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Evolving Systems Course, week 13: thanksgiving thoughts?

Paul Grobstein's picture

As always, you're free to write about whatever came into your mind in class this week. If you'd like a nudge....well, what are you thinking of the unconscious and its role in story telling?

nina0404's picture


So I forgot to post last night because I got distracted by something else. I was reading a novel, and no it wasn't for class, it was for fun. I sat in my bed reading until 1:30am, at which point I had to force myself to go to bed. I read I seem to lose the sense for time, and often forget things that I am supposed to do, like a blog posting. Reading is almost like a daydream. I am here physically, but mentally I am in another world. How do I do that? Is it just serious focus, or does something else happen in my brain that allows me to block out the outside world, and all the thoughts that go through my mind all day. In reference to this weeks topic, I am wondering what role does the unconscious play in when your mind goes wandering, when your in a daydream, or reading?

Erin's picture


I am kind of lost and feel powerless during our several discussions. However, I have to say that I am really inspires by all the wired questions I probably won’t spend any time wondering usually. I always believe to be a good learner. It’s about making progress every day and pushing the edges constantly along the way of pursuing knowledge.

Firstly, to Kirsten’s depression problem, I think it’s a really interesting way of her question. How can you get out of your mind? It’s constantly there with you all the time and maybe controls you somehow. Will it be possible to escape from out conscious or unconscious state of nightmare or depression? I personally never had this kind of experience. In fact, I don’t think I have never been stayed in a certain emotional state long enough to categorize as any psychological symptoms. I tend to forget the unhappy part of my life over time. Whenever I fell unhappy (It never gets serious enough to be called depressed.) Without actual experience, I can only guess about the process fight with depression. I think, if the depression is constantly accompanied with the emotion. Maybe, the person can try to separate the depressed emotion from the normal think. To consider the depression as a thing always there maybe will help them have attention to do other things.

Secondly, about the disturbing story, Tiannan and I are the only people in our class think it’s doesn’t matter for the scenario to exist. For me, there is not consequences resulted in their reaction and they didn’t regret doing that. Maybe they have freedom to choose what they decide to do as long as they take the responsibilities of that particular behavior. It’s they were willing to that with their own will; they thought about the consequences and take actions to prevent the bad ones from happening; they carried the outcome of that behaviors. In fact, there are no side effects on others who didn’t make decision let the event happen. I consider it as their own business and thud didn’t oppose to it. On the hand, if I took the others’ reaction into account, my reaction maybe has to do with my personal background. I don’t have a brother and I don’t has the instinct to related this story with myself. Unable to fit myself in this story make explain my indifference to this incident. Therefore, I can’t associate the potential consequences with any people I care and I don’t have the sympathy in this setting.

bluebox's picture

dreams are my reality♫

 Talking in class about dreams was really interesting, thinking about how the unconscious and conscious interact when we're asleep. I believe they're a little bit conscious and unconscious because my dreams will be about something i've never considered in my life, but there will be a couple things there from my thoughts that day. I have interesting dreams (well, to me anyway) and occasionally after an especially fun one i'll look up parts of it on a dream dictionary thing online. I know, people i tell this to laugh at me because it's like palmistry and crystal balls, looking that deeply at dreams is a waste of time etc.  It's not something I really believe in, but when i look things up and find a way to interpret something, i can apply it to my own life and see if it works (if it doesn't, no big deal) because it makes me think about myself from a different perspective or focus on something in my life that i wouldn't normally think too hard about.  (On a tangent, does anybody else dream in third person like me? Sometimes it's like i'm watching a movie, and other times it's like i'm playing a videogame where the camera is right behind your player. I wonder what that says about me and my unconscious, if this is the best way for me to view events. Huh.)

Also, I never thought about teaching myself to cross my 7s was changing my unconscious, but it is. It's kind of scary that it's possible to change the unconscious so easily, just by deciding to change and repetition.

Bingqing's picture

Random Thoughts

Recently, when I did something, I always thought about whether it is derived from my consciousness or unconsciousness. (I guess that I am unconsciously influenced by our recent topic.) Then, I found that for most of the time, conscious and unconscious is not that clearly divided. When I try to redefine an unconscious action or event, if I want, I can always find underlying consciousness which seems to be the true controller and make all my actions reasonable. The article The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail provides convincing explanation—“the reasoning process is more like a lawyer defending a client than a judge or scientist seeking truth.” It makes sense. When I intend to consciously look for explanation, what I find out is not truth but excuse. Or, is there a certain pool in our minds that contains our unconsciousness? Is it possible that our post hoc reasoning actually evoke our unconsciousness to jump out of the pool and have us be aware of it? Thus, we sometimes find hard to consciously define some unconscious behaviors.     

