that your body does. And even the things that you do have conscious control over, it's difficult to see how that control comes about, sometimes. You can think, "I want to move my leg.". And your leg moves. But how? It just... does. Inexplicably. You're able to move your leg, you're able to *consciously* move it, but you have no real idea how this conscious desire to move it was able to translate into motion. Even if you understand the basic mechanics behind it. It's very difficult, trying to mentally bridge the gap between this nebulous, abstract consciousness that is your "self", and the physical body that it controls.

Another thought. Possibly a bit off topic, but if cells in the body somehow give rise to consciousness, that brings about the possibility that other organisms- more complex organisms- give rise to a larger, collective consciousness. The spirit of Earth, or the spirit of the universe. It's interesting to think about.

Name:  Elissa
Subject:  I function and self
Date:  2004-02-08 15:42:47
Message Id:  8034
The idea of the I-function and how that relates to one's self is really kind of freaky for me. If I were Christopher Reeve, and saw my foot move because someone pinched it, that would freak me out, because I would know that I did not make my foot move.

Ok, here's a story: A couple of years ago, I had surgery on my jaw and chin. With that surgery, I got three metal screws put into my chin, and I lost a lot of feeling there, and in lower lip. Now, when people touch my chin, I usually can't feel it. In the fall, during a rugby game, I got kicked in the face and got a bruise on my chin, but I had no idea; it didn't even hurt.

With the idea of the I-function, when I say that I can't feel my chin, I still feel attachment to it, because it's on my body, and it's still pretty functional as a chin (although i don't really know what the function of a chin really is).

I thought Debbie's post was interesting, particulary, "I thought it may be possible to regenerate a "bridge" between the brain and spinal cord through transplant or the intentional regeneration of nerve fibers. I have long heard that neurons fail to regenerate, but is there a hormone or a gene in the body that supports the initial production of neurons? Perhaps that gene/hormone can be used to spur additional neuron growth and the creation of a new cable between the medulla and the spine." There are a lot of people who want to study stem cells for those reasons because certain parts of our bodies cannot regenerate on their own. Take for example Parkinson's Disease. Parkinson's is a debilitating disorder that is caused by the loss of dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain. These neurons die or become damaged, leading to less dopamine in the nerve cells. As a result, people with Parkinson's suffer from loss of control of their joints and muscles. How does the I-function apply to these people that have such a loss of control of their body, but can still function normally most of the time?

Name:  Brad Corr
Subject:  The Self and God
Date:  2004-02-08 16:45:37
Message Id:  8036
In some of my recent readings I've come across various bits of information pertaining to specific brain activity and "the self." Apparently the frontal parietal lobe is the specific location of the perceived self. I was intrigued by this because I began to think about what happens when people have malfunctions in this aspect of the brain. So I found out about a disease called frontotemporal dementia. As I understand it, it is a form of Alzheimer's that specifically targets the right frontal lobe of the brain. What is interesting is that many people who suffer from this disease go through complete personality changes. These people completely change their interests, emotions, desires, and all else that we think of that makes up who we are. So if who we are, our own "I box," comes from this one area how does this portion of our brain grow and change? What stimuli can affect our personality? It seems then that most if not all of our actions and beliefs then have to either originate from or pass through this box since those are what make up our personality.

Another aspect I came across is that as it turns out that, this portion of the brain is also linked with religion. During meditation brain activity in this area is increased. People who suffer from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) in which seizures cause malfunctions in this portion of the brain often feel a sense of being at one with the universe or have a deeply spiritual experience. This then can imply that God is a creation of a certain portion of the brain, rather than the brain being a creation of God. People could argue that a person's religious strength is in fact due to the level of activity in this part of the brain. I am not claiming to agree or disagree with these arguments, but rather putting out the idea that the "I box" is also linked to the "God Box." What are the implications of this connection? How does this go along with the many different religions in our society? Where do atheists see themselves in "the universal picture?"

