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

Week 9--Anthropologists on Earth

Anne Dalke's picture
Our readings for this week are two stories from Oliver Sacks' collection An Anthropologist on Mars. How are they like-and-different in what they demonstrate about tacit knowledge? How do they add to, simplify or complicate your understanding of tacit knowledge? How do they intersect--or fail to--w/ your own collections of data on tacit knowledge?
ashaffer's picture

Going back and reflecting

I love it when subjects overlap;-). In my psychology class this semester, we discussed the current science story on dreaming and REM sleep. Personally, I have day dreams and night dreams- non-REM dreams and REM dreams. In my class, we learned that REM dreams are currently thought to have a great deal to do with memory and information storage much more than the fantasy theory that Freud proposed. I think that when I imagine things I am both conscious and unconscious, but when I dream in REM sleep I am probably unconscious.
ErinDoppelheuer's picture

The story about Greg was

The story about Greg was very sad and the part when his parents came to visit him was really touching and almost made me tear up. Greg had been lost and trapped in this body that he couldnt escape from. Not only did he go from lively and outgoing, to rebel, to spiritualist, he then became a hopeless human being. He was diagnossed with a brain tumor and his life was terminal. I found it very interesting that Greg was stuck in the 60's and this actually reminded me of the movie "Momento", when Guy Pierce is stuck in the past and is unable to create new memories. After watching this movie, it kind of gave me a sense of what Greg's life might be like, how difficult it must be to not be able to make new memories and be stuck in a time so long ago. I couldnt help but feel extreme remorse for Greg when his father died, because when he was told of it, then a few seconds later he had forgotten all about it. It was extremely interesting though that when people asked him if he wanted to go home for Thanksgiving, that he no longer wanted to and that it must mean that he did feel remorse some where in his brain and a feeling of not wanting to go home becasue it would be different; no father. I didn't find "A Surgeon's Life" as interesting as Greg's story, but maybe becasue I know a doctor who has this disease and it doesnt seem as shocking to me. It was still an interesting story, and Oliver Saks did an amazing job of telling the story, I just wasn't very moved by it.
Madi's picture

Ruminations on Thursday

So, last week. We started class with the photo of Lakshmi, the young girl with four arms and four legs. Our first reactions were visceral: a sort of horror, followed by concern for her health and well being. Lakshmi characterized the theme of Thursday's discussion. We talked about whether or not certain disabilities were enviable or pitiable. Lakshmi's many limbs made her the living incarnation of a goddess to some and made her a sad genetic anomaly to others. Greg's tumor made him enlightened to some and ignorant to others. We ended up talking about social disabilities such as Asperger's and autism and how they could be considered disabilites of the tacit mind, rather than the conscious mind.

We also discussed our reactions to whether or not the world that we see is reality. Some of us took that in stride, while others felt fear at the idea that what we see is not real. If we perceive something, doesn't that make it real to us? Does it need to be real to other people? 

Anne Dalke's picture

rejecting stories

Still working my way through The Film Experience....
and came upon another relevant quote:

"Stories give people the feeling that there is meaning, that there is ultimately an order lurking behind the incredible confusion of appearances and phenomena that surrounds them....I totally reject stories, because for me they only bring out lies...and the biggest lie is that they show coherence where there is none...Stories are impossible, but it's impossible to live without them."
Wim Wenders, director of Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1988)

merry2e's picture


Prof. Anne,

Thank you for the quote..."and the biggest lie is that they show coherence where there is none...Stories are impossible, but it's impossible to live without them." This was most powerful to me as I stuggle with feeling that my story (ies) never "come together"...almost to the point of hatred at times. Chaos has been my friend for a long time and trying to calm her can be an almost impossible task...when writing my stories I feel I always have to have some type of logical, "coherent" meaning to them...but how do I create a "face" of order in the midst of chaos when my story is only chaos?


I don't know what the meaning of this quote is...but it made me feel like writing. Thanks for the post.


akeefe's picture

"It's on the Internet, It must be Real."

Now, for a summary of Thursday's verbal conversation. I was again struck by out need to categorize. As we have already discussed, categorization is something that we cannot avoid, but must accept as part of our mental process. We broke things down into safe versus dangerous, mine versus yours, the individual unconscious versus the collective unconscious, but what we were really debating was reality versus fabrication. It was quickly realized that these words had taken one a new life and new definitions. Though it was never explicitly stated, our language did seem to lean towards an abstract definition of reality. We wanted it to be some omniscient understanding of the universe apart from the stories we create. We might even say that to a religious person, “reality” is what God sees. Dennet would say that such a definition cannot stand up to current scientific knowledge. I wonder how he would alter the definition, and what purposes these definitions we have created might serve?

akeefe's picture

Air Quotes and Eye Contact

A Ten Minute Transcript in Body Language


Audra: sways back and forth, points to the screen.

