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Week 14 - Neurobiology and Behavior

Paul Grobstein's picture

Thanks all for an interesting/generative semester of getting it less wrong.  How about reflecting a bit on where we started and where we've gotten to?  Go back to your original thoughts in the forum about Emily Dickinson's (and others') thought that everything we do and experience is a function of the nervous system.  How have your feelings about that changed?  Is it a good story?

Pleiades's picture


Also, I have a story. As I was driving home (a week ago) there was this
>road sign every 5 miles or so along the highway I was driving, it said
>like northeast highway or something like that. And I could have sworn that
>it was a picture of the coast of Massachusetts because it looked like Cape
>Cod. I was like, what in gods name is a messed up picture of Cape Cod
>doing in western PA? It took a hundred or so miles for my conscious to
>invert the colors and I realized it was a picture of a Native American!! I
>was like MAH! Unconscious!! I have to tell Paul!!! Ha ha. I thought you of
>all people would appreciate my random story. So thanks for making me see
>things way differently (or the same, and just realize why, I'm still not

James Damascus's picture

General Reflections on the Course

In contrast to Darlene’s post, I do not feel as though the undergraduates in the class were any more impressionable than any other group of students I've encountered. I think this has something to do with Professor Grobstein teaching us about actual neurobiology and experimental observaions and conclusions (this is all actual science). I don't feel as though we've been force-fed any one philosophical perspective, but rather been encouraged to broaden our knowledge base of neurobiology and behavior and in so doing, develop  our own perspectives (reading through the message board each week this seems very clear). Reading through classmates' posting throughout the semester, it was very interesting to see how student attitudes changed each week in relation to that weeks' topics (just as my own attitudes and understanding were being altered).                                                                                         Personal Reflections:                                                                              I came into the course both nervous and excited. Excited, because the course heading suggested, in my view, the provision of a series of answers to the deepest questions of human thought, experience, and spirituality. My nervousness stemmed from the expectation that these items were wholly, or at least partly contained within the functioning of neurons (following Emily Dickenson, that all of our experiences are byproducts of our brains’ activities, and that the brain truly is, "wider than the sky"). What I’ve come to appreciate, over the course of the semester, is that although the brain really does prove to be "wider than the sky", [it] is also by that same toke an enormously complex organ, which, through further experimentation and study, can yield greater insights into human experience, behavior, and disease. I won't go into detail about every single thing I've learned this semster, but will say briefly that the course really sparked my interest in neurobiology and behavior, and provided me with a valuable foundation of knowledge from which I can pursue further research and learning on my own.                                                                                                                                                                                         As someone interested in a career in neurology, I also felt that the issues discussed in the course provided a valuable groundwork for thinking about how proper and abnormal neural functioning affect patients' experiences and quality of life (e.g. pain generation in the brain),  I’ve also come to realize that there are far more questions than answers when dealing with brain and philosophical questions experience (how do we treat consciousness, free will etc.). I think the ability to objectively (through neurobiology) approach large philosophical questions definitely appeals to me. I’m not sure whether we will ever map out every analogue associated with conscious (neocortex) and unconscious activity, (especially given that the brain often functions as a distributed system), but what I've learned this semester has definitely helped me become a more informed, interested, and avid consumer of information related neurobiology and behavior. 

Alex Hansen's picture

Upon entering this class I

Upon entering this class I had several expectations and ideas about what I was to learn that seemed to vanish after the first few weeks. I became intrigued by this new approach to looking at the brain with respect to behavior about which I had not previously thought. I now find myself continually applying these new perspectives that I have learned. Especially upon reading the book on which I wrote my book commentary, these new ideas appeared to penitrate through as I interpreted what I read. The brain and its relationship with behavior is fascinating and its complexities are greater than I imagined. I entered the class with previous knowledge about neurons and several of their responsibilities and functions regarding the brain, yet, I left the class with a much greater knowledge and a much more interesting understanding of brain functioning. I have learned to question certain things and explore new ideas with respect to the workings of our brains and corresponding behaviors. Specifically, I feel as if there is too much to say that can be summed up in a single post, but most importantly, I feel as if this class has trained my mind to think in different manners that can lead to very complex and intriguing conclusions which are to be explored.

