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An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 1998, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions and topics.
Week's Topics (several interesting issues came up this week, so your choice):
The nervous system was considered as a large input/output box consisting of smaller interconnected input/output boxes, themselves consisting ... and so forth. Discuss the rationale and usefulness of this characterization for clarifying the relation between the nervous system and behavior.
The behavior of a human paraplegic was used to argue that there existed within the nervous system a smaller box (the "I-function") whose activity corresponded to personal experience and action. Discuss the legitimacy and usefulness of this conclusion.
It was suggested during discussion that the brain=behavior equivalence made it impossible to assert with certainty the existence of anything outside the nervous system. Discuss the validity and implications of this suggestion.
Name: ruth czarnecki
Subject: god and brain and behavior
Date: Thu Jan 29 16:07:29 EST 1998
i decided that i would post a comment because i can not attend this evening's discussion. perhaps what i have to say will clear things up or at least excite the discussion.
attending catholic schools all my life, especially a jesuit one, has given me much in the way of religious and philosophical education. when the question was brought up in class that if we assert that the brain is responsible for the creation of all behavior, doesn't that preclude a god. my answer to that question is no, and for very good reasons.
first of all, the definition of religion is a collection of myths, traditions, and beliefs created to explain the unexplainable. the developers of religion, any religion, created that religion to explain things that seemd outragious and impossible. if one is so inclined, this definition can be seen as one that precludes a god. it was a creation of a human mind and so cannot have a god behind it. however, most of the world believes in some religion and therefore, some god, regardless of the definition of religion. this, i believe, is because of another interpretation of that definition. the interpretation i am most inclined to use is that religion was developed to explain the unexplainable by the will of a god. so, yes, religion and god (and soul, a concept of religion) are all creations of a human brain, however, that does not preclude the idea of the existance of religion or god or soul outside the brain.
i do not think that because an idea was developed dependant on the brain (or a brain) means that it always must stay dependant on the brain. for instance a baby is developed dependant on its mother, but grows until it no longer is. it also does not mean that it was already in existance independant of previous to its human "conception". many ideas have developed that way. for instance, einstein's brain "developed" quantum mechanics. it was in existance long before einstein ever thought of it,however, quantum mechanics did not come into the human reality until einstein introduced the theorem. we now observe that quantum mechanics exists independant of the brain in space. religion and god and souls could exist very much like these do.
although i do not believe that there is definitive proof either way, these explanations help me to reconcile my religious and scientific beliefs. i hope they are helpful.
Interesting, and thoughtful (want to add some capitalization?). Yes, indeed, things may be created by the brain and prove subsequently to have some external "reality". Happens all the time, and is what brains are particularly good for. At the same time, its worth thinking about whether anything the brain makes up is "actually" out there, and bearing in mind that the usefulness of particular construals of what's out there clearly changes with time (experience/observations). PG
However, that is not the point of the question. The point was whether it is legitimate to claim that there is an I-function somewhere in the nervous system. I think it is a legitimate claim, but I do not think that it is located in one specific region. If it is located in one region then it should be pretty easy to erase a person's sense of self through injury or lesioning of that area. So far, I have yet to read about a patient with an injury to the nervous system who has had his/her sense of self erased. There have been patients who have had their sense of the rest of the world erased but they have always retained their sense of self.
As an interesting (and possibly unrelated) point, my sister (who is 10 months old) has just started to go through separation anxiety, which all the books describe as the point at which a baby realizes that it is a separate entity from its parents, specifically mom. I find this interesting because it seems to indicate a beginning or further developing of the sense of self. I am also curious if this coincides with developments and changes to the nevous system. If so, those regions may turn out to be especially important to one's sense of self. Just a thought. If anyone knows anything about separation anxiety, I would be interested in hearing about it.
Very interesting connections. There's actually a lot to think about along the lines of development of a sense of self, and some areas of developmental psychology that do so. Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac, though better known for a lot of other reasons, is actually largely about his discovery of the significance of separation anxiety (as a result of thinking about his observations of what Prozac is doing), and Kramer's most recent book, Should You Leave? is more explicitly about separation and anxiety. Situations where the self is absent? Yes, they exist, and we'll talk about some. "Other animals do not have a sense of self" ... how would one know? What observations would support such a conclusion? PG
I believe there must be an "I function" located within ourselves telling us who we are and giving each of us our own sense of self. The only question we are unsure about is where this "I function" is located.
We can't positively say that the "I" is not in the lower part of the nervous system, because we can not ask it about personal experiences it may have encountered. At the same time, we can not deny that at least some part of the "I" is located in the rostral part of the nervous system. We can hold a conversation with a paraplegic, discuss things, argue issues, and it will seem as if nothing were wrong with them. They can talk about themselves and tell us about things they have experienced- to them, these experiences makes them their own person.
Is it possible for people to have brain transplants? I don't think so, but if it were possible, it would help solve our problem. If a person becomes brain dead, and is able to get a transplant, would he be the same person afterwards, even with a different brain? Would he still know who his family and friends are? Mainly, would he still have all of the experiences within him that he experienced before, or would it all be erased because there is a new brain inside him?. Would he be living the other person's life now? If he started over again, then the "I function" must be contained in the brain. If all of those experiences were still with him, then the "I function" must be contained elsewhere in the body.
I think a surgery like that would be a fairly accurate way to find out where the "I function" is located. Too bad something like that is not possible.
Or maybe not too bad that it is not possible? In any case, you've noticed in passing some interesting features that might help us to sharpen a definition of "selfhood", and may hence help to work more in future on what it is and how it relates to the "I-function". Interesting that you talk about "personal experiences", "things they have experienced", "experiences make them their own person". How could we make sense of all that in terms of neurons and action potentials? PG
We'll see, I guess, huh? In meanwhile, maybe just like the brain gets bigger rather than the brain getting smaller in the brain=behavior equivalence, the boxes would too if we found an equivalence between them and the fantastic you? Maybe even necessary and essential mystery? Along that line, remember that the "I-function" box had a pretty narrow operational definition. We'll talk more about its relation to "personality", and find they are overlapping but not equivalent ideas. PG
This statement also makes perfect sense when you consider the progression of senses after stubbing your toe. You first feel the pressure of the impact, your foot jerks away, and after a slight delay your toe hurts immensely. I know there are differences in the myelination of these different sensory nerves that account for a part of the time delay. If my hypothesis is true, however, then the string of neurons that transmit the sense of pain to and from your brain must cover a much larger distance than the reflex neurons transmitting only to and from your spinal cord. This much larger distance traveled would help to account for the time lag in the sensation of pain.
Considering this hypothesis made from simple observations, I propose that no part of the body feels pain without the aid of the brain. The sensory neurons for pain in the paraplegic's leg are more than welcome to fire, but if they have no brain to interpret their signals, the leg will feel no pain. Not in any sense. Regardless, it hardly seems to matter whether the paraplegic feels pain as long as he doesn't believe he feels pain.
All makes perfectly good sense, including interesting, appropriate extension to time delays in experience. But ... how do you know there is no perception of pain in the absence of the brain? What do you mean by "pain interneurons"? In what way is the experience of pain different from neurons being active? And maybe it does matter, in thinking about whether different organisms do or do not feel pain? And in trying to make sense of what neurons are doing when we do? PG
Lets talk hippocampus. The hippo plays an important role in the long-term storage of memory. We know this in part because of this poor dude H.M. who was a victim of modern science, c.1953. In order to treat epilepsy lesions were made in the temporal lobe of each of his hippocampi (crazy word, huh). Afterwards he couldn't remember anything new that happened to him for longer than a few hours, though he was able to recall the previous 30 yrs. of his life. So, what does this do to his sense of self? Who does he think he is now? Is it possible for him to develop his 'self' beyond the previous thrity years if all new experience and the consequence of each action is forgotten on a daily basis? Now I don't have a ready answer to these questions and I haven't tracked down the entirety of reserach done on this fellow following his unfortunate surgery yet I would bet he could still tell you whether he preferred chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Funny concept: to like something. Is that a function of the I box, or is it perhaps better understood as a syncretion of something more?