Name:  Katina Krasnec
Date:  2004-02-08 17:48:28
Message Id:  8038
What are the psychological implications of neurological trauma? What mentally happens when something physically happens to the nervous system? Are people such as Christopher Reeve more inclined to certain disorders or problems because of the condition of his nervous system? To see what happens to humans behaviorally/psychologically during this time, we must study those with these injuries in order to help them. And the idea of reconnection brought up earlier should be researched, even attempted in order to help those with nervous system trauma, and for the medical field to learn more about the connections with the NS itself, and how, possibly, man can recreate or reconnect these. Why now, do we not focus our efforts on the nervous system, when as the brain = behavior, and behavior is ourselves?

And on a somewhat related tangent; humans themselves are machines, we are nothing but parts, connected somewhat haphazardly, in order to make one larger machine function properly. In using Christopher Reeves as an example, the trauma of his accident disrupted part of this fragile machinery, thus having this "machine" lose it's ability to function the way it was meant to be built. This flaw though, it what has created humans as we are. If, in developing medicial breakthroughs to allow the nervous system to be reconnected, we allow for perfection in humans, where will this bring us. What would the side effects be?

In treatment and research of the nervous system, nothing remains clear. One can only hope to continue to learn more about how the nervous systems creates ourselves.

Name:  Prachi
Date:  2004-02-08 19:46:57
Message Id:  8042
In response to the above comment, I don't believe that recreating damaged neural connections allows for perfection although we assume that this is what we strive to achieve. In terms of the idea that our parts are connected haphazardly, I think it would be interesting to examine the degree to which our brains are reflective of modular structuring and how much of that modularity is the result of evolutionary processes. Given that such processes are thought to shape the neural structure of the brain, one may ask questions regarding the extent to which such modularity affects and allows for various behaviours, particularly those in the social domain.
Name:  Amy Gao
Subject:  lost signals
Date:  2004-02-08 20:13:17
Message Id:  8043
Eleni's comments about how electric signals can get lost and/or get haywire in the whole big box of NS brings to mind a family story of mine.

A relative of mine is in her fifties and experiences headaches and sometimes even blacks out. Her doctor diagnosed her with a kind of symptom (I cannot recall what the name is) where there is this sort of chemical imbalance in her brain that lead to the electrical signals not firing right. Which means that the electrical signals that would usually be the command for a certain action is either 1. not getting through her NS system to its rightful designation or 2. going to the wrong final destination.

Name:  Kimberley Knudson
Subject:  getting past the word Reflex
Date:  2004-02-08 20:24:56
Message Id:  8044
I am finding it difficult to remove "reflex" from my vocabulary. Though I understand the importance of doing so. By using such a word it divides the nervous system. The problem with that is where is the dividing line? As we have learned in class the neurons that control eye movement are within the midbrain and those that control the knee-jerk response are within the spine. Yet they both move, so clearly the location of the neurons is of little importance when discussing general motor function.

The difference I continuously want to make then must be in complexity of responses. What are those inputs that require a large number of "boxes" which have "boxes" inside them to produce an output? How do they differ from those that only use a few "boxes" and why does one input need more processing then another?

Name:  Ghazal Zekavat
Subject:  parasites and the self
Date:  2004-02-08 21:53:12
Message Id:  8048
There was a story in the news very recently about a baby that was born with craniopagus parasiticus, a parasite twin.

Here's an exerpt from

"Led by a Los Angeles-based neurosurgeon, the medical team planned to spend about 13 hours removing Rebeca's second head, which has a partially formed brain, ears, eyes and lips.

The surgery is complicated because the two heads share arteries. Although only partially developed, the mouth on her second head moves when Rebeca is being breast-fed. Tests indicate some activity in her second brain."

The concept of being parasites to our bodies (as discussed by Anjali and Emma) is an interesting one, but I think that this case shows what a very concrete example of parasitism on the human body. No human as ever lived past a few weeks with the parasite twin condition (including Rebeca, who sadly died after the operation on Saturday Full Article) so it's difficult to say how someone would develop with a parasute twin, or if the person and parasite would behave as two different organisms.

I agree that we do not have complete control or understanding of our bodies, as Anjali was saying, but I think it's safe to say that I'm one organism. It's very easy to remove the "self" from the body because it's very difficult to understand what the self really is...

