Last week's essays have been moved, as usual (though yet to be commented on). For the last topic? How about some recapitulation and reflection? Remember the first topic?
It was asserted in class that "the brain is behavior ... there isn't anything else". If you are (appropriately) skeptical about this assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will not be accountable for in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and explain why. If you are (equally appropriately) inclined to agree with the assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will be most difficult to make sense of in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and suggest how these might most usefully be explored.
How about going back and rereading your first essay (or remembering what you would have said then if you didn't write one), and then writing about what has, or has not, changed in your thinking about these matters over the semester? (As always, you're free to substitute your own topic, but let's try and stay in the recapitulation and reflection mode. What has, or notably has not, changed in how you think about the nervous system, behavior, and the relation between them?).
The same way it is with the I-function debate. Ok, so ‘the evidence’ points to there being a separation of the Nervous System and the I-function. ‘The evidence’ is presented in the form of the paraplegic whom when you ask if she moved her arm says no even though the arm was moved. That led to the thought that the Nervous system must be acting without the knowledge of the I-function. And now recently, REM sleep and sleep walkers have been recruited to the pile of ‘evidence’. Desynchronized signals have been assigned to the presence of the I-function since it is what is observed when a person is awake. Interestingly enough, these desynchronized signals are also observed during REM sleep. Why is that? The answer has been rehearse in the following assertion, “‘you’ are the subject of these dreams and so your I-function is active”. And then you have the sleep walker who acts like ‘herself’ while sleepwalking but her I-function has no recollection of her behavior. From this, it was insinuated that the I-function and personality are separate; you don’t need an I-function for personality.
Without really questioning the ‘evidence’ or the conclusions, what we have so far is this: The I-function must be a subset of the Nervous System; the Nervous System doesn’t need the I-function to act; the I-function is separate from personality; you can act yourself without ‘you’ being present. Now if I was you reading this right now one clarafication I would be asking for is, “What exactly are we defining as the I-function?” As I gathered from class today, the definition we are working with is that the I-function is the experience associated with ‘you’ doing something.
Now the thing is that I understand the evidence. I am puzzled by the fact that someone can point to something they claim not to be able to see. I won’t pretend to currently have alternative scientific explanations for these things. But the conclusions drawn from them puzzle me when I try to integrate these conclusions into reality(you know that reality that is independent of our conceptions or frameworks). The implications of the conclusions cannot be ignored when one truly tries to assess whether or not these conclusions can be soundly accepted.
One implication I brought up in class involves law and justice in a society. With the acceptance of such conclusions, the notion of administering justice in a society would be impossible as far as our capabilities are concerned. How would a courtroom decide whether Mr. ‘YouPNS’, Mr. ‘YouPNS’s Personality or Mr. ‘YouPNS’s Nervous System was responsible for the act of raping. How do we justly try Mr. ‘YouPNS’? One classmate suggested that maybe the law and not the conclusions should be questionned. A quick response to that suggestion could be “Ok, forget about the law then. Let’s ask the rape victim”. Who raped you?
You see we can come up with a lot of conclusions in learning about our brains or the world. A real test of these conclusions should not only be “does it explain or seem to explain the phenomenon”, but also “Can we live with it?”. That is to say is it applicable to the reality. You can say you’re a relativist. But hardly do you really find anything relative about rape. It is simply absolutely wrong. We can conclude or hypothesize that there is Mr.‘you’, Mr. ‘Personality’ and Mr. NS, but the questions remains: Who raped you? How will justice be served?
Some interesting ideas that have allowed me to come to terms with the role of the I-function include: the paraplegic study, dreams, and sleep walking.
With regard to the paraplegic study. I very much agree that there are two kinds of movements (motor outputs): those that we know about and those that we do not know about. With regard to dreams, I agree that there are two kinds of sensory inputs - those that occur with sensory input and those that occur with no sensory input. Dreams allow us to see things without the optic nerve being stimulated. And finally, with regard to sleepwalking, the person can be recognizable through their personality without the I-fuction being involved.
What do all of these things mean to me? Well, that a human being does definitely have an "-I-function" that works in conjunction with the rest of the body to complete the self. However, a person can be recognizable without the I-function because the main idea behind the I-function is SELF awareness and knowledge of one's own behavior.