Anne: a slight leaning of the ring finger, then looks down, touching new fingers with quick strikes. Her hand sweeps to the chest then cascades palms outwards. Rubs her fingers.

Allison: hands come up. Makes minute strokes with her pen.

Anne: pulls hand down past her head, thrusts hands back and forth. (repeated several times.)

Olivia: makes small taps.

Audra: a soft gesture, striking gestures, air quotes and eye contact.

Corey: touches her eyes, then the page. Her head makes slight turns.

Olivia: (hands grasp cheeks)

Corey: small nods with narrow eye brows

Meredith: vigorous head nods.

Anne: Vigorous pulls, light touches forwards, upon the page. Circular motion.

Meredith: touches her heart, touches her fingertips, leans on hand.

Madi: Jazz hands. Transforming into claws and finally a clasp.

Olivia: hands towards herself then touching, rubbing table. Hands strike (a karate chop) open palm.

Corey: thumb across lip, page, a head tilt, a hand grasp.

Ali and Olivia: head nods

Ali: shifts, rubs arm.

Audra: Ringing fist.


I cannot know if anyone else is intrigued by the ability to still “follow the conversation” in an sense. I have been having several conversations about body language recently, including its evolution in Csem. What I am struck by is how our body language has been developing. In the beginning, we hardly moved at all. Then last week I was told by someone, “I catch myself doing this (makes gesture) all of the time because you do it so much.” We are beginning to create a vocabulary of motion, something like learning to dance, or speaking sign language, or holding the attention of a room.

christa's picture

the dispossessed and the possessed


Greg's story is tragic; he searched to find himself and he became lost to an extent that he can never be retrieved. Greg is among the "dispossessed" according to his father; He is a semblance of a person that existed; he is a ghost. As I read about Greg, I experienced some of the same feelings I experienced when I first learned of Everett Ruess while reading a collection of stories about the desert. (I think the title was "The Telling Distance.") I recognized a similar kind of promise and longing for authenticity that Greg and Everett shared. For me, both Greg and Everett disappeared without a trace...Greg lost somewhere inside himself and Ruess disappeared in the Utah desert. "The weight of consciousness"(Sacks 64) becomes an aery relief for me when I consider Greg's permanent loss of frontal-lobe-reliant functionality. What was truly astounding was Greg's rejection of his the strength of Greg's conviction that he could see, I kept reading along believing in a Greg that saw. I realized this when Greg spoke of Jerry Garcia's hair at the concert and I too (like Dr. Sacks looked for what Greg claimed to see on the stage)was jolted back to the reality of Greg's blindness. I did notice someone's post "Greg was not blind." That statement brings me to some more of Dr. Sack's words..."some radical alteration within him in the very structure of knowledge, in consciousness, in identity itself"(49). If knowledge is a structure, then there is the possibility for more than one structure. Just like, they(I don't know maybe the FDA) change the food pyramid on us, can we design structures of knowledge anew? Can we revise the story? Did Gregg do this? Was he the "Holy Fool" that fooled us all? Did something (some mechanism of self preservation)kick in to protect Greg from a conventional awareness of his awareness that may have driven him to suicide?


With Greg there is this before and after image. Now you see Gregg. Now you don't. There is a profundity in absence where Greg is concerned. At the other extremity, there is Dr. Bennett; Bennett is marked with this primitive presence that is his Tourette's, a recognizable force that Dr. Bennett has gracefully reckoned with. I can see why Tourette's has been described as a possession, a mentality Sacks tells us was common in the Middle Ages. Dr. Bennett reminds me of a ventriloquist the way he is at times able to reign his disorder in, to silence "it" and perform impeccable surgeries. The man flies his own plane too!!! Bennett transforms disability into special ability and/or remarkable adaptability...maybe Dr. Bennett and Greg are not so different as I originally maintained.

Anne Dalke's picture

"Not consuming without thinking"

"Stories literally create their own reality," as Allison says--and we are collecting quite a range of powerful stories here: Olivia's account, above, about  "exceptions not being the rule"; and don't miss another, about being an alien, in Rachel's blog.

We are also collecting a range of ways to go about revising such stories: through gathering new experiences, and drawing on them for re-thinking the tales we have told and been told.

I'm serving on a search committee for a new colleague in film studies this fall, and, as preparation, have been reading a (new-to-me) text about The Film Experience. Last night I read about "distantiation...identified with the plays and critical writings of 1920s German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who advocated showing the parts that were put together to form the completed work so that it could not be consumed without thinking."

Hm...not consuming without thinking....
a big part of what we're up to here together, yes?