Name:  Emma
Subject:  response
Date:  2004-02-08 23:59:42
Message Id:  8053
In response to Ghazal's comment I have to say that the idea of a parasitic twin really intrigues me. I wonder if maybe the twin is not parasitic to rebecca, instead maybe rebecca and the twin are 2 parasites fighting over control of a body that cannot support them both. Just as a single organism can only host so many parasites before dying it seems a single body can only play host to one brain. To me this supports my parasite idea. I am not sure whether or not I really think that the brain is a seperate organ, a parasite, or a part of the body but I will keep thinking about it.
Name:  Emma
Subject:  addition
Date:  2004-02-09 00:02:57
Message Id:  8054
oh I just remembered. A couple of years ago in life magazine I saw an article about a twins who shared a body. There were 2 heads and they both controlled half the body. I think someone may have mentioned them is class. I wonder why they did not die and rebecca and her "parasitic twin" did. Perhaps rebecca and here twin shared only 1 body and the other twins merely had 2 bodies strangely fused together which would support the parasite idea that a body can only support a singe brain/parasite.
Name:  Chevon Deputy
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Christopher Reeves
Date:  2004-02-09 00:56:57
Message Id:  8056
I felt that the discussion about Christopher Reeves was very interesting, because I automatically thought that he was completely paralyzed. The idea of a paralytic state suggested to me that he could not move anything from the waist down due to his accident. However, Professor Grobstein illustrated that while Christopher Reeves cannot voluntarily move some of his body parts, it does not mean that there is no muscle or body activity. The knee-reflex test was an excellent example of how muscle movement occurs. Furthermore, I was not aware that the lack of cable connection between the input and output prevents Reeves from displaying emotion. This clarifies for me why Reeves would not react to someone hitting him on an area below his waist. Now I have a better understanding of the relationship between the brain and the nervous system.
Name:  Erin
Date:  2004-02-09 06:00:43
Message Id:  8060
I also thought that the discussion on Christopher Reeves was very interesting. The physical contiguity principle summed an interesting observation about cable connection between signals in one part of the nervous system with another. As did the notion that boxes can generate responses of their own. These observations allowed us to change our original concept about being paralyzed. I wonder if it is possible to further extend the notion that there is a "cable connection" or box generated response for senses other than touch -- where a defined "breakage" point between cables is not so apparent -- and how this might affect what we perceive and what is really taking place.

For example, a person who is colorblind cannot see certain colors or respond to them by identification, however, is their "brain" activity such that the input/output cable connection between signals is severed? Or is there a physical limitation in the way that they see things that causes the "brain" to operate with a "defective" signal? Or are there signals from one box to another that are not received along a path and fail to cause an output response?

