Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Nervous system architecture: output III, input 1

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum associated with the Biology 202 at Bryn Mawr College. Its a way to keep conversations going between course meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our conversations available to other who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them. You're welcome to post here any thoughts that have arisen during the course this week (and to respond to thoughts others have posted).

We've added an ability to learn without the I-function and ... an I-function.  And started in on the reality questions.   How do  these things help make sense of behavior?  What new questions do they in turn raise?

jwong's picture

The discussion my group had

The discussion my group had on Tuesday about the I-function was extremely interesting. I agreed with the fact that your I-function is always “on,” that it is a stable mechanism that affects the brain’s capability of being fully “aware.” However, I’m not sure how I feel about the I-function having the ability to come in and out of play depending on consciousness/awareness at a particular time. Learning languages is relevant to this discussion; for example, I am taking Mandarin Chinese class. When I am in class and am forced to focus on the tones and I have to tell myself to produce a sentence a certain way so to utilize a certain sentence pattern, I find it harder to vocalize my thoughts. I end up pausing and having to think for a while about how the sentence itself is organized and how best to produce a cohesive product. In contrast, when I am in the presence of some Chinese friends, there seems to be less pressure and I try to speak Mandarin more fluently and more colloquially than in the classroom. I effectually am able to produce more cohesive dialogue than if i was in a classroom setting; however, I only notice this in retrospect. I do not consciously think about speaking better Chinese in front of my friends. This, to me, is an example of how the I-function, my conscious awareness of myself and of my ability to express myself, is being aware of the environment (the people) that I am immersed it, but that I end up producing actions that I do not consciously am aware of deviating from another norm. In my "friend" environment, I am able to speak more and vocalize in Chinese more of my thoughts because I think about the entire translation process much less. I think it is interesting that this concept, as previously raised by cheffernan, that the I-function is always on and can never really be “off” or in a state of lesser “awareness/consciousness” simply because I think there are oftentimes many actions that we are aware of that we simply forget to recognize. Speaking in another language that is not my native dialect of Chinese forces me to put more of a focused conscious effort into attempting to speak it.
Allison Z's picture

Re: Free Will

I find the idea of punishing people for crimes they have not yet committed incredibly problematic. While it is possible that decisions are determined by chemical function rather than what many think of as "free will", it is still impossible to predict how environment and genes will interact even if one has knowledge of abnormal brain function. Not all people with pedophilic tendencies become child molestors, for example. To stand trial one must be able to comprehend the difference between right and wrong, at least legally, and be aware that s/he has broken the law. This means that there is still a choice, even if it is one decided by a chemical reaction. Because of the variety of factors that go into creating a human being and her/his surroundings, a persons choices are still not completely predictable, one can only guess at possible outcomes. Minority Report deals with this problem (I believe) by having people who are able to actively see the future and predict murders, which is not an option in real life along with being extremely problematic even then, as the film suggests.
Simone Shane's picture

Genes x Environment

I totally agree that it would be difficult to target people before they commit crimes. From everything I've ever read, genes interacts with environment to create behavior. There was a study done in I think Denmark where they found that children of incarcerated parents who were adopted by nonincarcerated parents were no more likely (or very minimally more likely) to have behavior problems than children whose biological parents were not incarcerated. However, children who had both incarcerated biological and adoptive parents were much more likely to have behavior problems than any other group. Moreover, if I recall the study correctly, the children of non incarcerated parents who were adopted by incarcerated paretns (so, only an environmental and no genetic disposition) were more likely to get in trouble than those children who only had a genetic influence (although still much less likely than those children with both). So, should we only target those children with genetic and environmental risk factors? This doesn't really seem fair to me...
PS2007's picture

Free Will

I am really interested in the subject of "free will" and choice, and I hope we talk more about these topics in class. A lot of people in the forums have brought up the subject of criminals, and whether they should be punished for doing what their brain has programmed them to do. In doing research for various psychology classes, I read about a study that claimed the brains of pedophiles are different than the normal population. If this is true, should we put all the people with this brain type in jail before they have the chance to harm anyone?

