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An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 1999, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions. A suggested topic was provided, but students were free to write about any other observations, ideas, or questions that particularly interested them.


We ran into the "I-function" again, in talking about effects of damage to the motor cortex (earlier from talking about quadriplegics). And we'll run into again later in the course. For now, how well-defined and/or useful is this idea? In thinking about the nervous system? In thinking about behavior? Is it something we have to think about? Can one imagine it in terms of neurons, or of interacting circuits of neurons?

Name: carly cenedella
Username: ccenedel
Subject: I Function
Date: Thu Mar 25 13:06:28 EST 1999
I think that there is a neurological basis for I-function. I am very interested in contemplating where it is in the nervous system. The example we have used so far about the motor cortex has been somewhat satisfying and suggests a neurological basis for I-function for motor movements, but it doesn't seem to account for all the functions I would attribute to an I-function.

For example, opinions. I may hold the opinion that use of animals for scientific inquiry is wrong. The ability to hold that opinion would depend on an I-funciton. I doubt, however, that it is the same I-function in the motor cortex associasted with voluntary movements. A stroke damaging my motor cortex would affect my I-function for movements but would not affect my I-function for opinions on animal research.

This presents in my mind the possiblity that the I-funcion is a neuronal circuit present in many areas of the brain. It performs the same function of creating a sense of self in each area. In the motor cortex, the sense of a self causing movement and in the opinion area a sense of self holding an opinion. I imagine having the I-fucntion spread out would also be beneficial. For if the I function were loclalized to one region and that region was destroyed by some trauma, then the person would live without a sense of being-- which is pretty maladaptive.

It is also interesting to me the point that Lacey presents relating I-fucntion to past experiences. It defintiely seems related to this part of the brain to me too. When a person gets Alhiemer's disease, they and those close to them feel that they are not like the person they used to be-- that they are not themselves. The erasure of past memories seems to erase some sense of self as well. Again this presents to me the possibility that the I-function is present in many areas of the brain and can be impaired by damage to many parts of the brain. Some sense of self is still retained after damage because the I-functions in other areas are still working.

Name: Debbie Plotnick
Subject: More Musings on Last Week's Topic And Moby Dick
Date: Sat Mar 27 12:22:08 EST 1999
NB week9 HTML  
I would like to clarify my thoughts from last week and address Professor Grobstein’s comments.  He replied in the forum:

Actually there are both negative and positive feedback loops involved in the menstrual cycle. The extent to which there are changes in the set points of these is an interesting question. As is the issue of the relation between hormone levels and mating behavior. I like your idea that, whatever that relationship, other patterns of activity can also influence whether one actually engages in mating behavior. Whether these ought to be called "corollary discharge" signals is a matter of definition. We developed that term from thinking about what additional signals pattern generators must be creating during movement and probably one doesn't need to be moving in order to make mating choices. Maybe a more general idea would be that "thinking" (like moving) involves patterns of activity (within interneurons rather than motoneurons) and this may also be accompanied by signals sent to other parts of the nervous system which influence their function? I don't know of an existing term for the latter. Shall we call it "internal signalling"? or something like that?

In addition to the suggestion that we there is an “internal signaling” which would correspond to the thought processes that might interfere with mating behavior, I was thinking about how corollary discharges cause a disequilibrium (often accompanied by a queasy feeling) when motor activity on one level does not correspond to activity on another level. While certainly one does not need to be moving on a gross motor level to make choices regarding engaging in mating behavior, I was thinking in terms of the physiological changes that occur with sexual arousal. Could we view increased blood flow, increases in respiration, increased secretions, pupil dilation and so forth, as a result of a pattern generator, and/or at least as motor activity that could cause corollary discharges as we have come to understand them?

And on a totally different topic related to neurobiology, last week I had a conversation with Professor Grobstein about a neurobiological reference in Moby Dick. I pointed out the passage that took place while ship’s carpenter was fitting Captain Ahab for a new ivory prosthesis, and the carpenter says to the captain:

"... how that a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling of his old spar, but it will be still pricking him at times. May I humbly ask if it be really so, sir?"

And as we might expect, in light of what we have learned in class, the captain replies:

 "It, is man. Look put thy live leg here in the place where mine once was; so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye yet two to the soul."

Professor Grobstein replied that there was another passage relevant to our upcoming studies on visual fields. I believe that the following from Moby Dick addresses that issue:

“Ahab’s boat was central; and cheering his men he told them he would take the whale head-and-head, --- that is, pull straight up to his forehead, --- a not uncommon thing; for when within a certain limit, such a course excludes the coming onset from the whale’s sidelong vision.”

Name: Rachel Berman
Subject: science vs. philosophy
Date: Sat Mar 27 22:25:50 EST 1999

Interestingly, my philosophy class is right after neurobiology. It is difficult for me to “switch” my train of thought from one discussion to the next. This week in both classes we were discussing the nature of the “mind”, the I function in out terminology. Listening to the accounts of various philosophers who explain the I function without attributing any scientific foundation to their reasoning makes me rather uneasy and I begin to loose faith in their account and the rest of their theory which is often based on how they perceive the mind. The I function is thought to be something “external,” not associated with the body at all.