Also, I reminded of one of topics we had discussed before—whether we want to be totally aware of what is going on. The result of our discussion is that this depends on whether we prefer surprise to control. Actually, during the whole semester, we make progresses unconsciously. Gradually, I found that three-page weekly paper is not that difficult, weekly reading assignment may not have me stay up late to finish, and speaking out is not stressing. Those are what we gain from our unremittingly studying and unconsciously or consciously learning. We keep unaware of these until we look back the “identifying journey” we travel. We then get excited, inspired and motivated. If we are always conscious about everything, we will lose these positive moods—excitement, self-affirmation and so on. Unconsciousness enlarges our sense of satisfaction with consciousness. It reminded me of an old adage in China, “Diligently studying is like seeds in spring, without obvious increasing, grow everyday; Dropping out of school is like sharpening stones, without apparent decreasing, lose everyday.” Education is a continuous process which enables people unconsciously to make significant process and functions in people’s future life.

Kirsten's picture


 It was interesting to me that Dementia was brought up in class on Tuesday.  I had watched a movie called Choke, and in the movie the main characters mother has Dementia.  I don't know a lot about Dementia, but I found myself thought the movie wondering if she was making up these people that se thought she was seeing, or if they were people that she remembered.  There were certain hallucinations (should I call them hallucinations?) that I could tell were specific memories (sometimes they would go into depth about these memories).

Perhaps I will look up more about dementia. A good paper topic, maybe...


Sarah Ann's picture

why hello again, there, course forum

I felt I should add a couple of things that went through my mind while reading our assignment. First of all, I was immediately reminded of debates that we had in my senior Government class near the end of my final semester of high school. They were, of course, on hot-button issues, inadvertantly giving a great example of this whole intuitive morality business. One member of the group opposing my team told me that they really didn't have enough evidence to make a case - but she just knew that our issue was morally wrong, and that should be enough to make it remain illegal. She was judging this issue not because she could pinpoint specific negative effects of it, or give any reasons. She was raised to believe it was wrong.

The other thing I wanted to point out was just more evidence of the bipartite brain, and the language used in it. The essay speaks of intuitive thinking being accessible to the conscious brain only at the product stage - the conscious brain can't access the processes that result in that product. This drove me back to the whole I vs. we discussion we began having in class on Tuesday. When we began referring to our individual selves as "we," it was very uncomfortable for me. I've been trying to figure out why. Perhaps it's because the conscious part of my brain knows it's what I'm referring to when I say I, and it doesn't want to lose what little distinction and power over the unconscious brain that it has (seeing as the conscious can't access many unconscious functions, but the unconscious can control the conscious). Perhaps it's just uncomfortable for me to acknowledge that something I thought I was sure of, "me" or "I", is actually even more complicated than previously thought. Complication and extra self-discovery are really not things I need going into my first college finals week!

Olivia's picture


In the reading, it mentioned that cultures and customs can actually change our intuitions. In another words,the consciousness can change the unconsciousness, not in a particular person, but in all human beings as a whole. And the consciousness sometimes can even control how the unconsciousness develop. In the class, we discussed that we make judgements or decisions mostly through unconsciousness, and that how education focus too much on the consciousness. I actually think the education has focused on the right side. Because the consciousness can shape our unconsciousness, and if we can learn to have a better consciousness, we will accordingly develop a better unconsciousness, which can make better decisions and judgements. Furthermore, right now human beings have no direct access to the unconscious part that can allow us to shape the unconsciousness as we do to the consciousness through education. Right now, I just realize how powerful education is. It can shape human beings' consciousness and unconsciousness and therefore our evolutions as human beings in general. However, since education/consciousness can control the direction of our evolution, where will education/consciousness lead us? Which direction are we going? Is it a right direction? or a disaster?

As I writing this posting, I realize that ways of rewriting brains, such as meditations/hypnosis/medications/role playing are all ways of rewriting one particular brain. But educations/cultures/knowledge are ways of rewriting brains for all human beings. There seems to be two different kinds of rewriting, on different dimensions. And I think the later rewriting process is the evolution of our... souls?brains?consciousness and unconsciousness? (I really don't know how to name the subject that evolves)

paige's picture

Evil: The Worst Story ever Told?

“Ironically, the criminals I see evaluate and justify their own violence-the torture and hostage taking and human sacrifices they commit-by means of exactly the same kinds of moral value judgments that our legal system uses: “the bitch deserved it”” or “the son of a bitch deserved it.””

This sentence is from Preventing Violence, a book by James Gilligan, an American psychiatrist who acted as Director of Mental Health Services for the Massachusetts Prison system.

