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Week 13 - Neurobiology and Behavior

Paul Grobstein's picture

A few more things to deal with, the neocortex/I-function, and story telling/bipartite brain, and ...  Your thoughts on these or other things from this week? Save your thoughts about the course as a whole for our last forum (next week).

alexa09's picture

The concept of pure primary

The concept of pure primary experiences is very interesting. If the feeling is really an unconscious reaction for example to the color red is truly unconscious, what happens when you are in a cold setting looking at the color red? I have been told by my mother that if I am cold, I should think about warm colors, such as red. Much to my dismay thinking about the color red and hot chocolate did little to relieve the cold while walking to school. At the same time the concept of pure primary experiences cannot be dismissed. Cool blues and whites are refreshing during the summer and just looking at black can be stifling. Looking at silver colored walls during the winter can make the room more chilly, while warm forest greens can make the room more cozy. Perhaps pure primary experiences only work when the environment is not at an extreme. Thinking of the color red can only go so far as to warm one’s body and the air around it.

James Damascus's picture

Instinctual Behavior and Agency: Evolutionary Sense?

What struck me most about our discussion of experience, storytelling and neo-cortex is that conscious experience is a phenomenon that does not extend to all organisms. While this is obvious for, say, a tree, more seemingly ‘conscious’ animals (ex. Frogs) lacking neo-cortex can in fact act in ways similar to organisms that possess neo-cortex and have experiences (or “stories”, as told by the neo-cortex). Given that some instinctual behaviors are present irrespective of the I-function[1], this leads me to question what the evolutionary advantages of possessing an I-function, or neocortex are, and how consciousness came to exist. From what I’m finding on the web, the development of the neo-cortex in general is thought to be associated with the evolution of cortical development:                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Predatory behavior in particular is associated with larger brains. Catching prey requires highly tuned sensory and motor systems. The neocortex is made up of both primary sensory areas that receive input from the thalamus, and primary motor areas. In mammals with more neocortex, the primary areas are connected to many other areas that further process sensory input and produce motor plans. Much like the duplication of genes, it has been suggested that cortical areas have been duplicated as well. Like the duplicated gene mechanism, such a change would have the advantage that one area could evolve rapidly while the other provides the original function, or they could coevolve, each providing important and possibly refined aspects of the original function. Such duplicated areas most likely arise due to mutations in genes that control processes during development.                                                                                                                                                                                            So it seems as though the ifunction developed hand-in-hand with the other components of the nervous system as a means of rapid evolution, adaptation of behavior, and increased cognitive, social and planning abilities As for what makes primate neocortex unique,  “Early primate lifestyle resulted in a number of adaptations that were critical to the eventual evolution of humans. Like most mammalian predators, early primates had forward facing eyes which allowed for focused pursuit with good depth perception in a large part of the visual field. The arboreal life required grasping hands, and prey were probably captured by visually-guided hand and mouth movements. Consequently, the visual system of primates dominates the sensory cortices, and its structure, even within the brainstem, is unique to primates. Another important difference between the neocortex of the primate and that of other mammals is a large prefrontal cortex which is the rostral or front part of the cortex not devoted to motor function. These areas seem to be instrumental in higher cognitive functions such as planning and social behavior.”                                                                                                                                                                [1] For example, a specific inborn reaction of many species when confronted with the presence of a predator (or danger in general) is to stop moving, or be “frozen in place with fear”. Two examples of this behavior by conscious species is deer freezing in car headlights and the videotaped reactions of terror victims frozen in fear in the immediate aftermath of explosions.   It is thought that this behavior is a defense mechanism that developed, through evolutionary adaptation, when confronted by a predator (predator species are generally adept at detecting movement by prey). Those individual organisms possessing the behavior were more likely to escape predation.   

michelle's picture

X-Men and Evolution of the Brain

I was fascinated by your post, but I had a couple of questions/comments. First, if the evolution of the neocortex was for predatorial reasons, then why are apes and monkeys (from whom we evolved from) not predatorial. Don’t they eat fruits/nuts and insects? I also remember in nutritional anthropology learning that the first humans were not hunters and gathers, but were scavengers who ate left over from other predators. Also, the instinctive behavior you mention in the end of your post about freezing in the face of danger doesn’t seem like predatory behavior but instinctive prey behavior. Therefore I’m not sure if that is the most accurate statement.

Secondly, Thinking about how the brain evolves makes me wonder what the possible outcomes could be. As a bachelor’s degree becomes the equivalent to a high school diploma, it seems that human’s are becoming smarter and learning more. Think what else we could evolve to learn to do or all the new functions we could evolve to have: seeing in the infrared and ultraviolet, hearing different pitches, etc. It makes me think of the X-men mutants that have special capabilities. I don’t think our brain is ever going to stop evolving and just like how newer and newer technology is being developed, our brains are going to evolve to be more and more innovative and functional and the thought of that is awesome.