While thinking about these issues I am reminded of the film "Minority Report" where crimes could be stopped and people arrested before they inevitably committed them. I don't know the answer to this question, obviously, and we probably won't have to deal with this problem for a long time. I now feel like I have a little but more knowledge at least to think about these issues.

llamprou's picture


This weekend I was surfing the internet for a topic to base my second web paper on, when I stumbled upon a video in the New York Times, featuring a Dr. Taylor who had recently experienced a stroke in the left-hemisphere of her brain. She claimed that the left hemisphere is the part of the brain that takes the raw data input from the right side relates it to past experience (memory) and then projects it to the future via language. It is the “I am” of consciousness. On the other side, the main concern is with the present, the here and now. How things feel, smell, look and sound come in as “energy” and are basically raw data. The data is not “judged” or processed. There is no sense of self or separateness from the environment and others; no boundaries. Bolte describes the feeling produced by this unbridled consciousness as expansive, beautiful and awesome. I just wanted to share this with everyone because I feel as though it sheds new light both on the I-function and also on consciousness as a whole. The website is below!


I did end up writing my web paper on this topic and am amazed at some of the observations this women recorded after her episode. If nothing else it is great food for thought.  

Tara Raju's picture

When reading Caroline's

When reading Caroline's comment above about individuals that go on auto-pilot when driving somewhere or doing something, it makes me wonder if that is actually unconscious. When driving, I would hope that one were conscious of what they were doing. It is my assumption that an individual just might be less actively engaged in the activities that they are doing and have the ability, since they have done the action many times, to concentrate on other things.

I would think that most everything that we do is conscious and very few things, if any, are limited to being unconscious actions. I am not sure what these actions are and would most defintely like to be presented with a case but it seems that there is always thinking involved with everything that we do and that nothing is truly and unconditionally unconscious.

cheffernan's picture

When thinking about it,

When thinking about it, there are a lot of behaviors that we are conscious of, but our conscious mind does not make decisions about. For example, a lot of people go on auto-pilot when driving to work or home, and when they arrive at their destination, completely forget how they got there. It's not to say that the brain was not actively partaking in the driving behavior because not every drive is the same, but in some sense, you could "relax" and let your brain do the work for you.

This phenomenon just like the one discussed in class, of learning a language better without the I-function's meddling, illustrates the brain's abilities even without the one that amazes us and makes us human the ability ot have consciosu thought. This idea that our conscious thoughts help and hinder some of our learning is an interesting topic and discussion about our brain's abilties.

Mahvish Qureshi's picture

synchronized clapping

Although we have moved on in class, the topic about the presence or absence of a conductor has still interested me alot. After doing some research I found this article:

which actually does a study on the synchronized clapping during performances, and after making students in a classroom clap together. This article concludes that there is no conductor however the organization of the clapping is based on an awareness of how to slow down clapping frequency etc. to make a synchronized clapping however at the same time reduce the noise intensity produced by the clapping.

I thought this was a really interesting article, definately worth reading over



Angel Desai's picture

I-function etc

My original post just got deleted so I'll try to remember what it is I was attempting to think about...

 This latest discussion ties very strongly into what my second web paper deals with, and along with Jean's comments make me seriously wonder if the i-function is a permanant, existing entity. It seems more likely that perhaps the i-function is something that an individual develops over time. For instance,  this thought makes me wonder if the members of this class have somehow altered certain neural processes because of we are now all aware that the i-function exists. If we had not taken this class, would our nervous systems show "expectations of input" that are different from what they are now (some weeks into the course) now that we question the existence and purpose behind an i-function?