Gilligan argues that people become violent because they perceive that the only recourse to rid themselves of deep feelings of shame is to hurt others to gain respect. He suggests that we ought to take a preventive medicine and public health approach to violence.  We should seek to prevent violence by attacking its root causes through initiating social and economic change.

We make the ex post facto rationalization that since a person committed an act that we do not condone; the person deserves punishment because of our initial moral intuition that they are evil.

However, evil is not an “objective thing that actually exist[s] independently of our subjective feelings and thoughts, rather than a word we all too often use to rationalize, justify, and conceal, from ourselves and others, our own violence toward those we hate and wish to punish.”

Gilligan continues to say “Once we have labeled someone as evil there is often no limit to the cruelty and violence we can feel justified in administrating to them.” In fact, the United States criminal justice system has been condemned by the United Nations Committee against Torture due to the practices of capital punishment, long-term solitary confinement and stun-gun usage.

Rather than focusing on punishment (revenge?) of(on) those who commit crimes, Gilligan and many of his colleagues suggest that we focus on primary prevention of violence. To clarify, primary prevention of disease includes insuring a sanitary water supply and waste disposure as well as raising people above the poverty line. Primary prevention has been shown to many times more effective against certain infectious diseases than tertiary prevention or treatment. Tertiary prevention occurs when someone has already become sick (or violent).

Primary prevention of violence can take the form of remedying the inequities between the socioeconomic classes that can be a source of both continual shame (scarcity, discrimination, etc) and the apathy that can lead a person to commit violence for the perceived lack of other avenues. Violence is ingrained in our society in many ways such as in our concepts of masculinity and heroism. Can we change that unfortunate "fact"?

The moral intuition of “evil” is an example of our use of “make-sense epistemology.”According to Haidt, “a correct understanding of the intuitive basis of moral judgment may [] be useful in helping decision makers avoid mistakes and in helping educators design programs (and environments) to improve the quality of moral judgment and behavior.” If we recognize our biases then we can try to account for them rather than just rationalizing our pre-made “moral intuition”. If we ask questions such as “What made the person act this way? What could we improve to avoid this scenario?” If we recognize the social problems that cause violence and if we decide to value peace, we can work to create it. That’s a lot of ifs…

I’m thinking of writing my paper on this topic and writing my thoughts out helped me see what the paper might be like, so thank you forum and classmates!


schu's picture

VS.thing & Education

Today I talked to my friend in another Esem class about their topic, Identity. I asked her about her idea of consciousness and unconsciousness. She said that you could only argue that the unconsciousness is all but consciousness. And if you black out, you could only say I lost conscious, instead of saying I was unconscious, because you don't know you are unconscious, or else that part of truth should be consciousness.  Thus she believes that subconsciousness is in between of consciousness and unconsciousness, which in my interpretation is something your brain is working on spontaneously but with your recognition, like intuition.This is quite interesting. I don't know if we really should analyze every component in our brain and thoughts, as they are always standing together as a whole.

Well, talking about story-teller, I believe that the consciousness part of the brain is the teller,but is it necessary to be the story-teller? If the story-teller we are talking about is receiving raw material or original version of a story and then tell this story with his/her own understanding and interpretation, well I think the consciousness part is the story-teller, just like an output which can make an announcement for it.

Education, education, education.....What is the goal of education? As we learn about the brain, and consciousness, unconsciousness, I believe the education to be the methods to train our consciousness to be more well-developed in width and depth, and make it more interactable with our unconsicouness to think for all possibles and behave responsably. Sometimes education represents more possiblities, but sometimes it also means restrain or limit, just like evolution. Well, brain provide the place to store all knowledge, it is also a working table for the formation of thoughts, which are personal results of extraction and purification of knowledge. Education is training our brain, exploring our brain and make it more skillful at its job of consciousness and unconsciousness.

We need to leave space for the unconsious part of the brain to be free and creative,which can hardly be controlled by syllabus and textbooks, but the knowledge and studying methods we learn from education provide the rich soil for the free and creative ideas to grow.

Aimee's picture

The Brain: A sophisticated organ?

 In recent weeks, our discussion has become very brain-focused. However, we have not extensively discussed the evolution of the brain as an organ. Of course, the "brain as storyteller" discussion has still been fascinating, and it has allowed us to explore the unique roles of our consciousness and unconsciousness. Paul has argued extensively that the bipartite nature of our brain is actually beneficial, since it can interpret and rationalize atypical external stimuli. For instance, Paul showed us an optical illusion of a graph superimposed over a starburst. The graphed lines were completely straight, but the unconscious mind adjusted the image so that the graph appeared curved. Paul explained that the unconscious mind distorted the image so that the conscious brain would see it as a 3-dimensional image, where the point of the starburst was farthest away from the viewer. So, the unconscious brain deceived the conscious individual; and this deception, Paul asserts, is helpful.