Holly Stewart's picture

Still Thinking...

I think this class has given us a lot to think about when it comes to the relationship between brain and behavior. I definitely didn’t expect for the nervous system to be as complex as I found out it was. I was surprised over the course of this semester to find out about how the nervous system acts and the different ways in which it acts. There is a complexity that I didn’t appreciate before about the nervous system and this has brought that to light. The nervous system cannot be confined to neurons and synapses and neurotransmitters, it is a system which “thinks” in many ways for the entire body unit. I placed ‘thinks’ in quotations because I believe that what I have learned about the nervous system has also changed how I consider the process of thinking. Brain processes in general seem much more complex (and somewhat overwhelming), and this wasn’t the case before. Although I knew different areas of the brain frequently work together to produce a behavior, it is startling how that has been taken to a new degree.

In writing this post I feel as though I sound naïve. I think this course has really been able to get me to think about the nervous system in a different way and to think about neural processes as much more of communication. I am still not sure how I feel about where the I-function fits into all of this. I can’t decide if I like the I-function or if I am disappointed by it. It never seems to work quite the way I hoped it to. I think the I-function complicates what are traditionally thought of as conscious and unconscious processes. For me, the jury is still out about how I feel about the idea of an I-function. In many ways I feel I need more time to think about and discuss such an idea, since it seems mind-boggling and frustrating all at the same time. I think I always had attributed consistency with the nervous system. There was one way the nervous system did something and there were maybe one or two ways that the nervous system compensated if the ideal process wasn’t available. That isn’t the story anymore! There are multiple ways to do the same thing, many of which we can’t even predict. The nervous system lacks the consistency I thought it had. I think this is more surprising that disappointing. I feel like this semester the more I started to learn about the nervous system the more I realized how little we know. There are so many ‘why’s’ and ‘what if’s’ in the nervous system and I don’t even know that we have brushed the surface. I certainly don’t think it is as easy to map out a behavior, or certainly not as simple as I thought before.

In the last class we attempted to discuss free will. I don’t know that it came together for me as much as I wanted. I think I still feel very challenging about free will and how the nervous system has affected (or maybe even compromised) free will in the romanticized sense. It’s difficult to visualize free will through a filtered reality, and now I am attempting to figure out what that means. Brain and behavior are very closely linked and I am less sure about the whole of implications which result from that.

Antonia J's picture

Different - in a good way

Like a lot of people have said, I took this class expecting to learn about the anatomy of the brain and neurotransmitters and their impact on psychology (mostly abnormal).

When we discussed Emily Dickinson in the first class, I knew it was not quite what I had thought it was going to be. But I like Dickinson, so it was ok. :) But then I came back to the next class, and we had just as interesting a discussion as before. This was a class that was accessible to everyone, of all backgrounds. As a relatively unscientific person, I was really appreciative of the fact that we mixed in some philosophy, discussion, psychology, etc. It was not a boring class by any means. And yet we learned a lot about perception, the brain, neurotransmitters, but just in a different way. It was an unusual approach, and I think it worked well for the students... almost everyone definitely seemed engaged in the converstions and lectures.

It still bugs me that my reality is not "real" reality, but I guess I'll have to come to terms with that! In a way, this class has made me a lot less skeptical about the 'hokey' things I used to doubt - I don't necessarily believe them, but I can understand why people may do so, and accept that they may in fact be correct when they say they can see someone else's aura... and I was certainly not ready to do that before. 

I really did enjoy this class, and I would recommend it to anyone who asked me.

JaymElaine's picture

A Wonderful Class!!!!!