Another side thought that I had during class this past Thursday was the reliability of eyewitness accounts. Since memory is an I-function process that involves making sense of everything in my brain, I am wondering how much of my memory is manipulated by my I-function. It is interesting to think about how this can be related to vision and how the brain is also involved with correcting for discrepancies in my vision. I think the I-function and memory can be thought of similarly to this.
In closing, I guess I want to end by saying that I was very skeptical of the I-function in the beginning. However, I now see its importance in understanding human behavior. As I have said all along though, it is important to not separately look into individual aspects of the brain and the spinal cord, but see them as a system working together.
Three months ago, I thought that the brain could be given credit for many human behaviors, but there were a few behaviors or behavioral traits that I was skeptical about. I thought they seemed to have originated from an area peripheral to the brain.
I was thinking about the brain as a stable thing where every behavior that could be accounted for was already, preprogrammed into it. I never thought about it as something that had thousands of smaller boxes within even smaller boxes, all within the largest box, the brain. I now know that all behaviors are caused by patterns of activities within neurons.
Every input, whether it be from parents telling you what to do, or what is learned in school and in the workplace, goes to the brain. Each of these societal and cultural influences affect human behavior, and as we now know, it does so by causing changes within the brain. The brain is influenced just as much by culture as it is by behaviors.
I previously thought that the spontaneous fight or flight reactions that ran purely on a chemical rush of adrenaline, could not be accounted for by the brain. Little did I know that much of these chemical releases that were taking place in the body, were also having a substantial effect on the brain. Therefore, we can again say that since behavior influences the brain, the brain is behavior. As of now, I don't think there is anything that we cannot attribute to the brain.
As the semester progressed, we covered topics in class that allowed me to evaluate the nervous system with a different perspective. As my knowledge of the functions and methods of the nervous system grew, so did my willingness to ascribe more behaviors to the control of the brain and spinal cord. The principles/concepts of bi-directionality, central pattern generation, and output being able to effect input, to name a few, caused me to see the nervous system as dynamic, not isolated as I had previously thought. We nevered covered emotion directly, but we did review various pieces of evidence demonstrating the complexity of the nervous system. As it stands now, I no longer think that emotion is seperate from the brain. There are just too many possibilities in the structure of the nervous system for emotion to be anything more.
So, I find myself completely impressed by the nervous system. Yes, there are still some things I need to think more about, like the I-function. But I am satisfied that the brain is behavior. And in that vein, I consider it (the brain) to be one of the most complex structures around.
While reading over my first comment I realize my opinion has changed throughout the semester. I wrote that I thought something hard to explain by the assertion that "brain is behavior" was the phenomena that it is hard for some people to write a paper with certain types of music playing in the background but easy to write a paper with other types of music. Now I see this as something that is not hard to explain at all. Each person has a different set of experiences associated with different types of music. If one person writes a lot of papers with the same type of music as background, once they hear the music their brains might be sort of programmed to start producing an essay. If, on the other hand, they are usually dancing when that type of music comes on, instead of being able to write, their bodies might feel like they want to dance. In this case, they might find it very difficult to write a paper.
I feel like I have proof that this is a valid hypothesis of why music affects our ability to concentrate on writing. Early in the semester whenever I turned on anything that wasn't classical, I was not able to sit down and write a paper. However, while I was studying one time I decided to listen to a techno cd that I was not very familiar with. After listening to the same cd while I was studying a few times, I was quite able to work while this music was on and did not feel the least bit distracted by it.
Here's an interesting thought... perhaps after listening to the CD while studying a few times, my brain made an association between the two things because they wanted to make the whole thing as efficient as possible. The brain might even go one step further and manipulate the actual sound inputs to make it more cohesive to studying...
This is not to say that it hasn't been mind blowing (no pun intended?) to realize just how the I-function and the subconscious functions interact. So the brain=behavior. One would think at first glance that that would make understanding ourselves much easier. Hah!