So, I find myself at the beginning of my statement again. I like the concept of an I-function because it allows us to approach the topic of self but ultimately it falls short of explaining what "self" is, in what state it resides, how we became aware of it in the first place, and why I love vanilla ice cream but really prefer chocolate on occasion. Just some food for thought. See you all next week.
Yummy. And worth keeping in mind as we go on. Yes, self probably best thought of as an evolving thing rather than a fixed thing (see an interesting essay by an ex-student in this course on Buddhist Meditation and Personal Construct Psychology). We'll come back to that. And to the idea that the "I-function" is important to accounting for "self" but isn't ALL of it. PG
Another example which supports the existence of an "I-function box" and its residence in the brain is more abstract. Say you ask an elderly person what their favorite type of music is; already in your head you are expecting them to say classical music or even Big Band (a.k.a. some older style of music). But what if they say that they liked rap or new age alternative music? If you seem surprised they will undoubtedly rebuke your first impression of them by saying something like "I am not what I seem to be." In other words, a person is not their age or race or any other physical characteristic that they might show to the outside world. "I am not my skin color" is often claimed by many individuals who are expected to act or like certain things because of their race. So this proves that an individual's sense of self is something that has to do with the way she thinks and her personality which both reside in the brain, in this "I-function box."
Very interesting, thoughtful, will be helpful as we get back to this problem later in the semester. Yes, a given "self" is perceived differently by an observer and by the posesser. And, perhaps, differently under different circumstances and at different times by the posesser? Can we use that to make any more sense of an "I-function" as activity in a set of neurons? PG
This analogy of the internet can be extended to provide a possible solution to the dilemma of the paraplegic. Let's say now that the entire state of Kansas suddenly disappears from the internet. No information can go into Kansas and none can come out. The information still exists, of course, as was already argued, and the internet itself is still intact in both places, but now there is no more communication between the two. SO! now all the information that is outside of Kansas is constantly shifting and changing and being improved upon and modified, as information does; AND all the information _within_ Kansas is still working and changing and being modified. With the case of the paraplegic, there is one experience of self in the brain (inside Kansas) and another experience of self outside the brain(outside Kansas). It's as if there was one experience of self, and then suddenly, as a result of whatever accident caused the person to become paraplegic, this sense of self divided into two separate ones that have no communication between eachother and then develop independantly based on each part's own personal experiences.
So, now I'm not quite sure where this leaves us, or what it all means. There is a sense of self in both the brain and the lower body, for sure, however it doesn't solve the question of whether the paraplegic experiences pain, unfortunately. I'll give it some more thought.
Well worth it, particularly given the richness of the thoughts to this point. Yes, indeed, one might well want to entertain a model in which "self" is co-extensive with however much nervous system is connected ... and persists in lesser parts after disconnection. Clearly it does so in the rostral part of the nervous system ... and includes the caudal part when the two are connected. There is, though, a remaining issue: the caudal part. Is there a self THERE following disconnection? Or is there something about the rostral part which is different from the caudal part so that only it can support "selfness"? To return to. PG
as a child i was faced with the problem: do i put on my nice shoes and go to temple or do i sit and whine about how i hate going to temple. if i complained too much then i would be reprimanded and forced to put on my shoes in a very disrespectful fashion. thus, the easier path was to put on my shoes through my own power and will.
a decision tree was being constructed through foreseeable consequences. if i made one decision, to put on my shoes or not, other events would precipitate. one large, basic decision controlled what path my life would take over the next several minutes.
boxes for brains works on this same concept. an input leads one box to generate a specific output which acts as an input for another box, which in turn generates a specific output. as a result higher and higher levels of specificity are achieved in our behavior.
in physiology i did an experiment with a frog leg. after detaching the leg from the body we extracted the end of the major nerve which controls the contraction of the leg muscle. this was connected to a variable power supply. a single behavior was observed, contraction of the muscle. the input of electricity to the minimalistic single neuronal "box" was capable of producing one output.
this experiment helps me see the usefulness behind constructing a serial model of neuronal boxes within our bodies. it was obvious that the one input one output phenomenon observed with the frog leg would not be able to explain the incredible breadth of behaviors we and frogs enjoy.
You don't like capitals either, huh? (see above). Yes, indeed boxes can help make behavior more comprehensible, in part by showing how combinations can lead to lots of possibilities. Interestingly, as we'll see, its not only (or perhaps even primarily) the hierachical arrangements that do this. Its at least as much (and maybe more) the parallel arrangements. PG
Very interesting, subtle, sophisticated, well worth continuing to think about, try and make sense of. Yes, indeed, previous inputs (as well as their own activity), must alter the boxes, and we'll talk a bit about that. And, even before that, the boxes must "process" the input. Which is to say, what comes out is not obvious from what goes in, and may even be fundamentally a little bit unpredictable. But the really interesting suggestion is that "self" is itself a consequence of inputs, i.e. that its a brain construction which emerges as a way of "making sense" of inputs. That may, in very interesting ways, be true ... so that "self" doesn't emerge without certain kinds of experiences. We'll talk through some things along these lines later in the course ... maybe even more than I might have otherwise since you've outlined a path. Thanks. PG
To me, this model is useful in large part because it enables us to consider our behavior (actions, emotions, consciousness, tendencies...) as far more complex than putting them all in a box might initally seem. Boxes seem so orderly, predictable and simple. And this unnerves us. But this model enables us to ponder the myriad questions that ensue: Where does an input go if there is no output? If an output happens without an input, what triggered it? What about intuition and instinct? What affects/determines the path an input will take? What is the role of our environment, our heart, the rest of our biology and experiences in all of this? We are able to maintain an air of "it's beyond our grasp" when trying to comprehend the relation between the nervous system and behavior. It seems from other posted comments that many folks could intellectually/rationally/theoretically accept that brain=behavior, but they simply don't want to. And even if only by admitting that there remain unanswerable questions, this model does serve its purpose.
Yeah, but ... how come I'm SERIOUS? And the boxes within boxes idea isn't intended to leave some wiggle room for unanswerED questions but rather to allow questions so they might actually be answered? PG
My Dad assured me that paraplegics do pull their foot back, a process called the Bibinsky (sp?) reflex and stated that this was completely involuntary. Well, once that question was resolved, we continued to discuss other interesting behaviors that have been associated with pain and paralyzation and amputation. We talked about "phantom pain" and the similarities that he has seen between amputees and paraplegics.
Amputees have been known to report pain in a limb that is no longer there while paraplegics report having pain located in the area where they are paralyzed. These pains are real and often have to be treated with medication. What does this say about where the "I" function or pain reception is located?
I don't really have answers for this area because I know that I have such a limited knoweldge of the subject but it does raise important questions about pain in general. How much of the pain that we feel is located in the brain? What exactly is pain? Are there different types of pain?
I think I want to have more specifics about pain in general because I am leery of placing the "I-function" solely in the brain. It just seems too big to be placed in such a specific place. We are talking about what makes us who we are, what makes us say the things we say, what makes us to the things we do. It is much more than response to pain, it is our responses to everything around us. It is an amazing thing. I just don't think we can place it in a specific place. . . although I am willing to keep an open mind!