When I enrolled for this course, I was expecting to learn stuff about the brain and how the brain controls behavior, you know, science stuff! That is what I am used to, being a biology major at Haverford and all. However, this class was actually a breath of fresh air! I enjoyed it because it was science at a slant. This course was taught with a philosophical point of view and I enjoyed getting some science with a little thinking. I liked thinking about the science behind the brain and all its mysteries differently than I would have had I taken a more "sciencey" class.   

I enjoyed Professor Grobstein as a professor. He was intellectually stimulating, for he ALWAYS had me thinking from week to week. I liked that. I also enjoyed the intense discussions in class; they really had me  interested and involved fromo class to class.

Thanks for the wonderful experience and I do hope to have another class like this sometime before I graduate! Thanks again!!

Jayme E. Hopkins, '08

biophile's picture

In hindsight...

The interesting thing about this class in hindsight was that it was really focused on giving us a theoretical framework more than about neuroanatomy itself. Much of what went on in the class seemed to be done just to get us in right frame of mind to think about neuroscience and reality. I regret that we didn't go into the actual neuroanatomy more, as that is what I took this class for. But I can't complain. It was very different from other core neurobiology classes and the thing that makes it distinct is that we broadened the field and discussed how these issues affect us on a more personal level. Reading a neurobiology textbook is quite a different experience from talking about perception and reality as a group.

The story that everything we experience is a function of the nervous system is a good one. Even though we all take it for granted, it seems fairly obvious. Our nervous system is the only connection we have to the outside world, so it follows that any idiosyncrasies in the system would result in different interpretations. However, what I find most interesting is that our views of reality are so similar. I know that our views are rather different on one level, but we still agree on so much. Given the vast number of possible configurations of the brain, I'm surprised that we don't disagree more. But who knows. Maybe we do and we just don't realize it.

Lauren Poon's picture

I've liked this class

I've liked this class because neurobiology was looked at from a very conceptula point of view. The challenge to think outside of our preconceived notions about the brain and behavior was incredible. I realize I have a lot more to learn about neuroscience, but I feel much more confident when discussing the matter. This course has triggered a new found interest in neurobiology and I'm exicted to take more classes in this field.

The webpapers, though very open-ended, have allowed me to research neuro topics I've been interested in but have never explored in depth. I apprecaite the relaxed curriculum becuause I tend to learn better with less stress of a test or final.

I've had a great year and have come a long way from the first day of class. Thanks for blowing my mind!

francescamarangell's picture

Our Brain

Just as Emily Dickenson said, “the brain is wider than the sky,” so is the science behind neurobiology. There is a great story behind the workings of our brain that contemporary science can only begin to describe. Our neurobiology class was an introduction for me into this vast, barely tangible science. It is easy to say that this course has shown me how much I don’t know about neurobiology and it has opened up a can of questions that I would never have thought to pose before. But more importantly, I feel as if this course has taught me to think differently about myself and the way I think. From the checkerboard shadow example to our discussions on depth and color to explaining our emotions, how we perceive the world is entirely wrapped up in our brains.

leigh urbschat's picture

I must say that this class

I must say that this class was much different from anything I expected. When I signed up for Neurobiology and Behavior I expected to learn about the different parts of the brain and their function, to be tested on labeling where the hypothalamus is located, etc. I ended up with a philosophy class that's main lesson came from a secluded poet who was probably crazy. But in the long run I much preferred our philosophical debated over what I thought would be mindless memorization. I think that I've come to the conclusion that Emily Dickinson was right in her poem. The unit on sight was the real turning point in my mind that made me believe her ideas. The brain clearly manipulates how we see the world. It fills in the missing pieces and interprets the wave lengths of light to give us color vision. Sight is the main function with which we each interpret our reality, which is why this unit really stuck out for me. If the brain can control our reality, then I think it is definitely fair to say that the equals behavior.