It is very difficult for me to write about their ideas in terms of abstract notions- I think I deal much better with circuits and chemical reactions! So in one of my papers I went on and on about evidence that brain=behavior and that the I function is a part of the brain. Of course this undermined most of the philosophical arguments which rest on the foundation of external concepts such as the spirit and the mind.

The more I learn about the nervous system the more I start believing that behavior can be explained in terms of what is going on a chemical level (neuron interactions, circuits, etc.). In my philosophy class, very often I feel that I shut my brain off, sort of speak, since I feel the discussion is not going anywhere - how could it be if the philosophers got the physiological foundations of the matter wrong? So, I have trouble defending a philosophers argument since very often I feel that I am simply bullshitting!

The question I have been wrestling with is whether or not philosophy and science can exist together....without undermining each other?

Name: adrianne
Subject: cell replacement
Date: Sun Mar 28 15:14:05 EST 1999
This is a comment in response to a statement made in class the other day about inserting, I think, fetal cells into an adult and observing neuronal adaptation. Professor Grobstein mentioned that a neuron when placed among a group of 'identified" cells can not conform to the environment. During neurogenesis, cells grow and function into a specialized neuron on the basis of neurotrophic factors. If a neuron is placed among a group of neurons specialized, for example, for the eye, these original neurons have received and are still receiving neurotrophic factors which help them maintain their function within that particular portion of the eye. So, I don't understand why it is that a fetal neuron which has not been exposed to any prior neurotrophic factors can not adapt to the signals the surrounding neurons are receiving/emitting.....


Name: Mary Bartek
Subject: the I-function
Date: Sun Mar 28 16:47:33 EST 1999
Even though we have not defined the I-function, I suspect that many people have a sense of what the I-function is through personal experience. Nevertheless, we cannot study something unless we know what we are studying. While we must be willing to modify our model, having a model of the I-function would be useful in studying the I-function. When I consider the I-function, I generally think of conciousness and self-awareness. Yet, my definition is not even satisfactory for myself. Dreams, for example, occur during an unconcious state but often have an element of self-awareness. I am always aware of being myself when I dream. I am not sure how to reconcile this.

I do think that understanding the I-function is necessary for understanding behavior. In my experience of having an I-function, being aware of myself has influenced my behavior. I sometime do very concious things. I am at times very aware of my actions, and I suspect that many people have a similar experience. Strangely, the I-function is needed to study the I-function, so the I-function can change because it is studied. Perhaps this is the power of psychoanalysis. By studying their minds, or awareness, or self, or whatever composes that illusive quality that makes us who we are, people can actually change the way that their minds work. I will have to look into this further.

Name: Emma Kirby-Glatkowski
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Mar 28 18:25:29 EST 1999

Although I have trouble comprehending the I-function in neurological terms, I can't question its existence. It is very obvious is cases such as quadriplegia and hemiplegia where the ability to move still exists but the conscious decision behind the movement seems to have disappeared. In fact, the closer we look at this idea the closer we seem to get to a type of choice or "free-will". It could also possibly account for most of what people would call a "soul".

The location of this I-function is still somewhat of a mystery and probably will be for a very long time. I don't think it will be easy or maybe even possible to pinpoint it down to one location. We could begin to assume that part of the I-function is found in the motor complex by the observations from damaging that area of the brain. But the fact that this sort of damage does not destroy the entire I-function implies that there is much more to it than just that particular region. It could be that the I-function is an integration of many different parts of the brain and the motor cortex is just a part of this large integration. Or it could be that different parts of the brain account for different parts of the I-function. The motor cortex would then be the part that deals with the ability to perform certain types of movement. If this were the case, locating the I-function would be a relatively simple task of pinpointing each section. It seems more likely to me, however, that the first case is true and that there isn't a single point for each specific function. This makes the task of location infinitely more difficult.

Name: David Benner
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Mar 28 21:23:27 EST 1999
There seems to be an inherent contradiction in looking for a location for the I-function, since it is simply, as its name implies, a function. We can ask what neurons or circuits make it possible, but that would not "find" the I-function. Finding it would be like finding "motion." We can know what causes it, but that is not the same thing. Nevertheless, our experience of it, and the observation of its effects on eye-movement, tennis, and in the statement: "Come on, officer, I was just keeping up with the flow of traffic" (not that I am implying anything, Professor Grobstein), allows us to construct a definition. Perhaps, the I-function is that which allows us to have any sort of agency or creative power. We can make judgments and can produce dreams. The actor is an "I" which is only known through its behavior, not as a "being", though.