Cayla McNally's picture

Influence of the I-function

How is it that the I-function, which plays almost no role in many of the brains functions, has such a strong influence in the way we react to things we experience, such as the Rothko painting or the photo of the baby? And due to the fact that animals, the majority of which do not have a neocortex, act in similar ways that we do in similar situations, would that mean that they can have the reaction, but not the experience? While animals do not have an I-function in the same ways that we do, many species, especially those which are high on the intelligence list, have some self-awareness, which causes me to wonder about the I-function in general.

lrifkin's picture

Experience and Action

In class last week we discussed the fact all experiences one has are felt after the fact. It was said that individuals do not act initially because of the experiences they are having. As I understood this, individuals act, and then feel an experience.

While I can understand this concept, it also provokes questions in my mind. If I understand the idea correctly then it clearly lines up with traumatic, intense, or scary situations when adrenaline is released. In situations such as these, individuals seem to act instinctively, almost without thinking. However, what about more carefully contemplated experiences, such as a divorce, in which an experience is had and then an action is taken? Does this concept only apply to generalized control mechanisms? I am very interested in learning more and clarifying my understanding.

csandrinic's picture

Action-Feeling vs. Feeling-Action

Last week’s class made me think about the connection between feelings, actions, and experience. There is obviously a correlation between what we feel and how we act. However, which one comes before the other is significant, because it determines the importance of previous experiences on our actions and emotions. We determined in class that feeling is what the I-function uses to try to explain action. The I-function obviously involves previous experience. This is most probably why everyone experiences certain events, objects, etc. in different ways and associates them with different things. If I see a dog, I automatically feel like cuddling it, therefore going towards it to pet it. My friend, however, who had a traumatic experience with a dog at a young age, will literally run to the other side of the street when she sees the same dog. I understand that when we look at the feeling-action model, there is a reason why we are all so different and feel and act differently. However, I would be interested in knowing why our primal experiences, which are based on an action-feeling model, are not the same; if they are unconscious and impulsive signals that seem to have nothing to do with the I-function, then how is it possible that people can have different primal experiences? Wouldn’t our reactions be more or less the same? I’m not sure if I understand this all correctly, but I would certainly like to learn more.

eshuster's picture

Action before though and/or thought before action

I read your comment and wonder, why is it significant that we must determine which comes first the action or the thought? I agree there is definitely a correlation between the three (feelings, actions, and experiences) but what is the importance? Do we always have to have an action followed by a feeling or can we have a feeling followed by an action? What about a feeling with no action. I have had some tramatic experiences that make me think and ponder for a minute every now and then. I feel, think, and wonder about these experiences and how they shape me and my decisions but when I have these moments I do not act. I sit and think.

I feel it is very important to think about the two separately before we can combine them and consider their influence upon each other. Why do we have feelings and why do we act? I have always wondered, when we are impulsive do we really act before thinking or is there some type of thought before we act? I think it is important to consider what is a thought and what is a feeling. I think a thought could be categorized as many things. It could be an image that pops into one's brain or a long drawn out process from start to beginning. Or sometimes how I think about this class, my thoughts are loopy. They never end but continue to question each other in a round about way. And then its important to think about what is an action. Is an action the actual though one is experiencing in their minds. And does their experience and personality affect this thought and therefore affects this "action".

In order to understand the correlation between feelings, actions and experience we must define these terms. But the real question is, are one's feelings, actions and experiences affecting the definition of these terms? Is the correlation internal or is it constant throughout a society?

Sasha's picture

constant creativity

Is it really possible to measure creativity and if so, how? The example of the frog jumping to different points to get to the same place doesn't seem so much like an example of creativity but more of randomness. If the Harvard rule of animal behavior says that an animal will act however it wants, why is the example of the frog any different? Or is the Harvard rule a generalized observation for creativity? Creativity seems to be a concept that describes general productivity or actions of people. We are creative in someway in everything we do- from painting, to solving equations, or having a discussion- so because of this immensly heavy presence it seems as though it would be incredibly difficult to measure creativity as some seperate variable, but instead perhaps it is a constant. If that were true then maybe it means there isn't any specific function in the brain for creativity- it's a part of every thing- having a brain means having the ability to be creative(?)

katherine's picture

body language

Last week’s lecture about the role signals from non I function processing was very intriguing.  I was particularly interested in the significance of body language.  When I was first learning Spanish, I always found it easier to understand what was going on if we were asked to do an exercise based off of a video as opposed to from just an audio source.  I also noticed how much I depend on body language when I communicate with others when I had an interview over the phone.  Never before had I realized how useful it is to know whether someone is agreeing with you by nodding or smiling.  On the other hand, I didn’t realize how much I relied on body language to express my own agreement, disagreement, or understanding.

Holly Stewart's picture

Creativity as Breathing

I am really interested in how we have control over our I-function. Initially in the course we were presented with this specialized box which we added to our brain function model. The I-function box was supposed to represent the experience of input, and we identified the I-function with conscious behavior. I am not sure which side of this statement that we have shaken up with this week’s discussion: that the I-function is responsible for mediating some conscious activity or if there is more than we first thought which is under unconscious control. After this week’s discussion I may need to rethink how I conceive of the I-function and what processes it is and is not involved in.

