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eambash's picture

Accounting for agency

Like Caitlin, I think what I have gotten out of this semester is a way of combining my interest in raw details with my need for a bigger story, picture, or philosophy to account for imperfections. Ideas like the I-function and synaptic thresholds allow for a level of spontaneity and uncertainty even while providing some answers as to how the nervous system actually works. Similarly, looking at how the inner system relates to the outer world and all its stimuli helps me understand why we call it a nervous "system" and why that system is characterized by nerves instead of by chemical or motor impulses carried by, or through, those nerves.

At the beginning of the semester, I was pretty insistent on dispensing with the idea of a "mind" except as a grey area that helped account for our inability to find great language with which to talk about science. I think at this point I still agree that I don't like the word "mind" in this context. Maybe, though, I am more flexible in terms of how I think about that "grey area" and what it means. Maybe there IS a level of consciousness and agency that we simply can't describe completely. I still think that talking about the nervous system as a network of computers is not harmful to the idea of humans as primary agents. I think the level of randomness and uncertainty built into the system, and the necessity for the system to interpret signals from the outside world as well as from within it, makes talking about any system not a reductive but an additive way of talking. Above all, I think this class has helped give me a vocabulary of reference for thinking about HOW to account for agency within a system and how to account for a system within an agent.

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