Certainly, the bipartite brain is useful - and perhaps, necessary - for the brain's current set-up. (As an aside: Unless I seriously zoned out in class one day, we never actually discussed the physiology of the brain). At best, the brain is rather unsophisticated. I once read a book titled The Accidental Mind, written by David Linden, a neuroscientist. Linden posits that the brain is actually "an inelegant and inefficient agglomeration of stuff," that works through some miracle of evolutionary luck (Linden 6). It is "...built like an ice cream cone...Through evolutionary time, as higher functions were added, a new scoop was placed on top, but the lower scoops were left largely unchanged," (Linden 21). Thus, humans have a brain that is both new and antiquated; we have the automatic functions of a frog, the social skills of chimpanzees, and unique higher level thinking skills. 

Yes, the human brain is special. We have language, symbolism, religion, a complex range of emotions, and exceptional reasoning skills. But our brains are NOT perfect. If they worked perfectly, I suspect we would not need an unconscious mind. Our brains would see the image of a starburst and a graph, and they would know automatically that it was a 2-dimensional image of completely straight lines. Our brains are smart, but not smart enough to know that.

Similarly, my classmates and I have discussed the brain's unclear role in emotions and attraction. We do not understand how we can consciously hope for one thing, yet unconsciously desire another. One individual was both disgusted by and attracted to a misogynistic male. Another person had a panic attack although she was unaware that she was upset. I am particularly perturbed by the brain's ability to hallucinate or form delusions. It is one thing for the brain to mistakenly interpret external stimuli...but it's another thing entirely if the brain completely invents what it is experiencing. 

Let me return to an earlier statement, in which I wrote that the bipartite brain is useful. The presence of the unconscious mind limits our understanding of the world around us. Everything is filtered and processed before we consciously know it. Yet, this limitation is note entirely bad. In some ways, our limitations are empowering. When we understand that our knowledge is limited, we seek further understanding. We question. We experiment.

Voila! Science! And, in many ways, questioning is what made this ESEM unique. We are evolving thinkers, exploring and creating stories in a literary and scientific context. 

We invented a creation myth.

We explored the origins of the universe.

We discussed the biological methods and modern implications of evolution.

We researched and envisioned the evolution of culture.

We studied the evolution of our story-telling brain.

In a sense, we have come full circle. And we've realized some important things. All aspects of life are a story. And inquiry is our guide.

Is it safe to say that inquiry is of the utmost importance? For this class and for education as a whole?


MC's picture


Response to Aimee's post: I believe inquiry is of the utmost importance for just about everything, because inquiry leads to postulation, which leads to experimentation, which leads to more postulation, and then to knowledge (whether true or not is another story). And knowledge? It gives us everything. Knowledge can give us empathy or hatred, it can give us power or take power away. It is the ultimate reality-maker: it can change both our conscious and unconscious minds, which in turn potentially shapes reality. Sometimes knowledge is brought in and it is left to sit, but it always has the potential to change.

Sometimes the knowledge we get isn't immediately useful knowledge, or it's knowledge of something we feel we would be happier not knowing, or it's not truth, but it's still powerful. And half the time we wouldn't get it if we didn't ask, so I say embrace your curiosity! Maybe you'll die because of it, but you'll die searching (for something, anything!) and exerting your magnificent, strange, controlling brain on tasks a little bit grander, perhaps, than just making a sandwich. Apologies if this sounds odd, I just get caught up in the idea of quests, and quests for knowledge are about as exciting as they come. Why sit around waiting when you can go get it? Excited.

On the subject of morality: <-- Reactions? I am cycling between fury, disgust, hope, fear, and general squickitude.

FluteSound4's picture

The fight with my mind

 Here begins my second posting for the week.

All throughout class yesterday I was constantly fighting with my mind to pay attention. After recieving our last assignments for our class I began to feel overwhelmed with all the work I have to do over the next two weeks and I started to have a mini silent anxiety moment. I was trying to pay attention to the discussion that was going on, but  my mind kept wanting to go back to all of the assignments I have due soon. Then I started to think about how tired I was and it didn't help that my fellow classmates were constantly yawning. Then we began to discuss how we can change our ideas and behaviors by playing a different role. So, I began trying to convince myself that I wasn't tired and that I wasn't stressed out to see if I could get my mind to focus. It actually worked for a little bit. I was able to take part in the discussion and pay attention to what everyone was saying. But then thoughts about homework and sleep started to sneak into my mind again and the whole process started over again. I felt like I was having a little experiment with our discussion while I was sitting there silently in my seat. 