Creativity manifests itself in many different ways. The idea that creativity has little to do with the I-function is mind-boggling and reassuring all at the same time. Creativity is independent of environmental influences; it is something within us that we cannot necessary control, except to inhibit it. If we allow that creativity doesn’t have to do with the I-function then we can say that it is unconscious activity. Whoa. There are so many implications for this! Think about all those other processes which we conceive of as being unconscious: digestion, heart rate, and breathing. Is it possible then that these processes could be over-ruled by the I-function? Where are the limits of this system? I don’t know that this makes sense, but if we put creativity on the same level as these other processes, then not only does it deserve our respect, but it also deserves our attention. Think how detrimental it would be for us if we were to stop our breathing—it seems the same degree of implications could stand for stopping creativity.

Creativity is an example of variability. Variability is something which is intrinsic to the nervous system, it is a property of the nervous system itself. So then this variability is natural, it is something which is intrinsic to us as human beings. So then, why would we ever want to limit it? Why would we ever want to curb it or hinder it from being expressed? I feel like I know from my own personal experience that the act of being creative is important to helping me function properly, but what I didn’t really understand was how essential this act was to me being able to function properly. If breathing is necessary to function properly and creativity is on an equal level, then expressing ourselves creatively is a necessary part of human existence. This perspective seems much too romanticized to be science! I mean I really like the idea that coloring should be a part of the curriculum not just in pre-school but all the way through your schooling and into your life!

I think the other important aspect of creativity is to look at what it is. We have already identified creativity as variability. Within its very name we are able to allow for different ways of expressing this creativity. Different ways that I can think of expressing creativity: through art, music, dance, and writing, just to name a stereotypical selection. I am also encouraged to think of creativity more creatively (sorry about the pun!). Could emotions be a way that we express our creativity? What about through dreams? If creativity is such an inherent part of what it means for us to be ourselves and to function properly, then it seems quite logical that creativity would need to come out in some way. The nervous system has five different ways of doing one thing. It seems this variability, this ability to change and adapt and the inconsistency that may result are all intrinsically part of the nervous system, and these aspects contribute to the creative, spontaneous, unpredictable beings we find ourselves being.

Darlene Forde's picture

Breathing . . . beyond creativity.

Holly brought up some fascinating questions about the nature of breathing and creativity. Indeed, after much some internal debate I decided to write my next web paper on the connection of breathing and the nervous system (after rejecting the concept of collecting a series of case studies examples on shared dreams amongst fellow students for a short webpaper as too labor intensive).

Holly discusses the nature of variability and creativity in breathing, but we must take this one step further. Breathing is one the few things that we can control either completely consciously —that is under the control of the I-function—or completely unconsciously.

What significance or implications may this have? It seems that trick to create establishing new patterns across the nervous system lies. By learning to consciously control our breathing, we may change the workings and patterns of our nervous system that immediate control of the I-function.

This is not a foreign concept. Modern day physicians such as Andrew Weil have stressed the importance breath (and focused attention on breath) can play in improving health. Similarly, many cultures have a long-standing tradition of using breathwork as a means of achieving enlightenment.

Perhaps we should define enlightenment as the ability to access/control aspects of our nervous system in new ways, particularly in ways which connections between the I-function and other aspects of the nervous system are connected in untraditional/uncommon ways.

alexandra mnuskin's picture

feelings and the I-function

I was thinking a lot about our discussion of primary emotions and feelings that then lead to our I-function creating a story for whatever feeling we have. To use the baby example: I see a little baby crying on its own…I get a warm, even maternal feeling, I think that baby is awfully cute…and so my I-function creates the story: this is a helpless baby that I need to care for. I think it’s an elegant idea and I’m quite happy that it finally begins to explain what the I-function is really for.

All the same I don’t know if I completely buy it. It seems that there are instances where the story could come before the primary perception. In class we talked about painters like Rothko who wanted to strip down an audience’s experience of a painting to their primary perceptions. It would seem that for me at least this is true. I look at the Rothko painting I feel warm and happy. But is that truly a primary perception? Am I not perhaps just associating it with the feelings I get from a sunset, or a warm fire. Perhaps when I see the painting my I-function is making sense of all the color and shape input and creates a story: “this looks like a sunset”. Consequently I think of the feelings I associate with sunsets, warmth, happiness…and apply them to my experience of a Rothko painting.

Molly Tamulevich's picture

maternal instincts

I was thinking about the baby as well, and whilethink a baby is cute and I should pick it up and care for it, I wonder why that is. I know there are people who abandon children or abuse them. Does that mean that their I-function is defective or just different? I want to know if the I-function is really an I-function if it effects more than one person. Wouldn't it be more of a We-function if it produces the same kind of concious decisions in more than one individual? Also, in the story about the baby, I wonder how many women would have the caring response asopposed to men. The same with the Rothko painting. I want to know how much of my I-function is a product of biology and how much comes from my lived experience. I think that if a woman responded indifferently to a baby, she would be seen as extremely abnormal whereas a man would just be insensitive.I know that sometimes my I-function produces a primary response that I immediately hide. What is that? Is that a secondary response? If so, what mechanisms are responsible for controlling the end result of the I-function's reactions?