Name:  Michelle
Date:  2004-02-09 07:34:38
Message Id:  8061
I have learned in Biology 101 about emergent properties arising from the
coexistence and relationships among cells. As a scientific thinker, I
wondered if perhaps this could be applied to the self, brain, and body.
Could the self be an emergent property of the brain and body? The
consciousness a property of the brain? To me, it seems subjective. The
definition of emergence taken from the Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind is properties of a complex physical system are emergent just in case they are neither (i) properties had by any parts of the system taken in isolation nor (ii) resultant of a mere summation of properties of parts of the system ( What would the physical system entail? Simply the body and the brain? Going along with this theory, all minds and thought processes are unique and based on individual psychological pathways. Using the word mind to mean merely the shell in which the self can exist, the mind would have to exist prior to the self. The self is not only a function of the brain but then also a culmination of experience and environment. If the environment (as well as the experience gained from the environment) can be included in the physical system, then I see the self as an emergent property of the brain.
Name:  Ginger
Subject:  Paralysis
Date:  2004-02-09 09:28:20
Message Id:  8063
Our discussion of Christopher Reeves' condition challenged a great deal of the formal notions I had held about paralysis. For instance, for some reason paralysis had always been synonymous with broken to me. I understood that a connection had been broken or been hurt somewhere and that had resulted in a loss of movement/motor function. In this line of thinking, Paralysis made Christopher Reeves half the man he was before. The class discussion was oriented in our "box" level, and I was very shocked by the incorrectness of my assumptions. A cable had indeed been injured with Reeve's fall, but other wires were still present. His legs still demonstrated reflexes. Therefore, the only thing impaired in Christopher Reeves is his ability to receive information and control that part of his body. Dorland's Medical Dictionary 29th Edition defines paralysis as "loss or impairment of motor function in a part due to lesion of the neural or muscular mechanism..." I feel that this definition is accurate, but needs to emphasis the loss of voluntary control in the individual of that part of the body rather than just motor function. FYI, there are 131 different kinds of Paralysis listed in Dorland's. Apparently, our nerves system is a little more delicate than one commonly thinks...
Name:  Maria
Date:  2004-02-09 10:31:44
Message Id:  8065
The notion of an I-function box is fascinating but a little daunting at the same time. We are so used to thinking of the nervous system as something that serves our purposes in allowing us to walk when we want, to talk when we want etc that it's a bit disconcerting to think that our conscious sense of self is not in fact running the show; but rather, that the I-Function is just one more box in the system. An *important* box, but a box nonetheless. This makes me wonder a bit about psychoanalysis. If you go with the more nebulous idea of "the mind" Psychoanalysis seems to make a lot of sense in terms of exploring different motivations and habits and behavioral patterns. Yet that seems sort of silly if the self that one is aware of is just an I-function. My father is a neurologist and refers to therapy as "monkey-grooming behavior. *Useful* monkey grooming behavior, but nothing more." (I'm not saying he's RIGHT) Is it not effectively one person's I-function claiming to be able to objectively analyze another person's I-function? I would never claim that therapy wasn't useful or effective, but maybe the change that it is trying to effect in the individual is just as easily created by taking an SSRI. Obviously that's not to say that having help identifying patterns of behavior that are destructive would not be an excellent supplement to the answers neuroscience provides for depression and such. What it all may come down to is that the biology of the brain and the different ways that the chemicals and hormones and god knows what else are being recived and released in there is more important than any shocking insights into a persons psyche. If that is the case then many of the stranger theories of Freud and such are nothing more than stroies told to try and account for observations about human behavior but that the stories we tell now account for much more and that perhaps when it comes to mental health that the story that will account for the most has nothing to do with Oedipal complexes or Oral Fixations but rather a more comprehensive understanding of the biology of the brain. It will be interesting to see how psychoanalysts and neuroscientists work this all out, it seems sort of a tense relationship to me at the moment.
Name:  Nicole Wood
Subject:  Some thoughts...
Date:  2004-02-09 11:37:13
Message Id:  8066
I read an article, the same one Ghazal mentioned, which discussed the case of an infant with a parasitic twin. Apparently, although the other twin did not continue development, the twin still moved. Though technically the twin had stopped developing in the womb, her mouth still moved when Rebeca breastfed. Sadly, Rebeca did not survive the operation. The fact that there still seemed to be some connection between the brain and the parasitic twin raises many questions. What impulses were still reaching the other twin?

Also, on a different subject, we were speaking earlier in the week about our behavior essentially being a result of the chemical compositions of our brains. However, I feel that to view our actions as merely resulting from random chemicals removes culpability. The truth is, we don't follow every impulse of our brains, we can't excuse our actions by saying "My brain did it...I didn't have any control." To a certain extent, brain does equal behavior, but I think we need to qualify this statement by remembering that we are capable of choice.

Name:  Lindsey
Subject:  phantom limbs and I-function
Date:  2004-02-09 14:27:57
Message Id:  8067
Professor Grobstein's lecture on Christopher Reeve's and an interesting article I read on Phantom Limbs raised the timeless question about "sense of self." In the article, patients who have lost a limb or are born without a limb regardless of age describe feeling a phantom limb—one that generates particular sensations (hot, cold, tingling, shooting pains..).

Does Christopher Reeve experience the sensation of having a body independent of physical touch? If we don't need a body to feel a body, what does this say about the I-function? If anything, both examples support the I function in some ways because the brain finds some way to generate a sense of wholeness, regardless of our physical bodies. However, this raises another interesting tension between our sense of self as mediated by the outside world (when someone pinches C.R.'s toe and he says "ouch") and our internally generated physical sense of self (C.R.'s ability to voluntarily feel and move his toe). I feel like that I function cannot necessarily contain both of these functions because they rely on a different source of inputs (internal and external). What if C.R. does not have any sensation of his body at all, not even something akin to a phantom limb? How does that then affect the I-function?