Freud wrote about the ego, the super ego, and the id. According to my understanding of it, the ego is roughly approximate to the I-function, with the super ego being a set of past inputs which influence what a person strives to be. The id would be like all of the brain that isn't the I-function, a mysterious driving force which the I-function may or may not control at times. It seems slightly strange to think that there's a vast portion of my neural data, the stuff that makes up me, which is unknown to and possibly has a different agenda from my I-function, the thing that is sure it is me.
I suppose the end result is that I still believe that the brain=behavior. But my I-function does not necessarily equal behavior. What I mean is that my actions are not strictly the result of a unified brain which acts under the control of this superficial, conscious level of my thinking.
Though I do still believe that all behaviors do come from the brain - with the exception of possibly supernatural phenomena...though there is some neurological basis of some events...like the woman in Georgia who communes with the Virgin Mary, and has EEG readings that correspond to being in a coma, or something like that. Not too sure. Maybe the supernatural control our brains too. In which case, all behavior is the brain.
Still very confusing, perhaps even more so now that we've learned more details on what some of the brain's capabilities are...what personality, or choice, or the I-function really mean.
To really assess the question as to whether or not all behavior is the brain and vice versa, I feel like it would take a lifetime of definitions and research to come to any sort of conclusion that a majority of people would agree on.
Another interesting thought came from Professor Grobstein's comments on my original post, "behavior is interaction between brain and rest of body." I disagree with that statement. Behavior must be the nervous system and be separate from the body. This is not to say that the body isn't an important component of the behavior process, it just isn't necessary. Let us take all of those memorable "take out the nervous system and throw the rest away" experiments. Behavior is certaintly still happening. The only problem is that it is only observable through electric impulses, not through observation of a swimmerette moving. However, let us also take an instance in which all parts of the nervous system are removed from a limb. That limb can no longer "behave." Therefore, we see that the body is only the means by which behavior is conveyed, and it is really the nervous sytem which is the originator, the cause, and the neccessity for behavior.
I think our behavior is our pesonality. I am not sure how this couldbe argued in anyother way. We certainly act and talk with relation to our environment and so people in the environment would say that what they observe is our personality. If we are especially outgoing and jolly in our behavior then we would be characterized as having a gregarious personality.
Throughout this semester I have been rooting around and trying to figure out the orgiin of our behavior, and I suppose that is really the same as figuring out where our personality comes from. By learning about the examples of simpler nervous systems we have seen that no magic is needed to really get some fairly complicated sequences of behaviors to unfold. Thus, we should be able to explain our behaviors, even the typing of this essay, by neural circuits incorporating various components, that would allow for behavior. But we have not tackled thought. And thought is what I think of as me.
Sure, we have brought up the I function a lot, but we have never explored how the I function would be wired. How it can exist without any magic. I still would exist if my arm was taken away, even if my toe, or leg. But, if my I function was removed then I am no longer.
So, is the brain behavior? I am relating this question to the question is the brain us, our personality? I think it is, since we have not shown in any conclusive way that the I function is anyplace else but the brain, and the I function seems to be what gives us us, a sense of self.
My brain is what holds the neurons that work to make me who I am. But I still want to know how the neurons are organized that actually make me me. When will that question be answered? Or will it always be magic.
I believe that the concept of "instinct" can be partly explained by central pattern generators and other complex patterns of activities that are inherited through our genes.
I also asked a question about why sometimes we do things that our brains seem to tell us not to. I believe that the I-function and the nervous system often battle over issues like this. I also believe that the result of us making a decision that our brain may tell not to make shows that the I-function and the nervous system may function differently. This ability enables us to have varied experiences and reactions.
I also asked why they were activities that our bodies did without us thinking about them such as breathing and I wondered what role the nervous system played in these activities. I understand now that the nervous system plays a very important role in these activities and that it is aware of these activities even though our I-function may not be. This allows complexity in our systems, so that we can do more than one thing at once and also allows for varied experince and reactions.
I was quite curious about memory and still do not completely comprehend the concepts of memory. My second neurobio paper on Alzheimer's helped to bring new insight to the issues and helped to answer soem of my questions. I now fully understand and accept the fact that our memory and the I-function are not always the same thing. I understand that often experiences and abilities may be lost by our I-functions, but still retained by our nervous systems. This is quite beneficial for it allows someone to retain the ability to do something even if they may not remember learning how to do it.