Allison Fink's picture

In reading these stories I

In reading these stories I have come to see just how complex and weird the brain can be, and to appreciate that complexity through the case studies that show them. Before I hated the chaos of the brain. I wanted it to be in order. Like, for example, why do songs get stuck in my head incessantly? I still do hate it, and that’s why I am starting to take up meditation as a mental discipline. At the same time, now that I’m taking this CSem and reading and thinking about these things, I’m seeing that the brain is so chaotic and unpredictable, with all its weird loops and quirks, but that’s the nature of it. It’s not pretending to be something it’s not. The brain I have is all I have to work with, and if I abandon the idea of finding some absolute truth and look for an interesting one, (us being like artists, as Professor Dalke mentioned, or like creators), analogous to what I see in an ambiguous figure, the picture I form in my mind given what’s there, it could be a liberating thing. This is just a thought. I still have to integrate it into my previously dominant absolutist, black and white world view. But today I thought that I was starting to grasp what it means to tell a story.

I found our discussion in class today very interesting. We were talking about how people make up stories about their illnesses. One student was asking today, do people really have depression when they are going through a crappy time in their life? Another mentioned the idea that people today are in general over-diagnosed with mental illness. We also talked about the moral implications of mental illness, like the guy with Tourette’s who violently made his son look at him. There are things that people do stemming from their mental illness that can really be hurtful to the other people around them. Are people in some way evil in that respect for having the mental illness? Do we have a responsibility to control ourselves, even though our brains work in a certain way? The brain is changeable. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder is one example. Also, as another example, can people with depression in some way see beyond their illness and think of the world outside their head, and in that way go on? If people are depressed, is there a reason for it, and they would be happier if they found something missing in their life? Or as psychiatrists claim, is it because of a biological disposition, without any particular reason for it, that needs chemical treatment?

People make up stories about themselves, and the stories literally create their own reality. People make up stories to fit the needs of their ego. They think that they are a self who is in control. Whereas they are justifying or filling in the random acts of their brain into a coherent story of a stable self. They will act a certain way and then say that they acted that way because they have a reason, and that, to borrow a phrase I read somewhere once, they are responsible for when something goes right, but not for something that goes wrong. People can be convinced of limitations, and then the limitations become real for them. There is a question of whether people have free will. And then one famous answer to the problem is that well, what if you acted as if you have free will? If your idea changes, your consciousness changes and different things become possible as choices.

When people come to believe that they have mental illness, that is another powerful story at work. I think that dwelling on limitations such as in the case when you become identified with mental illness, means that you become paralyzed. If you believe you have mental illness, you may see chaos and everything is totally not working the way it’s supposed to in your brain and how you try to act. But you do have resources within you to make sense of the world given what you have, given how your mind operates, and to order your mind in a way that makes you feel better about it. Or, if you choose, you can accept that your way of seeing things or your brain’s way of working is okay, too, even though it’s not what others see as normal or proper, or efficient. In that latter case, you’d be rejecting their story of there being something wrong with you.    

Hyperpuffball's picture

Diagnostic Labels

I've been thinking about mental illness diagnosis. For me, looking back at the time when I was depressed, I know that I didn't know why I was feeling how I felt, I could only understand that things were bad in my life and these things made me unhappy all the time. But it was more than unhappy- it was obsession with the unhappiness. I couldn't move on, I couldn't find things to be glad about, I couldn't function as a normal 11- or 12- year old.

This is most certainly not the case now. When something bad happens, I feel terrible for a while, but then I acknowledge that I need to continue on and that things will get better eventually. Eventually I will stop being mad with mother, eventually my father will forgive me, eventually. This crucial thought had no effect while I was depressed, but now it is comforting, and I can trust that things will, eventually, get better.

I was depressed long before I knew what depression was- what its symptoms were, how depressed people acted or responded to their world, or how depressed people could handle depression. And yet I still recognized that this specific part of my life was more miserable and very different from any other part after it was over but before I was taught about depression. I felt no real need to define it- 6th grade was rough, but I wasn't that way anymore so it's ok.

Depression is merely a label for a story. In my case, depression was 6th grade, moving to an enormous new school, not being able to stay friends with the people from my old school, not making friends in the new one, not having my parents notice that I was unhappy, having my academic work graded for the first time, being ostricized, getting my period for the first time, going through puberty without support, being unhappily different and feeling as if life was just not worth it anymore.

Physically, I was tired all the time, I felt constantly lethargic, I cried at anything at anytime for any reason, and was unable to explain why.

Biologically, depression is a label for when a person's brain is acting strangely: serotonin levels are off, and the LHPA axis- the Limbic Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis- is hyperactive. In other words, the parts of your brain that control mood, stress, metabolism, [I'm forgetting a few] are talking to each other too much.