Jessica Wurtz's picture

experience and the I-function

Molly's post made me think of a conversation I had with my friend the other day about children. My friend wants lots of children and I don't want any at all. She asked me if I grew up in an environment with lots of little kids around, and I said no. She said she had and that she thought that might have something to do with it. While this may be true for her, it might affect other people the opposite way. Maybe someone who was brought up with lots of little kids around would get sick of it and definitely not want any kids of their own later in life. So while it seems experience could play a huge role in the way your I-function works, its interesting that the same experience does not always produce the same effect, which I suppose could be where the biology of the I-function comes in. But still, it seems almost depressing to think that its all reduced to biology. I don't even know if I believe in a soul-like element to humans, but it doesn't sit well with me that our differences are boiled down to biology. But maybe thats the way it should be, that way everything can be boiled down to solid facts. I just don't think we can get to that very boiled down state right now with our technology. I guess we are resigned to wonder for the time being.

biophile's picture

Associations, emotions, stories

How does having unconscious associations invalidate the idea of primary experience? It's not as if you consciously think of any associations you may carry in your head and then apply them to the current situation. Actually, how do you even know you're making the connection between the painting and a sunset at the exact instance when you first see the painting? Perhaps you recall the memory of a sunset a split second after you get a warm feeling. It's difficult to tell when you first think of something because thinking about thinking tends to make things complicated and murky. It reminds me of that famous claim that the areas in the brain associated with decision-making are activated before we start to make a choice. We feel as if we're deliberating over something, but are we really? When all is said and done, how do we really know in what order certain things occurred to us or how they even came to us? In some ways, it makes more sense that feelings would come first and justifications would come afterwards. After all, we would need to have some primary, visceral reaction or else there wouldn't be anything to base the story on.

Sarah Harding's picture

Your points about the Rothko

Your points about the Rothko paintings are very interesting. Perhaps these feeling are created out of associations, or out of socialization. In our twenty years of life, we have been taught that red is the color of fire/heat, and blue is the color of ice/cold. Therefore, when we look at a picture of reds, we're not likely to have an experience of being cold. Rather, based our socialization experiences, we associate red with feelings of warmth. I feel that these associations are created subconsciously. When I look around a room, I don't consciously analyze all of the associations that I can make for each object. (Example: red chair= inviting, gray chair= not inviting, etc...). Rather, these associations are made for me, and I am probably more likely to sit in the red than the gray chair. In these situations, the story definitely comes first. Even though it's subconscious, my brain understands the story behind each association.

francescamarangell's picture

Primary Experiences

In class last Thursday we talked about primary experiences and how people behave in certain ways because they had a specific feeling. Feeling often explain why we act and how we act. Then we presented the question: Does the feeling or the action come first? After thinking about the question for a while and reflecting on my own experiences, I decided that it is both. Feelings can come before actions and actions can cause feelings. Why can’t both pathways exist? Why does one always have to come before the other? For example, if I saw someone eating a sandwich and it was around lunchtime I might begin to feel hungry. The act of looking at the sandwich caused my brain to respond with feelings of hunger. This feeling of hunger then causes the act of salvation and the production of digestive enzymes. In this case an action caused a feeling, followed by a feeling causing an action. The action came first. In another example, people with depression often feel sad for no particular reason, perhaps due to an imbalance of hormones. Without an action to spark an emotion, a depressed person may just feel sad, which may cause them to cry. In this example the emotion came first, causing an action. Both examples seem prevalent in the behavior of humans.

clin's picture

different interpretations

It is funny how color can mean so many different things. There are studies that show that gender prefers different colors: men prefer blue over red, women prefer red over blue. What about culturally? Are we taught to like a certain color more than an other as we grow due to our different cultures? In the chinese culture, red is considered good luck however, in others, red is a bad sign. How does this channel into our e-function? Can we really be programmed to prefer a certain color beter?

urbrainondrugs's picture

Gender Colors?

Last week we talked about people trying to capture pure primary experience of a person. We defined a primary experience that is "felt" unconsciously and as a feeling that occurs before one tries to identify it with something or analyze it. The i-function is what anaylzes what you are feeling, and once the i-function is activated and we try to anaylze the ifunction, it is no longer a primary experience. There are many artists who try to capture such feelings or intuitions through art, such as the Mark Rothko painting we were shown last week. I was interested in this subject and I began looking at colors and the psychology behind them. There are specific colors associated with different emotions and feelings. The most common ones are red, yellow, and blue. Red which has been found to stimulate the adrenal glands and therefore associated with anger and hunger; yellow which has been found to stimulate the brain and activate the lymph system and therefore associated with clear thinking and expediency; and blue which has been found to lower blood pressure and therefore associated with relaxation and calm. These colors and feeling associations are rather common knowledge and used in art, marketing, and of course on our walls. A interesting thought i stumbled upon is that the Mcdonalds color scheme was made so because red color stimulates hunger while yellow causes a expedient tendency, therefore you would be hungry, buy your food, and then feel rushed from and leave. Voila! Fast food :) From this color psychology I began to think about colors and genders. Is there a gender difference in response to color?