Fair enough. And glad your father bore us out ("Babinski" sign). And yes, indeed, amputees frequently report discomfort in a missing limb. Interesting and important connection, one we'll return to in a bit in the course. PG
My sense of self provides a framework for my behavior. Who I am is who I think I am. If I think that I like thrills, my decision to ride a roller coaster (a behavior) is a result of the thought process. If I think that I'm an easy-going person, I will behave in an easy-going manner. (These examples are given under the assumption that people try to be consistent in their behavior. I realize that this isn't always true, but more often than not it is.) Undoubtedly, the I-function is more complex than this. Past experience, personal inclinations, and genetic facts all contribute to the creation of one's sense of self.
So, I think the I-function box is a useful construct for understanding the origins of behavior in the brain. But, I still have some questions about it, like "Is it located in one place?" and "What are the mechanisms by which it develops as one matures?" I'm not sure if Gage's tuning fork pierced his I-function box and that caused the dramatic change in his personality, but I do know that one's sense of self is very concrete, indeed it is expressed in everything we do.
Interesting and worthwhile set of questions, to guide us as we keep at the problem. Let's though, as we talked about, at least entertain the possibility that "personality" and the "I-function" are overlapping but not identical ideas. Who "I think I am" is closer to the former, but clearly reflects the latter. PG
I'm not sure we has to get quite so quickly to "we cannot explain". Certainly, though, there is an interesting difference between humans and many other organisms in relation to the neocortex, and that may be a clue (though how could one know whether other organisms "think"?). Can thinking be neurons firing? What do you mean by "non-systematic" and why is that important? Would behavior=brain necessarily mean "no control" over emotions and actions? Could the I-function be non-special neurons firing in a non-special way but connected to other neurons in a particular way?PG
Well anyway, reading your essays is too much fun for me to wait until Thursday nights to talk about what you say, so I'm going to post some thoughts I had in response to various ideas you presented.
--The "I-fcn box" does not have to be small, or box-shaped, or locatable in one particular area of the brain (yet)....a "box" can be a functional idea(like "self") as well as a material thing(like a neuron).
--w.r.to brain transplants--it seems to me that if a brain-dead person was to "receive" a transplant, they would have for the most part the "self" of the brain donor. Hence, it's not the "recipient" who is given the new lease onlife--it's the donor, who gets a new body. Fun to think about :)
--the delay in the sensation of pain can be much longer than a few milliseconds--hours in some cases, such as an "adrenaline high" where the body produces substances to dull the experience of pain temporarily while it gets on with the business of surviving to live another day. I agree with the underlying point, though, the point that there is the "foot jerk" kind of pain that paraplegics caudal(lower) half may experience, and the experience of pain that the rostral part of the brain reports.
--Someone said that the I-fcn "allows us to approach the topic" of self, but "falls short of explaining what self is." I completely agree--we humans have been trying to understand "self" for thousands of years, and I see no end to the discussion whether we find it in the brain or not. :)
--Relating to the issue of self, someone(I will write down names next time I do this:) pointed out that statements like "I am not my skin color" and "my leg" "my body" may be the self(the speaker) recognizing that it is not contained in said parts (skin color, limbs, etc). But the more I think about that point, the more complex it gets. Skin color, loss of limbs, etc. can affect the self by causing it to have different experiences. In addition, we can talk about "my self" "my I-function" "my brain"--who is talking about what when we do that?
--The internet==brain analogy is a verrrry interesting thought. True story: encryption labs like RSA every so often release a code, challenging anyone out there to crack it for some prize($). One of these was to crack the key-based encryption method, DES. A community of internet users decided to use the vast computing power of the net to solve it(using the "brute force" method, the only one possible with DES). They wrote programs for desktop computers to run at all times (w/o interfering in what the user was doing) to crunch the code--but the internet's connectivity made it possible to make sure that no two computers were searching the same area of solution space. In computing terms, the problem was worked onin parallel, in a distributed fashion. The code was broken about 3 times faster than RSA had predicted:)
--One student made a good case that I/O boxes must process thier information somehow, else they _would_ be the switchboard-like things we decided they couldn't be last week. To that I say: yep, stick around and we'll get to that in class :)
--anonymous (who is so no longer) talked last week about holism, the idea that by understanding its parts, a whole could be grokked(understood completely). In discussion section I tried (rather ineptly) to argue against this idea by explaining a concept termed emergence. For those who heard me talk about it in section (and for anyone else), an introduction to emergence, with examples from the game of life, is included at the end of the serendip page about the Game of Life.
--To the woman with the 10 month old relative--many years ago I tool a psych class tha touched on the infant's development of self, and one name I remember is Piaget, who postulated that the mind has schemata which additional evidence can disprove,making a new schema necessary. Can any psych majors can shed more light on what Piaget assumed was the original schema(I seem to remember it included everything inthe infant's sensorium and only slowly does the child realize that it cannot control every object)?
enough for one night. See you all tuesday!
Why could it not be possible? We've all had elaborate and complex dreams that have felt so real, yet were the work of our brains in our body's down time. It seems perfectly feasible that our brains have the power to not only control our behavior, but to create everyone else's through out all of history. We control other people's behavior on a much smaller scale all the time, like when we have first impressions and make assumptions about others, we are constantly attributing behavior to someone that we do not "know". So why couldn't we have made that whole person up in the first place?
I find it an exercise in amusement to sit back and try and attribute everything that I've learned to my brain weaving a complex web around what I call my conscious, my I-box. The crazy thing is, it's not as big of a step as it seems from the dreams that we know our brains create, to the reality that the brain could be creating in front of us. I've always heard that the amount of brain power we use is equivalent to the tip of an iceberg, so maybe the manufacturing of reality is what's really going on in the water below.
Nope, not a big step at all. "One little step for a ..., one big step for ..."? Anyhow, very nice posing of the issue. Thanks. I'm curious how many others played that game as a kid (or remember playing it)? If you replace "control" with "create", its probably not, for the reasons you give, so impossible an idea. So ... where does the idea come from that ... there is someone, something out there? Maybe rather than asking whether the brain does or does not account for certain things we should ask the question of why we should believe there is anything else to account for?PG
In this light it doesn't seem necessary to assert that nothing exists outside the nervous system. Saying that the brain=behavior only means that it is a brain, a tangible thing, which creates the response to a sensation through biochemical, scientific means. That doesn't automatically invalidate our humanity, personality, souls, or whatever we cling to. It implies that they have a biological basis for existing.
To be a good scientist, though, one should be skeptical of science. The question of whether or not anything exists outside the brain is an odd one, and leads to circular arguments. Without the outside world, how does the individual know about the existence of the nervous system? Would behavior exist if there were anything outside the nervous system? Ultimately, it seems that we cannot question the existence of life as we know it without questioning the existence and nature of the brain.
Yep, that's being a good scientist. And indeed it raises a very interesting question: does the nervous system need something outside itself to discover itself? Hmmmm ... Let's see if we get to that. PG
Ahh, the I-function.
Maybe there's this little box in my brain that controls/is my identity. Where does consciousness come from anyway? And morals and beliefs and self-awareness?
Why is it that there are amputees who say they still "feel" the body parts that have been removed? And that these parts itch?
I am thinking this is a related issue: self-awareness, feeling our bodies, or the parts that aren't there at all.
Maybe it's those cute homunculi in the brain responsible for that. But anyway...
The person still considers herself "whole" despite an amputation, and losing an arm or a leg didn't destroy her notion of self. Well, I suppose in a way it could, but not in the sense that I am thinking. Her psychological sense of self overall has not changed beyond her control. An I-function box, if there is one, does not seem to be affected.