Names for mental illness are descriptive labels that indicate how a person's brain is acting and how these actions that differ from normal brains effect that person's emotions and physical actions. These labels have specific indicators: if a person does not show any of these indications, they do not have the mental illness. If an x-ray of a person's arm shows no break, only even, clean bone lines, then the person probably does not have a broken bone. Some exceptions: if the break is too small to be easily seen or if the x-ray was taken improperly.

It's the same with mental illness- sometimes it's hard to see, sometimes the tests are done incorrectly, sometimes people lie to try to seem healthy or sick. This does not change the fact that if a person is mentally ill, it is visible after examination.

Yes, psychiatric doctors can be poorly trained, yes, patients can lie, yes, tests can be rigged, yes, all of these things happen. But I firmly believe that they do not count for many cases. Which means that most children diagnosed with ADHD probably actually have ADHD. Most people diagnosed with depression probably are depressed. And while I agree that medicine should not always be the first answer, I think that a great number of people need to be medicated to be healthy, to function closer to normally, to be happier.


The exceptions are not the rule.

ashaffer's picture

“If I were blind, I would be the first to know it”

I thoroughly enjoyed this week’s reading! Here are just a few thoughts that came to mind and points that I found particularly interesting:

The idea of a distinction between a “dream” state and a “real” state. Being in a state of “waking consciousness”, “but dreaming constrained by external reality.” The boundary between waking and sleep/dreaming. In thinking of Greg, I am reminded of the dot and the square from Flatland- Greg is described as sweet and docile because he is not aware that he is blind, but when Sacks explains/insinuates his blindness, he becomes agitated at the possibility. I see Greg as like the dot- convinced that he can see, and nothing you tell him could convince him otherwise. Is is better to be like Greg- “blissfully unaware,” or to be like the square- the surgeon in the second chapter. The surgeon is aware of his “disease” and can alter his behavior to accommodate it, though the level to which he can “control” it- in terms of restraining the behaviors altogether- is quite low. Personally, my reaction to the surgeon- who works with and around his impediment- is one of extreme respect: I’m just plain impressed. I believe that I would rather know, even if I were (am?) blind and work through any frustration this may cause. I would prefer to be the square.

The idea that sometimes we want to escape the “weight of consciousness.” I have thought for some time that the appeal of movies for some people is the escape for reality that they can provide. Books and daydreams that allow one to escape are also tempting outlets for this desire. (I also enjoyed the question brought up of the ethics of introducing this effect onto someone else via tranquillizers).

“If I were blind, I would be the first to know it”
BriBell's picture

  Both these stories


Both these stories brought up extremely intriguing questions about the self and personality and how the actual biological workings affect how we view our identity and the identity of others. Greg's parents felt as if the Greg they knew was gone -- lost forever. The first impression of Greg is that he has become a drone - a vegetable of a sort. However, the doctors and nurses all felt like Greg had a continuous cheery, open disposition and liked to think that this was his personality. However, this personality only came out when prompted by outside stimulus. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to live so in the moment that you are only present with a personality when someone is speaking to you. Also, I found it fascinating that each outside person saw Greg’s condition drastically different from each other – the religious people saw him as having reached enlightenment, the fact that he was so present in only the moment that was taking place was a good thing in their eyes. The family saw him as lost, gone from all reality and transformed into almost an empty shell of what he once was. The doctors who lived with him every day saw him as someone who may still have depth of emotion and a glimmer of personality.

Though Greg’s story stuck with me more, the Surgeon, too, brought up some of the same interesting questions – what constitutes personality, and how much does our biological make up, with all its quirks, create that personality? I feel like I have always thought of people with diseases such as tourrettes as having a personality that is then hindered by their disease – but maybe, as this reading seems to suggest, the disease is just a part of their personality. Why do we feel the need to separate these ‘abnormalities’ into, well, abnormalities, and not just accept it as personality? Obviously, yes, there are the basic health reasons, but I feel like we separate them even deeper than that….


anonstudent01's picture

Greg and Dr. Bennett

This greatly complicated my comprehension of tacit understanding!!! In "The Last Hippie," Greg loses most of his memory apart from short term memory and memories prior to 1969 and yet still has a strong connection to music, especially the Grateful Dead. In "A Surgeon's Life" I believe that the Dr. Bennett's tacit understanding that wasn't controlled by the "it" of Tourette's syndrome defined who he was as a person and made it possible for him to function in his marriage, as a parent and as a surgeon. The brain is such a complex system that can never really be understood, however with tacit understanding I cannot see how it is possible for it to be communicated and shared if memory and recognition of self (in Greg's case) isn't there. These were two amazing stories and I greatly enjoyed reading them. 
redmink's picture

       I was

       I was intentionally avoiding the exposure to the field of psychology because I thought the study of psychology would make oneself unnecessarily self-conscious and detached, and because I always wanted to focus more on natural sciences.  However, these readings were eye-opening for me.  Not that I totally changed my view and am willing to delve into the field of psychology, but these readings somehow were eye-opening for me. Simply put, the readings were interesting!! I appreciated the conscientious effort of the observer in the readings.   I made the wisest choice during last summer when picking the CSEM choice.