Sophie F's picture

In our discussion about

In our discussion about what it means to “see” and what characterizes vision, images or light or something else, it occurred to me that generally we think of dreams as being images and whether this characterizes a kind of “sight” or is a recreation of images seen in the past and stored as memories that are then “played” like a film, that is somehow integrated by our unconscious (or the intersection between conscious and unconscious). How do dreams manifest themselves when they are not a direct result of sensory input, unless one is acutely attuned to one’s environment while sleeping? Are dreams an integration of corollary discharge signals and memories of sensory information coupled with the actions of the looping mechanisms of the nervous system?

On a separate note, it occurred to me during our discussion about language acquisition that, perhaps, there is some corollary in our “emotional learning.” As Prof. Grobstein discussed, in order for birds to acquire song, they need to hear songs being sung and then need to be able to hear themselves singing that song. What if the same were true for emotional learning? If we acquire an emotional “tool box” from our caregivers as children, which then establish a series of expectations within our nervous system based upon the mechanisms of corollary discharge and CPG’s, perhaps when the emotional language with which we are equipped is somehow incongruous with input from the outside or a conflicting corollary discharge, there is some compensatory mechanism. Just as in the development of language deficits, perhaps there is a comparable scenario that exists for emotions. And somehow, the I-function is malleable enough to accommodate any scenario with which it is presented in terms of emotional discord, but is also able to mediate in certain circumstances and override the corollary discharge. And once conflict-resolution has been established, perhaps the I-function mediates when necessary to override incoming signals.

The final thought I had regarding our discussion of late, involves people who experience chronic pain of one form or another. If the subjective experience of pain is the nervous system’s way of alerting us to danger and/or reconciling conflicting information, what of a disorder like fibromyalgia that is characterized by diffuse pain of varying severity and seems to be of unknown origin? Is this, like generalized anxiety disorder might also be, a “creation” of the nervous system to respond to conflicting input and corollary discharge signal that then translates into a continued, self-perpetuated cycle of pain due to the establishment of a central pattern? The ever-trusty source Wikipedia has this line in its description of fibromyalgia that stuck me, “The validity of fibromyalgia as a unique clinical entity is a matter of some contention among researchers in the field.” Because its etiology is still uncertain, there is some question as to whether fibromyalgia constitutes a “legitimate” disease category, which, to my mind, undermines the experience of pain as a subjective phenomenon that may not always have observable clinical diagnostic criteria. And, indeed, to the person experiencing chronic, pain, the feelings of fatigue, diffuse pain and paralysis could not be more “real.” So, who’s to say what’s real anyway? Given that “stress” and “depression” are commonly comorbid with fribromyalgia, the omnipotence of the psychosomatic may well be at play, which does not de-legitimize the experience of pain, whether caused by an acute knife injury or something one experiences daily. Another fascinating “disorder” of a similar ilk to fibromyalgia is chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Emily Alspector's picture

jean's muscle memory

I think Jean's comment is an interesting one; is I-function merely what we do when we aren't thinking? or is it what we do when we overthink? Muscle memory seems like an override of our I-function, as in the case of locking our keys in the car or perfecting a performance, but what exactly is that step we are skipping? And we usually are not consciously choosing to override I function (or else I'm sure Jean's partner would have if he would have known), so in what situations does the override occur? Are some people more prone to the override? What does this mean about their I-function? And what might it mean about the I-function of the people who don't override, is their I-function stubborn? stable?

We have decided collectively that I-function is not necessary to learn, however, if my interpretation of it is correct, I-function is what guides WHAT you learn-- not how, but why. By overriding the I-function, then, in performing, playing a sport, or mistakenly turning on the light as you leave a room, the I-function is not accountable. We need to come up with a new term that label this higher-plane processing.'s picture

a funny thought...

The question about the fine lines of I-function and not I-function...I have a funny story from this weekend that i think i can present to the class.

This passed weekend was the Rhythm 'n' Motion Dance Company's showcase.  I performed a piece in the showcase with my partner (it was a couple piece) and literally, from the beginning of this semester, we have spent endless hours rehearsing the same choreography again and again until the choreo no longer felt like I-function, but was practically muscle memory.

it is funny though, because during the performance, (I don't know if it was the surge of energy from being on stage) but I got more into the choreo than usual...i think it was due to the confidence that i could perform well and confidently, as opposed to the middle of the semester when I would perform more poorly due to stage fright.