Aside: If the brain = all behavior, does there really exist a notion of free will???
And why does the person itch?
In other words, I believe in an I-function box. Not so much in the form of a box, per se, but a box in the sense that the hippocampus is a box, or the medulla is a box. There are specialized regions in the brain and the I-function may surely be one of them. Very probably in a more advanced region of the human brain, like the neocortex.
Then comes the issue of "How do we really know that certain organisms have little or no consciousness of themselves or their lifespans?"
So who knows, maybe every organism in the world has an I-function box. To explain ourselves as humans, we need to have some semblance of an I-box. How else are we "we"? Any other explanation would assume that there is something else out there controlling our notions of ourselves, which goes back to "does brain = behavior?", or that the nervous system just hasn't arranged these functions into a specialized region, which it seems to have been able to do for most, if not all, of our other functions.
Whee ... around and up and down and back to where you started. No, no homunculi. Remember, we're not allowed those. Only neurons. Can we still have free will? I think so, but we'll see. And what is it to itch? Nice question, want to try an answer? Yes, it does indeed connect to feeling in limbs that aren't there, and to "specialized" brain regions (what does "specialized" mean?), and to wondering whether other organisms have "I-functions" and, if so, which ones.PG
Perhaps the best way to understand this duality between the pieces of the nervous system and the actions of behavior is to study an example. If a person stubs their toe the information concerning the accident enters the nervous system through the foot and is then processed by the spinal cord and the brain. Within these organs, the information travels by way of interneurons. Here, the largest "box" is the nervous system itself. The next group of boxes are the spinal cord and brain. The final group of boxes is the neurons.
The behavior inspired by the accident can be split into smaller units in this same fashion. Overall, the behavior observed is the foot drawing away from the wall/door/object that it encountered. This behavior can be reduced to the movements made by the muscles in the legs, foot, and back. These muscular movements can, in turn, be divided into the interactions of actin and myosin as facilitated by ATP.
So, just as the nervous system can be reduced to smaller components fitted inside each other, behavior can also be reduced to the actions that compose it.
Yep, one can indeed do that. The interesting question is the "usefulness" of such progressive breaking down into smaller and smaller bits. Which, of course, depends a lot on what one is trying to do. If one is trying to make better sense of behavior, is the breaking down useful? My own sense is that it is, but its harder to explain exactly why. Maybe, if nothing else, it calls attention to the centrality in behavior of mechanisms which must be producing coordination into a coherent all all the little actions? PG
You're raising a number of interesting issues in and around the "I-function" notion which we'll want to talk a lot more about. The issue will be how much we want to attribute to that "box", and in what ways it is distinct from other things, both in the nervous system and in behavior. In general, genes should be expected to affect all aspects of nervous system function, so probably the "I-function" as well as other things. What you call "flair" (a nice term) is probably also not a distinguishing property of the "I-function" but something more general to the nervous system. "Innovation" probably isn't either (we'll talk about observations relevant to all this). But yes, there is certainly something which, as you say, isn't coextensive with all of nervous system activity (since it, among other things, speaks of itself and influences on it of other things going on in the nervous system). Maybe "consciousness" is closer to the "I-function" box? And something about "create" each person? Though not uniqueness per se, since that too is probably inherent in the nervous system in general. Lots to think more about? PG
It seems as though a paraplegic, if asked what constituted him as a person, would refer to his entire body and not exclusively to the parts he is aware of. Any person thus could be asked about their sense of self and a similar answer would be obtained and the existence of an I-function box could be concluded.
Paraplegic or not, however, I believe that the existence of an I-function box definetly has to be assumed. As was pointed out, the I-function box would not be in a concrete location, such as the striatum or raphe nucleus, or even in separate regions, but it has to be there. Afterall, considering that the nervous system gives rise to all behavior that we are capable of, all people had to be and behave similarily (if not identically), if it was not for an I-function that distinguished people from another - made them unique beings.
Apparently, I failed to understand how this conviction can be substantiated by examining a paraplegic, but I must agree with what was derived from the examination.
Thanks for the critique, which motivated some things I said in class. Hope you thought those apt? Yes, of course, one doesn't need a paraplegic to draw the conclusion that a sense of self is a property of the nervous system. What the case of the paraplegic does, however, help with is the issue of whether a sense of self is coextensive with the entire nervous system or is instead a "box" within the nervous system, i.e. a property of some subset of the larger box. And it helps as well to make it clear that what is experienced by the self obeys some of the laws it ought to if brain=behavior, in particular that the law of physical contiguity holds. The self can be aware only of things which it can receive as signals along intact projection pathes. That all ok? How localized the associated box is (or isn't) is something we'll come back to later in the course. Thanks again. PG
Yep, like your web image. And raises some interesting new questions, such as do all webs have this "I-function" property or only some kinds of webs? and if the latter, what kinds? We'll talk more about how bounded the "I-function" box is. Maybe its quite bounded, but not actually the same thing, in some ways, as "self", which is less bounded? PG
VERY interesting set of thoughts, raising a whole slew of subtle and interesting issues. Do we "create ourselves", is this a function of the brain? Is self "learned"? Not only the specifics but the very concept? If so, could autism be understood as a state of less clear distinction between self and other? And would this appear as characteristics in not only the "psychological" but also the motor realm? I'll certainly think more about all that, and hope you will too. You and Donald Ball might both want to read and discuss Buddhist Meditation and Personal Construct Psychology). PG
Glad you like it, and yes, it helps to break things down into parts and recognize that enormous diversity is made people by combing a small number of things in different ways. Is a good addition to the discussion of why breaking things down into parts is (or is not) useful. I'm not sure, though, that there is any less "drain on memory". And there is certainly an increased need to assure that things work together in coordinated ways. Maybe its just the way it is? PG
Upon consideration, to me, pain appears to be as much, or more so, anticipation and fear, than actual physical damage to the body. Thinking back to falling down as a child, unless there was real damage and bones broken, even the deepest cuts never really hurt. Only when associated with the look of horror and recoil from the parents, that I was taught that whatever I did, should have hurt. Similar experience might be applicable to a paraplegic. While he may not be initially self aware of the stimulus, if an ostentatious presentation of the scalpel entering the skin is made within his line of sight, experience will tell him that it hurts, whether or not he can feel it. Pain has to include self awareness.
Converse to not feeling pain when one should, one has to wonder why do amputees feel pain in phantom limbs? In a similar situation, though now the limb is completely absent.
Interesting and sophisticated thoughts, to return to and follow up on. Yes, indeed, there is a strong element of "awareness" in the human experience of pain; it is by no means simply "tissue damage". And a part of that is certainly learned (nice and relevant story about kids, certainly accords with my experience, as both kid and parent). There are a number of clinical conditions in which tissue damage is not accompanied by pain (might make an interesting web project), and, conversely, pain can be experienced without tissue damage (one case being the one you point out, phantom limbs, which we'll talk more about in the course shortly). PG
This just doesn't sound right to me. How can a person deny their movement even when they have seen their own leg move? I feel that this puts an interesting spin on the question about whether or not things exist outside the nervous system. If the paraplegic knows that he did not move his leg, but saw his leg move can he claim that his leg is outside the main part of his nervous system so it can not exist?
Now the other corallery to this example was that when the person is lying down (can't see his leg), he will respond that he did not move his leg. In this case, the man can understandably deny his action because to his knowledge he didn't feel it or see it. But how does the man respond when he doesn't feel it but sees the movement of his leg?
