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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Biology 202 spring 2005 Forum

Welcome to the on-line forum for Biology 202, Neurobiology and Behavior, at Bryn Mawr College. Like all Serendip forums, this is a place for informal public conversation, a place to share thoughts and ideas in progress. What you're wondering and thinking now can help others with their thinking and what they're thinking can help you with yours. So don't worry about whether what you have to say is polished or final. The idea is to think together out loud and together, so everyone's ideas can help trigger further ideas in everyone else.

Comments are posted in the order in which they are received, with earlier postings appearing first below on this page. To see the latest postings, click on "Go to last comment" below.

Go to last comment

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-01-16 20:23:54
Link to this Comment: 12048

Glad you're here. As it says above, this isn't a place for polished writing or final words. Its a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had in class (or afterwords), things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your mind/brain that others might find useful and to find things from others that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our class conversations have affected that. Looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

brain, behavior & culture
Name: Beverly Bu
Date: 2005-01-18 20:07:46
Link to this Comment: 12085

The study of behavior involves the consideration of observable external factors as well as hidden internal factors within both the individual being observed and the individual doing the observing.

As a biology major and an anthropolgy minor, I can see opportunites for exploring behavior across cultures and how behaviors are interpreted by those outside of the culture. All behaviors are a part of survival mechanisms that have evolved differently in every culture and in every individual. Various social, religious, political and economic influences come into play when we act out a behavior or make any assumptions or interpretations about the meaning behind the behavior of others. The brain works to make sense of the outside world and strives to adjust behavior to ensure survival.

week 1
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-01-20 11:57:22
Link to this Comment: 12132

LOTS of interesting stuff this week, thanks for ideas shared so far, happy to hear thoughts about any of it. If you need something specific to get you started, here's a few questions related to the mission we're collectively undertaking ...

Is "brain = behavior" a good story? What's problematic about it?
  • observations to date?
  • difficulties in extension to additional things?
  • implications for other stories?
Remember we're just getting started, so whatever you say is the beginnings of the conversation, not the last word.

Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-01-20 16:07:55
Link to this Comment: 12134

I'm writing my thesis about neurological damage from exposure to environmental toxins and the effects on behavior as recognized by the criminal justice system. I think acknowledging the link between the physicality of the brain and behavior is important when we talk about issues of good and evil, social deviance, cultural norms, generally why we do what we do. However, I see the error in finitely assuming that all behavior is the manifestation of chemical biological processes. Brain scans are a good example of this. In criminal trials, sometimes (if the the client had the fortune of obtaining a good lawyer) brain scans of the defendant are presented in comparison with a "normal" persons brain to show if there are dead spots of non-functionality, particularly in the frontal lobe. The prosecution these days often finds a doctor who will take a brain scan of himself, or the prosecutor, or some supposedly normal person to show that these brain scans too have a few areas of non-functionality without the exhibition of deviant behavior. Whether or not these prosecutors or doctors are latent psychos is another issue, but the point is we still do not know as much as we should about the brain OR behavior to confidently draw such a broad conclusion about their inextricable linkage.

"Scientific" approach
Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-01-20 21:59:09
Link to this Comment: 12138

I enjoyed the discussion today about a "scientific" approach and welcome the idea of the goal of science, etc. to be to “get it less wrong." In trying to define a scientific approach, I was reminded of an essay by Planck (~Meanings and limits of exact science: 1, 2) and the notion of paradigm shifts. If I understand correctly, he asserts that there is on one hand, the real and metaphysical world and then there is the world of “appearances” created by our senses, thus our picture of the world as we perceive it to be. The “real” world is hidden and not accessible because our world view/picture of the world is limited and has borders, it’s never right or absolute. The goal of science is then to expand the frame of view and get closer and closer to the real/metaphysical world. I think Planck’s example was something along the lines that Newton’s theories of physics weren’t necessarily wrong, they just weren’t sufficient enough at the time, and Einstein’s theories were more specific, explained more, and got closer to the “real” answer (=less wrong than Newton). Anyway, in short, I like the idea of “getting it less wrong” but like to think of it rather in terms of “getting it more right.” :)

As for brain=behavior, I’m not quite sure where I stand. Thinking of behavior as an emergent phenomena makes sense, but exactly which components it emerges from (just the brain? just the individual’s brain/nervous system? society? things that are just matter? or including other things that aren’t perceived as matter?, if that makes any sense) is something I'm still thinking about and don't really have enough information to seperate out.

Thoughts on brain=behavior
Name: xuan-shi,
Date: 2005-01-21 13:24:04
Link to this Comment: 12141

I am fence-sitting because part of me rejects the idea of brain=behavior, despite the "trend of evidence." Although we are beginning to realize the magnitude of influence our brain has over our behavior, there may be other stories, yet to be discovered and told, that acknowledges the power of something (some inner force or spirit) that makes us masters of our mind and body. Perhaps I am ignorant or simply prefer a less scientific story that would explain the complexity of human behavior and affirm the concept that behavior is “self”-directed (vs. brain-directed). If I refuse to eat, for example, I starve my brain of glucose. The brain is likely to send signals to the body to obtain food. However, I think I could choose to ignore these physical drives and continue to abstain from food. My behavior, if it persists, is likely to bring about chemical imbalances in the brain. What is the origin of this overriding desire not to eat, a desire that may cause me to “disobey” the brain? I feel that it is debatable whether the brain is responsible for generating the refusal to eat. I am also hesitant to commit to a position because I am not sure how consciousness/unconsciousness relate to the issue of brain=behavior.

Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-01-22 11:03:01
Link to this Comment: 12144

I tend to believe that the brain is one and the same with behavior, rather than the idea that there is a brain and also a mind/ soul that is responsible for the ways in which people behave. I think that there are basic instincts that have evolved in human brains that help maintain the most basic and important impulses, however the more advanced functions of the brain are what determines personality or behavior. This area is a little gray to me because I think that the nature vs. nurture issue can come into play depending upon the types of activities a person performs while developing.
Going back to the example of refusal to eat, I think that the brain creates the sensation of hunger to try and obtain the basic food sources that it needs, however the decision to ignore this comes from a more advanced function of the brain. For instance there could be a chemical or electrical imbalance causing a person to starve themselves due to a skewed sense of self, etc.

Brain = Behavior?
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-01-22 11:18:02
Link to this Comment: 12145

I find the notion that the brain = behavior to be interesting to the study of evolution. Does this imply that mental traits can be passed on, just as other physical genetic traits are? I think of the discussion of the Harvard President and his offering. I think that if indeed all thought is physical, to some degree (how much, I am not sure) certain brain predispostions could be passed on through evolution. Perhaps Darwin's survival of the fittest can help to account for certain behaviors in men and women (an underrepresentation of women in certain academic fields, as the Harvard President may have suggested).

This is not to say that such factors cannot (and should not) be overcome, for I think that if evolution has passed on anything that affects thought in the brain, it is only a predisposition and nothing more. But I believe that if all thought is physical, individuals whose brains natually tend towards certain behavior (say child rearing, for example) could pass those traits on more so than individuals who are not, if they are the ones who are primarily birthing consequent generations.

Another issue that I find interesting is the implications that this theory "brain=behavior" has on religion. Does this mean that if there is no mind, there is no soul? Or can a soul exist, even if all thought is physical. I am a 'fence-sitter' on this theory right now, but I think I could become more comfortable with it if it were possible to explain a soul in these terms. Perhaps it is possible to explain a soul on a metaphysical level that does not require thought to be metaphysical.

I was also wondering what the brain=behavior theory implies for the idea of free will. If thought is physical, do we have free will, or are we simply fated to respond in a chain of responses to the various stimuli that act upon us?

Common Ancestral Story
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-01-22 11:28:03
Link to this Comment: 12146

Professor Grobstein asks, "Is brain=behavior a good story? What's problematic about it?" I feel alot more comfortable now that the concept of truth has been thrown out the window and in its place we have our observations/theories/stories. Brain=behavior is a good story, but does it leave room for other stories to co-exist with it? Doesn't it seem like it's one or the other? I am searching for a story that doesn't have that effect; a story that exists in its own space without threatening to attack another story's existence.

That search can go on for ages, but I am content with not finding the answers. Sometimes it's much more fascinating to stand in awe of the body's mystery than to deconstruct it into pieces that lose their value. I have to remind myself of this statement from time to time - especially when I find myself searching for the common ancestral story which might, or might not, be the perfect story.

Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-01-22 13:08:48
Link to this Comment: 12149

I presently believe there is more to the equation than brain = behavior. As part of my psychology major, I took Learning Theory & Behavior where our discussion of behavior was limited to the observable—very much in the fashion of Skinner and other pure behaviorists. This ban on mental concepts ultimately went out of fashion in psychology and so too did behaviorism. In other classes, we have thought about behaviors as a product of both the brain and of the environment. I acknowledge the role of the brain in many of our behaviors; neurotransmitters correspond to specific functions (such as memory and mood) and may even be a code for ‘thought’. The very fact that many of our pharmaceuticals are able to affect observable behaviors adds to the trend of evidence. But I also believe there is a place for the external, for the environment, in this brain/behavior ‘code’.

A quick note about the Harvard professor’s comments on women’s brains being wired differently: we have discussed in other classes the role of the male and female hormones in sex differences in brain development. The important thing to keep in mind in any study that focuses on differences between groups (men/women, racial diff.) is that differences within a group are usually much larger than differences between said groups. Studies on racial differences in IQ scores produced similar controversy and failed to account for other differences such as nutrition, schooling, and cultural values.

Who knows?
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-01-22 14:09:52
Link to this Comment: 12151

The “brain=behavior” story is not convincing enough for me. There are still so many questions that I have unanswered that concern more than the brain controlling behavior. Descartes’ thoughts on the mind and the body being separate was at one time a very strong story. But now since we have more information about the brain and how it affects behavior, Descartes’ story is a very weak one. I think that this cycle is ongoing and that I do not yet feel that the “Brain=behavior”, even though scientific studies have supported it. Maybe it is because I believe in science combined with something more, whatever it maybe. There are many unexplainable things and to have a good story at the present time does not mean that in a couple of years it will be completely discounted.

Currently, I have no idea what to think except the obvious- the "brain=behavior" (and maybe something more), but hopefully someone can influence me otherwise.

Brain= Behavior?
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-01-22 14:35:05
Link to this Comment: 12153

This question of whether Brain=Behavior is really quite interesting. After thinking about it, I'm still unsure of the answer. We know that the brain sends signals throughout the body that affect the way we act/think, but then Patrick brought up the question: Is thought purely physical? I tend to doubt it, because this implies that thought is always an unconscious process that excludes any personal traits. If thought is purely physical, then how are humans different? Why is it that I will say/think something that you would never say/think? A large part of it comes from our different experiences. You and I have lead very different lives, met different people, and experienced different cultures. Thus, some part of our behavior must be a reflection of our life experiences. Part of me believes that our behavior is determined by something other than the physical impulses in the brain. However, one has to ask the question: Since experiences are stored in the memory, which is a function of a brain, is thought only a physical aspect which changes as the brain grows with memory?

Does brain = behavior?
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-01-22 16:52:13
Link to this Comment: 12158

I found the topic of whether science was creative from Thursday’s class to be most interesting. As a biology major, I believe that science is very creative. Most of the time I have spent in the laboratory involved troubleshooting and tweaking protocols in order to reach any conclusions. All of this tweaking and altering of procedures requires a large amount of creativity. Often times a researcher has to find new and creative ways in order to carry out the experiment, whether it requires using a different setup, a new substrate, or even altering the time in which a reaction carries out. Thus, the scientific method is just a starting template for researchers that is constantly altered for each experiment, thereby making science a creative and unique discipline.

As for the discussion whether brain=behavior, I believe that this statement is perhaps too simple. I am more inclined to think that other factors besides our brain chemistry influence how individuals behave. For example, someone raised the idea of nature vs. nurture, and I agree that environment and upbringing plays a role in determining our behavior. If an individual is predisposed (perhaps due to genetics or some alteration in the structure of the brain) to become obese, I believe that the environment in which he/she is raised will impact whether he/she actually becomes obese. Culture, location, family – all components of nurture, rather than nature – will play a role in whether the individual becomes obese. Thus, I am more inclined to believe that brain=behavior statement is one that needs to be fleshed out a bit more.

Name: kara
Date: 2005-01-22 16:56:45
Link to this Comment: 12159

On the brain = behavior argument I am inclined to believe that they are not equal. Maybe that’s because I want to believe this concept and have been taught that the human species is different from all the other species, because we can rationalize thought, and therefore control our behavior for better or worse. I think the example of people refusing to eat is a great support for the argument that brain does not equal behavior. Is refusing to eat for whatever reason not that not a denial of a physical need to survive? Everyone knows that the last thing you can do for someone with an eating disorder is to tell them to eat, it is a much more a complicated problem. People who have eating problems are concerned more with internal issues; conflicts that make them feel bad about eating or themselves. This seems like proof to me that there exists more than just the brain.

Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-22 17:04:55
Link to this Comment: 12160

I completely agree with Joanna on this one. I believe that the brain is not solely responsible for our behaviors and tendencies alone. I think that the environment and external stimuli do contribute to our actions and thoughts leading to our behaviors. Yes, the brain is responsible for sending and controlling neurotransmitters, which in the end dictate our moods and movements, but it is not only these neurotransmitters that make us who we are. Our behavior is usually predictable (abnormal psych is a whole new semester) and our behavior is unique and ours alone. No medication is labeled “for an outgoing, funny, and loving personality take 2 daily”. Something external to our brain contributes to produce the end result which is our behavior.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-01-22 18:06:02
Link to this Comment: 12161

Perhaps I am approaching this matter too simplistically, but I think that “brain=behavior” is a reasonable assessment of the relationship between the brain and human behavior. It is true that experiences and external stimuli affect behavior, but they also alter brain structure in that with each experience, a new neural pathway is created, allowing an individual to remember the event. Since people are exposed to different situations, their developed neural pathways will differ. I also feel that how a person will react to an event is not solely dependant on their past experiences, but can also de affected but their emotional state at the time. For example, an individual may react differently in a situation if they are happy than if they are anxious. Is this difference in behavior truly dependent on past experiences, or is it more of a combination of emotional state, past experience, the external environment at the time of the event, etc? Basically, I feel that the brain itself is highly complex, which accounts for the complexity of human behavior. The brain influences behavior just as behavior influences brain structure and development.

Brain = Behavior?
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-01-22 21:03:36
Link to this Comment: 12163

It is difficult to affirm the notion that brain = behavior. Although the brain plays a vital role in one's behavior, It is not the only component that creates ones behavior. Behavior manifests itself through a verity of different aspects: current environment, prior experiences, genetics (brain), and other stimuli.

If the brain is the only component that makes up behavior, then one would behave the same way given very similar situations. For example a person would eat the same way if he or she was alone, or he or she were with peers. However, many people would eat very differently in front others. Therefore, the change in atmosphere is responsible for the change in behavior, not the brain directly. In this situation, the brain only processes the new information (change in environment). Here, society has created standards for eating around others. While alone one might slurp their soup, but around others that behavior would be socially unacceptable. The brain may control the action of slurping or not slurping, but in this case society controls the brain. For this reason it is difficult for me to agree that brain = behavior.

I do see how one could reduce the brain processing new information as the brain producing the behavior itself. However, I have trouble doing so. I feel that the brain is responsible for many behaviors, but at the same time, there are so many other factors that can change one's behavior. Therefore, to say that only the brain is responsible for behavior overlooks so many social, environmental, and experiential factors that need to be discussed.

Just a thought

Brain and Behavior
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-01-22 22:41:05
Link to this Comment: 12164

Brain equals behavior seems like a good story because of the volume of scientific evidence relating the two. One of my favorite experiments linking brain and behavior is Eysenck's lemon juice demonstration, showing that extraverts salivate less than introverts when lemon juice is placed on the tongue. Such a simple experiment showing such a powerful link. However, there is much less known about the brain than unknown, so I agree that the equation brain=behavior may be too simplistic. However, I lean toward the idea that it is the complexity of the brain itself rather than some other intangible construct that allows such seeming contradictions as anorexia or suicide. The idea of a mind or soul to explain what we do not yet understand seems too easy to me.

After reading the articles on Harvard's president's comments, especially regarding differences in standardized test scores, it seems like he may have been misunderstood. The idea that differences in test scores could be related to biological differences seems fair since there is scientific evidence to support the idea that men and women use their brains differently. I think the point that may have gotten lost in the controversy is that these differences don't necessarily indicate a greater or lesser aptitude for science, but rather a greater or lesser affinity for the method of testing this aptitude, or going further, for the structure of the education system, e.g. it has been shown that women do better in single-sex math/science classes, yet most schools are co-ed.

For those unfamiliar with html, here's a good site for some basics:

Here's an interesting site on links between personality and the brain:

Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-01-23 13:48:11
Link to this Comment: 12168

I think that "brain=equals" behavior to some extent but, I do believe that there are other outside factors which greatly influence behavior in an individual. Despite the fact that there is a significant amount of data available to back this theory up, I do hold some reservations.

Just a random thought: dont flowers exhibit certain types of behavior? they move/shift depending on availability of water and sun, last time I checked they dont have brains, animals on the other hand demonstrate learned behavior and choose how to behave in a given situation... I guess brain in my opinion would then equal control over behavior ?

Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-01-23 20:03:49
Link to this Comment: 12176

Many of our objections to the proposition that the brain equals behavior is that it leaves out environmental influences. I would argue though, that environmental influences, such as social pressure to be skinny or built, affect our behavior via the brain. Brain=behavior can be true without defining the environment’s role in the equation.

For me, the question then becomes where does the relationship between brain and behavior begin? Where is the original motivation? Evidence that behavior can change brain activity makes this an interesting question. A Washington Post article I just found on brain activity and meditation says that recent studies (at the University of Wisconsin) support the observation that meditation changes brain mechanisms. ( So, it seems there is a constant interplay between brain and behavior and one affects the other. For this reason I disagree with the idea that if the brain=behavior than we would always act the same. The proposition brain=behavior does not mean that the order is simply brain to behavior, but also behavior to brain.
I agree with MK when she writes that seemingly unnatural behaviors such as anorexia and suicide are results of human (brain) complexity, not soul or mind. I would ask those who believe such behavior to be evidence of mind/soul which species have souls/minds.

Also, what about vegetarianism? Is this an unnatural behavior? Other species don’t seem to be able to choose to refrain from certain food groups.

the problem of words
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-23 21:35:18
Link to this Comment: 12178

One of the biggest problems for me in the brain and behaviour debate is the issue of what we mean between the brain and the mind and the soul and the spirit, if there is a difference. I do not know how I come down on the issue because these words almost seem inadequate to hold their meaning. Their definitions are fuzzy, which makes the issue fuzzy. It also has to do with the interplay between religion and the workings of the human body. On one level, this issue is extremely fascinating and can continue for a long while until we have all the answers of the brain. On the other hand, do we want to know everything about the brain and its functions? Are we stepping into the realm of the sacreligious, or we might one day, especially if we find an area of the brain that is the "God" area? What will it do to the human spirit to live if we know it is simply our brain sending signals that does everything in our lives? Personally, it would be very depressing to think that even the possibility of something greater was gone. So part of me does hope that it is not all brain=behaviour and some of the mystery is still left in. I hope that by the end of this course I may be more informed and will have some better ideas of why I am a fence-sitter, or even better, be persuaded to a side.

Name: Sofya Safr
Date: 2005-01-23 22:32:55
Link to this Comment: 12179

Having been the person who suggested that females overanalyze or tend to try and analyze the internal states of others more often than men do, I want to clarify what I meant. I think that many females seem to be prone to "thinking" more psychologically about WHY humans tend to do things. Although I'm happy we are discussing the Harvard incident and exploring the idea of a difference between a female's and male's brain, my comment wasn't about the idea of men scientifically proven to be smarter than women, but that we are prone (because of maternal instincts, society and evolution) to focus and analyze that which we cannot observe and things deeper than mechanism. Whether this is true or not, or makes our brains different from males, I think this would make us intelligent and philisophical.

The issue about changing our behavior by taking drugs which affect our brain is very interesting. Since we defined behavior to broadly mean something we can observe, I wonder about the effects of marijuana. Some who smoke marijuana often and become used to its effects appear to be quite normal to others who are not high. Some so called "pot-heads" or "stoners" may function quite normally on the outside, even attend class or work, study and write a paper while high. If we can't tell that someone is under the influence of marijuana by observing their behaviors, can we still say that DRUGS CHANGE BEHAVIOR?

The Brain/Behavior debate
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-01-23 22:37:42
Link to this Comment: 12180

One of the things that occured to me regarding this whole brain=behavior debate is this idea that a hypothesis cannot be proven correct. That is, our improved scientific method utilizes the negativist theory of truth; i.e. that it is only possible to prove a theory wrong, whereas no amount of supporting evidence can definitively prove something correct. This idea shapes my reaction to the brain/behavior problem. Basically, yeah, there is a lot of evidence in favor of this theory, but there was also a lot of evidence that the world was flat. Perhaps we are just waiting for a modern-day Pythagoras or Magellan to prove us all wrong.

First Thoughts
Name: Erin Deter
Date: 2005-01-23 23:20:17
Link to this Comment: 12181

As a psychology major and NBS concentrator, I have learned a lot about the technical side of the brain, ie neurons and how they function, as well as the cognitive functions of the brain. With that being said, I am looking forward to exploring the more philosophical side of what brain and behavior is.

I do believe that the brain=behavior based on what I have previously learned. It seems only logical to me that something that can control our bodily movements, respond to external stimuli and contingencies, and can rob a person of who they are, ie Alzheimer's disease, indicates for me that the brain and behavior are one in the same. I also tend to look towards the evidence that exists in the field, such as drugs being able to alter behavior.

While I am pretty confident that this is what I believe, I am open to considering other ideas. For instance, one thing about the brain that constantly amazes me is that it can turn simple electrical and chemical input into elaborate and coherent output, such as thought. Maybe there is more to the brain than the technicalities of how it functions...

I am looking forward to hearing other people's input so that I can think about, and perhaps rethink, what I believe.

evolutionary approach to men vs women
Name: Liz Bitler
Date: 2005-01-24 01:35:49
Link to this Comment: 12182

As far as the brain=behavior idea goes, the scientific approach really appeals to me. I have always been a fan of math in the sense that there is a format that can be applied to arrive at an answer. I realize, however, that this is very different in the context of science. I know that we have not at this point reached any definitive conclusions (despite what some people may believe) and I appreciate the fact that people are constantly questioning commonly held beliefs, which in some instances results in furthering knowledge of a topic.

This said, I tend to associate more strongly with the biological explanations of the brain and its impact on behavior. It makes a great deal of sense to me that the behaviors that enable a species better able to reproduce and create offspring better suited to their environment to pass on their genes to the next generation in much the same way as physical characteristics. An example of this would be animals (including humans) and their specific mating rituals. The insect that has a more impressive mating dance (or other behaviors that lead to reproduction) is more likely to have offspring.

I was not at all offended by the proposition that males or females may be better suited for particular professions or social roles. The benefits of behaviors that would result in such can be traced back to prehistoric man and hunting/gathering societies. Biologically the human species benefited from males being better adapted to go out and hunt for food (i.e. work) during the day while women stayed in a safer location (i.e. home) and protected the offspring. This doesn't mean that all men are better suited than all women to work a 9-5 job. Certainly there are some women who are more than capable of handling such and there are some men very poorly suited to do such. However it makes sense that, in general, more men would be better suited as a result of their biological capabilities to be professors at an institution such as Harvard. If a woman wants to be a professor as opposed to a house wife, I would encourage her to do so, as such a desire would enable her to put in whatever extra effort is needed to account for the physical differences. And as ideas about social roles continue to chance over the next hundreds of year, the biological adaptations that were once beneficial may no longer be present in a population that has no need for them.

Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-01-24 10:22:24
Link to this Comment: 12185

Many of our objections to the proposition that the brain equals behavior is that it leaves out environmental influences. I would argue though, that environmental influences, such as social pressure to be skinny or built, affect our behavior via the brain. Brain=behavior can be true without defining the environment’s role in the equation.

For me, the question then becomes where does the relationship between brain and behavior begin? Where is the original motivation? Evidence that behavior can change brain activity makes this an interesting question. A Washington Post article I just found on brain activity and meditation says that recent studies (at the University of Wisconsin) support the observation that meditation changes brain mechanisms. ( So, it seems there is a constant interplay between brain and behavior and one affects the other. For this reason I disagree with the idea that if the brain=behavior than we would always act the same. The proposition brain=behavior does not mean that the order is simply brain to behavior, but also behavior to brain.

I agree with MK when she writes that seemingly unnatural behaviors such as anorexia and suicide are results of human (brain) complexity, not soul or mind. I would ask those who believe such behavior to be evidence of mind/soul which species have souls/minds.

Also, what about vegetarianism? Is this an unnatural behavior? Other species don’t seem to be able to choose to refrain from certain food groups.

brain vs. behavior
Name: Leslie Ben
Date: 2005-01-24 11:43:12
Link to this Comment: 12186

Brain versus behavior is a very complicated debate. Without fully defining what the intended definitions for what we are to believe the brain is and what we are to consider the soul is; the lines become heavily blurred. As intellectuals and students we constantly question what we are told to believe so for most of us we’re still attempting to figure things out. Most of have deduced that there must be some difference between brain and behavior because we’ve been actively dialoguing on the subject. But is there such a difference, for say, a high school graduate who works in a coal mine and who isn’t actively talking about brain vs. behavior? If not everyone is able to see how the brain/soul could be independent of each other is there really a divide? I tend to think that when a question arises that a great portion of the population needs to believe in its theories before it’s possibly “more right”. Coming from the viewpoint of an anthropologist I wonder how other cultures and people think about such topics.

While discussing the comments of Harvard’s president it reminded me of similar comments made by Newt Gingrich. I don’t remember the exact quote and was unable to find a decent summary of what happened online but the basic story is still the same. Gingrich commented on how women were unfit for battle because they couldn’t live in trenches for more than 30 days because of “infections”. Typically for me at least, I always equated not being able to withstand battle as a psychological issue not purely a biological one. I realize that Gingrich also probably said a score of other things on the issue and that women getting infections wasn’t his only point but it was still interesting to note how Gingrich saw the body as being a greater force than the brain. I’m just throwing this out there because Kara’s post made me think about it in relation to this quote but would a woman who has an eating disorder and no longer has her period – would she be more accepted into battle since she has overcome her bodily weakness (i.e. her monthly period)? Just something to think about…

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-01-24 17:14:52
Link to this Comment: 12210

I don't believe brain=behavior; mostly because I have a very strong belief in the soul. I think C.S. Lewis had a quote that went something like, "You don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body." I think this might not be exactly how I feel, because I am also very science-minded, but it is much closer to my beliefs than DesCartes theory that mind and body are separate. I think the mind, body are slightly different, but it is too strong a detachment to say that they are completely disconnected. Maybe the mind is sort of the connection between the soul and the body? At least when it comes to making good/bad decisions.
External stimuli have to have some sort of impact. I guess I'm confused because it's the mind that recognizes and reacts to this stimuli, so it's hard to say if they cause pre-determined chemical reactions, or if free-will is involved. I am all for the free-will option, but sometimes I think the hard-core scientific theory is plausible. Who knows?

Name: Rhianon
Date: 2005-01-24 20:33:24
Link to this Comment: 12213

I think we've all agreed that brain and behavior are undeniably linked. Changes in the brain can change a person's behavior, experiences change neural pathways in the brain which may be the cause of future behaviors, etc, etc, etc. Above and beyond basic functions, we act in ways based on previous experiences, based on things we've learned. What I wonder is about the differences in behaviors of small children, those who may have not yet had life experiences that may determine future behavior. What causes the differences in the behavior of these small children? Are their brains wired in different ways to determine their personalities? I think it would be interesting to do some sort of brain scan on infants or toddlers and compare the similarities, and then scan the same individuals later in life and then compare both similarities in the scans and in personality type/behavior, based on some other sort of ranking system. There would probably be too many variables in that, all those life experience things, but, ideally, I think it'd be interesting.
So, in short, brain=behavior to some extent, I believe, but I can't/don't want to accept it as the only determinant. It's comforting and pretty to believe in a soul, so I'll keep on doing that.

Brain -> Behavior ?
Name: Christine
Date: 2005-01-24 23:29:25
Link to this Comment: 12216

I would agree that the brain and behavior are connected. To say that brain=behavior though is a little difficult to fathom. When it comes to one celled organisms who don't have a "brain", I would still say that they behave. Of course, maybe we can think of the nucleus as the brain in this case, but it doesn't seem to have the same properties as a literal brain. Also, plants don't seem to have one central place that tells them what to do, and yet we watch them "behave" in some ways when they shy away from the sun or when they react to a stimulus. So, I would ask whether an organism needs a brain in order to behave in the way that we are talking about it. I would instead say that brain -> behavior, because the brain and behavior may not be the same thing in some organisms.

Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-01-25 00:21:57
Link to this Comment: 12217

I also believe that brain and behavior are interconnected. Our actions are dictated by cognitive functions and as Kate mentioned our actions can directly affect the brain. Today in “Stress Management” we discussed the topic of cognitive behaviorism. The field of cognitive behaviorism stresses the importance of changing recurrent thought patterns to alter the anxiety response. By replacing negative thoughts and associations with positive or more realistic thoughts, we can change/eradicate physiological responses to stress. If we are able to reduce stress levels then we will behave and function differently. I think this phenomenon illustrates that brain and behavior are closely linked. I am also interested in learning which parts of the brain control which types of behaviors/functions. For example, when a person suffers a stroke their speech, mobility and personality can be affected, depending upon the location of the brain damage.

Name: Amanda Dav
Date: 2005-01-25 08:46:42
Link to this Comment: 12219

Beacause of the evidence to support the statement that the brain equals behavior and there is nothing else, I, at the moment, agree with it. I do not think this rules out the possibility of a soul however. I am not convinced at present to whether there is or is not a soul. I would like there to be. This does not cause me to sit on the fence however, because I think it's quite possible that the soul is an immaterial thing that cannot be measured or detected. I also think that our behavior is a result of goings on in the brain and the soul may be somehow intertwined with it.

chutes and ladders
Name: Cam
Date: 2005-01-25 09:14:35
Link to this Comment: 12220

Although I do believe that there is a strong link between the physical makeup of the brain and behavior, I am still not totally convinced that the concept of brain = behavior is absolute. Like a few other people have written in their postings, I just feel like the idea that an individual’s behavior is a direct result of chemical reactions within the brain could suggest that all of our reactions to specific situations are pre-determined, and I just don’t know if we really are that predictable. Would “we” then have complete control over our actions? Or is the self-control that we would all like to believe we possess in one way or another just another chemical process in the brain? Either way, I am still not wholly comfortable with the idea from either perspective.

In response to the Harvard president’s remarks – although his words might have been taken out of context, the debate he sparked with whatever he said is a real one. And in considering the validity of his remarks – that women are underrepresented in sciences because they are women – I just cannot ignore the social forces that also affect representation of any "group" in academia and in basically all aspects of life. Our individual behavior is not always the only determinant of our success (there are social barriers that are still very real), and I just think that there still exists this pervasive idea that women are less capable than men in certain fields, such as math & science. Sure, evolution might play a role in designating women the caregivers, etc. but what about women who either don’t want to have children or cannot – are they less female? And then would they succeed more in academic pursuits (such as math & science) than men? I just think it is important to look at the power structures that are in play in institutions such as Harvard as at least a factor – I don't think it is something we can ignore.

Anyway, here’s an interesting article from the New York Times that basically summarizes the debate but also provides some social data from an experiment conducted at Princeton. Students were less likely to choose a female candidate for an engineering position when that woman was identified as female (there are more examples that both support and undermine the whole gender question). (

Name: Nadia Khan
Date: 2005-01-25 13:30:54
Link to this Comment: 12222

It seems mechanistic to attribute all behavior, emotion and opinion to a mere chemical and physical construct. What about the concept of soul, moreover, what about the concept of the personality. It's easy to say that personality is caused by unit differences in brain structure and format in each individual and while it seems logical to me, I cannot accept it on a moral standing. But what is it that helps us differentiate between likes and dislikes in accordance with each individual's palate. IS that also something enforced by the brain in a purely chemical sense?

Free Will?
Name: Sam Thomso
Date: 2005-01-25 15:34:22
Link to this Comment: 12223

I keep going back to Patrick's post on 1/22, " we have free will, or are we simply fated to respond in a chain of responses to the various stimuli that act upon us?"

As we learned through experimental evidence, a particular external input is not necessary in order to generate a particular output from the brain; the brain, itself, can generate these outputs void of any external influence. My question is: Where do these chains of stimuli originate if not from an external source? In other words, Why did the cricket chirp even though there were no females in sight?

In response, or should I say "in output", to Patrick's post...
I believe that free will, or even spiritual influence, is present at the orgin of these internally controlled chains of stimuli. If not free will, then what is in control?

Input and Output
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-01-25 20:57:42
Link to this Comment: 12227

I don’t think that we have free will because free will is just a thought or a concept that the brain makes up in order to satisfy our desire to believe that we do have free will. I believe that we act a certain way because our brains are shaped by the environment and also programmed by our genes to response in a chain of inputs and outputs. Thus, I feel that the boxes inside boxes (with “autonomy”) model is lacking a certain element. Input A will lead to either output A, B, C, or D, but these outputs can also become inputs to the brain and produce various types of other outputs.
Does size really matter? Bigger brain = more complex and rational behaviors? An elephant’s brain is bigger than a human’s brain, and so one might assumes that the elephant’s brain has a greater network of neurons that converge and diverge. If behaviors are produced by this network, why isn’t that the elephants show greater behaviors than human beings?

Thoughts on the Brain's Behavior
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-01-25 23:58:58
Link to this Comment: 12229

As I was thinking about what comment to write, I stumbled across a quote by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 - 1881), a Russian novelist, who said: "It is not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them—the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas." During last Thursday's lecture, we briefly touched upon whether or not our brains controlled our behavior. Some believe that the brain doesn't control our beings/character, rather our personalities and characters distinguish us in every way. As of now, I believe that it is the uniqueness of every individual's brain that causes him/her to have or display a certain character and personality. (and that our brains develop our "generous qualities.") There has also always been the question of distinguishing the "nature/nurture" principle behind neuro-biology to examine whether nature or nurture affects the developing brain more, and in what ways or to which degrees. Do the varying levels of nature/nurture cause some people to develop certain regions of their brain more than others, or cause them to become different people? I hope other people give some insight into this, and hopefully we will touch upon this more in class..!

right or wrong
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2005-01-26 08:28:18
Link to this Comment: 12233

During the lecture yesterday I was thinking about the idea of being right and why so many of us have such a hard time with the idea of being wrong. It occurred to me that for most of us being right has been the only thing we have ever known. From the time we are small children teachers, our parents, and the world around us probes us for the right answer. In most schools if you are wrong then you do badly, or even worse, you fail. This classroom is made up of a group of overachievers, a group of students who always did the "right thing." Being wrong was never an acceptable way to achieve success. I like the idea of being wrong as a way to learn. I think that the process is always more important than the end result, but as a science major the process in the end isn't always what is the most important. The focus still seems to be on the answer.

modeling the nervous system
Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-01-26 15:55:27
Link to this Comment: 12243

After the lecture about how the nervous system works, I started to think about how the nervous system varies for different organisms. Male crickets can choose whether to chirp or not. So given input A, the outputs are A, B or C. Crickets have less complex nervous system than we do but their behavior can also be explained by this input and output model. I think there must be something more to the human nervous system though than just the boxes within a box model. Or could the behavior of more complex organisms be explained by adding more boxes?

free will vs mind's will
Name: Liz Bitler
Date: 2005-01-26 17:37:46
Link to this Comment: 12258

I've been thinking about the concept of free will a lot since Tuesday, too. I really think that the mind has the ability to enable us to make choices. I agree with what someone mentioned in class: that in this way we can over-ride our physical desires (to return to the example of eating, the sensation of being hungry that has developed for survival purposes) consciously by accessing another region of the mind. However, making decisions is still a process of the mind. And while I'm open to different ideas about the mind, I still view it as a logical system that leads to particular outputs. I think that there are an infinite number of possible outputs, but that they become limited by previous experiences and inputs. I realized this when the example of the pen was used in class. When Patrick (I think) pointed out that he had the decision as to whether or not he wanted to drop the pen, he was right. He did have the ability to make that decision either way he wanted. But I realized that had I been in that situation I would have chosen not to drop the pen. Our brain has the ability to make decisions, but if we truly had free will, no decisions would ever be made at all. Our minds assess the situation and decides which possible output would be the best in that situation. Maybe it’s the output that is more fun, or enjoyable, or even more upsetting, but based on the situation and situations before it, the mind makes a decision.

Nature/Nurture Debate
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-01-26 18:11:45
Link to this Comment: 12259

In response to a previous post about last Thursday's lecture, "Whether or not brains control our behavior," I do not think the issue is so much that varying levels of nature/nurture cause some people to develop certain regions of their brain more than others, but more specifically that one unique quality of the human brain is that it is able to develop, and this ability is the cause of differences in people. Genetic make-up may have already decided what effect 'nurture' will have on a human being. Perhaps some are more inclined to seek out certain experiences in certain environments that advance their unique qualities/characteristics, which implies that nature has pre-determined what effect nurture will have on a human being. There may not be varying levels of nature/nurture, but rather an equalized level of nature amongst all humans which influences the level/effect of nurture. If nature is guiding our actions then the advancement of genetics may someday allow us to grant life to humans who possess the qualities that are desired, which then sparks the debate over the definition of 'desired'.

Free Will
Name: Lily Yoon
Date: 2005-01-26 23:54:01
Link to this Comment: 12261

I am not exactly an expert in animals and their behavior, but I would like to discuss the notion of instinct. When it is time for a male cricket to mate, instinctively he will do what is needed to beat out his competition by probably chirping as loud as he possibly can. I wonder, however, whether the cricket can get up one morning and decide "you know what, today I don't really feel like chirping, therefore I won't." Does he have the free will to take action against his natural instincts? I would guess that this is not very common. So does this support the idea against free will?
I don't think so. I think human beings are much more complex than that. As much as we would like to understand specific inputs and all its possible outputs, we are just too complex for that. No matter how much we would like to think that we have thoroughly begun to understand input-output, that at times "an animal will do what he damn well pleases." If some animals can boggle the minds of so many scientists with their spontaneous unpredictibility, how much more complex can the mind of a human be?

Brain, behavior, the environment, and predictabili
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-27 00:36:36
Link to this Comment: 12262

Brain = Behavior:
If brain=behavior, one student in class said that there'd be a predictability in everything. Another student said that the equation would leave no room for the environment's effect. I, an advocate thus far for the brain=behavior theory, disagree. I feel that everything about the environment is a stimulus...and that stimulus enters the brain, and interacts with the brain's current structure. The brain is constantly making new connections and thus, is constantly having the environmental input change it. This brain=behavior theory DOES leave room for the environment. The environment is a mediator.
Going back to the predictability arguement....As soon as you factor in the environment to the brain=behavior theory, everything becomes unpredictable. It's hard to explain why exactly but in my mind it makes sense to think of it as a math equation that has so many possibilities that it is equal to infinity. The brains' many different and changing "networks" are like this and can constantly change so that one path does not lead to a predictable outcome.

Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-01-27 01:12:46
Link to this Comment: 12263

I think that the brain is directly related to behavior but they are not necessarily the same. One demonstration of this relation is drugs. When taken, they effect chemicals produced by the brain in a certain manner, which then react differently causing a certain physical reaction. I guess I am "fence-sitting" for the most part because I strongly believe in science and logical explanations for things. However, I also believe that because I only know a very small amount on the topic, my opinion is bound to change as my knowledge grows.

Different people, different brains
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-01-27 01:20:52
Link to this Comment: 12264

Professor Grobstein brought up the notion that different people may have different brains. My immediate reaction was one of concern regarding the implications of such a vague and general statement. Specifically, issues of racialization came to mind—-people of different “racial” or “ethnic” backgrounds have different brains; thus, if you believe all behavior and morality take root in the brain, differently created or evolved brains amongst different groups of people account for innate distinctions and natural dispositions. Thus, some people are born “deviants” or “savage” while others are programmed to function “morally” and “lawfully.” This vein of thought feeds into early racial theories of American Indians and peoples of African descent. Early white settlers of the United States believed American Indians to be of the some physical matter as Europeans, while Africans were of an entirely different sort all together. Thus, American Indians could be “refined” with culture, while there was no hope of such “civilization” in African people. Such racist theory has long been discredited, but I think there is a point in noting distinctions between parts of people’s brains. I read a Time magazine article awhie back that analyzed the brains of drug addicts and found similar patterns of brain damage. The name of the particular region slips my mind now, but it involved impulse control, and in all the drug addicts, it was observed to be damaged. Thus, if a person frequently relapsed into drug abuse, it was not necessarily an issue of weak will or bad morals. Rather, the person’s brain had physically and chemically changed in such a way that despite external factors promoting one sort of behavior, the person’s brain insisted upon another behavior.

Floating Ideas
Name: Sophia Lou
Date: 2005-01-27 02:33:32
Link to this Comment: 12265

After our last two lectures I am consumed by the following ideas and don’t have a definite argument:

Separation between the mind and our body?

Are brains of different people different?

Altering the nervous system- can alter behavior-vice versa?

Behavior is fluid so the brain changes?

Diff between male and female brains?
So, I am still battling the notion of whether or not our behavior is contingent to the brain’s functions. Since Neurobiology is a social process, I cannot help but to feel that our behavior should depend on our brain’s functions. After all, our functions are responses to external stimuli right? In that case, I don’t see why the dualistic theory should be rejected. I think that behavior can be altered by the nervous system and how messages are transmitted throughout the body. Now…I don’t think that this has to mean that our brain physically changes, but there may be changes in the transmission of messages. I guess what I am getting at is that certain things are socially constructed, like Identity. One’s identity creation is influence by religion, culture…and this is manifested in our behavior. I read this interesting article on a study on male Midshipman fish “Study: Male fish behavior and brain changes linked by key chemical”. The article was found in Cornell’s Scientific Newsletter in February 1999, and the researchers were from Cornell and UCLA. “Now a study by biologists at Cornell and the University of California at Los Angeles has found a chemical difference between the singers and the sneakers. High levels of an enzyme called aromatase chemically convert testosterone into estrogen and may prompt profound changes in the brain circuitry and behavior of nonsingers”. As the fish becomes sexually mature they can either become a singer or a sneaker. The singers “court” the females while the sneaker males cannot function in the same way, but still mate. Aromatase affects the ratio of testosterone to estrogen in the brains of these fish and this is what turns the fish into either singers or sneakers.The biologists report their findings in the current Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B (Vol. 265, Issue 1415). The article states that aromatase has something to do with developing neural structure and function.” When we find three- to five-fold higher levels of aromatase in adult fish that turned out to be sneaker males, this tells us that the enzyme may be important for the development of different brain circuits and behavior among members of one sex of any species, including our own, However, the reason for differing levels of enzyme activity is still a mystery”. That’s enough rambling from me for now....

Harvard President's Comments
Name: Christine
Date: 2005-01-27 03:14:59
Link to this Comment: 12266

About the Harvard President's comments, I would guess that his comments were probably taken out of context to some extent, and the problem was probably more with the way that he said it rather than what he said. I would be more inclinded to think about his idea of male/female "programming" by first examining what we know:
1. Women are not as represented in science and technology as men.
2. Women and men are "different" anatomically and chemically.
He was probably trying to say that since we know these two things to be true, it is possible that we could suggest that perhaps the second one causes the first one. Of course, we could only learn more about the validity of this correlation through research. Perhaps the Harvard President suggested his idea "matter-of-factly", rather than as something that should be looked into.
Another thing you could suggest is that the biological differences between males and females have caused them to take on different roles in life, with females tending to be more nurturing toward offspring. If we look at the various organisms of the world, it seems that many of them follow the same "pattern" with respect to the roles of males and females. Since so many organisms behave similarly, it is likely that it is not just our human societies which tell us how to behave, but also our "natural instincts". If we say that perhaps science is one of these things which men and women have evolved different affities for, then "the likelihood that one will want to make a discovery" could be just as programmable as "the likelihood that one will want to care for children". I think that the ideas that the Harvard President brought up should be explored so that we might learn more about why we do the things we do.

Free will?
Date: 2005-01-27 08:39:08
Link to this Comment: 12268

The discussion of the existence of free will during class on 1/25 really caught my interest. Previously I would have thought of myself as possessing some sort of free will that enabled me to make decisions and act upon my own unique thoughts and desires. However, the more I analyze this concept, the less convinced I am of the existence of free will. Looking at the example of a computer, even the most complicated problems and calculations can be broken down into a series of yes or no questions which the computer can continue to answer for an infinite period of time until the final answer is reached. I think that ulitimately, this mechanical mehod is also how the human brain works, however, we have adapted somewhat to store memories that already answer some of these most basic questions. Because of this, the entire process is streamlined to make for a less tedious process since humans do not possess the ability to work continuously without tiring as a computer does. So I think that ulitmately even the most basic decisions such as making a sandwich for lunch consist of a series of smaller questions that our brains automatically answer without us realizing that it has taken place. For instance someone that does not like mustard will never think about putting mustard on a sandwich, whereas a computer must still think about this “problem” when coming to the final answer. If this theory is true, then no free will truly exists because the brain is constantly analyzing and deciding things without our knowledge.

Right or Wrong
Name: amy johnso
Date: 2005-01-27 16:59:42
Link to this Comment: 12275

One of the reasons I have always like math and decided to major in it is because there was always a right or a wrong answer, there was never a "to some extent." But I think one of the reasons I always strived to find either a right or wrong answer is because I was brought up in and educational system where even in English class if an answer was not exactly what the teacher wanted you were wrong(I was wrong a lot during those classes). But to know that you want us to be wrong and want us to to be wrong a lot is somewhat comforting because even in classes where teachers have wanted students to be wrong when they do give a wrong answer they feel stupid. Only one other time have I taken a course where the professor liked when his students gave wrong answers, and it was a great course. So i think it is interesting that in a course where on the surface things seem like they should be cut and dry, right and wrong thats not the way it is.

Free will and neurons
Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-01-27 19:49:26
Link to this Comment: 12277

I agree with Lauren about the free will issue, especially in light of today’s lecture about the impact of the arrangement of neurons on our individual nervous systems and, consequently, our behavior. If any changes take place that affect the arrangement of our neurons, who we are and how we function will be directly impacted and our “free will” changes to a different “free will” based on these new arrangements.

week 2
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-01-27 20:20:07
Link to this Comment: 12278

Things seemed a little ... quiet ... in class today. Perhaps because the magnitude of the task we have (collectively) undertaken is beginning to become clear? If it is so (as current observations suggest) that the nervous system is neurons, and the difference between us and frogs is the particular assembly ("architecture") with which they are put together ("interconnected"), does that make the "brain=behavior" notion more or less ... appealing/attractive? more or less a "good story"?).

On the one hand, it sounds awfully "mechanical". On the other, there are a LOT of neurons. And so lots of things that could result, and lots of things that could happen that one might not expect. Particularly if what happens isn't JUST a result of input but also influenced by what the neurons can/do do for reasons in addition to what they get as inputs.

You're welcome, as always, to write about whatever intrigued you this week. But, if you're stuck, an interesting thing to write about could be what changes this week's class discussions did (or didn't) make in how you originally thought about the question of "brain=behavior?" and why?

Looking forward, as always, to seeing where our converations goes, and what comes of that.

Free Will
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-01-27 20:43:44
Link to this Comment: 12279

There has been some really interesting discussion regarding 'free will' on the forum. Two things:

If 'free will' is really an imagined concept, and our behavior is really just a consequence of neuronal arrangment, then where did the concept come from? I imagine that religion, and the idea that we will be held accountable for our actions, is much more believable if we have 'free will'. So maybe religion created the concept... Or maybe the governing power -- it's hard to jail someone for, say, murder if their behavior is really a consequence of neuronal arrangment.

This leads to my other concern -- if nervous system = behavior, and 'free will' is an imagined concept, then should we be held accountable for our actions? If I refuse to come to class and refuse to do my work, is it because I CHOOSE not to, or is my brain doing the choosing for me? Is the true "me" (my mind, soul...whatever you want to call it) being held hostage by my nervous system? Is there even a true "me", or is that also an imagined concept?

Maybe we do have 'free will', and when we choose to behave in a certain way it becomes translated into a series of neuronal rearrangments... Or maybe not.

I just think that negating 'free will' will result in devastating consequences.

Date: 2005-01-27 20:56:16
Link to this Comment: 12280

Free Will: Why is "I" Separate from the Brain?
Name: Rhianon
Date: 2005-01-27 22:39:26
Link to this Comment: 12282

Lauren said in her message " free will truly exists because the brain is constantly analyzing and deciding things without our knowledge."
A lot of people seem to be questioning whether or not humans have free will based on the fact that they are questioning exactly how much the human brain dictates human behavior. "If the brain is dictating my behavior, then I have no free will; I am slave to the decisiions my brain makes," people seem to be saying. However, this view is based on the idea that a person's self is separate from the brain. If the case truly is that the brain dictates not only our behaviors, but our personalities, does that not then necessitate that "I" is not some incorporeal being trapped/enslaved in a meat cage, but, rather, "I" is the brain? If the brain is responsible for my personality and behavior and relations, then the brain, it seems to me, *is* me. Why is there a separation of self from brain? Whether it is the brain doing the choosing or the soul (which may arguably not exist based on such a premise), it is still you; it is still your self.
It seems to me that people are having this problem with believing in free will based on their definition of self, which they have never before questioned. I am not trying to find fault with this such a dilemma, just trying to explain how I(/my brain) am(/is) currently making sense of this issue.

Name: Sofya Safr
Date: 2005-01-28 11:49:50
Link to this Comment: 12288

So, do plants behave? Well, we know that plants grow, are suppressed, behave certain ways in their given environment such as turning their leaves towards the sun and catching insects. Humans also grow, die, eat to survive, dress appropriately when it is cold or hot. Of course, humans are of a higher evolution, so we cry, laugh, go on diets, etc. etc. This leads me to think about vertebraes and the nervous system. What does this say about the difference between "bigger" and "smaller" brains? Fish have much smaller nervous system. Obviously, humans are more complicated. Size is important. Humans have many more functions to fulfill in their environment and society, while those with smaller, less complicated and evolved brains do not. I come to the conclusion that more intelligent species need bigger nervous sysmtems. More importantly, what about the structure of the brain? Are two brains equal in size equal in structure? How is it some people are more intelligent than others? I don't know much about the brain and anatomy, but I think society, environment- how a child is raised and taught has everything to do with that.

Thursday's class
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-01-28 17:24:50
Link to this Comment: 12293

Re:Safro >>
If I recall correctly, there is a small correlation between brain size and intelligence in humans, having adjusted for body weight differences. I think the size of an organism’s brain may be correlated with its body weight/size as well. Whales have larger brains than humans but does that mean they are more evolved or that they have higher intelligence compared to other animals?

I thought more about the comments made by the Harvard President about gender differences. By innate differences between the sexes, he probably meant the influence of evolutionary forces shaping the male and female brain. Since experience is likely to bring about changes in the brain as well, is it possible for the process of socialization to leave a greater impact on the brain’s neuronal networks, thereby influencing behavior?

Thursday’s lecture left me with more questions. We learned that neurons take in and send information but it is difficult to conceive how this form of "information" is translated into thoughts (words and images) we possess. I have difficulty accepting that it is neuronal activity or proteins/genes that creates the richness of our mental life. The nervous system appears to have a simple, basic structure and scientists are suggesting that it is responsible for all of human behavior. I understand that the number and arrangement of neurons, as well as communication between neurons, can give rise to a variety of behaviors. However, the concept of complex patterns arising out of the interaction of simple elements becomes hard to comprehend, considering the mental faculties possessed by humans.

I can’t help feeling that there is something more, something still missing in this story that is deconstructing the mystique of man’s inner life and destroying the belief of man having a purpose on Earth. The brain=behavior model made me wonder (for a week) whether God is simply another concept in our mind. Should we then exalt the brain above "God"? This inward focus on the powers of the brain which resides in the human body seems to belittle everything else. That is, in a strange way, it makes me feel alienated from nature; my notion of nature being associated with something larger than life, with spirituality.

It would be interesting to hear from the Religion majors...

free will?
Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-28 22:08:18
Link to this Comment: 12296

I would love to believe that free will does partially exist. We as individuals are based on our own unique binary coding for which there are millions of different possibilities and patterns. Our brains put external and internal stimuli together to which we react. To a point I believe that we are not simply a puppets, and do have some amount of control over our thoughts and environments. Our bodies do have checks and balances to what we do and think about. Take the issue of death…Death and the thought of death produce so much anxiety that the brain will not allow us full comprehension. We spoke about the terror management theory in social psychology, and how the brain pushes all harsh thoughts about death into our distal subconscious. If we are able to comprehend death, severe anxiety occurs and the buffer did not work. If one is experiencing severe pain due to an accident or near death experience, the brain releases endorphins, which are more powerful than heroin and morphine to “ease” the pain we were experiencing. Near death accounts often confirm that pain and memory of the incident is often unaccounted for when one tries to relive the incident. Often when we find ourselves in high stress situations such as public speaking our sympathetic nervous system reacts, making our blood vessels constrict, our skeletal muscles activate, our heart beats faster, our respiratory passage and pupils dilate, and by making our salivary glands, intestines, and bladder become inhibited.

Again, I would love to think that we have some kind of free will because it is terrifying to think that we do not. There have been studies that assess whether or not one can determine the personality and predisposition of an adult at infancy. I find these studies difficult to believe. I think experience and external stimuli are as much a factor as genetic makeup. Free will, for my sake of mind, must exist somewhere to determine who we are and what we do. Finding a place where it does exist is difficult, but I believe it does. I think that we express it in our lives, but that our brains are a more powerful entity that can override our free will impulses with neurotransmitters and other buffers.

Social Constructs
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-01-29 12:50:38
Link to this Comment: 12307

The discussion on free will has been very interesting and my position on the brain = behavior debate has altered somewhat because of it. Free will is quite possibly a social construct. As Aia mentioned, religion or government may have shaped our concept of free will. The individualistic orientation of the United States might be threatened if it turns out that our behaviors and choices are controlled by the interactions in the brain. This claim reduces our sense of agency and seems incompatible with the culture which frames each individual as unique. Even some of my classes here at Bryn Mawr have helped to construct my concept of free will.

I originally voted in class that Emily Dickinson “got it wrong” and that there is more to the story than brain = behavior. While I am still inclined to vote this way, I recognize where my reluctance to agree that brain = behavior is coming from: I do not want to give up on the 'hope' that I am more than the sum of my parts (brain + environment) and that I am somehow still unique and still in the driver’s seat, so to speak.

Does accepting the brain’s role in behavior necessarily mean conceding on the free will/self-control front? Are individual differences no more than differences between the brains of individuals?

Neurons, the Brain and behavior
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-01-29 16:12:35
Link to this Comment: 12310

Over the past two lectures, I found the most interesting topic to be the discussion concerning the organization and architecture of neurons. At first it was hard for me to understand and accept the concept that two organisms are different because of the way in which their neurons are assembled. However, as brought up in the forum by Professor Grobstein, when you consider the number of neurons that are present in these organisms and the variety of ways they can interact, the idea seems to make more sense to me. Therefore, while the assembly seems to play an important role, perhaps the communication or interactions between these neurons is also crucial in determining the differences between, for example, a human and a frog. I believe that the relationship between these cells will determine the structure and function of the tissue as a whole, in conjunction with the way in which the cells are organized.