The "I-function" as a neurobiological construction is useful in explaining behavior in neurobiological terms, though I would not be so quick to dismiss philosophy. I actually have the opposite response as Rachel Berman when I see philosophers wrestling with problems of the self. It seems that these questions have a certain amount of permanence and reveal, actually, the limits of scientific investigation. Science can give us insight into behavior and show us "functions," but it cannot show us "morality" since we cannot derive "ought" statements from "is" statements. Experience and "being" are other matters entirely, as is the idea of a "person" in the social and moral spheres. Neurobiology can tell us that a person is comatose, but it doesn't say whether a comatose individual has any rights in the legal or absolute sense. (I am thinking of issues such as living wills here.) We are still responsible for our lives, being NOT biologically determined (some of you may disagree, which is o.k. Disagreement yields philosophical discourse.) Not all philosophers are like Descartes (to whom Rachel is likely referring, right?) in drawing a distinct division between mind and body. In fact, most disagree with him. Certainly Debbie Plotnick's comments on Moby Dick suggest a role for literature in our discussions of the brain (not just from a historical standpoint, as well, although this is my addendum). I am a philosophy major, for those of you who were interested. Our investigations make for excellent first principles from which to construct an argument, but we are all f

Name: David Benner
Subject: conclusion
Date: Sun Mar 28 21:24:39 EST 1999
My message should finish: "We are all free to deduce our own conclusions."0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 (Little psych-out, there
Name: Alexandra Smith
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Mar 28 23:10:20 EST 1999
In discussing the I-function this past week, I have been fascinated as well as perplexed with some of the issues that have been raised. Many others have posted philosophical comments about the I-function, but I personally am more anatomy-oriented and would like to comment on the tangible neurobiology of the I-function. As we said on Thursday, the physical location of the I-function must be somewhere in the brain, and is associated with the motor cortex, since damage to this area inhibits properties of the I-function. However, how one could come to locate the precise location of the I-function seems rather impossible to me at this current time with our given understanding of neurobiology. I hope that furthering our exploration of the sensory side of the nervous system box will reveal new insights about the I-function.

One other thought that occurred to me was what exactly is the evolutionary purpose for the I-function. Before Thursday's class, I thought of the I-function as kind of a thinking mechanism through which we displayed choices and other thoughts. However, on Thursday, Professor Grobstein pointed out that a person's performance at a particular task is usually better when the I-function is not involved, like in the driving example. Also, while most movements can be done either voluntarily (using the I-function), or involuntarily (without the I-function), the majority of movements are involuntary. Moreover, many patterned movements (like slow, steady eye movements) can only be made by the nervous system, not the I-function. It seems to me that we have narrowed down our definition of I-function and now need to clarify its purpose. I look forward to learning more about these issues in the future.

Name: Jessica Brock
Subject: the eye
Date: Mon Mar 29 00:29:59 EST 1999

I found an article in the journal called Nature that discusses a relevant topic to last Thursday's lecture and in the upcoming week. On Thursday we started to talk about the role of the eye in the input side of the nervous system "box". Apparently it has just been found that the brain has little impact on what information the retina picks up while watching moving objects. Instead, the retina itself anticipates movement. If the eye had to relay all information to the brain, we would actually see the moving object far behind where it actually is. I think this is interesting especially because it touches on our discussion on the concept of action potential and membrane permeability. I remember Prof. Grobstein saying that if action potential was actually a current of some kind, that it would move too fast for behavior to be really exhibited. The membrane permeability change instead takes time, moving about 1 m/s. It seems that here is an example in which the eye bypasses interaction with the brain because neural signals move too slowly. It wouldn't be surprising to me if other sensory organs totally bypass interaction with the brain. In this way too, the I-function isn't involved, and everything is a lot faster.

Name: lauren hellew
Subject: the I-function
Date: Mon Mar 29 14:37:29 EST 1999
I think that this question about the nature of the I-function is an interesting one for which I don’t think I have a good answer at this point. In fact, I have been hesitant to use the term I-function in past postings because I’m not sure that I have a clear idea of what exactly it means. It seems to me to be an arbitrary grouping of many very important processes which may or may not be neurobiologically related to one another. Referring to things like “sense of self,” “choice,” “consciousness,” “thought,” “self-awareness,” “opinions,” etc. as the “I-function” seems like an oversimplification of these processes. If making this classification could help to explain these process in neurobiological terms, I can understand how it would be useful. As it is, however, I do not see how the concept of an I-function helps to answer the basic question of whether or not the many processes it encompasses can be attributed to neuronal processes at all and, if so, whether such processes can be identified.

In addition, the processes which we identify with the I-function are those which are commonly difficult to attribute to neuronal processes. So talking about the I-function in terms of neurons seems somewhat troublesome to me. While it makes sense to attribute voluntary motor movement to the motor cortex, it is still much more difficult to attribute “sense of self,” “choice,” etc. to a specific area of the brain or to a particular circuit of neurons. While I do think that all of these aspects of the I-function can ultimately be attributed to neuronal processes, the term (once again) seems to oversimplify the issue. Although I can hardly begin to speculate about the neurobiological basis of these processes, I would tend to think that they must be much more complex than the single term would lead us to believe. For example, I don’t think that damage to a specific area of the brain or a particular neuronal pathway would result in a deficit to the I-function in the same way that damage the motor cortex results in a deficit in the ability to make voluntary motor movements. It seems that the neuronal processes which underlie the I-function must be present in many, if not all, areas of the brain.

Name: Nicki L. Pollock
Subject: cats and the I-function
Date: Mon Mar 29 16:23:04 EST 1999

I had a major problem with the whole "cat straightening its leg in order to defy gravity" thing. Wouldn't it seem just as logical for a cat to bend its leg up like a person bends at his elbow? Or in the person's case, couldn't they just as easily raise their arm up straight to "defy gravity". I guess I had a problem with those specific words being used, and I don't think they are valid. I understand the concept of why the leg would bend up, just not the arguement for the differences among the animals that were used as an example.