I found it extremely interesting that though the I-function may affect what we consider to be personality, it is not needed for an individual to exhibit characteristics of his or her personality. This was demonstrated by the sleep/wake examples in which and individual sleep-walks and their nervous systems are aware of what is going on even though their I-function may not be.
I feel that I have learned something this semester and am quite pleased by the fact that I can at least partially answer many of the questions that I had unanswered at the biginning of the year.
I still think so, but my thoughts have gotten more sophisticated (I hope) on what exactly is meant by "brain" and "behavior". I learned that the neocortex, the part of the brain we tend to associate with behavior, is actually not needed for many functions and behaviors. Also, I learned that anatomical specificity and the connections of neurons which I tended to envision when talking of the nervous system was not the whole picture. It seems most behavior processes take place over a wide collection of neurons, and that the entire NS can be affected all at once by pharmacological agents, either naturally present in the body or added artificially.
I am more comfortable now than I was before with the idea of an "I-function" which cannot be localized in the NS but seems to be the seat of consciousness, at least for humans. However in the beginning of the course I tended to identify the "I-function" with the idea of the soul, as what makes decisions and carries out actions. Now I am not sure what the exact role of the "I-function" is or if it is even needed for most behaviors, if there is any role it has which cannot be duplicated. Unfortunately no one can tell if animals have "I-functions", but even if they don't they function quite well.
Also, I learned that the NS is not only responsible for externally observable behaviors like walking or moving one's legs, but in internal behaviors like sensory perception and cognition. I learned that my experience of the world is far from what it really is like, and that my NS has in some extent made my world so that I can function in it. It has made me question if any two people can have the same experience of anything. In this sense learning more about the NS has expanded my concept of the individuality of organisms instead of making me lose my belief in individuality. Also the concept of inherent variability has made me more comfortable with individuality.
One thing I am still not sure of is the idea of choice and personal responsibility. The power of the I-function seems to be much more limited than I originally thought. I have experienced times when my feelings and thoughts seemed beyond my control. Sometimes it seems that my rational, logical side cannot control my emotional side at all. So are my emotions, which I tend to associate with my individuality and "I-function", actually completely outside it? If I cannot choose my emotions, which sometimes lead me to actions at odds with my "rational" side, how much choice do I really have over what I do?
As for the social consequences of this, it does seem that if every behavior is a function of the NS it becomes very difficult to assign or demand personal responsibility. Perhaps such a concept is useful primarily for its ability to organize the social structure to some extent. Right now I can't think of any brilliant alternative method to organize the human world.
The brain will always produce behavior whether or not one is remotely aware of it. One will act a certain way, react in a set of different ways, without the I function even being involved. So, yes, the brain does indeed control behavior and it does equals behavior. A clear example that occurred today- my friend was in the PSB and was on her way outside but for some reason she found herself in the library. She thought it was really strange that her feet just took her there- I guess I know that it was not all that strange, and that it was her brain that had taken her through her accustomed path. The brain does work in mysterious ways sometimes- but not that mysterious!
Through all the discussions we have had and case studies we have read about, I've been pretty convinced that biology/the brain is an awesome force which really does determine our very existence. "Wow," I think, and start wandering through my day occasionally realizing what incredibly complex things my brain is doing. But somewhere along the line, as the hours I've spent in the bio lecture hall get further away, I start to get skeptical again.
I am not some gushy romantic who thinks that love is supernatural and there's no way science could ever describe it, yet the interrelationships I see between people seem like the could never just be the result of neurons firing in brains. I think about all the crazy interactions between my friends - who gets angry at whom for what, the way tension builds at different times - and I feel like there's no way an organized central nervous system could cause such mayhem. If it were just biology that determined them, our relationships would make a lot more sense, I think!
The term consciousness then blends into the concept of "free will". If there is believed that the actions of the perons are solely the patterns of the nervous system, does this prohibit "free will"? In essence, if a person is "programmed" through genetics or otherwise, how will this affect behavior? This would seem to imply that a person can be reduced to automata which would then imply that a computer could be programmed to simulate consciousness, perhaps better than a person can!