Looking this up I found that, although findings are ambiguous, many investigations have indicated that there are differences between gender in preferences for colors. Early investigations done by by Guilford (1934) on the harmony of color combinations found that a person is likely to see balance in colors that are closely related or the opposite. Guilford also found some evidence that more pleasing results were obtained from either very small or very large differences in hue rather than medium differences, with this tendency more frequent in women than men.

A review of color studies done by Eysenck in early 1940's notes the following results to the relationship between gender and color. He found yellow had a higher affective value for the men than women and another researcher, St. George, maintained that blue for men stands out far more than for women. An even earlier study by Jastrow found men preferred blue to red and women red to blue (reference at bottom).

These are interesting development and it makes me wonder, how do the i-functions of women differ from men? Are these color preferences actually only due to social and cultural trends that are deemed appropriate (baby boy=blue, baby girl=pink) or are there actually differences in our brains that cause us to like certain colors better? Are our primary experiences divided by gender?

jpena's picture

Color and Emotion

I've been interested in the ways colors affect human emotions for a while. Are humans socially conditions to have certain emotional responses to certain colors or is it a function of the brain? In advertising colors are used to stimulate specific emotions in the target audience. For example, blues and greens are meant to be calming or relaxing, while reds, oranges, and yellows are used to stimulate excitement and sometimes hunger as in the fast food example. If many people are affected by colors in the same way does that indicate a biological response or a socially conditioned response? The idea that different people see colors differently could also complicate this issue. If two people see the color red completely differently will they both have the same response to an advertisement using reds to influence the audience? Could this be tested? A comparison of cultural differences in response to certain colors might give some insight into whether responses are biological or socially conditioned.

Pleiades's picture

Think smart: priming

Okay. So this has nothing really to do with the subject for the week, but I really wanted to post this so people could be exposed to it because it totally changed the way I think about cognition/made me do better in school so listen up. I write more in my book review if you want to hear more. There is something called priming. Basically if your exposed to a set of words, or even told to think a certain way, it can affect your performance. For example in one study the primary investigator has one group of people think about what it means to be a professor and asks a second group think about what it would be like to be a soccer hooligan before playing Trivial Pursuit. The group that was primed with professor-like thoughts got over ten percent more questions correct than the soccer hooligan group. These were groups of people same as the soccer hooligan group, but after being ‘primed’ by thinking about being a professor they were in a ‘smart’ frame of mind. Basically if you thinking ‘smart’ you will be smart. It works the other way too, in another study, when African-American students were asked to identify their race on a pre-test questioner, the simple act of checking the box next to African American was enough to prime them with negative cultural stereotypes associated with African Americans and academic achievement. The number of items they got right was cut in HALF. HALF! So what’s going on here? In these studies it was all unconscious. There is some sort of unconscious regulation of ability. I use the word regulation because obviously there is a range of knowledge inside our heads somewhere, but how much of it we have conscious access to varies. There must be some part of our brain that inhibits our performance, but with certain behavior the subjects in this study were able to vary this inhibition (whatever it is). So with practice, we are effectively able to prime ourselves to be in a smart frame of mind, or a not so smart one. What are the implications of this for US (by us I mean students)? Personally, when I’m going into a test, if I think I will do great, I really will, but if I’m feeling really shitty about it, it will be reflected in my performance (this is all respective, no grades are implied). Its not so much how much I know, but how I feel. So basically all I want to say is think smart, and you will be.

AriannahM's picture

Dress for Success

I’ve been reading Blink too, and I am absolutely amazed by Gladwell’s findings. The two studies you are talking about really blew my mind. I’ve heard about studies like this before in other psychology classes, but I was still surprised. (The previous examples I had heard activated a “female” stereotype and then an “Asian” stereotype on the SAME subjects on two different occasions before a simple math test and found very different results (i.e. the female activation trial yielded lower scores than the Asian activation trial)). I think your idea of “if you think smart, you will be smart” goes a long way. I had teachers in high school tell me that if you dressed up for a big exam (“dress for success”) you would feel better about yourself and therefore would do better on the exam. Likewise, the same teacher also told us to take our time when writing our names on exams and to say things like “I deserve to do well on this exam” or “I will get a 100” to ourselves. I never tried these techniques in high school, but I’ve used them in college and I think they work. Try them during final’s week and see what you think!