After thinking about this, I do believe now that brain really might equal behavior. The interactions between neurons will then elicit particular behaviors within organisms. Therefore, the brain will dictate to an individual a particular way to act and/or feel. However, then the question of free will comes in. Why are some individuals able to suppress urges that are caused by interactions or reactions in the brain, while others are not able to exercise free will? For example, if two individuals are predisposed to commit some sort of crime as evidenced by their brain chemistry, what makes one individual more apt to follow through on these urges than the other individual? I do not have the answer to this, but this question definitely makes me think more about what kind of a role environment plays in determining behavior. And can the environment override brain chemistry? Which factor plays the most important part? These are questions that I am left to think about after reading other entries on the forum.

brain free will
Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-01-30 12:00:29
Link to this Comment: 12322

Although last weeks class provided us with more “evidence” as so how realistic the brain=behavior story I still have my doubts and I have a feeling that this topic can be debated endlessly. In many ways it makes sense, our brain physically looks and functions in ways that support this theory, but when we start talking about free-will and how everything we do could possibly be controlled by our brains, how our actions are just simple reactions to stimuli. Our lives then begin to almost look like a domino effect, all very mechanical, and I am left wondering what is the point and is there some sort of greater power that controls all of our brains? With all that said I am still not convinced even with all the evidence part of me knows that there is more to living than the messages my brain sends, even if this fact/feeling/notion can not be scientifically proven.

neurons and plants
Name: Kara
Date: 2005-01-30 12:24:03
Link to this Comment: 12323

On the topic of neurons, this week was the first time anyone ever explicitly said/explained that the reason our behavior differs from frogs or other vertebrates, or animals is because our neurons are arranged differently. This was a concept I never really thought about, but it does not strike me as odd or really out there. It makes sense that all living things “boil down” to the same components, such as having neuron cells, and the only thing that separates us is their arrangement. This type of thinking can hopefully lead humans to understanding why we behave like other animals or why they behavior like us, because we all made of the same things.
On the topic of plants, they have in a sense, a type of nervous systems, or at least mechanisms for interacting with their environments, even though we might not be able to see it or notice the motions. However, I would still say that in plants “brain”/ nervous system = behavior. Maybe that opinion is me disregarding plants behavior because I think they are a simpler organism and are incapable of interactions like humans. But hey, some people claim talking to plants help them grow, they might need positive reinforcement just like we do, or maybe there is other scientific reasoning for why talking might help plants grow. however I have never been able to hurt a plants feelings…

brain vs. free will?
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-01-30 14:10:48
Link to this Comment: 12326

I think that the brain vs. free will debate is proving to be interesting. Some are having difficulty with the brain=behavior model because of the issue of free will. But, I am inclined to agree with Rhianon on this one: why is there a distinction made between the brain and free will?

The brain is the center of thought and reason; it processes the information relayed to it by neurons and reacts/responds. Now, if this is considered in the context of the "box within a box model" of the brain that we discussed in class, the information (input) does not follow a linear pathway; input A enters a "box," which may or may not enter another "box" which may or may not result in an output. The way that I interpreted this is that these boxes represent some sort of "decision." If I go back to Aia's example about choosing to come to class, there is some sort of input, which is processed by the brain, which can result in the completion of the action or in not completing the action. Let's say you pulled an all-nighter, so naturally you're tired the next day. This fatigue is your input. The brain then begins to process this input: "Should I go to class? Yes or no?" This represents the first "box." Then you start to think "Well, I already missed this class earlier this week, so maybe I should go" - another box. But then you think "I really don't want to fall asleep in class, so maybe I shouldn't go" - this leads to a different box, etc. So, after considering the situation, you make some sort of decision. This is how I interpreted the "box in a box model," which also fits what I think of as free will. So, basically what I'm getting at is the brain and free will aren't necessarily separate.

The brain and self
Name: Erin
Date: 2005-01-30 19:13:33
Link to this Comment: 12342

On the idea of the brain and self, I tend to agree with Rhianon. I feel that the brain and self are one in the same. I look at it this way: if I need a kidney transplant, I can have somebody’s kidney put inside me, and while it might change my life, ie make it easier and more satisfying, it ultimately has not changed me…I still have the same personality, thoughts, feelings etc. Now say, I were to receive a brain transplant, assuming that were possible. While I still would look physically the same, I would have somebody else’s personality. I feel that each person has a unique brain, shaped not only by nature, but by environmental influences that causes them to think, act, and feel differently from other people, ultimately creating one’s self.

organization of neurons
Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-01-30 19:54:55
Link to this Comment: 12346

It was said in Thursday’s class that what makes us different from other animals is the arrangement of neurons. How does the arrangement of neurons differ from one species to another? We only said in class that the organization of neurons is different from one species to another, but I would like to know how the unique arrangements translates into different behaviors. If similar organization of neurons is found between two different animals, does that indicate that the two animals should behave in almost the same way?

Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-01-30 20:15:36
Link to this Comment: 12347

If we say that brain = behavior, are we also saying that behavior = brain? If so, then aren't we left with a "which came first: the chicken or the egg?" sort of question? Is the brain completely malleable at birth and all future behavior and brain structure determined by the environment an infant is placed in? Are all brains the same at birth?

I read on Serendip that major brain changes occur both in infancy and at puberty (, and that the activities engaged in at those points determine brain development. If the activities we choose to engage in determine the neural pathways in our brain, then what made us choose those activities in the first place?

Is free will really just the brain's ability to form new neural pathways? Are the decisions one makes just a function of one's neural pathways, and thus free will could be the brain's ability to form or let die off different neural pathways. But I can choose to learn something new, thus forming new neural pathways, or I could choose never to use what I learned, letting the neural pathways I developed when I was learning die off. So it would seem that I have some control over the structure of my brain, or my brain has some control over it's own structure, is this the nature of free will?

The Serendip page also says that our brains can be refined in adulthood by our professions, hobbies, etc., but I've also read that some neural pathways can't be changed, for example, those who grow up with languages with no "L" or "R" sounds cannot learn to make those sounds in adulthood. So what differentiates these neural pathways - why can certain things be learned at any age, but not others? Is there a limit to free will?

free will
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-01-30 21:00:46
Link to this Comment: 12353

I've been thinking a lot about the free will debate and I've come to a few realizations. First, this debate is not new and does not necessarily rely on the brain=behavior theory we have been studying. Even if a more abstract notion of "mind" causes behavior, the absence of free will is still arguable (the Notes from the Underground reference in class being evidence that this debate has been around for some time).

The most compelling evidence that there is no free will, in my opinion, is the fact that it cannot be proven that free will exists. I say this in reference to theories of predestination seen in Calvinism. If time is continuous, there is no way of testing if someone could have done something differently, since we can't go back in time and see if, under the exact same circumstances, at that exact place in time, an action could happen differently. Hence, it cannot be refuted that everyone's lives have been predestined and there is nothing they can do to change them...and if they try, they are in fact doing exactly what they were predestined to do.

However, the game of Life we saw in class did make me think more critically about the issue. If complex life could have come from very simple systems, let us think generally how order can come from disorder, given certain rules. If different random patterns can yield the same outcome any number of times, would it be reasonable to hypothesize that our lives, governed by specific rules (laws of physics, mortality, etc), could play out differently if they were "run" multiple times?

This is an incomplete analogy because I'm not sure how to relate the 'ordered' outcome to our lives other than to just say that our existance is the outcome, but I think there is something very interesting about the idea that given the same 'universe' in the game of Life, different actions can occur that ultimately contribute to the same outcome. Perhaps free will could be thought of as being akin to those variations that are not predetermined, but that can be defined by us as we live out lives.

Brain, Mind, Free Will
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-01-30 21:11:55
Link to this Comment: 12354

I am a believer that there are both a brin and mind. They are separate entities, but interrelated. The mind is a function of the brain. The brain is the physical. The mind is the metaphysical. The brain is the organ that controls the mind, but the mind can also control the brain. The mind is a prisoner within the brain, but the mind can influence the brain.

When we discuss whether or not a person has free will, we must clarify what is "the person". I believe that the person is the mind. Therefore, does the mind have free will?. No, the mind does not have unlimited free will. The mind cannot do as it pleases. The brain limits the mind. If a person (a mind) wants to do a difficult math problem, they can not just do it. The brain must have the necessary activity to process the mathematics. This can be gained through inherent neural pathways or creating neural pathways. These pathways allow for the processing of math problems. Practicing math problems creates these pathways. Through this example we see that the brain limits the mind. If the brain does not have the activity to process something, then the mind cannot do it.

The notion that the mind is a prisoner of the brain comes from the fact that mind is created from the brain. The mind is generated from the different brain areas. The more active an area, the more influential it is on the mind. For example, if a person’s mind is very logical, then they have more activity in their left brain. However, that person can be influenced and the mind set can change. If the person’s mind is inherently logical, but falls in love, a different part of the brain becomes more active. Their mind will become less rational and more emotional. Furthermore, a person’s mind can activate different parts of the brain to change one’s mind set. For example, if one were to learn a skill. Therefore, the mind can influence the brain, but ultimately the brain has control over the mind.

Free will
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-01-30 21:36:39
Link to this Comment: 12355

I believe that people have free will over their brains to an extent. A person without a severe brain disability has the power to control his or her brain. Through determination, practice, and work one can teach one's brain to do anything their brain is capable of. As we know many peoples’ brains act differently. Different areas are more active or activate in different ways than others. However, someone could teach their brain to act the way they want to. I am not saying that they just say that they want the brain to act differently and it does. I am saying that anyone can train their brain to act and function the way they want. This could take a very long time to do. One has to know how they think and act, then realize what they have to do to train their brain to think how they want it to. This could be a long process.

Many people believe that they can’t change their way of thinking, or the way their brain works. This is not true. It just takes patients and hard work. It is not easy to break habits, but any habit can be broken, and all behaviors are habits.

Deterministic Paradigms
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-01-30 22:22:48
Link to this Comment: 12358

Rhianon asked and Catherine repeated in their posts:
Why is there a distinction made between the brain and free will?
Catherine then went on to explain how she understood our boxes within boxes model as leaving room for possibility. I would like to bold that word:
The question we have about brain equaling behavior and how free-will fits in to that model is very influenced by how we perceive science. The belief “brain=behavior proves determinism” is one dependent on a mechanistic view of the world. It is from this world-view that we are used to practicing science. In high school physics we calculated velocities and forces. In college level chemistry we predict products of chemical reactants. In both cases, we found there are right and wrong answers that cannot be changed.
I do not think of myself as a passive on-watcher of my life’s unavoidable reactions. At the subatomic level scientists are no longer able to predict outcomes with certainty. In fact, their very predictions appear to affect the outcomes they observe. Knowing electron location with certainty is problematic because electrons are so small that exposure to light photons physically changes their positions. If we are willing to draw an analogy, the philosophical implications of this discovery are profound— we change our world by observing it, or even, we get what we expect. If we do not shine light in the black box of electrons their position will not be changed, and we cannot know where they are (with certainty.) If we do look into the box we become a part of the system and change what we observe. Just think about it: at the world’s most fundamental level we change what is by what we see.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-30 22:55:14
Link to this Comment: 12362

I was reading through the comments, and it seemed that a few people were surprised or perhaps had not studied the functions of the brain before and therefore did not know about the amount of neurons and how the brain worked. I suppose there are a lot of things that we never stop to think about and consider though. Knowing that complex ideas, thoughts, and perhaps behaviours come out of such simpler things is not as strange as it seems when one considers that such beauty in the natural world, like a sunset or a flower, also come from simpler explanations. Yet these are magnificent everyday and astound me, at least. I think it is in some part the same way with the brain. We can understand it more and more, yet still be amazed by it everyday.

I know the biological processes and how the brain works, which seems very straightforward to me and almost intuitively simple and wonderful. Yet there are all these things to consider that do not seem to work into the model, like a soul, a mind separate from the brain, consciousness, religion, free will or destiny/fate. Maybe they are constructs of the brain too. I suppose we had to think of them in order to have the thought, so doesn't that make them part of the brain's functions anyways, not a separate entity? But do we want to answer this question and find out one way or another? Perhaps there are some things that science should leave well enough alone if we have the capabilities of knowing.

Phantom Limbs and what that means for CNS= Behavio
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-01-30 23:33:30
Link to this Comment: 12368

While thinking about the most recent box model we were shown in class, I couldn't help but really like the idea of using input/output instead of stimulus/response. One topic that we did not touch but adds evidence in support of this shift is that of the Phantom Limbs. Unknowingly, the phantom limb phenomenom seems like clear support that the brain does not equal behavior. It seems that if you cut off someone's arm, for example, you are cutting off part of the central nervous system. Thus, when a person still feels pain, this must show that this behavior is not a result of the CNS. However, now that they know more about this phenomenom, the evidence seems contrary to one's first assumption that CNS does not equal behavior.

It is now found that the reason for the pain are signals running to the "dead" end (the chopped off arm). These dead ends are still inputting/outputting and this causes the pain. I am not sure how exactly...I will have to relook into the topic...but the idea is still that the CNS is the cause of the pain. This further emphasizes the final box model because there are "?" marks that run to outputs and inputs that run to "?s" I liked this aspect of the model because it reminded me of this issue of the phantom limb. It is not apparent what the signals are but these signals are still there. These signals are what cause the pain (the output behavior). Yet another fact in support for brain = behavior.

Twins' brains
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-01-30 23:48:04
Link to this Comment: 12369

The discussions of late, both in class and in this forum, have made me think about similarities and differences in brains structure and their correspondence to differences in behavior, brain capacity, etc. Specifically I am curious about the brain structures of monozygotic (identical) twins. Since DNA is the determinate force in our development, and since monozygotic twins have identical DNA (minus any occasional mutations), then the structures of their brains should, for all intents and purposes, be identical. Consequently, assuming brain=behavior, twins should behave the same way, and essentially be the same person. However, this is obviously not the case.

Can we chalk up all differences in the personalities of twins to mutations? Is it a nurture issue? Or could this be considered evidence that in fact brain does not =behavior?

I did find a study that asserts that the brains of monozygotic twins were found to be very similar, but not identical:
So, what causes differences in the brain structure of twins, since it’s not their DNA?

brain = behavior part 2
Name: LF
Date: 2005-01-31 00:14:12
Link to this Comment: 12371

From last weeks classes I am still unsure if brain = behavior. I do feel that it is very possible from the models we went over in class. From them, we concluded that there were two major inputs that result in outputs. The first are outside inputs, or inputs that result from influences outside of the body and mind. The second are internal inputs (the boxes in the box). Both of these inputs can change the output. This supports the notion that brain = behavior; however, this doesn’t mean that it is impossibly for brain plus something else = behavior. For all we know there could be an undiscovered aspect of the human body that depicts one’s behavior. That is why we say that our hypotheses are less wrong than correct, because there are so many other possible factors. In the case of the functioning of the brain we can confirm that the brain plays a role in behavior, but we can’t say that brain = behavior for sure, and we will never be able to.

Name: Ayumi Hoso
Date: 2005-01-31 11:54:14
Link to this Comment: 12380

I have been thinking if the equation of “brain=behavior” is something that I can completely agree with for a while. We spent the last lectures on the organizations of neurons in several kinds of animals. How the difference in arrangements of neurons can elicit different behaviors is very interesting, and I feel like this convinces me to believe that brain really might be = behavior. However, the question of free-will remains. (But the free will might be a part of our part of brain. For example, we can sometimes ignore what our brain tells us to do, and take a different action. But, this “different” action which we take might be a unconscious part of our brain after all, though it seems like we have ignored the first message in our brain) I think that the question of “brain = behavior” remains for a long time, but I think I am leaning toward accepting “brain=behavior”at this moment.
* I read somebody’s memo questioning if we can say “behavior= brain”. I think it is an interesting question. I wonder about that, too.

Identical Twins
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-01-31 15:59:28
Link to this Comment: 12390

As we began to discuss Emily’s ideas on brain and behavior I was at first in agreement with the idea that each person must have slightly different brains and it is that difference which can account for their differences in behavior. It didn’t hit me until last night that maybe this idea really isn’t “less wrong” than the others we had discussed. After having a conversation with my identical twin sister last night and saw how different in regards to behavior we are, I realized that I can’t possibly believe Emily’s ideas. My thoughts are similar to Georgia’s since she discussed identical twins in her post. I’d always been skeptical of the nature vs. nurture debates when I was in high school. I always seemed to reason that my sister and I had similar interests because we were inherently the same. I didn’t consider the nurture side of the story until we decided to attend different colleges. Now that we’re no longer in the same environment our interests and behaviors are strikingly different from one another. If I was to look at this from Emily’s perspective then that must mean that my sister and I must have different brain compositions but science forces me to believe that this isn’t the case. I’m not entirely sure if we can include intelligence into our definition of behavior since our definition of behavior is constantly evolving. Nonetheless, I found an interesting study done by scientists at UCLA on how brain structure influences intelligence. Basically, the study proposes that the amount of gray matter in the frontal lobe in a person’s brain correlates with their intelligence. They studied identical twins and found the amount of gray matter in each set to also be extremely similar (refer to picture below). So if their biological brain compositions are similar than must we account their differences in behavior to culture and learned behaviors or is there a better explanation? At this point I don’t have an explanation for such things but I would like to explore the topic of identical twins further. This is the site where I found information on the UCLA study -- Here’s the image I found about the similarities between brain structure in twins and unrelated people who were studied (I’m not very comfortable using html so if the picture doesn’t work then it can be found at I also found some interesting information on what are termed “free will disorders”. “There are several brain-related disorders that might be termed free will disorders: In obsessive-compulsive disorder a patient may feel an overwhelmining urge, e.g., to wash his hands many times a day, and he will recognize the desire as his desire although out of control. In Tourette's and related syndromes patients will involutarily make movements (tics) and utterances. In the alien hand syndrome (Dr. Strangelove syndrome) patient's limb will make meaningful acts without the intention of the subject.” (from I haven’t completely thought through how these disorders could affect how we think about free will and behavior… Does anyone have any ideas?

re: erin's posting
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-01-31 18:02:22
Link to this Comment: 12399

re: erin, about organ transplant vs. brain transplant

Soemtime ago, I watched a documentary about heart transplants. If I remember correctly, some patients who receive heart transplants do experience some behavioral changes. That is, if patient X hates junk food before the operation, she suddenly discovers that she carves for junk food postsurgery. Or patient X who hates to exercise before the surgery discovers that with the new heart, she enjoys kickboxing. When patient X managed to trace the identity of her donor, she found out that the young man died in an accident and when he was alive, he loved junk food and sports. Considering this story, is brain=behavior? Are there "memory cells" in the heart that could maybe explain why a heart transplant brought about behavioral changes, i.e. new hobbies and food preferences? How can this case-study be explained by the activity of the central nervous system? What about the unscientific explanation that the donor's heart carries some traces of the "soul"?

cellular memory
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-01-31 19:21:16
Link to this Comment: 12401

If cellular memory is a reality, I wonder what the relationship is between the brain and the soul. Is it the case that the soul is contained in DNA? If so, what sort of process is appropriate for deciding who should/can be donors? I tend to believe that the brain stores psychological experiences. It therefore makes sense to me that organ transplants would also transplant parts, however large they may be, of the donor's soul. I have read that the medical world attributes any changes in patient behaviors/habits to medications, I on the other hand, am not so convinced.

Name: Bridget
Date: 2005-01-31 21:38:27
Link to this Comment: 12404

I heard about this condition on the radio. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention, but they were talking about a girl who doesn't feel any pain because a portion of her nervous system doesn't function. So she plays and falls and breaks bones, or gets limbs stuck in various doors, but never notices the injuries until her parents see them or she goes to the doctor for her regular check-ups. She can't tell if she is sick, without external symptoms because she can't feel pain internally either.
So some boxes are missing from the scheme of her nervous system, which messes up the process, but gives her an even greater sense of free will.
This condition could of course be very dangerous in many situations, but without the restriction of her body warning her against certain actions, she has an even greater array of possible responses to any stimuli.
This sounds a little weird maybe, to me especially, but now I am kind of wondering if the more complex the nervous system, the more restricted the responses may be. Humans can do the most and think the most of all the animals, and we have the most complex nervous system. But do we have the greatest restrictions on our own free will? Other animals may be more restricted on their enviornments or body structures, but they are not as bound by conscience and social expectations as we are. So a crickets choice to chirp or not to chirp is based on all these factors that we don't really know about. If a human male sees a female at, let's say, a bar, his decision to hit on her may depend on whom she is with, what his friends will say, what she is wearing, any previous relationships he might have had or still be in, and all the other things that are going on in his head. It is possible that the cricket is affected by similar factors, but it seems unlikely, which makes his decision more based on his very own free will. That's what I am thinking right now, anyway, I dont' really know if it makes sense.

Mind and Brain
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-01-31 22:22:39
Link to this Comment: 12405

After reading many of the recent postings I became intrigued by the difference between mind and brain, and whether there really is a difference at all. Angus Gellatly and Oscar Varate describe the difference between a "biological" and a "cultural" mind in their book entitled Introducing Mind and Brain. The mind is described as words that we use to explain/give a voice to thoughts and other cognitive functions. The mind can thus be seen as a societal/cultural construct. The authors later explain that the origin of the concept of mind began with the Greek "psyche". However, an even more interesting point that Gellatly and Varate make is that the idea of "mind" was only invented once the society was literate. I definitely agree with the notion that mind and free will are social constructs.

A few Questions To Think About
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-01-31 22:28:12
Link to this Comment: 12406

After the last few class lectures and discussions, a few questions are still pondering my mind. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to make sense of it all, as outlined below. As always, my views are up for discussion, and unfortunately, I have realized that after each class, my views and opinions on the subject tend to shift. I am actually becoming more confused as to what really can control our brains and behavior. I have realized that there will never be a definitive answer to any of these questions, which boggles my mind and at times, becomes unnerving. But that’s what is so exciting about this class, and hopefully, together, we will make meaning of all of this somehow!

Are brains of different people different? And is this an effect of nature/nurture processes?

In my opinion, the brains of different people are definitely different. To me, brains differ in two ways. First off, as we said in class, we all have the same components in the brain, but it is only the arrangements of the components (neurons) that makes us different and behave differently (Nature Argument = DNA, genetic makeup makes us different). Secondly, brains of people are different due to the “nurture” and external environment/stimuli that they are or have been exposed to in their lifetime. I am not sure exactly how the external “nurture/stimuli” affects the brain (physically, i.e., causing neurons to behave differently) or if it just makes certain individuals more inclined to act or behave in certain ways or be affected by stimuli in different ways. It is easy to argue that brains of individuals are different by using my first approach because science has already proved this. For example, we already know that an individual with ADD or depression has a slightly varied brain from an individual who suffers from bipolar disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder (or a “normal” brain for that matter). But I want to know how my second approach works in the scheme of things. How can we prove that our brains have been changed by how we were nurtured/raised as children, and how different external stimuli have made us more inclined to have certain qualities/characteristics and behaviors rather than others?

If the brain controls our actions, then how do we have free will?

Although our brains do control our actions, I still believe in free will. To understand this, we must first understand the nature of our brains. Like I mentioned above, our brains have been predisposed to many things through their wiring/DNA structure etc. from birth. So from childhood, we have built on that structure and learned/acquired information from the family’s nurture and external environment and stimuli. Since then, our brains have been constantly accumulating this information and storing it, in some way, so that we, as conscious individuals, can use that information to make decisions when needed. So we can not necessarily say that we do not have free will because our brains control our actions. We do have free will because our brains are controlled by what we have seen/experienced in life and our ability to pull all those resources together and make decisions about what we want to do (i.e. free will!)

Free will
Name: Amanda Dav
Date: 2005-01-31 22:34:50
Link to this Comment: 12407

I wholeheartedly believe in free will, possibly because I cannot accept that I have no control over what happens to me. I do not think, however, that I can overpower my brain because I AM my brain. I'm inclined to agree with Catherine that each box must make a "decision." But if the smallest box is a neuron, then the decision it makes is a result of the input messages it receives. If the messages it recieves is enough to set off the action potential then the neuron will fire. So where is the free will there? Just chemical reactions. Because free will cannot be proved to exist, however, does not prove its non-existence, as Patrick suggested. In our discussions of the scientific method, we asserted that nothing can be proven, only more observations can be made to support an idea/hypothesis/theory. I also think that the brain and mind are one. The restrictions of our mind put on by the brain as Imran suggested. The restrictions, I believe, are put on one part of the brain by another. I hope to discover more observations to support that I really do have free will.

behavior and its many factors
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-01-31 23:53:01
Link to this Comment: 12409

In our discourse concerning the brain and behavior, we are oversimplifying the relationship between the two. There are several factors beyond “brain,” “behavior” and “free will” that deserve consideration. First, let’s talk about behavior as it is most readily observed. You touch a hot stove; the sensory information travels through your nerves and spinal cord and before the information even reaches the brain, your hand pulls away from the hot surface. This is not a choice made by the brain. Rather, it is a reflexive action designed to prevent bodily harm. Had the information first gone to the brain for processing, you surely would have been burned. So, as my example demonstrates, behavior is neither determined by brain nor free will. Secondly, in debating the significance of “free will” in determining our behavior, there has been no mention of “logic,” “reason,” or “heart.” If you were to think of “free will” as the capacity to behave as one “chooses,” that implicitly suggests a process related to but not the same as “free will.” Depending on your spiritual or philosophical orientation, this third component could be the abovementioned—“he/she thinks (and thus acts/behaves) with his/her heart.” Thus “free will” can not be actualized without the coordinating process of another function figuring out what to do. Thirdly, it seems like we're talking about the "brain" as this huge, all encompassing being over which we either have entire or absolutely no control--thus the suggestion of "free will" as a sort of foil to the brain. But what about non-tangible, non-spiritual factors that affect behavior? For example, peer pressure to conform to certain body images? If someone consciously/subconsciously conforms to an ideal presented by society, even if it is detrimental to one's health, is that an issue with the brain, society, one's will?

heteronomy/autonomy dependent on # of boxes?
Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-01 00:04:10
Link to this Comment: 12410

Like most people, I'm still not sure where I stand, and the discussion along with last weeks classes have left me feeling more confused and "more wrong".

I still like the idea of behavior as an emergent property. With free will vs. determinism, if Newton first made the assertion that everything is law governed, what's to say that things on a larger scale, like behavior, can't be law governed, thus predictable? Somehow though, the idea of determinism doesn't seem right to me. But I'm not sure how to reason that "a bunch of finite rules yields an infinite set of outcomes."

Right now, I say yes to brain=behavior. Given the comparison frogs vs. humans, frogs have a seemingly simpler, though still complex, arrangement of neurons & structures. If you submit to the idea of nurture over nature, can't the same generalization be made with babies vs. adults? That is, we add more boxes as we grow older? So maybe, more boxes=more free will. Since frogs have fewer neurons available to arrange, thus fewer structures, it would seem that a certain input would have fewer possible outputs. As babies, our brains are supposed to be more malleable/impressionable-- we still haven't built all of the "structures" and "bigger boxes". So while a baby, when hungry, probably will only cry, an adult might chose to eat, wait to eat later, suppress the urge maybe if he/she has some kind of eating disorder, etc. So, it makes sense that we experience relatively more autonomy as we live/age/experience things/are influenced by our particular environments.

Free will
Name: Christine
Date: 2005-02-01 02:12:26
Link to this Comment: 12411

On the topic of free will, I guess I would agree with what some other people said about the brain and free will being the same thing. I would think that all will is free will. Perhaps there is a scale of free will. For example, if you are trying to decide whether or not turn your head around to look at something in back of you, your thought processes weigh all your options against your past experiences, and you decide whether you are going to turn it at all, and whether to turn to the left or the right. However, if a baseball flies at your face, you still have to decide whether to turn your head at all and to which side, so the choices are the same. This can also be affected by your past experiences, if perhaps you have trained yourself to always duck instead of turning. In the baseball situation, though, you react immediately. So even though you didn't "think", it was only because the decision making processes stayed in your unconcious. I guess what I mean by that is that our unconcious stores our experiences, which directs our concious to do the thinking, but only after the unconcious has recieved the inputs. And so it would seem that what we think of as free will, or freedom to choose by thinking about something, is really just a slow version of the brain reacting to a stimulus, in which the brain has enough time to send the inputs to our thoughts, instead of directly allowing the unconcious to cause an output behavior that is an immediate reaction.

things look different, huh?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-01 09:53:32
Link to this Comment: 12413

Don't worry, nothing has been lost. I've just archived things so we can start fresh each week and the forum doesn't get too long. I'll do this every Monday evening or Tuesday morning. To find earlier things, click here.

on stories and story telling ....
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-01 16:27:28
Link to this Comment: 12420

Some thoughts from from the discussion of forum postings this morning, and my repeated "if Emily were right, then ..." mantra, which was heard by at least one person, perhaps more, as pressure to accept/"believe in" the "brain=behavior" story ...

Thanks for pointing it out. And I'd encourage others who feel they are being pressured to accept any particular story in this class (or others) to always voice such feelings/concerns, as was done in this case. I (and others) have habits and styles that may well create impressions other than those intended. And it is useful for my own getting it less wrong to hear about it (as it should be for others as well).

The repeated "If Emily were right ..." was not intended (a word we'll want to look into further) to get any of you to accept/"believe in" "brain=behavior" but only to encourage you all to take it seriously, ie to understand what the story implies and hence what observations ought to exist or need to be looked for. I don't myself "believe in" stories (scientific or otherwise, this one or any other). I do take them seriously, and use them for whatever they seem to be worth in developing further stories.

I think that "brain=behavior" is, at the moment, a "good" scientific story, in the sense that it summarizes a very large body of observations (and is not clearly falsified by any that I know of), and that it is generative of further questions and stories. My repeated "if"s were aimed at nothing more (and nothing less) than to be sure you were all taking the story as seriously as I do, so that we can most effectively work together on the problem of deciding, individually and collectively, how "good" the story actually is, both now and in the future.

There are some interesting issues in the philosophy of science here that, if anyone is interested, are under discussion in a different arenas, here and here. Thanks for this morning's contribution to those. And now back to brain and behavior ....

free will again
Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-01 23:42:37
Link to this Comment: 12427

After todayfs class and some of the postings, I feel more inclined to agree that free will is just a social construction, but not so much as to give into determinism.

By definition, it seems that determinism requires outcomes to be predictable, free from influence, and finite. Behavior being an emergent property, and the brain being, as someone said today, the "nexus" point still seemed reasonable but how finite rules=infinite outcomes was unclear. But Professor Grobstein reminded me of an example in linguistics that shows how it's possible to have an endless number of results.

According to one of the "stories" as I've been told and like at the time being, is that in generative linguistics, in our brains there are syntactic rules for generating sentences. These are hierarchical, and some such rules for English might be:

Phrase/Sentence->Noun phrase + Auxillary + Verb phrase

The phrases to the right of the arrow then break down and can have more possibilities:

Verb phrase->Adverb + Noun phrase

As long as there is a "phrase" to the right of the arrow, you can keep going.

We could then use as many adverbs as we like. gHe really really really really really... ‡ likes chocolate.h This recursive property can then of course lead to a sentence with an infinite number of possibilities (differing by the # of "very"s, etc.).

So, in short, I was trying to say in my earlier post that it makes sense that the concept of free will only arises when there is an infinite and thus unpredictable number of outcomes.

Also, when we were talking about the boxes inside boxes model of brain & behavior, I donft see why an output that ends ginside the boxh (or starts inside for that matter) is a problem and canft be seen as an goutputh in and of itself.

Neurons as Stories...
Name: Samantha T
Date: 2005-02-02 21:55:30
Link to this Comment: 12449

When thinking about Professor Grobstein’s post on story telling, I began wondering if like the compilation of story telling, the brain can be thought of as a sandpile as well. Similar to the social construction of “sharing stories”, the brain has many individual parts, which make up a larger structure. Each neuron could be thought of as a grain of sand (or a story). Each grain of sand, as Professor Grobstein mentioned, is not responsible for the whole pile, but contributes to the overall structure of the sandpile. Maybe in the discussion on Brain=Behavior, we should pay more attention to the actual role of the neuron…

In our forum, for example, if one post were taken away, the physical structure of the forum would not noticeably suffer; however, the conceptual content of the forum would change (and the posts around the site of the deletion could very well make less sense because of probable references made to the missing post).

Can neurons that make up the brain be thought of as individual stories in the history of story telling, or are they really all exactly the same? I’m still torn.

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-02 22:43:15
Link to this Comment: 12455

Re: Professor Grobstein
It was useful to read your posting about not believing in stories, and the necessity of not believing in them so as to continue to engage in the process of exploration, of growth. I held the idea that anything scientific has to be right/true, or is at least more right/true than other explanations. I now think that some things may be beyond the realm of scientific investigation; for example, the existence of a soul. To perceive the brain=behavior story as one of the many stories that would help us make sense of ourselves and the world, instead of the only story that comes closest to the "truth," makes me more willing to give Emily's ideas a serious consideration.

On last week's discussion about free will: The boxes inside boxes model states that all behavior originates from within the central nervous system, either in response to an input or as a spontaneous event. My experience of free will, which is tied to the existence of a self that is separate from the brain, is an illusion (if Emily is right). Could there be another definition of free will that is independent of the self? Would it still be considered free will? When the brain/mind is sick (depression, schizophrenia), we are likely to feel we have no control over how we think or act. The statement that "She is no longer herself" seems to be false because the implicit idea is that "I" possess the ability to decide how I want to think/act. If the brain controls/influences all behavior, then there can be no free will. How one resolves the question of whether free will exists can have great social implications (in which case the brain=behavior story may not be that useful).

Is there a biological basis for racism? (Reposted
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-02-03 12:37:42
Link to this Comment: 12473

Is there a biological basis for racism?
Name: Carly Frintner (
Date: 01/24/2005 12:36

I am curious as to how prejudices form, and at the moment, I am particularly interested in examining the roots of racism and ethnic conflict.

What in human biology (if it even IS biological) makes us capable of hating others, allows us to develop reasoning strong enough to permit such hatred that we can deny the humanity of (and then harm or kill) another individual? What neurological connections act to lead a person to feel hatred, and to discriminate--how are these connections form?

Because I believe a person must dehumanize another to be capable of acting violently against him, I want to try first to understand what it is that blinds us, that prevents us from being able to see one another as human beings, and to recognize and accept our shared humanity despite our differences.

Also, I was intrigued by Beverly's statement: "The brain works to make sense of the outside world and strives to adjust behavior to ensure survival." I am wondering what implications this might have in terms of racially motivated violence. This makes me question as well how our brains determine whether something (or someone) is a threat to our individual survival, and/or the survival of our species.

How do inputs start spontaneously? (Reposted from
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-02-03 12:39:13
Link to this Comment: 12474

I'm having a difficult time understanding/accepting that a process could start up without any stimulus or input from outside the brain. Where do geneology, instinct, and mental illness fall in this phenomenon? It also makes me think differently about human creativity. If a process can start without influence from outside sources, then it may be possible for a human to create something totally original. But is there a chance that a process could start as a delayed response to a previous stimulus/input, and appear to be disconnected from it?

Free will (thinking about racism again--reposted f
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-02-03 12:40:11
Link to this Comment: 12475

From "Thoughts of a Swedish humanist"
(Fredrik Bendz)
"In chaos theory nobody questions that there is predisposition. In other words, a system can be predicted, but not in detail. This is for example why a child that is beaten will learn to beat, and why apples always fall down, never up. It is the basis for science. If there would not be predisposition all causes and effects would be random. Therefore our will is not totally free, but we always have the possibility to act against our nature or even change it."

My question in response to this excerpt is: How can we change nature? Will we always be fighting our natural selves, our instincts, one might call it--or will we eventually actually alter our natural state ("human nature") and assume a new natural state individually and/or collectively by acting out against it...or by learning free will, as was discussed in the conversation on-line between Laura Cody and Paul? What are the implications of going against nature, and what IS human nature, exactly?

Also, applying this again to racism... Are some people "naturally" racist? Can nature really be learned? That doesn't seem to make sense. If racism is a learned way of thinking, perhaps it is never natural--well, I think I am thinking of "natural" as meaning "permanent" or "unalterable."

Perhaps to reconstruct our thought and action patterns, we just have to pay attention to and use certain parts of our brain/memory/intelligence--just as somone can choose to see the green arrows or the yellow arrows, and if s/he cannot see one set of arrows, another person may be able to teach her/him how to see them, and then s/he can choose which set of arrows to see. So could a person who is racist be shown another way to think and then choose how to think, having multiple pictures before her/him?

Human Experience
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-02-03 12:47:26
Link to this Comment: 12476

I would argue that one of the underlying motives for the study of neurobiology (and general biology, and chemistry, and literature, etc...) is to shed light on the human experience. Any aspect of the human experience. In my Bio Senior Seminar, Developmental Neurobiology, a fellow student asked the professor a very pertinent question, "How does the study of these chemicals, proteins, transcription factors, advance the evolution of the human race?" (or something like that.) The Prof replied with the answer that understanding even the most obscure detail of the human experience - whether that be developmental, biochemical, emotional - is relevant to the overall understanding of the human experience.

That being said, the example of Reeves in class today was very striking. Some neurobiologists, as I have come to understand, are in search for the "I", the what makes me "me". If the brain and spinal cord are no longer attached, and yet the individual is still able to process information, answer questions, feel, etc...then that goes to show that the "I" is somehow related to the brain. That all aspects of the human experience are somehow directly related to the brain, to neurons firing signals to other neurons, that in turn release neurotransmitters, or what not. This implies that some of our most beautiful productions - Gustav Klimt's painting "The Kiss", Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", Paulo Coelho's novel "The Alchemist" - are somehow the result of neurons, transcription factors, proteins, signals, etc... Instead of the aha moment, I'm left feeling dissatisfied. Does nothing transcend the material "me"?

I'm left feeling much like Wordsworth who warned against a dominating analytical faculty in "The Tables Turned", whereby “Our meddling intellect/ Misshapes the beauteous form of things – / We murder to dissect.” I'm not saying I'm a Romantic; I might very well learn to accept brain=behavior, but I don't think I'm going to be very happy about it.

Christopher Reeve
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-02-04 01:35:30
Link to this Comment: 12515

Our discussion today on Christopher Reeve and his paralysis got me thinking about how pain is transmitted through the brain. The example about pinching his toe lead me to think about some questions involving phantom pain. I realize that "phantom pain" is only said to affect a person with an amputated limb but why does this not also affect paralyzed people. It's said that these people experience actual pain because before their amputation they had undergone severe pain in that region and thus had a vivid memory of how that pain felt. There's more information on the real science of all that which can be found at this address -- It's said that the phantom pain is real pain triggered by a memory that activates the sensory cortex. So if Christopher Reeve could remember the sensation of pain in a certain area before his paralysis could he not experience this pain afterwards as well? I'm really not sure if I'm understanding how all of this works and maybe it has been established that quadriplegic people do in fact feel pain throughout their bodies but nonetheless our discussion today got me thinking about the topic. Although the longer I sit here looking at my notes and thinking about this topic the more I'm inclined to say that phantom pain and a paralysis really can't be used in the same sentence. Since I guess for a person to believe they are in fact feeling pain this sensation would have to move it's way up the spinal cord to the brain and this signal could never make it to the brain. Or maybe pain actually does originate in the brain… For now I'm left with a lot of unanswered questions but after looking at how memory affects the brain maybe this will all become clearer.

The spinal cord
Name: Shu-Zhen
Date: 2005-02-04 19:47:58
Link to this Comment: 12522

I have always thought of the brain as the processing center for the inputs and outputs. However this thinking can not explain why when you pinch the toe of a paralyzed person it flinches. If the spinal cord does not just receive and send signals but is also a processing center, does this mean it can function like the brain?

I am still confused as to how the spinal cord could produce an output from an input without sending signals to the brain. I guess my question is how could the spinal cord also be a processing center?

And if the toe was only slightly pinched, would the output be different or would it be the same?

Thoughts about this week's class
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-05 15:13:29
Link to this Comment: 12530

I am not surprised to learn that the I-function resides in the brain. However, it is interesting to find out that the spinal cord, by itself, is an independent information processing center. Although the functions of our spinal cord may not be as extensive as the brain, the fact that it is able to produce output by itself or produce an output different from the brain in response to the same stimuli, reinforces for me the idea that neuronal activity and communication are the basis for our behavior.

What we experienced as free will may be dependent on the coordination/communication between two systems (the brain and the spinal cord) and within the systems as well. The consequences that result from the disruption of communication between our spinal cord and brain seem comparable to the phenomenon of lizards losing their tails when frightened; their tails continue to wiggle when touched, but the lizard has fled.

In "The Astonishing Hypothesis," Francis Crick wrote about the alien hand syndrome that results from brain damage; patients could control the actions of one hand but not the other. As Crick mentioned, the disorder is partially caused by a breakdown in communication between the left and right hemisphere. Thus, communication or transmission of information within a system seems important for controlling behavior as well.

Crick wrote that some patients would spontaneously grasp an object that is placed near their left hand, for example. The patient is unable to loosen his grip on the object unless he uses his right hand to move his left hand from the object. In one case, a patient’s left hand releases an object when he shouted "let go" (p268). The latter case is interesting to me because in terms of the boxes inside boxes model, the impulse to grasp the object originates from within the nervous system, but to undo the action, the nervous system only responds to external input (hearing the command to let go). What went wrong? The same box(es) should be responsible for both the action of grasping and releasing an object, but some regulatory function seems lost such that another box is needed to communicate or act on the original box to guide it to execute its release of the object. Could the box be malfunctioning because its communication with the I-function is disrupted?

Name: Amanda Dav
Date: 2005-02-05 16:39:17
Link to this Comment: 12532

I’d like to come back to the issue of free will in relation to the new way we discussed thinking about behavior. How does another person affect one’s brain? Love releases pleasurable neurotransmitters in the brain. But, how do the visual, tactile, auditory, and olfactory inputs come together in just the right ways to release those chemicals? Are pheromones responsible for falling in love? Do we become addicted to them, and if so, are they the reason why one will fight to keep love? Or is there something more complex going on? Emotions obviously are involved, but what are emotions other than neurochemical pathways and signals? Sarah McCawley’s article “What’s love got to do with it” discussed many sexual issues such as the role of dopamine in the female vole’s choice for a mate. I don’t think the human emotion love can be compared to other animal’s choice in mates. Thus I suppose my final question is, is love a result of inputs and outputs and causes and effects, or can we say there is more to it than that?

"The Astonishing Hypothesis"
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-05 16:58:01
Link to this Comment: 12533

The phenomenon that Xuan-Shi was referring to occurs when the information transport channel for the two sides of the brain, the corpus callosum, is severed. This acctually was used as a "cure" to epilepciy at one time. It was thought that by cutting the nural pathways between the two sides, one could control the random firing of electical signals from spreading. What they didn't realize is that the cure was as bad as the disease. We now know that the two sides of the brain are highly specialized, often for different functions. For example, the areas devoted to language interpritation and formation are located on the left side. Beyond that, each side is responsible for the sensory input and output of the other side of the body (the left brain controls our right arm and gets information from our right field of vision). When the corpus callosum is cut, the two brains act independently of each other, resulting in different behavior between the two sides of our bodies. Some interesting research has been done where, for example, when the word "spoon" is flashed in the subject's right field of vision (seen by the left brain), the subject is unable to draw the word he saw with his left hand even if he is left handed because the right brain controls his left hand. He could however reach into a bag with his right hand and pick out a spoon.

Free will
Name: Flicka
Date: 2005-02-05 17:22:45
Link to this Comment: 12534

Discussing free will is difficult because it is so hard to define. What is free will? Is it your desire to go against what somebody else is telling you, or your desire to go against what your brain is telling you?

I have a feeling that free will has a lot to do with consciousness. As the conscious part of our brain develops, I believe we begin to become aware that the actions we take are not the only actions we can take. For example, I can do my homework or I can use my free will and not do my homework. But what part of me is actually questioning the necessity of doing my homework? Maybe we really do have an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other, like in the cartoons. But then, what does this say about our brain? I think it implies that one part of our brain uses the life experiences we've had to unconsciously have us perform the same routine every day. Why do I do my homework? Because I always do my homework. However, if this is true, then it implies that another part of the brain is the "me" part, the conscious part; it is the part that says, "wait, why don't I just not do my homework?".

I'm not really sure I'm answering anyone's questions about free will, but I do know that if free will is the way I've outlined it here, it has some important implications for "human nature".

Name: Beverly Bu
Date: 2005-02-05 18:16:24
Link to this Comment: 12537

After the explanation for Christopher Reeve’s reaction to having his toe pinched, I feel a bit less like a person of free will. I really never considered the spine to be a lone entity that could respond to a stimulus in the absence of the brain. I understand why Chris did not feel the pain, but I’m having a hard time accepting the fact that his toe reacted without Chris’s “consent”.

As a former ballet dancer, I know that my feet hated me on many occasions for continuing to dance on them despite blisters, cramps, and sprains. Yet I always felt that I could decide when to stop. I could decide how much pain I could tolerate. Apparently my spine has the last word on how I react at up to a certain threshold.

I guess this should come as no surprise to me considering the fact that a chickens lower body continues to run about even after his head has been chopped off…hmmm....a bit morbid, but ….

memory and response
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-02-05 20:01:14
Link to this Comment: 12543

The idea of a brain being made up of many boxes within boxes is very interesting to me. I feel that memory in the human brain has much to do with responses to a stimulus because of the huge possibility of varying outcomes. I do not truly understand how memory would work in the firing of neurons and sending an input to different boxes within the brain; however, I think that many of our responses are quickened by the brain remembering an appropriate part of a response and being able to skip some boxes by sending a more complete signal. Otherwise, some inputs and stimuli can be so huge that formulating an output within the boxes of the brain could take longer than is practical for the situation.

In response to Beverly’s post, I too am a dancer and there are times when it is very possible to overcome physical pain; however I am less convinced that this is free will. I feel that this has more to do with adrenaline that is produced as a response to a stressful situation that allows one to keep dancing in the face of pain. I tend to believe this because in the case of a serious injury my body has made it physically impossible for me to continue to dance, no matter how much adrenaline I had received. For instance, when I broke my foot very badly, the adrenaline enabled me to get up and move, but since I was not in a life threatening situation I did not have enough adrenaline for my body to allow me to place my foot on the floor. I tried but there was an automatic response that jerked my foot up without me “telling” my foot to do so.

Brain vs. behavior, again
Name: Christine
Date: 2005-02-05 22:21:17
Link to this Comment: 12544

I really appreciated the clarification that Prof. Grobstein made on Thursday about behavior. I hadn't originally understood why the behavior of plants and other organisms without nervous systems was not the same type of behavior as the behavior we are discussing. I believe he was saying that we are defining behavior as outputs of the nervous system, in the form of axons. So, then how to organisms without nervous systems go about their type of behavior? I read that the behaviors of organisms without nervous systems is due to physical interactions between the organism and something else. I would suppose that this type of behavior is just a continuation of the behavior that two atoms exhibit when they become attracted to eachother and then interact physically. With organisms with nervous systems, a physical interaction causes the sensory elements to "turn on", and then these sensory elements can recieve inputs that are not necessarily physical. An example of this is "seeing". Here is a link to the website I read this from I am not sure of the validity of this way of explaining behavior, so if anyone knows of a better way to explain it, please share it. I think I am a now little closer to believing that brain=behavior might be a good story...

The self being in the brain
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-02-06 11:52:15
Link to this Comment: 12550

I found our discussion of quadriplegia to be an interesting one in terms of 'putting the self in the brain'. While the basic withdrawal reflex is not damaged by the spinal cord injury, the ability to 'feel' and report on those feelings is.

This reminds me of the reports on phantom limbs--that is, people who have a limb amputated but who can still report FEELING the limb being there and frequently report sensation, especially pain, in the affected area. People who experience phantom limbs commonly report them as being in synchrony with the rest of the body; a missing arm will still hang at the side and move in time with the rest of the body while walking, for example. Phantom limbs have been discussed primarily in terms of nerve memory. But I think it can also be used as part of the argument that the self is in the brain.

Is there some part of the brain that is responsible for the body feeling whole, for the sense of self? It might very well be related to the higher processes such as consciousness. If so, I wonder how it relates to quadriplegia and the so-called inability to 'feel'. Do people experiencing these types of injuries still feel whole despite their loss of sensation on such a grand scale?

Phantom Pain
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-02-06 13:50:34
Link to this Comment: 12556

Going back to what Leslie was saying about phantom pain, I think that the reason that phantom pain did not seem to affect Christopher Reeve (in this case) is because prior to his accident he did not experience intense pain. Since phantom pain is "real pain triggered by a memory that activates the sensory cortex," and he has no memory of an intense pain immediately prior to his accident, he did not experience phantom pain (of course this is speculation of my part).

In the case of a quadrapeligic like Christopher Reeve, I think that they can still respond to external stimuli (like toe pinching) due to a reflex arc wherein a signal is sent by a sensory neuron to the spine, and the spine "responds" by sending a signal to the motor neuron to pull away from the stimulus as well as a signal to the brain the relaying that "information." It would seem then that pain is the brain's interpretation of signals from neurons, so, if the information relayed by the spine never reaches the brain (as in the case of a quadrapeligic), then there is no sensation of pain.

I personally have had an injury where some of my sensory neurons were severed so that I cannot feel anything on a region of my left leg. Because the neurons were completely severed, if I experience something akin to a "pinch," I do not pull away because no signal is even sent to the spine; I just don't feel it. Interestingly, though, I do occassionally experience what I believe is "phantom pain" (for lack of a better term) even though nothing was amputated. For me, it's kind of a weird tingling sensation that's actually sort of unpleasant. It happens at seemingly random moments, and doesn't happen all that often.

More questions
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-06 16:06:48
Link to this Comment: 12565

I wonder if quadriplegics do "experience" sexual arousal in a physical sense, given that there is a breakdown in communication between their brain and spinal cord. If they do have romantic/sexual thoughts, would they feel the urge to act on these desires? Could this urge bring about changes in their physiology? Would their body respond to physical contact that does not involve pinching or any actions that inflict discomfort or pain? To what extent is the experience of sexual arousal dependent on the communication between the brain and spinal cord?

Also, if I pinch the toe of a patient who is in a coma, would his or her foot withdraw? Or would there be no response? If I were to pinch the person elsewhere, for example on the thighs or stomach area, would there be any observable response? The person clearly would not be able to report the sensation of pain, but in the comatose state, would (or how would) the functions of spinal cord be affected?

my underdeveloped hemishere
Name: Sonya Safr
Date: 2005-02-06 16:20:13
Link to this Comment: 12567

About the corpus callosum...each hemisphere of the brain is known for certain abilities, such as the right hemisphere is known for its spatial abilities (visual, recognition, musical talents, etc.) and the left is more logical and mathematical. With the corupus callosum, I assume both spheres work together to share info, and when cut strange things happen as was mentioned in a previos posting.

My question is, how big of a role do the right and left hemispheres play in determining our behavior? I know that I am horrible at math. What does this say about my left hemisphere? Is it underdeveloped, damaged, less used? Or, is this less about my brain, and more about environmental and societal influences; for example, I developed a fear of math in the fourth grade when I did poorly on a math test and convinced myself I was horrible at it and hated it...and so I stopped applying myself in mathematics and focused on subjects which my right hemisphere is known for. Am I really bad at math, or is it all in my mind?

Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-02-06 17:06:59
Link to this Comment: 12572

I worry about the moral implications of the line of thought we have been following in class. I guess my concern is tied in with all the discussion about free will/predetermination. It seems that “choice” is becoming less and less coherent, while “will” is becoming more and more about communication between “boxes”. What does all this imply about accountability? Does this make it possible for a “my neurons-misfired” defense for crimes such as murder? To what extent are we to be held accountable for our actions if they occur predominately in our subconscious? Heredity already plays a part in the defense of some criminals. If who we are and what we do is determined by the structure of our brains, can’t we all just claim “bad genes” etc when we do something wrong? Or if not, to what extent are we able to adjust the neurological pathways we were born with? (It is possible to break the cycle of violence/abuse, etc so….)

chemical pathway
Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-06 19:09:04
Link to this Comment: 12576

I think it is fascinating the way the body communicates. I have grown around paraplegics and quadriplegics due to my mother being a physical therapist. I must admit the thought of being paralyzed has and always will frighten me more than most anything else. I had a surgery during my junior year of high school where in order to prevent feeling the pain that would follow surgery to my knee, the doctor cut the nerves that connected to my knee and surrounding area. Immediately after the surgery, the factor that scared me most was the fact that I could not feel the pain to the area the nerve endings led. After that experience I cannot imagine going through life with no sensation or movement to an area.

Regarding Xuan-Shi’s question… I wonder if quadriplegics do "experience" sexual arousal in a physical sense? Well I can tell you I read a paper for a class last semester regarding that exact topic. What I remember from what was discussed was that there is a separate pathway that does not convey physical pleasure do to orgasm, but the brain does receive input in another way that has to do with pleasure. I do not remember the exact pathway, I believe it was chemical, but I know that it does exist. The study done was on paraplegics. The way of arousal was that of masturbation and the way that pleasure was documented was a difference in brain activity. I am sorry I do not remember more about the study, but I do remember it was fascinating.

brain structure & you
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-02-06 20:33:41
Link to this Comment: 12578

Last week I had wondered if the neural pathways created when we learn new things could be the basis of free will, i.e. we can chose our own brain structures depending on the activities we engage in. But then I was left with the question of how do we decide which activities we want to engage in; what draws us to certain activities, thus prompting us to create certain neural pathways? After our discussion on twins and the influence of genetics, I'm starting to think that the answer to that question may be genetics. Perhaps the reason some people are drawn to certain activities and not others is based in their genetic composition. So the brain, behavior, and genetics all influence each other and together create the uniqueness of each individual.

I also found the discussion of spinal cord injury and the I-function very interesting. I wonder what the limit of the spinal cord processing functionality is. It seems to be a very basic, reflexive processing, and I wonder if this level of processing exists in the spinal cord to free the brain up for more complex processing. And how does the neocortex play into this processing? Why doesn't the spinal cord have a neocortex? Perhaps because the head is better protected by the skull plus the collection of sensory organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth). If the neocortex is the location of higher cognitive functions and more complex behaviors, is this the part of the brain that really contains the essential person?

Brain = behavior wk 3
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-02-06 20:38:03
Link to this Comment: 12579

The brain = behavior for now seems like the most evolved set of observations that explain one's behavior. These observations are the least wrong answer we can come up with, and as Prof Grobstein stated, nothing has proven them to be false. However, from what history has told us, we must understand that observations change as technology develops over time. Rarely if never does one make an observation that cannot be improved of modified. Therefore, I feel that we can't treat the brain = behavior case any differently. There are less wrong observations out there. We just don;t have the technology to observe them. As of right now, brain = behavior is more than good enough for me, but in the future there these observations will be obsolete, and a new set and society will view the new observations as the "right one's"

Along those lines, why does society always feel that their observations are the correct observations? Why does everything have to be right or wrong? Are our egos so swollen that we cannot look at our belief systems from att least somewhat of an objective view? What is it about humans that make us want think that we know everything?

Do we have free will?
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-02-06 20:43:01
Link to this Comment: 12580

After reading Flicka's comments, I came to wonder do we really have free will?

