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kdilliplan's picture

Detriments of Incomplete and Interrupted Patterns


The concept of patterned outputs of the nervous system sheds new light on our capabilities and also our limitations. Central pattern generators may help us and other organisms function more quickly and efficiently and in a more coordinated manner, but I would think patterns can also be very limiting. For instance, when I used to play a musical instrument I would often need to memorize the pieces of music I was learning. I occasionally had difficulties keeping the different pieces separated, especially if they had phrases or rhythms in common. I’d begin playing one piece and end up playing a different one because I was relying on the patterns I’d formed for each piece and paying less attention to my performance.

I would imagine that patterns of inputs could be even more limiting than patterns of outputs. Many optical illusions rely on the brain filling in information that it thinks should be there when it is not. Olfactory memory works a similar way: we smell something and the brain responds by setting off a cascade of stored experiences associated with that scent. These examples seem trivial now that I’m thinking about them. However, other patterns of associations and behavior can be detrimental. Stereotypes are made up of patterns, as are superstitions. A great deal of harm can come from someone receiving a specific set of inputs and automatically assuming that other situations they associate with those inputs also exist when they very well may not.

On the other hand, more dramatic disadvantages can occur when patterns are interrupted. For instance, if a person suffers neuronal damage that disrupts the CPG of their walking behavior, that person has to re-learn how to walk. If a person uses addictive drugs, those drugs create patterns of neuronal activity that wreak havoc on that person if they stop using those drugs.  Despite their drawbacks, pattern generators seem pretty essential for regulating behavior.



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