Cayla McNally's picture

The End of the Road

I entered this class not knowing what to expect, and I leave it still not knowing what to expect, but now I am not only ok with not knowing everything, but I welcome it. This class, through its numerous discussions, debates, and experiments, has made me welcome a challege. It's easy to sit down and be told what the brain does and what to make of it, but that isn't fair to do when there is so much that is still unknown, and some things that will probably never be known. We can get closer to the "truth," which is an ideal that wavers from person to person, changeable and subjective, but we can never really touch it. While this can, and will, bother many people, I am left reassured by it, knowing that everything is subjective, everything is mutable, and all we can do in reaction to it is simply strive for our personal truths.

Aditya's picture

Final Thoughts

 Other neurobiological courses I have taken previously in the bi-co have basically encompassed categories of summarized previous research on powerpoint slides. This method of teaching is essential to develop what has become factual knowledge in detail, and allows us to be aware of how the brain works. For me, neurobiology and behavior has added a component of intense analyzation to make me think about not only this is how it is, but what does it mean because it is this way.

As the weeks went on, one idea that grew stronger in me that our I-function, or consciousness, is only one part of the brain and not the whole brain. This notion that there  is another part of the brain apart from our concsiousness, gained more and more influence as we learned more about the functions of this part of the brain. I started to embrace this dichotomy of the conscious and unconscious brains and I was first scared and questioned how much actual control I have over my own body.

Learning about such things like our neurons, cells I thought to just transmit information, actually can do much more than that such as arithmetic which decides if information gets passed on or not, without me being aware of it. Also that we have proprioceptors and corollary discharge signals which allow different parts of the brain to communicate information to each other, and central pattern generators which are programmed patterns of behavior innate in our brains as we saw by studying lobsters and grasshoppers. Furthermore studying spastic paralysis and how those with damage to the cortex could not move their arms, but when a beach ball was thrown at them they could block it especially highlighted the differences between conscious and unconscious control. Also studying about how the picture in the head is different from the picture on the retina, our brains fill in the blind spots  and is a creation of our brain highlighted how reality is subjective for each individual and is a creation of the unconscious brain.  Our brain creates many things including colors that dont exist. When we see two different wavelengths of light our brain combines them together. Color is the creation of our unconscious brain.

 These conclusions that we drew during every class enforced the idea of an unconscious and conscious nervous system, and that our realities are creations of the brain. It put reality into perspective for me in that I am aware of the differences in realities for each person. Furthermore, these functions of the unconscious brain even though at first caused fear in me, I have come to realize that even though the I-function is not central to the nervous system, the rest of the nervous system exists so that our I-function can focus on other things. If we had to constantly be spatially figure out where things are, or looking at worlds with blind spots, or figuring out how to move our body instead of just being able to do it when we want to, our minds would be forever occupied. These central pattern generators, arithmatic neurons, and functions that fill in the blind spot serve to allow our I-functions to be free from these responsibilities so we can focus our conscoius attention elsewhere and lead our own life. I realize, this unconscious part of the brain, allows my I-function to create a reality for myself and control my own destiny. This course has led me to understand and appreciate this other part of the brain much more, and further motivate me to achieve my lifelong goals because I can, and because my brain is constructed in such a way that makes it possible. Furthermore it has also made me question reality, and what truly exists, and what is a creation of my brain. I have become more analytical about the world, more apt to second guess my thoughts and experiences and what can be attributed to this other part of the brain, and this understanding has enhanced my experience of reality.

katherine's picture

I was wrong!

I entered this course convinced that the brain controlled all aspects of our behavior.  I don’t really know why, but it just seems like “science” would be a logical explanation for everything unknown.  I thought that if there was not a scientific explanation, then one would come along someday and explain whatever question it was that is yet to be answered.  Boy did I change my mind!  Although I still believe that “scientific” research and background validates many explanations, I feel less inclined to rely so heavily on data.  Perhaps there are some things in life that we will never know the answer to.  This course made me more critical of scientific research and less likely to fall back on it for an answer.  It doesn’t matter how much hard evidence there is to back up a theory, there are always more questions and more ways to look at a problem.   