The choreo seemed like a routine on stagethough. although i was "i-fuctioning" my brain to dance the memorized, "muscle-memorized" choreo, i dont know what triggered myself to get more "into" the choreo.  Another funny thing is (please forgive me for saying) but my partner actually made a mistake because he was thinking too much about the choreo.  He said he was consciously thinking about what move he should do and how he should...more than usual than relying simply on his muscle memory and in the end blanked out and made a mistake. 

I thought that this was funny, because I did  not rely on the I-function and actually performed better just trusting my instincts while my partner actually made more mistakes by doign the i'fucntion. 

what is the fine line that distinguishes his behavior and mine?  and our resulting performances? 

I would really like to know...

Jessica Varney's picture

I'm not a dancer, but as a

I'm not a dancer, but as a long distance runner, I have my own set of observations from what I conclude must be the I-function and its effect on performance. When I run casually, it's easy for me to have conversations with myself, think about the words to catchy songs, consciously change my posture, and watch the members of the Bi-Co Ultimate Frisbee team practice by the Duck Pond. However, when I put in more effort and pick up the tempo, I find that the extra things I think about slowly start to disappear. When I'm having my absolute best workouts and races, there is no soundtrack playing in my head, and I won't remember any of the details about the grueling cross-country course I just ran. During a race, I am finely attuned to only the most important details: look up at the competitor in front of me, keep my elbows tucked in, and focus on my stride rate and breathing. Scenery? Forget it. They're throwing the javelin in the infield? It was windy? Good thing I never noticed. I don't have to worry about forgetting the moves, but I definitely relate to your description of being tuned "in to" the act.

I think there may be a connection between delegating functions between the I-function and the rest of the nervous system. When the I-function is not preoccupied with worrying, stage fright, overthinking, we perform better. I wonder how we can better train ourselves to turn off the I-function while we're performing.
anonstudent01's picture

Labeled Lines

When our discussion on Thursday moved to address the box from the sensory side, we talked about pain in terms of a labeled line of functions being carried out. We then decided that because there exist phenomena such as phantom pain that could not happen if the labeled line held true that the labeled line theory is not the correct way to think of pain activity. What bothered me when thinking about this is that all medicinal practices in a way are based on the labeled line theories after several similar tests and observations over time. Medical treatment in the west begins with assessment of symptoms or tangible damage, then is compared to other cases from the practitioner's past experience and is then treated. The practitioner views the given sympton as the output of a direct line of little variance which leads them to name the source of the problem (origin of labeled line of actions that lead to the symptom). If we compare this to the pain example, then the practitioner is not accounting for several phenomena that could not be explained through the labeled line analyisis. Does that mean that all of my medical issues in the past have been typical?? hmmmm
Jen Benson's picture

implicit knowledge

From taking classes in cognitive psychology, I have learned that unconscious or implicit knowledge does guide behavior. Knowledge of how to walk or play an instrument (and as Professor Grobstein pointed out, learning a language) are examples of implicit knowledge because they do not require conscious thought to guide behavior. Even social processes can be guided by unconscious knowledge. Upon meeting someone, mental representations of information associated with aspects of that person, such as their race, can be activated without our conscious knowledge and guide our perception of that person and subsequent treatment of them. These processes all seemingly fall outside the realms of the I-function, but we still seem to hold people accountable for them. This for me creates an interesting distinction between personal accountability and the I-function.
Anna G.'s picture

I like the point you bring

I like the point you bring up here, at what point are we responsible for our actions and at what point is it actions that our brain is taking without the seat of consciousness in our brain, the I-function guiding it?


I think that the reason we still hold people accountable for actions that they may or may not be consciously thinking of is 1. We don't realize when they are CHOOSING to do something over just, doing it because their brain is and 2. Because even though the I-function may not be dictating every single action, it's still working.