One idea I found interesting in our discussion yesterday was when we began to refer to our individual selves as "we" instead of "I". I thought this was appropriate though because we've been discussing so many parts of our brains such as the conscious, unconscious, rational, and intuitive. I feel like all of these parts are actually just individual "I"s in my head that all want a say in what I do.

FluteSound4's picture


 So, I totally forgot to do a post before Monday night and I just realized that in class. So here is my supposed Monday post and later I'll post about this afternoons discussion. So, thinking back to last week we were discussing about how we want to know everything. Personally, I don't know if I want to know and understand everything. Hasn't anyone heard the saying that 'knowing too much will destroy us'? It goes something like that. There are variations of it in all different kinds of movies. That's why I don't want to know everything. Also, can you really know everything? Say you find out that you're going to get an A on your final next week. Would someone still be as motivated to study for the final knowing that they'll get an A? If not, then the person will end up with a grade lower than an A because they didn't study, thinking that they would get an A for sure. In that sense, you can't really know everything, right? I think unknowing is the best for the human race. 

MC's picture

I Lack the Ability to Understand Instructions

I have found this resource quite interesting for looking at the brain. At the bottom right-hand corner you can change it from 'beginner', 'intermediate', to 'advanced', which changes how in-depth and technical the descriptions and explanations are. You can also change the settings in the top right-hand corner from 'social', 'psychological', 'neurological', 'cellular', to 'molecular' to look at different tiers of organization and explanation. Much of what we have touched on in class is discussed and other things I think some of us were curious about are also covered. I find this site wonderfully exciting, and I think it could help add a little more neuroscience to our conversations. That brings up the question of just how much neuroscience do we want? How much do we feel like it can comfortably explain, and how much does philosophy have to fill in? Does it have to fill in? Is philosophy a viable option for reasoning these things out? What other choices do we have? How concrete do we think any of this is? Turtles all the way down? <-- I'm sorry, but I don't think I'll ever stop saying that.

genesisbui's picture

Unconscious Battle

I agree with Eva and I find myself thinking about the same notion. The dream world truly is this bizarre and outrages place, that in many nights I dread to be apart of. But whether we like it or not its our unconscious is speaking to us through our dreams. It's our brain who is trying to make an attempt to file all the thoughts that went about throughout the day. And as our brain files all those thoughts, it begins to reveal to us through images of all those files. What impresses me most is our brain's ability to create sensations of touch in our dreams. It remembers the touch of someone's hand, and in turn within the dream is able to recreate it with the same warmth and skin. Sometimes I even remember dreaming about smells, or the touch of water. It's quite strange really.

Angela_MCA's picture


For some reason every time I am thinking about the unconscious and it's role, I think about dreams. The unconscious and the conscious are always working simultaneously throughout the day, but when you are awake it seems like the conscious is louder. Likewise, when we are asleep, the unconscious is louder. It seems to me that dreams try to formulate a story out of all the emotions and thoughts you had prior to going to sleep. It gives a deeper insight into what is fueling your conscious actions. Dreams create these stories that, often don't make sense, but they are an attempt to give a voice to your unconscious. Also, there are signs and things that people experience in dreams that are common among all peoples dreams.  The signs and symbols that happen in dreams can be used to interpret your state of mind, and your unconscious feelings toward something going on in your life. For example, when people have dreams about tornadoes terrorizing their homes, or other natural disasters occurring, this often means that the person is going through a very stressful time and is being very bothered about a particular aspect in their life at that time. So how is it that most people's brains can associate the feelings of stress with natural disasters in order to illustrate these feelings? Is the brain pre-programmed to do this?

Kirsten's picture

Bad vacation

After taking a look at some of the postings for this weeks forum and the word "powerful" came up a lot.  I too believe that the brain is a very powerful organ, in my opinion the most powerful organ in the body.  This vacation was a perfect example of how my brain is powerful, or rather how it can have power over me.  To begin, I have to state how I have despised school with every fiber of my being since kindergarten.  With just saying that one may be able to tell that coming to college was not the best choice for me, and therefore is the reason why I am dropping out... for now.  I was dreading Thanksgiving vacation almost as much as I was ecstatic for the beginning of it.  The reason why is that I knew that this break was going to be too short for me to feel as if I got a decent amount of time with my family and friends and for the whole vacation I would be sad. Boy was I right. Though I wanted to get up and out of my house to see my friends I couldn't bear to leave my home, or even sleep for that matter, because I didn’t want to miss a second of the visit to my house.  I could have had a very fulfilling vacation instead I sat at home not eating or sleeping but just watching TV and crying (which is odd because I am not one that cries.... never... well nearly never).  My mother always tells me that I have to "get out of that poisonous part of my brain"

But how?