I feel that we might not have as much free will as we think. We have all been affected from numerous things unconsciously that make us do what we do. Many people were brought up with morals and societies views on what is accepted or not accepted. I think that we as humans act upon what we intake unconsciously and consciously. We tend to do things that are unexplained, but if look into closer detail are all reactions to the world around us. For example, many people abide by the world’s moral code, why is that? Is it because we are trained inherently through society and our upbringing or is it because we really have the free will to choose. There are also many other people who do not abide by the moral code, is that their choice or is it because something inside of them drives them to rebel? People all seem to want to be different and distinguishable, but in reality we all tend to still have many of the same values instilled within ourselves that force us to do things that we do not want to do. I do not necessarily think that we have our own free will; I think our free will is built by our surroundings. I think that people that “chose” to do something other than what they are suppose to do do it because of something inside of them. Im not quiet sure how this will all work out, but I guess I am still working on my story and will keep trying to re-write it to make it less and less wrong. Is free will something we can control, or is it something inside of us already molded?

Intention and Paralysis
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-02-06 22:50:31
Link to this Comment: 12583

I was intrigued by our discussion of Christopher Reeve’s in class Thursday. We talked about how Christopher’s foot would retract if touched but if asked what he felt after the stimulus Christopher would say he felt nothing. We decided then that the body could respond to stimulus without the brain knowing it.
Like the foot, if Christopher’s hand were put on a burning stove top it would withdraw without “Christopher” (his brain) knowing it. The question I left class was could Christopher will his hand not to withdraw? Although it would be painful, I believe I could will myself not to remove my hand from a burning stove, whereas I don’t think Christopher could. Does this mean that intention is above the neck somewhere?
And if Christopher cannot will his hand to stay on a burning stove a whole new “box” of questions is opened. For example: Presuming free will exists, can it be lost (by being disconnected from the brain?)

Where does the I-function come in?
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-02-06 23:34:35
Link to this Comment: 12587

After Thursday’s discussion about the I-function, I continued to think about the question posed in the first week of classes, does brain equal behavior? At first I was inclined to think yes, just because what I know about the biology and chemistry of the brain. However, I now firmly believe that Emily’s theory just cannot be fitting and we cannot simply state that brain equals behavior. This equation, to me, is definitely lacking and I feel like the discussion about the I-function helped me to reevaluate Emily’s ideas. When I think about the brain, I think that behavior must encompass the I-function, meaning the thoughts and ideas that flow through an individual’s mind before any sort of reaction is made in response to the input. Therefore, there is some sort of progression that occurs when an input is first received to when a particular behavior or action is noticed in the individual and I believe that Emily’s theory does not take this into account. Everyday, individuals receive the same sort of input and inevitably each person has their own unique way of responding to this input, thereby creating a spectrum of different outputs. I believe this spectrum is created due to the I-function, where individuals internalize and personalize these inputs and then tailor their outputs to their own particular needs, feelings, and goals. While Emily’s theory does have some merit, in that, brain eventually leads to behavior I feel that a more complete story considers the I-function and the uniqueness of outputs created amongst individuals.

Another topic that I found interesting was raised mainly in the forum – the question of sexual arousal in those that have suffered neurological damage. I was searching the internet looking for some more ideas to fuel the discussion on this topic and I found had discussed sexuality and disability. Neurogenic problems, including autonomic, peripheral, or central, commonly caused constriction of blood flow, which can then affect engorgement of sexual organs and orgasm. The MD who wrote the article also discussed that some individuals may have a decreased libido and trouble achieving orgasm. Even more interesting was another website I found where a woman discussed that she had trouble becoming aroused unless she experienced direct stimulation. Again, we see a wide spectrum of behavior in these individuals and I believe that even in those stricken with neurological damage the I-function contributes to whether or not they can achieve any pleasure or gratification through sexual encounters.

What is "want"?
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-02-07 10:55:45
Link to this Comment: 12593

I am thinking about what allows us to do things we don't "want" to do--that is, "want" in a "free will" sense of the word, although we haven't quite defined free will either--or makes us do things we don't "want" to do.

What is the difference between a student making herself read a mandatory, but tedious article for a class even though she really doesn't want to, and the same student, say making herself sit with an injured leg covered in ice packs even though it is uncomfortable, even painful? How and why do we suppress our instincts in certain situations? Is there a certain key to overriding instinct or want, and is it a similar process or path (input to output) for any situation? In other words, do we always "give in" in the same way (that is, come to a point where we accept we must do something--indeed, come to a point where we DO actually change and find that we "want" to do X nonpleasurable thing, as in "I want to do well in this class, so I will do the reading,") or does this "giving in" or "resolve" take place in the same part of the brain, or because of the same chemicals or neuron firing pattern each time?

Also, this makes me think about forming or stopping habitual behavior--what is it to "want" to do something? How much is physical desire/need/etc, and how much is using logic/intelligence/reasoning? What does it mean to be "strong-willed?"

Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-02-07 12:08:44
Link to this Comment: 12597

I found it very interesting to learn just how efficiently arranged our neuro anatomy is. That the motoneurons for my feet are located at the bottom of my spine and those for my hands are higher, was not a surprise, but I did feel a sense of awe. I thought about all the evolutionary steps that must have taken place to create a nervous system that operates so efficiently.

In thinking about this, I could not help but think about the evolution of computers, for the two are very similar. Both computers and our nervous system can accomplish complex tasks through a great number of simple tasks, both are about the transfer of information and not energy, and both seem to have evolved to become more efficient.

When we first discussed the issue of the neocortex in relation to the bird brains, I was skeptical that merely the definition of the arrangement of neurons could determine whether a neocortex existed. Then I realized that the patterns are very significant. While clusters of neurons can be dense, layers of neurons are much more efficient and can fit more neurons into a smaller space.

The computer began as a very inefficient organization of switches, that over time, became smaller and smaller, packing more switches into a smaller space. I find it facinating that current processors are organized in layers of silicon to acheive better speeds and efficiency, just as neurons in the neocortex are.

free will
Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-02-07 12:41:24
Link to this Comment: 12599

I wanted to address what some people have said about free will being a total definable reflection of the brain. I believe this notion must be questioned when dicussing people whose behaviors reflect abnormailities or damage in the brain. There is a shocking (perhaps not) number of people on the death rows in this country who when tested for brain abnormailities (which are definitely not all of them, considering our poor system for adequate public defense) show dramatic damage, particularly to the frontal lobe. Individuals with learning disabilities, mental retardation (some states still allow death sentences for the mentally retarded), the aftermath of physical trauma to the brain, or psychological disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder make up a large population of our prisons. I have to believe that when a person suffers from such acute abnormalities of the brain, any subsequent deviant behavior cannot be construed as a reflection of their own personal free will. I do not mean to argue that a brain damaged person is not at all culpable for criminal activity. Nor do I mean that people are not always responsible for the choices they make or the things they do. I simply mean to say that the physicality of the brain and the extent to which a person is evil by our society's moral standards must not be confused, and must be considered when we try to bestow justice upon everyone equally.

transcending pain
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-07 12:50:09
Link to this Comment: 12601

I suppose all the discussion about pain being felt between the toe and the brain got me thinking about those monks that are able to transcend pain because they are at ahigher mental state. At least, that is my understanding of how they accomplish withstanding great pain without feeling it. Are they battling against their brain's messages telling them that they are in pain, or have they retreated somewhere in their brain? Perhaps they are in a different area where the pain cannot get to, but then where would this be? Are they perhaps truly within their soul or whatever you wish to call it? Could there be an area of the brain that is not touched by the nerves that transmit pain, which is probably one of the most basic senses? Or is this simply the ultimate act of free will- to stop the senses whenever one wants to?

spinal cord, free will, and the "I-function"
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-02-07 15:29:45
Link to this Comment: 12611

People raise some very interesting points while discussing the question of brain= behavior and free will. In light of the new information we discussed on Thursday, I am inclined to believe that brain does not equal behavior, simply because we discovered the spinal cord’s ability to perform such sophisticated functions without any input from the brain. Thus, if Christopher Reeves pulls his toe back when someone pinches it, this is a form of behavior, but it is not one that is connected to the brain, because the brain and spinal cord are no longer connected.

To address the issue of free will: It’s very hard to discuss free will because it is so hard to define. What is free will? To me, it is the ability a person has to choose what path or action he/she will take. I don’t necessarily think that free will is what we “want”. I think it is the power we have to decide what we do. For example, I can read a 50-page article for homework, or I can choose to not read it. I don’t want to read it (who would want to read something that long?), but I do read it. Why? Because my life experiences have told me that if I don’t do my homework, I will get in trouble. Thus, I think that although people have the tendency to think of free will as what an individual wants to do, I think of it more as what an individual decides to do. What we actually decide to do obviously is largely made based on the summary of observations we have made about that specific subject up until this point.

Having said that, I think that free will has a direct connection to our “I-function”. I am assuming that by “I-function” we are referring to our individual thoughts and ways of processing information that are categorized independently from the brain. So, if the “I-function” is to be called a separate name from the brain, then this too must be considered part of behavior. Thus, the equation brain= behavior is no longer adequate. However, this does not mean that Emily Dickenson was wrong, because she was smart enough to also make the distinction between what we call the “brain” and the “I-function”. She said, “The one the other will contain/ With ease- and You- beside.” Thus, she also understood that there is a difference between “you” and your “brain”. And even though the “I-function” must reside in the brain, maybe we give it another name because it has the astonishing ability to transcend the other part of the brain. In other words, your “I-function” is the conscious part of your brain that forces you to think about why you do what you do, and even forces you to question the decisions you make.

So, if all of this speculation is true, does that mean that the “I-function” is what we call our consciousness? And is that the same thing as what we call the “soul” or “self”?

other minds
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-02-07 15:36:02
Link to this Comment: 12612

When Carly said “Because I believe a person must dehumanize another to be capable of acting violently against him, I want to try first to understand what it is that blinds us, that prevents us from being able to see one another as human beings, and to recognize and accept our shared humanity despite our differences,” it made me think about the whole problem of other minds. Despite how much we are able to learn about the structure of the brain and the brain vs. mind problem, there will always be the problem of other people’s minds. We may be able to analyze the physical reactions to a particular stimulus and identify all of the “boxes” in another person’s brain, but we will never know what their actual experiences of the world are. We can know that a person is color blind and we can determine the wavelengths of the colors that they see, but we can not know what their personal experiences of color are. For this reason we know ourselves in ways that we don’t know others. We identify other people and assume that they are capable of the same experiences, thoughts, and emotions that we are. But because we don’t experience the world in their mind, they are not the same to us as we are to ourselves. I think that this is one possible reason that people are able to be hateful and commit acts of violence on others. It also brings up the problems associated with cultural relevance that Imran mentioned. He asked if our egos are so swollen that we cannot look at our belief systems from a somewhat objective point of view. I think that because of the problem of other minds, the answer to this (in at least some regards) is yes. Because every mind is different and evaluates the world differently, there can be no distinct line from which to measure beliefs objectively. I think this is highlighted by a James Rachels quote that “If we assume that our ideas of right and wrong will be shared by all peoples at all times, we are merely naïve.”

weird question
Name: Nadia Khan
Date: 2005-02-07 18:51:57
Link to this Comment: 12635

all this talk about individual perception reminded me of a conversation i had a with a friend of mine from home over break. he insisted that color was just a matter of perception. i am going to try and be as clear as possible (might be a little hard), but basically his arguement was that it is possible thateveryone sees different colors but we all can label them similarly (red, green, blue). So basically, the color red is relative to my perception, it is possible that i have seen the color red the way you see blue all my life, but i call it red and so do you, even though we are seeing two totally different colors, and no one would ever really know the difference in perception until you climb into someone else's brain and see how they percieve the color that you see as your perception of red. i am probably not being clear here. but i guess what i am trying to grasp is the concept that because everyone's brains are difference despite main structural similarities, how can we generalize about brain functions, not knowing what each person sees or feels?
probably a dumb question, but it got me thinking.

Bird's Brains and Free Will
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-02-07 19:16:02
Link to this Comment: 12636

A New York Times article from Feb. 1st entitled "Minds of Their Own:Birds Gain Respect", explains that birds brains are remarkably more evolved than was originally believed. The article emphasizes the fact that the behaviors exhibited by some birds were more complicated, thus leading the scientific specialists to reevaluate the idea that birds possess "simple" brains. I found this article interesting and relevant, because it dealt with the notion of linking "intelligent" behavior with "complex" brain structure. The article also notes that the cerebrum of a bird is now known to be similar to a mammal's. I wonder if the study of the bird brain in comparison to the human brain could lead to a greater knowledge of how the different parts of the brain relate to instinct, intelligence, and understanding? Also, could this type of comparative research lead to a more concrete understanding of the i-function and free will?

Brain, Body and mind
Name: LF
Date: 2005-02-07 21:17:21
Link to this Comment: 12639

People say that the brain and the mind are two seperate entities. I believe this to be wrong. I feel as though the mind is created by the brain due to exterior influences such as environment or upbringing. I believe that the brain is the mind. I think that the brain controls the body and every movement, decision and action. I would be interested to see if someone believed me to be wrong, what their reason would be.

Brain, Body and mind
Name: Nadine Hun
Date: 2005-02-07 21:21:24
Link to this Comment: 12640

I disagree with what Lavinia Fiamma said. I believe the brain and the mind to be separate. One is born with a brain, not with a mind. Although you say the mind is created by the brain, you feel as though they are two different things. If something is created by something else, it is different. A brain is an organ, the mind is not.

re: Free will from an evolutionary perspective
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-02-07 21:58:35
Link to this Comment: 12641

Katherine brought up an interesting point that I will quote here:

"But what about non-tangible, non-spiritual factors that affect behavior? For example, peer pressure to conform to certain body images? If someone consciously/subconsciously conforms to an ideal presented by society, even if it is detrimental to one's health, is that an issue with the brain, society, one's will?"

If it's true that certain evolved behaviors can be classified as "reflex actions" to prevent harm done to the organism, such as jerking away from the hot stove, can it not also be aruged that other, more complex actions have also been selected for through evolutionary time? For example, peer pressure: in early human society, one could hypothesize that any one individual who looked a little different from the rest of the group was singled out by some other force acting on the population-- perhaps they were easier for a predator to spot, I don't know. To reduce the chances of having group members die off, the group might have pressured or excluded said "different" member from a hunting party, perhaps (this is only an example, I'm not saying any of this is true). The point I'm trying to make is that I think we are overlooking the biological perpective a lot of the time in this class; focusing on many huge, unsolvable and labyrinth-like philosophical conundrums that could be greatly clarified if we stopped thinking about "what is the mind, and how do we know it" and looked instead at the obervable biological factors that define our behavior.

Going back to Brain = Behavior...
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-07 23:30:02
Link to this Comment: 12643

I am still stuck on the initial question of whether the brain is equal to behavior. I was fairly convinced that brain does indeed equal behavior but on Tuesday a statement that Professor Grobstein said stuck in my mind. He mentioned Alzheimer's disease and I remembered a fact I learned in my Psych class. I double checked my notes and found that before someone shows ANY signs of having alzheimer's, approximately 80% of their substantia nigra has to be destroyed. This seems strange if Emily was right and changes in behavior means changes in the brain. In this case, the brain structure is changing greatly (the substantia nigra) but how come no behavior changes?

Name: Kara
Date: 2005-02-07 23:38:36
Link to this Comment: 12644

This week discussions got me thinking about defining behavior. I like the definition that behavior is the series of different firing patterns/ distributed activity in the nervous system. I had never thought about this concept before and it spurred thoughts about how does our nervous system learn or know these firing patterns. I think a subset of the definition that encompasses our discussion of brain = behavior is how many of these behaviors are intuitive verse learned, and if we have the power to bypass these firing patterns. For example, it is intuitive that your heart beats, and you breath, but you must learn to walk. You can willingly stop yourself from walking by sending out signals to make your muscles stop contracting, but along those same lines, you cant willingly stop your heart from beating… So if humans do have free will in our behavior, clearly we cant control everything.

Christopher Reeve and ownership of self
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-02-08 00:14:24
Link to this Comment: 12646

In respect to Christoper Reeve’s reaction to a pin prick on his toe and his inability to recognize physical pain, I think it is interesting to discuss the implications of ownership. That is, did Christoper Reeve himself withdraw from the pin, or did his toe, following orders from the spinal cord, react? Or, was it sensory memory, a set of reactions already established before his injury and still in place? “Who” owned the response and feeling? Now that he is quadriplegic and unable to experience the same physical sensations that he once felt, are they no longer his and a part of him? Because aren’t each of us the embodiment of physical, mental and social interactions with the greater world? If you no longer own/are in control of/have access to the sensory stimulation that reassures your existence, legitimizes your reality, then what are you? To elaborate on this thought, let’s discuss pain. I feel pain. My body feels pain. In either case, the pain—emotion or physical—is variable and not necessarily limited to one or the other. For example, My knee hurts. My heart hurts. My head aches. My mind is tired. Each demonstrates an emotional or physical pain felt by different parts of my self. But this “self”—what is that really? If I bang my knee, is it the mass of ligaments and muscle that is injured, or is an essential part of me injured as well? Or, if this were Christopher Reeve, now that all sensation is gone, does he still really own his body? As the discussed example demonstrated, his body could react pretty well on its own, whether he felt it or not.

Name: Cam
Date: 2005-02-08 09:22:12
Link to this Comment: 12649

In relation to Thursday’s discussion. . .Over the weekend I was thinking about our discussion on Christopher Reeve and the changes in his physical abilities as a result of his riding accident, and I guess what I want to know most is if there was any change in his personality (other than what could be expected from going through a traumatic experience that would require him to significantly readjust his life)? From our discussion, I would suppose that the answer would be no, if only his spinal cord was affected.

I’m just thinking about it because I’ve been reading In Cold Blood for another class, and Capote refers twice to a serious automobile accident that one of the assailants (Dick) was in when he was much younger – one that resulted in extensive head injuries. For Dick, it appears that his behavior did change significantly after the accident (if the accounts by him & his father are true) – his life was relatively “normal” before; after the accident he started to gamble and cheat on his wife (behavior he had never engaged in prior to the accident), and that’s when he was first arrested for writing bad checks.

I remember reading an article in the Sunday Times a little over a week ago about a chemist who specializes in making psychedelic substances (Alexander Shulgin) and in passing (if I remember correctly) the author mentioned a substance Shulgin had made that induced anger and/or violence. Now I guess that I am starting to accept this brain = behavior idea. . .I am wondering if some people are more receptive to those types of alterations in brain chemistry than others? Like if there was a substance that induced violence – would some people have a stronger reaction than others, and then why?

Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-02-08 09:47:29
Link to this Comment: 12650

Is there a story behind people who are in a coma? These people are living in a state of unconsciousness, where they have lost cognitive neurological function. Furthermore, they are no longer aware of the external environment, yet they still have spontaneous movements like their eyes may open. My question is how can one explain the spontaneous movements? Why are they still able to exhibit spontaneous respiration? Coma is different from brain death, and so there are still some brain activities. Some people said that a person in a coma is just under a deep sleep, so if this is true, what part of the brain is not working and not working? Is there anyway, one can record whether a patient in a coma can dream or not? How is the brain activity different from a normal brain activity?

Name: Stephanie
Date: 2005-02-08 09:48:21
Link to this Comment: 12651

The idea, about individual perception, that Nadia discussed in her post I think is a very valid one and one that I have thought about for a long time as well. I think it is very hard to know that how I see yellow is necessarily how someone else sees and perceives yellow in their brain. However, I also think that it is quite remarkable that no matter how we identify these things for ourselves everyone still has a common labeling system. I still call the same thing green that you do whether or not my brain and my eyes and my neurons actually perceive it in the same way. This also often makes me think about people who are color blind. Do two colors just look indistinguishable to these individuals or do two colors just get mixed up? How do they know that they can’t see certain colors when they have never been able to see them?

passion vs. pain
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-02-08 16:45:59
Link to this Comment: 12696

I've found the topic of pain and physical reflexes interesting, but I
didn't have a strong opinion about it until today's class. One of the
former dancers in the class pointed out that the mentality of the dancing
society is that if you're passionate enough about dancing, you will do it
no matter how much pain you are in. As another former dancer I can say
that this is absolutely true, and that every serious ballet dancer
sustains injuries such as tendonitis and stress fractures. I was a
little upset at how the topic was left in class. It seemed as though
there was a general agreement that there is a threshold at which the body
responds, without taking pain into account. Considering how much
discussion there has been about free will, I was surprised that no one
really challenged that theory. I strongly disagree with the idea that
eventually pain overrides passion on an unstoppable physical level.

Despite numerous ankle injuries, reconstructive surgery, intensive
physical therapy, and a great deal of pain, I have continued to play
field hockey. As pointed out in class, athletes do some amazing things
despite pain. This pass fall I acquired severe tendonitis in my
Achilles’ tendon during preseason. It was excruciating to walk and I
avoided leaving my apartment at all costs, with the exception of
practice. Three times a day I went to practice and ran. There may be
some physical explanation (such as adrenaline) that would explain my
ability to continue running despite the fact that had I continued for
another day the tendon would have burst. But I think that it was more my
mentality than anything else that kept me running. (And wouldn’t the
adrenaline result from my mental state in that situation as well?) I did
not stop because of the pain; I stopped because I happened to mention the
pain to the trainer, who then made me ineligible to play. And I would
not have stopped as a result of the pain; only from learning that
continuing would result in more surgery. In response to Lauren's post
and the discussion in today's class: I also know what it's like to place
my foot on the ground and have my body jerk it back in pain. But I was
also able to force my foot back onto the ground to keep running and say
"I'm going to do this" because that was my mindset and my mind was
able to overcome the physical pain.

Monks and Meditation
Name: Erin
Date: 2005-02-09 19:33:45
Link to this Comment: 12722

During the discussion on Tuesday of Elizabeth’s question of how monks appear to be able to transcend pain, I was reminded of an article that I saw in the Washington Post. The article described a study that was conducted to compare the effects of meditation between Tibetan monks trained in meditation and students who had no formal experience with the practice. While the participants meditated, their brain activity was monitored. The results suggest that the monks trained in meditation show significantly more brain activity, in the form of high-frequency gamma waves and brain synchrony, especially in the left prefrontal cortex, compared to the controls. The researcher, Richard Davidson, explained the difference as follows, “‘Their mental practice is having an effect on the brain in the same way golf or tennis practice will enhance performance.’ It demonstrates, he said, that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine.” (Meditation Gives Brain a Charge, Study Finds, Marc Kaufman,, January 3, 2005)

In relation to our discussion in class, it is not unreasonable to think that monks might be able to overcome pain by meditation, especially if this story of mental practice changing the brain is a viable one…just something interesting to think about...

Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-09 19:49:44
Link to this Comment: 12724

[Originally posted on 1/22/05]

Although ideologically I would take the side of Emily Dickinson and the current theories about the brain behavior link, I'm having trouble resolving one issue. If we all basically have the same brain structure and nervous system connections and if the brain controls our behavior, why is it that people exibit such a wide and varied range of behaviors? Why do we not all think and act as similar as our brains our? The only reasonable explanation that I can think of is the nature vs nurture argument. This however does not provide a satisfying answer to the wide range of behavior styles.

Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-09 19:51:06
Link to this Comment: 12725

[Originallhy posted on 1/29/05]

When refering to our behavior as being dictated by chemical and electrical impulses between our neurons, we tend to loose our individual will or "sense of self". We have already discussed the idea of you being in your brain and subject to all of its rules, providing a rather grim picture for free will. However, I don't feel that by accepting this idea wwe have to take on the view that we are prisoners to our brains. By focousing more on what Freud described as the superego or the seperate areas of the brain that biologists have designated for the ability to overide, restrain, and plan our behavior (I think it might have something to do with the frontal lobe), we can maintane our sense of self. Although the "you" is required to follow the phisical ruls of the brain, it is not required to follow its orders.
[It would be ineresting to see where and when this area of the nervous system evolved (ie. from which lump did it originate and in what animal)]

the brain's role in reflexes
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-02-09 23:14:52
Link to this Comment: 12732

During Tuesday's class, I felt that there was something missing from the discussion on spinal cord processing and reflexes. It seemed like we were saying that our reflexes (processed in the spinal cord) cause us to react before our brains actually process the stimulus. This seemed contrary to my experience where I've often found myself reacting more to the knowledge that pain was coming than to the actual presence of pain itself. This knowledge that the event that had just occurred would lead to pain and that I should prepare myself for that pain requires conscious thought, and thus implies a processing role for the brain in reflex action in addition to whatever processing is done by the spinal cord.

So, I did some research and found that while the simplest reflex arcs require only sensory and motor neurons, there is an additional neuron type - interneurons - that can be sandwiched between the sensory and motor neurons. These interneurons communicate with the brain, and allow us to overcome our reflexive reactions if we choose. For example, if you are tapped on the knee, the default response will be for the knee to jerk (sensory-motor neuron arc), but you can decide not to let your knee jerk and hold it still preventing this response (sensory-interneuron-motor neuron arc).

Limbs and Feeling
Name: Sonnet
Date: 2005-02-10 01:32:46
Link to this Comment: 12734

In thinking back on the discussion of Christopher Reeve, I wonder about the difference in relationship between losing body parts and gaining body parts. If you lose a limb then you lose feeling in the limb, but your brain can still create feeling in a piece of material you no longer have. The question I have is if the brain can create feeling from a limb that has been lost, can the brain create feeling from a limb that has been gained but does not have nerve tissue???

Re: MK's
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-02-10 01:38:16
Link to this Comment: 12735

In response to the previous post (MK's regarding control over reflexes), I propose that her fore-knowledge of pain and subsequent reaction can be explained by her experience responding to painful stimuli. The time difference between one's (spinal cord-initiated) reaction from pain-causing stimuli and one's (brain processing) recognition of pain is so miniscule, that it SEEMS that a reflex is in fact a conscious decision. With respect to her example about overcoming an urge to react when someone strikes her knee, I suggest that she is able to "control" this "reflex" because she knows that it is coming, expects her body to react a certain way, and therefore maintains such an awareness that she can indeed resist jerking her knee. However, I think if her knee were to be hit in the right spot as to provoke a movement, she would not be able to resist her natural reflex.

Katherine's Response
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-02-10 09:14:30
Link to this Comment: 12738

I was also confused about whether the brain was really involved in reflexes or just seemed to be, but the reading I did in the Bio 101/102 book (Biology by Campbell & Reece, 6th edition, p.1024-1025) indicates that reflexes can be controlled due to the presence of interneurons between sensory and motor neurons. Perhaps it's more of a semantic issue in how we're defining "reflex." Campbell seems to include the idea of control in its definition of "reflex," but others might not.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-10 09:48:11
Link to this Comment: 12740

This link was something I stumbled across while doing a search on birdbrains. It is really funny and more amusing than anything so I thought I'd add it so people could see just for fun...

Birdbrain Animal Planet Link

sodium permeability
Name: Samantha T
Date: 2005-02-10 14:46:58
Link to this Comment: 12753

At the end of lecture today, we learned that action potentials are able to start "in the middle of the box". This somewhat answers one of my first questions about the theory of boxes within boxes, and why male crickets chirp when no female is present...but now I'm left with a few more questions:

If a certain portion of an axon is particularly more permeable to sodium, therefore generating an action potential, then does it automatically fire all of the time due to random diffusion?

If so, then is our behavior dependent upon diffusion?

If not, then what is acting upon the axon membrane to change its permeability?

If Emily is right and Brain=Behavior...
Then there is a possibility that given Diffusion=Brain, then Diffusion=Behavior. Personally, this idea, that Behavior is only a result of random diffusion, creeps me out a little bit.

How are we supposed to live with any kind of integrity if behavior is simply written off as a random event?

Science Times Article
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-02-11 17:05:05
Link to this Comment: 12798

After reading the Science Times article, "Signs of Awareness seen in Brain-Injured Patients," I was struck by the research findings. Patients that have been classified as minimally conscious showed brain activity similar to that of a healthy patient at the sound of a loved-one.

"'This study gave me goose bumps, because it shows this possibility of this profound isolation, that these people are there, that they've been there all along, even though we've been treating them as if they're not,' said Dr. Joseph Fins, chief of the medical ethics division of New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center".

I think Fins' comments are significant; his comments imply that "people are there," that the components that make up a person are independent of the brain. We haven't touched upon the concept of emotion, but it appears that these minimally conscious patients are experiencing some kind of emotion despite their severe injuries. I think experiments like these are vital; we should not be too quick to dismiss the possibility that brain may not = behavior. There may be other aspects of the human condition that contribute to behavior - not taking this warning seriously may result in more minimally conscious patients that are left in the dark.

Thinking about Thursday's class
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-11 23:08:16
Link to this Comment: 12807

We learnt on Thursday that signals can originate from the nervous system, and not necessarily in response to input from the external world. Could this be related to our experience of having a "self" that is separate from the brain? The self is often thought of as a separate entity that possesses free will; it can choose/decide whether to act either in response to a stimulus or in the absence of a stimulus. The act of thinking may be explained by the fact that neurons can initiate signals. It takes a conscious effort for me to empty my mind of any thoughts even for 10 minutes; a moment of lapsed attention, I find myself "talking" to myself (in the mind). This gives an illusion that there is another me, an immaterial existence within me that operates largely beyond my control or that of my environment. Perhaps, it is the spontaneous activity of my neurons that makes it possible for me to have an internal conversation.

week 4
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-12 09:46:20
Link to this Comment: 12810

You're welcome, as always, to write about whatever you've been thinking about this week. If you need something to get you going though, Samantha, Aia, and Xuan-Shi have given us a good start on a topic: Action potentials, we have found, are understandable in terms of ionic concentration gradients, diffusion, passive current flow, and variable membrane permeability. They are also the near exclusive mechanism by which boxes in the nervous system communicate with each other and with the rest of the body and the outside world. In what ways is this a useful understanding? In what ways does it raise new questions/problems? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, on this or anything else.

Signals within the box
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-02-12 12:47:55
Link to this Comment: 12814

Our discussion this week of signals starting within the ‘box’ that is the brain focused a lot on the process of osmosis. While I knew the definition and basic principles of osmosis from previous classes, I had never before thought of it as particularly meaningful or important, especially in terms of such a complex thing as behavior. I knew it existed, but never knew it could be at the core of human behavior.

This idea of random movement implies that signals starting from inside the box are also a result of randomness; random, in term, implies a certain level of unpredictability. If randomness is introduced into the system, our explanation of behavior becomes less formulaic. We are not reduced to beings that simply respond to environmental events, but are generating inputs within ourselves and these inputs are the result of randomness. I am tempted to say this explains why our behaviors can be so complex and concepts like ‘free will’ and choice, but osmosis occurs in all organisms and we do not think of all organisms are having the same complexity and choice as humans. In short, I recognize this is an important concept, but am not yet sure where it fits in the big picture.

On a final note, is the controversial concept of neurogenesis another example of a signal starting within the box?

Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-12 14:15:52
Link to this Comment: 12816

The whole topic of diffusion and thinking how behavior is related to it has intrigued me to think differently. In other neurobiology classes that have dealt with the same topics, actual behavior due to the concept of just diffusion has never been distinguish before as in this class. The topic of free will and self have never had a place in discussion before. I am excited to learn more about this approach becasue after part taking in class I find that maybe I have overlooked some pertinent concepts. As for action potentials, last class I could not stop thinking about Long QT syndrome (for more info… ) and how it pertains to brain equaling behavior.

Name: erickenb
Date: 2005-02-12 14:17:14
Link to this Comment: 12817

long qt syndrom link
(for more info… )

Re: Signals within the box
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-12 14:41:50
Link to this Comment: 12818

I think we're loosing sight of the big picture. Altough a complete knowlege of neural networks and action potencials are essential to our understanding of behavior, I think we are trying to infer too much from it. Rather than taking the idea of randomness and trying apply it to such broad topics as our perception of free wiil , I think we should back track to the idea of a unique arrangement of these neurons to help explain these complex aspects of behavior. Because osmossis and random motion occurs in all organisms with a nervous system, I think it better explains the more basic, slightly more physical aspect of our behavior, not our very complex thoughts.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-13 12:20:44
Link to this Comment: 12827

Firstly, I would like to say that although I found most of the explanations of the action and resting potentials confusing because it conflicted with what I had been taught before, the explanation of the reason behind why the signals move in a certain direction, specifically dealing with charges and gaining stability, made a lot of sense to me.

Secondly, I read the New York Times article on evil and found it fascinating(there is a link in the class notes). However, I can definately see that the Western world is tainted by the history of evil and how it has been seen, mostly in a religious sense. Nowadays everyone wants everything to relate to science and you can not mix religion into it. Yet I wonder about our discussions on free will. Are we looking at this issue from a purely Judeo-Christian side? If we talk about free will, do we neccessarily have to talk about religion as well, because it introduces fate or destiny as the opposite concept? Then are we making science our own destiny, due to its possible function of controlling all behavior through the brain? This argument may be circular, but it is something that we have to keep in mind.

A new spin on brain and behavior
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-02-13 14:15:03
Link to this Comment: 12829

As the class progresses, I am still grappling to better understand the question posed earlier: does brain = behavior? Cam discussed change in behavior after enduring such a traumatic experience as the one Christopher Reeves endured. Personally, I would expect to see changes in one’s personality after such a trauma, if only because, their psyche must come to terms with the physical pain. This pain will then affect their personality and therefore, changes should be expected. If brain is simply equal to behavior, then all patients with the same type of injuries would hypothetically react the same way to such an experience. However, we know this is not the case – again, there is a spectrum of different reactions, as I brought up in last week’s posting. Therefore, I still believe that one’s personality continues to evolve in response to more than just his/her brain chemistry, which I think would be particularly intensified by an experience such as the one that happened to Christopher Reeves.

I also wanted to bring up another thought regarding “phantom pain.” Perhaps the mind creates this pain in order to recreate the semblance of feeling and sensation that once existed there. If you can “make yourself sick” at some points in your life without actually having a physical problem, is it possible that we can create pain in our minds so that we actually feel it?

Another topic that I have explored on my own was brought up in the New York Times science section in February 1, 2005 entitled For Zebrafish, that Certain Glow. I have worked on zebrafish before and know how effective they are as model systems to learn about particular human conditions. In particular, this article focused on using a transgenic gene that is inserted into the fish – the gene that is responsible for the “fire” in the firefly – can help scientists to understand circadian rhythms as well as information about the internal clock. This research can then help to understand genetic factors behind jet lag and other conditions with affect rhythm in humans. I found this fascinating that this little organism, which is seemingly so different from humans, can help us to understand humans and their genes on a more advanced level. Personally, I have worked on retinal regeneration with zebrafish, but the reason I bring up this topic is to draw attention to the fact that a lot of information about genes and their role within the human body is still unknown. So, perhaps until we know more information (which may never happen) we cannot definitively conclude whether brain is truly behavior and until then we must accept that there is more to this equation.

Diffusion = behavior?
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-02-13 14:42:43
Link to this Comment: 12831

I think I'm inclined to agree with Alfredo on this one; action potential and the diffusion of ions across the semi-permeable membrane of a neuron is the mechanism with which a signal is relayed from one organ to another, and is not really a complete representation of behavior.

Samantha mentioned before that she thinks diffusion = behavior, and that diffusion is random. I disagree with her here; I don't think diffusion is random. Even though ions tend to diffuse down the concentration gradient, there are ATP powered "pumps" within the membrane of the neuron (in conjunction with membrane semi-permeability) that maintain the action potential; so it seems, to me anyway, that ion concentration is controlled, and therefore, not random. Perhaps I am interpreting this differently than Samantha, but I believe that while the the effects presented by "random diffusion" may appear to suggest that diffusion = behavior, the neuron has "controls" in place to maintain the action potential that would otherwise cease to be if diffusion were totally random. I also believe that the opening of sodium/potassium channels was responsible for the transmission of a signal, not so much the "random" diffusion of ions. Also, while we did see that it was possible for a signal to orininate on the axon of the neuron under laboratroy conditions, can this really happen within an organism? Does the new signal originate along the axon, or is it initiated by the dendrites or the cell body?

Yet, on the other hand, perhaps neurons really do fire so often that some signals are "ignored." Maybe there are so many signals sent to the brain that the interneurons don't relay all of them (or maybe the conscious self is just never alerted). I think that if the brain were constantly bombarded with signals, then perhaps there are "decisions" made as to which ones will or will not be ignored. But, since signals are "all or nothing" as Professor Grobstein mentioned in class, how is a signal terminated? Clearly it doesn't degrade over time, so what kind of mechanism is used to stop a signal? Is there even a mechanism?

Date: 2005-02-13 17:39:28
Link to this Comment: 12849

poopy butt

Name: Malaya Sni
Date: 2005-02-13 17:45:34
Link to this Comment: 12850

I like how we have decided that actions potentials can start randomly. I do not think we will ever be able to explain why things happen because there will always be another cause for the effect. Each day we do come closer and closer to learning more about certain actions and causes, but I believe it will never be as explainable because there could always be something else affecting the outcome. Not ever person is the same, and yes we see patterns between different people that might have some of the same symptoms, but they still will vary. Is this because of some otter force? Even some of the physical aspects vary, but is that because of stuff the brain picked up consciously or unconsciously? I can except that stuff just starts in the brain randomly because of the explanation in class, but i still feel that there is an explanation for everything, but that we might not ever be able to figure it out.

Action Potential Origins
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-02-13 17:49:01
Link to this Comment: 12851

Since we learned on Thursday that Na channels are ion gated I am hoping that next class we will learn how the axon is de-polarized before Na channels open up. I want to understand how the cell gets the small but necessary (because of the Na channel's gated character) depolarization that allows Na channels to open enough to allow a depolarization big enough to reach threshold. I am assuming this initial depolarization generally comes from other cells action potentials or chemical messengers, but what about when the action potential starts from the cell alone?
In response to Samantha Thomson’s question about whether high Na permeability leads to constant action potential, my understanding is it doesn’t because threshold (the degree of depolarization that must be achieved to start the all/none action potential) varies by cell. Thus, a cell with a high Na permeability will probably have a higher threshold than a cell with a lower permeability.

Reaction Times
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-02-13 19:55:50
Link to this Comment: 12855

Our recent class discussions made me wonder about reaction times and how the differ in different people. Obviously everyone is “wired” differently and therefore react and process information differently, but I was curious about whether there were any differences among different groups of people. What I found is a little troubling, and I wonder about the implications. (I also wonder if it’s actually true).

From what I can tell, on average, women have slower reaction times than men do.

males have faster reaction times than females, and female disadvantage is not reduced by practice (Noble et al., 1964; Welford, 1980; Adam et al., 1999). Bellis (1933) reported that mean time to press a key in response to a light was 220 msec for males and 260 msec for females; for sound the difference was 190 msec (males) to 200 msec (females). In comparison, Engel (1972) reported a reaction time to sound of 227 msec (male) to 242 msec (female).

There are obvious differences in male and female bodies, I just don’t really think of there being differences in their brains. Makes me wonder how much of this can be accounted for by socialization, i.e. do certain “male” activities that boys are encouraged to and females discouraged to participate in contribute to the different reaction times. Or perhaps our sex really does affect the structure and functioning of our brains.

Action potential
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-02-13 20:51:11
Link to this Comment: 12856

If we assume that what we learned on Thursday is correct there are a few assumptions we can make, as well as new questions that need to be answered. First, we know that thinking takes time, because the action potential moves at a finite speed. Therefore, because action potential moves at a finite speed, we know that people who think faster do not have faster action potentials, but have shorter distances to travel in order to conduct a task. Therefore, A brain that preforms tasks faster than another brain does less work. I guess we can say that the faster the brain works, the lazier it is.

Also, I think we can infer that new pathways can be generated through practice. For example, one can improve one’s reaction speed when trying to catch a ball. At first, a person may catch 5 out of every 10 balls moving at 40 mph, but the more the person practices, the better he or she will get at catching the ball. Eventually, the person may catch 9out of 10. This is because the brain has created new neural pathways that enable the brain to react to the ball (input) quicker.

The question I have is where does the action potential come from? What matter is the action potential created of? Is it a chemical reaction, or is it something else? Also, instead of shortening the distance between input and output through created a shorter pathway, can the action potential somehow start closer to the output? Or, is there a set place for an action potential to begin for a given input?

Name: Beverly Bu
Date: 2005-02-13 21:40:50
Link to this Comment: 12859

The continued examination of behavior this past week raised some interesting questions about accountability. If behavior is linked to the random diffusion of molecules, what accounts for our ability to control our behavior?

Different brains
Name: Shu-Zhen
Date: 2005-02-13 21:54:46
Link to this Comment: 12860

Physically there does not seem to be much difference in the brains of males and females. As discussed in class, everyone’s brains differ a bit because of the way we were brought up/environment. However, different behaviors between males and females can be seen in every culture. Within each culture, it seems that you can associate certain behaviors as male or female. So maybe there is something different about a female’s brain vs. a male’s brain. Or it could be a combination of the surroundings and a difference in the brain.
Some people feel that they were born in the wrong bodies, which is the case for transsexuals. They want to be considered by society as the opposite sex. So do they possess the brain of the opposite sex? Or was their decision to change sex influenced by the environment?

Brain injury
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-02-13 22:03:14
Link to this Comment: 12861

Aia's comments really interested me, however I would still be inclined to disagree with the statement that brain does not equal behavior. When I think about the example of a patient with a severe brain injury, I think that there is evidence still for the brain equaling behavior even with recognition of loved ones. For example, when a person receives a severe brain injury, for them to keep living basic parts of the brain must still function. In other words, the entire brain cannot be injured or compromised for a person to survive. Because of this, there have to be some essential neurons that are still firing and functioning as they should. The recognition or memory of the voices of loved ones could very well be in these parts of the brain, which would cause these areas to become more active when stimulated. I feel that this could also be the case because there are some individuals who are so deeply injured that no response can be detected from a stimulus, thus the brain is too injured for behavior to exist.

Computer AI
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-02-13 22:19:57
Link to this Comment: 12862

In thinking about action potential, the speed at which thought occurs struck me as significant. If thinking takes time (a finite speed), there seems to be limits to human capacity. Sure, some people's brains will have more complex or more direct neuro pathways, but it seems that the physics of it places a limit on how fast an action in the brain can occur.

Going back to my analogy of computer development, I think it is interesting that the speed at which information travels has been continually getting faster in computers. What might this say about human intelligence as compared to artificial intelligence. I am no expert on the matter, but I am curious about the similarities (if any) that human neuro behavior has to the design of artificial intelligence. Might we stumble into an age in which computers have conciousness that operates at speeds far superior to humans? Perhaps I've seen the 'Terminator' movies too many times, but the possibility of creating a computer that is smarter and faster than any human does not seem so far fetched to me if humans have a finite speed at which they think.

Name: Laura cyck
Date: 2005-02-13 23:26:16
Link to this Comment: 12863

I also agree with Catherine and Alfredo-- that behavior shouldn’t be equated with diffusion, and that it’s just the neuronal firings, which essentially depend on diffusion& voltage, that send messages in a semiotic way which leads to more complex things. Not to say that diffusion and detail isn’t important, in fact it seems “terribly important” as it was said in class. so why not look at things on an even closer level? The phenomenon of diffusion is of course important, but what about the other things going on? Of course we’re not considering the “whole story”, other things change the situation, like heat as someone said, or when we saw the red and blue dots diffusing wasnt the rate of diffusion of the red affected by all the blue dots b/c there were blue ones present for the red ones to bounce and ricochet off of? don’t we have to assume that we like the story of quantum physics, particle physics, etc. to get anywhere?

In the article “signs of awareness see in brain-injured patients” i didn’t see how brain activity in response to a familiar voice proves that the “person is there” or that breathing shows that the person is still there, it just seems like maybe the neurons in the auditory pathway and voice recognition part in the brain are all still intact, but there’s no I-function, mind, or whatever to interpret or do anything with those signals, the signals are just being processed or relayed and they end there.

Also concerning “involuntary/voluntary behavior” I was reading some articles about synaesthesia ( , ) and its causes. Its very interesting how closely it is related to autism in that the brain “detects that a particular area in the individual's brain is somehow "inhospitable" for it's typical function (eg processing of stimuli such as music, flavours, letters, voices, smells, digits, shapes, touch, etc), so this function is transferred to a more "hospitable" area of the brain.” It seems messages aren’t necessarily started inside the NS, but rather in the wrong place. Maybe synaesthesia also says something for brain/behavior and dualisms and the distinctions that are tried to be drawn. If the perceptions that are experience are involuntary then they happen directly and immediately, if there really was a mind or something greater than the brain that perceived and took in so called sense data dependent on the mind as “indirect and mediate“ according to some forms of dualism, how could synaesethesia be.

Lastly, here’s an interesting web discussion about being brain dead:

Signals, accountability, and free will again
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-02-14 00:22:27
Link to this Comment: 12864

I was thinking about what we learned in class on Thursday about action potential and how they are triggered. It also seems to me that our new revelation that signals can start in “the middle of the box” is quite significant. Samantha brought up an interesting point by asking if diffusion= brain= behavior. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that equation. We learned that the sending of signals can be explained by the process of diffusion, so it makes sense to ask if diffusion is the explanation for the variation in our behavior. It probably does not affect our entire behavior, but I think it almost makes sense that some part of our behavior is due to randomness, because that would explain why it varies such a great deal, and why it is so complex, right? On the other hand, we learned that the sending of signals is also dependent on semi-permeability, so this is another thing to consider.

Also, I think it might be more effective for us to view the brain as separate parts. We may end up discovering that brain=behavior, but this equation can not adequately portray the complexities of how the brain works. Thus, maybe if we can learn how different parts of the brain function and how they relate to each other, then we can learn more about how each part affects specific aspects of behavior, and summarize what we’ve learned to try and understand behavior in general.

I was thinking today about the implications of the fact that signals can start “in the middle of the box.” Like a lot of people here, I was wondering how this fits into the responsibility of a person’s actions. If signals can start in the middle of the box, can we stop them? If so, how? Is it free will? If free will gives us the power to stop a signal, and free will is directly linked to consciousness, then how conscious are we of the signals are brain is sending? Just some thoughts…

Brain Vs. Mind
Name: Sonya Safr
Date: 2005-02-14 00:26:19
Link to this Comment: 12865

I also believe that everyone is born with a brain, but the development of the mind (of that brain, which I think every human being has the same kind unless born with defects or disease, etc.) depends on environment, genes, settings, etc. If a baby is not given what it needs to develop his or her brain, then it could lead to serious growth issues, such as the case with Genie. I remember in my psych class in high school, we learned about Genie, who was tied up to a chair and isolated in a room by her parents. She stayed in that room until she was maybe 12 (I think?) and she could not speak words or be around people. This just shows that a mind can be what Emily Dickinson says it big and vast that it can hold so much- but it needs the right things to grow and be stimulated. If there was no difference between mind and brain, how can we account for the differences in behavior, ability, personality between people?

Date: 2005-02-14 00:28:00
Link to this Comment: 12866

um, born with the SAME brain, I mean.

I, Tobor
Name: Bananna
Date: 2005-02-14 02:03:22
Link to this Comment: 12868

In response to Patrick’s posting on Computer AI, his message, Michio Kaku wrote a book, “Visions: How Science Will Revolutionizw the 21st Century,” which really hits on the ideas you’ve been exploring.
He argues that when Moore’s Law, which is what computers are based on today, collapses, engineers and scientists will have to adopt new ways of faster processing systems, systems which don’t NEED to be updated, systems which update themselves through a system which mimics the human brain, this my friend, is the future, it’s AI. When computer systems are able to grow and learn, I mean, then it becomes a question of ethics.
I liked your idea about the: “speed at which information travels has been continually getting faster in computers. What might this say about human intelligence as compared to artificial intelligence.” Well, I think this is wild, because if quantum physics give us license to create computer chips that are the size of molecules, then what about SIZE and MATTER? If a gazillion of these molecule sized computers could be strung together to create a sort of Super Computer, this could make humans obsolete, as it would contain so much information, and be capable of operating at lighting speed, that our brains simply cannot compete, I have yet to meet a brain that contains such a warehouse of information, like say having Google be your memory, and every question that one asks, possible answers come up that then get eliminated as the search continues, (and all this information is in the same storehouse). It would be like being able to ingest books, humans simply cannot eat that much, it’s like mental obesity, your going to kill yourself after awhile if you become gluttenous about it. Humans need to upgrade to a faster chip, and MAYBE that’s the link to the point about Monks made previously.
It’s a fact that Monks and Meditators have an increased restful alertness, increased information transfer in the brain, decreased stress hormone, Increased Stability of the Autonomic Nervous System, and like, everything improved from us mere mortals. I think you can train the brain, just like every muscle in the body, to be stronger and work more efficiently. Especially because we’re going to have to once those Robots make us their food...

Reactions to thoughts
Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-02-14 08:43:56
Link to this Comment: 12869

In reading other peoples comments about thursday's class I found some of them particularly interesting. I agree with Xuan-Shi and her ideas about an internal dialogue, or what we consider the "self", expressing itself as a result of interactions that do not necessarily deal with our brains or the environment, but that deal more with interactions that occur within the nervous system. In thinking about our anatomies in this way we allow ourselves to account for the many inherent differences that are prevalent in the human race.

The comment made by Shu-ZHen about transexuals and whether this state of being is due to environmental circumstances or whether it is due to differences in the brain, I thought to be really interesting and controversial... but I dont know if there is enough research to actually answer this question particularly because it deals with a very small percent of our populations. Does anyone know of any substancial data that can back either of those opinions?

Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-02-14 14:52:54
Link to this Comment: 12878

After reading through the posts after Thursday’s class I found Imran’s to be the most eye catching… Below is the part that most caught my eye…

“Also, I think we can infer that new pathways can be generated through practice. For example, one can improve one’s reaction speed when trying to catch a ball. At first, a person may catch 5 out of every 10 balls moving at 40 mph, but the more the person practices, the better he or she will get at catching the ball. Eventually, the person may catch 9out of 10. This is because the brain has created new neural pathways that enable the brain to react to the ball (input) quicker.”

It left me wondering if in fact new pathways are being created or if the preexisting ones are just becoming more specialized. I would think that catching the ball is a learned behavior. I don’t understand why new neural pathways would have to be created to facilitate this new ability at catching a ball. Could this be comparable to the idea of phantom pain and how it’s a remembered pain? In the sense that the motion that was needed to catch the ball would be remembered by the person thus giving them a point of reference as to how to catch the ball the next time it is thrown… So then once the person catches the ball 10 out of 10 times does that mean that no new neural pathways could be created for this action?

Also, we discussed action potentials in terms of batteries and light bulbs – so can axons “burn out” like light bulbs?

We talked about how diffusion is random chaos on Thursday as well. If there is this complete randomness to particles then because of diffusion can some people have identical brain structures for brief moments? Or is the diffusion too little and varied to make any significant difference in brain structure?

nerve damage
Name: Kara
Date: 2005-02-14 15:35:18
Link to this Comment: 12882

When I was younger, I did gymnastics. I happened to be in a handstand on the high bar when I messed up and fell off. The drop was 10 or 11 feet and I plum forgot to put my feet done first to break the fall. Needless to say, I landed directly on my tailbone. Although I had been fallen from that exact height many times before, this time was different. Pain shot up my back and my eyes went black and red, like someone had hit me in the face and my legs went numb. I was fine, I got up, ignored the pain and finished my routines. But for a month or after that it was difficult to sit,( I would almost be in tears trying to stand up after classes) but I kept training, even the skill I fell on. I believe the story of diffusion and how we create action potentials. What I was curious about is what happens when nerves dont work right? Or why I had the reactions I had to directly hitting my tailbone?

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-14 19:13:33
Link to this Comment: 12896

I'm not sure I understand the randomness & chaos that a lot of people are alluding to & how it can be equated to behavior, it seems to me at a basic level things are more random but higher up there is order organization and regulation. From what i understood initially particles randomly diffuse, that is just bounce off of eachother and other things, but once theres a voltage established thats it and something like a selectively permeable membrance affects what can diffuse in or out, which puts an end to the randomness and chaos of particles being able to go anywhere freely.

also, ill second what flicka said about acknowledging different parts of the brain, rather than it just as a tangle of neurons functioning 'randomly'. also, about signals orginating and terminating inside a box, ive been looking for information about this but have been unsuccessful, does anyone know the specifics of infants soon after birth filtering out what sounds they want to hear, etc. after that happens is it that for one noise thats maybe been filtered out, do sensory neurons pick up on it and then just not relay it anywhere else or to whatever part/thing/entity/if there is one that controls/or is consciousness/awareness or are there not any signals to begin with?

Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-02-14 21:41:19
Link to this Comment: 12898

I'm wondering whether information processing is dramatically different for people with diseases such as Alzheimers or MS? I believe that reaction time is probably slower for people with these ailments because with a disease such as MS the myelin is broken down. Also, why does information processing slow down as we age? These are just some questions that I have been thinking about. After reading Patrick's posting I definitely think that the limitations on human cognition (action potential and reaction speeds) could have an affect on cultural/intellectual progress and that computer technology could someday transcend these limitations.

re: Alzheimers and Behavior
Date: 2005-02-14 22:16:58
Link to this Comment: 12899

Elizabeth Madresh made an interesting comment about how at least 80% of the brain's substantia nigra has to be damaged before anyone shows any signs of the disease. But that brings up a question: is this the only part of the brain that is first affected by the plaque buildup characteristic of Alzheimers? And what is the substantia nigra responsible for (please forgive someone who is ignorant of this information)? And certainly, perhaps not all behaviors affected by this change in brain structure are so obvious; subtle changes in thinking and memory are also behaviors that others can't necessarily see. One of the first symptoms, not behaviors of Alzheimers, is loss of short-term memory, something that may not be instantly noticeable to the observer.

re:substantia nigra
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-14 23:48:57
Link to this Comment: 12901


I am not sure whether Liz was referring to the "Frozen Addict" or Alzhemier's Disease when she says that the 80% of the neurons in the substantia nigra have to be damaged. I suspect it's the former. We learned that 80% of the dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra has to die before symptoms characteristic of Parkinson's Disease appear. With Alzhemier's Disease, the neurotransmitter involved is acetylcholine. I would think that with Alzhemier's, neuronal damage/loss occurs in the hippocampal area as the structure is associated with memory. Hope this helps.

More on Alzhiemers and the brain
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-14 23:51:48
Link to this Comment: 12902

First off, the substantia nigra is, and correct me if I'm wrong, the part of the brain that is responsible for movement and produces dopamine. I am not sure how that comes into play with Alzheimer's.

However, the comment about Alzheimer's made me think more about this topic (and yes, I know I digress...) The person made a good point, the behavior changes in the early stages of Alzheimer's may not be noticeable. Perhaps they are there, but one cannot tell outright. Therefore, changes in the brain are still equal to changes in behavior. I realize that this is a "slippery path" to walk...but behavior is starting to be a very subjective thing. Is behavior an actual perceptual change in a person? If not, aren't we crossing a thin line? In reality, if behavior can be stretched to mean any change (but not necessarily a large enough change to even be able to percieve it), then brain=behavior starts to mean very little, no?

Date: 2005-02-14 23:52:54
Link to this Comment: 12903

I think I may be confusing the I'm not sure. The substantia nigra is the problem for both though, right?