Sarah Powers's picture

Tell me a story

  At the start of the course I KNEW that my observations were what made up reality.   If I could hear it, see it, etc, then it was real. I was wrong.  Little did I know my brain is making all sorts of stuff up for me.  Filling in the blanks, if you will.  At this point I had a mini-panic attack. 'You mean I've never experienced reality?' Through the guidance of Grobstien and the rest of the class, I was able to calm down and go with the flow.This was just one example of how this class changed my perspective.  I'm still partial to Emily Dickinson's "the brain is wider than the sky" idea, but I now feel more flexible in how I view brain and its processes.But I think the most valuable thing I learned was from the research I did for the web papers.  If you have a question, some one out there has an answer for you.  Probably mulitple answers exist, and the web has made it easy to find many answers in without too much effort.  When you have a question, it's just a matter of looking for the answers, combining them into a story that seems less wrong to you.  Science is all about the interprutation. The story you can tell.  

Pleiades's picture

Wow. Last post about what I

Wow. Last post about what I learned etc. I went into this course not knowing what to expect. I had heard, well, interesting things about professor Grobstein and lets just say he lived up to my expectations. Other than coming out of this course with a large obsession with the unconscious, what I really learned is a different way of thinking. Not only about ourselves and the brain and behavior (which is true), but in the larger things as well. I think this course, more than learning about the brain and neurobiology and behavior, was about thinking about the brain etc. This strikes me as more than a little ironic, but that’s the not the point. I took almost everything Paul had to say as if it were just a thought of his, and I was left to mull it over and listen to what other people had to say about it. I think this is very important in a world where we all rush to publish the ‘right’ answer. I don’t ‘believe’ everything Paul had to say, however was always glad that a new idea was put out there and perhaps I could be convinced with more research etc, which pointed out to me the true value of any research. So basically yes, I thought the class was valuable to learn about neurobio. and behavior, but was in fact most valuable in the way we learned to learn about it.

Darlene Forde's picture

Final Thoughts

I have enjoyed the semester. As a post-bac student I have come from a slightly different perspective than most of my classmates. As an undergrad, I focused on classics and history. More recently I did graduate work with a focus on the history of science and medicine. From these experiences, I walked away with a strong sense of the ever changing nature of science. Indeed, it is one of the reasons I strongly believe that anyone pursuing scientific research or a career in medicine makes an effort to become familiar with the history of science. Even a cursory examination reveals that knowledge is constantly being re-negotiated and redefined.


What has surprised me in this course is not the fact that the brain does not work in a simplistic input-output loop, nor the fact that the brain makes things up, but the beliefs of some of my fellow classmates who seem firmly attached to the scientific tenets only recently learned. Indeed, it has occasionally been discouraging. If young scientists are already firmly fixed in their opinions about the nature of “how things work”, how will we develop creative and new ideas? Mastering the basics of any science necessarily demands oversimplification initially. However, flexibility and creativity and a willingness to think outside the box are necessary prerequisites, I think, for good science.


Like A.Kyan I also have a vested interest in integrative medicine and have become more interested in the neurology as a result of this course. Initially, I was slightly uncomfortable with the reductionistic view that the mind=brain. Yet after this course, I have begun to share more common ground with biologists who do not fear that the mind will be trivialized by understanding the brain as series of specific molecules and cellular processes. Indeed, this course has emphasized the versatile and creative and long lasting effects that a knowledgeable manipulation of the nervous system can perform. Thus it makes perfect sense to me on a molecular level why meditation is not only beneficial but can result in long lasting and beneficial physiological changes.