Sarah Ann's picture


I blame the tryptophan, or whatever that chemical in turkey that supposedly puts you to sleep is. I think it's tryptophan... anyways, I fell asleep after Thanksgiving dinner, missing out on quality family time with cousins I don't often get to see. While disappointing, what "unconscious brain" connotations does this have? Tryptophan is a chemical found in turkey. How can a chemical make me pass out and lay like a lump without my consent? It was a time I'd normally be awake, afternoon, and I hadn't been doing anything strenuous. I was with entertaining people, being mentally stimulated, full of available energy from all the food I'd just ingested... what gives? This whole concept just came to me suddenly as I thought of the paper I'll have to have done for Friday. Maybe something on chemical interactions with the brain, and how medications (or delicious poultry) can make you do things you weren't consciously planning on doing. it's a really interesting (and almost terrifying) concept. That's almost a way your brain tells stories, isn't it? It just depends on how you define a story. I've noticed that a lot of things in this class come down to that - how you define the story, what you define as culture, how you define the system of individual evolution...

Bingqing's picture

Moral and Justice


You walk in a street and see a hungry beggar sitting in a corner helplessly and hopelessly. What kind of feelings first come to your mind? You have sympathy. You maybe want to give him one dollar with which you initially intended to buy a chocolate bar. However, after you consider that the man can earn money by himself because he is not disable, that the man is just too lazy to work, and that the man himself creates the misery and suffering he faces now, you give up your charity to him. In this case, your morality that is shaped by society tells you that you should help the poor beggar without any hesitation; but then, you question the meaning and necessity of your sympathy after you calmly and logically think the reason why the beggar faces such a unjust situation. Obviously, moral is derived from people’s unconsciousness and justice from people’s consciousness; therefore, moral and justice sometime may not coincide with each other.

In The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail, the author said that moral judgment tells people something is right or wrong without telling them why. Thus, when moral helps us make decision, it is an unconscious process. Rather than justice which people establish from carefully reasoning, moral can be innate. 


Imittleman's picture

One of the things from our

One of the things from our discussion that I can't completely get over is the way memories are formed.  Memory is mapped out all over the brain because, as Paul told us, different things relate to different experiences, etc.  It goes to show that our minds don't reflect any timeline.  We recognize that the past has already happened yet the way we organize these experiences isn't as one collective past "event" but as the little pieces that have helped build who we are.  I find that really interesting.  

I read about this study recently that looked at the way people recalled memories.  They found memories of sensory information - touch, smell, taste, etc, will help someone recall the emotion they were feeling at that exact point in time they originally encountered it, instead of what they may associate the memory with later on.  So if someone was listening to a song when something really great happened, (which later turned out to be terrible)  I think it found that the person, whenever they heard the song, would feel happy as opposed to upset.  I may have gotten that wrong, but again, I find that supports the idea that brains look at relationships as opposed to time.  

The final thing I found interesting about our discussion was the idea that "time" is actually a construction of our mind above all else.  It's true, if you think about it, that we use time as a way to "make sense of things".  Do animals have a sense of time?  A sense of past or present?  Or is this purely a human construction?  How did it happen that we came to view the world as having a past, present and future?


Aimee's picture


 I am a member of Adopt-a-Grandparent, a club that partners Bryn Mawrtyrs with seniors for weekly visits to a local assisted living facility. When I first met my adopted grandmother, she happily told me that her father had joined her for lunch a day earlier. Of course, my grandmother is at least 80 years old, and so her father is most likely deceased. However, my adopted grandmother has dementia. For my grandmother, the visit from her father was very real and very precious, even if the entire experience was a story that her brain had fabricated.

Dementia is a fascinating and tragic illness. It is frequently a neurodegenerative disorder, in which the brain's neurons grow progressively debilitated. Initially, an individual who suffers from dementia might make a mistake as simple as putting car keys in the refrigerator. But dementia does not stay benign; sufferers first lose their short-term memory, then their long-term memory, and finally the ability to walk, swallow, and breathe.

Last spring, I underwent nursing assistant training in a long term care facility. I cared for residents with dementia and grew accustomed to their frequent delusions and hallucinations. Often, residents were frightened by the irrational, dream-like quality of their hallucinations. Since the sufferers had no idea that they were actually hallucinating, every hallucination seemed real.

I was puzzled by their hallucinations. Why does a regressing brain concoct such odd, frightening stories? If the brain is becoming progressively debilitated, shouldn't it lack the ability to create such stories? 

schu's picture


Well, I really don't have much to say about brain. As it is really mysterious and powerful. All I have to say are some my examples.