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-02-15 01:12:37
Link to this Comment: 12906

I get that if the action potential starts in the middle of the axon it travels in both directions it, but why? What good does a message from another neuron do if it didn't come originally from the brain? Can the body be conditioned to respond to stimuli without even sending a message to the brain or spinal cord and then having the reaction direction sent back? That sounds too weird to me, but I guess if it is possible it would be cool to know.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-02-15 08:19:21
Link to this Comment: 12908

About the Alzheimer's discussion, I would wonder how important "observable" behavior is at all. I suppose that I'm still having trouble defining behavior. Is behavior only what others observe, or could it also be ourselves thinking? Sometimes, thinking is what we do in order to make something happen, but other times the only thing we are doing is thinking.

action potential
Name: A Hosoda
Date: 2005-02-15 09:06:18
Link to this Comment: 12909

Last Thursday, we learned the mechanism and characteristics of action potential such as diffusion, selectivity permeability etc. I found it very interesting that this allows us to assume that signals can start in the middle of the box.
We know that the action potential moves at a finite speed, and it takes time to think. I think that the time which takes to think is different among people. So, what is the relationship between a finite speed of action potential and the time which takes people to think? Is it because that people who think faster have a shorter distance of path in order to process as Imran said? The speed of action potential is about the same among people? Do we have any control of changing the speed? Can the speed be trained (eg. when you are still young etc… ) by any kind of stimulation? I think I’m a little confused. Where does the action potential come anyway in the first place?

Science Times today
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-02-15 15:48:05
Link to this Comment: 12915

Hey, did anyone see the Science section of the NY Times today? There was an article about searching for the perfect pain killer, which I thought was interesting. But on the right-hand side, under Multimedia, they had a visual image of how pain travels, which I found to be more interesting since we recently discussed pain and how one feels pain. If anyone wants to read the article, you can follow this link:

You should also be able to get to the visual image of how pain travels from there.

action potential
Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-02-15 20:29:20
Link to this Comment: 12919

Today we discussed that our neurons are randomly firing and have a great deal of action potential. When we were asked earlier in class today about whether or not we find this idea “appealing” very few replied. After thinking about it a bit, I feel as though it is an extremely interesting idea, but quite a few questions followed. Perhaps this was touched on in class and I missed it, but why do our neurons carry signals involuntarily (aside from taking care of the necessary tasks such as breathing)? Are they not just using energy that we could use for something else? If our brains aren’t focusing on a particular action/behavior, then why would it need to fire randomly?

Random signals and Computer intelligence
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-02-15 20:56:27
Link to this Comment: 12920

I find it really interesting that when neurons seem to fire signals in the NS of their own accord, without the result of any observable external stimuli, that it is assumed that it is "random." Today in class, when we were asked if we found it appealing that neurons were capable of randomly firing signals, I couldn't help but do we know if it really is random? Perhaps, "random" is just another way to say that we don't really know where these signals are coming from and why they are happening...that possibly these signals are the result of some occurence that we haven't yet been able to ascertain. Why "random," and not "pattern not yet ascertained?"

It is no surprise that humans are limited by their physiology to pursue knowledge - we cannot see IR or UV light, we cannot hear certain frequencies. Maybe these random signals are coming from that which we cannot see/hear.

On another note. Yes, computers may be able to process information faster, but how is this relevant to intelligence? The last time I checked, intelligence had more to do with the processing of information and not so much the speed of calculation. Neurons relay signals to other neurons quickly, but also with some deliberation that isn't programmed (as far as we know) by an outside source, but of their own intrinsic specifications. Neuronal cells can change pathways, target new organs, extend their axons to other axons...the mark of intelligence is the ability to adapt, to deliberate, to process, not the speed. There's also been some evidence that neurogenesis and synaptogenesis can be triggered in young adults through excercise...that's just remarkable.

If computers ever attain the ability to create additional wires in their hardware, without the help of an outside source, then I'll probably have to re-think the matter. But for now, I stand by line of reasoning.

thinking things through
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-15 22:44:54
Link to this Comment: 12921

I find the idea that signals can originate from the nervous system appealing, but I wonder what conditions would cause a neuron fire, independent of any input. Given that the axon membrane is permeable to Na+ ions, there must be some changes (chemical?) in the internal environment of the brain or body in the first place that may lead to the opening of Na+ channels, that would then cause depolarization.

I think about the explanation for epileptic seizures; we learned that the phenomenon itself shows that our nervous system has the ability to generate action potentials on its own. However, why is it that spontaneous neural activity has debilitating effects for some people and not for others? Perhaps in the case of medical conditions, genes could be responsible for changes in our internal environment that would then affect the activity of neurons. What about healthy individuals? There must be constant changes in our internal environment, changes that are beyond our awareness, changes that may perhaps be related to the spontaneous activity of neurons? That is, are there changes within our nervous system that may not cause us to exhibit strange behavior but are significant nonetheless at the micro-level to cause an alteration in the mind?

I guess I am also trying to find out how it is that thinking may be linked to the spontaneous activity of neurons.

Name: Stephanie
Date: 2005-02-16 11:35:12
Link to this Comment: 12927

After being in class on Tuesday I was really struck by the question, “how much of reality do we actually perceive?” After thinking about this question for a while and reading through part of the link in the lecture notes to Receptor Potentials, I was left with a variety of questions of my own. My first thought is that if we could perceive every signal that is existing around us at all times would our brain be able to process that much data? Or would be simply be overloaded and slow all the time? Would we adapt to these changes in perception and be able to filter out data, which was the most “important” to our body’s survival, or would we be stuck processing all this excess data.
Also, if we are only aware of a small portion of reality, (since unless the signal is strong enough to create an action potential in our neurons we get nothing) why is it that we humans have created all of these special devices to perceive and read data that we aren’t even aware of? How did we know it was there in the first place if our neurons/ nervous system is unaware of it?

2/15/05 CNN article
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-02-16 15:16:51
Link to this Comment: 12930

I happened to be looking at the CNN website today when I came across the linked article below. It's about the differences between the male and female brains. It's not extremely informative but maybe a good place to start if someone is still looking for a web paper idea... This could be another instance of where Emily is right because this article talks briefly about the physical differences between the male and female brains...

Brainpower as easy as X and Y

Synopsis Of A Recent Newspaper Article
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-02-17 00:59:13
Link to this Comment: 12953

I read an article in the Personal Journal secion of the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Feb 1st and found an interesting article entitled, "Reversing Partial Blindness: Therapy Aims to 'Rewire' Brains of Stroke Victims; A Revolution in Neuroscience." Here is a brief overview of the article and how it relates to this class:
Promising therapy to cure patients left partially blind by stokes is based on a revolutionary discovery in neurobiology: "The discovery that the adult brain isn't fixed and immutable as once thought, but rather has the ability to 'rewire' itself." The treatment they have discovered to restore vision is called VRT, vision-replacement therapy, which "aims to train healthy brain neurons to perform the function of those damaged or destroyed by a stroke." Becuase of the strokes, victims are often left with blind spots in their vision. "The vision therapy is one of the first to exploit the brain's rewiring capabilities, known as neuroplasty." For decades before, doctors believed that the human brain underwent very minimal change since childhood. "They knew an adult brain could form the new connections that underlie learning and memory, but believed that its basic structure was immutable and fixed, or 'hard wired.'" However, doctors began studies with VRT and found shocking results. Many of the patients regained partial vision and a few restored all of it.
The VRT program works by stimulating patients' peripheral visions around their blind spots (caused by strokes), focusing on the border zones between the damages neurons and the healthy ones. Doctors hoped that these neurons would get enough activity and become trained to move. Dr. Sabel invented the VRT system which is a computer-based therapy. There is basically a fixation point on the screen where patients stare at and follow to get their peripheral neurons to begin functioning again.. If these neurons are activated enough, they will be re-trained to do the job of the injured neurons. The results show that the "targeted stimulation can substantially restore sight."
I think this was an interesting article, especially for our class, because we have been talking a lot about being able to train/control your brain to do different things. It's something interesting to think about...who knows which types of therapies will be developed in the future to "re-train" neurons in other parts of our bodies?

Name: Rhianon
Date: 2005-02-17 02:48:08
Link to this Comment: 12957

I often find myself questioning human capability to interpret "reality," much as Stephanie expressed in her post. We think of ourselves as in-tune to everything that goes on around us, but there are many things that our five senses (and therefore, ultimately, our brains) cannot interpret. Our functions are mostly confined to that which is necessary for our basic survival, as well as pressured by other forces (our ideas of aesthetic, for example) through evolution. Data that we cannot interpret, that we have created devices to interpret for us, is not something that we have needed in order for our species to survive/propagate.
That, however, makes me also question the validity of our ideas of reality, temporality, possibility - what else can we not "see?" Our brains are a wonderbox of invention and consciousness, etc etc, but they are working with a limited scope of information; our own flesh limits our possiblities.
Just writing this makes me think about how all of these terms of mental insight are vision-based, "insight" included. Vision is arguably our most valuable sensory input - how would humans be different were sight not our most utilized input? It makes me wonder what sensory possibilities there are/may be that we do not possess, that our technology does not possess, that we cannot even conceptualize based on our limited sensory perceptions. Stephanie asked, "How did we know (data that our senses do not interpret) was there in the first place if our neurons/ nervous system is unaware of it?" However we figured out the other data that was available if we manipulated the world around us, I find it more interesting to think about all of the data that we have not yet figured out how to interpret or that is even here. Not that I'm going to get all sciencey and go out to discover these things; I'm just philosophizing.
Does this relate to anything class-based at all? Heh.

Brains and Computers
Name: Sophia Lou
Date: 2005-02-17 03:01:20
Link to this Comment: 12958

In class we mentioned how similar are existing computers to human brains and at some point it was mentioned that the neurons made up the computer and that the brain would be a larger number of interconnected computers. After the lesson on action potentials, the analogy started to make more sense. A computer uses binary switches, which are either on or off. The neurons themselves function as on or off buttons because they are either in an excited state or in a passive state. It all depends on the firing of an action potential…or not. After reading some articles online I noticed that this was the basis of the evidence supporting AI. However, it seems that neurons are more than just on or off buttons, because the excitability of the neuron is always in flux. A neuron will always be getting information through synaptic contacts from nearby cells, but the information traveling across a synapse will not always result in an action potential. Rather, this information alters the chance that an action potential will be produced by raising or lowering the threshold of the neuron. Bringing this back to the comparison of computers, scientists feel that the computer will some day become a competitor of the human brain. But, perhaps the computer is not truly a competitor but rather its ideal. The computer is more advanced when it comes to our weaknesses. When we use our computers, or calculators etc..It’s our attempt to attain perfection. These technical devices serve as the compensation for the human brain’s weaknesses.

Name: Lily Yoon
Date: 2005-02-17 05:00:17
Link to this Comment: 12960

What interested me most about the mechanisms by which boxes in the nervous system communicate with each other and with the rest of the body and the outside world, is that, biologically, our bodies are wired to react in the same exact way. If a neuron is stimulated in one body, the same stimulus should bring forth the same reaction in another neuron in another body. So if the nervous system communicated with each other and the rest of the body to ultimately react to the outside world, and we are all wired to react in the same way, what makes each individual possess different behavior?

Response cont'd.
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-02-18 15:23:12
Link to this Comment: 13007

I am also interested in the fact that biologically, our bodies are wired to react in the same way. We have talked about computers and how scientists feel that they may someday compete with the human brain, but this leads me to wonder if computers are all about attaining perfection, then how come all individuals do not posess this goal? How come some strive to further their education while others drop out of high school? I know there are numerous other factors that are potentially at play, but I guess what I am wondering is if we are wired to react in the same way and if computers and calculators are devices to compensate for the brain's weaknesses, then how come all individuals do not aim to limit this compensation as much as possible? Also, where/when does the initial decision to educate or not to educate stem from???

Mary the Brilliant Scientist
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-02-19 13:16:52
Link to this Comment: 13013

This may seem like a divergence from the current topics both on the forum and in class, but I found it to be relevant in terms of how difficult a lot of the issues we’ve been discussing are—free will and consciousness, perception, and comparing the human brain to computers. Anyway, I apologize in advance for the tangent! Many of you might be familiar with Jackson’s “Mary the Brilliant Scientist” example, which he uses to make the 'the knowledge argument'. Jackson argues that you can know all the facts about how things occurs—in the case of Mary, color vision—yet these facts are separate from the experience of the phenomenon (what it is like to see colors). He rejects physicalism by making a distinction between KNOWING about a phenomenon and EXPERIENCING a phenomenon. It’s an interesting argument although Jackson himself later admitted his argument wasn’t entirely correct but that he doesn’t know what is correct—talk about getting it less wrong! Then there are, of course, the complications of language and how even our verbal descriptions of mental phenomenon can color our beliefs of these hard issues. I just found this somewhat helpful to think of when discussing topics that felt a bit uncomfortable. We all experience ‘thought’, like the inner dialogue Xuan-Shi referred to; this experience is not the same as knowing all the processes that might contribute to thought (because obviously, not every ‘thinking’ person does!). Understanding the underlying processes to color vision does not somehow destroy the experience of seeing color, and it need not be so for our other topics of discussion.

brain withing the brain
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-19 14:15:27
Link to this Comment: 13014

Although I thought class on thur. was very enlightining and interesting, I left feeling a little unsatisfied by our discussion/explination about the processing system of the neuron. We learned that at any one time, a neuron is bombarded by excitatory and inhibatory signals that it must process to decide whether to fire or not. I think (but I'm not sure)that we said that the spike initiation zone was responsible for this. Is this processing function localized in this one area at the beginning of the axon? If so, what special composition allows it to preform this job?

Painkillers, Random Firing in Neurons
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-02-19 20:13:44
Link to this Comment: 13017

I too read the article in the Science Times about searching for the killer painkiller. What I found most interesting was the diagram of how pain travels because in class we have been talking about whether we feel the pain first and then we flinch and pull our arms away from the hot stove, or whether we pull away first and then feel the pain. To summarize the pathway that pain takes: 1) receptors at the end of nerves in skin, muscles, etc., detect the stimulus 2) the pain, in the form of electrical impulses travel along the nerve to the spinal cord 3) the pain enters the dorsal horn, where neurotransmitters are released in order to activate nerve cells in the spinal cord 4) the spinal cord processes the information and then transmits it to the brain, sending a message for the muscles to contract 5) the particular message is sent and the body reacts accordingly. Based upon this article, it seems to me that we experience some bit of pain first, pull our arms away, and then experience somewhat of a more intense pain. Also, to me it seems that we have a “first line of pain,” (being compared to first, second, etc. lines of defense) meaning the receptors at the end of our nerves in skin, muscles, bone, blood vessels and internal organs are able to first sense this potentially dangerous stimulus. Then the second portion takes into consideration the electrical impulses that travel along the nerve to the spinal cord and then thirdly, we have the neurotransmitter activity. The spinal cord processes all of this information and then the “last line of pain” involves pulling away from the stove and experiencing what I believe will be a more intense pain. Therefore, the question of whether we feel the pain, and then pull away or vice versa, seems unclear to me based upon these findings and this proposed pathway. It seems as if our body and brain sort of work together in tandem and the pain that our body first feels is different from the pain felt after all the of the impulses and signals are sent.

We also discussed this week the idea that our neurons might potentially fire involuntarily. To me, this seems like a very unappealing idea. Are we just clumps of cells put together that will randomly say and do certain things? I honestly do not believe this is the case. If it is, then our entire discussion and definition of free will must be reassessed. To me, the whole reason we are different from computers (as has been discussed before) is the notion of free will – that we as humans, have the ability to choose what we do and why we do it. To say that we are just a mass of neurons is not only scary, but then we also must question the “I-Function” and the input and output boxes. If we are merely cells, then inputs and outputs really are not part of the equation as I see it. And then brain will truly equal behavior as Emily said.

out-of-body with a book
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-20 11:20:15
Link to this Comment: 13019

All throughout class on Thursday, I kept finding myself thinking of out-of-body experiences. I think this was due to the fact that the more we learn about the smaller processes in the nervous system, the less room there is for other events that have no biological basis (perhaps). Out-of-body experiences particularly occurred to me because it neccessarily means that there is some other part of the brain that is able to remove itself from the rest and speaks to question of the soul/spirit in a person. When I refer to an out-of-body experience, I mean either astral projection in the extreme or simply being and one moment you take a step back from yourself and you wonder how you got to that point, what you are doing there; you wonder if that is really YOU. How can this be? Is this purely a mind wandering or is this something more?

On a similar note, there is this great quote from a book (which I happen to love) that fits into the things we are discussing very well: "What is the peculiar arithmetic of my soul?" This is from the book Xenocide by Orson Scott Card, the middle of the Ender series (Ender's Game; Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children fo the Mind). This is science fiction/fantasy, but it deals with a lot of ethical and moral questions. Specifically, it has examples of artificial intelligence as a separate entity, the soul/spirit actually jumping bodies and therefore as separate from the brain proper, and the conscious mind moving from one form to another past death in our traditional sense. I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in these issues from a literary perspective. (They are also amazing books and fun to read.)

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-20 13:18:46
Link to this Comment: 13022

I knew about inhibitory neurons but never thought to relate it specifically to behavior. The activity of inhibitory neurons probably keeps us from acting out our dreams, and may be involved in the regulation of eye blinks. More so with my knowledge of the brain, I feel that there is wide chasm between my knowledge and experience. That is, there are these things happening in the brain but there is "me" living my life. I am most likely to refer to my knowledge of the brain only if I am trying to understand X psychological disorder or medical condition.

I like the point raised by Joanna, "Understanding the underlying processes to color vision does not somehow destroy the experience of seeing color..." Understanding will not change experience, but understanding would/should change how we perceive or make sense of an experience. I think this is the problematic part for me, which may be the reason why knowledge and experience is compartmentalized differently. Also, if brain=behavior, and the definition of behavior encompasses all that we experience, every phenomenon can then be traced to neural, biological processes. To me, this is a creepy idea.

Brains vs. Computers, Reality
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-02-20 14:23:41
Link to this Comment: 13025

I'm still bothered by this fact that we have a very limited view of reality due to the fact that we only have receptor potentials for certain things. How can we form receptor potentials to make ourselves aware of things outside of our view of reality? More importantly, (and Rhianon talked about this too) how can we make receptor potentials for things which we can not conceive of?

To respond to what Sophia said about computers: I don't really think of a computer as better than the brain. (I'm assuming that by weaknesses in the brain you mean emotion?) To me, the brain is not weaker than a computer; it's stronger. While a computer is programmed to do certain things and respond in a certain way to specific inputs, the brain has the ability to interpret the information it receives and release new signals based on that information. For example, learning. A computer doesn't have the ability to learn, but humans do. I suppose that one of the questions of A.I. is: If you put a bunch of computers together and connect them, will you get a simulation of a human brain? Will you get a new consciousness? My guess is probably no, just because the number of neurons is so huge and the arrangement of them is so complex that they could never simulate the complexity of the brain. Professor Grobstein said that a neuron is like a computer; so then what is the brain? A large quantity of tiny computers linked to one another in a specific pattern. However, if you think about how many neurons are probably in a brain, you also realize that no amount of computers linked to one another could ever simulate it. Therefore, my question still remains: What would it take to create Artificial Intelligence? Is it even possible to create consciousness?

Perception and Limitations
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-02-20 15:48:19
Link to this Comment: 13032

I don't seem to be as bothered as others were by the fact that there is much we cannot perceive because we lack the necessary receptors; neurons are bombarded by so much information as is that they had to "decide" what is important. Having even more receptors would result in more "decisions" in order to compensate for the increase in information. I understand that this means we have a somewhat skewed understanding of reality, but at the same time I feel that this is a benefit; we "see" what we need to, and if we develop a need to perceive that which we cannot, we have the possibilty to evolve and adapt.

Also, going back to Sophia's comment about technology compensating for the "human brain's weaknesses," I'm not sure I necessarily agree. On the one hand, it is true that computers are invaluable for their ability (as in her example) to calculate because a computer is simply faster in this respect. However, some teachers have argued that the introduction of the calculator has caused students' math skills to atrophy because they're not forced to think problems through themselves. I don't see computers as an attempt to attain perfection, but rather as a way to improve life by making something faster and/or easier. While it is true that the human brain has limitations, computers have limits too, albeit different ones. Again, these limitations (of the brain) are not necessarily bad.

Chemical Receptors
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-02-20 20:54:35
Link to this Comment: 13047

At the end of class on Thursday, we touched on the receptors for chemicals located across the neuron. This brought to mind an observation that I've heard multiple times - that some people are more susceptible to chemical addictions than others. I'm wondering if there's a physiological difference underlying this, perhaps related to the number of chemical receptors an individual has on his/her neurons.

I've also read that redheaded people require approximately 20% more anesthesia than others (redheads and anesthesia), and this may be related to a defect in a receptor in the brain that governs pain sensitivity. This would seem to indicate that behavior differences may be related to receptor differences in neurons as well as organizational differences in the arrangement of neurons.

Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-02-20 22:00:21
Link to this Comment: 13050

I started thinking more about how we perceive reality and that reality is only truly what we are able to perceive with our limited sensory receptors. (A minute portion of everything out there) The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn't even convinced that a "true" reality existed. Theoretically we are all wired the same way in order to receive and respond to specific stimuli. For instance, we all possess the very basic patellar tendon reflex and respond by kicking our leg when the doctor hits that tendon. I also would think that a response to an outside sensory stimulus would use the same pattern of neurons in everyone if we are truly wired the same way, however that cannot account for the fact that different individuals perceive sensations in a different manner. For instance, when asked to taste something, different people will describe the taste in very different ways. The same could be said for the perception of color. What looks more orange to one person could appear redder to me. Does this mean that there is no true "reality" by which to define our surroundings? I suppose it could be defined as an individual reality, since a group of people could all be exposed to the exact same stimuli and no two people would have the same responses or perceptions of the reality to which they are exposed. This also brought up the question of whether the different perceptions are learned because of different life experiences, explaining the varying descriptions of stimuli; or whether it is because we are truly wired differently and respond differently to stimuli.

Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-02-21 00:15:57
Link to this Comment: 13052

I was reading old articles of Time the other day and I stumbled upon one from the beginning of 1997 entitled Fertile Minds. Basically it talks about how babies need to have their minds stimulated from birth because it helps later in life. One part struck me in particular though --
“During the first years of life, the brain undergoes a series of extraordinary changes. Starting shortly after birth, a baby's brain, in a display of biological exuberance, produces trillions more connections between neurons than it can possibly use. Then, through a process that resembles Darwinian competition, the brain eliminates connections, or synapses, that are seldom or never used. The excess synapses in a child's brain undergo a draconian pruning, starting around the age of 10 or earlier, leaving behind a mind whose patterns of emotion and thought are, for better or worse, unique.”
Could it be the elimination of some neuron connections that leads to individualized behavior? Since it appears that this process occurs in every infant then maybe it is during these initial changes that the basis for behavior in later life is forged. This would go along with Emily’s idea once again since there’s a manipulation of brain structure, rendering each person different. We haven’t discussed the differences between the infant brain and the adult brain that is in fact if anything important does differ. Or maybe we should look at embryonic brain development – maybe this would shed some light on things… it’s just a thought
I’m also not sure I agree with what Lily was saying – maybe when things were being explained Thursday in class I missed something. Nonetheless, she says that “our bodies are wired to react the same exact way” but how can this be true if our neurons are constantly changing in moving? Doesn’t that mean that everyone is different and the wiring would be slightly different as well? She asks what makes individuals possess different behaviors but couldn’t this be explained by neuron structure in the brain?

terri schiavo
Name: Lily Yoon
Date: 2005-02-21 02:51:01
Link to this Comment: 13053

This discussion reminds me of the Terri Schiavo case. Honestly, in my opinion her brain was still functioning because she was able to follow movement and display reflexive behavior. However, I don't believe her mind was alive, which is probably where the controvery started. How much of the body should be alive for the person to be considered "alive"?

Back to the Mind and Body
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-02-21 10:37:49
Link to this Comment: 13056

I’ve been thinking about our initial question, are the mind and body separate? In my philosophy class we were studying Descartes and he states that the mind is a non-physical thing and relates it to the soul. The impression I got in our class was that the mind was more the brain than the soul. This brings me to a lot of questions. If the mind is meant to be seen as more of the soul than the mind and the body is separate, but if the mind is more of the brain than I think that they are not able to be separate. Maybe I am mistaken and got the wrong impression in class about the mind. I think the brain plays a huge role within the mind (soul) and the body. What do you all think about this issue? If we discussed that the soul was the mind, than would we all think that the mind and body can be separate?

mind, body, soul
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-02-21 13:32:28
Link to this Comment: 13061

I was thinking about the relationship between body, mind, and soul, with emphasis on the relationships between mind and soul, and body and mind. Before I can discuss the relationship between the mind and soul, I first must clarify if there is a soul, and if so what it actually is. I am not sure if there is such thing as a soul. I have not observed anything in my life that would lead me to believe that souls exist. However, many religions emphasize the existence of the soul, and emphasize that existence to be something greater than the mind or body, something supernatural. First, I know there is a scientific soul theory that is used to explain phenomena unexplainable through the mind or body. These phenomena include outer body experiences, and past-life recollections. If these phenomena are true, which many people have claimed to experience, then soul theory seems to me to be an observable possibility.

Now, if there is a soul, then the mind controls consciousness and any action that can be performed within or through the body. Here, the body acts like a vehicle, and the mind is in control of that vehicle. The soul controls all that one experiences outside of the bodies capability. So if someone can bend a spoon with his or her mind, then it is actually that person’s soul that is performing that action, if that action is at all possible. Therefore, the relationship between mind body and soul is that the body is material, i.e., the brain heart, lungs, arms legs, etc. The mind is the consciousness that controls many functions of the brain. The soul is not material of conscious, but I guess can be used consciously if one trains to (bending a spoon). The soul is responsible for any action and experience that occurs outside of the body or the conscious mind. I am just playing around with this. These are more like possibilities than actual beliefs.

AI and Consciousness
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-02-21 14:00:02
Link to this Comment: 13064

I've done some research for my webpaper into accounting the consciousness as a function of our neurobiological anatomy. There is a debate going on as to whether we have the capacity (in our current neurobio language) to explain and account for the consciousness. David Chalmers has put forth the notion that consciousness cannot be explained, but needs to be accepted as a fundamental of our world, much in the way that mass and time is. His opponents argue that given enough time, we will in fact find an account of consciousness that can account for it biologically.

Either way, we do not have an account of where the consciousness comes from or what it does (see my webpaper for further discussion), but we do have an account of some of the activites that occur during consciousness. For example, we know how people can recognize things through vision and access to memory. But, we cannot explain why they are conscious of recognition.

I think this has implication on development of AI in computers. Computers may be able to simulate certain human processes associated with consciousness, but I think that until we can account for consciousness in our own bodies, it would be very hard to create consciousness in a computer.

"Fake" Intelligence
Name: Sam Thomso
Date: 2005-02-21 14:00:06
Link to this Comment: 13065

In response to many of the posts about "Artificial Intelligence" I have a proposition...

I think that before throwing these two terms around, we should first work on a definition for each. What is "Intelligence"? Instead of trying to alter the capabilities of human and electronic computing to fit an undetermined mold of "Intelligence", maybe we should change the terms by which we define each type of computing instead. There are distinct differences between human and electronic of which, I believe, is the association of consciousness with the human brain. Flicka asked on 2/20, "Is it even possible to create consciousness".

...I do not believe it is possible to create consciousness...therefore, since electronic computers, in my opinion, have no consciousness, they cannot be deemed "Intelligent".

So then, where does the term "Artificial" come into play? In a way it dumbs down the power of the term "Intelligence" by making more plastic...inorganic...fake.

So in a sense when I say "Artificial Intelligence" I also mean "Fake Intelligence".

Why do we need the term at all?

...When someone asks about my eye color, I respond by saying "I have brown eyes"...not, "I don't have blue eyes".

Also, as a side note: This whole idea about our altered sense of reality due to our limited abundance of sensory receptors has got me thinking about psychics and ghosts and places like The Land of Oz.

Who are we to judge what's real and what's not. Also, if we lose consciousness when we sleep, then do we lose our intelligence as well?

Infant brain
Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-02-21 14:18:52
Link to this Comment: 13066

In line with Leslie thoughts on brain development from infancy through adulthood, I definitely can see how environmental stimuli can contribute to what why we all develop different patterns of behavior. I was reading an article about the brain in National Geographic and according to the article, as infants our brains are very open to various stimuli but become customized based on our exposure to stimuli. For example, the infant brain is passively receptive to any language and makes synaptic connections based on languages present in the environment. Passive receptivity to additional languages begins to wane as unused synaptic regions began to atrophy. Similar patterns can be formed in the infant brain with more subtle and unconscious areas of development, such as emotion.

Computers and the Cocktail Effect
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-21 20:45:43
Link to this Comment: 13078

Catherine Barie wrote: Yet, on the other hand, perhaps neurons really do fire so often that some signals are "ignored." Maybe there are so many signals sent to the brain that the interneurons don't relay all of them (or maybe the conscious self is just never alerted). I think that if the brain were constantly bombarded with signals, then perhaps there are "decisions" made as to which ones will or will not be ignored. But, since signals are "all or nothing" as Professor Grobstein mentioned in class, how is a signal terminated? Clearly it doesn't degrade over time, so what kind of mechanism is used to stop a signal? Is there even a mechanism?

I think that this idea of ignoring signals is an important one. Catherine's comment made me think about something called the cocktail party effect. The name explains the situation of when you are at a party and having a conversation with someone and everyone else's conversation around you is faded out. You are not paying attention. Suddenly, you hear your name and your concentration is redirected to that conversation. The brain is obviously receiving at least some information from all the conversations if it is able to filter out and pick up on only things that we (the brain) deem important (our names). I think that this example gives support to the idea that the brain is receiving all the imput and possibly processing all of them but only responding to some. My question is, if the brain *is* processing all, what exactly is different about information like our names.

I liked this whole idea because it made me think about what Professor Grobstein left us with at the end of class on Thursday "Much of what we do is not because something excited us but because something inhibited us to." I thought that this idea ties in very well because it must be that we are paying attention to all these conversations but the reason we do not understand and focus on another conversation (or two at once, etc) is because we are being inhibited. Why it chooses to inhibit us is still unclear.

other thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-21 21:11:14
Link to this Comment: 13082

I have been thinking about how our perception/experiences are limited by the type of receptors we possess. There is no "reality" with regards the physical world. As a species, we experience reality differently from other species. Within our own species, however, we also experience reality differently, although we possess the same receptors. In any given situation, each of us is likely to attend to different details and construct different memories of the scenario/event. In this way, what we perceive as reality is really just one interpretation among others. Our brains are different to start with, and we also have different experiences that shaped our brains. This idea that we all have unique pieces of "reality" of the physical and social world is interesting; can we really be objective about everything (or anything)?

Computers Vs. Brain
Name: Sofya Safr
Date: 2005-02-21 21:32:34
Link to this Comment: 13085

In response to our discussion on computers and brains being very much alike, I must admit that that does not please me. Granted, it seems that our brains "work" and process similarly to that of a computer, and although a computer may run (work) faster than the brain, a comparison cannot be made. The brain is what created the computer, and this computer vs. brain discussion reminds me of the monster defying its creator. No matter how advanced the computer becomes, and I know that soon with our technology and most importantly humans' brains and knowledge we may soon be dealing with robots and things considered to have emotions, it can never compare to the real, living tissue and nervous system that makes up a human being.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-21 21:43:20
Link to this Comment: 13086

I think what Jasmine posted about blind spots was interesting. But what about the cases of blind spots or blind people where they can usually guess where things are given some kind of input; supposedly they are blind but the brain doesn't have the same "damage" as other types of blindness and something within the realm of consciousness is where the problem originates. It sounds as if the neurons are receiving the same input as someone who can see but somewhere along the lines when the information is relayed to whatever "thing" controls consciousness the signal is interrupted/inhibited.

I was looking up information about Tourrette’s Syndrome and read how tics can come on abruptly or be more subtle but last longer. Tics can also be repressed for a short time but often “mounts to the point where the tic escapes. Tics worsen in stressful situations; however they improve when the person is relaxed or absorbed in an activity. In most cases tics decrease markedly during sleep.” It’s also interesting how tics can practically disappear into adulthood (so brain can change and brain=behavior?). It will be interesting to see how this could be explained when we discuss consciousness. I was also reading something about consciousness being something material if it’s just a result of neurons, it’s an interesting idea but I’m not sure what to think at the moment.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-21 22:03:39
Link to this Comment: 13087

Meant to post this too... an interesting description against AI...

"A useful perspective on animal behavior is its recursive nature, or part-whole hierarchy. Considering this from the bottom up, animal societies have been viewed as `superorganisms'. For example, the ants in an ant colony may be compared to cells, their castes to tissues and organs, the queen and her drones to the generative system, and the exchange of liquid food amongst the colony members to the circulation of blood and lymph. Furthermore, corresponding to morphogenesis in organisms the ant colony has sociogenesis, which consists of the processes by which the individuals undergo changes in caste and behavior. In recent years there has been increasing examination of the question of the wholeness associated with intelligent processing. Neural activity in the brain is bound together to represent information; but the nature of this binding is not known. The brain constantly reorganizes itself based on the information task. Study of animal intelligence provides us with new perspectives that are useful in representing the performance of machines. If evolution has led to the development of specialized cognitive circuits in the brain to perform such processing, then one might wish to endow AI machines with similar circuits. Other questions arise: Is there a set of abstract processors that would explain animal performance? If such a set can be defined, is it unique, or do different animal species represent collections of different kinds of abstract processing that makes each animal come to achieve a unique set of conceptualizations? Quantum mechanics is a theory of `wholes' and in light of the fact that the eye responds to single photons -- a quantum mechanical response -- and that the mind perceives itself to be a unity, one would expect that its ideas would be applied to examine the nature of mind and of intelligence."

Another abstract somewhere on the site deals with the idea of emotions seperating consciousness and AI.

Brain and mind
Name: LF
Date: 2005-02-21 23:17:04
Link to this Comment: 13096

In my opinion a mind can definitely not exist without a brain, because a brain perceives surroundings and registers emotions and feelings that thus formulate the mind. A brain can exist without a mind. But the question is then raised, what constitutes a mind? Is it what Philosophers refer to as a soul? Or is it simply the part of the brain that transfers signals from the nervous system into physical external actions? Is the term mind just another way to describe the brain. And, if a mind cannot exist without a brain, yet a brain can exist without a mind, then does the mind really exist, is it just a name without a meaning?

Name: Nadine Hun
Date: 2005-02-21 23:20:38
Link to this Comment: 13097

If genes for learning disabilities are now being located, and these learning disabilities are being linked more and more to increased creativity, is there a chance that we will be able to select for creativity in our children in coming years? Is something as ellusive as artistic genuis or emotional creativity something which can be identified and potentially harnessed in the brain? If so what can't we control? Creativity, love, desire, passion etc.

What is alive?
Name: Erin
Date: 2005-02-21 23:22:58
Link to this Comment: 13098

I think Lily Yoon posed a very interesting question by asking "how much of the body should be alive for the person to be considered "alive"? I have often pondered this question as well, and though I don't have any answers, I do know how I would feel if I were in that situation. For me being alive and living a meaningful life are two different things. Being alive implies that your organs functions normally, ie beating heart, breathing, brain being able to process inputs, etc. Living on the other hand, implies everything you are capable of doing because you are alive,which gives your life meaning...possibly this could factor in a soul or mind, if such things exist. Speaking for my personal feelings, if I were ever put into a situation like Terri Schiavo,a situation in my opinion that robs her of a meaningful life,I would not want to live. I feel like being kept alive soley by technology is not really living. While these are my personal feelings, I realize that others may think differently, and I understand where the controversy's a tricky situation because who should get the power to decide something like that when the person is unable to make the decision for herself?

I-function = Life?
Date: 2005-02-22 01:33:28
Link to this Comment: 13105

I agree with Erin's post about being alive. According to the definition, alive is both "having life" and "active; animated; lively." (American Heritage Dictionary) I read a little online about Terri Schiavo's case and medical history. In addition to the reflexive behavior, she appeared at times, some of which were taped, to smile at her mother. These tapes were controversial and an appelate court decided based on expert testimony that even her smiling was nothing more than reflexive behavior and it wasn't reproducable. Although large portions of her cerebral cortex have been replaced by cerebrospinal fluid, i don't think that that necessarily means that her mind is gone. I've come to believe (or come closer to believing) that the mind is more than just brain structures and their specific capabilities. Just because a mind can't communicate with the external world doesn't mean that it isn't still functioning on some level (Which reminds me of last week's ER, in which a stroke victim was fully aware of everything in her environment, but couldn't respond or communicate on any level.) Technically Terry is alive in the sense that she has life, but possibly only in the same sense as a plant has life. We can't infer anything that is going on in her mind, only that it isn't able to communicate with the external world, which prevents her from being active or animated. I can't say whether or not she still has a mind, but what good is a mind trapped in a body that can't do anything to stimulate it? The possibility of having a functional mind means the possibility of having a working I-function, and ending an I-function would seem to be murder. But I still wouldn't want to "live" in a trapped mind.

I-function = Life?
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-02-22 01:35:10
Link to this Comment: 13106

I agree with Erin's post about being alive. According to the definition, alive is both "having life" and "active; animated; lively." (American Heritage Dictionary) I read a little online about Terri Schiavo's case and medical history. In addition to the reflexive behavior, she appeared at times, some of which were taped, to smile at her mother. These tapes were controversial and an appelate court decided based on expert testimony that even her smiling was nothing more than reflexive behavior and it wasn't reproducable. Although large portions of her cerebral cortex have been replaced by cerebrospinal fluid, i don't think that that necessarily means that her mind is gone. I've come to believe (or come closer to believing) that the mind is more than just brain structures and their specific capabilities. Just because a mind can't communicate with the external world doesn't mean that it isn't still functioning on some level (Which reminds me of last week's ER, in which a stroke victim was fully aware of everything in her environment, but couldn't respond or communicate on any level.) Technically Terry is alive in the sense that she has life, but possibly only in the same sense as a plant has life. We can't infer anything that is going on in her mind, only that it isn't able to communicate with the external world, which prevents her from being active or animated. I can't say whether or not she still has a mind, but what good is a mind trapped in a body that can't do anything to stimulate it? The possibility of having a functional mind means the possibility of having a working I-function, and ending an I-function would seem to be murder. But I still wouldn't want to "live" in a trapped mind.

here's the site where I got my information about Terry:

week 6
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-02-22 16:19:01
Link to this Comment: 13138

Everybody ready, I trust, to move on from neurons to ensembles of them (smaller than we talked about at the beginning of the course but larger than in the most recent part)? As always, you're welcome to write about anything that intrigues you, but if you're looking for a stimulus you might think about how far one can go in understanding behavior by studying the properties of individual neurons and when/why one might have to shift to ensembles.

Another thing that struck me today was that we have now two different "think backwards" about behavior ideas that come from looking at the nervous system. One is that behavior might occur because of reduction of inhibition rather than excitation. And the other is that behavior might be organized to generate input, rather than being a response to input ... Are those notions that spark anything in anybody?

Previous postings archived, as in past, but still readily accessible so you can check back on what you or anyone else said, and continue any of those conversations as well.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-02-24 09:06:22
Link to this Comment: 13203

I'm having some trouble understanding the idea that some signals originate in the brain. After all, doesn't everything come from something else? For example, the first action potential was probably started by a signal from the outside world acting on the first neuron. Even when we don't consciously think about doing something, there are processes in our bodies which sent a signal to the brain to tell it what to do. Perhaps we are already talking about the signals which come from automatic processes, and I am just confused?

Central Pattern Generators
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-02-24 20:50:01
Link to this Comment: 13213

I was very interested in the lecture today concerning central pattern generators. It was discussed that once you are playing the piano fast or when you are typing quickly on the computer that once you stop, it is difficult to start back up without going back to the very beginning. I wonder if central pattern generators are also why sprinters who suddenly stop have difficulty getting themselves back to the same speed in which they stopped at. I keep thinking back to sport practices or h.s. gym classes when we would have to run 'suicides,' stopping at each line on the basketball court. Once you stop your legs tense up and jumble a bit, which makes you lose your footing as you begin to start back up and run in the opposite direction. Is the central pattern generator circuitry for locomotion the cause of this, or is it something else?

Motor symphony and autism
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-02-24 21:34:47
Link to this Comment: 13215

At the end of class today, Professor Grobstein asked if anyone played the piano, the significance in his question lying in our learning of motor patterns. One student shared that when she played the piano and was forced to stop in the middle of a particularly fast sequence, she had to start all over again in order to complete the song. That is, she had learned a rapid, difficult song as a set motor sequence and not as a sum of individual parts.

This anecdote reminded me of the neurobiologist and writer Oliver Sacks, who, in his 1995 collection of case studies titled An Anthropologist on Mars, relates the story on one Temple Grandin. Though she is autistic, she is a highly functioning scientist and university lecturer whose innovative designs of “slaughter houses” have helped to make the meat industry a more “humane” process. Personal feelings regarding her line of work aside, I bring her to attention because Sacks relates one incident in which Temple gives him directions to her office. Midway, he interrupts her and asks her to repeat a certain part of the directions, but rather than clarifying the specific area of confusion, she must restart her complicated, detailed instructions, as if she were a tape deck. Given what we discussed today about the learning of motor patterns, I wonder how Temple’s own process of learning and repeating information is related.

Re: earlier discussion
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-02-24 22:00:51
Link to this Comment: 13218

As a reference to our early philosophical discussions regarding behavior, the brain, free will etc, here is an article from regarding the role of the unconscious:

Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-25 02:31:09
Link to this Comment: 13220

It was proposed in class that children do not learn how to walk per se, and that they may have a pattern generator for walking already in place. In general, it appears that we come into the world preprogrammed to do a lot of things and learning serves to help us discover these abilities. When there is a pattern in place for a specific set of actions, movement becomes automatic. However, the pattern seems to be highly contextualized. Also, it cannot be dissected into segments; the pattern has to run from the beginning to the end.

I was thinking about these ideas in relation to walking and dancing. I had to learn a dance step that requires me to alternate my hand and foot movement in a way no different from walking, only more graceful. Although I know how to walk, I never thought about how my hands and feet move when I walk. I had to practice that dance step many times before it became more natural; it is as if I was rehearsing an isolated segment of the motor score for walking. Some people found it helpful to look in the mirror to correct their movements (relying on visual cues). As mentioned earlier in the class, we use the same muscles for walking and dancing, only these muscles fire differently. Learning how to dance can be thought of as creating a new motor score.

This led me to think about how some people are "natural" dancers or musicians. We learned that usually, both genetics and environment play a role in configuring the circuits for movement. Does this mean that a baby born to a family whose members have been musicians for several generations is likely to have a pattern generator in place for playing musical instruments?

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-25 12:33:55
Link to this Comment: 13224

I read an article about a paralyzed patient learning to walk again after having electrodes implanted in his spinal cord. "It is thought that the electrodes stimulated a region of his nervous system, called the spinal cord generator, which may be responsible for turning sensory input into coordinated impulses for muscle contraction... Researchers believe that his spinal cord had "re-learnt" how to walk, because he did not require the same level of impulses after training for a few weeks." If the spinal chord injury is just from connections being severed or neurons not being able to fire properly, but then communication between neurons is later restored, are the patients who "relearn" to walk really learning, in that they create a new score/pattern for walking or are they just "recovering" the pattern that was mostly innate (wherever the "generator" is if one exists? & if so, what exactly is being recovered and where would it be recovered from)?

I was thinking too about how people are "naturally" adept at doing certain things or able to pick things up quickly. Is it just they are able to create "scores" faster and ones that are more precise? And for all the patterns on an individual basis (things that not everyone has like walking or seeing, etc.) that are dependent on both innateness and experience/learning, or just experience, what about critical periods? Does the idea make sense that says, since when I was younger I never learned to ice skate or create the 'scores' which ice skaters use, I've missed a point where I could create the most accurate/precise scores, so that I could never ever become a professional ice skater?

learning new scores
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-02-25 13:51:08
Link to this Comment: 13225

while doing some reading for my seminar in developmental neurobiology, i came across a section concerned with axon regeneration. since axons are an integral part of neuronal structure and function, i find it interesting to point out that axon regeneration fails to occur in the adult mammalian CNS. of course, very young neurons are not so restricted, even when transplanted into an adult nervous system, and therefore if one wanted to learn how to ice skate as an adult, all they would have to do is transplant very young neurons into their nervous system. fat chance.

but this might explain why children are more adept at learning languages, riding bikes, learning to swim, etc... their "motor symphonies" are not yet set in stone, still retain the ability to change. adults, on the other hand, have motor symphonies that are more set in their ways, resisting different arrangements.

even though axon regeneration is absent in adult mammals, axons have been shown to grow for short distances, implying that there is still hope for improvement in the adult, however little. i guess this explains why as people grow older, it becomes harder to learn new things - maybe the neurons in their "motor symphonies" have grown tired of playing their instruments.

Motor Scores
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-02-26 11:47:24
Link to this Comment: 13234

The idea that babies do not learn to walk, but rather are born preprogrammed to perform this function, is a very interesting one to me. For this to be true babies would possess all of the appropriate neurons to carry out functions, however the neurons must be connected in the proper order so that circuits can be created to carry out the desired action. Following this reason, whenever a baby moves in a new way new circuits are being completed and this is what allows the baby to "learn" to walk or carry out other complex functions.
I also think that the concept of individuals being more talented than others at certain motor functions, such as dance, is a very interesting one. For instance, I have been dancing since I was two and within the group of dancers at my studio there are some (with equal training, etc.) that are extremely talented and some that just can't seem to get the hang of it. Is this because their neurons connected in different sequences than those of the dancers that are very talented?

Preprogrammed Behavior
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-02-26 15:25:04
Link to this Comment: 13237

We discussed in class this week that children do not learn how to walk, instead they are already preprogrammed to do so and I was left wondering with why this is so. Is it because the children already contain the sequence and patterns of neurons that are arranged just so in order for these actions to be carried out? And if this is so, are there other actions that are preprogrammed? If parents did not help their children in the walking process, would a child at some point perform this action on their own since we say that this action is innate?

I guess I just find it hard to believe that some actions are just preprogrammed in us. However, when I was doing research for my web paper on OCD, I came across the idea that certain rituals and behaviors are preprogrammed into the brain of an individual with OCD. When alarms are sent in the brain due to a potentially dangerous situation, these rituals and behaviors are triggered, thereby causing the obsessive and compulsive behavior. Therefore, perhaps as individuals we are born with certain patterns and preprogrammed behaviors that just need to be triggered later in life. The events that trigger this behavior may be brain activity or changes, or even environmental influences.

When we use the word preprogramming, I think about the topic discussed in class concerning the differences and similarities between computers and human beings. Just as computers are hardwired to perform certain functions we as humans are too. Moreover, computers need to be stimulated or triggered to perform these events and humans need to as well. This seems like a very strange and somewhat disturbing parallel to me.

Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-02-26 19:03:17
Link to this Comment: 13241

It really bothered me that last Tuesday people were talking about how we are all programmed the same, that we all start from the same place, so what is it that makes us so different. I agree very strongly that environment is crucial to development, and that connections made in the brain, damage inflicted upon it, or our brains' reactions to the outside world are all influences on behavior. However, it is highly incorrect to generalize that everyone is born with the same hardware, and that environment is the most important thing that makes behaviors variable among people. Examples of this are predispositions for alcoholism, non-functioning areas of the brain that lead to mental retardation and other behavioral disorders like ADD and ADHD, and people's natural talents in things which other people may never be able to attain success. Perhaps the point that environment is so important to brain development must be addressed, but not without the acknowledgment that brains are the way they are because of the variablity people are born with as well as the effects of environment.

Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-02-26 19:12:06
Link to this Comment: 13242

I do not agree with the idea that we are trying to get this less wrong. In fact as scientists, I believe it is entirely important to think positively about our pursuit for truth. We are all the time building our stores of information about the nervous system and how behavior results from it, so that we can put together more pieces of the puzzle and someday understand the entire picture. This is not to say all pursuit of truth always leads to truth, admittedly people get it wrong all the time. However, to say that we are trying to get our knowledge of neurobiology less wrong is to assume that we already believe we know everything about neurobiology, and that at the same time we know we are errant in our knowledge, which for me is not the case. All my notions of neurobiology and the workings of the brain have been built from physical science and social science, subjects that at times conflict, but also serve to compliment each other. Furthering my knowledge about the brain by trying to get it less wrong is not good enough, and I hope we acknowledge how much we have already discovered, though there is still so much to know.

Innate programming and Neuron ensembles
Date: 2005-02-27 13:21:05
Link to this Comment: 13254

The development of some skills, like language or in other animals, imprinting and following the mother, has often been said to have a critical period in which they must learn the skill. In talking about the innate programming of such things as walking, where do critical periods fit in? More specifically, if a child does not learn to walk within a certain window of time—say because they do not receive the proper attention/stimulation as in cases of neglect—will they still be able to learn later?

When Professor Grobstein mentioned reasons for shifting from individual neurons to ensembles, a particular example came to mind (that most people who have taken a class with Earl Thomas will probably remember recognize). Parkinson’s disease is associated with the destruction (or ‘death’) of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra. The impairments of Parkinson’s do not start to show, however, until 80% of the neurons are destroyed. That’s a pretty substantial amount, which is surprising. This stresses the importance of looking at groups of neurons working together; we can only learn so much by looking at individual cells. The brain must also have a great deal of flexibility to cope with cell death/loss and still maintain close to normal functioning.

Innate programming & Neuron ensembles
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-02-27 13:21:59
Link to this Comment: 13255

-----REPOST OF ABOVE (WITH NAME). Sorry! :) ------

The development of some skills, like language or in other animals, imprinting and following the mother, has often been said to have a critical period in which they must learn the skill. In talking about the innate programming of such things as walking, where do critical periods fit in? More specifically, if a child does not learn to walk within a certain window of time—say because they do not receive the proper attention/stimulation as in cases of neglect—will they still be able to learn later?

When Professor Grobstein mentioned reasons for shifting from individual neurons to ensembles, a particular example came to mind (that most people who have taken a class with Earl Thomas will probably remember recognize). Parkinson’s disease is associated with the destruction (or ‘death’) of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra. The impairments of Parkinson’s do not start to show, however, until 80% of the neurons are destroyed. That’s a pretty substantial amount, which is surprising. This stresses the importance of looking at groups of neurons working together; we can only learn so much by looking at individual cells. The brain must also have a great deal of flexibility to cope with cell death/loss and still maintain close to normal functioning.

practice, practice, practice
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-02-27 14:06:55
Link to this Comment: 13258

I was wondering what role do practice and repitition of these behaviors with motor symphonies paly in regaurds to the nervous system. It is cear that constant practice of a certain behavior (especially physical ones) improves our ability and effieciancy. But how does this make sense if our motor symphonies are already preprogrammed in us from birth? This may related back to the question about the critical period. If a behavior is not pracitced before a certain age, those neural connections may not have been able to develope. Using this idea, motor symphonies may be seen as predispositions to certain neral firing patterns that need to be developed rather than something tattooed in our brains from birth.

We are not all the same
Name: Malaya Sni
Date: 2005-02-27 18:36:52
Link to this Comment: 13269

I agree with Jenna that we are all not programmed the same, and that we all start from the same place. I think it is very important to understand that we are all affected by our surroundings and upbringings that make us all different. Many of us have different talents and interests. Even before we were exposed to our environments, we all were still different. We come from many different racial and cultural backgrounds and our genetics are all different which make us function differently. There are many people born with certain diseases or predispositions to certain diseases and I find this is very important and supports that we are all different and are not wired all the same way. I think that maybe we have correlations with one another because we must be able to understand each other on some level. To each person pain is completely different and we will never be able to truly understand someone else’s pain. I also feel that environment, upbringing, culture, religion, etc. take a huge role on the way someone is. It affects everything and I feel that yes things can start randomly inside our nervous system, but I feel there is so explanation for it that we are just unable to see or understand right now. I feel that everything happens for a reason, but usually reasons that we are unable to comprehend at this moment.

Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-02-27 19:40:08
Link to this Comment: 13273

Initially, I was not really surprised to find out that our nervous system generates outputs in order to see what the inputs are. I had immediately related it to free will: (at the level of the organism) we cause something to happen in order to see what the consequences would be. Seen in this light, the idea of stimulus-response is surprising instead. This was one of the issues we discussed earlier in the semester: can all our behavior be viewed as responses to stimuli?

After thinking it over more carefully, I think it is indeed surprising that an action, such as reaching for a remote, can be broken down into several steps. This implies that our nervous system is continuously processing external information; there can be interruption at every step of the action, and we can change how we act. I was unaware of my assumption that the action of reaching for the remote consists of a single direct path, without deviations along the way. The idea of improvisation on the fly seems to account for flexibility in our behavior. If every movement is in fact a result of stimulus-response, then there seems to be little difference between a reflex and other simple behaviors.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-27 19:47:58
Link to this Comment: 13275

I am actually ok with the notion that there could be central pattern generators inside of us from the beginning, just waiting to develop and grow. This gives a good inherent nature quality to all actions, but also leaves room for a nurture side of the debate in growth and development. I do beleive that this means that there are people who are more adept at certain things than others, probably because they have been genetically influenced throughout their lineage. I do not believe that this is due to the fact that their parents did a certain action, like playing an instrument or singing, therefore their children will have better talents. It's just like the example (from whom, I do not remember, but it was another theory going around about the same time as Darwin...) in which just because giraffes who could reach higher and get the better leaves were able to stretch their necks, which they could pass on to their children. In fact, they were genetically predisposed to having longer necks, which made them more likely to pass on their genes because of the advantages it produced for them. There is a distinct difference between doing an action and having a genetic predisposition to it. It is true that my mother played an instrument and so do I, but that means more to me that we have some sort of greater probability of having a pattern generator for music than others in the gene pool. On the same note, my brother has little to no music predisposition, even though we came from the same household and influences. There is still a great number of differences out there for us, even if we all have the same pattern generators.

bird brain and example
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-27 19:59:06
Link to this Comment: 13276

Regarding birds with small straight jackets…we now know if one puts restraints on a newborn birds wing movement and leave the restrained baby in the nest with its unrestrained brothers and sisters it will have no problem flying when the restraint is removed. My question is, if the bird is taken from the nest and put in a restraint and NOT put back into the nest, will the bird still be able to (without example) fly immediately when the restraint is removed? Maybe the learning how to fly process is not just a physical one. We learned earlier in the semester that birds might not be as “bird brained” as once thought. If a human baby were removed from its civilization, would walking be inherent?

Output & Input
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-02-27 22:53:10
Link to this Comment: 13279

I was very taken with Professor Grobstein's comment about behavior being used to generate input. I find myself frequently interacting with people in a trial-and-error way. When I first meet someone, I may be more reserved, and try out a few test jokes before letting out my entirely warped sense of humor. The level of reserve or formality I have with someone is generally based on small tests over time to see how alike we are, i.e. if our brains work the same way. However, I wasn't always so guarded, I have adopted this approach to interaction based on responses I received to various behaviors as a child. Where these "original behaviors" came from, I'm not sure, perhaps from some genetic symphonies.

Also, on the piano playing example in class, and the subsequent forum comments, I see a relationship between the observation that people have to start over at the beginning of a task and the idea of habits. Essentially, in habits, dopamine is released at the start of a task that has been practiced many times in anticipation of the following steps, and in fact there is very little activity during the middle steps of the task. This could explain why one cannot pick up again in the middle.