For example, a lot of people have said they can play and instrument or drive without thinking about it. But before they were able to do this "without thinking" a lot of thinking and practice went into it. The I-function and conscious thought played a major role in shaping, at least in this case, those actions.  I also think feedback plays a role in this. When playing an instrument or driving, when the feedback is positive, the notes sound right, you recognize the roads, its a lot easier to drive without thinking. But as soon as one mistake is made, the I-function wakes up in a hurry to correct the mistake, leading me to believe it wasn't really a sleep, simply taking a backseat to other areas of the brain.


Imaging studies have been done in people that are musicians, and found that certain areas of been enlarged. Perhaps this increase in brain connections is responsible for the musician's seemingly thoughtless brilliance. 



heather's picture


"we still hold people accountable for actions that they may or may not be consciously thinking of"

this makes me think about crime, and the various degrees to which we hold people responsible - how great a role the i-function plays in this process.

for example, there's premeditated crime - wherein the i-function is used to deliberate an illegal act; and then, there are crimes of passion - wherein the criminal acts on impulse, on emotion, seemingly before/without the input of the i-function. premeditated crimes are punished more harshly than crimes of passion.

we certainly place a lot of importance on the i-function. why? i'm serious.

Rica Dela Cruz's picture

I feel that people place

I feel that people place such an importance on the i-function because it is our self awareness and consciousness. Unlike passionate crime, premeditated crime is something people think about and they are aware of their actions when committing the crime. For me, the i-function is one of the things that makes us who we are. To know that we are aware of ourselves makes us know that we are alive and that we have a purpose in life. I don't think that life would be worth living if we did not have an i-function because we would not be aware of any of our actions or thoughts. We say that there are so many things that we can do without it, but I don't think they would have been worth doing if I was not aware of it after and was able to reflect back on it. Take me writing this paragraph for example. My thoughts are flowing out as I write and maybe my i-function does not know what I'm typing a that moment, but after reading back through my paragraph, my i-function is able to see what i was thinking and my thoughts become significant because I am finally aware of them.
Jackie Marano's picture

I-function and Perception

I find this conversation quite interesting, and it appears to fit in with what I have tried to address in my second webpaper. I researched and explored the phenomenon of Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, and I find I have similar questions with respect to the I-function. Tinnitus is very hard to cure, and the success in recovery is directly correlated to the individual's ability to 'retrain' the brain to consider the leaky-membrane-messages it receives as false. Is this difficulty a result of a 'dispute' between the I-function and the mechanisms of the brain? If material and concrete influences cannot repair the inner ear or alleviate tinnitus...are not all of the medications, use of noise-masking devices, and visits to therapists all attempts to alter/influence the I-function? Or maybe this is actually the brain's fault? How does such a dispute between the brain (and such leaky membranes) and the I-function correspond to perception in general? And to behavior?
nasabere's picture

"Two Frontal Brain Areas Contribute to Decision Making"

Certainly relevent to our conversations on "choice..."

maggie_simon's picture

How might learning be a function of the inhibition of neurons?

Since corollary discharge signals are the communication between two groups of neurons in which the first group informs the second group as to what that first group is doing, we determined in class that corollary discharge must play an important role in coordinated movement, i.e., central pattern generation.  We also learned that the neo-cortex and motor cortex allow us to produce new movements (they help us to learn new ways of moving or using our bodies) by inhibiting parts of the nervous system (possibly central pattern generation).  I can think of two ways in which a central pattern can be inhibited:  

     1) inhibit some of the individual motor neurons that play a role in the central pattern (so the neurons will still receive signals from the corollary discharge telling them to fire but they will be unable to do so, or if their receptors are inhibited, the corollary discharge will still be sending signals, but the motor neuron will be unable to receive them)

     2) inhibit corollary discharge signals (so a group of neurons will be firing, but they will not be informing other groups that they are doing so, and so any communication between groups in which one group tells the other group to begin firing will be lost, and that second group will seem to have been inhibited from its role in the central pattern)

With the first case, I guess the neo and motor cortexes take a central pattern or a couple of central patterns and let them run, but inhibit those parts of the pattern that do not fit in with the new movement that the brain is trying to produce.  The second case seems to stop the central pattern all together, and so to generate new movement it appears that some part of the brain will need to stimulate each of the appropriate motor neurons to fire.  It is possible that neither of these cases are the correct way of understanding this process of learning, or it is also possible that learning in a physical sense is a combination of these two approaches (and possibly combined with other approaches as well).