 I used to be in a summer camp for memory back in China, during which I learnt to memorize the 100 digit after 3.141592698979.....And also the Chemistry element chart. The first one I've already forgotten most of it, but the latter one I could still remember, because I practiced alot in high school chemistry exams. Well, for the digits, we transferred every number to be a word in Chinese homophonically. Same method is used for Chemistry elements. Then we link the words together to make up stories, most weird and funny stories. Also, I tried once in a psychology class to memorize 25 pictures in one minute, using the same theory:make funny and weired stories, one of which I still remember that one cat was washed into a closestool. Then the memories stick in my head, and it becomes really easy to memorize everything. You can use it for history class. But the real thing going on here is to break through the regular practice of memory. We get used to the regular things, but when a weired, or abnormal, or illogical or funny thing happens, we tend to memorize it in a better way. Also, another trick is that memories are linked with one another. The connection you made lead you to remember one thing to another. Few days ago, I tried hard to remember my account number for a very popular card game in China,but I failed everytime. One day I was thinking about the summer time when I sat in my father's room and played the game, the picture of the log-in screen appeared in my head and I literally saw my account number in that picture in my head. Well, now I could play it. I guess that's how brain works in some part of it.


mwechsler's picture

Old friends

 Over break I saw and old friend and we had been very close during high school before she left for college (she's a year older than me). We have ways of acting around each other, patterns of interaction. It only took my minutes to fall back into the same way of moving and talking and I was surprised. Paul said our brain doesn't have "memories" per se, and that it constructs a new story each time. This felt like a story my brain was used to telling, like it had patterned every behavioral nuance so many times that it had become a biological part of me, if that makes any sense....I don't think it does, but oh well.

Valentina's picture

Thanksgiving Stuff(ing)

I was lucky enough to be invited to Baltimore with my roommate to spend the Thanksgiving holiday. Following two dinners with her various family members, we were invited back to my roommate's dad's house. As a neuroradiologist, he was kind enough to show me a variety of brain scans on his computer- highlighting symptoms of the patients and the differences in the scans pre and post surgery.

This experience got me thinking about, not only the role of the different lobes and parts of the brain, but also about how little we really know about this organ. In my previous classes in which the brain was discussed, little was said besides "the parietal lobe does this..." and "the hippocampus does this...", etc. The only other major point that has been made in my classes was that discoveries about which part does what were made when people who sustained brain injury were studied. Sure, we also talked about Freud's psychoanalytic theory but we did so in the same day in which we learned about this "penis envy"- thus, we wrote him off as a quack pretty quickly.

I don't really know where I was going with that but point is, we don't know much about the unconscious. As far as story telling goes, the unconscious IS our story telling because it is what makes us unique and individuals because it is affected by our personal life experiences. Without our control, the unconscious absorbs our experiences and stores them in such a way that they affect our new experiences by determining the way in which we will react to them. If it were not for our unconscious, life would be boring due to the fact that we would all share common beliefs, feelings, reactions, and understandings that would be easily influenced by the present instead of being based on our prior experiences. 

LAJW's picture

Brain & Memory



I think that the brain is a really powerful and magical organ. It is because it can really help us human beings do wonderful things. Last week's discussion is mainly about consciousness, unconsciousness and memories. From what I have learnt from the discussion that the unconsciousness part of our brain actually plays an important role in our daily lives. I have been doubtful of the concept of the unconsciousness. However, after considering my experiences of unconsciousness, I found many situations when my unconsciousness plays a part in determining my mood. Hence, this discovery leads me to believe that we are able to detect our unconsciousness and study it. However, as unconsciousness is a little bit abstract to me . I think memory is more interesting to me. Memories can be classified into many types. Short-term memories, long-term memories and flash memories. I just wonder where and how these memories are formed and stored in our brain? Form what I learnt from the discussion on Thursday, there are no designated places to store our memories. Our memories are recorded as the changes in neuron connections which are located at several spots in the brain. However, I just wonder that when we try to recall our memories, how does our brain connect those neurons together to give us the whole picture of that event? How does our brain differentiate the different neurons for various events stored in our brains? When we forget something, is it due to the memory loss ? Or the inability of our brain to connect the different neuron changes but actually the memory is stored in our brain?



elisagogogo's picture

thxgiving thought

   I was completely amazed by the power of unconsciousness when Paul introduced how our memory works: when we recall, little things in the unconsciousness part of the brain connect and build new “memory”. But as the broad function of the unconsciousness surprised me, I was also wondering that if the unconsciousness part of the brain is already powerful enough, why do we still need the consciousness part of the brain? Is it only for the “conversation”? It then feels to me that there is no way to think about consciousness and unconsciousness in separate ways. Biologically, we can’t precisely divide our brain and say certain part of it operates with or without awareness. Psychologically, it is us, human being, who use our brain to say there is a difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. How do we know if they don’t superimpose each other? How do we know they are interactively working instead of working exactly together?