Meera Seth's picture

Getting It Less Wrong

While the field of neurobiology and the study of neurological and psychological behavior is in a state of ever-emerging progress, I have learned from this course that the best we can really do is hope to "get it less wrong". We will never have all of the answers--not about the brain, let alone the universe. And that's the way it should be. We are constantly revising, improving, evolving...

If we had all the answers, where would we go from there?

With this reflection on our current state and our vast accumulation of knowledge, such a discourse inevitably brings one back to the beginning. Was there ever a "first"? Can there be a first philosophy? In the spirit of "getting it less wrong", perhaps we can only hope to start somewhere in the middle. As celebrated twentieth century American philosopher and logician W.V. Quine said, "There is no vantage point, no first philosophy."

This, then, brings me to what I see as the ultimate question driving present Western Civlization as we know it: Genesis or Big Bang? To begin to answer such a question, or rather to begin to "get it less wrong", we must ask ourselves several pertinent questions. For instance, if one were to set aside ideological disparities, is it simply a matter of incorrect interpretation? Therefore, are science and the Bible not truly at odds? If not, can such a problem ever be reconciled? Perhaps the best we can do is get it less wrong.

A.Kyan's picture

To be continued...

I come from a very strong belief that the mind is separate from the brain, and that the mind can control the brain.  My proof?  I've experienced it through mindfulness meditation like many other meditation practioners.  Throughout the discourse of this class, the compelling evidence that all thoughts and actions are manifestations of the brain and central nervous system are enlightening in their own right and have made me even more interested in neurobiology.  But, it hasn't changed my opinon on the mind and the brain.  I refuse to believe that only the brain controls the mind and not vice versa!  Perhaps, I'm overly optimistic...  but, I believe the mind can change the brain with focused thought processes, make the brain calmer and  function better, and improve our overall well-being.  Essentially, I believe we all possess the "will" to change how our brains work.  It's a difficult position to proove in a materialistic world.  The mind has no substance, location, or tangibility, and as a result "scientists" are less likely to acknowledge it.  But, I have to say this class has continually challenged me to try to prove otherwise, and I've loved it!   

As a post-bacc, I'm continually asked what speciality I'm leaning towards, and my answer often included 5 different fields.  However, Professor Grobstein's questions and all of your responses have made me more focused on the field of neuropsychiatry.  It combines my interests in integrative medicine, Buddhist philosophy, and psychiatry to name a few.  So, thanks guys, for helping me figure out how to combine all of my interests into one.  Even though the semester is over, everything we've learned is in my mind, to be continued...

lrifkin's picture

Only the Beginning...

In a single post, I think that it is difficult to sum up all that this course has taught me. I believe that that is not only due to the widened perspective partaking in class discussions, reading the forum, and researching have given me, but also due to the fact that my curiosity in neurobiology has now been peaked. This course has enabled me to question and to look deeper into a field I had previously virtually ignored. Throughout the past few months I have recognized the power, control, and vastness of the human brain. I feel as though I have only just begun to discover the incredible intricacies of the human brain, thus I look forward to continuing to learn, to question, and to “getting it progressively less wrong.”

Jessica Wurtz's picture

What I learned...

I am not sure if I can say concretely what I learned after taking this class. I know that I solidified the fact that I am not by nature a philosophical thinker, and that after a fairly short amount of time, I lose patience with philosophical discussion because it seems so futile and pointless. I guess this sort of ties in with what I think I learned in the class as a whole. I think the most important thing that I learned is that I feel like I didn't learn anything. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense but it is the only way I know how to describe what I feel. The brain and the nervous system is so complex and variable that even the things we talked about in class about didn't really seem to illuminate the true nature of the nervous system. This isn't to say that I didn't discover new things about the brain and nervous system that I didn't know before, but I just feel like now that I know about those things without really knowing the true cause, I am worse off than I was before. They say ignorance is bliss and I feel that is definitely true in this case. Now that I am aware of things that the brain does without knowing why or how, I am just frustrated.