             I wonder if learning in the mental sense (in which we are gaining knowledge, or training our minds how to approach or think about a problem or discipline), or the emotional sense (what many people call “growing”) happens in the same way as this sort of physical learning (learning to play an instrument, a skill, a dance or a sport)?

Caitlin Jeschke's picture

memory inhibition

I wrote my first web paper about memory inhibition and its role in various mental processes, including learning new languages.  There have been a number of very interesting studies on students learning new languages as adults, and results suggest that, during the process of language acquisition, the brain may actually temporarily block access to one's native language so that the new language can be learned.  I am also intrigued by how such inhibitions might take place, and which pathways would need to be activated/inhibited. 

This year, I began studying my third language (Spanish) and I have been able to make some interesting observations from personal experience.  I found that, at the beginning of the year, whenever I tried to say something in Spanish, French (my second language) would come out.  Over the next several months, this tendency slowly decreased.  I wondered why learning my third language was such a different experience from learning my second.  Then I thought about the situation in terms of changing neuron pathways and I began to make sense of things a little more.  The way I see it, when I had learned French several years before, I had essentially taught my brain to inhibit the "English" and redirect signals to the box that stores languages acquired later in life (or something along those lines).  Now, in Spanish class, I was inhibiting the English words, and so signals were once again being directed to "French" (as they had become accustomed to do), only what I really wanted was to inhibit both of these languages and send signals to a completely new area, in essence "re-re-wiring" pathways.  Or at least that's what I came up with.  This could be the type of process that occurs in the cortex every time a particular behavior is adapted.

Caroline Feldman's picture

Do Lobsters feel Pain?

It was interesting when we discussed pain in today’s class. There was a recent article about whether lobsters feel pain when they cook. A recent scientific report from Norway has added fuel to this long-simmering debate. The study, funded by the Norwegian government, finds that animals like lobsters have nervous systems that are too simple to process what we call "pain." According to Tony Yaksh, professor of anesthesiology at the University of California at San Diego, primitive animals like lobsters have the ability to perceive and respond to a "noxious stimulus," that is, any agent that can cause physical harm like tissue damage."When you deal with a non-verbal animal, and when you see a lobster in boiling water, you know that's a noxious stimulus," said Yaksh. But scientists like Yaksh stop short of calling what the lobster feels "pain" -- or pain as humans know it. The difference, Yaksh explained, is in our feelings. "There's a strong emotional component to what we call pain," he said.It is this emotional component that helps us remember what causes pain, said Yaksh. "It's one of those things that drives you to avoid those [painful] things in the future," he said. What is this emotional component?
Molly Pieri's picture

On human pain...

I recently took my state exams to become a PA state registered EMT, and during this process, I was reminded of our class discussion on pain... One of the things they teach us in preparation for this test is patient assessment, part of which are the "QRS" questions. We are taught to inquire about the Quality of a patient's pain (What does the pain feel like, can you describe it for me?"), the Radiation of the pain ("Does the pain spread or move any where?") and the Severity of the pain ("On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain ever and one being no pain at all, what would your rate your pain right now?").
Now, the first two I can understand. Human bodies are all build along pretty much the same lines so similar illnesses/injuries are likely to produce the same sensations (although it's important to t note that doe don't always.) But the last question seems to be far too subjective to be at all useful in anything apart from a strictly relative sense.
Certainly, reassessing severity of pain to trend and individual patient's changing condition is one of the key sues of this term, but it is also used in other, broader manners. Any patient with a severity of pain a seven or higher is considered a high priority patent, and the procedures dictating their care change as a result of this designation. The fact that such a subjective measure can be taken and applied to all patient care just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me-- especially if pain is supposed to be a singular and subjective experience...
And yet, the system works. Furthermore, even though we claim that pain is a subjective experience (what is painful to one person doesn't even phase another...), that doesn't stop us from empathizing with individuals who are in pain.... so I suppose my question with regards to this issue is, what exactly is the shared component of this "subjective" experience?
Caitlin Jeschke's picture