   Another thing I find quite interesting was the pilot 6-dimension view. It again lets me feel the broadness of the world. By studying the universe, I felt the insignificant earth as well as human being in contrast with the infinite universe; by studying biological evolution and culture, I felt the constant changing and evolving; by studying the brain, I felt so proud that brain is the broadest thing as if it could visualize and imagine everything in the world. But after getting to know multi division, I feel the world operates in a delicate connection: we can understand math but can’t imagine 6-dimension so that we can use math as a tool to get to know multi-dimension and make use of it. Can we get to know everything by this method? I don’t know…

paige's picture

Exhibit about The Brain: The Inside Story

Before I forget, I want to post a link to the description of an exhibit titled The Brain:The Inside Story happening right now at the American Museum of Natural History. The "21st century brain" seemed particularly relevant to our discussion. I thought it was funny that they used the language of stories in the exhibit as well.



Erin's picture

Our last week’s discussion

Our last week’s discussion still focused on the unique property of brain’s bi-part’s structure. Even though we all still have tons of questions regarding to the brain. Several discussions gave me deeper and different perspective about our brain.

Firstly, is the brain a separate object from our identities? We tend to say I think “my consciousness”, “my unconsciousness” and “I” constantly in our discussion. It seems like the three things are separate from each other. However, that’s not possible in the first place. Because they are all parts of our brains, maybe not in material forms. In my understanding and our discussion, consciousness and unconsciousness can be our sources of decision making. I think to be a human being, we must have the power and the ability to make the decision according to the surroundings. In my opinion we have the control over our behaviors, at least I hope I not the puppet controlled by unconscious master. According to Sigmund Freud’s iceberg, which I believed in deeply and agreed a lot, as shown in the diagram, the consciousness and unconsciousness and the pre-consciousness are probably all the understandings we have about the world. Having the ability to reason the situation we face with the resources of three parts of the brain, we make decision seem to have the best outcome at that point. Therefore, these three parts show us the possibilities of the choices and help us make the best predictions of every decision. I tend to think consciousness and unconsciousness are part of self-protections system to help us make the best decisions.


Secondly, do we want to be certain about our future? I became the only person in our class don’t like surprises. After hearing the consequences of being predictable about the future, I realize that the planed life and the planned outcome would not be fun at all. I think what I mean is to be able to know what will happen after the decision made. As I mentioned above, we do research and use our consciousness and unconsciousness before making a decision to be able to find out the best result. I hope the phrase “one pain, one gain” is still true today. Ultimately, I hope I am right about the decision. Well, how could it be possible? Everything is connected today.  The result of your decision is no longer exclusive to your efforts but also affected by other’s decisions. Maybe, never able to know you are right and learn from your own success and failures are the excited part of this game.

Julie G.'s picture


 One of my favourite sayings (especially since beginning this course) is, "Experience teaches us everything we need to know, immediately after we needed to know it." Part of what this concept of brain construction seems to indicate is that decision-making, as based in both our unconscious and conscious brains, and that our sense of having made the "right" or "wrong" decision stems from the new information we glean from each experience. In other words, we always make the "right" decision, because it seems the most correct to us at that time. The "rightness" or "wrongness" of any decision is therefore post-determined by our own individual preference sets, as well as the accuracy (or lack thereof) of our predictions. (It all comes back to predictions and our future-oriented unconscious!) The external factors of which you speak are often those things which we are least able to predict. A "random" component, if you will.

Julie G.'s picture

Giving Thanks

 I've been thinking a lot lately about stimuli and interpretation, especially regarding emotional feelings. I can't recall having spoken about this as of yet (at least in Paul's class), but I can only imagine that the unconscious is also the interpreter of human interactions, and therefore also co-responsible (with the conscious) for our feelings towards others. This helps to explain what we were speaking of on Tuesday regarding learning being most effective at the unconscious level; presumably if there is some sort of strong emotion attached to, or associated with that which is being learned, we are more likely to remember it, because the emotional association was made at the unconscious level. I was speaking with a friend of mine who is a psychiatrist, and she was telling me that certain patients of hers don't learn friendship. For example, they might go out and have a good time with a bunch of people, but the next day not associate the good feeling with those people. I am so grateful that my unconscious weaves the story of friendship for me, and that my conscious embraces that story.