A.Kyan's picture

Thinking Positively

I believe a lot of people are aware that positive thinking takes one far in life.  Instead, I think the issue lies in how to help people intrinsically believe in themselves during difficult times and depressed states.  Often times, people know what they're supposed to do or what is good for them, but something keeps their minds from cooperating.  It's like we discussed earlier, everyone can tell you to change your bad habits or see the positive sides of things, but unless YOU are willing to make that change, all the self-help books, scientific evidence, and coaching will do no good.  I think it takes more than practice or priming to help some people when it is enough for others.  But, I don't know what IT is, since I've never suffered from depression, anxiety, or self-doubt really.  What does it take to help people get out of their funks and have a positive outlook?  As Alex posted, "how do we really train our brains to work this way...?"      

Alex Hansen's picture

After reading this post I

After reading this post I felt compelled to reply because I completely agree with this idea of priming. I never heard about the african american study and I found it pretty interesting how the checking of a box primes them with negative cultural stereotypes associated with acedemic acheivement. I had never thought about that before, but I fully agree that that could have an effect. If we think in the terms of the stereotype, why would we really then actany differently because in our minds, those ideas are what are present, so it seems logical that in turn, those ideas will indicate how we act, indicate how individuals act. If your mind is controlled by one type of thought, how is your mind ever suppose to expand and think differently. For example, if you are working on a problem and you have the wrong idea of how to solve it and someone told you about it but you keep working with this equation trying to solve it and dont open yourself up to another possible method to solve the problem, another idea, you will never be able to know the answer, and you will never be able to change, and you will forever follow those ideas even if you know that they are wrong, and not providing the right answer. If we think in terms of one way, that is how we act, unless we open ourselves up to other options of thought. In doing so, we don't get sucked into the trap of possibly thinking negatively, possibly abiding by the wrong idea, affected our results in the end. I find it very true what was said that if you go into a test thinking you do well versus going into a test with a negative attitude. That negativity will come through on the test, and you will do worse, at least from my personal experience. Then, once you do do badly, and confirm the negative thoughts, it almost becomes a cycle, because you think you can't do it, so you have more negative thoughts, and then you do badly again on the next test, and the negative thoughts that you are incapable of learning and executing the material become reinforced. If you think positively, and enter with a positive attitude, you will attract positivity. There is a movie called the secret which is all about the "law of attraction" and this notion of how you enter the world will indicate what you will achieve. You attract positive outcomes with positive thought and you attract negative outcomes with negative thought. It is important to think about everything in terms of the positive, even simple things which can mean the same thing when using either negative or positive termonology, you get the best results, the desirable results, you think and speak in positives. You do not put anything out into the universe that you do not want to happen, for if it is out there, the chance of it coming true is much higher than if it was never brought up and never thought about. So don't put negatives into the universe, don't think that you will do badly, try not to think about the cultural stereotypes that might affect you, try to be positive and put into the universe what you want to happen, not what you dont want to happen. For example, don't say I don't want to do badly, but instead say I want to do well. Essentially, the two statements are saying the same exact idea, but thinking in terms of positives yeilds positive results, so say the latter, say that you want to do well instead of that you dont want to do badly. It is all about controlling the mind and controlling what is put into the universe, and I do wonder what part of the brain might be involved with this processing? How do we really prime and train out brains to work this way, how to we train ourselves to react postiviely to the positives, how does this all work?

Aditya's picture


Variability is an innate function of the nervous system....right?..right.

And not only that, as the frog showed us, this variability is independent of the "I" function. The only thing our "I" function can do is put us in situations that illuminate the variability of our "I" function. For example, the prof mentioned Michael Jordan scoring a point without even really knowing how he had done it. MJ's I function decision of choosing to practice and play basketball put him in that situation so that the fans could watch the variability of his nervous system. so what?..

Put me in the same situation, and I most probably wouldn't be able to score a point or even get a chance to shoot the ball. These differences in the variabilities in the nervous system made me think about destiny.

We are all born with certain differences, differences in height, differences in metabolism, skin color, central pattern generators like those that govern our movements and body language, different levels of natural attractiveness, and most relevant different levels and types of variabilities of our nervous systems. Our I-function can put us in situations where our variabilities are most advantageous to our life, such as MJ where he was earning a lot of money and being adored by many due to his nervous system.

These differences are the cards that we were dealt, which in essense is how we are predestined, and our I-function is how we play these cards.

biophile's picture


I don't think that our capabilities are pre-determined and that we're limited to merely "playing these cards." Each individual has so much potential because the structure of our brains constantly changes with each interaction with the environment. While it may be true that we're structure-dependent (i.e. our behavior is determined by our brain's structure) that structure is dynamic. We respond autonomously to the environment and we rearrange patterns of connectivity. In other words, we have an amazing amount of plasticity. While it's debatable that someone like you or me could pull off Jordan's moves, it isn't impossible. Variability doesn't come from just a set of hereditary traits, nor does it result entirely from consciously putting oneself in beneficial situations or from practicing.