However, I did enjoy the class and the discussions (despite their philosophical leanings) and I suppose that the knowledge we were given throughout the course is a step in the right direction of finding the why and how so that future generations can benefit and maybe not be as frustrated as I am now!

LS's picture


At the beginning of the semester I felt like I should believe the Dickinson theory.  I mean I very well knew that of course everything was probably controlled by the brain.  For some reason I could just not bring my self to fully believe this entirely.   I don’t really know why I was this way.  I think that I felt that if everything was controlled by the brain this would be a dark existence completely uncontrolled and completely left up to neurons and electrical signals.  However since experiencing 14 weeks of this class and 14 weeks of Prof’s other class this semester the Evolution of Stories I feel differently about this.

I am further strengthened in my believe that everything is controlled by the brain, I always knew this but now I feel like I can truly believe this and not believe that it is some depressing dark truth.  I am amazed at the variability in the brain and the nervous system: in our senses, our reactions, and our sense of reality.  This is so beautiful and complex!  The beauty of humans and the beauty of our being does not involve the brain and something else.  The brain is everything, including that something else.  (Yes because the brain is wider than the sky…)  The storyteller in our brain allows us to shape and change who we are, we are in control.  I was afraid of chalking it all up to the brain and the nervous system because I though that I would loose control.  This is not true, it’s exactly the opposite.  I am completely amazed at the complexity and flexibility of our brain.  As I explore my studies further I am excited knowing that there is more amazement to be discovered and understood as we strive to be less wrong.


To be continued…!!

michelle's picture

Some final thoughts

I guess if we’re sharing how we developed in the class, here’s where I started: “Behavior is a continuous interaction between this marvelous evolutionary creation called the brain and the environment it has created and feeds off of. Our world is what we make of it, and in turn our behavior is what our world makes of us through its interactions with the brain. It’s a never-ending cycle.” I think I didn’t really agree with Descartes mainly because I hate ambiguity and his suggestion that we are controlled by our mind and brain is somewhat ambiguous. What is the mind anyways? Now that the class is concluded, I am more sure of myself in believing that behavior is a construct of the brain. However, this does not mean that I didn’t get anything out of this class, because I DID. One thing that this class emphasized was the variability of the brain. We continuously talked about how our realities may differ, how our perceptions differ, and this idea is probably what makes studying the brain the most difficult and the most interesting. This class was as juicy as it was only because of the variability in the audience. Thanks you guys for making me see things differently. Another important thing that I learned was that our brain does a lot more for us than we realize or are conscious of. (However, I also want to emphasize that I believe that we are still responsible for our actions.) Finally, I really liked how the web papers could be on any topics we desired because I learned a lot more about the brain in just the selection of a topic. I explored a number of topics before choosing one and read a lot of papers on that one topic before I actually narrowed it down and eliminated a bunch of sources.

I loved our last class in particular. I initially made a “story” up to describe the relationship between the neocortex and the rest of the brain saying that the neocortex is the captain of the ship while the rest of the brain is the crew that does basically all the work. However, the crew is subject to insubordination should the captain be doing a bad job, for example forcing the body to stay up and not get enough sleep. However, by the end of the class I revised my story to say that it’s somewhat like a checks and balances system of our government where the neocortex is the brain but doesn’t have absolute power.

I thought this was cool, because Dr. G said that the main benefit of having a bipartite brain is so we are able to continuously learn and revise ourselves. I also love how this revision process is fueled by brain to brain interaction. I was only able to revise my story after hearing more of what Dr. G and the class had to say.

Stacy Blecher's picture

I have learned a lot

I have learned a lot throughout the semester, however, I maintain that Emily Dickinson had it right all along.  Everything that we experience is a function of the nervous system.  But, wait, it’s not that simple!  What about the things that we claim to have not experienced?  These things are also generated by the nervous system and they influence our behavior just as the conscious experiences do.  I’m thinking about hemi-field neglect and the study in which subjects consistently chose to live in the house that was not burning down ( .  I’m also thinking about the door experiment and a card game experiment presented in the book Blink.  All of these instances suggest that while Dickinson is correct in saying that everything is in our mind, it does necessarily mean that we have access to or can make sense of it all.