Motor Symphonies
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-02-27 23:07:08
Link to this Comment: 13280

It has come up a lot on the forum how some people just seem naturally adept to do certain activities and as everyone else has pointed out, we talked about how these physical movements have to be learned to create motor patterns or motor symphonies. Thus, these learned patterns would only affect our motor neurons and physical movements, right? Does this same process work for thoughts circulating through the brain? Aia says, “this [motor symphonies] might explain why children are more adept at learning languages, riding bikes, learning to swim, etc... their "motor symphonies" are not yet set in stone, still retain the ability to change. adults, on the other hand, have motor symphonies that are more set in their ways, resisting different arrangements.” Do these processes work in the same way for language skills? Or is a different process working in this case? It seems that learning languages would not fall under the same category as walking or riding a bike but someone please correct if I’m wrong.

I read a CNN article about baby’s brains the other week. I actually talked about it in one of my last posts but it seems much more relevant now. There was a section of it that said that the neurons and axons that babies don’t initially use eventually dissolve because they’re not needed. So could this mean that every baby is preprogrammed to do virtually anything but somehow the brain decides which of these things the child is going to need to be able to do later in life? Could we all be preprogrammed from the start to do anything imaginable?

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-02-28 00:38:57
Link to this Comment: 13285

As we've gone along, I've also thought more about "less wrong" versus "more right". I now definitely think that the notion of "less wrong" is a better standpoint to have, though it sounds defeatist, or counters the point Jenna makes about a "positive pursuit". Being "right" doesn't anymore imply an absolute, final, real truth or answer, but rather "right" means a particular explanation and understanding sufficiently describes a set of observations and accounts for any unexpected results or results deviating from "the norm."-- such that there could be more than one "right" answer-- in that 2 explanations may be equally sufficient in describing a set of observations. To move to a "more right" or "less wrong" point, new observations are needed that challenge one or the other explanations, and so on.-- particularly important to all the "proving A does not disprove B" observations we made with the crayfish & earthworms.

I think my comment about critical periods got misinterpreted, I didn't mean to imply that I thought walking had a critical period, rather things that not everyone does- like certain sports, etc. The idea that answers the most questions to me is that as babies we have the potential to do lots and lots of things; what we wind up doing and which motor patterns/scores/and so on we create is dependent upon nurture. What is nature about it is that the potential exists-- to be an ice skater, a basketball player. Similar to language, the "story" that seems to work best now is that in our earlier years we have the potential to learn whichever language(s) we are exposed to, which language(s) we end up learning is dependent on where we grow up/our environment (experience-dependent). Also, what seems to also be innate is that the brain wants/is pre-programmed to learn a language (experience-expectant)- which is illustrated by home-sign or Nicaraguan Sign Language, etc.

And what is the underlying biological basis of critical periods? I'm having trouble finding information about it... is there something genetic that could be altered in the future so we could extend critical periods?

Central Pattern Generators and motor scores
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-02-28 13:29:32
Link to this Comment: 13294

Like many people in the forum, I have also been thinking a lot about motor symphonies and how they affect our behavior. I find it fascinating that babies are born with a CPG that allows them to walk, because I always just assumed that walking was a learned motor symphony that too time. So, if such complicated skills like walking are already formed when we are born, which motor symphonies do we have to create and which are we born with? I was also wondering: how long does it take to create a motor symphony? For example, how many times do you have to do something before it becomes a memorized motor score? Is that what we call a habit? And if so, why does a memorized motor score become an unconscious habit? Is it because the signals sent by the score never reach the “I-function”?

Someone else asked the question whether some people are born with an inclination to create certain motor scores better (or faster) than other people. Is this due to the organization of neurons in the brain? I'm tempted to say yes, because it seems as though this would be the primary cause for the change in the creation of a motor score.

I'm also interested in the idea that earthworms can create a motor symphony through a reafferent loop or through an internal motor score. One is influenced by things outside the nervous system and the other is internally created. If human nervous systems work similarly to the ones of earthworms, then maybe this can help explain why our behavior is so complex. If motor symphonies are the result of a constant struggle between external influences and internal influences, then doesn't it make sense that humans would sometimes behave similarly but other times act completely different? I don't know if I'm making any sense. . .

Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-02-28 16:34:39
Link to this Comment: 13300

I feel like motor symphonies can result in programmed behaviors that are innate to humans, and I agree that we all start with the same hardware. But I think that when talking about the differences in people, we should acknowledge that there are different versions of the same hardware. We all have neurons with specific firing sequences. But there are also millions of differences on a genetic level that can change the structure and behavior of neurons, as well as the way that the body interprets and responds to the firing patterns. This means that while we all have a predisposition to walk, there may be something wrong with the neurons (such as MS which affects the myelin sheath on neurons, I believe) that prevents the neurons from working properly, and thus prevents an individual from walking properly. I think that it might also be possible to interpret the patterns in different bodily ways. For example, if I’m sitting in class I sometimes find myself tapping my foot. Could this just be another output from the same patterns? If so, it has implications about free will and whether or not I allow myself to walk in response to the “walking” firing pattern.

Another topic that I’ve been thinking about in relation to this is that I don’t that that it’s even remotely possible for all behaviors to be programmed into the brain with predisposed motor symphonies. I remember talking about a girl whose parents kept her locked in an attic for 15 years before she was discovered. No one ever interacted with her before she was found. There were certain abilities that she was able to learn (I can’t remember if walking was one of them, although I believe that it was.) But there were also other behaviors that she was never able to learn properly. She was never able to communicate even moderately effectively, and her language skills didn’t develop. It makes sense to me that language does follow specific patterns that would be innate (it can’t all be learned in a stimulus response method because we have the ability to use words and construct sentences that are entirely unique and have never been encountered before.) However, despite these patters the girl couldn’t make it work for her without having been exposed to it at an earlier age. So even if we have a predisposition to learn something, it seems that it must still be learned (either through inputs or responses to outputs) and that it must be learned during a critical age.

Scientific behavior
Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-02-28 17:12:54
Link to this Comment: 13303

With regards to the idea that behavior may be organized to generate input: habits that fall into this category are the determining factor in human evolution and advancement. Science itself is the organization of behavior to generate inputs that give us better mastery of ourselves and our world.

Motor symphonies and environment
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-02-28 17:13:17
Link to this Comment: 13304

I think that Elizabeth's question is very interesting. She asked “if a human baby were removed from its civilization, would walking be inherent?” If I remember correctly, there was an instance of this several years ago where a boy had been raised by a pack of wolves. He couldn't speak, and when they found him, he “walked” on all fours. I don't exactly remember if he ever “learned” to walk in the “normal” sense, but I think this does provide insight into whether or not a particular ability is innate or learned. It would seem then that there is in fact a programmed motor symphony for locomotion, but the nature of the locomotion (i.e. walking on two legs or crawling on all fours) is dependent on input; the boy saw how the wolves walked, and therefore imitated them. However, if he did indeed begin to walk on two legs, then it would suggest that walking is indeed an ability that results from a motor symphony. While he did walk differently because of his environment, I don't think that walking is an ability that someone “learns.” In this way, I guess I would have to says that human beings are born with the same basic motor symphonies (or the same basic “hardware,” which is the term Jenna used before). Yet, this doesn't mean that all motor symphonies are universal (such as playing a song on the piano), so there is differentiation among people. Different people will have different skills and abilities, but were still probably born with the same motor symphonies.

Motor Symphony
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-02-28 18:56:55
Link to this Comment: 13306

The idea that we create outputs to generate inputs seems logical for any sophisticate machine interacting with an unfamiliar environment (unfamiliar in the sense that you might not know the specific and precise dimensions in which you are operating). I think the symphony analogy is terrific, since it implies that you, your consciousness is the conductor. While the conductor can guide a symphony, he or she cannot lead performers in a good performance unless they have sheet music to guide them. The better they know the music, the better they will sound and if they have the music more and more committed to memory, there is greater opportunity to allow the conductor to refine their collective sound, as they will be able to better respond.

It seems to be that nervous systems can vary in this capacity. I have been in many situations in which a new motor skill has been introduced (a particular dance step, for example) and it seems that some people are able to pick it up faster than others. I think it would be interesting to know if this was a result of that person's conductor or his/her musicians in their motor symphony. My guess is that both would be responsible, since the outcome depends on the ability of them to act together.

collective unconscious
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-02-28 19:57:29
Link to this Comment: 13310

Many people are talking about the differences between people’s brains and whether it is caused by environmental or genetic factors. I think this is a very interesting subject and would like to discuss it through analyzing the notion of the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious was first coined by Carl Jung and refers to the unconscious that is shared by all people of all cultures and environments. He felt, and I agree that there are certain unconscious characteristics that all human beings possess. For a example, a common knowledge not learned by all, but known by all. Throughout the existence of man there have been common ways of thinking across cultures. Nearly all cultures feel the need to relate the existence of the world to a higher power. Furthermore, nearly every culture has had similar forms of moral and right and wrong. How do we explain these phenomena?

If this collective unconscious exists, then environment cannot be the only factor in determining how one’s mind functions. There are certain aspects of the mind that must be somehow inherited, or common to all human beings. Therefore, it must be that there is a combination between inherited traits, and environmentally influenced traits in the brain. Because, logically, it makes sense that both exist.

What is learning?
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-02-28 20:13:32
Link to this Comment: 13311

We've been talking a lot about motor symphonies, but I'm not sure I understand what they are. If we have preprogrammed patterns in our brain why does it take us time to use them effectively?
I've been listening to a Teaching Company Lecture on neurobiology the professor just explained what learning is at the cellular level. Scientists used to assume that learning was actually creating new neurons, but they later discovered that humans have just about all the neurons they ever will by the age of five or six (unfortunately, after that we just start losing them.) They then guessed that learning was constructing new connections between neurons. This hypothesis was also disproved. The current story is that learning is the strengthening of signaling between neurons. It's interesting to think about this in terms of motor symphonies. The reality that babies can't walk right away proves that some degree of learning how to "read" the motor symphony must be involved in starting to walk. Can we say then that learning is just a sort of activation and strengthening of connections that are already there?

"Wild Child"
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-02-28 22:25:57
Link to this Comment: 13314

In response to Catherine's posting Victor, also known as "the wild child" (from the book The Wild Boy of Aveyron by Harlan Lane) did learn to walk on two legs. However, he never learned to speak properly. This would seem to suggest that there is probably not a critical period for motor development of this type, whereas with language there is a critical period. The neural connections of the language centers in the brain didn't recieve the necessary stimulation. I am confused which aspects of human behavior we can attribute to innate programming alone. Is it always a combination of nature and nurture? Also, is the fact that it is more difficult for us to learn a new language when we are older connected with the concept of "motor symphonies" as well? Common sense would suggest that once we learned one language we would be easily able to learn a second, since we already have the correct neurological wiring.

Discussion Of Some Old Topics
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-02-28 22:29:51
Link to this Comment: 13315

Because I didn’t have a chance to read the previous week’s postings until recently, I have some comments from previous discussions and topics:
Like others, I am a little perplexed at the idea that action potentials can randomly occur in the middle of the brain (i.e. middle of the box) without any external stimuli…and I also think it is strange that the excitatory and inhibitory signals determine whether or not a signal fires. I just don’t see any way that signals can just start…doesn’t everything start from something else? Like Aia said in the previous postings, how can we call the neuron firings in the middle of the box random? They must come from somewhere, right? And, like Aia said, can’t random really mean that we just don’t yet understand how it happens? And doesn’t that go with every other unanswered question in science? There has to be an answer for everything! (Cool idea!)
I also really like A. Hosada’s proposed question, which was if the speed of the actual action potential in the brain determines the speed of our thinking? That is something interesting to think about. What really does determine our speed of thinking anyhow, and do certain action potentials take longer to occur than others? If that was the case, would our ability to think quickly be due to our actual brain’s structure, or due to how we trained it during our life (i.e. stimulating our brains through intellectual thinking).
I was also fascinated by the idea that humans can only perceive a certain range of things. It is an interesting topic, but it’s something I am not yet okay with. Of course, there are always going to be things humans can not detect, such as higher or lower frequencies of sounds that dogs can hear. However, I would like to know what the extent of this “unknowing” really is? It’s scary to think there is a lot out there we can not perceive, especially things that can be harmful to us. At the same time, if we were able to perceive everything, we would probably have a much different vision of the world – maybe one which is worse than our current thinking. Maybe our “ignorance is bliss?”

Sixth Sense
Date: 2005-02-28 23:03:19
Link to this Comment: 13316

One of the topic that got me really interested in class was the senses that we have with us. Thus, I decided to do some searching around the internet, and I found a very good article that was published in 1999 about the sixth sense that our ancestor may have used to communicated with others. The sixth sense is the ability to detect chemical signals that are given off my other and our ancestor detected these signals by using a very special organ in the nose. The organ is called the VNO or the vomeronasal and it contains nerve cells that can sense chemicals. These chemicals are called pheromones. Ordinary odors that we can smell everyday like flowers and coffee and detected by the MOS ir the main olfactory system. The article also provides several reasons why our ancestors developed the VNO. However, a question that is constantly troubling me after reading the article is why did our ancestors lose the sixth sense? If the VNO is so important and useful to us, why did we not needed any longer? If you would like to read the article, here is the site .

Sixth Sense
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-02-28 23:04:02
Link to this Comment: 13317

One of the topic that got me really interested in class was the senses that we have with us. Thus, I decided to do some searching around the internet, and I found a very good article that was published in 1999 about the sixth sense that our ancestor may have used to communicated with others. The sixth sense is the ability to detect chemical signals that are given off my other and our ancestor detected these signals by using a very special organ in the nose. The organ is called the VNO or the vomeronasal and it contains nerve cells that can sense chemicals. These chemicals are called pheromones. Ordinary odors that we can smell everyday like flowers and coffee and detected by the MOS ir the main olfactory system. The article also provides several reasons why our ancestors developed the VNO. However, a question that is constantly troubling me after reading the article is why did our ancestors lose the sixth sense? If the VNO is so important and useful to us, why did we not needed any longer? If you would like to read the article, here is the site .

Reflection On Current Class and Web Discussions
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-02-28 23:13:33
Link to this Comment: 13318

Like the many previous postings, I am interested in the idea of the Central Pattern Generators. I also Liked Lauren Dockery’s proposed question, asking why some dancers are less talented than others: “Is this because their neurons connected in different sequences than those of the dancers that are very talented?” So, this would mean that it is the brain’s structure that determines someone’s talent or intelligence. But, where does the role of practicing fall into place? Wasn’t it always preached that “practice makes perfect?” The saying makes sense because the more we do something, the more our brains recognize certain pathways and circuits for the transmission of information, and thus, we would become better at doing something. So which, of the two, determines our talent/intelligence? The brain or the practicing? Or, is it a mixture of both?

I also found the fact interesting that we are born programmed to be able to walk. So, what else are we born programmed to do, and what do we learn on our own? How do we determine that difference? To me, it seems like a grey area which will maybe never be understood. I really liked Catherine Barie’s posting, where she mentioned a story about a boy who was raised with the wolves and grew to walk on all fours. Like Catherine said, this fact provides information as to which qualities we have that are innate and which are learned: “It would seem then that there is in fact a programmed motor symphony for locomotion, but the nature of the locomotion (i.e. walking on two legs or crawling on all fours) is dependent on input.” Thus, we are born programmed with these innate abilities, but how we choose to use them is dependent entirely upon our nurture/how we are raised.

Preprogramming and the Crtitical Period
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-02-28 23:58:43
Link to this Comment: 13321

A few people have mentioned that they are uncomfortable with the idea that there are "scores" that, essentially, preprogram an individual to do certain things (for example, walking) Although I am not uncomfortable with this idea, it does leave me with questions about how critical periods fit in with this "score" Do scores die eventually? What causes them to die at the same time in everyone. For example, there were two well known cases of "wild children" who, for different reasons, did not have the stimulation of language (and in one case, walking, since she was tied to a chair for most of her life). If the body is just a bunch of specific neurons which need some environmental input to organize them, how do these cases fit into this idea? Why is it that even after much physical effort, Genie (one wild child) could not walk normally. More importantly, why was it that neither could learn to speak regularly? What is going on with the score and why is it not able to communicate....

Response to Intelligence and sleeping
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-03-01 01:00:40
Link to this Comment: 13322

I would just like to respond to what Sam Thompson wrote not too long ago concerning sleep and intelligence:

"Who are we to judge what's real and what's not. Also, if we lose consciousness when we sleep, then do we lose our intelligence as well?"

I did my webpaper on dreaming, and according to dream research, dreams are the result of thinking while we sleep, an indication that our brains are not completely inactive during sleep. Also, intelliegence is a term that can be widely applied to any number of tasks and requirements; what deems intelliegence for one group may be knowledge that is inapplicable to another. The point of this is that sleep does not shut off our senses from reality, but rather, creates a reality of its own that is nonetheless based in each of our waking realities, however we define them

Name: anna
Date: 2005-03-01 01:10:47
Link to this Comment: 13323

I don’t know much about the Terry Schiavo case. I don’t know how much is known about her mental/physical capabilities or anything. However, the question that came to mind when reading the comment about “living in a trapped mind”, is where does consciousness come in? (I feel kind of ignorant making these statements and asking these questions because I really don’t know anything about this case, but I’m gonna put it out there anyway and hope to learn something.) I guess what struck me is that, yes, I completely agree that simply existing and not “living” life to the fullest would be a terrible state and I would not want to experience it, but is a person who suffers from this actually aware of it? Are they actually experiencing anything? Can someone be conscious of the brain’s activity and know that there is processing being done, and be 100% aware that this processing cannot be communicated to the external environment?

On a completely random side note, while reading Sonya’s post about the “monsters defying the creators” and her thoughts on computers vs brains, I was reminded of the robots that are being used to fight in Iraq. I just thought it was interesting that in a way, the creations are taking over certain tasks for the creators. Further, that some of the benefits of this is that these creations lack the complex functions and results produced by the brain and the nervous system. For example, these robots will not suffer from the psychologically damaging effects of war and cannot communicate the horrors to home or the media, as suggested in the brief article from Guardian Unlimited. I don’t know the specifics of these machines, and I’d like to know more about how they operate and how dependent they are on human soldiers for their operation, but it seems to me that war has become even more dehumanizing.

(here’s the brief article I read to get the basic information about these robots),2763,1397173,00.html

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-03-01 09:40:55
Link to this Comment: 13325

I was thinking about the birds in the straight jackets who could fly without "practicing." I guess it makes sense that every baby is kind of programmed to walk and stuff because we all seem to go through the same process to get there. We sit up, we crawl, we stand up and then we take our first steps sometimes without really being around other children our age. Sometime kids take different steps, though. Are they programmed slightly differently? I babysit sometimes for a little boy who is at the age at which most chidren crawl, but he doesn't really crawl. He moves his arms as though he is going to crawl, but then he just scoots the rest of his body instead of using his legs. He otherwise seems perfectly normal, or actually he seems really, really smart.
Also, I remember when my brother first learned to talk he didn't say "yes" he said "ein." My parents thought it was really weird and he did it until he was 4 or 5, but one time they told a family friend, whom we did not meet until years later, and they said their daughter also said "ein" for yes. The two had never been around eachother as they were learning to talk, but they both used the same sound to mean the same word. Do they have some similar neuron pattern that made them do that?

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-03-01 09:43:02
Link to this Comment: 13326

I found the comments about the Terry Schiavo case interesting. In her case, the "Doctors say there is no brain activity and her responses are simply reflexive." On the other side, what about people who say that they were awake during a medical procedure because the anesthesia didn't work properly? I remember one time where I was not fully asleep during a procedure, and I could not get my body to do anything to let anyone know that I was awake. Luckily, I was numbed so well that instead of feeling pain I could just feel pressure. Perhaps it is sort of like being paralyzed, because the brain works but it can't tell the rest of the body what to do. I wonder what anesthesia does exactly to allow it to cut off those lines of communication.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-03-01 09:45:40
Link to this Comment: 13327

About my last comment, I realized that it could not possibly be like being paralyzed because when you are paralyzed, you can't feel anything.

Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-03-02 15:42:31
Link to this Comment: 13345

In response to Beth’s post, “sleep does not shut off our senses from reality,” I wonder how we are to decipher what is reality and what is just a result of a vivid imagination. Is there a way to convince yourself that something dreamt is or will be true? Do dreams necessarily have to end the moment we awake? I know that I have often believed something in my dreams to be true until I was told otherwise. I think that the insanity of our dreams can overtake our emotions. This seems especially evident in young children. If a child has a nightmare, they awake in a cold sweat and begin hysterically crying. This is often true with adults, but adults are able to calm themselves down and realize that it was just a dream. Children on the other hand, wait for consolation from a parent. If dreams result from thinking while we sleep, does there then exist a relationship between level of intelligence and the extent to which one dreams? Is it correct to think that since children are young and naïve, or perhaps simply that they are less experienced, that they are less able to sort fact from fiction?

Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-03-03 00:27:57
Link to this Comment: 13366

anna, i think your question "where does consciousness come from?" is a great one. it's one that i've been thinking about for a while. in a strange way, it's almost a cruel joke on the part of evolution - to select for humans with a heightened sense of awareness. it almost feels like having amnesia - one day humans found themselves on earth with no recollection of where they came from or who they are.

in the terry schiavo case - is it that her body is still functioning, but she is no longer conscious? if it was a result of an injury, doesn't this imply that consciousness is somehow related to the tangible nervous system and not a transcendental phenomenon? And, yet, as someone pointed out - how do we know schiavo is not conscious?

Consciousness and higher level thinking only for h
Name: Erin
Date: 2005-03-03 00:57:59
Link to this Comment: 13369

When reading Aia's post, I was reminded of something we debated about in my cognition class last semester...can animals such as monkeys learn human language and use it the same way we do? I was reminded of this from Aia's post because of her comment about humans being selected for a higher level of question is, how can we be sure that other animals don't have higher levels of awareness? The evidence for monkey's and language is that while they can be taught phrases (which could be a result of condition/learning to respond to certain cues instead of actual understanding), they could not spontaneously produce novel phrases, which is a characteristic of human language. This still doesn't answer the question of whether they have high levels of awareness, however, because we cannot possibly communicate with them in such that an answer could be obtained..while we may never find an answer, could it be a possibility that monkeys, and other animals for that matter, have high levels of awareness that we ourselves are not aware of?

programmed behavior and control
Name: Sophia Lou
Date: 2005-03-03 02:59:34
Link to this Comment: 13373

My concerns this week was along the lines of Joanna’s. When Professor discussed the shifting of neurons from individuals to ensembles, I for some reason thought about control. First I thought about the timing of learned behavior or better yet programmed behavior. When does our body know when to learn to walk (for example)?
Events referred to as behavior always involve control. The appearance of behavior can be viewed as programmed output or response to stimulation. Psychology explains that behavior is output, the last step in a causal chain that begins in the environment or the brain, but when I did research online, I read that behavior is not output but instead a controlled consequence of output. Studies show that behavior is control. I agree more with the notion that behavior results from sensory input, processing and motor output. Then my mind starts wandering back to our discussion of programmed behavior. I wonder if we have genes that produced programmed behavior. It is the brain producing behavior…or predisposed genes. I would lean more towards the brain. So the brain, previously compared to a computer, comprises a large number of integrated functional mechanisms, including learned mechanisms and programmed mechanisms like breathing, walking, eating. I took a course on Evolutionary Psychology a while ago. In this class we read texts claiming that genes were the cause of these mechanisms. In the class we learned that Evolutionary psychologists were against those who thought that genes programmed behavior. Not all behaviors are genetically based but some can have a genetic basis. Are behaviors culturally transmitted? Are all behaviors adaptive?

Race and Genes
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-03-05 01:05:51
Link to this Comment: 13424

I found it interesting this week that we talked about whether race exists and how genetically similar two individuals of a particular race are. I read an article for Genetics class last year entitled “Does Race Exist?” by Michael J. Bamshad and Steve E. Olson, which discussed these ideas. Obvious outward or physical characteristics, such as skin color and the texture of one’s hair usually define race, which are influenced only by a small number of genes. However, the other genes that do not influence these characteristics are not really considered when we assign a race to a particular individual. This fact leads me to believe that race is merely a social construct concocted in order to classify and separate people just based upon obvious physical indicators. However, it is entirely possible for two people of different races to be more genetically similar, than two people of the same race, when the remainder of their genes are analyzed. Therefore, to me it seems improbable for race to really exist in the sense that we use the word today. Furthermore, in this article it was stated that individuals from different populations are on average, only slightly more different from each other than two individuals within the same population.

It seems that we have invented the notion of race based upon a few genetic characteristics of an individual, neglecting to think that the rest of the genome plays a role. Also, environment, behavior, free will all play a role in determining certain characteristics of an individual, so how do we fit that in with our socially constructed notion of race? I feel like there is no way for these other factors to fit into our definition of race, so perhaps we should just consider populations of individuals and just accept the fact that race is something we have made up on our own. The researchers in this article mainly focused on exploring the medical implications of these racial genetic differences, which to me is more important than trying to neatly categorize individuals.

Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-03-05 07:51:32
Link to this Comment: 13425

I think that Iram’s posting above about a collective consciousness is a really interesting and valid one, particularly when thinking about the ideas we have been discussing in class. I think that this notion gives evidence to the thought that we as humans could possibly all be to some extent pre-programmed the same but that despite that, ones environment has to do the rest of the “programming.” The combination of the two then give us what we have today, a world full of people who become different but who could all possibly start at the same place.

Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-03-05 07:52:38
Link to this Comment: 13426

I think that Iram’s posting above about a collective consciousness is a really interesting and valid one, particularly when thinking about the ideas we have been discussing in class. I think that this notion gives evidence to the thought that we as humans could possibly all be to some extent pre-programmed the same but that despite that, ones environment has to do the rest of the “programming.” The combination of the two then give us what we have today, a world full of people who become different but who could all possibly start at the same place.

Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-03-05 07:54:16
Link to this Comment: 13427

I think that Iram’s posting above about a collective consciousness is a really interesting and valid one, particularly when thinking about the ideas we have been discussing in class. I think that this notion gives evidence to the thought that we as humans could possibly all be to some extent pre-programmed the same but that despite that, ones environment has to do the rest of the “programming.” The combination of the two then give us what we have today, a world full of people who become different but who could all possibly start at the same place.

Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-03-11 10:12:01
Link to this Comment: 13451

I liked how Sophia defined behavior as control. This idea seems to make a lot of sense and since we haven’t really defined what constitutes behavior; I liked her explanation of it. If we define it as control though, how much control over the firing of neurons do we have? How much of our behavior can actually be controlled? When thinking of this in regards to epilepsy and similar disorders I’m left thinking that maybe we have less control over our behaviors than we would like to admit. I assume that misfiring of neurons occurs in more people than just epilepsy patients, so what might be the output associated with this kind of misfiring? Can the output be witnessed in people whose bodies occasionally twitch? Or could the output be something totally different?

The idea of corollary discharge also left me with some questions. We said that it’s a mismatch between sensory signals and corollary discharge that account for car sickness but can a mismatch between these two parts account for other body malfunctions? I was trying to think of a different example that could be explained by the same terms nothing seemed to fit exactly. My first thought was to think that dizziness could be explained by the same phenomenon as car sickness but I think it would depend on the circumstances. For instance, it could possibly work if we were trying to explain dizziness after standing up quickly but it obviously couldn’t explain dizziness that resulted from an iron deficiency. Maybe once we explain corollary discharge in greater detail it will become much clearer as to what exactly it encompasses.

impacts of genetic differences
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-03-11 15:43:01
Link to this Comment: 13454

When Professor Grobstein asked in class why we might not want to think of differences in individuals as having a genetic basis, I mentioned that as a society, we like to think as every individual as having the same capabilities at birth and I've been thinking some more about that. I think that science is suffering by ignoring genetic differences because of the societal impacts that may result from stereotyping. This applies to just about every individual difference that exists. This made me think a little more about the topic at the beginning of the year about the differences between sexes. It is naive to think that the only genetic differences between males and females are reproductive differences and that every other difference has resulted from our society (if this is so, why is Bryn Mawr an all girls school, which could only perpetuate the cycle of treating men and women differently in society). I can certainly see why this view point is desirable; it implies that any woman can do anything just as well as any male given the same environmental conditions. But there are many other differences as well. There have been studies that show that when solving critical problems, men use different regions of their brains than women do, even if they do arrive at the same conclusion. And certainly there are differences between races. Historically, the Vikings were much larger, because of genetics, than the people that they invaded. This gave them advantages, such as more physical capabilities and the mere effect of intimidation, because of the genetic differences of their race. And as a result, there are genetic differences that may make one race generally more adept to perform a certain function. It is a fact, with genetic origins and evolutionary reasons that, as a people, Asians are shorter than northern European people. In the game of basketball, there are distinct advantages to being tall. Where the objective is to put a ball through a hoop that is above your head, the person that is the tallest, that is, the person that is the closest to the hoop, has an advantage over the person that has had just as much training and practice, but is a foot farther away. Admitting that the differences that exist between sexes, races, and ethnic groups may make a group more adept at something, says nothing about the individuals. This is obviously an important message that needs to be alongside any genetic explanation of differences. Even with genetics, there are exceptions to every rule (one need look no further than Yao Ming to find an amazing basketball player from China.) Saying that a group (for example: men) is better at something (for arguments sake: math) doesn't mean that a particular woman will not be better at solving mathematic problems than a particular man. So could the problem of society's unwillingness to classify people as genetically similar groups then be solved by simply thinking of people on an individual basis? Stereotyping won't be a problem if we acknowledge that a person is much more than just a group to which they belong.

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-03-11 19:11:13
Link to this Comment: 13455

I read about the astronaut who sleeps his right and wake on his left, so that his mind associates the direction "up" with his left. In space, he awakes "to find the ceiling directly above his head" because his mind has corrected or ignored the unusual sensory input so that his sense of position is consistent with that on earth. It appears that internal signaling (influenced by habit) governs his behavior and is powerful enough to override incoming sensory inputs that are different. I wonder if a similar kind of internal signaling is also involved in keeping us from falling off our beds. I assume that we are afraid that babies would fall off their beds (so we keep them in cribs), but adults do not seem to have the problem. We unconsciously know when to stop rolling, regardless whether we sleep on a small or large bed.

Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-03-14 10:16:49
Link to this Comment: 13484

As a woman offended by President Summers remarks I think Liz's comments deserve addressing. Economists (like President Summers) are limited by a belief that drawing conclusions from data analysis alone is legitimate. They are baffled by the U.S. Food Stamp Program's under-enrollment because they have no way of calculating stigmatization or human pride into their analysis. Summers suggested three possible explanations for womens' inferiority in science.

In summary his reasons were:

1.) They are genetically different

2.) They don't like science as much

3.) Societal influences.

Beyond the fact that by "provoking" (his words) a discussion on diversity Summers perpetuates number three, it is outrageous to propose genetic explanations on what is still a weak neurological understanding of the nature/nurture debate. Aside from the fact that scientests keep changing their minds about what differences between male and female brains are and what they mean, let us remind ourselves that the womens' movement is recent history. Smith College is just now graduating their first engineering students. Studies show that in paper grading the same paper will be graded higher if the author's name is male. My great-grandfather didn't let my grandmother go to Rice medical school on a full-ride-- she could only be a teacher. I agree that male and female brains are different, but to suggest that these differences account for female inferiorities in some fields is sexist (it is also unoriginal as women have been defending themselves from this suggestion since early feminists began writing in the Renaissance.)
Following Liz's argument (or even President Summers' methodology of data analysis) we could conclude that blacks' relative un-success academically and in careers can be accounted for genetically. Since this is disturbingly reminiscent of slave-owner's philosophy let us think twice about drawing simple conclusions for complex issues-- not just because we will be wrong but also because we will perpetuate discrimination.
Lastly, if I understood Liz she suggests that all womens colleges perpetuate differences between male/female development. It is not a question of not having differences, but rather of grappling with the issue of co-educational environments' effects on womens' roles in the classroom.

Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-03-14 11:50:18
Link to this Comment: 13487

Some of the earlier posts ask questions about conscoiusness and whether it's limited to humans. I wrote my first webpaper on finding the source of conciousness and from the material I researched, I found that we are not very far in tackling this question.

What seemed to be the most popular approach was that being conducted by Christopher Koch and Francis Crick. They believe that the most logical way to understanding the consciousness is to look at the actual neurons that contribute to conscious behavior. For example, one might look at the behavior of neurons that contribute to the functioning of the eye to see how they contribute to the conscious understanding of a particular subject. These 'neuronal correlates of consciousness' (NCCs) might then be able to account for a broader understanding of the consciousness once the functions that are most closely related to consciousness are more deeply understood.

An alternative to Crick and Koch's theory is that of David Chalmers, who believes that studying the NCCs does not solve the hard question of where the consciousness comes from. Even if the NCCs are found and studied, he claims that it still does not get to the root of where conscious experience comes from. He proposes a redefinition of consciousness as awareness, under which animals could be said to have some degree of consciousness. Crick and Koch's theory would also leave room for consciousness in animals, but as others mentioned, the language barrier might be difficult to overcome in studying their conscious behavior.

racial differences
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-03-14 14:16:55
Link to this Comment: 13488

A topic that seems to keep arising in the forum is racial difference caused by genetics. I believe that these genetic differences do exist to a small extent, but more importantly that these genetic differences are environmentally caused rather than inherent differences between races. This means that the genetic differences are in fact culturally and geographically created. Because the culture and geography one lives in changes that individual’s environment, that individual's genes adapt to that environment over time. This is an evolutionary process that occurs over generations. For example, Africans have thicker, darker skin, because in Africa, one needs more protection from the sun. Furthermore, the Pueblo Indians, Native Americans of the Southwest, were generally shorter people, because they lived in cliff dwellings, where they had to be small to fit.

I believe that this not only relates to physical attributes such as size and skin color, but also brain activity. I believe that people pf different races generally use different parts of their brains more, because their ancestors needed that portion of the brain more than others to better conduct the cultural activities. For example, if Asians are truly better at math than other races, then this is due to cultural influences of traditional Asian culture and not because Asians are inherently smarter than others.

Therefore, because these genetic attributes are evolutionarily caused through environmental factors, these attributes will begin to change as peoples environments change. For example, an Asian-American family will tend to lose its traditional culture from generation to generation. With that the family will begin to assimilate to a more American culture, and the family member’s brain will function more like those around them, and become less quantitatively oriented.

Ultimately, I feel that only environmental factors affect genes, but it is not only environmental factors of certain individuals, environmental factors affecting older generations will affect genes in younger generations.

Name: Shu-Zhen
Date: 2005-03-14 19:19:09
Link to this Comment: 13494

An earlier posting talked about language. I think that language is learned whereas walking is innate. A child usually learns language from his/her surroundings. I think that learning a new language may require the development of new neural connections or a change in the neural connections that have been developed. Is it possible to change the neural connections that have already taken place?

The brain and patterns
Name: LF
Date: 2005-03-14 19:23:45
Link to this Comment: 13495

The idea of the girl playing the piano and not being able to start the song from the middle was interesting. I wonder if that theory applies to other things. For example is that why some people have a self decided schedule that is just habit? Or is it the brain that likes to form a daily pattern? Does this differ for some people?

ideas about "race"
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-03-14 21:41:46
Link to this Comment: 13498

I think Kristin's comment that race is a cultural construct is very interesting. Society craves order and classification and thus imposes strict means by which to categorize certain people. However, after reading her posting it seems that these self imposed boundaries lack scientific/genetic merit. This got me thinking about the topic of genetic/cognitive similaritiy in general. In a society where cloning and stem cell research are creating advances in science that at one time were believed to be impossible why then are we still clinging to the archaic notion of "race"?

Name: Kara Gilli
Date: 2005-03-14 22:15:22
Link to this Comment: 13500

A popular saying is “practice makes perfect”, however anyone who has every practiced anything has realized that practice doesn’t make perfect. A more refined proverb is “perfect practice makes perfect”. So what does it take to be perfect? The proper setup of neurons or the proper technique? It is possible to learn the proper technique and build muscles and train, but that still does not mean that everyone who practices becomes perfect at what they do. This must mean that our neurons are set up the same way, but are capable of slight differences between humans, that acount for our differning levels of abilities.

The self
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-03-14 23:37:29
Link to this Comment: 13501

Does the self lie in the brain, body, or somewhere else. The general conception from movies and mass media is that if people hypothetically switch brains, than the entire persons self is switched. Meaning that the person moves bodies. However, I was wondering what would happen if we could actually switch the nervious systems of two different people. Would the two people merely swith bodies, would the person have the same self and body, only slight differences in brain functioning, or would it create two entirely different selves; a mixture of the two people that doesn't represent one over the other.

This scenario brings up the question: where does the self (soul) reside. Is it in the body, brain, or somewhere else. We know that it is not in the body, because people can have hear transpalnts, lung transplants, etc, but is it in the brain? what do you think would happen if we transfered a nervious system? Also, would a pesons self be preserved, if his or her nervious system is preserved outside the body?

Name: anna
Date: 2005-03-15 01:46:40
Link to this Comment: 13503

I am really enjoying the discussion about genetic differences and how environment affects genetics. Further, how we view genetic differences and their importance in stereotypes etc. In reference to Liz and Kate’s postings, I didn’t think that Liz suggested that single sex education systems perpetuate the difference in behavior/treatment towards men and women. I understood that she was suggesting that if the only genetic differences between men and women were reproductive, then single sex education would “perpetuate the cycle of treating men and women differently in society”.

In reference to the comment about language and the question about new neural connections forming, I was also curious about that. I wrote my paper on depression and in my research I found that the reason why anti depressants do not work immediately is because they increase the growth of dendrites (which can take 2-4 weeks) which in turn increases the flow of information between neurons and the versatility of the brain. So according to Stephen Braun’s book The Science of Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of mood, yes new neural connections can be formed. I am interested in what happens when they are formed. Does it simply mean the increase of information flow and versatility? How does a new neural connection affect the overall ‘flow of information’ in the brain? Do you behave differently because of a new neural connection, and how different might you behave?

thoughts on race
Name: Sam Thomso
Date: 2005-03-15 12:19:16
Link to this Comment: 13509

I've been thinking about this discussion on race and genetics recently and especially after discussion in lecture today I have a few thoughts...

I think we should be very careful to ignore differences between race, gender, etc. There are obvious societal changes that need to take place in terms of the dangerous powers of discrimination around the world. I believe there are two way to bring about this (or any) change:

1. Reject the defined problem (in this case genetic and/or other differences between races/sexes) and redefine a different way of life. For example, suggest that everyone is the same and live life accordingly.

2. Accept the problem and make change in light of those particular differences, however that may look.

I think it is more beneficial to proceed with the later of the two options. This means first accepting that there are in fact defined differences (genetic and other) between particular groups of people. This does not, however, mean that I think we should let those differences allow for excuses to define inferiority.

Race vs. Gender
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-03-16 15:43:47
Link to this Comment: 13549

The class's reaction to Paul's questions yesterday was not entirely surprising, but worth examining further:
Who would be happy to not use race to identify yourself?
Who would be happy to not use gender to identify yourself?
I was thinking in class that perhaps it is less PC, or less accepted to be proud of--or to define one's self by--one's race as opposed to one's gender. This may be true especially at a women's college, perhaps especially at a time when there have been questions about racial division on this campus.

I think that gender and race both definitely influence the way we think, respond to various situations, and intereact with other people--but is one more socially constructed than the other? Even if racial or gender differences are not genetic, I think people's brains (or thought patterns?) definitely form/change based on experience to the extent that certain actions or thought patterns become almost (or perhaps even wholly) automatic.

self-definition by race or gender
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-03-16 20:02:46
Link to this Comment: 13556

In respect to the question of self-definition according to race or gender, I think it is very interesting that most of the class opted to relinquish race as an identifier but chose to keep gender. Carly points out that the sample population itself may be skewed—the class is largely composed of women who chose to attend an all women’s college. However, were this question posed to a more random sample of women (the importance of race and gender to men is, I think, another complicated issue that deserves further discussion later on, in perhaps a different, more social-science-focused forum), I would not be able to say with confidence that the results would differ. So, then, what is it about these things called “race” and “gender”? What are they? How did they come to be what they are?

In the case of “race,” I am not at all surprised at the class’ (and my own) response. We live in a racialized society inescapably defined and informed by our racialized history of slavery, Jim Crow, immigration and affirmative action. “Race” is a messy, ill-defined and touchy subject that I am sure many of us would like to just be done with. The problem of “gender” however, brings a different light to the issues of capability and inferiority. “Gender,” unlike race, implies specific physical capacities—child rearing for example— that “race” does not. While no reasonably informed person could legitimately argue that one “race” of people is better at singing operas or developing theorems, even a child acknowledges that females are (for the most part) capable of bearing children, while males can not. This observation aside, we tread into murky waters when we speak of capability in other realms—mathematical reasoning ability, pain tolerance etc.

Race AND Gender
Name: Nadia Khan
Date: 2005-03-16 21:36:03
Link to this Comment: 13560

I myself did not want to relinquish gender or racejust because I feel that they are not defining factors when it comes to neurobiology. I am still contemplating whether I can accept that there maybe differences between men and women that stem from the structure of the brain. But there is no way that I can even contemplate that race is. How can one even legitimate that in terms of evolution. Just because you are located in a different area of the world, your brain adapts and changes because of it? I can understand that appearance may change due to external factors, but internal organs cannot change. Then who's to say whether Asian people have different kidneys and hearts as compared to Pacific Islanders? If one is to treat the brain like an organ (advanced thought it maybe), then I think one has to accept that it is a universal item that doesn't change from race to race.

I think I am still struggling with the issue of gender though, althought I am leaning towards factoring the difference into the differece in body type and the way the brain has to react and handle the difference.

And if I was religious, then I would say that God made man and woman opposing so as to compensate for a lack in one another. If women have a better sense of smell, taste and sight then men have to be spatially tuned to fill in the gap.

Race and Gender
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-03-16 22:19:54
Link to this Comment: 13563

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we discussed on Tuesday in regards to race and gender and I think that Sam is right: The way we should address diversity is to first acknowledge and accept the fact that we are all very different. Then, we need to be careful not to designate one group superior to another because that often happens in the effort to classify diversity and leads to problems.

The main reason why I said I would be willing to give up my racial identity, but not my female identity is because I do not largely define myself as white. It’s true that I do identify with a Caucasian group, but while some people may largely define me by my race, I don’t consider it to be a huge contribution to my identity. I think this is partially because our society has taught us not to define people by their race, and if I don’t define others by their race, why should I define myself by mine? On the other hand, I largely define myself as female and I believe that being a woman plays a much larger role in my life in regards to my individual identity. Therefore, I think there is sometimes a discrepancy between the way we define ourselves and the way others define us, and this is where problems in diversity arise. I also agree with Katherine that race doesn’t affect us as physically as gender does, which is why I think of race as such a societal and cultural construction, even though there are obvious physical differences between races.

In terms of the ideology of race, I still don’t believe that race is an adaptable thing. I don’t believe that one race is inherently better in a certain subject than another. If it appears that someone from a particular race performs better in a certain skill, such as sports, then I believe this is due to cultural teachings like the value of hard work and practice. There is no reason why a black student could not understand math as easily as an Asian student. If there is a discrepancy, I believe it is more a reflection of the parents’ ability to perform well in the subject, rather than a reflection of the person’s race.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-03-16 22:26:29
Link to this Comment: 13565

I think it's important when thinking of race to keep culture in mind as well. Culture is a form of collective memory of a group, a function of and dependent on history. Race, on the basis of a single attribute -- maybe skin color, maybe gender, maybe shoe size, etc. -- I think is real; what I think the social construct is, is why we chose certain attributes over others when describing/defining/identifying ourselves, also a construct when "races" are formed on the basis of more than one attribute and correlations to other attributes are formed and, like it was said in class, subsequently one group is dubbed inferior/superior to another.

I disagree with what Katherine said above about race not inferring physical capabilities. Whether there is truth to beliefs like population-specific diseases or athletic abilities, the implications still exist. Two interesting websites with studies on athletic abilities: 1, 2.

Also, a fun trick dealing with perception: McGurk affect.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-03-17 08:16:29
Link to this Comment: 13577

I would have to say that I think that race can give rise to different physical abilities, but that there are probably not substantial differences in brain capabilities due to race.
Although some people might have a slight advantage over others when it comes to the skills for learning that they were born with, it seems that capabilities can be improved upon in any person. Culture and environment can effect the dedication a person has to learning. The senses can also be sharpened, for example when people who are blind have an especially good sense of hearing.

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-03-17 23:22:57
Link to this Comment: 13614

We talked about will, choice, and purpose with regards to our nervous system. This is a strange idea to me. I am tempted to argue that without thinking (and not any other form of processing) and/or consciousness, there can be no will, choice, or purpose. Everything else is random and happens by chance, governed by the Harvard law of "animal" behavior. My sense and experience of self seems to be such a fragile thing. "I" am longer the puppet-master tugging on the strings. Rather, I am the puppet who slowly becomes aware of the strings tugging at me. I would prefer to think in terms of function, that everything on earth serves a function. That the nervous system has will, choice, and purpose suggests that it acts largely beyond my control and has a "life" of its own. At some level, I believe that is true. However, using words such as will, choice, and purpose seems to exaggerate the distinction between mind and body.

With regards to the I-function ...I sometimes act "consciously" but in retrospect, would feel that I was "unconscious" of what I did. If the I-function is involved in the experience of consciousness, it probably would be involved in the experience of metacognition too, as there are no other boxes related to the "self." Is there a hierarchy of consciousness? If so, would metacognition be the highest level of consciousness?

Voluntary motion
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-03-19 11:30:32
Link to this Comment: 13636

When Professor Grobstein was talking about the differences between voluntary and involuntary movements in respect to preprogrammed neural circuits he used the act of fiddling with a piece of chalk as an example. He gave this as an example of a motor score or symphony that had not yet been written and was being composed as he moved the chalk. This made me wonder whether having performed that particular action once would make the movements programmed or whether they would still remain a random act once he tried to do it again. Essentially, once you have done something does your nervous system remember that particular pattern and revert back to this pattern by default should you attempt this same thing again or would he move the chalk in a different way the next time he did this?

Gender as socially constructed performance?
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-03-19 12:30:15
Link to this Comment: 13637

In Carly’s post she questioned which is more socially constructed – race or gender. I would argue that gender is more socially constructed. Although I realize that this has little if anything to do with neurobiology, I just finished reading an article for my anthropology of gender class on men in South Africa who have sex with men (before Apartheid). It’s a complicated matter but the general idea was something like this – as these young African boys grew up they began to wear women’s clothing. Although typically we’d think of this as cross dressing or something similar, the families of these boys viewed them as now being women. Without regard for their biological sex their parents became convinced that their male sons must now be women. These boys were encouraged to have relations with men and to reproduce with men even though biologically impossible.
It’s interesting how much of gender becomes appearance based. Just as masculine looking women are denied entry into the United States by many immigration officials because they are considered, based on appearance, to be lesbians. There’s a long history of immigration officials denying entry to homosexuals. Gender as a performance is something interesting to consider… Are these performances at all biologically based? Is there any scientific evidence that says masculine women have closer brain compositions to men than other women? There’s actually an article in the February issue of “New Scientist” that talks about the makeup of homosexual brains. It’s an interesting read… Possibly the most interesting passage from it is as follows --
"Gay men adopt male and female strategies. Therefore their brains are a sexual mosaic," explains Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist who led the study at the University of East London, UK. "It's not simply that lesbians have men's brains and gay men have women's brains."
So then sexuality and gender is more performance based and not biology based? What do other people think?
Link to the “New Scientist” article --

Race and Gender
Name: Malaya Sni
Date: 2005-03-19 12:52:58
Link to this Comment: 13639

I believe that race and gender are used as a huge part for defining people. I see it more of a base. Race and gender say a lot about a person, but not everything. I feel that everyone is different, male/female, white/black, etc., but within certain categories there are distinct correlations. The similarities between people within the group have become defining factors of that group. I feel that this is wrong. Many people that are similar and can be within the same group, but one cannot state that they are all equal. Not everyone within that category could have the same correlations. For example, most people would say that all African Americans are good at sports, but not all of them are. These stereotypes are instilled within every group/category, are should not be used as a defining factor of one’s self. This might not be making much sense, but overall I guess I am saying that there are important facts that might give someone more insight into one’s abilities based on their race/gender, but should not be the only defining factor.

Gender and Race Identification
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-03-19 13:46:02
Link to this Comment: 13640

I thought the question posed in class about whether we would give up identifying ourselves in terms of gender and race was a very interesting one. I answered that I would be fine with not identifying myself in terms of race, but when it came to gender I said that I would have a problem with not identifying myself as female. To me it seems that gender is less blurred as most people identify themselves as either being male or female, while race can be a different story. Often times an individual can be more than one race and to pinpoint what constructed category they belong to can be hard and not as straight forward as picking a gender. Also, someone in class brought up a good point – gender is used not only to define who we are for identification purposes but also in terms of sexuality. It just seems to me that much of our lives are based upon picking one gender over the other – certain schools are single sex, sports teams, certain jobs require you to be a particular gender. Race comes into play as well, but the role of identifying with one gender over the other is far more prevalent in our society.
When you fill out college applications you have to check a box that requires you to classify yourself as male or female, but the question posed about your race is usually optional. I feel that this signifies just how important gender classification is in our society. When I meet new people and I describe them to my friends I usually say something about their gender (“she’s a nice girl, or he’s a nice guy”) while I bring up race either later on in the conversation or not at all. It seems that gender is the base line – the first or original characteristic that categorizes individuals and race is secondary, used to further classify individuals. This classification process seems natural to me and I do not really have a problem abandoning my identification as a certain race, but I do feel strongly about identifying myself as female. Also, I feel that certain personality traits and actions are more strongly linked with gender than with race. For example, I would never say that I act white, but I would say that I act like a girl.

Motor Patterns; Race/Gender
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-03-19 16:13:15
Link to this Comment: 13643

I found the discussion of mental rehearsal and motor imagery and its involvement of the I-function interesting. Back in middle school, the conductor of our school band would always take a few minutes to go through mental rehearsal—we would picture ourselves on stage and playing the piece to our personal best. Essentially, we did motor imagery for our respective instruments. I don’t know if it helped, but maybe he was on to something! Our earlier discussion of the motor score was also relevant to instrument playing. To learn particular sequences that were fast and intricate, I learned them as units… I couldn’t just play a couple of the notes individually or even start in the middle; the finger movements were a score.

As far as our discussion on race/gender, I guess what I struggled with the most is that we are born with this set of genes that determines our race and gender. There might be circumstances where hormone levels change and more masculine/feminine traits appear (for example, transvestites using hormone treatments), but for the most part I do not think of race and sex as transient or changing. I understand the concerns about using these categories and implications for marginalizing groups, but I think I would actually find it uncomfortable to abolish these categories.

RE: voluntary motion
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-03-19 18:14:09
Link to this Comment: 13646

I would think that the more one repeats a motion or set of motions, the more solidified the specific neural network responsible for this motion will become. If he stood their doing that non-stop for the entire day, I would assume that by the end he would be activating the exact same neural pathways over and over causing the same action over and over.

Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-19 19:53:52
Link to this Comment: 13647

I am still having a problem with the question if race does or does not exist. I took an evolution class last semester in which Melissa Murphy a professor from the anthropology department was a guest lecturer. In her lectures she spoke to the concept of human evolution. One of the theories she spoke of struck me as extremely interesting. The theory "out of africa" contestes that all humans came from the same "mother" from africa and that through time all humans moved about the earth and evolved into what we are today. If this theory is correct, is there a place for the concept of race to exist?

Race and Gender
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-03-20 13:30:28
Link to this Comment: 13660

I think that Leslie brought up some interesting questions in her post. She argues that gender is more socially constructed than race. However, could this be because gender and sexual identity is a more recent social construction than race? Modern society has been grappling with race related issues for hundreds of years, and indeed, racism and race-related hate crimes still persist despite the progress that has been made. Gender identity, on the other hand, is relatively new for this society (I am excluding societies like ancient Greece and Rome, where homosexuality was accepted). Gender was previously defined rather simplistically; you're either male or female. Hermaphroodites were forced to choose a gender; they had to be one or the other, not both.

On another note, there may indeed be structural differences in the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals. In my c-sem last year, I had to read an article by a doctor named Kimura, who dissected the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men. She found that the hypothalamus in gay men was noticably smaller than in straight men; the hypothalamus of a gay man, she concluded, was about the same size as the hypothalamus of a woman. (I don't have access to the article now, so i'll post the citation later).

Basically, I think that it's important to recognize that there are differences among people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations, and these differences help to define who we are. I agree with Laura in that what is socially constructed is what attributes we choose when we define ourselves.

Relevance of Race
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-03-20 15:37:49
Link to this Comment: 13666

I think that the difference between genetic construction and societal construction is ultimately what the question of race comes down to. While it is true that genes determine certain physical characteristics in people, priviliging "race features" over other features seems to be entirely arbitrary to me. I think that in claiming race that there are races, one has successfully acheived no more than an innane feat the world of classification.

Race is a very easy way to see the world. Human beings like to classify and if people share many physical features, it only makes sense that we feel compelled to classify them. Why are there no "races" built upon height? Probably because that is only one feature and the more features people share, the greater our compulsion to classify them. The danger lies, not in the classification in and of itself. Classification can be useful in accomplishing positive things (Ashkenazi Jewish genetic diseases can be better researched and treated if you are aware that jewish people are at higher risk). However, drawing conclusions about behavior based on race is about as productive as drawing conclusion about people based on their height.

What if for a given population, tall people tended to be better at intellectual activity X than short people. Say tall people tended to have tall parents and short people tended to have short parents (which is not a far fetched claim). Some might say that the tall race tends to be better than the short race because the tall pool of genes tends to give them greater talents at X. However, this does not take into account the fact that tall people may be better at X because tall people are more confident than short people due to societal structures that favor tall people. If that is so, we must rethink the meaning of our conclusion that genetics has something to do with it.

Say further that tall people have only been better at X than short people for 100 years. Do we know enough about the brain to say that in that short period of 100 years, tall people inherited genes that gave them more talent at X than short people?

I've written way too much, but I'll summarize by saying that it seems to me that the proposition that brain behaviour is inherited is highly suspect to me, given the short period in which we've been measuring people's abilities according to demographic. Second, any proposition that race matters is as relevant as saying that tallness matter, hair color matters, eye color matters, etc.

Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-03-20 17:36:58
Link to this Comment: 13676

I think what Patrick brought up with his theoretical short tall example is a very good point. In making any argument towards the genetics and environment debate we cannot confuse correlation with causation. Just because there is a correlation between two things (taller people score better on a test) doesn't mean that one causes the other (taller people score better because they are tall). In fact, there could be a verity of different actual causes for the correlation. One of the two correlated variables does not have to be the cause for their correlation. Therefore, we have to think deeper and compare to other control variables in order to find the “less wrong” answer.

With that said, if we take a real life situation much like what Patrick articulated we can see how further comparisons help us eliminate wrong theories. For example, figuring our what causes African-Americans to be generally more athletic than the overall population. There are countless possibilities for this, both genetic, environmental, or a combination. However we can work to eliminate some. Here are four possible causes for African Americans to be generally more athletic.

1) The darker ones skin is the more athletic.
2) Africans in generall are more athletic.
3) The harsh conditions of slavery allowed only the strongest individuals to survive.
4) African Americans' mentality is socially geared towards athletics.

There are many more possible causes, but for now this is enough to make my point.