It seemed very logical in class on Thursday to demonstrate that at least some part of the I-function does lie in the motor cortex. I think it will be (or is) impossible to find a single location for the I-function. It seems that there may be bits here and there as needed or used by various portions of the brain which control outputs and are involved in signal processing. It seems that we are increasingly setting ourselves up to NOT be able to think of oursleves as having a soul but as more a function of our biology.

Name: Patricia Kinser
Subject: I-function, athletics, and blind sight
Date: Mon Mar 29 18:10:53 EST 1999
Discussion of the I-function is very important when thinking about motor activity and behavior. Needless to say, I do not feel that I have a complete grasp of the exact mechanism or even definition of an I-function, but I know that it is something with which I have very proximal, every-day experience. For example, I play varsity lacrosse at Haverford. As I'm sure many of you know, to be a successful athlete, the basic movements involved in the sport you play must be so ingrained in your mind that you no longer really need to think about them. This is why we practice for two and a half hours every day for weeks on end! As we practice, the movements that were once voluntary and thought-out eventually become almost involuntary the moment that you step onto the field and pick up your lacrosse stick. The moment that you get into the "zone", you become free of the I-function and do what comes naturally. However, especially in a game situation, if for some reason (say, you are losing the game or your coach makes a comment) you find yourself thinking too hard about what you're doing and your I-function takes over, then the movements are no longer involuntary and invariably your performance will deteriorate.

In class we have basically only discussed the I-function in terms of movement. My question is, with regards to the lacrosse example, what about the choices we make on the playing field that feel equally as involuntary as the act of passing and catching? Can decision-making occur without the I-function? For example, is my quick and seemingly involuntary decision to stop guarding my opponent in order to help double-team another girl based simply upon involuntary movement (absence of I-function) or involuntary thought-processes? Is there such a thing as a decision-making process which is without I-function? Is there a significant difference in the neuronal firing patterns when I am passing and catching as opposed to when I am making a choice to double-team, even though the decision seems involuntary??

I also have a question regarding the I-function in terms of sight. I was talking with a friend the other day about a phenomenon which I think is called "blind sight". This occurs when we "see" something in our visual field yet we are not really consciously aware of it. The example my friend gave is when someone is driving a car and swerves in order to avoid hitting something in the road, yet later has no recollection of having seen that object in the road. There was actually something there and the reaction is involuntary movement. So, how do we explain this? Are there different interpretations of the visual world according to the I-function, just like there are different types of movement (involuntary, voluntary, etc) according to presence or absence of the I-function? We have just begun our study of the visual system, so perhaps this is something we may discuss later? Perhaps this could be given as an example that the I-function cannot be found in one localized area of the nervous system, but rather it extends to every locus of behavior formation??

Name: Kimberly Bibbo
Subject: I-Function: Level of neuron firing
Date: Mon Mar 29 20:40:38 EST 1999
Out of everything that was discussed this past week, the point that rang the most true for me was regarding the idea of three , not two ways to think of human functioning: reflex, I-function, and involuntary movement (movement we are not aware of). There was some confusion in class about the idea of "involuntary movement," but I found it gave explanation and meaning to how, say, I could never explain driving a half hour from Bryn Mawr to my hometown and remember any of it. Most of our movements become so routine that they probably are involuntary.

From the discussion, too, especially about people whose limbs are frozen, I began to wonder if the three types have very different kinds of firing in the brain, and that the I-function might require the most firing. It would make sense that once the CPG's have a set pattern for daily activities, the firing to execute those activities is minimal. Reflex, too, is obviously something that occurrs in bursts without effort. The I-function, however, is probably the one that shows the most functioning of neuron firing in the brain.

Essentially, the I-function is the most important part of the brain in the sense that, it seems to me, it can explain the most complex functioning of the human brain. If anything, this I-function might also be what people think of as soul, since this is the part that has original thoughts, ideas and processing.

Kim B

Name: feyza sancar
Subject: strange thoughts
Date: Mon Mar 29 21:15:30 EST 1999

In thinking more about the I-function, I became very interested in trying to relate dreaming to the I function. From all of my experiences with dreaming, I would say that for the most part, my I-function is not involved (if it means consciously dictating the content of my dreams). My dreams aren't even remembered by my conscious 'mind' once I wake up. But if this is so, then what actually contributes to the phenomena of dreaming? I thought, for one moment, that the process of dreaming may be associated to CPGs. Perhaps there are actually entrenched pattern generators which are involved in the emotional and cognitive interpretation of certain visual and auditory stimuli. Just as it had been mentioned previously with the scenario of pulling over to the side of the road when red flashing lights are spotted in the rear view mirror-the red flashing lights do not illicit the behavior of pulling over due to a conscious attempt to interpret and act on the visual stimulus…the entire process is so 'automatic' that it does not involve the I-function. Perhaps it involves the pattern generator(s) created for a chain of events starting with the coding of the visual input.