       I found the second reading as an optimistic version of the first reading.  Those two are related to each other in that sense.  While reading Greg's story, I kept on checking if I am like Greg.  It's like medical interns and residents often think they have the same symptoms with thsoe of their patients.  I was like comparing all my unconscious/habituous traits with thsoe of Greg, and constantly justified myself that I am still ok.  Indeed, I don't have a tumor.  But it was really scary when there was something that I have in common with Greg such as being oversensitive etc.  However, when it comes to the second reading, a story of the surgeon, I was totally relieved.  He was awesome, professional, and saint who had overcome all his difficulties.  It's very fascinating that his tics stopped when he was to perform a surgery.  Very ironical moment, but the most beautiful moment of human that can ever have.  I valued the surgeon's optimism, humor, and his family's attitude toward him.  (like Helen) 

       Focusing on 'difficult' people's life stories, and their efforts of overcoming it (I'm talking about the surgeon), I was able to have a more accepting , unbiased view of people from every walk of life.  The second reading really encouraged me to be confident and optimistic whoever I am, or however I am appeared to be to others because in the end, those things really don't matter as long as I can be the best in my 'beautiful moment.'

akerle's picture



Greg was not blind.

Hilary McGowan's picture

Mind and brain?

The first story was definitly a heart-wrenching tale in its way. The second seemed more personalized to the reader. Both were intiguing in the possibilities they opened up on the topic of the unconscious. Where is the unconscious? Does it ever go away? The actual destruction of the brain in Greg's story added another element of confusion: when does the conscious and the unconscious collide? The author seems to give the perspective that they were both there, sometimes sinking back to one when stimulation wasn't present. Then there is the addition of music into the equation, why could he remember tunes and jingles when he couldn't recall much else? Another thing I enjoyed about this peice was the relation of his past to the story. His hippie revival days staying sound in his head.

A Surgeons Life brought up different issues. Even though Tourrettes does not actually tear out part of the brain like in Greg's case, people with the disease deal with habitual resurfacing of the unconscious. It's interesting that the author tells us what Bennet is saying about his own disease. A first hand account of what the brain is telling the mind to do. Speaking of the brain and the mind, is there a conscious difference?

Allyson's picture

I was extremely impressed

I was extremely impressed by this reading. Oliver Sacks is an amazingly intriguing person whom we could easily emulate in our own observations of the mind.

His assessments of the unconscious in Greg and Dr. Bennett (that's his name, right?) let us see just how far-reaching the powers of the unconscious are. The simple fact that both Greg and Dr. Bennett's unconscious functions seemed to transcend their respective mental "defects" lets us know that there is far more to the unconscious mind than we could possibly conceive.

 Now, how does that make you feel?

nmuntz's picture

Oh Greg...

This reading was a very sad one indeed but none-the-less, still very interesting.  Two parts that intrigued me the most were; his blindness to his blindness and; how positively he responded when questioned about music.

Greg didn't even realize he was blind, he believed his eyes were simply poor.  His unconscious is really his dominating mindset, and we can easily see this when he watches TV.  He imagines pictures of what is happening and doesn't even realize he's not looking at the TV.  This sounds a lot like what we talked about last week with optical illusions and how our mind makes up things that we see!

 I don't know enough from my year of AP psychology to really asses Greg's love of music, and why he responded so well when asked about music; but maybe it's just because music was and is his passion and interest.  I hope we discuss this more in class! 

merry2e's picture

Did You Ever Know You Were Suppose To Be Where You Are

 “Inner and outer narratives here, as everywhere, must fuse” (79). I think this is the key. A person with Tourette’s, schizophrenia, brain damage…we need to find out how to bring the dissociation of the self back together.

I feel a bit dissociative myself at the moment…did you ever feel like you were having one of those moments were you were in a dream? Both of the readings were powerful, a bit selfishly. I almost could not believe what I was reading. First…Greg’s story sounded so familiar to a personal experience I had with my youngest brother who had a brain tumor, and then encephalitis. My brother experienced similar temporal lobe and frontal lobe damage to Greg. My brother was also blind but refused to believe that he no longer could see and we repeatedly had him evaluated by eye doctors just to make sure. I also found it fascinating when Sacks explains about diencephalon damage in regards to appetite, as four days a week for ten months, I brought my brother pizza for lunch, reminding him to eat (diencephalon) and also reminding him that it was his “favorite” food (temporal lobe). Ok, so, then I read the next article, and I’m reading along and I stop dead in my tracks. Not only did I meet another woman with NF recently (the disease my brother had), the next article I am reading talks about a patient with Neurofibromatosis. Now, you must understand this is not something that is brought up in my conversations. So, on the topic of tacit knowledge…did you ever just know you were suppose to be just where you were at the time you were there in life for a reason but could not really explain why?