emotional component?

I'm not sure that I would agree with there being an emotional component to all types of pain that humans experience.  However, I definitely agree that memory plays a huge part in avoiding potentially painful actions.  As I suggested in a previous post, I believe that conscious memory may be one of the factors that separates humans from other organisms.  Through memory, we have access not only to feedback signals that our bodies are currently receiving, but also, to a certain extent, to feedback from past actions.  This input allows us to avoid behaviors that may result in pain. 

That said, I feel that a distinction can be made between physical pain and emotional pain.  Humans make behavioral choices so as to avoid both types of pain.  I would argue that other animals, such as lobsters, do feel and attempt to escape from physical pain, but that they do not feel emotional pain.  This issue is definitely very interesting.  During our "phantom limb" discussions, we defined pain as a physical sensation telling the body that something was wrong, or that signals weren't matching up.  In the case of a lobster boiling or, for example, a child touching a hot stove, it is very easy to see what that "something wrong" is.  However, what type of signal discordance is occurring when we feel emotional pain?  Many symptoms of emotional distress (ex: eyes watering, nausea, fatigue) are also common to physical distress, but there is no obvious physical cause. Thoughts?

evanstiegel's picture

I think what we often

I think what we often consider "emotional distress" is a form of physical distress.  We can more easily understand physical stress because it often involves a physical stimulus(a hot stove perhaps).  Emotional pain may seem like it lacks a physical cause but I believe it does not.  During what we perceive as "phsyical pain" a pain receptor is activated, information is sent to the CNS, and we endure the symptoms of what we know as physical pain.  We perceive emotional pain through a different set of receptors. That is all.  We see someone get killed maybe, rods and cones in our eyes detect light, send information to CNS where it is processed, and we feel symptoms like eyes watering or nausea, or what we think of as "emotional pain".  But aren't they just one in the same process, just taking different routes?
Zoe Fuller-Young's picture

I also wonder?

I have also seen the movie Awakenings, and although I do not have an answer to the end result of the movie, I have some more questions and comments. I immediatly thought of the movie today in class when we were discussing injury to the motor cortex. For those individuals who could not, that is with the I-Function, move their left arm, they would move their arm if a ball was thrown in their direction. In Awakenings, the seemingly catatonic patients could catch a ball if it was thrown at them. Does this mean that it was their motor cortex that was disrupted?

Ok I am going to give away the ending to the movie now, so do not read on if you do not want to know. I believe Lindsey is wondering the same thing that I am, which is why did the drug L Dopa stop working on the patients?Whatever the problem was within the patients nervous systems, it stopped being influenced by L Dopa. This leads me to question their central pattern generator, in that is it possible that the patients retreated to their "catatonic" CPG because their bodies did not become accustomed to the new, higher functioning CPG? Wikipedia's page on L Dopa, explains that the drug manipulates dopamine levels and is often used for Parkinsons patients. Perhaps dopamine levels can only temporarily cure the disease in Awakenings, but what I still do not understand is why it stopped working permanently, instead of maybe stopping but then working again after a few months.