Moving away from the existential subjects, I have still had some confusion as to the process of memory. I have finally gotten to grasp the concept of there being no picture in the head, but when relating this "now" experience to a "past" experience, without a picture, how is there a comparator? are each individual "slices" in 2-d compared with what we had constructed as the memory? And if there is no direct picture, is there some sort of other relationship between all of the external senses that gives the body an overall perception as to the state of being (such as an temporal comparator?)
However, to deny the nervous system its importance would be a large mistake. We are human and are freed and limited by what our body and mind can do. In the case of this class we are more concerned with our mind and nervous system capabilities. Everything should eventually boil down to neuronal firing. That doesn't mean that we cannot control that neuronal firing or hormone release. What it does mean is that to understand ourselves and why we do what we do, we have to understand these control mechanisms.
So where is the soul? It is in the complex electrical, chemical, and physical interactions of our nervous systems. Just because we have not uncoverd the soul, or even the self, in our undergraduate 200 level bio class means nothing. Even though the best, most sophisticated scientists have no more idea than we do means nothing. What is important, is that everything is rooted in phenomena which can potentially be explained.
Ancient peoples had to invoke magic for nearly everything, from eclipses, to thunder. Then science advanced to the point of being able to explain these events. We are no different, we just invoke magic for a different set of things, things which have not yet been explained by science. Like the soul.
So, it would seem that the "I" is an emeregent entity as a result of the structure and function of the neo-cortex; personality is to a large extent the result of particular tastes (likes or dislikes) based on the idiosynchrosies of anyone nervous system not because there is a "me" that feels that way.
To a certain extent I will accept this. But I am still not convinced that there isn't something more. Consciousness, self-awareness, might derive from structure and function of the brain (enhanced through motor-sensory input of the nervous system), but I still contend that the essence of being "me" is greater than the sum of these parts (re: first essay). The spiritual dimesnions of this get quite complex but what it comes down to is that I believe there is the reality of me (however imperfect it is, as it depends on conflicting sensory data most of the time), not just the experience of me (the nervous system in the world). I could write many pages trying to substantiate such a claim but would ultimately be unsuccessful. I have examined the evidence, allowed for the importance of scientific insight, but chosen the less rational path - the one that allows for what I feel to be (what I hope to be?) the appropriate recognition of a self that is more than its constituent parts or experiences.
Thanks all for listening - have a great summer:) !
There are some aspects that seem to be completely explainable, and others that aren’t much clearer than before the class. But those things that don’t fit together are enough to keep me from equating brain and behavior. We can point to the neocortex and say that this is necessary for a picture in the head and that it’s not necessary for a lot of what we call personality, but what does that mean. Just because the behavior disappears or stays when we poke at something or remove it doesn’t convince me that they are the same. There are obviously relationships there, but they are not the same. Right now I’m comfortable saying the nervous system is necessary for us to experience behavior, behavior of others and ourselves, but there are too many questions for me to accept them as being equivalent.
After the first week of classes, I argued that thoughts arise from the brain, but are distinct from it. I still think this is true, but for very different reasons than I did in January. I asked, if thoughts are composed neither of matter nor of energy, what are they? Now, in the last week of classes, I am attempting to give myself an answer. Thoughts are patterns of activity in specific neurons -- perhaps thousands of neurons. This answer has become dogma in our classroom. It defines all behavior. We learned this definition on the first day of class. Although the words are not new, over the course of the semester they have come to mean something entirely new.
In January, I was comfortable with the idea that thoughts result from a bunch of neurons firing in a particular way. I was not yet willing to accept that thoughts are nothing else. I wanted to prove that they are more than the sum of their parts. I wanted them to be either matter or energy. I did not think that the neurons themselves were thoughts, but I wondered whether neurons produced some physical thing that could be considered the stuff of thoughts. I learned that they do not. Thoughts are associated with the release of neurotransmitters, but neurotransmitters are not thoughts. I felt certain that if thoughts were not material, they must be electrical impulses conveyed along neurons. They are not. Electricity is not conveyed along neurons. The wave of depolarization propagates, but there is no stream of electrons running down the axon like current in a wire. Likewise, although ions move locally, no particle is conveyed from soma to axon terminus. There is no messenger, yet information is conveyed. I cannot explain the "information" in terms of matter or energy; I cannot give significance to the "pattern of activity in neurons" in terms of the neurons, nor in terms of their activity. All that remains is the "pattern."