Ok, some thoughts specifically about the first reading. Throughout the reading, I could not help but think about Greg’s understanding of his own sight and how he viewed the world. It was obvious that his “meaning” of sight was completely different then someone who is not blind, but who is to say he did not experience his own meaning of sight that is perfectly NORMAL for him? I wonder, since Greg was able to understand his father’s absence after his death, (implicitly, through other objects), if he was ever able to understand the meaning of his blindness in “seeing people’s” sense of the word?

Another topic I kept wondering about throughout the reading was the connection of other types of traumas to the brain, especially to the frontal lobes, such as ongoing psychological abuse, i.e. sexual, verbal, emotional,  and how this can effect changes in the brain functioning. I am especially interested in patients with DID, so, Prof. Dalke or Prof. Grobstein, if you have any good info on this, please let me know! I am signing off...maybe my brain can get some much needed rest…

Audra's picture


I must say I was quite pleased that my vague, unofficial hypothesis for my project-- that music is powerful and relevant to studies of tacit knowledge-- was totally confirmed by the reading this week! Greg's reactions to music are strikingly different from his reactions to pretty much everything else. Although I was horrified and sobered by the account in the Last Hippie, Greg's reactions to music gave me some hope that he isn't as blank as he appears.

Also, the rhythmic motions described in the Tourettic doctor's performance of surgery reminded me strongly of music. Conclusion? Music conquers all!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for an angsty moment: this study of different aspects of tacit knowledge-- cognitive studies, linguistics, music, senses and beauty, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy-- are not helping me zoom in on a potential major, but rather reminding me that I can't focus on everything I find fascinating because a) that wouldn't be focusing, and b) there isn't enough time in the world, let alone four years, because I'm easily fascinated. The bright side? I don't have to worry about completing division requirements.

hoope's picture


so, i really enjoyed these readings, especialy the second one. I found Greg's story saddning, and the istory of medical lobotimies upsetting, especially the one involving an icepick. There was an idea in both reading that has aleays intrigued me: that in some ways peple's "dsorders" become a part of who they are. and sometimes it is difficult to drae the line between disorder and personality. In greg's story, the arther sais that greg's disorder had made him a different kind of person, and had given him a sort of identity or personality. Bennet didn't take haloperidol because it "reduced" him. i often hear of people nt wanting to take drugs for their mental disorders because the drugs make them feel not like themselves, and i think this is an interesting dilima, b/c their disorder, or differentness, originates in their brains, but really the differences in all of us originate in the differences in our brains, but when some differences become too extreme they stop merely being differences in personality and become disorders, but to the people who have them they may just feel lie part of their personanlity, and most people wouldn't want to take drugs that supress their personality.

calypsse's picture


As most of my classmates, I also felt quitd moved by the story of the last hippie, it took some effort to try to detach myself from my biases regarding drugs as well as religion and take a more neutral approach. Once again it was great to think how our brain dictates our behavior and even though we like to think of our personality as unique and soul driven, it is in fact our brain rather than our soul what makes us who we are. 

Danielle P's picture

As mentioned by many in the

As mentioned by many in the above posts, this week's reading was a tad depressing.  The Last Hippie is an unusual story (very sad) and brings to light the importance of our consciousness and unconsciousness working in tandem.  To me, what happened with Greg is that the tumor destroyed his more "conscious" mind, thus, his brain and body functioned almost entirely on the unconscious.  Unconsciously, he would remember certain details from his past; skills like playing the guitar, and specific memories.

Something I found particularly interesting was his denial of his blindness.  Greg is not denying his blindness because of pride, or stubborness, but because he honestly doesn't think that he is blind.  In a sense, he had forgotten the concept of "seeing" and "looking" altogether.  Instead, he associated his current actions (listening and assigning mental pictures) as "seeing" and doesn't even remember his past sighted life. 