Does anyone who has seen the film remember if Rober DeNiro's character maintained thought processes when he was catatonic? If perhaps his mental process were maintained at any level, this raises new questions for the I Function and its possibilities without other Nervous System processes.

mcrepeau's picture



Perhaps the problem lies in imbalances in other chemicals in the chemical bath as well, such as how in schizophrenia treatment often consists of altering levels of multiple chemical agents including Dopamine's counterpart Serotonin. Perhaps treatment of one or with one chemical agent only temporarily relieves symptoms, since the change in one agent's presence is enough to affect a reaction so to speak, i.e. is able to replace one aspect of something that is missing from a the activity of CPG or is produced as a message in Corollary discharge, which until then had been absent or in insufficient quantities, thus, the missing or altered aspect produces results consistent with normal or recovering behavior. However, since one agent is not enough (since there are multiple agents in the system which all have been altered in some way by the disease) these symptoms of recovery can only extend so far before the insufficient presence (or over abundant presence) of other agents is taken into account and limits recovery. Also, perhaps the increase in dopamine itself has caused imbalances in the system which negatively affect the presence of other chemical agents, perhaps their activity is increased or decreased due to the presence of higher levels of dopamine (especially in the latter if the problem was more psychical ablation than chemical imbalance in the first place), so new problems arise with a similar effect. If we are proposing that Dopamine effects some CPG or corollary discharge unit, especially in the case of the latter, which reports on or to the activity of the effected area after all, where a change in chemical agents would most likely count in a change in the status quo, i.e. it may affect what the corollary discharge report about the effected area or even how the corollary discharge unit communicates to other parts nervous system (it could make it more fluid or more difficult or confuses or even inhibit communication)...or how other corollary discharge units respond to or receive and interpret, or don't receive and interpret signals as well. The addition of dopamine to this system thus may temporarily increase fluidity, correctness, occurrence of neuronal activity but ultimately proves to be not enough as those neural connections that need other chemical agents in the bath to communicate properly as well. I have admittedly never seen this I am interested in whether or not the patients in the movie received the same level of dopamine all the time or if the treatment stopped when they began to recover etc.

Jen Benson's picture

I think L dopa might stop

I think L dopa might stop working because the body and nervous system try to maintain homeostasis and thus adjusts to the effects of the drug. I'm not sure though.
Margaux Kearney's picture

What is "seeing"?

After today's class discussion on whether we could see with our eyes closed, I decided to research the subject online. I came upon a quote that I thought was thoroughly interesting and pertinent to the topic: "Our eyes do not see, but we see with our eyes" (Walls, 1963, from The Vertebrate Eye). In class, we were asked to close our eyes and say whether or not we could see. When our eyes are closed, we cannot identify objects and shapes, but only can detect light and the changes in the amount of light. Our visual sense depends directly on reflected light. Objects in our environment reflect light that then enters our eyes, forms an image and transmits information to our brain for processing. Advanced human vision is due to a highly complex brain working with a simple lens eye. If we close our eyes, we cannot form any images and transmit information to the brain for processing (cannot see).

Lyndsey C's picture


Has anyone ever seen the movie Awakenings with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro? Not only is it fantastic (one of my favorites) because of it's subject matter, casting, and closeness to the true story it portrays, but it is also relevant to our class' discussion today about the motor cortex's function in voluntary and involuntary movement and inhibition of CPGs. For those not familiar with the film, Awakenings documents a historical period of research following the encephalitis epidemic of the 1920s. This disease rendered many patients catatonic and virtually thoughtless, but remarkable studies conducted by Malcolm Sayer (Robin WIlliams) yielded evidence of a new drug - L Dopa- that could potentially revive patients. I wonder how this drug worked and if it functioned in rewritting CPG pathways. I believe it had something to do with dopamine receptor changes? What implications could this drug have for diseases like Parkinson's disease which is also related to motor cortex deficiencies.

Getting back to the movie, for a short period of time, certain paitents taking the drug in progressive doses were able to function normally. This was an extremely encouraging finding which enabled so many individuals to regain control of their lives. Not to ruin the plot, but the end result of continued use of the drug was completely unexpected. For those who have seen the movie, it would be interesting to get your thoughts on why the drug acted as it did.

Paul Grobstein's picture

Corollary discharge and I-function conversation