Name:  Michael
Subject:  Paralysis, MS and stem cell research
Date:  2004-02-09 14:46:52
Message Id:  8068
One of the major problems incurred in a spinal cord injury, and one of the degenerative conditions related with nervous system conditions such as MS/optic neuritis is the loss of myelin (outer sheath coating) from nerve cells.
There has been much progress made in using neural stem cells to regenerate myelinating cells (see link below).
One question that this naturally raises, given the discussion on neural memory and on the difference in people's CNS given different experiences etc., is this:
If you receive stem cells in place of your cells which have been damaged in an accident or as a result of a degenerative condition, how is your "neural memory" affected by the introduction of these new cells?
Furthermore, is motor memory necessarily irreplaceable? Can you store motor memory in your brain and utilize new cells in the same way that you did old ones?

Name:  Ariel
Date:  2004-02-09 15:04:40
Message Id:  8069
I wanted to add to what Elissa said earlier, about Parkinson's. I had also wondered about Parkinson's because over winter break I watched (on tv) a surgeon operating on a woman with extremely severe symptoms. If I remember correctly, the surgery consisted of inserting metal rods into specific areas of the brain and sending electric impulses through them. When the surgeon was interviewed before the operation he seemed confident, he had done this procedure a number of times before, and always had some result, but in this case it made no difference, the patient had no reduction in her symptoms.
From watching this, I would say that the woman still had the aspects of her personality that made her herself, but she could not control her body at all, even enough to talk. So would that mean that the I-box is still functional and whole, even though she cannot express her personality in the same way as she could before she became so sick? Also, what would it have meant if the surgery had worked? Would that have changed the I-box?
Name:  Allison
Subject:  there's not a direct connection
Date:  2004-02-09 21:08:02
Message Id:  8078
Lindsey's question regarding whether or not one needs the body in order to sense the body intrigued me. From my understanding, the I-function reports internal states and then possibly initiates outputs/actions. In the case of Christopher Reeves, the lack of outputs/actions does not seem to necessarily mean that the I-function is damaged. It appears that the I-function can report inputs to the brain, but without outputs/actions it is impossible to verify. Because the I-function is not defined as a direct correlation between inputs and outputs the possibility remains that the I-function could receive information without an observable output. If C.R. did not have any sensation in his body then it would be clear that the I-function could not receive information and therefore was not functional.
Name:  Akudo Ejelonu
Date:  2004-02-09 21:31:05
Message Id:  8079
I enjoyed the discussion about Christopher Reeves. I did not know that much about his injury. He is helping to advance the technology of quadriplegic. Sorry for the spelling mistake. I would like to all discuss how does one-brain behavior changes in offer to the psychical change of the body.
Name:  Mridula Shankar
Subject:  Superman's medical condition
Date:  2004-02-09 21:40:21
Message Id:  8080
The discussion on Christopher's Reeves' medical condition following his accident at an equestrian competition questioned my definition and understanding of paralysis. The word paralysis immediately brings to mind the complete lack of movement of a part or whole of the body. Yet this does not seem accurate in light of the discussion we had on Thursday. From the experiment performed on him it is clear that his foot did move when stimulated but that he couldn't feel it move and this led to the creation of the "I" box and its possible dis-functionality in his case. Is this an indication that paralysis is also a psychological condition that impairs the perception of a motor response rather than affecting the motor response itself?

On a different thread- I have learnt that when born we are equipped with just about all the neurons we will ever have and that all that the nervous system does after that is to grow and organize itself. Connecting this to C.R's condition-soon after the accident he was left quadriplegic shoulders down and ventilator dependent due to a gap in his spine. Yet after years of intensive physiotherapy he has slowly regained sensation in some areas of the lower parts of his body and can breathe on his own for a period of around 90 minutes. If neurons cannot be generated than how do we explain these phenomena? Does this mean that his nervous system is slowly adapting to these new sets of conditions and growing and re-organizing itself to regain a new state of normalcy?