Alison R. Mouratis's picture

Implicit Memory

I feel really sad right now. I found this week's reading very interesting, but in particular "The Last Hippie" really pulled at my heartstrings. Imagine, for example, you are the last one to know that your parents are getting a divorce. Your argument would be, of course, "Impossible! I would know if that were the case!" And then you may feel rotten and glum. But then imagine that within a few minutes you’ve forgotten about that conversation entirely. I simply cannot imagine. I thought it was very profound when the author admitted, though, that if he had ever doubted Greg’s capacity for deeper feeling, he no longer doubted it after seeing his gut reaction to hearing of his father’s death. One part in particular really made me think, once more, of the conscious and unconscious. When they brought Greg in for Braille lessons, he proclaimed, “What is going on? Do you think I’m blind? Why am I here, with blind people all around me?” It made me think about the idea that perhaps, somewhere deep down inside his unconscious, Greg does indeed know that he is blind and with certain exercises, he could bring that thought into the conscious. And, perhaps, the new “facts” that he learns and then instantly forgets are actually hidden away in the unconscious. I think that that is possible and perhaps even demonstrated when he would get up in the middle of the night saying he had lost something and was looking for it right after the news of his father’s death. Maybe, then, these thoughts and facts that seem to disappear actually just slip away into an area of the brain that we have not yet learned how to tap into. One thing that Dr. Sacks brings up is very interesting and ahs stuck with me: “But while Greg was so often unable to recall events or encounters or facts to consciousness, he might, nonetheless, have an unconscious or implicit memory of them, a memory expressed in performance or behavior.” 

jforde's picture

Both of the stories were

Both of the stories were very interesting. I was really surprised to learn about how a someone with tourettes is able to become a surgeon and that people actually trust him. I know that even if a surgeon with tourettes has been able to safely conduct surgery's, I still would not trust the surgeon. I found it interesting when the narrator noted that Bennet's ability to suppress a tic an unconscious action since he did not remember the tic. I don't understand how it would be unconscious because he should then be able to suppress most if not all of his tics when he is trying to say the word "hideous." It's possible that maybe it becomes unconscious to suppress the tic when he is performing a surgery. However wouldn't such an action then be conscious because of the fact that he could determine when to suppress his tics and when not to?

I found The Last Hippie to be a depressing story which highlights the dangers of cult religions. His final mental state could have been prevented had the parents insisted on seeing their son earlier while they could have treated the tumor earlier. Also, Greg could have seen a doctor earlier when he started to become blind. You would expect for the people that he worshiped with who admired his spiritual devotion would have visited him more often and prayed for him.

hannahpayne's picture

The two stories present

The two stories present interesting examples of tacit knowledge and the role of the unconscious in neurological syndromes. In "The Last Hippie" his tacit knowledge was exposed through the stimulation of music. It was amazing that he could remember the words and tune to all of the Grateful Dead songs but yet could not remember what just happened to him. I've always been interested in music's power of brining our unconscious feelings and tacit knowing. Like scents, I find that music helps to jog the memory. I can remember things that happened when I was listening to a certain song when I hear the song again. Also, I find that I unconsciously learn the words to songs. I will hear them once or twice and without knowing it will be able to sing-a-long the next time I hear it. While I unconsciously remember lots of things, my surroundings, the people I meet, etc. he is only capable of remembering music. I am amazed that this is possilbe. Was that part of his brain spared by the tumor? Or did it remain in tact because it was his only true passion? Also, how did he know that his father came to visit him everyday when he couldn't remember any conversations, his father's death, and even the concert that he enjoyed so much. I felt that this was quickly glossed over in the reading and I wish he had explained it more. Greg unconsciously showed a response to his father's death but could not remeber that he was actually gone, but he consciously knew that his father came to visit often. How is this possible?

"A Surgeon's Story" showed a different side of the unconscious. This man seemed to be both controlled by his Tourrette's but also in control of it. I was wondering as I read the story, how does he control his impulses in front of people he has just met? If the actions are stemming from the unconscious and are uncontrollable how can they be diminished in certain situations? It was so amazing that he could perform surgery. I think both stories show the importance of passion for something in overcoming neurological problems. Music and Surgery, respectively cured the patients of their symptoms. 
Student 23's picture

A Martianologist on Earth

I immensely enjoyed this reading (Ok, I admit I read it in my free time)-- it was completely fascinating to explore the medical and psychiatrical implications of tacit knowledge. Here we have a story ("The Last Hippie") that directly demonstrates what can happen to a person when, for physiological reasons, they can no longer tacitly learn: amnesia, personality changes, a total reliance on outside stimuli. The second story, "A Surgeon's Life," tells of a man for whom the blockade between the unconcious and physical reaction has a few leaks-- this is what I believe to be a reasonable interpretation of Turretts, even though it might seem Freudian to some degree.