So, if we want to eliminate a cause, we have to find a control. We can use Africans as a control. If we can conduct a study to test athletic performance, and find that African-Americans are generally more athletic than Africans, then we know that our second theory cannot be only cause. Furthermore if we compare Africans to the rest of the world we can find if there is any cause there at all. If the two groups are similar, then we know that Africans are not more athletic than the overall population, and African-Americans' athleticism is not due to their African heritage.

This way we were able to eliminate a cause. Ultimately what I am trying to say is that like not being able to say that we are more correct, we cannot say that a correlation is causation. Instead we can only say we are “less wrong”, and that a certain correlation is not causation.

Gender Differences
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-03-20 20:51:06
Link to this Comment: 13693

i don't think it is at all surprising that individuals are more possessive of their gender than they are of their race. like someone said earlier in the forum, you can actually see what constitutes gender differences. i've been thinking about these differences and my thoughts have led to me a very unusual place.

the example used in the aforementioned posting was child-bearing - ofcourse, this is not the ultimate definition of womanhood. a more appropriate definition would be the presence of, say, ovaries.

but what if an individual was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and the ovaries were removed? does this mean the individual is no longer a female?

of course not. maybe a more appropriate definition would be the presence of the XX genotype. but, of course, we all know that individuals with genotypes XO or XXX are still phenotypically female.

is female the absence of the Y chromosome, and male the presence of Y? we also know an individual can have a XY genotype, but if the proper hormones aren't released then the default female characteristics develop.

the point i'm trying to raise is: what does it mean to be female? what does it mean to be male? why do we assume that it is easy to define.

i would argue it is just as ambiguous as race.

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-03-20 21:29:00
Link to this Comment: 13696

It seems to me that a lot of stereotypes come from what people choose to recognize a race for. There may be two reasons why Chinese people seem to excel in math and science. First, schools in China emphasize the importance of these subjects. Society has drilled into students’ minds that science and technology is what is important. Americans, however, seem to emphasize more on a well rounded education. Second, the breakthrough works of other fields, such as history or literature, are ignored in the news media. There are many other fields of study that the Chinese may excel in but they usually do not get as much attention as the sciences.

Internal Experience
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-03-20 23:17:24
Link to this Comment: 13710

I found the definitions of will, choice, purpose, and anticipation very interesting, especially the question over the involvement of an internal experience associated with them. I've often found myself doing various tasks without really paying attention or having much of an internal experience of them. For example, I was getting myself a bowl of cereal, and I took the milk out of the fridge and poured it in the bowl, put the milk back, then decided I wanted a glass of water, reached in to get the water pitcher, poured a glass and carried my dishes to the table. When I went to take a sip of water, I found I had milk in the glass instead. Clearly there was some element of will, choice, and purpose in this task. I chose to have a glass of water, I willed myself to take the water pitcher out of the fridge for the purpose of pouring myself a glass. Yet somehow I managed to do this without having an internal experience associated with will, choice, or purpose, or I wouldn't have ended up with milk in my glass instead of water. What is the dividing line between actions that have an internal experience associated with them, and actions that do not? What triggers the nervous system to involve the I-function at certain points and not at others?

Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-03-21 00:05:05
Link to this Comment: 13720

Race is certainly a large factor in how other people see you. I'm curious about the various ideas that may spring into peoples minds when they look at me. Technically I would be defined as African American, but at times I have been identified by people of various racial backgrounds as Indian or Hispanic. I've even had Etheopian people come up to me speaking their native tongue as they were so certain that I was from their homeland! Race is nothing more than a social construct based on our tendency to try to classify certain physical features into categories that attempt to tell us who we are dealing with in terms of geographical, social, economic, academic and political background.

Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-03-21 01:03:18
Link to this Comment: 13726

I think in many ways this has been addressed already, but I think it is important to distinguish between biological differences and the values that we attribute to them. There are clearly physiological differences between men and women, and even among people of different races, but how do we determine that functioning in one particular way is better than functioning in another? The relative values we place on different attributes are a construction, not the differences themselves. That is, we call a certain attribute better or worse in relation to a particular goal, and that goal is in many cases biologically arbitrary. In many ways this is similar to our perception of beauty; there is not anything inherently better about having almond shaped eyes, or full lips, but thousands of men and women undergo surgery to attain these characteristics because society has deemed them beautiful.

Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-03-21 01:50:29
Link to this Comment: 13730

Continuing with the conversation about how people view one another, I think that what Alfredo brought up in a previous post, " the more one repeats a motion or set of motions, the more solidified the specific neural network responsible for this motion will become," is quite relevant. The more we are drilled with images of what is 'beautiful' or what it is to be 'white' or 'black', the more likely we are to find truth in these socially constructed classifications. If society is constantly relating A to B, then it may at some point be beyond our best efforts to see that A is not necessarily associated with B. I think that thought patterns are adaptable and perhaps easily influenced depending on the situation, but more importantly, I think that thought patterns can become automatic which only exacerbates social constructs.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-03-21 02:46:51
Link to this Comment: 13731

On the topic of why might more people chose gender over race to define themselves- could it also be that in wanting to define and distinguish ourselves gender implies more potential for differences? That is to say, while both gender and race both could imply many (regardless of whether true or not) tendencies for certain qualities (phenotypical, behavioral, psychological, etc.), gender- as a starting point to distinguishing ourselves, being either one or the other (and not mixed like some people define themselves racially)- could imply tendencies for a greater number of physical attributes/social roles/cognitive abilities/emotion/ etc. Gender is more 'heirarchial' so to sagen. Or the perceived # differences between male/female are greater than differences between racial groups. Anyway, I don't think I'm expressing what I mean very well but at any rate I agree with what most people have said, and with what Georgia said about for example our perception of beauty, though I think for some of the things she mentioned it could be argued some used to have inherent use for sexual selection, etc.

Also, I've been thinking about what was said about motor imagery and I've definitely found it to be true, except sometimes working in the opposite way. Maybe this is in part what is meant by "don't psyche yourself out", or at least as far as athletics go. When I used to run hurdles in high school track, before races I would get so nervous that I couldn't stop imagining myself stumbling over a hurdle, I would visualize my trailing foot catching the top of the hurdle and consequently falling flat on my face, which is usually then what happened.

the story of X
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-21 11:22:12
Link to this Comment: 13747

With all the talk of gender being socially constructed, I had to put in the address to one of my favorite stories: the story of X. ( )

In thinking about gender and race as ways to classifying people, it really bugs me that we feel a need to do this at all. The classification system seems to be more of a way to determine a hierarchy of quality in relation to others. I can understand that it may be a bit of human nature (maybe), but what purpose does this serve? Ok, it might be to see if there is a biological basis for certain human aspects, like physical or mental abilities due to the differences. If there is, what good will it do? Will it just serve as another excuse for people to use instead, saying that because they are of a certain gender or race that they cannot do a certain activity?

On a slightly different note, have you ever noticed that if an activity is considered "feminine" in the everyday world, at the professional level, most of the people are male? The best example is cooking- most famous chefs are all men. I think that is is just another example of the social construction of gender, no matter what biological basis there is.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-03-21 16:49:59
Link to this Comment: 13797

Here is the citation of the article to which I refer in my posting:

Kimura, Doreen. Sex Differences in the Brain. Scientific American. September 1992.

how race and gender are handled in the classroom
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-03-21 21:16:11
Link to this Comment: 13830

After reading the posts related to race and gender I was reminded of a discussion I had with my mother the other night. She is a school psychologist at a small middle school in the West Village in NYC and she was telling me that the teachers and faculty are discussing how to handle gender identity issues in the classroom. At a fairly young age children at this school are taught that racism is wrong and they are encouraged to embrace the things that make each of them different from one another. The importance of acceptance is transmitted through picture books, class discussions, and class trips. However, even in a small progressive school in Greenwich Village they have not yet figured out how to discuss gender identity with young children. Even children as young as 2nd and 3rd graders can begin to experience feelings of not belonging to the gender which biology has assigned to them. Children who don't fit into their specified gender role are often ostracized by their classmates and end up battling depression. This example seems to strengthen the point raised in many of the postings, that as a society we attach more importance to identifying with a gender than we do to a race, and it seems that we are teaching our children to do the same.

Vestibulo-ocular Reflex
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-03-21 23:38:16
Link to this Comment: 13842

The discussion on the Vestibulo-ocular reflex was very interesting. I wonder what happen to people who have vestibular disorder? Thus, I went digging around the internet and found that people with vestibular disorders suffered from a variety of symptoms like dizziness, faintness, loss of balance and light-headedness. If you want to know more about the different disorders, please go to this link Another thing that puzzle me is how wearing eyeglasses will affect the VOR? When I first put on eyeglasses, I felt very dizzy and uncomfortable. Was the dizziness caused by the VOR and the brain + eyes trying to adjust how spatial orientation related to the vestibulo-ocular reflex and astronauts out in space. I found this very interesting link The link talked about an experiment where scientists used an off-axis rotator on crewmembers of NASA. They wanted to stimulate the vestibular system with spinning and tilting sensations. When the crewmembers are in space, the brain reinterpret information receives from the inner ears. The scientists were looking at eye movements, because they believe that changes in the vestibular systems are reflected in the movements of the eyes.

vestibulo-ocular system and the critical period
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-03-22 00:02:54
Link to this Comment: 13845

Like Emily Trinh, I was also interested in the vestibulo-ocular movements discussed in class, and the experiments that she referenced put me in mind of something I had learned in my high-school pyschology class. Some animals who are subjected to wearing inverted prism lenses (or, in the case of one brave psychologist, a set of lenses that not only inverted images from top to bottom, but also left to right) are at first horribly confused by the mismatched signals coming in (perhaps another demonstration of corollary discharge signals at work) but are soon able to adjust to the weird images. However, I seem to recall that birds are much less able to adapt to the change; chicks who have on the inverted lenses continue to peck at where food appears to be, and do not learn where it actually is. Does this mean that birds have a different configuration of the vestibulo-ocular signals than mammals do?

Also, by extension the vestibulo-ocular system reminded me of the critical period in some young animals; an experiment in kittens demonstrated that kittens who had grown up in isolation seeing only vertical lines could not percieve horizontal lines when they grew older. This condition was difficult, if not impossible to reverse. Do humans have such a critical period if they were to wear the inverted glasses since birth?

Race & Gender
Name: A. Hosoda
Date: 2005-03-22 02:36:20
Link to this Comment: 13853

I have been thinking a lot about the discussion of gender and race in the class. Since I am a sociology major and studying at an all-women’s institution, gender and race are often on my mind. Prof. Grobstein asked us in class if we would give up our identities in terms of race /gender. Identifying as a female is an important part of me, but I think of no problem giving up on my race. As many people have mentioned, I also believe that race is merely a social construct. Depending on the places and the history, racial categories are defined very differently. Race was often assigned by a “dominant” group like “one drop rule” in the U.S. Also, according to the documentary “Race: The Power of an Illusion I” (, it is explained that there is a greater genetic differences within the “same” race group than between groups (eg. students find people with resemble genetic patterns in the complete different continents of the world in the documentary). So, I see race is a very problematic way of categorizing people. Not only that race is a social construct which has a different meaning attached depending on places, but it is also not the case that “same” race group necessarily has similar genes.

I think that we can say the same thing about gender in terms of a social construct. We are all “trained” to act one’s gender from our day 1, so whatever we think of the role of “male” and “female” are constructed. But what I see different gender from race is that the division of the gender role rose due to the differences that males and females naturally have in the first place. It is never possible for men to get pregnant, because they are not equipped with the system. So, I am not surprised if men and women have different genes or different brains. I think the structures of our bodies are simply different between men and women! I think gender and race raise very important questions, and I would like to keep thinking further.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-22 03:55:47
Link to this Comment: 13854

I was very interested in Anna's questions on new neural connections: "Does it simply mean the increase of information flow and versatility? How does a new neural connection affect the overall ‘flow of information’ in the brain? Do you behave differently because of a new neural connection, and how different might you behave?"

When I first had biology, I remember learning that when you get to a certain age, your neural connections stop growing. However, when I later studied biology in high school, they had just started to discover that new neural pathways were constantly being made (although not as much as when you are young). Going back to the original idea of whether Emily is right or not, this distinction of continuous neural growth is very important. If Emily is right, neural pathways MUST be constantly forming. Furthermore, it makes sense that all of Anna's questions can be answered with a Yes, according to Emily; since humans are constantly behaving differently, more efficiently/quicker, etc...there must be a change in the brain too.


On a different note: I was thinking about the nature vs. nurture argument. In class we learned that people can develop finer movements only after learning the basic motor patterns. The fine movements break out of this motor pattern and that is why it is learned later. However, what does this suggest for starting children on instruments at a very early age? If fine motor movements are not made until a certain age after the general motor pattern...perhaps there is an optimal age for starting a kid. Or, is it that if a person "practices", no matter how early, they can break free from the general motor movements?

Many Reflections
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-03-22 04:35:54
Link to this Comment: 13855

With regards to the highly debated topic of gender, I definitely believe that there are differences in men and women that stem from structures in the brain. It’s all written in an article in March’s Time Magazine entitled, “The Math Myth: The real truth about women’s brains and the gender gap in science.” In a nutshell, the article explained the biological differences between men and women’s’ brains and how these changes made one gender more apt to be better at certain things. Clearly, if women’s brains have larger/smaller sizes of something or less/more neurons in certain locations or more/less of a particular connection, their brains will be different from men’s’ brains, and will be more/less able to do certain things. However, that is not to say that just because of these differences, men or women will be better at something. Of course one group may be naturally more able to do something. However, the brain can change and adapt to be better at a certain function, and so if women are not as good in science/math (hypothetically speaking,) they could adapt and work on it so that they could be. And also, not all men would naturally be better than women in science or math. My point here is that the gender differences do give us traits that favor certain characteristics; however, it is eventually up to each individual to use/not use these traits, or to adapt these traits to be better at something. So, if there is a cultural perception that African Americans are better at sports, it is because they probably carry the genes for being good athletes (especially because many of them have good body compositions for athletics,) and due to their own culture and upbringing, they either worked on those initial traits, or may have decided to ignore them and focus on something else. This makes sense because of course, not all African Americans are good athletes. However, the ones we see on television that are good athletes have decided to take advantage of their genes and use it to their advantage to become good athletes through training and practice. It just so happens that many athletes are African Americans. Many others (with the same good genes for athletics) may have decided to put their focus on mathematics or the sciences, and so have developed those traits a lot more. Thus, “biological factors would not play a role unless they interacted with social conditions.”

I also do not agree with Leslie when she says gender is appearance based. True, people may think we define gender as whether an individual has certain bodily/physical characteristics, but those are mere distinctions we use to classify humans into an even bigger division. With our gender differences come huge biological differences, especially in the brain. And these differences in the brain cause us to become different individuals, and so we use gender to distinguish between different individuals. (i.e. women are more X and men are more Y..etc) However, this becomes a problem when dealing with gay/lesbian people because their bodies may distinguish them between male and female, but their brains could be wired differently (through mutation) to possibly think like someone of the opposite gender. In this case, we can not use gender as a distinction between humans. So where do we make distinctions to separate people? Is it a combination of gender and sexuality?

To continue, I think that race is a more important distinction, specifically to non-Caucasian individuals. As a Persian, I feel like I am greatly defined by my own race and family background. I especially feel like I can connect with my fellow Persian friends on a different level than with other individuals (because of common cultural interactions). And to me, culture and values have been essential in creating my personality and my own set of standards. However, besides cultural interactions, I don’t feel as if my brain is different than people of different races. I may be trained to think differently (due to my culture) but, the general brain functions are still the same. I must say that I disagree with Patrick Wetherille when he said “drawing conclusions about behavior based on race is about as productive as drawing conclusion about people based on their height.” I believe these two are complete extremes. One cannot compare behavior to physical traits. Behavior, in my opinion, is definitely changed and influence by the brain and particular culture, so, people of different races will naturally behave differently. Plus, behavior is not something that is set in stone. It changes from day to day, based on an individuals’ mood. However, their physical traits are a result of their DNA and it isn’t something that can determine how an individual thinks or behaves. (i.e. your physical traits can change but it is very minimal due to products/surgical procedures!)

I also think Lauren Dockery posed a good question: “once you have done something does your nervous system remember that particular pattern and revert back to this pattern by default should you attempt this same thing again?” I think the answer is yes. Obviously, it has been proven that the more humans read something/do something, the better they get at it because they have practiced it and made many mistakes until they became good at it and found the best way to understand it or to do it. For example, good tennis players became good due to their hard practice and due to their learning experience from many previous mistakes and attempts. However, when does our nervous system make the distinction to know when it can attempt the same thing and when it needs to modify it, or change it to make is better? It seems as if these standards for knowing when to stop and continue certain “perfect” pattern or methods for something (like serving a tennis ball) is obviously based on humans’ ideals and rules/regulations for perfection. Once we have established that perfect idea, then we can continue to maintain it so our nervous system eventually remembers it. However, how do we know that a particular function is better, or “more perfect” than another one? That is just a cultural perception which isn’t too important…it’s just important to know that once an idea of perfection is achieved, an individual can pursue it and practice it to be good at it.

I am also interested in a topic that not many decided to write about…it was mentioned near the end of last Tuesday’s class. We talked about weight loss and how it functions as a negative feedback loop with a set point. Professor Grobstein explained how we can fight our nervous system with a set point for a particular body weight, and we can change the set point if we modify the neurons in the system. So how can we “change the neurons” in the system? Can this type of thing be done through hypnosis? What is hypnosis anyhow and how does it work?

Article in Time Magazine
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-03-22 05:00:56
Link to this Comment: 13856

I was recently reading through the March 21, 2005 issue of Time Magazine and came across an article entitled: “Resetting The Brain.” The topic of the article is about sending pulsing magnets through the brain to alter personalities, and in this particular story, to diminish a patient’s depression. Here is a brief synopsis of the article, which really relates to this class and how inhibitory and excitatory signals work.

In this experimental treatment, being done at New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University, doctors aim powerful magnets to a spot on the brain to reset the wayward neural circuits that keep patients with depression away from their symptoms. This particular patients’ treatment lasted for one hour, five days a week, for up to six weeks. The sessions the patient underwent were called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulations (rTMS). Doctors are inquiring into whether this treatment can be used to treat patients with anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, stroke, or epilepsy as well. Scientists can not explain why magnetic stimulation may ease a patients’ suffering. Scientists also say that this type of magnetic stimulation has nothing to do with the bar magnets that some older patients often wear or wrap around wrists or ankles. rTMS are electromagnets (like the ones used in MRI’s) but are smaller, and they work through the small electrical currents that the pulses induce in the brain’s nerve cells.

“At some frequencies, those electrical currents seem to stimulate neural pathways but at other frequencies inhibit them,” (This topic is very important for our class discussions!!!) According to Dr. George Wittenberg, a neurologist at Wake Forest University, “Magnetic stimulation is a clever way to induce current without actually having an electrical connection.” Also, unlike electroconvulsive therapy, which affects the entire brain, “these magnets are focused only on specific regions at the surface of the brain, the cortex. And because the treatment does not trigger a seizure, there’s no need for muscle relaxants or anesthesia and is not problem with memory loss.” “You have to remember, the brain is both an electrical and chemical organ,” says Dr. Mark George, a psychiatrist at the Medical University of South Carolina. Drugs like prozac can only address the chemical imbalances in the brain. Electroconvulsive therapy is still one of the most effective treatments for long-term and unrelenting depression. One theory is that depression is an imbalance in the activity of the areas of the brain that help us reason and plan and the areas of the limbic system that process emotions. However, in the end, the scientists admit they are dealing with the brain with guesswork. There are many further studies necessary for results to be achieved!

Name: Bridget
Date: 2005-03-22 08:12:09
Link to this Comment: 13857

About a week ago the athletes had a meeting with several high-ranking officials in the athletic deptartment and in the college in general, and someone asked the question: at one of the most racially diverse colleges in the country, why is every team here so predominantly white?
It had never even occurred to me before, but when I think about it now, it does seem odd. I guess that's just a side note, I don't really know what else to say about it.
I have noticed a little before that certain sports are stereotypically more participated in by some ethnic backgrounds than others. Like someone said, maybe it has to do with certain genes that enable a person to be taller or faster. Now that professional sports teams are so racially diverse it makes me wonder what the world missed out on when minorities weren't allowed to participate during segregation.
So now I am thinking about each sport and the stereotypical player who pops into my head. When I think of soccer, I think of a lot of European players, mostly white, but there are a few minorities who stand out from Brazil and other countries. But soccer originated from a game played in Asia. China, I think. The only Asian who would have come into my head would have been Sun Wen, who played for the Chinese women's national team, but I haven't heard of her since 1999, so it took me a while to come up with her name. That train of thought might not make sense to other people, but I think it's interesting how the dynamic has changed so much. I mean yeah, it was over hundreds or thousands of years, but still, it's interesting.

Name: Cam
Date: 2005-03-22 09:55:07
Link to this Comment: 13860

Although I do believe that gender is a categorization with social implications, I don’t think that gender is more socially constructed than race. Race is, by definition, a social construction – it is based primarily on phenotype and nothing else. Society assigns race to an individual based on how well that individual fits “the look,” regardless of that individual’s actual background or personal identification. In other words, merely assuming an individual’s race without any other information doesn’t really tell you much about that individual. Of course, race and culture can overlap, as it does in some cases in the United States, but they are not the same thing.

Personally, I feel like categorizations in general are incredibly lazy and dehumanizing . . .regardless of the “category” (race/gender/etc.), they impart certain stereotypes on an individual who is now judged heavily on how well he or she fits the “category” than anything else. And if he or she doesn't "fit" -- that carries even more implications for that individual. . .they become viewed as an anomaly, and are further stigmatized based on that fact. . .and the entire process simply reinforces the stereotype. And what a sad thing that is – for an individual to be reduced to a label.

science vs sociology
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-03-22 11:31:24
Link to this Comment: 13862

This is in response to the questions posed about differences (between gender, race, etc...) last Tuesday in class.

My personal answers to the questions are:
Is it genetic? Yes.
Does it matter? Yes and no.

I think it’s crucial to realize that there are genetic differences. Yes, there are many differences between gender and race that are imposed or intensified by society, but this does not mean that genetic differences do not exist. An unwillingness to look at the scientific data that supports this claim is pure ignorance. I realize that the implications of the results have strong reactions, especially in a society that’s founding was based on the idea that we are all born as equals. Well guess what, we're not. Even if you think that the vast majority of differences are societal and that the genetic differences are negligible, they are still there and should not be ignored.

Now on to the question about whether or not it matters. It terms of using genetic data to classify a group of people and say what they are or are not capable, no it is not important. (Well, it is important in the sense that genetics should not be used for stereotyping. This is due to the great individual differences within any population, as I discussed in my last post.) But are genetic differences important for scientific purposes? Absolutely. It is important for the advancement of science that we identify genetic differences. They can then be explored, and a great deal of information can be learned such as:
What are the actual genetic differences that result in men and women using different areas of the brain in problem solving tasks?
What caused the genetic differences?
Are they related to the different chemical compositions and hormones between men and women?
What function did the differences serve in an evolutionary perspective that resulted in those genes being passed on to future generations?
Are the different problem solving techniques more efficient for different types of problem solving?
If so, what ways can we make individuals more efficient using their genetic composition?

None of these questions can be explored, or even asked; if genetic differences are overlooked because someone feels that societal differences are more important. How is science not suffering through the declaration that it just isn't as important as sociology?

Vision, color perception and tone variation
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-03-22 13:26:46
Link to this Comment: 13871

Today in class we spoke about the distinction between seeing with your eyes open and with your eyes closed. Professor Grobstein pointed out that the difference lies in the precision of light source detection--when your eyes are closer, you get a general sense of total light whereas when your eyes are open you can distinguish where from the light shines and its degree of intensity. This made me think of color perception. If you want to use the example of Black and White photographer, artists must learn how to see within a whole spectrum of color its tonality. That is to say, while dark blue and brown are easily discernable by color standards, the degree to which they refract light correlates to how they will appear in a black on white image, thus appearing more black than gray or white. Likewise, a student mentioned Oliver Sacks’ profile of an artist who can only distinguish by touch a dog and a cat. If I remember Sacks’ explanation correctly, this phenomenon can be explained by damage to the artist’s brain, and, as a function of that, his ability to make out tone variations—only in the twilight hours, when the rays of the sun do not shine full on, thus bleaching out all tone, can the man see such subtleties.

X chromosome
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-03-22 21:51:33
Link to this Comment: 13891

An article from the Washington Post (March 17, 2005) about the X chromosome and male-female differences.

race as a geographic concept?
Name: Amelia Jor
Date: 2005-03-24 00:50:33
Link to this Comment: 13955

As Cam said, race is really nothing other than a phenotype. Clearly it is not as simple as that to the world, but in addition to race being classified as a phenotype, it also has geographical implications. One of the ways people have physically adapted to where they live is their change of skin color. We get darker when we are in the sun, etc. One's ethnicity is usually defined by their place of ethnic origin, not current place of residence. One aspect of an assigned "race" is the stereotype that follows. Obviously it's not fair to assume certain things about someone just because they are a certain race. However, do people judge themselves as the "other race?" For example, do African natives (living in Africa)perceive caucasians who are in Africa sterotypically, just as some caucasians stereotype African-Americans who are living in America? Does the "race" who is "at home" (e.g. Russians living in Russia)judge the "invading race" (the non-natives)? If so, what causes us to see each other as "foreigners?"

memory, involuntary or voluntary?
Name: Sophia Lou
Date: 2005-03-24 03:28:41
Link to this Comment: 13959

The past two lectures have got me concerned with the role of the I-function and memory, is memory voluntary, involuntary, or both. I know that memories can be involuntarily suppressed or repressed, but these repressed memories can also be revealed. There are control processes in memory and pathways to voluntary forgetting and involuntary memory. What about memory associated to pain or emotional hardship? The I function is the conscious part of the brain which voluntarily checks information obtained by our five senses in order to absorb the environment. Can the I function be turned off or altered? In situations of pain and stress I think it might possible. What about a baby’s circumcision at birth? Its pretty painful but most don’t remember this experience, is this because it was so long ago, or an action of the I function? There are possibilities for the I function to be turned off or turned down during painful experiences, which may cause shock or anxiety. I know I am rambling now, but many thoughts are being processed at once. This week I participated in a Psychology experiment where I learned that there are conditions of false memories. In the experiment there were colored blocks with words on top. During the first part I was told to ignore the words but type the first letter of the color of the block. This was done many times. The second part of the experiment asked me if I remembered any of the words that were above the blocks. Some words would come across the computer screen and I was to type the space bar when I recognized a word. The purpose of the experiment got me to realize that I associated some words with the color of the block, for example: blue and cold. So if we can create false memories, then I think that memory entails both voluntary and involuntary control. I will think more about this and formulate a concrete argument; hopefully there is some available literature.

water in cereal and beauty
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-03-24 09:45:34
Link to this Comment: 13965

In my family we always talked about being awake and going to sleep, not physically but mentally and emotionally. It was our way of calling the state of having an internal experience vs. not having one. Our discussion about pouring water in cereal (or was it milk to drink when she wanted water? anyhow...) got me to thinking about whether I agree with the implicit judgment my family has on being asleep, or, similarly, Buddhist emphasis on the importance of being ‘mindful.’ Is it better to be thinking about what you’re doing instead of what you did or what you will do later? And, is it in fact less mindful (in terms of brain activity) to not think about the task at hand? And, most importantly, can we improve our mindfulness? It seems to me that even if you practice consciousness there are always moments when the internal experience shuts down. Maybe it’s tiring to always be mindful and so there is a limit to how much of the time one can be conscious.

Regarding beauty, I have heard of studies/theories that support the idea that it is reproductively based. Men are likely to be attracted to a body that could bare children well, women are likely to be attracted to men who could fight off an enemy and dominate. But then what’s the whole deal with the Twiggy craze for gaunt women in the fashion/celebrity world?

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-03-24 10:09:59
Link to this Comment: 13966

About memory, I was wondering how much of memory is concious and how much is unconcious. For example, most of us cannot remember being babies. Is it because our brains were just too underdeveloped to store memories, or could it because because we didn't "think" as babies and so we don't have anything to remember? A baby can learn something, but is that more of a learned pattern, or an actual memory? This makes me wonder about the role of the I-function in babies. If babies don't think in the same way we do, but they still know what they want and what is bothering them, then is there a type of awareness that doesn't depend upon thought? Or, maybe the crying of babies is in some way their own language.

Deja Vu
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-03-24 16:00:21
Link to this Comment: 13987

I wonder about the neurobiology of deja vu. Haven't you ever been struck with the feeling of "I feel like I've been here before" or "I feel like this exact same situation has happened before" even though you know you haven't been/hasn't happened? I'm always struck with how odd the setting feels - the color of someone's shirt, the smell of the grass, the feel of the wind - how it seems so much more pronounced as if the universe is compelled to convince me that I'm seeing them for the first time, even though my brain is telling me it's familiar.

I wonder what makes the brain confused at times...

Dreams and Memory
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-03-26 11:29:18
Link to this Comment: 14030

After class this past week, I started to think about memory and dreams. How is it that on one given night I can have really vivid dreams and on other nights, I cannot seem to remember what happened in my dream? It seems that the brain might be selecting for certain dreams to be remembered, but why? What also intrigues me is that sometimes dreams can come true. How can we dream about events that have not happened yet? To me it seems amazing that our brains can create dreams that eventually come true. Sometimes when I have really vivid dreams I cannot differentiate between what really happened versus the dream. For example, if I wake up after a really vivid dream, I will feel disoriented and I will think about the dream for awhile after. During these dreams, is the brain more active as opposed to when we have dreams when we cannot remember, is the brain then passive? This has something to do with Aia’s discussion of déjà vu. I have had dreams before and then awoken later on in the day or week, only to have something from the dream pop up in real life. How is that possible? With a situation like that it is hard for me and my brain to differentiate between reality and fantasy.
The repression of feelings or dreams also interests me. I have seen in movies and TV shows, where people use hypnosis to unearth feelings and experiences from their past. It interests me that the brain can repress such feelings for so many years, but then bring the feelings back up. However, sometimes it is really hard to do the opposite – repress certain feelings and not bring them back up or act on them. How can the brain be so selective in compartmentalizing feelings? If the hypnosis process were never carried out, would the brain continue to repress these feelings, ignoring reality, instead opting to live in a fantasy world? Or would the brain eventually allow for these feelings to be brought back into reality? I find it very interesting how the brain can switch between reality and fantasy and how these two worlds are linked together in our daily lives.

Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-03-26 19:24:06
Link to this Comment: 14034

I found Thursday's discussion on the retina and light very interesting, but I still have a couple questions. Do glasses simply filter light differently than our eyes are able to, thus allowing us to see better (than we could naturally)? The second question is about human perception in general. Is what we (humans) see the same? If what we see is a "painting" do we see similar features of it? Or for example, two people may agree that a certain color is pink, but do they see the same shade of pink? To summarize the second question, I guess I am asking to what extent do we know that certain nuances (such as those between color) are perceived the exact same way?

Date: 2005-03-26 21:42:52
Link to this Comment: 14035

To answer Amelia's questions, I will use information told to me by my father, an ophthalmologhist. In general, people need glasses because, as we said in class, the image being observed by the eye is being projected either before or behind the retina, making the image blurry. The point of glasses is to, in a way, change the curvature of the lense that light passes through so that the light is refracted either more or less than it was by the natural lenses in our eyes depending on the case. This makes the light rays converge onto a single spot on the retina, producing a sharp image.
In response to your second question, I will also use my dad as an example. He has always been red/green color blind, a condition affecting about 10% of males. As a result, a beautiful, filled out tree with red flowers on it or even stop light look, as he describes it, "like a toned down muddy brown". The point of this story is that before my dad was made aware of his colorblidness, his belief of what the colors green and red and anything that had them (ie flowers, trees, cars, houses, etc.) was radically different from ours. Therefore, his experiences of these things were different aswell.

Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-03-26 21:43:42
Link to this Comment: 14036

To answer Amelia's questions, I will use information told to me by my father, an ophthalmologhist. In general, people need glasses because, as we said in class, the image being observed by the eye is being projected either before or behind the retina, making the image blurry. The point of glasses is to, in a way, change the curvature of the lense that light passes through so that the light is refracted either more or less than it was by the natural lenses in our eyes depending on the case. This makes the light rays converge onto a single spot on the retina, producing a sharp image.
In response to your second question, I will also use my dad as an example. He has always been red/green color blind, a condition affecting about 10% of males. As a result, a beautiful, filled out tree with red flowers on it or even stop light look, as he describes it, "like a toned down muddy brown". The point of this story is that before my dad was made aware of his colorblidness, his belief of what the colors green and red and anything that had them (ie flowers, trees, cars, houses, etc.) was radically different from ours. Therefore, his experiences of these things were different aswell.

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-03-27 09:38:37
Link to this Comment: 14039

Initially, the idea of our brain making things up without involving the I-function is neat. Now, I think the idea of our brain having the capability to make things up is a little scary. I relate this to schizophrenia, where patients experience delusions and hallucinations. The voices they hear or things that they see are very real and it feels like reality to them, although we think a patient suffering from these symptoms is divorced from reality. I am not sure how or whether the vision system is involved in the generation of hallucinations, but it is likely that some part of the brain is altering the patient's experience of reality without knowledge of the I-function. Generally, it seems that our brain can construct alot things to tinker with our experience of reality, either based upon our environmental stimuli or emotional memories.

Aia's question about deja vu is interesting. Maybe it relates to a heightened awareness of incoming sensory inputs and its connection to some aspect of memory, which gives rise to the feeling that the experience is familiar. If science has an explanation for deja vu, it would be interesting to find out how neuroscientists study this phenomenon.

Color perception
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-03-27 10:27:39
Link to this Comment: 14042

It is very interesting to me to think about the fact that individuals may or may not see the same colors the same way. I am inclined to believe that different people see color differently; maybe not as a completely unrelated color but rather as a different hue. I think the reason that individuals are able to take a variety of perceptions of a pink object (for example) and still describe the object in the same or similar ways as being the same color is due to the ability of the human brain to grasp abstract concepts. For instance, humans have created abstract concepts such as time and relativity, etc and I believe that determination of color would fall into this category. Because we have been taught that a certain color has a specific name our brain allows us to name many variations of that shade as the same color. Also, Alfredo¡¯s example of colorblindness is a good one. My grandfather is red/green color blind yet can still tell me about red and green. He can¡¯t really distinguish the difference between the red roses on my grandmother¡¯s rose bush and the green leaves but because his brain can process abstract concepts he knows that the two colors exist and can identify them in other places.

Vision, Sleep, and the I-function
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-03-27 13:52:50
Link to this Comment: 14047

With color perception, I think there is an important distinction between the phenomenon of color vision—the physiology of the eye, the reflection/absorbtion of wavelengths of light, and so forth—and the experience of color. I noticed this distinction in Alfredo’s post, in which he outlined how glasses function to help people see and color blindness. Someone who is color blind can have the understanding of how colors work (and more) but not have ever experienced the color “red”. I guess when I talk about the ‘experience’ of color, this refers to the I-function being involved. That ‘seeing’ certain colors or images makes us have an internal experience, or feel something.

The dream discussion is also an interesting one. How does this relate to various sleep disorders? For example, people who have REM Behavior Disorder act out their dreams; the sleep paralysis which occurs in REM to prevent this very behavior is disrupted. Here’s some background information on it:

REM Behavior Disorder

REM sleep is characterized by brain waves similar to the waking state, but there is also the adaptation of sleep paralysis. Our dreams in REM sleep are so illogical and disorganized, but can be extremely emotional and vivid. Does this mean our I-function does not ‘shut off’ during REM? That dreams represent our I-function when it is allowed to just operate freely, without functioning for its usual, goal-directed purposes in wakefulness?

Blind spots
Name: Beverly Bu
Date: 2005-03-27 14:08:49
Link to this Comment: 14048

I found the fact the brain fills in the blind spot of the eye by using surrounding data to account for missing data to be a little unnerving. If the brain functions in such a fashion with our visual perception of reality, what other aspects of how we perceive the world are similarly generated?

deja vu
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-03-27 15:06:24
Link to this Comment: 14050

My understanding of deja vu is the participation of the brain in a mismatch of past and present sensory information. I wonder to what extent this 'memory image' changes. I have personally thought that I have experienced deja vu on numerous occasions. However, it always seems to be that the deja vu has a different ending than what my memory has stored. I wonder if this is simply because the brain is confused or if my memory has been distorted. Is it possible for something to happen to the sensory input before it reaches the brain?

Color vision and colorblindness
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-03-27 15:31:05
Link to this Comment: 14054

In class on Thursday, we talked about how the brain perceives light intensity. We saw the "checkerboard" example, wherein the brain received the same signal for the white square as it did the black square, and the signal only changed when the "darkness" of the color changed (lateral inhibition network). This makes sense for rod cells (which are largely responsible for night vision and detecting light intensity, but how does this apply to color vision?

Cone cells are responsible for color detection, but, as far as I know, there are only 3 types of cones (meaning cones with 3 different pigments). The cones are sensitive to 3 different wave ranges: those around red, green and blue. We are able to see colors like purple because both the red-sensitive and blue-sensitive cones are stimulated at the same time. So, my question is, what happens when a person is red-green colorblind? How is it that they can see yellow? Isn't yellow light produced by mixing red and green light together? Do different light wavelengths affect the pigments in different ways, or are cones similar to rods in that they are sensitive to intensity? What exactly causes colorblindness: is it that cones of a certain pigment are defective, or is it that the cones simply have the wrong pigment?

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-03-27 20:25:26
Link to this Comment: 14068

Like others, I found it disturbing that our brains just fill in the missing pieces. It seems we do not have a grasp on reality since we are constantly filling in information without the I-function being aware.

Sometimes when I get a headache, my vision usually gets disturbed as well. It is as if I am unable to concentrate on anything in sight. Everything in sight just seems to be shifting around. What is it about a headache that does this to vision? How are our eyes affected by headaches?

sixth, seventh, eighth sense?
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-03-27 21:20:32
Link to this Comment: 14069

The discussion we had on Tuesday about the sensory side of the nervous system made me think about all the signals that are out there that we don’t have receptors for, or that we have receptors for but that aren’t connected to the I-function, and also all the signals that we are broadcasting without our knowledge. Animals (dogs and bees for example) can “smell” fear, and pets can sense other emotional states, sadness for example—my dogs and occasionally even my cats have exhibited out of the ordinary, “comforting” behaviors at moments when I’ve been really sad. This has a lot of interesting implications regarding our definition of “communication”.
For one thing, it gives phenomena like telepathy a lot more credence. We all read minds to some extent, it just seems that some people are more cognizant of it than others. I wonder why/how some people are conscious of these signals and others not—their “mind-reading” receptors must be connected to the I-function, I just don’t understand how if most people’s aren’t.
On the flip side, there are some interesting questions about behavior and the perception of intent. I think everyone, at some point, has felt uneasy around someone else without any real reason to. In many cases, the “creepy” individual seems totally normal to everyone else. In these cases, what is it exactly that we are sensing? What signals are we picking up on? Is it possible to decipher different intentions from two individuals exhibiting the exact same behavior? To use the example of animals once more, on our walks my typically very friendly dog would occasionally growl at random individuals seemingly without any rhyme or reason. Was he sensing some kind of malicious intent?

Blind spot, blindness
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-03-28 11:23:46
Link to this Comment: 14078

That our minds can make up information where our eyes produce a blind spot in our vision is more than a little disturbing. It calls into question the validity of the statement "I saw something out of the corner of my eye," among other things.

However, when I looked at the examples, such as the dot with a line through it on a yellow background, I didn't see anything. I didn't make up the continuation of the line--it was a space of nothingness, the same way it had been when it was just a black dot on a white screen. The same thing happened with the yellow dot in the middle of a box of red dots. Did anyone else have this experience?

Is full blindness the same, or do blind people just "see" blackness? Also, is everyone's blind spot a different size?

Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-03-28 12:44:15
Link to this Comment: 14083

I found the discussion about pheromones to be very interesting. I've read that genetics is closely tied into our reaction to pheromones, for example, they help us avoid mating with someone who is too similar to us genetically:


It seems like another way in which we (or the I-function) are not in control of our behavior. Even in something that we think we are in control of, i.e. picking a mate, there are elements of non-I-function decision-making.

Another thing that struck me in the class discussion was the "backward" construction of the retina. This was used to support the idea of evolution instead of intelligent design. This backward construction doesn't seem to have a purpose or make sense to us, so thus there was no intelligent design behind it. Although I do not agree with the theory of intelligent design, I also do not agree that our inability to understand the sense in the construction of the retina disproves it. It's possible that future discoveries will make this "backward" construction seem reasonable.

When discussing the way the nervous system fills in our view of reality, I was struck by the similarity to previous comments regarding our lack of awareness of our experiences, even as we have them. I wonder if it's a sort of protective mechanism in that our non-I-function nervous system processes exist partly to shield our I-function from information overload. Like the way a parent shields a young child from too much stimulus. It almost makes the I-function seem like the least sophisticated part of the brain rather than the most.

Brain working on its own
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-03-28 15:02:37
Link to this Comment: 14088

I'm still pretty blown away by the evidence that the brain actually fills in what you see in the blind spot with something that is not there. I wonder if this effect is indicative of a more general tendancy of the brain to fill in the picture, even if what you actually see is limited. Eyewitness accounts have been said to be unreliable because often people seem to remember more as time goes on than they do when they first witnessed the event. Just as our brains use memory to create a complete "picture in our head" as we observe the actions in a room, it seems that it might also create a fuller picture in our head of what happens in the past by filling in the gaps of what is actually remembered from witnessing.

It seems that our whole sense of reality, from our memories to our present conscious awareness are only glimpses of what is actually going on, while our mind fills out the picture using past experience or some other device (pattern generating for blindspots, for example). This is a little disturbing given how much we seem to take our perception of reality as full and accurate.

seeing what you want
Name: Amy
Date: 2005-03-28 15:14:26
Link to this Comment: 14090

Our discussion last week got me thinking about seeing, the brain 'making up' what it wants to take from the information that the eye gives it, and how everyone may have a different view of reality. It got me thinking about when I misplace my keys and search forever for them, and then they are actually right on my desk and I had been looking at them the whole time. I am wondering if maybe since I think that my keys are missing, my brain 'makes up' that they are not there. Therefore, even though they are sitting right there on the desk and I keep staring at them, I do not see them until after I have searched everywhere else.
When I was little during the spring time I loved to find caterpillers and butterflies outside and try to catch them, but whenever I went out looking for them, they were never there. I determined that if I purposefully went outside to find a butterfly, I would not find one. But if I went out to swing on the swing or purposefully NOT to find a butterfly, I would find one. So I would go outside saying to myself 'I am not looking for a butterfly'. I would swing on the swings and get distracted from thinking that I was looking for one, and then the next thing I knew, there was a butterfly on a flower right next to me.
So my question is, why do we find things (or see things) when we are not looking for them, but when we are searching for them, we can never find them? Why is it not until we stop looking that we find what we are looking for?

deja vu and motor symphonies of senses
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-03-28 16:14:18
Link to this Comment: 14095

I've been thinking a lot about the question posed by Aia about deja vu. Could it possible be due to motor symphonies and the brain filling in missing information? That is, if a great deal of our sensory experiences aren't our actual experiences of the world but rather our brains compensation for what we can't fully experience at a given time, it makes sense that the brain may rely to some extent on memories and previously learned knowledge. Is it possible that if one sense is triggered by an actual experience and a series of other senses would also be triggered to fill in the blanks, that this series might follow a motor symphony? If several senses can be triggered in the same way given a particular single sensory input, that may explain why there is a vivid sensation of having experienced something before, even though it hasn't yet been experienced.

Race, Sexuality
Name: Amanda Dav
Date: 2005-03-28 16:57:07
Link to this Comment: 14100

I'd like to respond to A.Hosoda's comment about race being a problematic way of categorizing people. As it was said in class I do not think groups themselves are a problem its when we start saying that one group is better than another. I do think race is primarily a cultural construct. However, I do not think it would be good to entirely discard the concept of race for several reasons. One being the sense of pride and unity some people feel in relation to their race, which I believe Jasmine talked about. Another being health reasons. Some racial/ethnic groups are, for some reason, more prone to certain disease or react differently to certain diseases. For example, the Center for Disease Control reported that more African-Americans were living with AIDS in 2003 than caucasians, and more caucasians were living with AIDS than hispanics in 2003. ( Is this because of cultural differences or does one ethnic group contract the virus more easily than another due to genetic differences? I don't know the answer, but in order to treat patients better, health care providers should be aware of the differences. Again, it is important not to think of one group as superior to another. One may say that this will inevitably keep happening, but I disagree. I think that if we discover more or less biological differences between different people in different socially constructed groups, we must remember to teach the next generation that these differences are not good or bad, they just are.

That brings me to the next topic of sexuality. I've recently had several discussions about the morality of homosexuality. I honestly do not understand the concept of homosexuality being "wrong." It is just something that IS. I've done several research papers on this topic and the current research points to a biological, possibly even genetic cause. I disagree with Jasmine's statement that gay men and lesbians think like members of the opposite sex (I assume she meant because they're attracted to members of the same sex). There have been studies that show that gay men do not have female brains. I believe a study with mice shows the same of lesbians not having male brains, but I'm not sure - I know there has been less research done with gay women than men. My professor last semester listed several nuclei in the brain that are different between straight men, women, and gay men. Take, for example (I don't remember what they actually were), nuclei A, B, and C. Nuclei A was large in women, and nuclei B and C were small. Nuclei A in straight men was small and nuclei B and C were large. In gay men, nuclei A was large, B was small, and C was large. In that sense a gay male's brain was like a different sex so to speak. Identical twin studies have shown that a person's identical twin is more likely to be gay if s/he is. This points to a genetic factor. As a scientist I cannot rule out possibly environmental factors, or the nurture side of possible causes, no matter how much the liberal in me wants to say it's all biological. Since gay, lesbian, and bisexual people come from such a diversity of backgrounds, however, I am unsure how much environment could really influence one's sexuality.

Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-03-28 18:33:36
Link to this Comment: 14106

In response to the previous post by Amanda Davis, I was wrongfully attributed with having made the second comment about the similarities in gay men and lesbians. That was another student's comment. Thanks!

Human Perception and Learning
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-03-28 18:53:18
Link to this Comment: 14107

Last week’s class, especially the topic of the blind spot and how our brain fills in the hole with the surrounding images, got me thinking about how much we actually perceive and how much our brains make up? Also, how much are we aware of (what’s going on around us) and how much does our brain ignore? Kate Matney’s post, mentioning the topic of mindfulness, is something I have always been interested in understanding. How come some days, we are more mindful than others and can concentrate and comprehend more from our environment and external stimuli? Why do some people seem to pick up on things more easily or be conscious of everything going on around them (like multi-tasking), while others can only focus on the task at hand? And is there a certain extent to what you can be mindful of? Does there come a point where the brain just decides what you need to know/be aware of and what you don’t? I think it’s a really scary and unnerving idea. How do I know if what I am experiencing or am mindful of is all that is important? Also, if I can comprehend or be aware of more that is going on (and learn from it) does that make me more knowledgeable? And can sometimes being unconscious of certain things be better for us or make us more intelligent? And do we have the capability to make that decision (i.e. filter out what we don’t want to know and only take in what we feel is essential or needs to be done?) I feel like we would all learn a lot more if we were conscious all the time and actually questioned/thought about things a lot more! (instead of just accepting them).

Also, like the idea that different people see the same color as different (with different hue’s, for example, does that mean that that is the same with everything in life? Obviously, this has to do with imagination as well. I can see a painting and think/perceive it totally different than someone else. So why then, are there so many famous painters? When I go to museums, I many times see paintings that I could have done as a two-year-old, and just paintings that I think are plain ugly. But why are they considered “works of art” by the general population? Who’s ever right in making that statement?

Name: Malaya Sni
Date: 2005-03-28 18:59:30
Link to this Comment: 14108

I find it interesting how human beings have found a way to communicate because everybody’s brains are different. Meaning when people feel pain, see a color and/or state the way they are feeling it is not the same as someone else’s experiences, but we categorize it as being the same. When I say I am happy, my friend could say the same statement, but it would mean completely different things. Yes, when one is happy, usually they smile and do other things that show it, but that is not true for everyone. My friend and I could be saying we are both happy, but we really are feeling different things. We could be happy about different things and/or even happy about the same things, but they are different within our brains. I came to think about this because of the colors. We all see things differently, yes, they might have similarities but usually they are different. I like what Lauren Dockerty said about the brain having being able to understand abstract ideas. I find that true and actually could explain maybe why our brains can make up the blind spots within our vision.

More on color
Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-03-28 20:38:40
Link to this Comment: 14112

I would like to thank Alfredo for answering my questions, as his first answer in particualr was quite enlightening. However, I am still curious about how people without colorblindness perceive various hues. As Jasmine brought up, do our brains "make up" certain colors, or do we see them exactly the same way? Can we even know? Perhaps one way to test this is to have 2 people paint a certain color, and have others (with no visual disabilities) comment on their similarities?

questions about reality and deja vu
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-03-28 20:42:44
Link to this Comment: 14113

After reading an article in the May issue of Scientific America entitled "Strangely Familiar" by Uwe Wolfradt some of my questions regarding deja vu were answered. In the article Wolfradt explains that deja vu is not akin to a hallucination or a "false memory". One theory outlined in the article for the origination of deja vu experience, is that one element such as a sound or smell reminds the viewer of a past experience during which they had heard that same sound or smelled that same smell. Another theory Wolfradt describes is the idea that deja vu is due to gaps in attention where we may not be fully aware of our surroundings and thus when we reencounter something we have seen before it is familiar, but we can't place it. However, I was most interested in the portion of the article where the temporal lobe was discussed. Scientists believe that there is a direct link between the temporal lobe and the experience of deja vu. I think it would be interesting to create some type of study comparing people with temporal lobe damage to those without damage and contrasting how they experience deja vu. Also, Wolfradt writes that, "Understanding deja vu could explain how the brain succeeds in producing a coherent likeness of reality." I was left wondering how do we differentiate between reality and this "coherent likeness of reality" created in the brain?

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-28 21:55:06
Link to this Comment: 14118

I have found myself having the same questions as Amelia after the discussions last week. How do we know that we all see the same richness in color and how can we agree on what we really see. I have been thinking about colorblindness as well, and how it pertains to how lenses and work. I understand that colorblindness is more common in men than in women, but I do not understand why. If the brain does fill in missing pieces, how does colorblindness play a role? Does one lose any sense of orientation or understanding if the colors around them do not exist?

Name: kara
Date: 2005-03-28 22:25:04
Link to this Comment: 14120

One thing I found very interesting was the discussion about the five senses. The concept that we do in fact contain receptors that we don’t really know about or understand seemed to connect a lot of things together for me. A previous comment talked the ability of animals to sense fear or emotions. One thing I found really very pertinent to my life was the idea that we can actually sense or know other people’s thoughts and future actions. I am constantly asked if I can send messages to my twin sister, without talking to her, or if I know what she is thinking at any moment. My response is always that no, I cannot send her messages and or know what she is actually thinking. I always thought that twins, or really close family members/friends were just capable of guessing a friends reaction because they know them really well. But the idea that other resceptors exisit leads me to think that there might actually be a “connection” between twins, even if they don’t know about it.
One thing I found interesting is that everyone claims to just know when something bad has happened to a family member, even if they are far away. How come no one senses when something good has happened to a family member? Could these receptors be used with people who have ESP? Again there is a general trend that people with ESP only sense bad things about to happen. It would be interesting to see further research in finding these rectors, and to see if they only really are responding to negative type of situations.

Colorblind Website
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-03-28 22:59:04
Link to this Comment: 14121

Originally I wanted to try and answer some of the questions that Amelia’s post brought up. Specifically, she said “I am still curious about how people without colorblindness perceive various hues” so I thought I would poke around online till I found a decent answer. I didn’t necessarily find a decent answer but I found an interesting website that actually about colorblindness instead of people with normal vision. It’s called The Colorblind Web Page Filter and basically when it opens a person can type in the url of any website and then select what kind of colorblindness they would like to see the page in. For example you could view through the red/green colorblindness filter. It has filters for all types of colorblindness and even though it’s just a fun gadget it may help us to understand colorblindness better.

A Sixth Sense?
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-03-28 23:18:25
Link to this Comment: 14122

I was inspired by Georgia’s comments to write about “mind-reading,” or having a type of “sixth-sense” and being able to predict things that will happen. I agree that we are all able to read people’s minds to a certain degree by observing their expressions/gestures and listening to what they say. But what happens when people do not have this capability and are a little socially behind? What about people who have really excellent skills and can always predict what others think or will do? During my childhood, I always thought I was some sort of psychic – which my mom told me I shouldn’t boast about! I remember once when my mom was taking my brothers to ice-hockey practice, I was worried before they left the house because I thought there’d be some type of accident. A half-hour later, my mom called and said someone had hit her from behind. How bizarre, right? Another time, my brothers were playing street hockey and I warned one of them to wear protective gear. Obviously, he didn’t listen to his younger sister and got hurt. There are numerous instances like this one. But was I able to predict what was going to happen because I was extra cautious, or do I have a special capability? I don’t think I am psychic, but maybe I have a certain capability to assess situations/circumstances and mentally come up with dangerous situations that will occur, ways to prevent them, or how to make the best judgment/decision in different circumstances. Is this even possible? Maybe this is because I was very observative and made decisions by pulling in all my past experiences together to give good advice or make the best decision. Who knows!

mind illusions
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-03-28 23:40:52
Link to this Comment: 14124

I was intrigued with the lecture last Thursday. I always thought that reality is what we see and what you see is what you get. I was scared at the fact that our brain has the ability to make up the missing visions that the eyes can not detect. The one topic that got me really interested in the lecture is mind illusion. For instance, when I look at a rotating spiral for a period of time, I start to feel really dizzy. It seems to be that the rotating spiral is contracting when the spiral is rotated to the left and expanding when the spiral is rotated to the right. If I were to look at a stationary object after staring at the spiral for a period of time, I feel as if the stationary object is moving in the opposite rotation. The question is why does my eyes see the stationary object moving in the opposite direction? Another thing that puzzle me is looking at picture and recognizing faces. For instance, when I look at an image of President Lincoln’s face, I will automatically be able to recognize his face when the image is right side up. However, when the image is viewed in the opposite direction like upside down, the image becomes distorted. Why do we not respond well to distortions? The last thing that I found very interesting is geometric illusion. For instance, when I look at two intersecting lines of the same size, one of them appear to be bigger than the other one because of the angle. In the Zollner’s illusion of direction, parallel lines look crooked when lines at 45 degrees intersect them. When I look at the picture far away, the illusion disappears and I no longer see the lines at 45 degrees. Why is that?

Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-03-28 23:46:30
Link to this Comment: 14125

I find the discussion about the brain "filling in the gaps" very interesting. From my observations people not only fill in the gaps of their vision, but also their memories as Pat pointed out, and their understanding of things. People and their brains in general constantly make assumptions. And in fact it is the accuracy of these assumptions that separate the way people think. It is my belief that the world is composed of so much that our brains could not possibly notice and retain everything. Therefore, it is forced to make assumptions. These assumptions are mandatory and are created through experience and rational ability.

I feel that this is the reason that people tend to generalize other groups. By generalizing a group of people one is able to make assumptions about a whole group rather than only individuals. This is a lazier way to think, but from a person with little experience with a group it seems as an accurate assumption. Assumptions are a major part of human behavior and societal functions. Without these assumptions the world would not be able to function as it does.