Lauren Poon's picture


When we looked at the frog hop towards the mealworm, its landing distance and location were different for each trial. We attributed this difference as a type of variability in the frog’s nervous system. I, however, saw it as an imperfection. The motor pattern controlling the frog’s jump changes for each trial. It cannot possibly land in the exact same place every time because different patterns of neuron activity only get it to roughly the same place. In this case, changing the pattern of activity each time is a waste of energy because the frog isn’t benefiting from this variability. The frog uses energy not only to hop but to change its motor pattern. The poor frog should get lazy and start hopping a shorter distance. It is burning energy only to hop a distance father away from the food than the last time. Perhaps, variability may sometimes be an imperfect of the nervous system?

LS's picture

I-function Story

Maybe we are just like the frog, we really have no choice of our innate variability and the  I function is just making up stories so that we can feel like we are in control.  Granted I do not know why it would be particularly useful for us to feel like we are in control of our selves and our processes.  In comparison to the frog I understand that the frog does jump to the same place more than once, but we as humans will do the same thing over and over again (even when it work) that’s why behavior modification works.  But perhaps, this trying similar moves over and over again is our nervous system trying to get things less wrong.  In stead of being like a frog who never tries anything over again our nervous system does because we are more evolved.  However, this really doesn’t mean that we have any control of this, our I-function is just making up a story to go along with our innate variability, that story is free will.

Shayna or Sheness Israel's picture

Look at What It Shows

I would not use the terms you are using, but you are right. The nervous system is waisting energy through trial and error. That is where the evolutionary importance of the I-function comes in. If the frog had an I-function, its I-function would think hypothetically and show the frog that certain moves are just a waste of time. Then the rest of the frogs nervous system has a chose to either listen or test it out for itself.


Shayna or Sheness Israel's picture

Morality: A Story by the I-function/ Good: Just an Agreement

I was just thinking...

I wonder if morality is just another story from the I-function. Thus to disucss the evolution of morality one has to discuss and address the evolution of the I-function--the story teller.

When did humans begin telling stories?

Another thinng: Dealing with Adaptation: Good is Just an Argeement

Maybe it is just comforting for our I-function, which like predictability, to have the moral be the same and maybe it is also comforting for the rest of our nervous system, which likes change, to have the lighting or the scenary change. Maybe something is good when it pleases both the I-function and the rest of the nervous system. More plainly--good is just an argreement.

Antonia J's picture


Shayna - I didn't quite understand what you meant in your last paragraph. I kind of see what you're saying - that 'good is just an agreement' - but I feel like I'm missing something somehow.

But that's not really what I want to write about. Just as I began this semester wondering about morality, I am finishing up wondering about morality. And then, of course, the question of the 'soul'. I truly want to believe that people have souls. Not because people will live on after dying (although it is very comforting to believe that someone you love has never left you, and that you will see them again one day), but because, despite everything we've talked about regarding the I-function, I just feel that there is 'something more'. Understanding the I-function has helped me a lot in understandign people and our realities, although I am still struggling with the idea that we make up our realities to some extent. I want there to be a 'truth', or a definitive reality, that we can experience somehow.

And somehow, that idea ties in with the idea of morality/the soul. Although, morality is, at least in my mind, quite separate from the soul. The soul is something that is not nervous, that is not voluntary or involuntary, is not constructed, but is just there - to me, that is. I'm just struggling to try and find a way to fit that in with what we've learned this semester.

I really like the idea of calling the I-function the story-teller, despite my misgivings about how I feel about this aspect of our perception. It seems to be a fitting way to term the I-function.

This post is a bit jumbled, but I'm just trying to tie some things together as we end the semester, and am a bit at a loss for some of hte question I have. :)

x's picture

Stories about Morality

The writer in me wants to think that human beings have always told stories, that storytelling is an innately human quality (do animals have a way of telling/communicating stories? oral histories of some kind?), and that storytelling is necessary to existance. Whether or not that is factually true is something I can't prove.

I'm interested in what you have to say about morality - I don't think the I-function is the orgin of morality, though. I want to put the Bible in there somehow, and nature, and stories about good/evil. I guess the I-fuction and morality are wrapped up in each other and it's difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. I would be interested to know different cultures' interpretations of morality, their stories about it and behind it, and how it has changed over time. Maybe that could somehow relate to the I-function as well?

Meera Seth's picture


Speaking of humans' intrinsic desire to tell stories and communicate some sort of semblance of human experience, namely certain problems dealing with morality, I am reminded of the Paleolithic cave of Lascaux located in the south of France which can be dated back some 17,000 years ago. What kind of story were these people trying to tell? What did they intend to represent?

With the exception of one human figure, most of the paintings show animals presumably native to the surrounding land. These animals include horses, bison, aurochs, deer, and others. No plantlife is depicted to provide a background for the contextualization of these figures.

The purpose of these cave paintings have caused much speculation. Due to the location and sheer size of the cave paintings, some experts believe this area served as a sacred meeting point. However, this cannot be verified. Beyond the depiction of animal life, do these paintings symbolize anything more? Did these people conceive of morality? Is it really important whether they did or did not?