The pattern of neuronal activity does not contain the information; the pattern is the information. The information is thought. Matter and energy in the brain manifest the pattern, but they do not compose it. This is difficult to accept because our habit is to reify phenomena in order to apprehend them, and to quantify things in order to describe them. Thoughts exist. They are biological phenomena, not philosophical constructs, yet they cannot be described concretely. Perhaps the distinction between the abstract and the concrete is artificial. It is easier to accept that those transient patterns we call thoughts are simultaneously abstract and "real" if we consider everything to be a dynamic pattern of matter-energy. We see some patterns of matter-energy as solid objects, some as waves of energy, and some as none-of-the-above. This is a matter of perception. Our brains have devised these categories. They are not universal absolutes, but ways in which we make sense of our experiences. Our class discussions have led me to think differently about perception. Consequently, I can accept that thoughts are patterns, not because I see a way to reify them, but because I see a way to abstract everything else.
Now that my mind is at ease concerning the issue of living organisms as robots, I find myself having more questions about this I-function: how does it work? what does it "look like" in terms of neurons? I'm glad I hadn't written in the forum before class today, as we have started to address some of the issues which are still obscure to me. Reading an earlier comment regarding laws and the implications our newfound knowledge about the NS and the I-function might have for them, I wanted to say that the problem raised was not reflective of reality. That is, our nervous system (NS), personality (P), and I-function (You) are not independent of one another; appealing that "my NS did it, not I" is simply not a valid argument, because the two are closely intertwined. I did not have any evidence to back up this statement, but it seems that PG made it clear in class today: yes, there are 2 parallel systems, but rather than being alternative systems, they are highly interactive.
Back to the issue of law, it seems to me that a greater understanding of the nervous system would facilitate the distinction between whom the insanity plea applies to and who is just using it as a way to finagle out of being sentenced. This raises a new question, one of the few which has not yet been brought up in class: what is sanity? Is it when the I-function conforms to certain models of functioning? Who and/or what decides what those models are? Or is insanity the absence of an I-function, someone who is not aware of what they are doing, who they are, who is not experiencing him- or herself experiencing?
I have certainly rediscovered a lot of information about myself throughout the semester, that is, in the sense that part of me knew it all along (right?); needless to say, there is a lot more to discover, and hopefully someday I will take the time to do so. Be that as it may, the insights I have been given are considerable, and my I-function thanks you. ~Anneliese
I think one big aspect of behavior, an obvious one, needs to be covered in a little more detail. The statement "The brain is behavior...there isn't anything else" overlooks the important influence of experience over behavior. I know that this is really obvious, and that the statement just assumes we understand that, but I think it is an important point. It helps me, at least. The nervous system seems to bring us smack up against the old nature vs nurture issue. How big a role do genes and environment play in us? We seem to be a product of both our nervous system and the experiences that have shaped it. This helps me deal with the issues of justice brought up by the first posting for this week. I think an important use of the I-function that we didn't talk about a lot in class is its ability to radically change us.(I talked a lot about this in my last posting on the relation between personality and the I-function.)I may be born with a tendency to behave in certain ways but my experiences (educational, relational, and spiritual) can radically alter my behavior. Thinking about behavior in this way makes me feel that having the "self" as a part of the nervous system is not dehumanizing.
After all that we have said about never having a "true" understanding of the nervous system, only better models of the nervous system, I think it is acceptable that I don't wholeheartedly embrace the idea that the nervous system and experience alone produce behavior. I think it is a valid idea, and I accept it as probably true from the evidence I have. It certainly helps me to conceive of and understand behavior. I hope to learn more and increase my understanding.
Some of the most interesting class discussions have taken place in the past few weeks - specifically relating to sleep and REM and brain function. Sleep is, after all, where the ego and alterego duke it out. So, it makes perfect sense that everything shuts down in REM with the given exception of the eyes and inner ear nervous system functions. Still, it is important to note how dreams shape behavior and how dreams are a part of a process entirely related to neronal functioning. It is here, in the dream state, that, I believe, we are most deprived of the sensory stimulae we receive daily and most prone to that which our brain dictates. Thus, when considering the affect this has on behavior, one can assert that, indeed, the brain dictates behavior.