One thing that came to mind while writing this is the notion that the accuracy of ones assumptions plays a role in how "smart" one is. But what function of the brain controls the assumptions that people make? Is it purely reasoning, or are there other parts of the brain involved? If we can increase the accuracy of human assumption, I feel that we can become a more efficient, "smarter" species.

a story about my cat...
Name: Sam
Date: 2005-03-29 00:50:12
Link to this Comment: 14126

This weekend while I was watching a basketball game, my cat, Cali, took a nap next to me on the couch. About 30 min. into her nap she shook herself awake and squeaked really loudly; she then got up, looked around the room and cautiously settled back into her resting place.

This, along with Georgia's comments on Sunday, got me thinking about the sensory receptors of animals. I wonder what shook her awake. Could she have been dreaming? Or was it some type of overload of signals from a possible "sixth-sense"? For instance, if I clapped my hands really loudly she would have woke up as well...

Sometimes she gets crazy and attacks this one wall in our apartment for no particular reason. So are Cali's crazy actions due to a sixth sense?
If they are, then why did humans evolve without it? Or, maybe it/they really does/do exist in humans (ESP etc.) but we have evolved to distinguish a disconnect between these senses and our "I-function".

False Memory
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-03-29 00:57:07
Link to this Comment: 14127

Last semester I did an independent study that focused on false memory. Consequently, my ears perked up when this topic came up. I never really thought about how false memory played a role in terms of voluntary or involuntary memory. I certainly never thought about it in terms of the I-function. However, thinking about it now, I have to say that all three things are very important to take into account when dealing with the false memory phenomenon. One hypothesis for why false memory occurs is that when you are presented with stimuli, say the words, chair table couch bed, you may automatically think desk since you have associated desk with these other familiar words so many times. When asked what words were presented, desk would be mixed up with those actually presented since all the words “lit up” a neural pathway in your brain making it seem like they were all presented. I think this process is involuntary since you can’t control what words you associate with others. If asked what the first word that comes to your head when you say the word “Sky”, you have no control over what pops up, you only have control over what you actually say. You may race through your mind to the next best word but the first word that pops up is still there. In terms of the I-function, I am still somewhat fuzzy on what it is exactly…but I feel like if it is the “puppet master” in a matter of speaking, perhaps it is not responsible for false memory. After all, we aren’t conscious of what is occurring. What’s really interesting is that even after telling people that the false memory will occur, they still make the same mistake of calling new words as old (or already presented). This certainly gives one the feeling that it is not a controlled process. However, I still have some questions about this topic...if repression is thought of as false memory, and I'm not sure it should be..., how does that factor in. I think repression is a conscious choice, but that implies that we can conscious "erase" a neural pathway or stop it from firing. Do we have that kind of control?

mythic speech and internalizing the myth
Name: Anna
Date: 2005-03-29 01:05:57
Link to this Comment: 14128

Sophia’s post made me think of an article I read for art history about mythic speech. Abigail Solomon Godeau suggests that the artist Paul Gauguin, through his art, created a myth of the Tahitian people. He lived there for many years and produced many pieces of art. This art portrayed the Tahitians from a European point of view as a people who were very primitive, animalistic and lacked sexual inhibitions. He created a myth of Tahiti, as well as its people, by comparing it to the Garden of Eden; a primitive and sexual land. However, I doubt that that is how Tahiti was perceived by its natives. Abigail Solomon Godeau argues that this mythic speech is a productive discourse and that the Tahitians began to internalize the myth created by Gauguin. Europeans would act towards them as if they really were animalistic, primitive and sexually uninhibited, so the Tahitians responded accordingly and begin to support the myth created about them. Some see Gauguin’s work as being extremely racist (I agree). How can one assume such random stereotypes about a group of people and then force them upon this group? Sophia’s post reminded me of this because she was discussing how different races view each other. I think the idea of an internalized myth is extremely interesting. The idea of two races interacting and consequently changing from that interaction I think is another reason to support a comment made by Cam earlier, that race is indeed a social construct. I guess this thought is all kind of circular and maybe I’m just thinking out loud/online, but I thought of this class when I was reading the article so I thought I’d mention it.

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-03-29 05:09:23
Link to this Comment: 14131

This should have been posted a while because it's not really relevant anymore, but I was still thinking a little bit about race. It seems like most theories about the origin of man begin with one, or a pair, or whatever one believes, but all at one location. Like Libbi said a while ago, we may have all come from one "mother." So we all came from the same ancestors, and then were dispersed around the world and settled into different continents and remained pretty isolated for thousands of years. Now that travel is so fast and easy, people travel all the time and interracial couples are pretty common. If this continues, is everyone going to be the same"race/color" in a few thousand years?

Sixth Sense
Name: Christine
Date: 2005-03-29 08:36:49
Link to this Comment: 14132

On the topic of the sixth sense and why it is not as strong in humans as it is in some other animals, I would wonder if it is just the same reason as to why humans are not as strong, fast, or agile as other animals. I usually think that we do not possess these qualities because we don't need them as other animals do, because we make up for everything else with our brain. When it comes to the sixth sense, perhaps humans evolved brains that concentrated more on consciousness, and so our perception of ESP type signals was given less of an important role.

Lateral Inhibition Network and reality
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-03-30 17:00:48
Link to this Comment: 14167

I think the function of the Lateral Inhibition Network is really fascinating. It allows us to see things as unchanging even though everything around us is always changing. I wonder what would happen if this network were somehow damaged. How would it affect a person’s ability to see things? Would they even see things at all without their L.I.N.? Or would they actually see the world as it really is, constantly changing? That's a scary idea because it means our brains have the ability to form order out of immense chaos.

In connection with this idea, I have noticed that the more we learn about the brain and the way it functions, the more we realize how much our nervous system controls our concept of “reality”. What we perceive as real is only a guess created by our brain about what the world is actually supposed to be. As we discussed earlier in the course, humans have created tools (such as the microscope) to allow us to perceive a reality that would not normally be able to comprehend. However, there is only a limit to how many external objects we can create. So, if our concept of reality is based solely on the nervous system, is there any process by which humans can internally change the nervous system (i.e.- the brain) to change their view of reality?

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-03-30 22:55:05
Link to this Comment: 14174

Our sense of reality is not perfect, but I think the nervous system is doing a pretty good job of interpreting it. Humans have been able to survive all these years with our perception of reality. I think that the nervous system will not be able to handle all the inputs if we were to see the real “reality”. Even if the nervous system can handle all the inputs, would we want that? It seems to me that the real “reality” will be very distracting and in the end produce more confusion than clarity.

Getting it less wrong?
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-03-31 12:11:59
Link to this Comment: 14189

Today in class I had a little bit of trouble when Dr. Grobstein said dichromatic vision is just as right as trichromatic vision. It seems that our idea of getting it less wrong contradicts that making less distinction based on less input (in dichromatic vision) is not less wrong (than distinctions made by trichromatic vision.) By getting it less wrong we mean getting more of the whole picture. Isn't someone who sees more color distinction getting more input, more of the truth? This is a judgment of course, but perhaps our 'getting it less wrong' also has an implicit judgment.

a dimension of mind/imagination...
Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-04-01 12:13:38
Link to this Comment: 14202

With the recent discussions about reality and perception, what I used to think of as "reality"-- something stable, independent, unchanging-- now seems more and more like a twilight zone that each of our brains and nervous systems are responsible for interpreting & making sense of in it's own unique way from person to person (thinking particularly of a tree in the woods, reflecting light waves, but not really having color without a nervous system in the surroundings to interpret it as so). All that we've accounted for makes (more) sense, especially with color vision. Since, between a trichromat and dichromat, there's no question of right/wrong since they are experiencing what their nervous system is telling them, and not the objects giving off/reflecting light waves of certain lengths directly, what about someone with synaesthesia (with the external kind, not the internal)? If they say they "see red when they hear a doorbell" can we ask the question if they're right or wrong? The nervous system might not be being stimulated in the same way/as a result of lightwaves hitting the retina, but they are still at the same time having the same experience/getting the same message as someone who sees red as a result of input from the retina.

Also, with all the observations we've talked about now of how the nervous system is, so to say, "deceiving" us, not giving us the whole picture, or not telling us "the whole truth", things now seem to be "more mind than matter" (color as just a perception, etc.) and at the same time "more matter than mind" (perceiving yellow from red/green light just being chemical signals that also happen to be the same for red/green separately, being filled in by our NS "without the I-function being conscious of it"). To what extent are things which we think of as material/matter really matter if certain qualities like color are dependent on perception?

I was also wondering, exactly how much variation there can be in maximum absorbance for photopigments; if for one thing two people get slightly different inputs based on which photopigments they have and how they are arranged/overlap/etc. and thus interpret the color as slightly different, how much variance can there be so there's still agreement on what is what color and how certain cultures/languages divide the spectrum up into what they perceive as being either distinct colors or variants of a single color.

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-02 10:32:28
Link to this Comment: 14206

I used to think that we only differ in our experience of social reality because we "interpret" situations differently. There are at least some aspects of physical reality which people can agree on... things such as the perception of color. Sure, there are people who are colorblind or blind but I always thought the deficit resides within these individuals and the physical world is "stable, independent, and unchanging" as Laura aptly describes. To learn that a leaf is not green in the absence of an observer challenges my idea of a stable universe.

If color is a percept, how do blind people "perceive" colors in their mind, assuming that this is possible? What does the word "color" means to them?? We learned that we can see colors only if we have certain photo pigments... I was wondering also if WHAT we are able to perceive with the human eye is limited by our eye structure or something else in our nervous system. For example, we cannot see bacteria unless it is magnified under the microscope. As silly as it sounds, I was told that dogs can see "spirits." Assuming that this is true, spirits are actually formless to the human eye, just as bacteria is. Perhaps, because of the way our visual system is set up, we can perceive only things with form. Having said so, dogs probably have a similar visual system. It is just an interesting thought that we may be experiencing only the part of reality which we have access to, and the paranormal could be a part of "reality" as well (only it's inaccessible to most of us).

Color perception and reality
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-04-02 11:29:23
Link to this Comment: 14207

Xuan-Shi posted that there were specific pieces of reality that could be agreed upon among all individuals, especially pertaining to the concept of color. However, I do not believe that this is always the case. For instance, I have a dress that is red (at least to me) however whenever my mom sees it she swears that it is more orange than red. We finally had to agree to disagree about the true color of my dress, however it is interesting to note how different our perceptions of reality were.

In class on Thursday we talked about individuals that possess 4 photopigments rather than three. This made me wonder whether these individuals are able to distinguish more colors in the midrange, or whether it makes them more likely to see colors as yellow when they really aren't because they have more overlap of different pigments.

Color and animals
Name: Sonya Safr
Date: 2005-04-02 11:37:57
Link to this Comment: 14208

After our discussions this week on reality, color perceptions and photopigments, I've started wondering about the differences between color perception and animals. Do animals such as monkeys, dogs, cats, mice, etc., animals less evolved than humans, have color perception? Does their color "reality" also differ? I would imagine so...and now I come to the question, is color perception or even just our perception of reality depend on our evolved senses? Because the human brain is so complex, is our reality just an outcome of our highly evolved minds?

Dreaming and the I-function
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-04-02 16:10:06
Link to this Comment: 14215

After class this past week and discussing the postings about dreams, reality and fantasy, I started to think about the I-function. Does the I-function dominate what we are dreaming, meaning do we control our dreams, or do our dreams control us and the I-function really is not involved? It seems to me that sometimes the I-function has to be involved, because usually at night when I start to fall asleep, I focus in on a particular situation, but then I do not end up dreaming about it, instead, I will dream about something else. How does the I-function fit in then? Maybe there are differences in the role of the I-function for different types of sleep. If we are really asleep and experiencing REM, it seems that the I-function is not involved at all and we most likely have no control over what we are dreaming about.
When an individual sleepwalks is the I-function involved or not? Often times, individuals who sleepwalk cannot remember the fact they were even sleepwalking at all, is this because the I-function really is not involved? These questions interest me because I have always been intrigued by the fact that I can start off dreaming about one thing, almost willing myself to dream about a certain situation, and then the next morning I will awake and I will have dreamt about something else. Also, what makes some dreams more memorable than others? Does the I-function have a role in this? If so, does the I-function help to select what dreams are important or significant enough to be remembered and disregard others? If you are hypnotized, how is it that some dreams, feelings, and experiences can come rushing back after years of repression?

Response to the question of stability
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-04-02 19:12:13
Link to this Comment: 14217

I don't think the stability of the universe depends on the way in which individuals perceive color. If a color-blind individual perceived an object to be gray, and a non-color-blind perceived that same object to be red, all that would mean is that they each read the world in different ways. And isn't that the key to existence? Not only a diversity in species, but a diversity in interpretations?

Stability would only become an issue if communication is no longer practiced. As long as each individual is aware of the other person's interpretation of color then stability shouldn't be an issue.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-04-02 21:34:02
Link to this Comment: 14219

I don't think that stability of the universe depends on the way we perceive things to be either. But the point is that we don't realize to what extent our NS has a role in creating our picture of the world & what it is exactly that is stable; and to me, before last week, something "red" had the intrinsic property of red rather than just emitting/reflecting light waves of a particular length which my NS decided was red. The world doesn't seem so "stable and independent" as I said before because a lot of the ways in which we define/describe the world are turning out to be unique to our own nervous systems. I agree that diversity in interpretations is the key, but how to we embrace that when we don't realize in what ways our nervous system is "misleading" us?

Color Vision and Language
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-04-02 22:20:01
Link to this Comment: 14221

I liked Lauren’s point about her ‘red’ dress which can look orange to others. There are certain shades of colors which are harder to name… navy blue vs. black is one that immediately comes to mind. I’ve also been asked “is that blue or purple?”. I think this speaks to both the arbitrary nature of language and the limitations of our visual system. Obviously, it is helpful to name colors to allow for discussion of things and to help us categorize objects. I’m sure from an evolutionary viewpoint, it was helpful to recognize certain colored plants as perhaps poisonous or to identify sources of food. Maybe this is linked to the limitations we do have on our visual system. It is adaptive to distinguish red and yellow from green, brown, etc. But it is probably a ‘waste of resources’ in a system which has limited capacity to be able to exactly distinguish all these shades of dark blues and whatnot.

Also, while a colorblind person cannot experience the “feeling” of red, they know that a color ‘red’ exists for others. They know what the name/label refers to, but have not had the ‘experience’ of red.

Name: Sofya Safr
Date: 2005-04-03 12:44:11
Link to this Comment: 14233

I was just thinking that if people percieve colors differently, then they probably percieve many things in different ways, so what is the right perception of reality? is there even this one reality we all live in?

Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-04-03 13:47:04
Link to this Comment: 14234

I agree with Aia in that I don't think the the "stability of the universe" is dependent on color. The fact that two individuals perceive something in different ways does not necessarily make the "universe" less stable. However, she goes on to say that "Stability would only become an issue if communication is no longer practiced. As long as each individual is aware of the other person's interpretation of color then stability shouldn't be an issue." So, basically, if people stop communicating with one another, then differences in perception become an issue. This communication depends on each individual being conscious of the fact that another individual's interpretation of color may be different. But, who's to say that everyone is aware of these differences? Isn't this then an issue since not everyone is conscious of differences in perception? I think that people tend to assume that everyone sees things as they do. I believe that reality is largely a perception, and that there isn't a true or correct reality because it is different for everyone.

Personally, I feel that many problems arise because we assume that everyone sees things in the same way. For example, when people design web pages, do they take into account that some people are color blind?

Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-03 15:06:29
Link to this Comment: 14238

"I don't think the stability of the universe depends on the way in which individuals perceive color." --Aia

Thanks for pointing that out. You are saying that a banana is still a banana no matter what color you perceive it is. To clarify, in what I used to perceive as a "stable" universe, leaves are green and bananas are yellow. Color is a fixed property of objects; "yellow" is something that is out there. Bananas are not yellow because a mixture of light of different wavelengths reflecting off it caused equal activation of long and medium wavelength cones in our eyes. In this sense, the universe does not appear as "stable" to me now, having to think in terms of wavelengths and not color...if that makes sense.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-03 20:55:49
Link to this Comment: 14252

I am personally amazed how well the nervous system interprets the world around us. When I think about engaging in an activity in which all my senses, personally I am thinking of soccer, I am absolutely dumbfounded how much information the nervous system must take in and account for. So much information must be processed, such as the angle of the ball, shadows due to sunlight, the topography of the field or playing surface, the speed at which the ball is going, the speed at which you, your teammates and opponents are going, and so many more for one to be successful in the game. It would be impossible to undertake such activities with a nervous system, which could not interpret things well. I understand the nervous system is not doing a perfect job interpreting what true reality is, but under the circumstances, I think it is doing a great job.

Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-04-03 22:21:01
Link to this Comment: 14260

The class discussion of color perception reminded me of a common misconception involving color. Many people believe that bulls charge when they see the color red, but of course, they are color blind so they are charging because of the movement of the cloth, not it's color. It's interesting to me that the action of the bull charging got universally associated with the color red rather than any other variable. Clearly color has a profound impact on thought, and different colors impact us in different ways. For example, red is considered a "power" color, very high energy, while blue is considered calming. The fact that color can have emotional impacts, and that these emotional impacts have some commonality across people, indicates that there is some similarity in our perceptions of color despite it's seemingly abstract nature. I wonder if someone who is color-blind has similar emotional reactions to all colors or if these reactions are changed based on the ability to see certain colors.

Here's an interesting article on color and emotion:

Color and Emotion

Color perception and reality
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-04-03 23:08:15
Link to this Comment: 14264

It is interesting to note how people interpret colors differently, like the example Lauren used about her dress. This whole discussion about color perception finally makes me realize why there can be no one reality or truth. Our reality is only a perception coming from our nervous system, and since everyone has different nervous systems, everyone interprets reality in a different way. However, because the majority of people see colors using 3 photo pigments, we assume that this is "reality". On the contrary, it's actually just a large group of observations that seem to point in the same direction.

I think that when Xuan-Shi said the "stability of the universe" (and you can correct me if I'm wrong), she was really referring to the security of her own world. Because she sees color using 3 photo pigments, the way she sees color is a reality for her. The knowledge that color is an interpretive aspect instead of a physical fact is shocking because it means that what she (and many of us) took for granted as facts of life are really just interpretations made by the nervous system about the world around us. It also means that we can’t trust our eyes to give us an accurate view of reality because reality is a relative term.

Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-04-03 23:33:13
Link to this Comment: 14265

I would just like to thank Leslie for the site she found on colorblindness. It really gives you a different perception of color and what it's like to not be able to see it to the fullest. I have a few male friends who are partially colorblind, so it was great to be able to see things like they do! Thanks! If anyone gets the chance, check it out!

Seeing stars (and not the famous kind)
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-04-04 01:18:12
Link to this Comment: 14266

All this discussion about perception of color made me think about what happens when I get hit in the eye, or when I rub my eyes too hard, or when I look directly at a bright light and then close my eyes. In all of these cases I see colored stars, when clearly I’m not really “seeing” anything of the kind. I wonder how my experience in these cases would differ from that of someone who is colorblind or completely blind. No photons are actually hitting my eye, so my nervous system must be completely responsible for what I see. Therefore, if the actual photoreceptors are not involved, couldn’t a blind or colorblind person “see” what I do? Do I only see spots/stars of colors because I have had other experiences of color, and therefore someone who is born blind wouldn’t see what I do? That is, could my nervous system “make up” colors without ever having seen them at all, or is it simply recalling them from previous experience?

On a different and completely unrelated note, I was thinking about how when I was younger my mom (among others) told me that eating carrots would help me see better in the dark. I have no idea if there is anything in carrots that aids in photoreception, but given what we’ve learned so far I suppose it is not that far fetched. Perhaps there is some molecule in carrots that makes the rods in our eyes more sensitive to light?

Brain filling in
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-04-04 14:33:03
Link to this Comment: 14274

I've been reading about repressed memory and find it strikingly similar to our discussion of vision. One book I read discussed how the brain can confuse fantasy with reality with respect to repressed memories through the suggestive nature of the therapy.

Repressed memory therapy sometimes uses hypnosis, a process therapists believe to be useful in pulling out repressed memories. Often, a patient is encouraged to use their imagination to think about a past trauma in such a way that may trigger a repressed memory. However, since the patient is under the assumption that fantasies under hypnosis are more 'real' than normal fantasies, their brain can take fantasies to be real memories. The brain then sees two set of memories: real and false. (This is not to say that repressed memories do not exist, as reseachers have made it clear that they do).

I thought that this was interesting in the context of vision since our brains often see colors that are not actually there. Yellow can be created through a variety of of light combinations. While it seems the same all the time, it can actually be very different in different instances. Mistaking things as being real seems to be a trait of the brain that arises both in vision and in memory.

Name: kara
Date: 2005-04-04 17:25:53
Link to this Comment: 14293

One part of this weeks class was how spark the distinction between reality and fantasy and its implications in life and especially the court. The concept that the eyes and the brain essentially can make assumptions about what happens seems to shatter the respectability of any witness unless they are interviewed right away. The idea that the brain can and does change our perceptions of events is very confusing, because why would the brain care to change what we remember? Or is it that when we recall an event we are just adding in details that we think would make sense to go with the situation? In which change this a problem relating more to making associations rather than actual memories changing. However, although I am sure there are many instances in life where the assumption made by our eyes/ brain can be disastrous, I think on an everyday basis, it is not really a problem. Humans have survived this long without our brains going into a mode where it scrambles everything and perception becomes so blurred that we can’t function.

Name: Ayumi H
Date: 2005-04-04 20:08:43
Link to this Comment: 14297

I was pretty shocked to experience that we do not see every fragment of what exists in the reality according to the class exercise. I used to think what comes into my eyes as long as they come into my vision was the reality and there was no false to it, but I recently discovered that it was not the case.

With the discussion of color perception, I wonder about the differences between animals and human as some people have mentioned. As an example of blind people with guide dogs, I wonder how dogs see and interpret the color of the light and if they differ from human.
I think how we perceive colors have a lot to do with the culture we are raised. For example, there is only a distinction of two colors (I do not recall which colors they are…either it was red and black, or white and black) in some cultures. In my home country, Japan, we have the street light as the U.S, but we call the “green” light, a “blue” light. Even within the same culture, some colors are perceived very differently depending on people. I think this is very interesting, but now that I am aware that everything I see is not always true and everything I interpret maybe different from other people, it is very cool that human have survived this long without a perfect system.

Name: Sarah Snie
Date: 2005-04-04 20:30:39
Link to this Comment: 14298

I find it very interesting that what we know about anything is truly a function of the brain and not a physical reality. I know we have only been discussing color, but I feel this is true about many of the other things. Our reality, really is not reality at all, but certain things happening within our nervous system. For example, what is pain really? Is pain the physical feeling we get or just something within ourselves. What if we are interpreting pain incorrectly. Theoretically, what if I was put under a fMRI and was told by a specalists that my right arm is in pain, but I do not feel anything? Am I really in pain there? What is reality? I guess there really is no reality because our reality is based on physical aspects of things. WE are able to think of abstract ideas, but I think the abstract ideas come about because of our ability to see things and understand them physically and spaciously.

Random Thoughts
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-04-04 20:58:57
Link to this Comment: 14299

I agree with Kate’s post about getting things “less wrong” as opposed to “more right”. Isn’t getting “less wrong” have to do with figuring something out to its most minute detail? So how can it be less wrong if a person can’t see the picture? If two people are looking at a painting in an art museum and they want to discuss the colors used in it, a person who is partially color blinded would not be able to explain the brilliance of the colors used in the painting if they can’t perceive the colors that were intended to be a part of the picture. Thus their explanation of it would be “less right” than the other person then again maybe all this discussion just relates back to the “intended” color of something or the “intended” meaning of something and not necessarily a range of interpretations.
This is unrelated but I was thinking about Xuan-Shi’s idea that there are specific pieces of reality that could be agreed upon among all individuals. I thought for quite some time about anything in life that could be classified as never changing or static and I couldn’t come up with a single instance of something that would always be “true reality”. Any have any ideas?
Kristen talked about dreams in her post. I remember when I was growing up how my parents told me to think “good thoughts” before bed. According to them it was whatever was on my mind before I went to sleep that would be the thing to pop up in my dreams. So I would tend to say that since to an extent we can control our thoughts that we then can control our dreams. Thus the I-function plays a part in deciding what we’ll dream about. Case in point, last night I was thinking about my friend and low and behold she popped up in one of my dreams. I was thinking about serious things and then she happened to be a part of a serious/scary dream I had last night.
I found Kristen’s thoughts on sleepwalking very interesting as well. I was a sleepwalker as a child and one time in particular I ended up walking outside of my house. I was in elementary school at the time and I remember thinking it was all a bad dream. Even though now I know that the event really occurred, I seem to always think of it in terms of it just being a bad dream. Even today I have trouble convincing myself that it really happened. Maybe all of our dreams are just realities while we sleep.

percieved reality v. actual reality
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-04-04 22:12:00
Link to this Comment: 14300

After Thursday's lecture on color and light I was left feeling a bit unsettled by the idea that what we percieve to be reality (that color as an entity exists) is quite different from actual reality. I am an art history major and one of my favorite artists is Seurat. He employs a technique called pointillism, where small dots of paint are applied to the canvas. When you step away from the painting an overall image is conveyed, whereas close up the tiny dots are visible and the image is not decipherable. This type of color mixing seems to blur the boundary between percieved reality and actual reality. We percieve a continuous and concrete image exists when in reality it is simply a bunch of tiny dots placed side by side, creating the illusion of an image.

Name: Anna
Date: 2005-04-04 22:13:21
Link to this Comment: 14301

(This is a little off topic --- it has nothing to do with color) I completely agree with Libbi – the nervous system is doing an incredible job :o) I was thinking today though about sports and the brain. I attempt to throw the javelin in outdoor track. I know what I have to do, I know each of the steps, and I know where to focus my eyes, where to place each arm and how to move my hips and my legs. I can perform the motions perfectly while going slowly. However, as soon as I speed up, it all goes to hell. It doesn’t look anything like it is supposed to. But I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing and I know I am thinking about the specific motions in my head while I’m running up, but as soon as the javelin leaves my hand, I know I have not thrown it how I should. Sometimes, randomly, I will do it right. So then shouldn’t a “score” be written and shouldn’t I be able to do it again?


In relation to the dreams discussion, I’ve also wondered a lot about whether or not we are able to control our dreams, if dreams are telling of future events or if they simply reflect issues that are constantly on our minds. There are all those dream interpretation books that say crazy things such as ‘if you dream about water it means you’re anxious about pregnancy’ (I have no idea if there are some that say that, but you get the idea). How can there be a universal “translation list” that says if you’re dreaming about this, it means this? Since we all interpret “reality” (what we see while dreaming or while awake) slightly differently it seems to me that these books don’t hold much truth. How big is the difference between "dreams" and "Reality" anyway? I know that I have been so scared from some dreams that I have woken up all sweaty with an accelerated heart beat. I reacted to my dream as if it was real, yet I did not go through the physical actions of getting chased down by a mobster or a prison guard or a great white shark or whatever scary thing is trying to catch me in my dream. None of that ACTUALLY happened, but to me, for a brief period of time, it is very real. So real sometimes that it prevents me from going back to sleep. Yet I should be able to sleep fine because I know that it is JUST a dream and that I won't really be thrown into a prison camp or whatever.


Another thing that just came to mind, when I dream, I don’t think that I see things in color. I think there are hints of color, but there is no bold or vibrant color in my dreams and I wonder why. I guess this has to do with Kristin’s question on whether or not the I-Function can decide to make certain dreams more memorable than others.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-04-04 23:11:42
Link to this Comment: 14303

The idea of color being what we perceive makes sense when we think of a sound wave and a light wave as both being just waves until they are picked up by an organism, which is able to discriminate between which type of receptor will receive the wave. This might also have consequences for the idea of opinions versus reality. Two people could be shown the same thing or have the same experience, but interpret it differently. Neither person is really correct, it’s just that they have been conditioned to notice different things because of their personal memories and sensory receptors. This could be problematic, though, because many people see themselves in a particular way that may be different than the way that other people see us. If perception is the reality for each individual, then does this must mean that there are an infinite number of ways of thinking about any one thing and so we are all "ignorant" all of the time unless we know everything.

mind paint
Name: beverly
Date: 2005-04-04 23:27:35
Link to this Comment: 14304

A previous post about dots of paint appearing as an image when viewed from afar made me think of the influence of the media on the mind. How many "dots of color" are being placed on the palete of our minds everyday to form the larger picture of how we perceive the reality of ourselves and our world?

reality vs illusion
Name: Sophia Lou
Date: 2005-04-04 23:29:57
Link to this Comment: 14306

1. Thursday’s lecture was certainly intriguing, and allowed me to raise many questions. The discussion on reality and illusion confused me a bit. I believed that what you see is what you get…until I was a participant in my friends psychology experiment (the one that I explained a few postings ago). At that point I realized that we do create our own illusions, but how? I understand the notion of false memories, but what about false perception, or vision, or our imaginations? I read up on what is called a reality shift, and I think that’s what we were getting at, because they seem to be illusions. An illusion is: a. “An erroneous perception of reality. b. An erroneous concept or belief. c. The condition of being deceived by a false perception or belief. d. Something, such as a fantastic plan or desire, that causes an erroneous belief or perception. “ A reality shift is 1. “The manifestation of objects appearing, disappearing, transforming and transporting. 2. Changes in the way we experience time. 3. any sudden, abrupt alteration of physical reality with no apparent physical cause”. Am I wrong to say that these are the same? I think a reality shift is a bit more complex, but they have the same foundations. The more I read the definitions the more the two concepts seem different. A reality shift is the transformation of something that already occurred, or is occurring, but an illusion is false right from the start (I think). I think we experience reality shifts more than illusions. Reality shifts are happening around us all the time, even though we usually don't notice them occurring. For example, I can’t remember who wrote it, but someone’s posting about “misplacing” their keys and searching all over when it was basically right in front of them. It is as though your mind is playing tricks on you. I used to associate illusions with dreams, or daydreaming. I read an article with the following questions, and if you answer yes to them, than you have experienced reality shifts: * Do you end up with single socks when you know you put pairs of socks into your load of laundry? * Have you found your keys or wallet some place other than where you know you put them just a few minutes earlier? * Have you thought of someone or something and moments later been startled when they appeared unexpectedly? * Have you noticed time behave in other than a regular, linear forward motion? * Do traffic lights turn green and traffic jams clear up just when you most need them to? The first questions brings up an incident that happens to me all the time, but is it really a reality shift because I KNOW that I would put in the pair of socks on only receive one, I just can’t explain why the other sock disappears…or am I in denial. I think the third and last conditions are coincidence. This link: provides an article about research done In St. Louis, at the University of Washington. These scientists are explaining the fact that sometimes you can’t believe anything that you see. They identified areas of the bran that process what we are doing (reality) and what we think we are doing, or what we think is going on (illusion). They gave a great example of when someone gets a new pair of glasses: Biomedical engineer Daniel Moran, Ph.D., and University of Pittsburgh researchers, have identified areas of the brain where reality and illusion are processed. For instance, the first time you don a new pair of bifocals, there is a difference in what you perceive visually and what your hand does when you reach for something. With time, though, the brain adjusts so that vision and action become one. The ventral premotor complex plays a major role in that process…. They found that the primary motor cortex represented the actual movement while the signals from cells in a neighboring area, called the ventral premotor cortex, were generating elliptical shapes. So the brain has different areas that work to distinguish between action and perception…pretty cool!!

Pink and Blue
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-04-04 23:31:58
Link to this Comment: 14307

This might be a very strange question but do we are perceive the same color? For instance, my friends and I were looking at the same painting together, yet we see the colors for a certain object in the painting very differently. If the same wavelength is hitting our eyes, why do we see different colors for that one specific wavelength? Does the "I function" interfere with the brain function on how we determine color of a certain object? Another topic that I wanted to know more about is why certain color trigger different emotions in us? Does color affect our memory? I read somewhere that survivors of the Kobe earthquake lose their color memory during the stressful parts of the earthquake, and so they were only able to remember the things that happen to them during the quake in black and white. Are there differences in the way in which male and female response to color? For instance, why do people associated blue with male and pink with female? When I see the color pink, I feel warm and relax. The color black, on the other hands, provokes a cold, dangerous, and mysterious feeling in my mind. Furthermore, I have never meet a male who is able to say that he likes the color pink.

Dichromatic vs. Trichromatic
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-04 23:37:31
Link to this Comment: 14309

I think the topic of color and reality is more complicated than I originally thought. Everyone seems to be bringing up good points. In class I had a hard time understanding how someone who sees trichromatically would be just as right and perceive reality perhaps just as well as someone who only saw dichromatically. However, when I tried to phrase my question, I don't think I did a very good job. I think Kate Matney did a good job however, with her arguement of getting things less wrong. It seems that the more input you have, the more "real" your reality would be. True, the wavelengths are being perceived by our Nervous System and without our nervous system, someone who dichromatic vision would have the same reality as someone with trichromatic vision...but...If you can say that we have 6 senses, and we are only able to perceive reality based on that limited amount, wouldn't 7 senses give you a bigger picture of reality? If this is the case, then why wouldn't a person with trichromatic vision have a better sense of the bigger reality? I am not sure any of this is coherent because I feel like this topic is so abstract, I have difficulty getting my thoughts in order. I hope someone can make sense out of it.

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-04-05 00:04:11
Link to this Comment: 14312

So we see color because of the different wave lengths and stuff, but why do we choose the color we do to be our favorite color? Is it the one that our rods and cones most like to receive? And how do certain colors like pale greens calm us or like bright yellow make us feel happy?
It's weird how stuff like color can have such an impact on our mood and/or behavior. Do different colors have different impacts on our nervous system, or is some other part of us affected?

the real world is in our brain
Name: Amanda
Date: 2005-04-05 00:11:04
Link to this Comment: 14313

I hadn't thought about the "tree falling in a forest" question the same way it was presented in class. I thought it was ridiculous when people said, if no one was there to hear it, the tree didn't make a sound. It made disturbances in the air, or sound waves when it fell, therefore it made a sound. but it's a good point that there must be someone there to percieve the sound waves for it to be a sound. I think another animal would qualify since most can percieve sound waves. Light waves are only colors if an organism is there to percieve it.
Learning about the limitations of our senses makes the world seem a little different. We all think we have such a good grasp on reality. When we look around, we think we're seeing the world as it, when we're only seeing it how our brain interprets our sensory signals.

Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-04-05 00:21:21
Link to this Comment: 14315

Going along with Bridget's questions about why certain colors seem in to induce certain feelings, could it be that we merely associate certain colors with certain objects/situations/circumstances, and it is due to that associate that a feeling is produced? For example, blue is calming because it inspires associations to sky and sea. I think another dimension to this discussion would involve the relationship between color and scent. So, in the case of a color such as lavendar inducing feelings of relaxation, could it be that its a combination of the color and the scent of lavendar that is really the cause? But then, that just makes me wonder why the scent of lavendar would have such an effect, so really, I'm not sure at all.

Various responses
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-04-05 00:25:00
Link to this Comment: 14316

Like most of my classmates, I also found last week's lecture on color most fascinating. It provided some of the material I needed for my webpaper, which I am writing on "mistakes" in artwork-- that is, proportional mistakes, lighting inconsistencies that aren't picked up right away by the average viewer. If color can be such a subjective perception of our world, then why not such things as lighting and shadow placement, even reflections in mirrors? These have been "faked" many times in paintings in order to make them look more appealing to the viewer, but why are they done this way? Does each artist place a different importance on what the shadow or reflection should look like in the same way that we use our photoreceptors?

And in response to Georgia's question about carrots being good for your eyes, I remember from our last lecture that Vitamin A was one of the molecules associated with the photoreceptors, so while carrots might not make you see better, they're a good source of this necessary vitamin, anyhow. I wonder though, as a side note, would a vitamin A deficiency lead to, among other things, a decrease in photoreceptor sensitivity?

Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-04-05 01:11:15
Link to this Comment: 14318

The lecture for Thursday really opened my eyes as to how wrong we interpret reality. Although our nervous system does an amazing job of interpreting reality and forming it into a cohesive understanding of the world around us, but with that said, still our nervous system cannot come close to perfectly producing reality to ourselves. This shows how amazingly complex the reality actually is. Therefore the question is why can we not perceive reality as actual reality. Is it too complicated for our nervous system? If so does intelligence come from the ability of ones nervous system to better translate reality to the person. Meaning, that the better one's nervous system is at perceiving actual reality, the more intelligent that person is?

If not What makes one person more intelligent than another? What function of the nervous system plays a roll in intelligence? Although memory plays a role, the true geniuses can understand complexity without being previously taught. Then what is it? What makes a person better at reasoning than another? Furthermore, what makes one person able to understand complexity better than another?

I am getting pretty far off track. I wanted to talk about reality and instead am asking questions about intelligence. Well, back to reality, I wonder do we not see actual reality , because our nervous system is not advanced enough to do so, or do we see the reality we see because we need to see reality that way? Maybe it is more efficient or "better for us to see reality the way we do, and if we say actual reality we would be worse off.

Analysis of Color
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-04-05 01:12:26
Link to this Comment: 14319

I find it interesting the effect that a culmination of numerous colors can have on the mind. I am currently taking a class where we use visual vocabulary (form, texture, shape, color, etc) to analyze works of art. There is a certainly a difference between what my eyes 'see' and what another student in the class sees. We both may feel that the painting evokes passion or sensuality, but we have found over the course of the semester that everyone sees the strengths of color differently. We were observing Henri Matisse's Mademoiselle Yvonne Landsberg which uses splashes of bold colors upon a black and white subject. Some students in the class were immediately drawn to the warm tones of the painting, while others including myself, felt that the darkness overpowered the warmth of the yellows and reds.

more on repressed memories
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-04-05 09:11:20
Link to this Comment: 14322

I thought it was interesting that Patrick brought up repressed memories. That's a topic that was discussed in two of my classes last semester. There was one particular case that comes to mind now, where researchers (Loftus et al) were able to suggest a false memory to a participant and he adopted it as his own. Over the next few weeks, he would talk about the incident and elaborate until he had completely fabricated vivid details. When he was told that the incident had never happened (that is, that he had never been separated from his mother in a supermarket,) he was shocked. He even said "Really?...I do remember that." It's strange to think that people can have memories of events that they have not actually experiences. Again, it brings up the point that the I-function's experiences of the world may be very different from the body's experience of the world, and it makes me wonder how much "filling in" my brain is doing to create my reality.

"True Reality"
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-04-05 22:53:29
Link to this Comment: 14336

My hesitation to affirm one single "true reality" stems largely from my understanding of social and cognitive psychology and how "reality," as a broadly construed framework through which we view the world and engage in social behavior, is subjective. Additionally though, I wonder about the moral implications of asserting one, ultimate reality. That is to say, if it is somehow indisputably determined that one “reality,” and therefore one set of truths, exists,--and we are all just participators in it--then what is one to make of violence and conflict? In a hypothetical reality, Person/Group A does X. By means of X, Person/Group B suffers injury/pain. Typically, when we discuss conflicts of any type, subjective factors such as agency, action, motivation, intent, and deservedness are taken into consideration before producing an overall evaluation. Depending on the story-teller, Person/Group A could have (Maliciously? Defensively? Purposefully? Accidentally?) hurt Person/Group B, who in turn may have been an innocent bystander or a legitimate target for aggressive action. Who is to say who is in the right or wrong? If “reality” were truly one, truly “true,” then there wouldn’t be these tensions and moral uncertainties.

re-visiting "reality"
Name: Lily Yoon
Date: 2005-04-07 01:06:55
Link to this Comment: 14364

After tuesday's class, i concluded that it is important to me to find that "one true reality". I can't be comfortable with the notion that each person gets to choose his/her own reality because this poses a problem for me when thinking about certain mental diseases like schizophrenia and depression. If we accept everyone's reality as true and acceptable, what makes a schizophrenic's reality any less right than our's? Why is there a need to treat it? Also, a depressed person has a very negative outlook on life, and some argue that they have the ability to be more "realistic" while others are just in denial. Given, we probably will never be able to come to a conclusion, but I don't believe that's a good enough excuse to stop searching.

Why an I-function?
Name: Amanda
Date: 2005-04-07 15:07:50
Link to this Comment: 14372

The question was posed at the end of class today, why do we have an I-function since so much is done without it and other animals get along fine without it? One answer I'd like to pose is for reproductive purposes. Of course, countless other organisms reproduce without an I-function. As hominids were evolving, our brains progressively got larger and our offspring required more energy to raise. Possibly the latter followed the former or vise versa, I don't really know, I don't know if it matters. Our neocortex allows us to form more intimate relationships with other people than I believe other animals can with each other. Thus the neocortex/I-function allows us to form a more solid pair-bond which allows us to raise children better since they require more engergy and resources to raise, two people are better than one at doing so. This by no means is to say this is the only reason why the I-function exists.

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-04-07 22:59:44
Link to this Comment: 14380

As mention in class, the I-function may be involved in thinking and choice. Maybe organisms without a neocortex just react to stimulus while humans think about what reaction they want to give and the consequences of each reaction. Since humans are not the only organisms with a neocortex, does this mean that other organisms with this structure may also have an I-function? What features distinguish our I-function from that of other organisms?

Call me crazy but...
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-04-08 00:50:30
Link to this Comment: 14381

I think Lily brought up an interesting point, “If we accept everyone's reality as true and acceptable, what makes a schizophrenic's reality any less right than ours?” I think this is an interesting question. The things that we’ve been learning lately in this class have made us all question our beliefs about reality, but all of these examples also make an interesting case for social beliefs as well. Really, what does make a schizophrenic’s reality any less valid than my own? We’ve already conceded that there is no way for us to know what is really going on out there, so what makes us so secure in our judgments about other people’s perceptions of reality?

I don’t mean that we should just adopt an “anything goes” attitude, for that would obviously have negative implications (i.e. in terms of human rights issues, for example genocide, etc). I only mean that we should reevaluate our stance. Why is there so much more (not complete mind you) respect for people who claim to be psychic or telepathic than there is for people diagnosed with schizophrenia? What REALLY is the difference between the two?

some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-08 13:01:10
Link to this Comment: 14383

I am guessing that the I-function is what makes us capable of distinguishing between our "self" and other selves (of the same species). This may be important for survival because we are social beings. Thus, we need to be able to separate our motives/intentions from that of others and figure out the motives/intentions of other others (versus self). In a more general sense, our I-function allows us to make sense of our surroundings by enabling us to draw connections among things (cause-effect relation), and enabling us to anticipate the consequences for events which may or may not have already happened. Perhaps the nervous system takes care of responding to changes in our environment but the I-function enables us to make predictions about what would happen in the future.

Shu-Zhen asked: "Since humans are not the only organisms with a neocortex, does this mean that other organisms with this structure may also have an I-function?" I would not be surprised to find out that dogs also have an I-function. Dogs appear to have different personalities, just like humans do.

Why an I-Function?
Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-04-10 13:19:09
Link to this Comment: 14409

Why do we have an I-function? From an evolutionary standpoint, there must have been a selective pressure which favored the modifications of the neocortex. I associate then neocortex with higher-order processes, such as the ability to plan ahead or make predictions, to make choices, to form opinions and judgments, and to keep other more basic processes (such as emotion) in check. These abilities are often what I think people associate with “being human”… what separates us from a lot of other species.

Evolution is not always perfect; it works on the ‘hardware’ that is available. Therefore, the I-function is adaptive, but an imperfect system. Having a selective view of the world helps us from becoming overwhelmed with information, but it may also have some costs. The benefits must be greater than the costs, however, for the ability to have evolved as it did. Maybe the I-function helped us to develop culture and have symbolic thought—to work together in more cohesive social units, and to be more efficient hunters/gatherers and to inhabit a variety of environmental niches.

In response to Xuan-Shi’s comment that other animals might have an I-function, this coul have serious implications for scientific research. If animals that are being used in research, such as primates and other mammals, do have an I-function or ‘consciousness’, is it ethical to subject them to such experimentation?

Meaning imposed
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-04-10 13:27:26
Link to this Comment: 14410

The philosopher Kamu believed that humans create meaning and project it onto
a neutral world. In our discussion about reality I got to thinking about
this idea and decided that maybe reality is something we create to make
meaning from an impartial world.
Someone in class (I don't remember her name) kept saying 'why does it
matter' on Tuesday. Why does it matter if there is or isn't a reality? I
agree that we may never know reality if it does exist (because it is
inseparable from our own projection of meaning), but I think we must be
careful when judging the importance of reality. Even if it's an indefinite
search, the quest for reality and improving our understanding of the world
is important.
To relate this importance to issues of neurobiology, before epilepsy was
understood as an abnormality in the brain epileptics were believed to be
possessed and were executed. If it weren't for the search for a better
understanding of what was going on in epileptics the tendency to fall back
on notions leading to inhumane treatment would be greater. By improving our
understandings we can better relate to our world and act appropriately and
helpfully in relation to it and each other.

It's all relative
Date: 2005-04-10 13:57:55
Link to this Comment: 14412

It's all relative
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-04-10 13:58:37
Link to this Comment: 14413

I have found our discussion on the perception of reality to be very interesting. Although I previously would have liked to think that there is a single bigger reality out there, our discussions have led me to believe that reality is actually very individualistic. For instance, the example of a tree’s leaves being green; the leaves are actually only “green” if someone is there to perceive them in that manner. Initially this disturbed me quite a bit because equating green with leaves is so deeply engrained into my mind. Essentially I am coming to the conclusion that most of what we perceive as reality are concepts that are entirely human constructs, and therefore our nervous systems respond in the best way possible to fill in the gaps and make the constructs make sense based on past experiences.

reality stuff
Name: alfredo sk
Date: 2005-04-10 14:18:11
Link to this Comment: 14414

just because our nervous system gives us an incomplete view of reality and one that can change from person to person, it doesn't mean that there isn't one unchanging reality. the fact that we all have different perspectives and can't always agree on what is realy out there does not detract from the idea that there is one reality, it just means that devises for perceiving reality are not perfect.

Reality and the I-function
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-04-10 16:34:01
Link to this Comment: 14417

Kate brought up the idea of reality being something that is created to
"make meaning from an impartial world." I agree with her in that reality
is a based on perceptions and is largely created by the individual. While
there does seem to be an "agreement" as to what is "normal" reality within
society, I think that reality is different for each individual. It is a
rationalization, an attempt to create order so that input and be quickly
categorized and interpreted in order to allow the individual to function
in a manner that is conducive to survival.

And so, this is where I think the I-function fits in. It is a "mechanism" by which information can be analyzed and interpreted so that the
individual is better equipped to survive.

What do we [choose to] see here?
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-04-10 21:37:17
Link to this Comment: 14434

One thing that was discussed briefly in class on Thursday was the possibility that it might not even matter if there IS “one true reality.” Indeed, if everything we know about the world is from research done by human beings, and human beings are by nature biased (in that we interpret things differently), how can we be sure that any piece of information is actually “true?” If reality is only based on individuals’ perceptions, and some people perceive things differently, even if only slightly, it seems reality is really more fluid than concrete, and how possible is it that it’s all in our heads? Are our answers anything more than what we want to see? How selective is our sight, our understanding, our subconscious, our memory?

On that note, is it possible to block out certain things we do not “want” to see? I’m thinking about Patrick’s post about repressed memory, and a post from a while back about not being able to find your keys when they have been sitting on your desk all along. What is it that prevents the information we receive through our sight from translating into information our brain can use to solve a problem, answer a question, interpret a situation “correctly,” etc?

Name: elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-10 21:51:05
Link to this Comment: 14436

Today I had an interesting experience and found myself thinking once again about reality and the discussions had in class. I was picking something up from the ground and while standing up, I hit my head (pretty hard I might add) on the shelf hanging above. The usual happened (the clenching of the eyes and the taste of pain) however, this time when I opened my eyes and saw the stars that follow hitting ones head I did not understand where the “stars” were coming from. They gradually disappeared, but it was quite disturbing having no control over what my body was trying to do. I took the stars I was seeing as a stop sign of sorts telling me to slow down to pay more attention. Is this the bodies way of telling me to be careful? Who/what is looking after me?

Senses and the I-function
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-04-10 22:47:37
Link to this Comment: 14437

If, as we discussed this past week, that colors are functions of the brain, then that would mean that individuals perceive each color differently. For example what I see as a vibrant red on someone’s sweater might look less vibrant to another person. Furthermore, if someone is colorblind then what they see is drastically different and is not just a difference in the intensity of the color. Then it seems that there is no true reality because each person is seeing something entirely different everyday. And even under the same conditions and in the same environment, the circumstances and events will never be the same for each person, based upon not only color perception, but their other senses as well. While we have not discussed in class touch, smell, taste and hearing, each of these senses are different in each person and therefore, to say that there is one true reality, seems impossible to me. What I might perceive as smooth and round, someone else might think is slightly rough and less round in shape, perhaps oval or even square. I also believe that the notion of reality has to be somewhat of a social construct, because who can actually and accurately define what is true to the billions of individuals and what is fantasy. The lines between these two worlds are internalized and each person must make the determination as to what is real and what is fantasy for them. Some individuals operate entirely in the “real world” while others have trouble distinguishing what is real and what is fantasy. The reason these latter individuals have this problem is because there is no true reality and no true fantasy it instead is all about perceptions. Thus, how can there be a uniform reality if there is no uniform I-function?

Along these lines, I thought of what would happen if we each did not have an I-function. Would we all react and interact the same? Would we all perceive color, hear things, taste things, touch things and smell things in the same way? I would like to think not, because as we discussed in the earlier weeks of class, everyone’s brain chemistry and biology is different. Then how crucial of a role does the I-function play in distinguishing us as individuals? If we did away with it somehow, how would we internalize our reactions to different situations and conditions? Or would we just walk through life without really thinking and processing information? Is this how some animals operate? It seems the I-function is crucial not only to our society, but the individuals that inhabit this society and I could not imagine if we had no I-function.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-04-10 23:53:55
Link to this Comment: 14440

This might sound like an odd analogy but with our last few discussions the I-function, whatever/where ever it is exactly, seems to me in a way to be kind of "parasitic" to the rest of the nervous system-- perhaps not necessary for the nervous system ("host") to go on functioning (ex animals we think of as not having I-functions), in a way dependent on it, subject to whatever happens to the nervous system, and possibly detrimental to the nervous system. Parasites are in a way contained within the world of it’s host-- last week we talked about, with examples from the visual system, how the neo-cortex/I-function isn't connected "directly with reality", only by first going through the rest of the nervous system can you get to it. Since the I-function doesn't seem to be as connected with "reality" or the outside world as the nervous system, the nervous system seems to have more influence on the I-function's "separate reality." Also, just like if a host dies then it's parasites do also, if the nervous system is affected it makes sense that the I-function will be subsequently affected too, like in cases of drugs, schizophrenia, or simply that we experience something as red according to the photoreceptors set up in the NS, etc. Also, while lots of people have said that the I-function may have evolved for survival, it seems it can, like parasites, have a detrimental affect on the nervous system; while the I-function doesn't seem to be able to override the nervous system in all cases (the example of a stroke patient moving a seemingly paralyzed arm in response to a beach ball), it seems to be what can make choices and exert will power, which sometimes might go against the body's/nervous system's purpose of survival, ex choosing not to eat, etc. Thinking of it this way makes sense to me especially when considering schizophrenia. My aunt, who lives with my mom and I, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and a range of other “disorders.” There’s been lots of times where her medication has been changed or she’s stopped taking medicine period, when this happens she seems like a completely different person. One time she swore to me that the police and a pack of dogs were coming after her and that she actually saw dogs coming into her room. If her nervous system was giving her I-function the input that she saw dogs, it makes sense for her I-function to interpret this as reality and adjust her behavior/personality accordingly to be frightened and worried. So, maybe emotion/personality/behavior is a reaction to a “secondary” or “indirect” type of reality if that makes any sense.

Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-04-11 09:24:07
Link to this Comment: 14445

One of the questions asked in class this week about the difference between internal experience and knowledge really struck me. Previously I had considered these to be synonymous in a somewhat naive way, but it's interesting to think about how the brain is able to experience something, and yet know that it's not real. Like when I'm camping out, I check the tent carefully for bugs before I go to sleep, so when I close my eyes, if I feel something crawling on me, I know it's just my imagination. I'm able to ignore the experience of feeling something crawling on me because I know that there is nothing that can crawl on me in my tent. Of course, when I initially started camping, I would always turn on the light to check, but after enough times of nothing being there, I was able to ignore my experience based on my knowledge.

It's almost as if the I-function is capable of using past experience to overcome the inputs from the rest of the nervous system. This seems to contradict the notion of the I-function as being "along for the ride" while the rest of the nervous system is really running the show. Possibly this view is generally true, maybe the I-function is "lazy" and just goes along with the rest of the nervous ystem for the most part until some particular difference between input & expectation based on memory or prior experience sort of wakes the I-function up and engages it. Perhaps this is why we have an I-function, so we have the ability to store information for later comparison to new NS input.

Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-04-11 14:35:26
Link to this Comment: 14447

I found Kristin's discussion of the I-function quite interesting. I too wonder what it would be like without an I-function. While the I-function does give us a sense of control and will, it does seem limiting in relation to our discussion of blindness. If the blinded man can see light and tell where it is coming from, despite experiencing the contrary, it seems clear that the I-function is holding him back from a fuller experience.

On the other hand, the I-function seems to give more meaning to those experiences. If the I-funciton accounts for all experienced sensations, what value would non-experienced sensations be? For example, if the blind man were granted sight by removing the I-function, he would be able to see and react to visual inputs again. However, without the I-function to think about and anaylze that input, would the man be better off? It seems to me that while the I-function can appear to be limiting in a case such as this, it accounts for too much that is important (consciousness, will, etc) to be something that is undesirable, even if it limits one's senses.

It's real
Name: Amanda
Date: 2005-04-11 16:37:10
Link to this Comment: 14456

I've found myself wondering if what I'm seeing is what's really there. There seems to be so much going on with out my (my I-function's) knowledge. But if I didn't have an I-function, I wouldn't experience anything, since that is what's responsible for my experience of the world. My ideas about reality, however have been changed. My brain is making up color, it's filling in information that my retina isn't actually recieving, and most of my nervous system is concerned with itself, not the outside world. I do, however, think that there is a reality out there. I believe this because of evolution. Natural selection is a process that selects individuals based on how adapted they are to their environment. No matter how they percieve their environment, animals cannot make their up. For example, finches with beaks too small to crack a certain year's seed growth will not produce viable offspring. No matter what those seeds look like or feel like to those finches, they won't be able to crack them if their beaks aren't the right size with enough power. The world exists, it's real, individual perceptions of it just may vary.

why do we need one reality?
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-11 19:52:18
Link to this Comment: 14469

I suppose that many people feel that there is one "reality" out there, no matter what the differences in our perceptions may be, perhaps due to Plato's story about the cave and the image of the perfect forms. Since the idea has been around for millenia, then it would make sense that most people hold this idea in some way or another. What I want to question is why people hold onto this belief? Even if there is no one "true reality", that does not mean that the human race does not have a general sum or general approximation of the reality we all experience. Otherwise, we would never be able to avoid certain hazardous plants and animals, or even communicate with one another on certain issues in the extreme. I wonder if this belief in one reality stems from a religious side or not. If I am correct, Christianity proposes one reality, where God created the world, which does not leave much room for differnces in realities. I question these motives or reasonings because it is important to keep in mind why opinions are the way they are and what influences have shaped them. Hopefully, this will allow us to get close tot he truth if we think of things more subjectively.