In some cases, it seems that the body can recognize certain visual stimuli even before the conscious mind has a chance to fully process the image. I seem to remember certain experiments where in certain individuals with brain damage, an image presented to the left visual field may produce an autonomic response, but it is only the image presented the right visual field which is consciously assimilated by the patient. If you ask the patient what image they had seen in the left visual field (or whether or not they had actually seen anything) they will say that they did not see anything other than what was presented to the right visual field. So could it be that certain CPGs are activated in the dream state which cause automatic cognitive and emotional responses related to the input, which in turn causes the brain to create the images internally so as to relieve the issue of cognitive dissonance? In other words, perhaps these pattern generators which cause emotional responses and cognitive interpretations for visual and auditory (or other) inputs are activated randomly (or uninhibited randomly) during the dream state. In order to reconcile the fact that there are no inputs actually being received from the external world to activate the CPG's, the brain is forced to produce its own visual/auditory etc imagery to compensate or substitute? This is a strange thought…I do not know if this makes any sense in possibly explaining this phenomenon…

Name: David Mintzer
Subject: choice and the I function
Date: Mon Mar 29 21:50:23 EST 1999
I have not posted in a while, so I would like to go back and write a bit about the idea of choice (which I think is intimately intertwined with the "I" function.) The quadriplegic cannot choose to move his leg. That is, the I function has been separated from limbs. I think it is worth looking further into the idea of movement, choice and the I function. As we discussed in class, there seems to be four types of movement—two generated by external input and two generated internally. One of each group involves the I function while the other operates independently of conscious thought. I think that these lines are not so clear cut. Walking does not seem to involve the I function since we do not need to consciously think about moving one foot in front of the other. But this seems to be the case for almost any movement I can think of. Even if I consciously desire to move my arm, during this movement (involving the I function), I do not think "now I am going to move my arm" Willing oneself to move seems to involve a process deeper than our basic thoughts. I can even move my arm while superficially thinking that I do not want to. Does this make any sense? It seems that movement is generated through some deeply internal process, often called the will, which is different than "thought." This is very subjective on my part. Introspection is very unscientific, but it can help to understand some bases of our behavior.

I think that relating the idea of choice to neuronal connections and pattern generators has a lot of potential, although we may never understand it at the level of consciousness. A simple choice can be explained by this theory—external input stimulates sensory neurons which activate pattern generators and cause a certain behavior. Add a couple branches coming off of the sensory neuron and the pattern generator and we have the basis for choice. While this may seem to oversimplify our idea of choice (including deciding where to sit on the bus) remember that one one neuron may synapse with over 500,000 other neurons. This is a system of such complexity that we cannot understand the implications of such a network. I would suggest reading the article in the NY Times "Mindless Creatures Acting Mindfully" This article demonstrates how a collection of bodies which turn on and off according to simple interactions with their adjacent neighbors can form complex and varied patterns. The units form a cohesive network even though they only communicate directly with their neighbors. This model can be applied directly to the brain. While neurons do not "think," the interaction of billions of neurons generate complex patterns in the brain which react to external input. Hence neurons are able to form complex structures which we like to say "cause" certain behaviors.

The "I" function involves thinking and choice. Humans believe that we have a more developed I function than other animals. I attended a lecture last semester which talked about different psychological models of thinking among the species. It often appears that certain species of monkeys are capable of complex problem solving, seeming to demonstrate an ability to "think." However, under controlled experimental conditions it has been determined that these species actually employ a series of trial and error attempts which eventually lead to a solution. Humans, on the other hand, are able to examine a problem, think out a solution carefully and logically and usually apply it rather successfully. While this lecture did not go into the neurobiology of such psychological models, I think that they help us understand our concept of choice and thought. A monkey is not able to make the logical, rational cognitive associations which humans employ when thinking out a problem. This discrepancy could lie in the connections between neurons and pattern generators activating such behavior. Presented with a novel problem, a monkey will activate various pattern generators until it happens upon one that works. It cannot make logical leaps which quicken the process. However, when a human is presented with a new problem, neurons fire and activate pattern generators which may activate related pattern generators and enable us to come up with the correct pattern generator quickly in a logical manner. These solutions will be based on past experience but applied to a new situation. Monkey’s seem unable to make the connection between a present dilemma and past, unrelated experiences which may aid in discovering a solution. It makes sense that our advanced ability to think and reason is enabled by an increased number of neuronal synapses between pattern generators. Don't logic and reason merely consist of connecting related ideas and concepts? While both monkeys and humans rely on the input --> pattern generator --> motor symphony sequence, humans have more connections which inhibit and activate related motor symphonies depending on the input and past experiences.