Still, enough philospohical musings have taken place over the course of the semester on the "I-function" and while our discussion has led us to believe that the entire I-function box resides in the neo-cortex, I believe that there is still latitude for a different interpretation of results leading to that decision. Certainly, most of the I-function seems to reside in this region of the brain. There are aspects of behavior, however, that seem to be broader in scope than the simple brain is behvior statement allows....I harken back to my first essay when I spoke of love in a spectrum of human emotions and I felt then, as I do now, that there are some aspects of humanity that just cannot be broken down into axons and dendrites synapsing..at least I would like to believe that is so...
My concept of "mind" has undergone an interesting progression over the course of the semester. I started out viewing the mind as an "x" quantity, something so mysterious that it was beyond comprehension let alone explanation. After a number of classes, I came to view the mind as slightly less complex, a machine with inputs and outputs and many interconnecting boxes in between; my idea of "mind" felt a little more manageable. I have since arrived at a concept of "mind" which is in the middle of my first two notions. I take comfort in knowing that it is impossible to predict and explain all of our behaviors; however, I appreciate the beauty of the behaviors which we can indeed explain. My most recent view of the mind makes me feel more human and less machine-like.
Now that we have gone through the "proof" that there must be an I-function to account for experiences- I feel as though my sense of self has become much smaller. I don't breath--but I experience breathing. I don't choose my moods--but I experience anger, happiness. It seems as though every action - or behavior that I can exhibit can be accomplished without my knowing about it--but if I chose to I can experience that behavior I am more than welcome.
I do believe that the I- function is where the self comes from because I firmly believe that our experiences are what make us individuals. So I am convinced that the brain is behavior--because of the observations asserted in class.
On issues such as choice, the argument for neurons firing and synapsing...there isn't anything else, was not so convincing. As I pointed out in one of my essays the observations made with the pleurobranchia doesn't account choice. At least, the pleurobanchea argument cannot be extended to humans. With the pleurobranchea, it is more a matter of the limited capacity of the organism that we have labaled as choice. The fact of the matter is that the organism cannot carry on the process of extending its nose and eating at the same time. The limitation of its nervous system hinders the simultaneity of that process. I have a really hard time equating that with 'choice' as it is understood in terms of human beings. There seems to be something more involved in terms of choice in that sense. In Les Miserables, I'm compelled to feel that Jean Vealjan was faced with a greater dillema than the pleurobranchia as far as choice is concerned. Does he turn himself in and be sent to jail again after those ninetine years of hard labor? Why should he even care about this man who was mistaken for him and arrested? He doesn't even know him? Not interfering would guarantee him 'true' fredom and no one would ever know or suspect him? He can choose to interfer, not interfer, or not even care and be thankful for his luck. And Yes, as he was thinking and as he decided, neurons were firing and synapsing. But there is more...Don't you think? That the brain is behavior and there isn't anything else doesn't do justice to that. It explains the neurons firing and synapsing, it doesn't account for all that's involved in 'the choice'. There's more I'd like to write about, but I have to run to a meeting. So, I'll try to write again tonight.
Where I drew the line before and where I draw the line now in terms of my ability to accept the brain=behavior theory is indeed different. While before I would have allowed a lot more magic on to my side of the line, I now must push the line up to the soul. I won't push it any farther. Don't try and make me. I will get very fired up. I can't say definitively that this is the only thing on the side of the line with the big sign that says "We cannot be explained by brain=behavior" but, at the very least, the soul is holding the banner. Color, corollary discharge, nightmares, and most everything else we discussed can be EXPLAINED and DESCRIBED and it follows that they can be explained and described through brain activity. The soul, at least, my soul, cannot be explained or described and so it simply cannot be explained or described through brain activity. Go on and try. I double-dog-dare you!