At the beginning of the semester I thought that the nervous system received inputs and axons sent the inputs to localized areas of the brain which then allowed us to experience.  I realize that that logic is very fuzzy and fails to explain a lot of behavior.  So, basically what I’m saying is that before I took this class I had no idea what was going... and quite frankly, I kind of liked it that way.  I made it 21 years just accepting that my nervous system was doing its thing, receiving inputs and faithfully and accurately interpreting them so that I could see, hear, feel, taste and smell exactly what everyone else was, so that I could relate to and interact with others.  Now that I know this is not true –that my experience of red is different than my friend’s –I don’t feel as comfortable shopping with her and asking “does this red shirt look good on me?”  I know that sounds silly and shallow, but hey, it’s the truth!

I’m glad that we finally addressed the issue of free will, even though it was only mentioned briefly at the end of class.  I’m still not sure that I completely understand how it works, but I do know that when I opened my eyes and looked at the arrows they were pointed in the direction that I wanted them to point, so there’s hope!  For a while there I was convinced that “free will” was just a story made up by the neocortex.    

I think about things a lot differently now.  Knowing that I am responsible for creating my own reality as well as influencing and changing the reality of those around me, I tend to second guess myself a lot more than I did before taking the class and I am skeptical of …well, everything!  I suppose this is a positive characteristic because it is good to have conflict between the neocortex (story teller) and the rest of the nervous system.

eshuster's picture

My semester's Loop

I have already posted on this topic prior to Week 14. Here is my post:

I can’t help but think about my second paper topic, the placebo effect. I always wondered why they give placebos, knowing what it was, but I never fully understood what the placebo effect was so that is why I chose that topic. I learned about how one’s mind associates a pill with a specific response, like feeling better, even though the pill has no medicine. I find it interesting how one’s mind believes when in reality there is nothing there. It makes me think more and more about how the brain does what it wants to whether something is present or not. I have been following many questions that lead to other questions over the semester and the conclusion I have found is that the brain dictates what we believe whether it is there or not. In the class, Prof. Grobstein has showed us things that I would never have believed existed: Phantom Limb, seeing yellow is not really seeing yellow, a rose to one is not the same as a rose to another, our brain fills in the blind spot with something that is not there, and most of all believing that a pill, a placebo, has an affect only because it is a pill.

In many of my posts I have questioned reality, thinking, and perspective but what I didn’t question was the brain. All three thinks I have been questioning are all manifestations of the brain. They appear real to me because they are manifested by my brain. And this grueling semester of roundabout questions has brought me to Day 1 of Neurobio and Emily Dickenson’s poem. “The brain is wider than the sky.” It is our imagination and our thought that makes the sky. This brain, our thought, makes our reality and similarly the reality of society. We all are different and therefore possess some type of disability, in that we are different. That is our only disability and everyone has it. We are all different and so is our reality. If we think about emotion, feelings, moods, dreams, we are all characterized by a different summation of all of these aspects that boil down to manifestations of the brain.

The first week of class I accepted that the brain is wider than the sky but I didn’t think about why? I wanted to accept it because I have always been taught to accept what I have learned but never question it. This class has taken me on a journey of questions that lead me to the same starting point and yet it is like a different world. I accept not because I was taught to believe what I want to believe but I have questioned many aspects of this class and yet it brings me back to the same point. We manifest our own reality, something that is never the same for two people because the brain is never the same for those two people.

We have said that society feeds on disability but we manifest society and disability because human differences are our disabilities. Our manifestations/realities make us different and enable us to form societies with our own feelings, moods, auras, emotions, realities, thought processes, astrological signs, personalities, ethnicities, and most of all our brain (CNS).