Name: Caroline Choe
Date: Mon Mar 29 22:22:35 EST 1999
I was talking to a friend the other day, and she brought up an unusual scenerio that got me thinking: if two people were to switch brains with each other, would each take on the other's thoughts, feelings, personality, etc? how much of the other person would one become? I guess that this leads back to the original question of whether brain = behavior. It also pulls in the thought that if we could localize the I-function to a specific area within the brain, then in the scenerio, one would be able to adopt the other's ways of thinking and perceiving...but, I guess that I'll wait for future class discussions to help me make some solid conclusions.
Name: E. Rodrigo
Username: erodrigo
Subject: random thoughts on the I-function
Date: Mon Mar 29 22:46:14 EST 1999
I am quite confused. We (the class) seem to be aiming at identifying where the I-function is exactly, like it could be found in some organ or a specific identifiable part of the body. I don't think this would ever be possible. I feel that the I-function is a function of the entire nervous system, and it can even be affected by the other systems of the body, like when hormones affect the way a person thinks and responds to certain situations. When I first got started on a hormonal injection, the doctor told me that I should expect to be irritable a lot and should warn some of my closest friends about it. She said that it was one of the side-effects. Later on I found out that I was in fact becoming irritable. I lost patience easily. I take that the hormone was influencing my I-function and thus influencing my actions/behaviors (this is if I understand what an I-function is and using it in the right terms). I say that it was influencing my I-function and not some involuntary action because when I started being aware of it, I actually started getting a control on irritability. Somehow, I found a way to let my I-function ignore what the hormones say and just continue being "normal". I am not irritated easily anymore eventhough I still take the injections. I think we associate the I-function with the nervous system and the brain especially because it's the central processing unit of all the information that happens in the body. So in able for us to be aware of something happening, it must past through the brain. This seems to be our basis of something being associated with the I-function---when we're conscious of it. This would probably explain why someone who's had some part of its body disconnected to its brain (like a quadruplegic/paraplegic, excuse me I get confused with these terms)wouldn't know that his leg is moving. The leg may very well be part of the I-function but because it's lost it's connection to it's brain, it can't be processed and reach the consciousness of the person. This again would all depend on how we define the I-function (this is not very clear to me). This argument, though, wouldn't explain how involuntary actions can remain ignored by the I-function in someone who has everything intact (help!). Lastly, I just wanted to say that I think driving is a voluntary action. I heard the suggestion given in class about "not thinking about driving so much so you don't make mistakes" before as an advice given by a high school teacher to keep my driving smooth. Let me tell you, I tried it once and just relaxed (tried not to be conscious of the whole thing) and I hit a car which stopped in front of me. I don't even remember if it had been there for a while (since it was waiting to get into the gasoline station at the corner)or it just miraculously appeared. I always drive with full awareness now and so far have been driving like an angel for almost three years from that point. Also if playing a sport was not voluntary action (consciously thought of), why do coaches always say "concentrate, concentrate". Wouldn't concentrating mean that the player would be consciously thinking of the things she wants to do before she does it, like whether to hit right or left? Doesn't it need to be voluntary and conscious if the player has to respond according to what is in front of her. I don't see a ball game being anything routine because the ball can't go to the exact places in the air at any one point. It would always have a different angle. I also wanted to say something about dreams (as Feyza's comment made me think of something) but it's going to be too long to describe because I too have a lot of issues with dreams. Maybe I'll just share them in class tomorrow if the topic comes up.
Name: Nicole Stevenson
Date: Mon Mar 29 23:59:06 EST 1999
In response to E.Rodrigo's comments about concentration...yes it is true that coaches stress concentration and focus but I consider that much like what Patricia described about "being in the Zone". The ultimate goal of an athlete is to get to the point in their specific sport where they do things without thought. Plays,strategies,etc are drilled over and over into the brain so that the body will simply and correctly react automatically to what ever is presented. Perfect concentration and focus results in smooth actions, however, it is possible to over concentrate, which I think is what E.Rodrigo was talking about. I find that when I focus too much on one thing that I loose the all over balance of what I am trying to achieve. This is the why athletes practice and pratice, even "natural" athletes...if one did not then they would have to think too hard and would not be able to simply relax and allow their body to perform. "The Zone" is that perfect balance where one is totally aware of all that is around them concerning the task at hand(a game, race,exam in school, etc) but unaware to distractions(the fans, weather, plans for that night, etc)

I think that this can be applied to just about any situation or goal in life, whether it be sports, grades,grad school, money for a car, simply getting to the weekend, etc. Life is all about that delicate balance. The old cliche rings true...practice makes perfect. If you try too hard it all goes to hell : )

Buddhist meditation and life is centered around exactly this idea of the perfect balance. They believe that ultimate discipline and practice are the keys to life and that once one starts concentrating on actually thinking then it all begins to fall apart. Buddhists believe that one should become so comfortable in "The Zone" that is is automatic nature. Over analyzation and concentration is thought to interfere with the simple goal of living and its success.

Name: Jason Bernstein
Subject: brain trade
Date: Tue Mar 30 00:39:54 EST 1999
Responding to Caroline Choe--The concept of switching live human brains is not as unusual as she suggests. The brain switch has become a relatively common procedure at most major hospitals. The technique was pioneered, of course, at Frankenstein Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, New Jersey. The results have been quite consistent: thoughts and personality follow the brain wherever it goes. My grandparents actually participated in the procedure when it was still in its experimental stages. Only three months after the procedure, Grandpa had finished an afghan that Grandma had been crocheting, and Grandma was hitting the links regularly, playing pinochle with grandpa's old card buddies, and giving waiters a hard time. The two had completely traded personalities!