Quite simply, if I was a paraplegic and I saw my leg move, I would assume I did it. Maybe I wouldn't know " how" I did it but by seeing it with my own eyes I would have a hard time saying that I wasn't responsible for the action. Even though the leg has been disconnected from the rest of the nervous system (or at least the pathway that allows for a vocal response) the leg still exists. Even though the paraplegic can't feel his leg he can see it.
I am really curious to know how the paraplegic responds to the above scenario (seeing the leg move). Unfortunately, I don't know any paraplegics or I would run the test myself. Did this strike anyone else as strange? Perhaps I am the only one but I can't help feeling that by seeing the action the man would have to say that he moved his leg.
Strange, indeed, but it is indeed what paraplegics generally say/experience. Which is to say, one's sense self and what self consists of indeed has to do with the nervous system and what parts are connected to what others. On the other hand, perhaps not so strange. Have you ever had the experience of waking up after sleeping on your arm (numbing it), and noticing it lying there, and, at least briefly, not being sure what it is at all? Or, at least, the experience of having noticed that you did something but not having any good explanation of how it happened? Yes, YOUR sense is that your leg is of course yours, but ... under other conditions of nervous system organization, maybe it "feels" different? PG
That might indeed be a good way to think about it; perhaps with not only a limited vocabulary but also limited information about what the rest of the nervous system is doing. I'm not sure, though, that we will want to equate the "I-function" with "motivation". We'll talk more about this, but "purposive" behavior can certainly exist without the "I-function". Have you ever had the experience of feeling that you would prefer not to want something but act out of that want? PG
One common method in Neuroscience for discovering a the function of a structure within the nervous system is to lesion it and study the changes in behavior. I think that this method is inadequate for looking such an amorphous "behavior" as having a sense of self. If all parts of the nervous system contribute to the sense of self then any lesion to the nervous system will alter the sense of self, at least minority but possible majorly depending on the extent and location of the lesion. And if any lesion will alter the sense of the self then no structure can be said to only contain the ability for understanding of self. Perhaps the only way to establish the importance of the brain in the sense of self would be to have a total brain transplant as was suggest by someone else in class. If the person were the "same" in their new body then I would concede that the brain is the source of the I function. But I don't believe this would be the case, the new person maybe similar to the old person because they have the share a similar component of self, the brain, but the would not be identical. Just the fact the brain would be receiving inputs from a new body would alter the person enough that they would in essence be a new person.
To sum up if I had to draw an I function box, I would have to draw it around the entire nervous system instead of contained within it.
Interesting and significant points, some not dissimilar from some made by several of your colleagues (see above). Indeed, there is certainly a "self" which would be affected by things outside the brain, and is continually being so affected. That's a little different, though, from the "I-function". The argument is that the EXPERIENCE of being oneself reflects activity in a sub-system of the nervous system (a "box"), since parts of the nervous system can be doing things without the self experiencing them. This happens in a paraplegic and, as we'll see, in a wide variety of quite normal situations as well. That distinction alright with you? PG
As for the paraplegic example and the I-function: At first I had no problem with the idea that the "self" resides with conscious brain. However, once I started thinking more about it I found myself going in circles again- what constitute the self? what unites the body and makes each of us unique? DNA. Don't brain cells share some common genetic pattern with skin cells? Why do skin grafts and blood transfusions have to be carefully matched? Why is there a genetic code in all cells that signifies individuality? Don't fingerprints indicate a certain individual self? This stretches the definition of 'self' a bit much.... but how do we define it? In the paraplegic example we clearly can only distinguish the self which can communicate pain to the observer. And although the paraplegic may not flinch with pain when her toe is pinched, how can we be sure she/her cells just can't express it to the conscious 'self'?
Part of the point is, as you say, we CAN'T at the moment say whether pain is being experienced when the toe is pinched. But another part is that we can (or at least do), in the same person, accept that pain is being experienced when they say it is. Which is to say, a sense of self can exist in a part of the nervous system. Is it "individuality"? I don't think so, in two senses. First, all parts of the body have the same genetic individuality. Second, individuality is much more than the genome. Who one is (feels oneself to be) changes with time, even though the genome stays the same. And genetic twins are clearly distinct individuals, despite having the same genome. PG
Those who suffer from M.S. often have extreme fatigue and slurred speech, difficulty walking, problems controlling their bladder and bowels, difficulty thinking, and in extreme cases, complete paralysis. One can adeptly apply the model of the brain as a series of input and output boxes to consider this degenerative neurological disease and a biological level. If such a model is correct, then a disease in which individual nerve cells are damaged would essentially halt communication between boxes, prompting behavioral responses to change.
The model, as presented in class, seems to have relatively few flaws in the biomedical analysis of disease and diagnosis. The model falls short, however, when one takes a more holistic view of disease and the individual. If one is to say, in fact, that the damaging of nerve cells essentially irreperably alters behavior, one is also asserting that the individual himself is lost or altered as the disease takes its toll. This, one could argue, is not an accurate description of what occurs, specifically in this instance, with the onset of M.S.
If one incorporates the idea of an "I functioning" box into this model, one is again not fully considering what happens to the sense of "self" in an individual with M.S. As opposed to a parapelgic, whose nerve cells are in tact, albeit disconnected from eachother at a specific juncture, M.S. damages the nerve cells themselves. Can we say a person exists with the onset of this disease and if so, for how long is the "self" existing before it too dies? M.S. presents some new and interesting dilemmas for the model that has been created.
Very interesting and thoughtful extension. I'm not sure what is meant by "severed", but the general point that one would expect changes in behavior, including "self" if neurons change their function or connections is an important one regardless. My guess is that indeed the "self" changes, to varying degrees, everytime a nerve cell changes. On the other hand, there is certainly a sense in which a person remains the same even .... they change. Same issue, of course, with growth, maturation, aging. The question then is how does one account for persistance of some overall consistency, even when details change. Nice problem. Significant not only for brain and self but lots of other things too. Can think of any explanations other than there being an unchanging self located somewhere outside the brain? PG
This I-function may help to explain our memories of personal situations and our different reactions and behavior in situations as a result of very different personal experinces. The I-function may also help to explain personbality differences among people. It may help us to answer questions about people with personality disorders. The existence of an I-function suggests that people that have no feeling in their bodies and no way to respond to the outside world may very well still recognize the existence of the world around them and may still have a sense of self.
I have alot of difficulty with the idea that the I-fcuntion exists in a specific part of my body however, for my sense of self includes my whole body and a part of my sense of self is determined by my perceptions of the world around me and how I fit into and react to this world. Trying to find a specific place in our bodies for this I-function suggests that if certain parts of our bodies were cut off form each other we may still have a sense of self. A question I would ask however, is: Is this a sense of a "whole", "complete" self, or do paraplegic feel a loss of part of themselves, not jsut a physical loss, but an emotional, mental loss as well, one that they cannot explain? I guess that this question could best be answered by a paraplegic. Another problem that I have with the idea of and I-function is that in a way it seems to simple. For me, part of my sense of self seems to come from outside my body. Do our nervous systems totally create our senses of self and individuality?
Interesting and appropriate questions. Worth keeping in mind, trying out answers for as we work all semester trying to specify what the "I-function" is (and isn't). My guess is that some paraplegics feel a sense of loss, others don't. How could we account for this in terms of the nervous system? PG
Of course I can't prove that everything external to my nervous system is not a figment of my imagination. Nobody can. That may be, but how useful is such a hypothesis? It is an intellectual dead end, with no helpful insights to be found. The query rings of the traditional question "if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" As I see it, that is a silly question. The answer of course is "yes!". As far as I am concerned a sound can be defined as a series of compression and rarefaction waves moving through matter. We could prove that the sound existed in our absence by leaving a recording device behind, which measures the frequency and magnitude of the sound waves. BUT! Even if I couldn't prove that the tree made a sound, that would have no bearing on how I treated the phenomena of trees falling or sound in general. It really does not matter.