What drew me into the essays was the title of the book: "An Anthropologist on Mars." It comes from a classic metaphor to describe the experience of being autistic; an autistic person feels like an anthropologist on Mars. I constantly try and wrap my head around the comparison. The said anthropologist would have nothing to study on Mars because there are no people there, and this is why he (please excuse my use of "he" rather than "she", I try to avoid "he or she" or "they" as much as possible and I always imagined the anthropologist as being a "he" anyway, because I think the quote came from a man) cannot function properly... Maybe there are Martians that are so different from Humans that the anthropologist can't even communicate with them. Maybe in studying martians, the a.p. can't apply his immense knowledge of People and is totally lost. Maybe there are no Martians on Mars and the a.p. has no purpose being there either way.

I can sometimes relate to the feeling of being that anthropologist. Maybe I am not an anthropologist, but a martianologist who's come to Earth to study People. I might know all about Mars, but how can that help me on Earth?

/long, wandering post

Anyway, for my research, I've abandoned my complete uptightness on procedure and method and have decided to try and disprove my hypothesis by whatever means necessary. My hypothesis is that common phrases are complete, recognizable units in our tacit knowledge, and removal of these units from a text (by scrambling or deleting punctuation) will increase the time it takes to read the text aloud.

However, what happens when a thoroughly non-tacit reader (like Microsoft Reader) reads my text? What should my experimental times really look like, all tacit human knowledge/bias eliminated?

carterian's picture

Of the two stories I found

Of the two stories I found the one of "The Last Hippie" the most intriguing. The fact that he didn't believe he was blind was fascinating. Especially when he refused to learn braille saying that if he was blind, he would know it. Also, he makes up what he sees, which makes me think of the "blind spot" that we all have. I wish that Greg could have vocalized what he saw in an articulate way, but I am sure that that is impossible even without a frontal lobe condition. The most powerful part of the story was how he tacitly knew that his father was gone, or at least that is my interpretation. He didn't know his father died, but felt the loss and searched for it. The story made me think about the idea of "Ignorance is Bliss." Greg was unable to really grasp onto new memories, and new horrors. He was ignorant to the goings on in the world, and his own personal life. But that does not seem blissful at all. I believe that this story proved that no one can be tacitly ignorant. Greg felt a loss, and he was able to recognize new Grateful Dead songs, but was at the same time "ignorant" of them.

The similarities of the two stories was that of communication. Both Bennett and Greg used "abnormal" forms of communication. A more primitive communication. Greg was able to use music. I always think of music as coming before language, I don't really have any facts to back this up, but there is a very deep connection that I believe humans have to music that is not shown through language. But anyway, Bennett uses sparatic motions. We know that he is around someone he knows and is used to if he touches their shoulder with his toe. He also uses primitive noises, most commonly, owl noises. These two forms of communication are very different, but are similar in the sense that they are different from the norm.

I really enjoyed this week's reading--very interesting.

jforde's picture

Tuesday, November 6th class discussion summary

Today in class we discussed any confusion about the paper that we just handed in pertaining to our experiement on the unconscious. The goal of the paper was to make observations and "be a scientist." Some students had concerns about their data and the assignment. This led us to look at a website that explained how to devise an experiment (/excechange/courses/bio103/f07/notes). The categories from the "traditional perspective" consist of hypothesis, experiment and conclusion. We discussed what each of these categories meant. Hypothesis is, as Anne definied, "an educated guess." Then we defined an experiment as making new observations and testing the hypothesis. We used babies crying as an example. Babies cry because a "summary of observations" led them to believe that if they cry, then they will get food and attention. However, the conclusion never indicates whether the findings of the experiment are true in all cases because "science is a summary of observations." If the hypothesis has been disproved, then the experimenter must create a new hypothesis. New obersvations must always be made which is why this process goes in a loop. After reviewing the website, we then went back to the paper and applied our understanding of the "old perspective" to the assignment.

We then went on discuss other student's experiments. We participated in Hillary's experiment which was to see how the unconscious associates certain images with a specific gender. She tested this by showing 32 slides of different images with 5 miliseconds in between each slide. After viewing each image, the participant would have to rank on a scale of 1-10, 1 being absolutely female and 10 being absolutely male, the gender of each image. Images included a tree, fire, George Clooney and a female body builder. After performing hte experiment, we then calculated the class range for each question and then compared it to the averages that she compiled from her research. The results showed smaller ranges for people and gender related symbols and wider ranges for objects. Questions after the experiment were raised about whether our unconscious thoughts are really our own unconscious thoughts if society affects our unconscious, and whehter these thoughts are trully our own. We were able to conclude that some parts of the unconscious are similar while others are not.

Anne Dalke's picture

some more resources

A couple more resources, should you be interested in following up on some of our conversation about theory of mind (our provost's area of research) and/or what insights into brain and language have arisen from studies of American Sign Language (this references the work of David Corina's Cognitive Neurolinguistics Lab @ UCDavis ).