But seriously, when pondering the results of a brain exchange, procedure of the future, I'd think an important thing to think about is the how much of an effect hormones (that aren't produced in the brain) can have on behavior. That's the only thing I can think of that could alter thoughts/feelings/personality in a brain trade. For example, sex hormones like extrogen and testosterone are produced in the body, effect behavior, and are present in varying degrees in different people. Besides the hormonal issue, and the possible changes brought out by the person's reaction to their new body, personality, memory, and thoughts should be the same.

I also had a question about the spastic paralysis issue. In class we said that when the motor cortex is removed/inhibited, every animal assumes an exaggerated anti-gravity posture because the vestibular nuclei is no longer inhibited. Different animals have different anti-gravity postures. Why does the sloth retract (instead of extend) its legs? How much of its life does the sloth spend hanging upside-down? If it is upside-down often, that would explain the anti-gravity reaction. But to climb a tree, against gravity, an animal must extend its legs. Perhaps the sloth does much more hanging than climbing.

Name: Joey Xiong
Subject: Just Some Thoughts
Date: Tue Mar 30 00:55:18 EST 1999
Well, after reading a few of the comments on the board, it seems that everyone seems to be focused on the "I" concept and how close we are to refining the definition of the "I". I happen to think that as we drive farther into studying what this "I" function really is, I am getting more and more confused. Why? Well, before taking the class, I was sure I knew what the "I" function was. It dealt with the notion of expressing oneself. The forms of expressions are shown through the our actions, and internally initiated from our thoughts. The "I" function to me was cerebral, and dictated how the rest of the NS should work. Now as we reach further into the semester, we are starting to examine the "I" function in a more concrete manner. I have one qeustion though, is there a real definition for the "I" function? Or is this just one of those mysteries, like what does the word "love" mean? Well, I seem to think that although there may not be a concrete definition, we all perceive to have a understanding of the "I" function.

I believe that I may be wrong about this, but this is how I have now come to perceive the "I" function. I seem to think that we can divide the "I" function into different parts. The foremost is that a vast majority of what we perceive to be the "I" function is located in our brain. We have a thought, and then decide to make a choice rather to voluntarily complete some form of movement, or action. This thinking, and then decision process is what I first thought the "I" only dealt with. Now I seem to think that with each part of our body, there are separate "I" functions. I am just wondering, so this may strange, but it is just a thought. Let's take for example the knee jerk we talked about two weeks ago. We said that the knee jerk, if isolated can produce a form of movement on its own without the brain sending messages down to make it move. In this sense, then does the knee jerk movement have its own "I" function? Are there anymore actiond in which our bodies perform which we do not have to send messages to? We talked about this, and came up with body heat regulation, posture, and a few others. So, I think that the "I" function can be separated into different regions of the body. We don't always have to tell ourselves that we know what our bodies are doing. Such cases as the ones above act on their own, so they are in a sense making there own decision without us "thinking" about it. But this is only a thought,... well, I am getting tired now, so I am going to bed. Bye-Bye. Joey X.

Name: laura gosselink
Subject: Who am I
Date: Tue Mar 30 09:05:28 EST 1999
Amnesia – Soap operas often capitalize on the idea that people can "forget who they are" as the result of some trauma. I am curious about the extent to which the I-function can be affected by memory losses. I have heard about people who have suffered damage to the brain leaving them essentially devoid of memory. Such people cannot remember things for even a few seconds. A moment after being introduced to someone, they do not know who they are talking to. One such man kept a journal. Many entries in the journal express exactly the same sense of marvel at suddenly becoming "aware" of existence for the very first time. Over and over this man had recorded thoughts such as "now, at this moment, I am conscious for the first time." Thus, although this man could have no sense of "I" as an entity existing over time - gathering experiences, learning, and changing – he still perceives him"self" as "I." So perhaps memory is not a necessary part of the I function. Memory is yet another thing of which "I" can be aware. Nor do losses of brain function other than memory seem to remove the "I."
Name: Lacey Tucker
Username: ltucker@brymawr
Subject: musings
Date: Tue Mar 30 10:05:44 EST 1999
The advantage of writing at the last minute is that I have read all of the other entries for this week, and, I have to say, I found each entry so incredibly thought provoking. It seems that we are at a point in the course where people's beliefs, prior education, and creative thought are really coming into play, and producing incredible diversity in terms of the I-function. I suppose I have put off writing until this morning because I find the idea of the I-function almost overwhelming in its attempt to explain behavior, and, as everyone has astutely pointed out, all of the behaviors that we are trying to fit into this definition. Of course, the idea of the I-function is elastic enough that there may be room for all of the ways in which people think and behave which are trying to be fit into its boundaries.

I would like to respond to Rachel's query about Philosophy and science existing together. What occurred to me as I read her entry is this: that human beings philosophize at all is a direct consequence of this rather emphemeral thing that we are calling the I-function. In a feat of circular reasoning, it seems to me that whatever neuronal complexities may account for the sense of self, which I think includes the need to understand exactly what the "mind" is, it is precisely this neural circuitry that somehow accounts for the creative ideas that philosophers invent to grasp something that, biologically, continues to elude us. I don't think the philosophers got it wrong, but rather they are addressing a different question, and using the products of the question we are trying to answer (consciousness) in order to it. This is akin to Mary's comment of using the I-function to study the I-function. When we read a philosophical explanation of how the mind works, does it subtly alter how our minds work? This brings me back to my favorite question, that of experience (or outside influences) and how they affect the circuitry that we come with.