So, while I will adjust by comment of the beginning of the semester by allowing that brain=behavior in a lot of cases, for a lot of our behavior, that is not all there is. While it may not be allowed in the class, there is magic and it accounts for my soul. I just can't stick with brain=behavior all the way down the line. Maybe I need not to. Maybe I want not to. But I just can't. Sorry.
I'm not implying that we should have covered all this thing. It's only a semester course. And what we have covered has been extremely insightful and has shown that the brain plays an overwhelmingly significant role in our behavior. It is the 'there isn't anything else' that remains the 'magical' claim of the theory. The evidence can neither support nor reject it. But the many questions asked in class that have could only be answered with a nod, yes, or an I don't know, or let's get back to it... manage to raise reasonable doubt that there isn't in fact anything else.
This class leaves me in wonder and has stirred me to think really hard to understand, make sense of the observations. I'm still thinking, a lot remains too wonderful, 'not magical', but too wonderful for me to understand and make sense of. My brain has enjoyed the ride.
The brain is capable of many things, and it is my opinion that we don't even know the half of yet. I also believe there is no way to know everything. It is a noble quest, but in reality, there is too much there to make sense of it all. Our brains are changing and adapting everyday. The brain can do functions several different ways. Trying to pinpoint exact mechanisms and neuron patterns is impossible. Also I am convinced that each brain on this planet is different. Proof of this is that each behavior on this planet is different. I like my brain. I know a little about what its capable of doing and how it does it. I am comfortable with this
Other issues I had at the beginning of the class have been easier to get over. Initially I also had a hard time attributing a range of emotions to the brain's jurisdiction. At the time I had much less of a foundation of information to work with. But after a semester's worth of reflection, I have little, if any, trouble attesting that brain=behavior. I've been continually "wow'ed" by what the brain is are doing and how little we are aware of it. It is easy at first to be uncomfortable with the idea that the brain is filling in information (ex. vision) and that we have no idea what it's up to. But one can quickly be convinced of the benefits of an arrangement in which two parallel systems exist, and that one is largely unconscious of what the other is doing. Interesting to think of personality as a synthesis of being both part of and separate from the I function and consciousness. Sidethought: this has had me pondering the concept of an addictive personality and addiction. So, although I haven't bought the whole package, I have come real, real close.
I did not really think about science as a social issue before I took this course. Now I realize that science, especially science which involves the brain, is very much a social issue, and that mistrust of science is prevalent in the general population. Why is that? What leads people to question the assertion that ADD or even schizophrenia is a disorder rather than normal variation?
Sorry that this is not exactly on topic, but I am doing research for my paper on psychosurgery and ECT and so this topic was in my mind.
“...I find it hard to believe that there isn't a behavior, internal or external, out there that doesn't fire off something in the central nervous system”
Although I tend to agree with those naieve thoughts I know better now. This course has allowed a reflection on the nervous system: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can’t say that I am all that clear about the inner workings of the nervous system, or the I-function, but I do feel that I have a clear idea of what it is not.
The discussion on the last day of class on language and genetics piqued my interest. More than anything, the fact that there are certain genes that enable people to ‘pick up’ some languages easier than others is a neat idea. I wonder what these genes look like and how they shape neuronal development. It gives new meaning to the idea that the self, or you are the sum total of all that came before you. On the other hand, I realize that althought we, ourselves, our bodies are influenced equally by our environment and genetics, the randomness factor is always present.
“...As much as I'd like believe that we have complete rational control over our fates, I can't help thinking there isn't something beyond the mind which would explain the metaphysical.”
I know better now than to assume what the brain and the nervous system is doing is rational or controllable. Many thoughts, actions, and choices I make are not rational in the least. What is rationality anyway? Do we always know what is the “right” thing to do in every situation? I certainly don't. Although it is a little scary to not know what’s always going on in that crazy nervous system of ours, it is a comfort to know and trust within those boxes and in the I-function there are action potentials and corollary discharges flashing away without me having to worry my little head. I need all the help I can get! Go I-function!
Most importantly though we have found nothing to suggest that there may be a soul or "self" as of yet. And without ANYTHING to demonstrate this idea even a little while there is a multitude of evidence to suggest that brain does indeed equal behavior, I find it difficult to even entertain the idea of a soul or "self" for now.