Shayna or Sheness Israel's picture

Balancing the I-function & "Nervous System"

The Balance between the I-function (Consciousness)

and the "Nervous System" (Unconsciousness)

by Shayna Israel


1) Why does the I-function want to know why? Or why it “felt” something?

2) For the body to “move” it does not need the I-function to motivate it or even give it the energy to move. So, why does it not only need the I-function, but why does it even have it? Unless it actually does need the I-function to give it the energy, “will”, “a something” to move it. Is that what is going on with people who are brain (I-function) dead? They don’t have an I-function to motivate their nervous system? If we look at frogs, the nervous system does not need an I-function to move it, and not only that, it also makes decisions. Back to my question, why do we have or even need the I-function?

3) What does this mean for how we diagnose people as dead? Do we have to be “I-function dead” to be dead? Or do we have to be “Nervous system dead” to be dead? What does it mean to be both “I-function dead” and “Nervous system dead?” If my nervous system dead is my I-function dead as well? Or is Emily right, that when the nervous system dies, we die?

4) What is this unique being that forms when the I-function and the nervous system meet? What holds us together? Is it an electromagnetic field? Is it culture? Is it love?

5) If we look at frogs, their nervous system did not come with a built-in I-function like ours did. How did we acquire this?

6) Some usually associate bliss with having no emotions regardless of stimuli internal or external. Everything just is. Just like in The Stranger. We get feeling but they mean nothing. Everything means nothing or (No-thing). Is having an I-function the disruption to our natural bliss? Is thinking or thinking too much a disruption to our natural bliss?

7) In The Stranger, this guy did not think but acted much of the time. When his mother died, he felt no-thing in particular. It was just an observation. He felt this kind of pressure and shock from other people because of his reaction. They even look at him with disgust. One time the people’s shock was so great, (this was after this guy killed someone) that they not only were disgusted but they gave him a death sentence. The jurors were appalled by the fact that not only did the guy not have an explanation (a Why) for his actions but when after being forced to give one he said that maybe it was the sun. This explanation was not “good” enough for the jurors, so they sentenced him to death.

8) What does this mean for how we treat people or beings that not only do not think like us, but do not think?

9) Is the fact that we are thinking too much, the reason why we are suffering so much? Is this how the I-function extracts from the nervous system?

10) Like I said in class, I do not think the relationship between the nervous system and the I-function has to be adversarial. I think culture, norms, and/or values often make this relationship adversarial? For example: just learned that the nervous system itself likes and produces variation through something internal to it. So, I guess, we “get bored,” easily or more precisely innately. My I-function helps me not get bored by telling me stories. I get to live through it (its stories). When I get bored, my I-function can, eerily and with great intensity, create an experience that I have never had before and probably could not have in the existing world as I know it and one that I could have sworn to be “real.”

11) My I-function is my imagination. It helps me think hypothetically so that I don’t need to “waste” time with an experience that may not be fruitful—fruitfulness depends on my particular goal(s), i.e. for difference/variation, at that particular time.

12) There has been a profound culture of mistrust of our body or nervous system in “our” American/Western society. Yet I have found in “my” African-American/African-decent culture, there has been an emphasis of “letting go” and just feeling, feeling the vibe, feeling the moment, feeling period.

13) Is this what repression is—and overly dominant I-function.

14) What implication does this conversation have for the definition of internalization? Usually the indication for some action being associated with internalization is that once it (internalization) has happened, one would do it without thinking. Within this context that means that internalization of something is seen when the nervous system begins to do or feel a thing that can clear be traced as something not intrinsic to it as well as do or feel it without ever consulting the I-function—without ever thinking. Or also does the internalization of an action could be an action to which the nervous and the I-function agree?

15) What happens when one begins questioning or problematizing these (internalized) feelings that one believes are “natural” or “innate” feelings? If one cannot come to a rationalization or story about what they are doing something, what then happens? Meaning when one’s I-function begins to try to make a story about what the nervous system is doing or believing and actually cannot come to a story that “makes sense to it?, what happens? Can we (our [collective] I-function(s)) be okay with the fact that we don’t have an explanation for something? Or must we infinitely problematize everything? Will we be “happy”? I know that I sometimes will not do something unless it makes sense to me or unless I can construct a story or meaning for it. I also know that I sometimes tell myself to shut up and just do. Sometimes if it not even an argument to do something.


16) I am not sure how to answer all the questions that I have just posed. All I can say with some certainty is that I am from the camp or the culture that lets me both problematize all that I am feeling as well as be okay with the fact that I cannot always come up with a story. The reason that I advocate problematizing things that I think we believe are fixed or natural is because it provides us me more choices. I need to know that they are other things out there and other things to experience besides that reality that I am currently experiencing.


I need to know that there are infinitely worlds out there in which my nervous system can choose from/ to act in/ and be apart of. This is the balance between the nervous system and the I-function—using the I-function to create infinite worlds for your nervous system to not only be apart of internally ( in the Imagination) but also externally motivate your nervous system in conjunction with other people or beings (in society).