Name: Jessica Goldenberg
Subject: voluntary vs. involuntary
Date: Tue Mar 30 10:06:48 EST 1999
In talking about voluntary and involuntary actions I have found through my research for my web paper some pertinent information. Tourette's Syndrome has been classified by "involuntary motor and phonetic tics. Many patients, however describe their tics as a voluntary response to premonitory urges." ( It seems that there is a competition between the voluntary and involuntary movement. Is it possible for one to control their "I- function" in cases such as Tourette's? If so is it always possible or just sometimes? I believe the answer to this question is sometimes, but why at certain times? In Oliver Sacks' An Anthropologist on Mars there is a short story about a surgeon with Tourette's who, when in the operating room, all his symptoms disappear. Is this because he feels he has no other choice? If so, why can't Tourette's patients feel it inappropriate to tic all the time and therefore never tic? Is there an ideal environment we could put Tourette's suffers in to decrease there symptoms an ultimately eliminate them?
Name: Debbie Plotnick
Subject: More Moby and Blind Spots
Date: Wed Mar 31 16:05:35 EST 1999
With regard to Moby Dick and "his blind spot," Professor Grobstein encouraged me to find another passage in the text.  It think it poses an interesting philosophical question with regard to how we orient ourselves in the world. And is cause to ask just how is it that our eyes work together. The passage reads:

...  it is plain that he can never see ad object which is exactly ahead, no more than he can one exactly astern.  In a word, the position of the whale's eyes corresponds to that of a man's ears. You would find that you could only command some thirty degrees of sight' and about thirty more behind it.  If your bitterest foe were walking straight towards you, with dagger uplifted in broad day, you would not be able to see hi, any more than if he were stealing upon you from behind. In a word, you would have two back, so to speak; but, at the same time, also, two fronts (side fronts): for what is it that makes the front of a man - what, indeed, but his eyes?

Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyes are so planted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as to produce one picture and not two to the brain: the peculiar position of the whale's eyes, effectual divided as they are by many cubic feet of solid hear, which towers between them like a great mountain separating two lakes in valleys; this, of course, must wholly separated the impressions which each independent organ imparts.  The whale, therefore, must see one distinct picture on this side, and another distinct picture on that side' while all between must be profound darkness and nothingness to him. ....

Name: Beth Varadian
Subject: I-function?
Date: Thu Apr 1 13:31:31 EST 1999
I too am confused about the I-function that we have all been discussing in class and in the forum. This I-function that we all try to make a tangible thing seems to me to be something deep inside with no specific place. It seems to be central to defining "one's self" and to having a self awareness of what "you" feel and what is going on with "you." The I- function to me seems to be the closest thing to making a person unique. In this sense, it would account for people's differing personalities? It must make up some portion of personality, I'm just not sure how much.

What is still perplexing to me is the whole idea of seperation from the I-function with paralysis. I don't understand why, if the I-function is involved in almost everything that you do, that simply severing one connection could sever all the communication and awareness of the I-function in an entire portion of your body. Shouldn't the I-function be present everywhere including the cortex? I would think that the body would have a backup system for when one part "goes down" like in a paralysis case.

One question I am struggling with in terms of the I-function and the brain=behavior hypothesis is the idea of love. I wrote about this before, and I still have not worked it out in my head why the I-function seems to turn off when two specific people interact and really "click." I also don't understand why the I-function can seem to turn on again the more you get to know a person, and you can dislike them because of this.

I am not sure how clear this is... I need to formulate my own definition of love and what the I-function is and is not comepletely involved in before I can make my statements any clearer.

Name: Marion Howard
Subject: belated weekly essay
Date: Thu Apr 8 00:39:35 EDT 1999
This week I was very interested in the discussion we had on the role of the I function in determining behavior. We talked about stroke victims who are hemiplegic who can not make voluntary movements with one side of their bodies. The motor neurons are not under the control of the I function, yet they can make involuntary movements. I assume they can breath and I may be confused, but I think it was the hemiplegics who could react to a ball being thrown at himself by blocking it, as an involuntary action. This is very much like quadriplegics who can move their foot when the correct negative feedback loop is activated by and external stimulus, but who cannot voluntarily move it.

It seems to me that we have only defined the I function as what we each understand to be the thinking part of us, we have not located and defined it, but we know when it is or is not involved by our intuitive definition of it. I don't find using the I function to be useful in thinking about the nervous system because it is confusing and not well defined to me yet, so I prefer to use other, more well-established parts of the nervous system to describe things. I do realize that we can't explain everything yet, but it is annoying to have to refer to this enigmatic "I function". In thinking about behavior it is interesting, as I said above, but it is also a bit frustrating to have a thing that we can just have faith in and use to explain things like why a quaruplegic doesn't know he can move. I am very interested now to see if we can place the I function in the nervous system and make it a more concrete entity. That would be a really good finale to the course…

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