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eambash's picture

Moving past relay systems and "this versus that" questions

I've appreciated learning about synaptic integration because I think it further develops and problematizes the relationship between the brain, the I-function, the body, and the outside world. In contrast to what some people are saying, I actually think that I feel more of a connection to what we were talking about in the first week (with Dickinson, Descartes, and all the BIG questions) right now than I did a few weeks ago. Even though we're talking more about the physiological details, I think we're doing so in a way that does not simply take them at face value but instead harkens back to the complications of accepting any clear-cut dichotomies or definitions.

Our discussion of the senses, ESP, phantom limbs, and other topics related to sensory input have reminded me to avoid oversimplifying any distinctions I, or we, tend to make. Instead of arguing over the existence of a "mind" or setting aside all of neurobiology from all of behavior, it's evidently (if not obviously) more useful to talk about how one side of the argument relates to the other. From the beginning, we've said that there is not necessarily any short yes-or-no answer to the questions at stake -- nature vs. nurture, mind vs. brain, behavior vs. biology. If the I-function was helpful in terms of mediating between one side and the other or, better yet, probing deeper than pesky yes-or-no questions go, then I think the idea of synaptic integration goes even further: it shows that it's not enough just to ask if there is a mind or to wonder how the I-function interprets the outside world. Those questions don't take into account the fact that, as Prof. Grobstein emphasized in the last class, we're not doing justice either to the nervous system or to our behavior if we relegate complex, sometimes spontaneous, and notoriously massive webs of cells to relay systems.

Things go in; things come out; we can argue all day about what the inside and outside ARE or whether there's a distinction between them, but I appreciate that we're moving even further towards taking a stab at the muddy pudding in the middle! Personally, I don't really care one way or the other whether we compare humans to machines -- I just find it interesting to talk about the scale of the machinery and the quality of its connections.

Some questions re: details:

Does a connection to the I-function (i.e., for certain types of sensory inputs) have any affect on pre- or post-synaptic potential or its inhibition or on the types of neurotransmitters released into the synapse? I suspect not, but, still, I wonder if the I-function can increase or decrease inhibition.

By that same token, does a lack of connection, or diminished connection, to the I-function necessarily increase or decrease inhibition? If one's inhibitions are decreased upon drinking alcohol, is the alcohol affecting inhibition the same way across the body, or are the nerves receiving stimuli of which we're aware affected differently, or less, than the nerves doing things under our radar?

How does synaptic integration relate to the reception of specific types of stimuli? In the case of people with ESP, are the neurons receiving more or less, inhibiting more or less, or simply getting lost in the labyrinth of anatomical connections?


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