Name:  Natalie Merrill
Date:  2004-02-09 23:22:25
Message Id:  8081
Like every semester, my classes seem to blend together and run into one another. In reading for my sociology seminar, I seem to be discovering new questions and topics for this class. In Talcott Parsons' Theories of Society, he says that because of one's "own personality structure has been shaped through the internalization of systems of social objects and of the patterns of institutionalized culture." I think this statement has many implications, especially for our course. My sociological background has trained me to believe that socialization and institutionalization of norms and values of one's culture plays a major role in determining one's personality and subsequently their behavior. How does this relate to neurobiology? If society plays such an integral role, where does one's own biological impulses come in and to what extent? My real question is whether we will ever know the answer to this question and the method about which we would go about testing it, if that is even possible.
Name:  Amanda
Date:  2004-02-10 00:07:26
Message Id:  8083
A few people have mentioned the parasitic twins that were to be separated and passed away this past week. This brought me back to the concept of identical twins that was touched on in class. When a person asked if identical twins have the same personalities, I had to respond no. I have eleven-year old twin sisters who were just tested for being identical or fraternal. My parents had waited so it would be the girls' choice. They had been excited to find out but when the results came back that they were 99.9% identical they responded quite differently. Mackenzie was excited that they had the results but Jacqueline was irritated because she was always going to be thought of as one. Even the boy became Jackie's boyfriend, in the six-grade sense of the word, thought that identical meant the same. He actually had a crush on Mackenzie but decided why not go out with Jackie? The look the same! The different personalities that have come from my sisters are very interesting considering they are "identical."
Name:  Millie Bond
Subject:  Mind over body
Date:  2004-02-10 00:22:38
Message Id:  8084
As I read through the comments on the forum this week I realize that I am not the only one who was fascinated by the concept of the "I Box" and the stories about Christopher Reeves. It made me wonder about the relation ship between the the brain and the rest of the body. I was reminded of a quote I was once herd about people achieving goals that seem to be out of the reach of their bodies. The saying goes "what the mind believes the body achieves". Now in most cases I am sure that this saying is just explaining that the our bodies are capable of a lot more than we think, but in some cases it seems that a persons mind has power over their body. For example I read an article about a running race that takes about 16 hours to complete. I can't help but wonder what goes on in the brain of a person when they do something like this that seems on the surface to be impossible.

Here is the article.

Name:  amar
Subject:  i box
Date:  2004-02-10 02:02:46
Message Id:  8085
Reading through the posted comments got me thinking about the concept of the I box that we discussed last Thursday. There is still one thing that has been plaguing me since our discussion last week. If the "I-box" is self awareness, and is also a box in the "box theory" then I wonder whether it is inherently composed of the same neural cells as the rest of the nervous system. I think this can relate back to Emily's thoughts about her friend's cat. Although part of her body went unrecognized by the "I-box", the cat appears to have maintained the same sense of self. I am therefore left wondering why the self awareness can continue as normal outside of its physical handicaps. To me this can be related again to the idea that the I-box is not necessarily a part of the nervous system, as much as it is it's independent box that is not influenced by any of the other boxes.

Hope that makes sense....

Name:  Chelsea
Date:  2004-02-10 02:04:31
Message Id:  8086
Wow, there's a lot going on in here. I don't know who particularly reminded me of this, but here's a story in some way linked to the Christopher Reeve's/neurons/bridges getting disrupted discussion:

On a saturday afternoon during my Junior year of high school, I was driving home from the stable where I kept my horse and had lessons. It was located about two miles outside of town, down a road that was hilly, but relatively straight.

Somewhere along the road, I blacked out. When I awoke I was in the left hand lane (fortunately empty), panicked, blacked out again, and totaled my car. After going over the event several times in the 6 hours I was in the emergency room (on Valentine's day no less), I was shocked to be told that it was possible that after the initial blackout I had continued to drive for about a mile before I woke up again.

Now, the story is interesting to me for two reasons:

1. That driving down a familiar (and not too difficult) road, it is possible that my muscle memory kicked in and kept me on the road for nearly a mile.*

*This is what the doctor said, but isn't it common to lose memory of what happened right before a blackout? So maybe not...

2. That after two waking EEG's, a sleeping EEG, a CAT scan, an ultrasound on my heart and blood tests they had NO idea what had happened...and then this winter break I was at my chiropractor's office and cracked my neck (a bad and now almost unconscious habit), which immediately illicited the response: "don't do that, you could pinch something and black out."

Mystery solved? Maybe. Either way, something new which was never suggested before. It's interesting how much and how frequently our knowledge of life and the world around us is (brain and behavior as well) is informed by the most surprising and unexpected sources.

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