The same goes for the existence of the universe outside of ourselves. If we perceive the world, then it may as well exist, it won’t help us to think otherwise. Conversely, it may be deadly to assume that nothing exists outside of ourselves. We can't seriously question the most fundamental way we have of interpreting what we perceive, without trapping ourselves in layers of uncertainty. Plus, if the "universe is a figment of my imagination" hypothesis is correct, you all risk blinking out of existence when my perception of the world changes. Believe me, you don't want our reality dependent on my brain. So lets abandon such a mental exercise, then it will be easier to talk about more important questions. Like whether our spine feels pain, in addition to our brains. (In Cedar's reality, the answer is "no!")
Nice to have a skeptic around, particularly a committed one. Yes, indeed, the problem is similar to the nature of the sound produced by a tree falling when no one is around. And yes, indeed, it wouldn't be worth worrying about if "it really does not matter". But it turns out it does. I'll even give you that the disturbances in the air would occur whether or not an observer was there. The critical point is that the air disturbances are not "sound", which is, instead, an experience that a person has, one which we'll equate with a pattern of activity in neurons. And one reason it matters is that the same disturbance in the air may produce different patterns of activity in different brains (hence different experiences). And another reason it matters is that one or another of those patterns of activity may occur in the absence of the air disturbances. Which then leads to the really important questions: how does one decide whether the pattern of activity actually corresponds to something "out there", and what that something is? They may or may not be sterile as philosophical questions. They are quite real and important as neurobiological ones (and legal ones). PG
I like your addition of dynamism to the boxes. As for "action propre" vs "action commune" ... maybe you'd better lay out that debate and its current status for the benefit of ... me (among others)? PG
I am somewhat skeptical of this notion of a single box which houses the sense of self and personal experience. The sense of self is too large and encompassing to be confined to a single box, located above the spinal cord. Self grows and evolves as the person does, becoming more intergrated with behavior as the person recognizes who s/he is. Therefore, I believe that the I function is not a single box.
We can use Phineas Gage from chapter three as a example. His brain was damaged in an accident. As a result, his personaltity was completely altered. He would still answer yes to the question "are you a person?" Therefore he has an I function. However, his sence of self must have been completely different, because his behavior was different. If a person acts differently towards other people, s/he must think differently about themselves.
Since, I have stated that the I function is NOT a box, I guess I must state what it IS. Unfortunately I'm not sure. Maybe there is a small I function box within all boxes of the brain. Or maybe, the brain is one large I function box, something brain=behavior=I function. Either way, there is more to the self than one box that can answer "are you a person?"
Interesting and appropriate concerns. The assertion was not that "self" is a box, but that the "I-function" is. And so we'll need to talk more about the distinction between the two. Would you be more comfortable if we equated the "I-function" with the experience of being a self, allowing then that what one oneself experiences relates to whether information does or does not get to the "I-function" box? About that one might indeed usefully ask such questions as does a child already have one, does it change over time, can there be more than one of them. That ok? and consistent with our observations from paraplegics? PG
We all have to assume that we exist. If we didn't base our lives on this assumption, then we would be constantly walking in a reverie without any direction. We gain a purpose in our lives through a basic core belief in ourselves.
Is this I-function box, this sense of self, something we develop with the addition of various experiences? Or is it something we are born with and mold as we grow? I really don't know.
We are more than just a bunch of cells, we are human beings with desires, dreams, and deadly depths. The physical body and the physical world are merely the vehicles through which we express ourselves and activate our I-function boxes.
Clearly we are, in some sense, "more than just a bunch of cells", if one imagines by that a big, randomly disordered pile of them so it just looks like a pile of cells. The big question is, is there anything in us other than cells or, to put it differently, if lots of cells are organized in very particular ways, does the collection behave like us? Could it BE us? To try and answer that, one has to know what organized collections of cells are capable of, and we'll spend the semester working on that. Any maybe some subset of those cells, an "I-function box" has because of its organization the property of not "blindly clinging" to a belief in existence but rather constantly shaping and reshaping one? PG
"Not everything in Biology makes sense -- some things simply are the way they are." P.G.
I don't want to begin every essay by disagreeing with something that Dr. Grobstein asserts, but it's a lot more fun than agreeing. Dr. Grobstein made the above statement with regard to the anterior arrangement of the crayfish's nervous system.
Although not everything in living organisms appears to make sense, nothing is arbitrary. Don't worry, this is not a Creationist argument for "intelligent design." In fact, it is an argument based primarily on Darwin's proposed mechanism for evolution: natural selection.
Any feature of an organism that appears random, redundant, or functionless must have an explanation which lies either in the development of the organism, or in the evolution of its species. (Whether people have discovered the explanation is irrelevant.) Darwin suggests that if something in an organism doesn't make sense, it ceases to be a part of that organism. Variations among organisms of the same species arise via random mutations, but only organisms whose mutations "make sense" proliferate. So called random mutations, which result from transcriptional or translational errors, must have discernible intrinsic or environmental causes.
Because evolution occurs incrementally, some features stop making sense eons before they disappear. Although there is no good reason, at present, for our wisdom teeth and appendices, they made perfect sense when we had to crunch up and digest the bones of our prey. Likewise, features of a mature organism that seem inexplicable may have made sense in the developing organism, even if their purposes become obscured: consider the belly-button. We must look to an organism's past -- individual or evolutionary -- to explain its present.
Disagreeing is not only more fun, its also, with explanation, usually more productive (which may be the same thing). In this case, I agree with your generality - we must look to an organism's past ... to explain its present". Which is to say that some things may exist now because of the history. What is substantially less certain is that what existed either then or now necessarily "makes sense" in any sense other than it existed or exists. To put it differently, things must work in order to persist, but there is no assurance in evolution that they must in any sense work "best". Which leaves a lot of room for the inherent randomness underlying the evolution process to influence both what has been and what currently is. That get us any closer to the same place? PG
I have tried to examine my concept of self through exploring when it is that I feel "out of it." I feel out of sorts when I am not feeling well physically; this includes anything from being tired to being violently ill. This twilight zone feeling also comes when I’m feeling mentally foggy, disoriented in particular.
I'm currently reading a terrific book entitled "Wasted," by Marya Hornbacher. Marya presents her view of the mind/body connection in describing her struggle with an eating disorder. She talks about seeing her body as "an undesirable appendage, a wart you need to remove. 'I have a body, you are likely to say if you talk about embodiment at all; you don't say, I am a body. A body is a separate entity possessable by the 'I.'" (108-9).
Everyone has varying degrees of connection with their bodies depending on a number of factors. One extreme is feeling, as Marya did, that there is a distinct separation between the 'I' and the body. I was about to write that the most contented individuals seem to have a strong sense of self, and are people who feel comfortable in their bodies. However, I know that many people strive to lose their sense of self completely in attempt to bond more intensely with the whole (a goal of Taoism?), a state of being which is presumably euphoric to them. The relationship between the body and the 'I function' differs from culture to culture and from person to person.
VERY interesting, helpful extensions on the theme. Indeed the relationship between the self and the body is different in different cultures, in different people, and even in the same person at different times. The question, of course, is can we account for that in terms of the brain, is understanding the brain useful in accounting for that. And its precisely there that the paraplegic situation may be helpful. What the observations imply is that the "I-function" may or may not include in the self other things, depending on, among other things, the access it has to information about them. Maybe that notion worth pursuing? PG
Having a box in the CNS called the I-function seems to assume that my "self" is an aspect of the brain. I'm not sure that I completely agree with this. However, the concept of an I-function box makes it easier to discuss the implications of the "self" in a paraplegic.
