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aeraeber's picture

Looking Back

When the semester started, I was on very much on the fence in the Descartian/Dickinsonian debate.  From a religious point of view, I wanted and still want to believe in the concept of a mind separate from the brain, the concept of a soul. But, from a scientific perspective, the idea that everything is construction of the brain has always made more sense. Now, I’m far more on the Dickinsonian end of the spectrum, since I have a better understanding of just how much the brain can do. It seems less impossible that the brain can be responsible for consciousness and other functions that we think of as purely human. Still, I hold out a lingering hope that there is something else, some part of a person that goes on after the brain ceases to function. This semester has made me realize that it’s probably just wishful thinking.

The idea that every person experiences the world differently from everyone else and that what we experience/perceive is not “what’s out there” but instead a construction of the brain will stick with me for a long while. We talk so much about reality as though it existed, and tend to assume that everyone is seeing exactly the same thing, even though that isn’t the case. I feel like this is something important for people to be aware of, because education and other forms of public service focus on trying to provide the same experience for people regardless of their circumstances. And, on the other hand, arguments often stem from disagreements over perception, despite the fact that there isn’t really any single correct perception of an object or event.  On a different note, we talked about the concept of “loopy” science and “getting it less wrong” during the first few weeks of class.  What really stuck with me from those discussions was the idea that, especially within a scientific framework, there is often quite a bit to be learned from being wrong.

Personally, I would like to learn more about the biochemically and molecular functioning of the brain, and how that ties into the more big-picture concepts of behavior that we talked about this semester. On a wider note, I would very much like to see more work done in the area of memory, why some people are better able to remember specific kinds of sensory input than others.  For example, why would one person remember the color of the walls in their grandparent’s living room, while their sibling would remember the sound of the cookoo clock that was in the living room? Finally, I would love to see more research done in the area of treatment for psychological disorders. Can we create treatments that don’t have such serious side effects and are effective for a wider range of patients?



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