I'm not sure if the "self" is located solely in the brain. As was stated in class, if you ask a paraplegic if he is a person, he will answer yes. That seems to indicate that the "person" is located in the rostral part of the nervous system. But what about the spinal cord? We already talked about the difficulty of determining whether there is a sense of self connected to the spinal cord because you can't talk to the spinal cord.
I think the I-function would need to be associated to some degree with the entire nervous system, but primarily with the brain. Altzeimers ( I apologize for any spelling errors) is a very scary disease because it attacks the brain. It tampers with the "self" located there. The experience of Phineas Gage is similar because the "person" connected with the brain was altered, or so it appears. Amputation is also very scary because there is a loss involved. It is a different type of loss though. If I had to choose between losing a piece of my body or losing a piece of my brain I would choose to lose a body part. Although I would experience a sense of loss I don't think I would consider my own "person" altered.
This brings us smack up against the original problem of being unable to talk to the spinal cord to ask its opinion. But our society seems to operate on the assumption that the body is only important in proportion to its importance to the brain and the "self" located there. My body is important because it is intimately connected with how I view myself, but I can exist without large portions of it. There is a short story by Roald Dhalh (not sure of spelling) in which a man has his brain preserved by scientists after his death. His brain is kept in a glass bowl hooked up to some monitors. When I read the story I associated the man with the brain in the bowl, not with his cremated body. If I was in a coma with little hope of ever coming out of it, but the majority of my body was fine, my parents would eventually have the doctorys turn off the life support machines. Why? Because they would associate my "person" with the brain, not my body.
What if there is a sense of self connected with the spinal cord? The my own attitude, and the attitudes of others seem to suggest that if a "self" cannot be expressed, then it isn't considered to exist. I would not consider the feelings of my leg if I needed to have my leg amputated to stay alive. This could also be true in the case of Phineas Gage. His behavior appeared to be altered after the accident, but was the actual "person" altered, or was it just unable to express itself?
Very interesting, thoughtful, and good incentive to further explore this notion of the "I-function". Yes, I agree, our culture DOES tend to identify self with brain rather than with other body parts. Is it possible that there is actually a good reason for this? That it reflects some inchoate understanding of something that might get clearer from better understanding the brain? We'll see (and yes, of course, it is also possible that the way we're looking at the problem is a reflection of our culture; can you think of any way to get out of this loop? maybe the brain can help with that too?). PG
Drugs are other outside sources that alter behavior and consciousness in individuals. They can enhance or decrease sensory pleasure and stimulate creativity. Moreover, they alter physical performance and social interaction. People with depression have low seratonin levels which can be affected by the environment. Prozac in some cases can transform personality by interfering with the chemical influence in the brain.
There are certainly things outside the nervous system that "influence behavior". And, if the brain=behavior, the presumption is that they must influence the brain. Certainly, as you say, this is true for drugs. Maybe its true of all the other things you list too? Including culture? PG
If the model of an "input-output box" were to be applied to the "I-function", then, what would be some of the inputs, and what would be some of the outputs associated with it? Well, obviously all of the events that a person experiences in his/her life would be inputs, physical environment, what kinds of books someone reads, what kind of TV programs they watch, what kind of people they interact with, would all help make up the contents of the "I-function". But while all of these inputs may affect what kind of self the person has, I am not sure if they can produce the sense of self itself. As someone else posted, although Phineas Gage's accident changed his personality I am sure that if someone asked him if he had a sense of self he would have answered yes. So maybe the sense of self is a type of output that arises without specific inputs.
As for outputs of the I-function, my sense of it is that the I-function does not produce outputs that are immediately noticeable, but that the output of the sense of self acts as an input and affects all of the other voluntarily produced outputs of the brain, and perhaps involuntary outputs such as an accelerated heartbeat as well.
Also, I think it is important to note that the "I-function box", and probably other "boxes" as well, do not act merely as a passive switchboard to relay information, but is acted on by the information itself and experiences change. For example, in the textbook, I read about neuromodulators that act not by immediately sending on an acute nerve impulse but by stimulating biochemical reactions that often change the chemical content and the structure of the neuron.
The example of the paraplegic would seem to indicate to me that the "I-function" probably does not depend on parts of the body other than the brain and perhaps spinal cord. That does not mean they do not contribute, only that they are not essential. It seems that if medical science advances to the point that all other processes of the body can be duplicated, so that some kind of bionic body could be produced, if that body had a brain, it would still have an "I-function".
I referred to ethical problems in my last post, so I'll return to them to conclude this one. It seems that there is a danger that if the sense of self, and therefore personhood, are thought to be present only in those with a complete nervous system, this could lead to discrimination, perhaps not against paraplegics but perhaps against mentally retarded people, as not fully human because their brains are not fully developed. Also, I think there was recently an article or letter in the NYTimes that was very controversial, for it dealt with a philosopher who said that the murder of neonates is not as morally wrong as the murder of older children or adults, and I think one of his justifications was that a neonate does not yet have a sense of self.
Interesting issues, moral and otherwise, worth pursuing further. Yes, it helps to think about what the inputs and outputs of the "I-function" box might be. And we'll do more of that as the course goes on. And I also agree that it is important to distinguish between "the kind of self a person has" (altered in Gage's case perhaps) and "the sense of self itself" What kinds of inputs and outputs and internal processing would be relevant for the latter? PG
I-function? I don't think so again.
In class we speculated how there may be an I-function box whose activity basically gave one a sense of "self." If we were to assert that this box corresponds to the sense of "self," then we are assuming that this box or crate or whatever, is our personality storage center. This also assumes that we were born with an I-function box, already determined before we can even imagine to remember. I feel that there is no such thing as this box or personal storage facility within our nervous system.
First of all, I feel that a person is who they are based on both genetics and outside environmental experiences, not this box we speak of. If this box were in such existence, that would mean to say that a person's sense of self is predetermined. Our sense of self worth arises from one's upbringing and individual experience. Our feelings are constantly changing--as I write this essay and as you read it.
And how about the paraplegic? Well, this person's sense of self is not from some box. His sense of self is something that he has learned over the years in his life. This sense of self is learned just like we learn mathematics, history, or table manners. Like these things that we have learned, they can be influenced just as much or more by the environment. Therefore, the paraplegic responds the way he does because it is something that he has learned--he has lived to be his own person and is responsibile for his own sense of self.
Thus, I find that the concept of the I-function is not valid because I believe that a person "learns" to be who they are, and that is how they seem to associate to their sense of self.
Hmmmm. I agree with your premise, but not with your conclusion, maybe because we have different expectations about what "boxes" can do? My working assumption is that boxes within the nervous system are capable of changing, and are probably generally doing so all the time. So, in principle, an "I-function" box could change based on experience and so forth. At the same time, we'll later in the course try to draw a distinction between that box and "personality", which is a somewhat different thing looked at from the perspective of the nervous system. Let's see then what you think about the whole thing? PG
My first reason for being skeptical about it is merely a hunch, based in some degree on a few of the other biological networking systems we've learned about in the past, say, 150 years. Evolution and genetics are both areas of thought where we have had to get away from the idea of a "central control box" and a direct "x leads to y" way of thinking. Instead, we've had to retrain ourselves to think in terms of a "vast network of effects", including the interlocked relationship of biology and the environment. I suspect that a diffuse model of an "I function" might be more accurate than a box model.
My second reason for being skeptical is that I've never heard of it. (!) I have heard that there are very specific locations in the brain which are responsible for seeing and integrating color, for language, for a million tasks great and small. I believe in those. I am very intrigued by what I've read (in Oliver Sacks, mostly) about patients who are blind and aren't aware of it: they cannot see, their retinas are destroyed, but if you ask them they will absolutely deny being blind, not out of stubbornness or denial at all but from a literal UNAWARENESS of their own blindness. However, I have never heard of a "loss of the I-function" in connection with damage in a particular location of the brain. I have heard of it in the psychological sense, but that puts us back into the "diffuse network of effects" way of thinking about the I function. Similarly, in a neurological sense, anyone whose "I-function" isn't functioning has suffered damage in many areas of the brain, making the ifxn box impossible to isolate.
This all gets me back to our poor paraplegic. I am surprised myself to find out how much I can't stand the idea that the paraplegic must be able to verbalize his pain before we will say with certainty that it exists. I really believe that the pain is there, even if he can't "feel" it in his mind, just as I believe that the blind person who doesn't know it is still blind. What about the person who feels pain that isn't there (i.e. the amputee)? Is their pain real? Of course. Our "I" is constructed of several things and in the day-to -day sense of the word "I", an ifxn box seems unlikely. However, if there is a different working definition of "I" which fits in a neural box, I'd like to hear about it and how it works.
Very interesting, appropriate thoughts. Yes, indeed, one might have a hunch about the likelihood or unlikelihood of a "central control box", and I'm on your "unlikely" side there. On the other hand, as you say, there is certainly evidence for perhaps surprising "boxiness" in the nervous system. the issue is in some sense how to put those two sets of intutions together. And to do so in a way that resolves your discomfort with the possibility that the paraplegic's pain ISN'T there in some sense, and the blind person CAN see in some sense. We'll try to do that, and you keep me posted on whether it works. PG
Another interesting case which really leaves me with a lot of questions about the sense of self is that of Phineas Gage. His identity was completely altered by the rod passing through his skull. This example really makes me stop and wonder about this brain. It is a fascinating "thing". If I were to bruise my arm, in a normal case, "I" would still be Zermatt. Yet if I were to bruise my brain, depending on the degree and extent of the damage, "I" can literally lose "myself", as seem to have happened to Phineas. How can my brain make sense of this? Is the self only associated with the upper part of the nervous system, is it an I-function box? Where was Phineas after the accident? Did "Phineas" "die" after the accident?
My brain at this moment is admitting, "I don't know, this is hard". And my brain is also pressuring me on, "Well, I want to understand". Then my brain wonders, "What if the self isn't so much within the brain as an I-function, but that the brain is within the self?" So in the case of Phineas, the damage to the brain through which the self manifest itself altered the transmission of the "true" and "real" self, thus transmitting an "erroneous" and "broken" self. Is the brain then fallible in its approach towards understanding where the person is by positing an I-function within itself? I think it is. Can greater insight then be gained by a change of presupposition: that rather the self encompasses the brain? But then I wonder, "Does this presupposition stop us right there and then in our track of investigation? Not at all, in fact, it forces us to be bold and consider something beyond matter, something that is harder to formulate as an I-function box within the brain. What is that "something"?
My presupposition (we all have our individual presuppositions whether we admit them or lay them out as such, and undoubtedly they are critical elements in our search for comprehension) and belief is this, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” Genesis 1:27. The Gospel of John affirms that "God is Spirit...", so the best word that I can point to to define that "something" is "spirit". But then I wonder what is "spirit", how can I define it or at the least describe it. My brain starts thinking(I can imagine all the neurons firing like crazy). And my brain is puzzled.
Hope its also enjoying this. I followed you clearly until somewhere in the third paragraph. Would it help if we added a piece of information to our considerations? If you asked Phineas whether he had died, he would have looked askance at you. No, of course not, I'm standing right in front of you, he would have said. Which is to say that the "I-function" is not the same thing as "personality" or "self" the way we usually use that term. It is instead something much closer to your "the brain looking inside itself", perhaps finding "a self" (which can change) in the activity of the brain. Yes, we all have presuppositions, and they are all worth laying out (and examining) in trying to make "better sense of". Maybe brain is part of self and the "I-function" is a part of the brain (one trying to make sense of the other parts?)? PG
This confused me a bit, either there was no soul and/or all of my beliefs were wrong. So, I came up with a logical way that all of the evidence could be explained. If the soul/behaviors/true self was eternal and unique to each individual, then imagine it a s a piece of paper with your behaviors or true self written on it. Imagine the brain having access to this paper but choosing which parts to display. The brain acts as a filter letting different parts through as it sees fit. If I fail my neuro class and am angered, my brain could let only a little bit of my personality through. So that my friends don't see the true Rehema, which more of is occasionally displayed, but would see the mean and angry way that my brain has chosen to be. There is another issue with this is, does the brain choose to distort the true self, or does it only lets bits of the soul filter in and itself is inherently bad. Do we all have inherently bad filters and those of us that do good have cleaned out their filters more then others so that more of the souls good behavior can shine through? This would make sense of how God judges us when we die, if he judged our brain based on how much of our self we chose to let through. It would also explain free will. Although, what about Phinneaus, he did not choose to break his filter (I'm sure that God takes that into account). As a result of his partially broken brain, it was not able to function as well, so less of his self was shown. This is one of many ways to look at brain and behavior.
Indeed it is ... and a more than interesting one. Fascinated by what you and friend worked through (thank her/him for me). The "true self" issue is a very important one, that comes up in lots of contexts (some people with psychiatric conditions report that medication makes them feel "more like themselves than they have ever felt before"). The obvious question is whether that necessarily means there is some constant/pure/inviolable self (be it a soul or anything else) of which we "see" only a part, or whether there is some other explanation. What may be relevant is that your stories are mostly of OTHER people saying someone is not themselves, rather than the person saying so. So perhaps the constant is in someone else's mind, rather than being the thing itself? (yes, a person might say "I'm not myself today"; could one come up with an explanation for that in terms of boxes?). PG
Considering the nervous system to be as a large input/output box consisting of smaller input/output boxes...and so forth is a useful characteriszation for understanding the nervous system and behavior. If the nervous system was considered to be one large inout/output box then some questions would remain to be answered. Some of the questions that we may ponder are: How can an input stop and not produce an output? How can you get so many outputs from one input? How can you get a single output from so many inputs? These questions can be answered by the fact that the nervous system contains a series of many other input/output boxes. The sum of all the boxes is the behavior that one observes om an organism. It is not like a certain stimulus can only produce a certain kind of response. This is why there is no single neuron that has its receiving and projecting surfaces on one neuron (as learned in class!). Behavior is then made up of the total activity of the boxes.
There is some proof that these complicataed separate box systems are more useful a simplified single box system. These small input/output systems need to work together and watch over each other. One example is the feedback system that occurs at the levels of the postsynaptic and presynaptic neurons. This feedback systems could be either positive (one input/output system) or negative (another system). These box systems watch over the general box of synaptic tranmission. When too much neurotransmitter is released, there is a mechanism to release less and when neurotransmitter is needed, a mechanism allows more to be relased. If there was only one input/output box for the release of neurotransmitters, then there would be problems in maintaining the appropriate levels of neurotransmitter and thus the appropriate behaviors.
Interesting extensions of the box idea. Yes, because of lots of boxes, which can be combined and recombined lots of ways, there is a very substantial richness to behavior (as we observe/expect). And yes, the boxes can interact reciprocally, making for both negative and positive feedback loops, which in turn can (among other things) help to stabilize and coordinate the individual activities of the boxes. I tend to think of neurons as the smallest boxes but you're right one can use the image for things inside neurons, such as the processes involved in regulating transmitter release. PGSerendip © by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:52:55 CDT