"I-function" and consciousness
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-04-11 19:58:23
Link to this Comment: 14470

For me, the "I-function" represents consciousness. It is the ability for us to take ourselves out of context for a moment, and consider our lives from a different perspective. It is the ability for us to question ideas, learn new things, and grow as individuals. So, if humans did not have an "I-function", they would just be robots. Without the ability to do all of the things listed above, not only would we lack the ability to think, but we would lack the ability to change individually. Viewing our own lives through different perspectives allows us to evaluate whether we want to change our daily behavior. For example, if a person tells another person that chips are fattening (I’m just using a random example), that person might decide to stop eating chips, because they thought about the consequences of eating so much fat in one day. However, without an “I-function”, one would not be able to weigh the implications of this new knowledge and therefore would continue eating chips. My point is that a human without an "I-function" would not have the ability to consider the world around him/her and his/her place within that world.

Something else I was pondering was: When do we first become "conscious" of our existence? Is there an age when babies begin to develop a realization for what they are, or how they fit into this world? I have a feeling that the development of the I-function is closely connected with the development of memories. Sometimes we think that we have a memory from when we were very young, but the earliest memory I have is from kindergarten. It’s very hazy, of course, but I know that it is an actual memory, and not a story someone has told me about my childhood. Does this mean that my consciousness developed when I was 5? I think so, because I believe there must be a strong connection between the realization of one’s self and the storage of memories that can be used later in life to evaluate how “you” fit into the world. Does that make sense?

Collective Reality And The I-Function
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-04-11 21:04:59
Link to this Comment: 14473

It makes sense to me to consider two types of reality rather than just one. There is the collective reality, which is a descriptive term for shared human experience, or things that we can all agree upon. Because of the existence of the collective reality we can discuss abstract concepts using concrete language, and be understood by our fellow human beings. Then there is percieved reality. This can be defined as each person's individualized response to the world around them and to the collective reality. Percieved reality is different for each person, precisely because each person's nervous system is unique. I think these two types of reality can coexist. Also, I think Flicka's point about how lack of an I-Function would mean that we wouldn't be able to make changes, is very interesting. As Flicka points out, change is an integral part of the human experience. Without the ability to adapt our ideas based on new input recieved it would seem that our lives would be static, without growth, purpose, or meaning. We would also not be able to affectively interact with others or establish interpersonal relationships. In many ways it seems that the I-Function really allows us to be unique individuals, and to still stay in touch with the collective reality.

Name: kara
Date: 2005-04-11 21:38:26
Link to this Comment: 14478

One thing I found interesting was the discussion about how the I function is the part of the brain that we need in order to get back to where we thought we were when we are lost, or when we are just trying to get around a house (as in the website house demo). The idea that if we did not have an I function we could just wander about and never remember or recall or perceive anything we had already experienced seems to give the I function a huge role. It seem that up to this point, the course has been trying to prove that I function isn’t necessary to the proper function of the nervous system. One this note, it makes sense to now think of the I function as the part of the nervous system that is keeping us whole, and maintains all the multiples realities we experience and combines them into one cohesive existence

True Reality
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-04-12 03:16:28
Link to this Comment: 14494

Originally I had been one of the people who believed there could only be one true reality. I thought the dichotomy between a colorblind person and someone who isn’t, instantly made the non colorblind person “less wrong”. I had always been taught that there was right and there was wrong – there were no shades of gray in the middle. So I perceived the non colorblind person as being automatically right because they see the world the same as a majority of the population. I wanted to believe that if a majority of people saw a situation in the same way that it must in fact but the reality. But it was Elizabeth Mobley’s post that made me think about why the majority always has to be right. We only looked at perception of colors but this whole idea of perception can be universally applied to anything. Along with Elizabeth’s ideas on religion I began to question the view of history that had been presented to me in so many past history classes. Virtually we’re only learning about someone’s perception of how they understand something to have happened. What if their perception of the events was wrong? Then the world could be completely different. We rely on individual perception to illustrate universal experiences of suffering, war, peace, etc but what’s to say that person’s view is the true reality for everyone? Elizabeth made me realize that there must be shades of gray…

Reality and the I Function
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-12 05:34:34
Link to this Comment: 14497

As I was reading through the forum board, I have to say that Laura's comment about her aunt really stuck out: "One time she swore to me that the police and a pack of dogs were coming after her and that she actually saw dogs coming into her room. If her nervous system was giving her I-function the input that she saw dogs, it makes sense for her I-function to interpret this as reality and adjust her behavior/personality accordingly to be frightened and worried. So, maybe emotion/personality/behavior is a reaction to a “secondary” or “indirect” type of reality if that makes any sense."

I have been wondering about the I-function for quite some time now because I think it it is the most complicated thing to achieve an understanding of out of everything we have done thus far. I feel like the whole idea of reality not being reality and the color Blue not neccessarily being Blue at all for someone else...even a door looking like a door instead of chaos...all can be explained easier once an understanding for the I-function is developed. From Laura's comment, I came up with the idea that input is devoid of the I-function. Everyone gets the same input. However, people can have different interpretations of this input. That is where the I-function does it's job. After the I-function "messes" with the pure input, it becomes subjective input, and this causes the body to react in a certain way. Laura's example made this point more clear.

underlying "real" reality
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-04-12 05:37:20
Link to this Comment: 14498

In working on my research paper, I've been reading a lot about different diseases, conditions, and medications that alter mind states. One of the things that I've gotten out of it is that the people who perceive and process things differently as a result of an abnormal neurological state experience a different "reality" than those who function within normal standards. This is interesting, because even within those 'normal' people, there are different realities for every individual. I think that the main difference is that, while perceptions may vary, what the perceptions are about remain undisputed for those of normal function. People who are delerious or hallucinating may perceive things that dont exist, while in contrast people with normal brain function do not. In my opinion, the details of reality are subjective to individual experiences and cognition, but there is an underlying "real" reality.

Name: Yinnette S
Date: 2005-04-12 08:06:32
Link to this Comment: 14501

A lot of these comments raise many interesting points. Just as Xuan Shi Lim commented I have also heard that dogs see and hear things that humans are not able to see. However, I never really thought about it in terms of reality and what is it that we can perceive, I always thought about it as some sort of cultural myth. (My dog does spend nights barking at a certain part of the wall we don’t really know at what or what she is seeing… my mother and grandmother think that she is seeing something we are not) If we are willing to accept that dogs have a different sense of seeing then in a sense can they perceive reality differently then humans. Does that mean in this case that dogs have some sort of equipment that is missing or something extra that humans do not have so as to see, hear, or feel these things? If I remember correctly dogs only see in black and white, but can the lack of seeing color be replaced by a more sensitive way of seeing and possibly allow them to tap into a different reality… if yes then why dogs and not humans?

Name: Sam
Date: 2005-04-12 23:54:23
Link to this Comment: 14534

Today in lecture we started talking a little bit about emotions and the notion of self. Though these are just some preliminary thoughts, I feel as if these two phenomena fit into our notion of reality in a very different way.

I am pretty much convinced that there is no one "Ultimate Reality". I instead believe that the obscurities of differing realities make it impossible to define one significant state of existence as the "ultimate truth". With this in mind I believe that the closest one can get to defining a true reality is with the notions of self and emotion. To me, self is my true true state of existence; and emotion is the fuel that drives my very existence. Since I am ever-changing (as is everyone) no single reality actually exists, but at any moment in time reality can be loosely defined as my personal notion of self and the emotions motivating my self in that particular instant.

Just some thoughts.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-04-14 08:46:19
Link to this Comment: 14563

I think that I would still say that there is a reality, but we just can't percieve it. Even if the world portrayed in The Matrix were what is really going on, where we are simply experiencing a life that just made up for us, there is still something out there. If it's not real, it's fake, and as long as there is something, there can't be nothing, and that something is the reality. I guess it depends upon the way we think about reality. If reality is a perception, like sound, and so you need to experience reality for it to be there, then there is no reality. But if reality is what is there before it is experienced by anyone, then there is a reality that we can never know.

where from here?
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-04-14 11:41:04
Link to this Comment: 14564

Seems to me (at least) that its been a pretty full semester of thinking about brain and behavior. We've had a look at a number of different things, ranging from neurons to neuronal circuits to larger neuronal assemblies in the context of lots of different sorts of behaviors, and perhaps even begun to glimpse some broader patterns that work in lots of realms. So ... what's missing? What ought we to spend a little more time on in our last two week's together?

As always, you're free to write here about whatever thoughts/questions have been on your mind this week. But if you need something to get you going, perhaps begin looking over course notes and the forum archive and reflecting on where we've gotten to/would still like to go?

Dreams and the I-function
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-04-14 21:38:13
Link to this Comment: 14573

It seems to me that there is a distinct difference between the events that go on in our dreams and in our daily lives. While the details of both may be hard to recall some days and then easier on other days, the role of the I-function distinguishes the time we spend asleep versus the time we spend awake. For me personally, I think I am somewhat inhibited by my I-function during the day, almost reminiscent of an ego, keeping my id and superego in check. I am able to prevent myself from thinking certain things, going certain places, or verbalizing certain things. However, when I am asleep my thoughts and feelings are completely uninhibited, because I usually have no control of what I am dreaming about. I feel that if I have no control over what I dream about, then I cannot control my thoughts, emotions, and feelings in the dream. Therefore, my I-function is completely uninhibited, similar to the actions of the id.
What also interests me is the notion that I can remember some dreams and some of my daily activities better than other times. Does the I-function have a role in determining which activities or dreams are more memorable than others? Or is it just a random occurrence? Therefore, is the I-function able to select the dreams and activities during the day that are most important? Do these dreams mean something more, are they our hidden feelings that we sometimes try to repress? This theory seems plausible to me, because as I talked about above, each day we struggle to keep our feelings, emotions and thoughts in check and then at night when we sleep, our true feelings and emotions are brought to the forefront. It is in these dreams that we are able to grapple with these situations and concepts that plague our daily lives.
Furthermore, the issue of controlling what one dreams about is also something I am interested in. I am usually not able to control what I dream about at night. Sometimes I might start out thinking about a certain topic, but I almost always never end up dreaming about that particular situation. Instead, it seems that my dreams control me and my I-function is powerless, unable to be controlled.

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-04-15 00:03:50
Link to this Comment: 14578

I find it pretty amazing that our nervous system makes up most of our personality. Before I thought that our personality was a creation of the I-function. Our nervous system is so hard-wired that we can not change our personality immediately even if we wanted to shows that the I-function is unable to control so much that goes on in our bodies. If you wanted to change your personality, does this mean that new connections and/or rearrangements of neurons need to occur? Or does something else need to occur in the nervous system in order to change your personality?

Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-04-16 23:37:46
Link to this Comment: 14623

In Thursday's class, we spoke about how while dreaming, there is oftentimes a sense of self/I/me having experiences. Additionally, within one night's sleep, I oftentimes alternate between this 1st person self, in which I exprerience the action, and third person, in which I watch myself as if I were watching a movie. Why does this happen, particularly in the span of what I think might be one dream?

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-17 12:12:09
Link to this Comment: 14627

Just as in Katharine's post, I also have dreams where I am not always in the first person. Not only am I sometimes in a third-person mentality watching myself, I can also be someone else in the first person- different people but also different genders occassionally. Does this mean I have different perceptions of myself that I need to experience in a dream since it wwould be impossible for me to experience them while awake? Perhaps they are not perceptions of myself, but just different facets that are there and are manifested in dreams. Either way, what does this say about me or my I-function?

Thoughts on Dreams and a little more on ultimate r
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-04-17 16:58:05
Link to this Comment: 14644

What struck me as rather interesting about our discussion on synchronized and desynchronized sleep was the fact that during synchronized or deep sleep, it seems that the neurons show a greater amount of activity, albeit very regular delta waves. This must mean that during wakefulness or even REM sleep, more neurons are being inhibited to produce the patterns of activity we associate with dreams and also waking experiences. I suppose I don't fully understand why inhibition of neuronal activity would result in things like dreaming or conscoius thought, unless it's the simple fact that desynchrony leads to more of a randomness in thought patterns, and makes it easier for us to remember.

More on dreams: Like Kristin, I find it almost impossible to control my dreams, but there is a sort of logic to the content of my dreams, no matter what appears. For example, often in the days before a big test or the due date for a paper, my anxieties for this even will often come out in the dream, even though the situation might not make immediate sense-- last night, for example, I dreamed that I was just about to take a test on an instructional film for Wellness class, only I was to take it during my work shift in Erdman dining hall. I can remember feeling very out-of-place and unprepared, for I dreamed that I had neglected to watch this film on which I was being tested. Upon awakening, of course, the situation was impossible and even funny. Nothing like that would ever happen and of course the film never existed, but feelings of being unprepared are often transferred to familiar situations, like the dining hall, and formed into a realistic story over which you have no control. Does this perhaps relate to the randomized pattern of neurons during REM sleep?

And a little observation on the question of reality: all our talk of whether or not there is one true reality puts me in mind of a short story by Ray Bradbury called "The Square Pegs". In his story, a family is transferring a young woman, who believes she is Queen Catherine of Russia, to a remote asteroid where the culture there will accept her for all the world as their soveriegn ruler. On Earth, "Catherine" is miserable because no one believes her and they all declare her insane, but on this asteroid, she is perfectly normal. As it turns out, there are many such societies on each of these asteroids, each one suited for a different sort of "insanity" on earth-- there is one to which murderers are sent to satisfy their killing drive by pairing them with a society of men who have a "death drive" after they reproduce, and so on. I know that citing this story does not have any earth-shattering implications, for we all know that insanity is only what deviates from the generally accepted "normality" of any given culture, but I liked the story (Bradbury is a genius writer) and thought it was relevant to what we had been talking about. Putting square pegs in round holes, as the narrator says, never works if you want to make people happy.

Sonnet Loftus
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-04-17 17:14:27
Link to this Comment: 14648

I was very interested in Thursday's lecture about sleepwalking. A family that I babysit for was telling me how two weeks ago when they went on Spring Break their 8 year-old was sleepwalking through the hotel. The little girl unlocked the three locks that were on the room door and went down to the 1st and 2nd floors until she finally realized that she needed to be back on the third floor. I think it is incredible how you are able to act like yourself--including intelligently--as this girl was able to do. She had remembered that they were staying in Room #323, which is why she wandered down to Rooms #223 and 123 until she realized that she needed to be on the third floor. She was still sleepwalking when she knocked for her parents let her in, but she knew enough to keep her tone of voice down and whisper to her parents through the door because she knew it was late at night and her little sisters were sleeping.

Name: Kara
Date: 2005-04-17 19:18:58
Link to this Comment: 14653

This weeks discussion made me think about the nature of dreams. I was always taught that our dreams were a way for subconscious to make sense of things. This was why I was told certain people show up in our dreams or certain experiences, however how random are the experiences we have in dreams. Is the subconscious really trying to sort things out or are dreams a mix of random neurons firing?

Dreams and memories
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-04-17 19:37:27
Link to this Comment: 14654

I had always thought of dreams as a time to process information and events that had occurred during the day. I believed that sleep was necessary to “write” information and memories to create neural pathways. Could it be that dreams are a way that the brain reacts when information is written? Is it a form of processing? Or is it more similar to stream of consciousness where thoughts are seemingly random? I’m probably looking at this too simplistically, but I think that it probably has to do with “writing” pathways and creating memories since people who are sleep deprived have difficulty remembering. There are also chemicals (hormones) produced during sleep – does this also affect dreaming?

Sleep walking
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-04-17 20:05:38
Link to this Comment: 14655

I thought the discussion of brainwaves during the phases of sleep was very interesting. It is almost as if our I-functions create a whole new form of reality which I suppose could be explained by the changed EEG's. For instance, I used to walk and talk in my sleep as a child and I never remembered any of my actions. However, according to my mother it was as if I was living in my own little world. I responded to questions but my answers never really made sense in the context of what was being spoken around me. It is just interesting to me to think that my nervous system can create a separate world for different functions of my brain.

Re: dreams and memory
Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-04-17 20:48:24
Link to this Comment: 14656

I don't think they know exactly what the function of dreams are yet. I think information processing theory that was mentioned is one of the major one's. However, the manifest and latent context of a dream and there importance to the unconcious is still the most well known, yet least scientific. I think another theory has to do with a minimum activity level and that our dreams are one way of achieving this level.

Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-04-17 23:57:32
Link to this Comment: 14662

My mother, who is a very superstitious woman, believes that dreams are a transcendental phenomenon. That it is our only medium for spiritual connectivity. When I told her that in my NeuroBio course we were discussing the biology of dreams she waved away my comments and said that it was a bunch of hocus pocus. It's ironic because I most people would think her interpretations were more mystical in nature than others.

She believes in certain things: if you dream that your teeth are falling out then you're going to die, if you dream of a wedding then it's a new beginning, if you dream of snakes then it's a sign of financial success, etc... (I don't know where she gets these don't ask.)

The other day I dreamt I was standing in front of a mirror, brushing my teeth, and lo and behold, they began to fall out! One by one. =(

I hope, in this case at least, that my mother is wrong.

Some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-18 13:06:31
Link to this Comment: 14670

Until last week, I had some doubts about the importance of the I-function. It doesn't seem to have much control over anything. The nervous system, on the other hand, does most of the work. Thursday's lecture, however, led me believe that the I-function has immense potential to change things because it functions as a story-teller. I find the idea of self as an entity that is a combination of the I-function and nervous system to be useful in the context of mental illness. It is often the "stories" that we tell ourselves that cause us distress and if we change the "script," we are likely to perceive things differently. Of course, there are hormonal and chemical changes co-occurring in the nervous system. Interestingly, trying to tease out whether the way we think leads to change in the nervous system or that change in the nervous system causes us to change the way we think may help us understand the role the I-function plays with regard to mental health.

I have also been thinking about the phrase, "Know thyself." I think different cultures probably have similar versions of this saying. Strangely enough, our "self" is representative of us but yet we have to find out/learn about ourselves. Is that the I-function learning about the activity of the nervous system? Our sense of self is also different from how other people may perceive us and sometimes, their perceptions are more accurate than our own. Is it because their perspectives are informed by an integrated presentation of our I-function and nervous system? That is, other people's I-function is helping us uncover the things that are unconscious to our own I-function?

In many ways, I think our I-function may be too smart for its/our good, given that it is a rather creative story-teller. Sometimes, we consciously tell lies (create a story to disguise our intentions) of ourselves that we later come to believe. It becomes hard to differentiate between your original motives and the motives you fabricate. I feel that on any given day, not only am I moving in and out of many levels of consciousness, but the information (from my I-function and nervous system) is also moving among the different levels... I hope that makes sense.

Looking back on what we have learned so far about the nervous system, I would be interested to find out how the concept of the "soul" came about. Our soul, if it exists, seems to be something larger than the I-function and the nervous system and I would guess people of all mainstream religions/races believe that humans have a soul or spirit. Is religion simply other story created by the human I-function? Can there be an explanation for the idea of "soul" under the current framework?

Dreams and Memory Function
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-04-18 13:28:05
Link to this Comment: 14673

In response to Kara's question about whether dreams are random firings of neurons or they are a function of the subconscious trying to work things out, I don't know what the answer is, but it did make me think of the general 'filling in' the brain does on a regular basis. Whether its your blind spot or a memory that is only partially there, the brain has an amazing capacity to fill in the details to make the experience seem more real.

The way memory works, as I understand it, is that memories aren't located in one particular place in the head, but rather elements are scattered through out the brain and a memory occurs when those element are coordinated. Usually the coordination happens because you think about something and the brain does the rest. But what if there is no explicit direction given by you? I'm inclined to suggest that when someone is dreaming, the brain might be pulling elements together the same way it does during memory, but since there's no order given as to what needs to be accessed, something other than the I-function (perhaps the unconscious) is responsible. As an event is created, it draws upon memory elements, but fills in the details. Since the experience is not being controlled by the I-function, it then has the capacity to create experiences the I-function has never considered, resulting in a dream that can be bizarre and surreal to you. Just a thought.

Dreams, personality, and the self
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-04-18 14:50:50
Link to this Comment: 14678

I never dream; or rather, I never remember my dreams. People always tell me I dream every night, even if I can’t remember it, but I had always had a hard time believing that since I NEVER remember my dreams. Honestly, I probably remember one once every 3 months. This has always made me question what makes me different than other people. Is my I-function just not active as other people’s I-function during sleep? Or maybe I never really enter into REM sleep, and therefore sleep consistently in the Delta stage where I am in a highly synchronized state. Or perhaps remembering your dreams is related to your memory in general. (My general memory is terrible, so maybe this just translates over when I am asleep). At any rate, I find it interesting to hear how different people dream, and how different people remember their dreams.

On Thursday, when I first learned that our personality lies primarily in the nervous system, I was really surprised. However, thinking about it now, it makes a lot of sense because it explains why it is so hard to change an aspect of our personality. Most of us just go about our lives doing whatever we usually do. However, we do not usually stop and think about how our personalities are so habitual. If someone told me to try and change something about my personality, I don’t think I would be able to do it (at least not immediately or easily). I also think it makes sense that the way we conceive of our “selves” is a blend between the interactions our I-function and the rest of the nervous system. Our nervous system gives us a sense of our natural personality and the I-function gives us the ability to interpret our personality and to change our personality if we so desire it. In addition, the I-function allows us to use our past experiences to affect our behavior. But then the question remains: If our personality does not involve the I-function (as we saw while studying sleep walking), then does that mean each one of us is born with a “natural” personality coded into our nervous systems?

Thoughts on Some Older Topics
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-04-18 18:13:17
Link to this Comment: 14692

I have recently been thinking about how much the nervous system really does control our concept of reality. It is really interesting to note how many inputs the nervous system is able to take in during different circumstances and process them all together to give us a sense of our reality. It is also weird to think how the nervous system misses certain inputs or might deem them unnecessary or insignificant so it might filter them out. So if our nervous system controls this much of our sense of reality, is it the one factor that can truly determine our personalities, who we are, and what we make of this world? Also, because our nervous systems are completely different from one another, is this the reason why we all interpret things a different way? And how come when societies (college community, high school community, certain racial groups etc) are created, they tend to think along the same line. It can’t be that their nervous systems are all the same, so is it because they are given the same stimuli from their certain communities, so that their nervous systems tend to adapt to the accepted norms of the community and respond to those certain stimuli in a somewhat similar manner? If this is so, then does everyone in this world have a different reality? Then how can we have individuals like judges in the courtrooms to process all the information in a hearing to make a final courtroom decision. Who is to say that individual is the best at making the decision and being unbiased? It bothers me that many of the systems that our country has created are skewed

Also, going along with these thoughts, I wonder why we claim that individuals with “mental health problems” are supposedly sick when everyone else is so normal. Isn’t it true that there is no such thing as a normal brain? What if everyone else has average brains, and the unique individuals with the schizophrenic brains (for example) are actually the ones with heightened mental capacities that nobody else has developed?

New Thoughts - more current class topics
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-04-18 18:25:38
Link to this Comment: 14693

I am interested in learning how humans possess the ability to change themselves and the way the look at things. College is supposed to be the time for intellectual growth ad stimulation. Students are on their own, in a more diverse crowd of students, and study a broad range or subjects that they wouldn’t have been able to look at during the previous years in their lifetime. During this time, we are supposed to grow by our experiences. So do we mature and grow by just going along with the experience, or are we actually conscious of how we are changing on a day to day basis and on the new neural networks that are created in our brains? If we aren’t conscious of these changes, then how can we be conscious of them? If we are conscious of it, and tell ourselves, “I want to be this certain way,” or “I want to change myself so that I am more….” Can we actually achieve our goal? To what extent can we control the way we want to be? In other words, how much of who we are do WE actually control?

Sleepwalking and personality
Name: LF
Date: 2005-04-18 18:33:19
Link to this Comment: 14694

Shu-Zhen Kuang said: "I find it pretty amazing that our nervous system makes up most of our personality". I have always thought that our nervous system has nothing to do with the way we act. Instead that it simply another "bodily function". I thought that our personality was made up only from things in our environment, or genes.Sonnet Loftus talked about sleep walking. I once dreamt that my TV set would not switch off, so in my dream i got out of bed and pressed the "off button". In my dream the TV did not switch off so i ripped out the cords from the back of it. I then woke up the next morning and all the cord of the TV were ripped out and the TV was broken. What caused this?

Controlling our nervous system
Name: Sonya Safr
Date: 2005-04-18 20:50:56
Link to this Comment: 14700

I think we do control our nervous system. For instance, I can wake up the minute before my alarm clock goes off because I hate the noise it makes. I always do this, as well as sometimes creating my own dreams. If I fall asleep and think about something, or create a scenario, I dream it. Also, what happens when we realize in our dreams that we are actually dreaming?

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-18 21:12:04
Link to this Comment: 14702

I am interested in the role Melatonin has on our circadian rhythm. Melatonin is often a suggested supplement to take when traveling over multiple time zones to prevent/alleviate symptoms of jet lag. How exactly does Melatonin have this effect? If Melatonin does do such miraculous things, why is it not more commonly understood and practiced?

Controlling Dreams
Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-04-18 21:34:11
Link to this Comment: 14703

I think that Jasmine brought up a very intersting point when she asked how much we actually control, and I would like to apply this question to dreaming. Can we control our dreams? For example, if I were having a nightmare, why is it sometimes possible for me to "tell" myself to wake up? On the other hand, if I am having some kind of bad dream, but it seems familiar (as in I know how it will end because I have had it before), I generally "let" myself stay asleep and continue to observe the dream. Clearly, this indicates that we have some kind of control over what is going on while we are asleep, right? I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced this at all. I am also interested if anyone knows whether or not he/she dreams in color? This may sounds a little strange, but I know when I have talked to my dad in the past, he says he only dreams in black and white - or at least he only remembers them that way; he is not colorblind. I, on the other hand, dream in very vivid color. Does this have to do with what we want to see or does it have nothing to do with control?

Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-04-18 21:38:05
Link to this Comment: 14704

I feel uncomfortable with the proposal that our personality is the result of our nervous system outside of the internal experience. I think that before making this assertion we need to more clearly define what we mean by personality.
That aside though my greatest discomfort relates to where this definition leaves responsibility (for our personality, for depression, for creativity, for anxiety.)
If a large part of these things are results of autonomous nervous system activity than who is responsible for a person's actions, mood and behavior? Are we just victims to physiology? To what degree can someone who is depressed take responsibility for his/her feelings?
I believe there is a lot of responsibility to be taken for personality and the generalized control mechanisms. With the interplay of I function and autonomous activity I function activity affects physiology and biochemistry. So, for example, someone who is sad/depressed (maybe from some biochemical imbalance they had no control over), can respond by going out with friends. They could also choose to respond by sitting alone at home. While going out might give the person relief from a negative thought cycle and improve their brain chemistry, perhaps staying in would maintain negative thoughts and unfavorable brain chemistry. Maybe brain physiology, once set in motion, has its own momentum. But isn't it possible, like with the choice of going out or staying in, that most physiology is at some point largely influenced by activity originating from internal experience? Maybe we are responsible for the nervous system activity outside of the I function.

control over dreams
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-04-18 21:43:58
Link to this Comment: 14705

In response to Amelia and Sonya's comment about being able to control your dreams I remember a book I read called Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge. The idea behind the concept of "lucid dreams" is that you are conscious of the fact that you are having a dream while the act of dreaming is taking place. In the book LaBerge explains that you can use your dreams as a type of therapeutic mechanism. It's a very interesting book and worth looking at.

Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-04-18 22:12:24
Link to this Comment: 14708

I’m very surprised that with all this talk we’ve been having about dreams that the aspect of nightmares hasn’t come up yet. As children we all pretty much have a reoccurring nightmare of some kind. I always had this reoccurring dream about two mob guys killing my family and I in our home. It was so graphic and so horrible. When these dreams first started to pop up they didn’t have much of a plotline. As they happened more frequently more and more of the story started to reveal itself. It wasn’t until the entire nightmare had been played out in my head that it finally stopped. How can we account for recurring dreams and nightmares that do not appear to be any kind of extension from our everyday lives? Is the fact that most nightmares occur when we’re children explained by the fact that children have a lot of anxieties about losing parents or horrible things happening or is it just vivid imaginations?

Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-04-18 23:03:15
Link to this Comment: 14710

I was intrigued by the discussion in class on the difference between one is in a deep sleep, and when one is sleep walking. When one is in a deep sleep they are dreaming, and in those dreams the I-function is present. We can assess that the I-function is present because in every dream the person who is dreaming feels as they are experiencing the dream. Furthermore, when one is in a deep sleep and wakes up, there is a good chance that the person can remember their dream.

When an individual is sleep walking we see that the I-function is not present, because the brain activity shown in a EEG is consistent with the state of sleep where the I-function is not present. However, when someone sleep walks they do not remember what goes on during the episode. Therefore, would it be too far an assumption to say that the i-function is responsible for storing memory.

If this is true than we can say that animals with a neocortex and an I-function have the ability to change their behavior based on memory. When one sleep walks, the experience the person experiences can not change that persons overall behavior, because the person can't remember what happened that night. However, when one dreams, the person can remember that dream and change their behavior the next day based on that dream. If we can say that the I-fucntion is active when dreaming and not when sleepwalking then we can say that the I-function is responsible for memory. We can also say that that memory is ultimately responsible for the ability to consciously change ones behavior from day to day. Therefore, the I-function gives one the ability to change ones consciously change ones' behavior.

Dream and the I-function
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-04-18 23:10:28
Link to this Comment: 14711

I was wondering if dreaming is related to the I-function. Can we control when and what we dream about? Last night, I had a horrible nightmare being trapped in a forest and being chased by a wild bear. I was in the middle of that dream when my cell phone suddenly started to ring. I went back to sleep immediately after I turned off my cell phone. For some strange reason, I was sleeping and dreaming about the same dream again. The only difference this time is that I knew that I was dreaming and I was able to change the events in my dream. It was like being a movie and I was the director. The I-function had completely taken over my dream and there were no random pictures popping in and out of my head any longer. Is it possible for a person to be trapped in a dream and never wake up? I know this question sound strange, but I think that there is a chance that something like this might happen. For instance, if a person has a disease or an injury that destroy a person ability to wake up, let say the person is in a coma. Does one consider that person to be in a very deep sleep or he/she is in dream land with the I-function has lost it ability to control the dream?

Name: Sarah Snie
Date: 2005-04-18 23:18:27
Link to this Comment: 14712

On the reoccuring tpic of reality, I feel that there is no reality. Not because there is no inherent reality, but because us as humans will never be able to see a true reality. Our perceptions will always influence us away from the rue reality, and no matter how much someone thinks they know about the "actual reality" out there, they will never fully understand the true reality. Our human perception of things distorts our ability to see a true reality and for that reason for humans there is no true reality.

This is why I believe it should not be a topic which people waste a whole lot of time on. We should understand there there is an inherent reality, but that it is untouchable to us as humans. TO pursue the knowledge of that reality is irrelevent, because t does not affect us. Only the reality in which people percieve is relevent to the human existance. I feel that we should use our time to find out more about how and what we percieve rather than what is wrong with what we percieve. In the end, I think that it will help the human race out much more than trying to find the true reality.

Name: Laura Cyck
Date: 2005-04-18 23:28:12
Link to this Comment: 14714

I really like the idea of ascribing "the self" to both the I-function and the rest of the NS/frog brain, and also to the interplay between the two. Thinking of it this way seems to account for personality in part stemming from the rest of the nervous system (emotions), as well as the I-function's tendency to fade in and out sometimes-- that is, to be seemingly absent in certain stages of sleep, or being "more present" in certain types of dreams like lucid dreaming than in others where the I-function seems to be there as a spectator but doesn't have the same degree of control/will as it does in lucid dreaming or when being awake. Also, this would completely change my stance on cases like Terri Schiavo-- if the “self” is transcendent to I-function and NS, what to say in such cases?

The similarities of dreaming and certain kinds of psychosis (the example in class of cutting off all sensory input to the NS) are also fascinating, it seems like the only essential difference is paralysis in dreaming. In this sense, the theory that dreaming somehow serves as a way to "sort out" information or a method of introspection, etc. seems a little weaker; the I-function seems eager to always be forming some kind of story no matter where the input originates from.

I've also been wondering about memory and the I-function. If memory isn't bound to one specific location in the brain, but rather is just pieces of sensory information here and then put together by the brain with lots of parts made up or added in, and even changed every time the memory is "recalled", is the notion of nostalgia really anything special? If the brain/I-function just creates story after story, then everything is bound to be a skewed and at least somewhat imagined.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-04-19 00:25:44
Link to this Comment: 14716

About dreams, I wonder about the idea of the storyline. Usually my dreams have a coherent story to them and the pieces of the dream tend to fit together. I wonder if dreaming is more like the brain adding to a story as it progresses, or did our brain already create the story, and then we see it acted out? It would be kind of odd if the story was already made up, though, because that would mean that there is information in our brain that we are not able to extract without the help of dreams. This sounds a little like hypnosis, since in both cases the person is able to tell a story that has been hidden by going into a state of relaxation. Still, it makes more sense that a dream is more like writing a story because when you write, you are able to add a continuation of events to a story by looking at what happened in the scenes before.

Dreaming...a new theory?
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-19 01:20:46
Link to this Comment: 14720

I just wanted to give my two cents for where I stood in terms of the dreaming discussion. I did my paper on dreams and found it really interesting to think of dreaming in a different light. I was told to believe the theory that dreaming was a result of random firing and that it was totally random. However, I was also taught about Freud's interpretation about dreaming, too (the unconscious being the reason). I found re-evaluating the two theories led me to see that there were positive aspects to each. As I mentioned in class, there are definitely aspects of dreaming which are not random. If dreaming was simply a random firing of neurons, anything would be put into our dreams and it is likely that a lot of the time we would not dream of people at all. Not only do we dream of people, though, we dream of ourselves! THis seems the strangest to me. This shows me that there are some aspects of this firing of neurons that are not random. Perhaps it is just that the more "popular" or recently used neurons will be more likely to be "hit". This would make sense in that it would still be somewhat random but also reflect thoughts that are on your mind more often. I am not sure whether the I-function would still have to be involved in this theory, since it still is somewhat a random firing theory....just an idea (:

Name: Ayumi H
Date: 2005-04-19 02:24:50
Link to this Comment: 14721

In the last paper, I wrote about sleep and dreams. During the research, I got to know that dreams just happen due to the mechanism of sleep (REM and nonREM cycles). I looked at some theories about the contents of dreams (oppressed desires by Freud, random images projected from the stored memory etc), but I never found out which theory is actually the closest to what we really see in our dreams. But I think that dreams do signify in some way. For example, I remember talking to my friends that we dream waterfalls, ourselves running to the restroom, or drinking water, and we wake up wanting to go to the restroom really badly. I was thinking of writing about sleep paralysis since it used to happen to me so often for a period of time. Though I hadn’t had a paralysis for a while, I started having it again once I started thinking. So, I feel like what we experience or what we dream is highly correlated with what we think. I think it’s a good question if we have a control over dreams as some people have posed. In the past when I had a scary dream, I woke up in the middle of the dream screaming. If we face something we do not really want in dreams, we are capable of exiting our dreams. So, I guess it is possible that we have controls over dreams....

Experiences we don't remember
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-04-19 07:36:53
Link to this Comment: 14722

I am wondering about how experiences we have shape our personalities, or our thought patterns, or our understanding of the world (or all of these things.) We are, I think, definitely shaped by experiences from early childhood, which most of us cannot remember. How is this like (or unlike) the "experiences" we have when we are dreaming, or sleepwalking? If we can't remember an experience, could it mean we didn't have control over its happening? Obviously we don't remember everything we do that we CAN control.

Along those lines, I am thinking about how people can block out bad memories. What enables us to do this, and to what extent is it concious? Who, or what, is making the judgment call when its decided that a memory, or set of memories, or a dream, will be "blocked" or not remembered?

Name: Cam
Date: 2005-04-19 08:48:28
Link to this Comment: 14723

I am particularly interested in Xuan-Shi Lim's question on where the idea of a "soul" came from, which is a curiosity I share. It seems to me that a "soul" is generally perceived as something tangible in the most basic sense -- an individual "has" a soul (or not); it is something that can be bought/sold (connotes idea of soul as a "good"); it can be strengthened/diminished; it can also be released (through death, for example). It appears as something that is influenced by external forces -- by "temptations" (and reactions to them), by "good" works (or the adverse), etc. -- even if those forces are acting internally. Specifically in regard to an individual not having a soul, which appears to be reserved for individuals whose actions are deemed "inhumane" (like crimes against humanity), there is some connotation of that individual lacking any meaningful connection to other people (I'm not sure if any belief systems include the idea that humans are born with/without souls or if it would necessarily follow that one without a soul is subhuman or not a human being at all).

And if it is something that is generated and/or informed by an outside power, then it would follow that a soul is something distinguishable from the mind/body dualism discussed in the very beginning of the class. It's like a spiritual self. But if brain = behavior is the accepted theory in relation to the human condition, then a soul would necessarily have to be part of that for it to exist. And in that sense I wonder if a "soul" could be analogous to some type of human sensitivity -- like a tacit connection that exists between all of us; it would presumably then be part of the I-function, the quality of which we might be able to control. . .or something like that. . .

dream question
Name: cam
Date: 2005-04-19 09:04:06
Link to this Comment: 14724

In regard to dreams -- If we have little/no control over the images, etc. that appear in our dreams, then how is it that some internalize certain types of information that they learn immediately prior to "falling" asleep (I was thinking about vocabulary for foreign language classes -- I remember having a teacher in high school who suggested that the best time to study vocabulary is right before sleep)?

Name: beverly
Date: 2005-04-19 09:05:33
Link to this Comment: 14725

With all of this dicsussion surrounding reality, I'm in favor of the idea that there is one reality out there but that we have individual ways of interpreting it. In general we are all designed to interpret the outside world the same, but subtle various in our nervous systems can account for a wide variety of perceptions.

Name: Bridget
Date: 2005-04-19 09:14:11
Link to this Comment: 14726

I am sort of agreeing with a comment I read about the sub-conscious erasing certain memories. I guess there are certain short-term memories that were never stored. Sometimes in the shower I can't remember if I already washed my hair or not. Also, when I am playing sports, often I can't remember any specific instances when I have control of the ball because my actions are so much controlled by my sub-conscious. There are other memories though, long-term memories from difficult times in my life, that I know I used to recall and they upset me as much as they had the first time. I must have an amazing sub-conscious because I can very clearly recall specific instances that happened very soon before and after, but the whole awful event has been erased. Part of me is glad, but part of me is wondering if this is an unhealthy way of dealing with stuff.

self-deluded or pathological liar?
Name: katherine
Date: 2005-04-20 20:11:18
Link to this Comment: 14753

Carly's questions about the blocking out of memories led me to think of other ways people's minds "trick" them. I have a friend who in one breath swears A and in the next swears Q. In each situation, I would bet money that she truly believes what she says, despite the unavoidable contraditions. I think her creation of these "stories" is a profoundly ingrained, long-developed defense mechanism, but I wonder what the implications are regarding her sense of self and reality. Is she a pathological liar, or simply self-deluded? By affirming various irreconcilable factors--all the while maintaining that she's always meant A when earlier she wholeheartedly professed Q--what then, of her sense of what is real? She herself never seems to give an answer that can outlive a single conversation.

Training the mind
Name: Carly
Date: 2005-04-21 07:56:31
Link to this Comment: 14762

I was thinking about what Cambria said about the best time for studying foreign language vocab is before you go to bed. I've heard this too. Is nighttime naturally the time when all people's brains are most receptive to this kind of information? Can we train our minds to be more receptive at another time instead--or all the time? (Without the use of, say Red Bull...?)

Also, what Katherine said about how our minds can trick us--can we also trick our minds? If "I" trick my mind into doing something, what part of me is doing the tricking? I guess it is just another part of my mind? I don't think, for example, that my "soul" is tricking my mind. So how do we, and can we always, "decide" which part of our minds win out in making a decision to do something? I think there are people who have trained their minds to be able to do this very easily--but in that case, who, or what is the trainer? Or is it just pieces of the mind all training each other?

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-04-21 23:29:47
Link to this Comment: 14781

What would be the EEG of a day-dreamer? Is day-dreaming considered dreaming? It seems to me that day dreaming will also have a desynchronized pattern of activity as the awake and REM sleep states because there is a picture in your head even though it is imagined. Do day dreamers choose to lose focus of what they are actually seeing with their eyes and enter into a fantasy world without closing their eyes?

Dreams and the I-Function
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-04-22 20:16:24
Link to this Comment: 14791

With all of this discussion about the I-function, I have started to wonder what the I-function is like in individuals who are schizophrenic. For each personality that a person assumes, do they have separate I-functions? To me that seems the most likely scenario. However, if that is true, what happens when the I-functions conflict with each other? Or when they agree? Furthermore, then it would seem that for each personality there is a separate I-function as well as a separate reality. Then, how can we say there one uniform reality, especially when considering schizophrenic individuals? These individuals have more than one reality which would therefore imply that there is no one true reality for them and thus, there seems to be no true reality for anyone. It seems that if there are exceptions to the rule, then the rule needs to be changed.
I have also been thinking about the differences in day dreams and the dreams we have when we are deeply sleeping. Is the I-function playing different roles in these different types of sleep? For me, when I am day dreaming I can really control what I am thinking about whereas if I am in a deep sleep, I sometimes cannot remember anything and I cannot control my thoughts at all. Does that mean the I-function is more inhibited even if we are day dreaming as opposed to when we are deeply sleeping? This idea intrigues me -- that the I-function could be acting differently during different times of the day depending on what kind of sleep we are in.

Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-04-24 20:15:52
Link to this Comment: 14807

Thursday’s discussion of depression and the will made me wonder how much power our mind has in determining what our will can and cannot achieve. What I mean is, people who suffer from depression legitimately desire to “get better,” the will is there, their I-function simply cannot affect their behavior. However, if an individual with depression were to successfully convince herself that she COULD will herself out of it, would she then be able to? Is part of the dissociation between the I-function and behavior when it comes to mental disorders the result of our own inherent beliefs about the inability of our mind to conquer/overcome such things? Isn’t this essentially what happens with the placebo effect—we are convinced that X medication will cure Y affliction, even though X has no medicinal value?

Creativity - Depression
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-04-24 20:47:52
Link to this Comment: 14815

The quote by Jamison was inspirational: out of the raw heartache of depression comes the potential for creative productivity. But this isn't anything new. How many philosophies, poems, stories, etc...speak of sorrow and happiness intertwined? ("Your joy is your sorrow unmasked/ And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears" - Khalil Gibran) There would be no such thing as happiness if there was no sorrow to compare it to. No depression if there did not exist the memory of happier times. I think Prof's Grobstein's comments about valuing individuals who suffer from depression is right on the mark - with the right amount of support, their dark hibernations have the potential to transform into creative, necessary, expression.

Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-04-25 00:32:01
Link to this Comment: 14828

The idea that the neocortex, and thus the I-function, gets all its information only via the rest of the nervous system, i.e. the "frog-brain", is very interesting. It brings me back to the idea of the I-function being "along for the ride" rather than in control. It seems that the I-function's executive/decision-making ability is totally dependent on the input it receives from the "frog-brain" part of the nervous sytem, so any feeling of control is only an illusion. Any perception that we have of understanding or control in our environment is only as true as the reliability of our "frog-brain."

When there is a disconnect between the I-function and the "frog-brain", or the information coming from the "frog-brain" is no longer reliable, how lonely and scary that must be. The I-function, our consciousness, is trapped by its dependence on the "frog-brain" for information. The very thing that differentiates us from other animals, that allows us to think of ourselves as "higher" beings, is totally isolated from the world around it except through the animal or "frog" part of the brain.

Reflection & some thoughts on the unconscious and
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-25 10:34:45
Link to this Comment: 14842

At the beginning of the course, we learned that brain=behavior. For a large part of the course, I held in my mind the idea that brain-->behavior. Consequently, when I read neuroimaging studies, I wondered about the purpose of such studies, given that we already know that our behavior corresponds to activation somewhere in the brain. It didn't seem useful for neuroscientists to tell us which part of our brain lights up when we mediate, play a instrument, or solve math problems, for instance. My reaction was, "So what?" How could we make use of this knowledge to do things any differently? This past weekend, I had a simple revelation. Neuroscientific research is guided by brain<--behavior, i.e. neuroscientists study behavior to find out as much as possible about the brain and although much of the information may not be accessible or practical to researchers outside the field of neuroscience or even to the public, the research that is going on now may be useful in the future. It appears to me that although we are finding out more about the brain, we do not know enough to say how much of this information is going to be of any use in the immediate future.

As we learned about the I-function and the unconscious (rest of the nervous system), I thought about Freud, whom I associate with the idea of conscious and unconscious. Although he had some weird explanations for psychopathology, his concept of the conscious/conscious seem to be relevant till this day. Having said so, Freud believed that a psychoanalyst could help his client bring unconscious material into consciousness. I wonder how much of the material in our unconsciousness we are able to tap into, as hard as we may try and even with the help of others. With respect to creativity, for instance, it seems to be something that we have no explicit control over, although some people may use drugs or alcohol to help them think more creatively it because such substances help to shut out the influence of the I-function and allow material in the unconscious to be more readily accessible?

Lastly, the idea of depression as a failure of will, the inability of the I-function to control behavior, is interesting. Could anorexia then be thought of as the opposite, i.e. an overwhelming dominance of the I-function over behavior?

creative productivity
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-04-25 11:45:02
Link to this Comment: 14843

I also share the same thoughts as Aia does in her previous post.."There would be no such thing as happiness if there was no sorrow to compare it to. " I think sometimes we fall into the trap where we think that we have it bad and that life is unfair, but until you truly experience something to compare it to you never know. I think this is similarly related to thinking that the grass is always greener on the other side--if we have preconceived notions that are invalid and we neglect any attempt to learn otherwise, then we are doing ourselves an injustice. If we sit and do not take the good with the bad and the happiness with the sorrow, then we to some extent depress our potential for creative productivity.

Name: Alfredo Sk
Date: 2005-04-25 13:21:27
Link to this Comment: 14846

I'm not sure if this question had been commented on earlier in the year or not, but sennse one of the current themes of our discussion has been the limited role of the I-function, i'll ask it again. What mechanisms are operating when people walk slowly over burning coles while showing little experience of pain? It seems that this would be a testament to the large influence of the I-function on our behavior. What do people make of this?

randomness in the nervious system
Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-04-25 13:47:31
Link to this Comment: 14847

The frog study was very interesting to me, because I would have assumed that there would have been some repetition among the paths that the frog chose, specifically because frogs do not have neocortexes. Before Prof. Grobstein presented the study, I was under the assumption that it was the neocortex that gave certain animals the ability to go against their natural instinct. Now I am not as sure. The experiment, for me, brought up two possible situations. First, that the neocortex does not play the role of allowing one make his or her own decisions. Second, the neocortex does allow for that, but that the rest of the brain also makes different natural outputs given the same input. As of right now I believe more firmly in the later. However, if this is true, then that means that there are endless outputs given the same input, but why? Is it because the nervous system has more than one way of doing something?

We have learned that the nervous system has multiple ways of performing the same action, but I am not sure if these multiple ways can totally account for the endless amount of different outputs. I would assume that if there five different ways that the input of a worm registers to the frog, then there should be five different paths the frog takes. However, there were endless amounts of outputs, and I doubt there are an endless amounts of ways in which a frog’s nervous system registers the input.

Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that the nervous system, although organized, contains some randomness to it. I feel that this randomness is important, because it distinguishes living organisms from non living organisms. On the other hand, I want to believe that the randomness within organisms plays a role greater than only distinguishing between living and non living. I cannot put my finger on it now, but hopefully some light will be shed on it in the next two classes.

I-function, consciousness, and 'true' reality
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-04-25 14:39:45
Link to this Comment: 14848

The notion that everything we perceive as reality is funnelled through the more simple, less evolved part of our brains before being processed by our I-function has some pretty interesting implications for a metaphysical discussion. If consciousness operates behind a filter, it seems it can't ever have access to a 'full' reality. Rather, it only gets bits and pieces. It reminds me of our discussion of color and how a specific color to me can be something completely different to someone else.

I was trying to think of something that might have access to a 'true' reality and I couldn't think of anything. Then I started to think that perhaps those things that have access to a 'true' reality are things that don't have a consciousness. Think about a rock. It is not duped into thinking the color of the grass next to it is green, when in fact color is an interpretation of light. For the rock, the only reality it 'knows' is that which must obey the laws of physics. If it is pushed, it moves. If it is thrown, it falls according to laws of motion. The rock only reacts to the world in ways that are universally held: laws of physics that cannot be violated. Us, on the other hand, must obey the same laws, but we are able to also 'see' the world in our minds.

We create a picture of reality that is abstracted from what is actually going on to make sense of the world and to function as human beings. But in that abstraction, we have the propensity to believe things are real the way we see them, rather than the way they actually are. It is this propensity to take the interpretation as reality that separates us from the 'real' world and that makes the rock closer to reality than we can be. However, the rock can never appreciate its closeness to reality, as it cannot be conscious. It would seem that consciousness and true reality cannot go hand in hand, unless there were some way to 'see' the world in one's mind that took in all information without filtering out certain elements.

Creativity, Depression, and Normality
Name: Flicka Mic
Date: 2005-04-25 17:15:43
Link to this Comment: 14854

I found our discussion of creativity on Thursday very interesting. If we define creativity as the ability to release multiple outputs from one input, then each one of us is creative. However, it seems as though the limit of one’s creativity is an innate quality, which means that everyone is naturally creative or uncreative. Then it makes sense why people assume that creativity is an aspect of personality because, as we learned last week, personality is derived from the nervous system. However, personality can be changed through the I-function, so does the same thing hold true for creativity? Can a person become more creative by realizing that they are not and trying to change that?

During our discussion about depression, I finally understood the primary reason why people don’t like to admit that they are depressed. The first is because they don’t want to admit to someone that they’ve lost control over their ability to feel happy (failure of will), and the second is because they don’t want to seem “abnormal”. The latter is more problematic because the concept of abnormal has been created by society to have a negative connotation. In fact, the word “normal” is only used to describe a wide set of observations about the studied behavior of human beings. So, being abnormal is really just a new observation and nothing to be ashamed of. In regards to the former reason, depression is not something someone can control. If a person becomes depressed, there is nothing that person can do to snap themselves out of it. Therefore, admitting depression and asking for help is the only thing a depressed person can do, until the depression vanishes. Still, it is interesting to note that depression is a state caused by the nervous system, and it reminds us once again that there are more things we can’t control about ourselves than things we can control.

Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-04-25 21:53:18
Link to this Comment: 14857

In response to Alfredo¡¯s question about the influence of the I-function I would have to say that I believe that indeed the I-function can play a large role in overriding the nervous system. People often use the phrase ¡°mind over matter¡± to describe a way to get through a tough situation. For instance, if I ever don¡¯t feel well I find that I can physically distract myself so that I can effectively ignore the signals my body is sending me and finish whatever I have to get done. I think the same thing can be said for people who go through a lot of medical testing and train themselves to become accustomed to the procedures. Many of the procedures are painful and invasive, yet a person can convince themselves that it is routine and no big deal.
Also, the whole concept of self-image can be applied to this. Many people have a very distinct self-image and way that they would like to appear in public and often I believe it is the I-function that allows them to scrutinize their behavior to conform to their identity.
Because of this I believe that the I-function can play a very large role on the behavior of individuals.

I-functions and depression
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-04-25 22:53:41
Link to this Comment: 14858

I don’t know if I agree completely with the concept that depression is the I-function not being able to control behavior. The I-function is important but it cannot determine what mood a person will experience during the day. For instance, a person can wake up one morning and feel extremely depressed. She can try to alter or manipulate the way she feels by thinking happy thoughts. However, it is not possible to change her mood by just thinking about happy things. Depression is not caused by the I-function but by changes in the level of neurotransmitters in the brain. Patients with depression are easily treated by antidepressant drugs that can alter the level of chemicals back to normal again. Depression is not caused by the inability of the I-function to control behavior. The symptoms of depression that are developed and expressed over time are caused by the I-function. This is like a question of the chicken and the egg, which came first? Is it the lack of the I-function that caused depression to occur or is it the depression that altered the I-functions? Depression should occur first, follow by the alteration of the I-function, and then finally all the weird symptoms that are associated with depression are produced as the result of the changes in the I-function.

Name: Malaya Sni
Date: 2005-04-25 23:17:46
Link to this Comment: 14859

So I think Wittgenstein says it best, that we all have our own private language. We all have our own private language because only we know what we are experiencing, feeling and seeing. If we try to describe those things we try to use words that are familiar to people around us, but do not constitute what we are truly feeling. THe true explanation we give for a certain sensatoins are definded by our other sensations so it is kind of circular reasoning. We each have our own private language, granted we all some how have learned to communicate, but are we really communicating? Are we truly expressing how we feel and what is going on? When one is depressed, there could be many reasons they are depressed at the moment. They might not beable to explain what is going on at that certain time and the best way to explain it is to say they are sad or depressed. If we as a class were to hear someone tell us they are depressed and sad we would all take it differently, but be able to understand it is something negative. I think fMRIs are great because now they can show how one truly is feeling, but one study shows that the same parts of the brain are activated in releasing dopamine when one is feeling sad, pain, and or upset for someone else. I find it interesting that our brains understand the meaning of pain in others. I am sure that the same parts of the brain are stimulated when feeling pain within ourselves verses feeling bad for someone in pain because when we think about someone else, we are really using our private feelings to relate to the other person. For example, if my friend sprains her ankle, I imagine myself having a sprained ankle and how bad it is.

Name: Kara
Date: 2005-04-25 23:34:14
Link to this Comment: 14860

Patrick’s comments got me thinking about the importance of considering the actual physics behind the chance for alternate realities. Can the laws of physics give us any evidence for our nervous systems experiencing/ creating an ultimate reality? The only potential explanation is string theory. Basically it says that the whole universe is made of strings or bands of energy that so small that we cant measure them. Although I know very little about the match behind the equations I do know that if string theory is correct, 11 dimensions exist, but humans are only capable of experiencing 4 of them. This seems to imply to me that there is no ultimate reality; especially if we cannot even experience or comprehend the majority of the dimensions we live in. However even if there is no one ultimate reality, our realities are close enough to each others that we can coexist and survive without all experiencing the same thing.

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-04-26 00:09:10
Link to this Comment: 14861

I was thinking about depression and the definition of normal. I'm pretty sure depression and other mental disorders are things like being over-weight that are perfectly ok unless it is you who suffers from it. If a friend is depressed, it's easy to tell her that it's normal and no one is going to judge her for it and you mean it, but when it is you who is depressed you feel like you are the only one, no matter how many of your friends tell you it's ok. You feel alone; like you are the only "freak" whose mind isn't working like everyone else's. I don't know why we all think like that. It's just part of our society, I guess.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-04-26 00:09:17
Link to this Comment: 14862

It seems like the neurological disorders that we've been discussing happen in people because of different factors; including genetics, environment, and immediate problems and other past issues; that all build up on each other and eventually form a neural pathway of some sort. As for the question of whether a depressed person can will themself to be happy, I don't think so because it's not just a problem of being sad. Perhaps for the depressed person, sadness has become something like a habit, and so every new problem that arises seems to be compounded by the depression and eventually the person feels like there is no way out. I think that people often think that the person can just "snap out of it" because to other people, the only thing that is wrong is that the person is seems unhappy. From my experiences, depressed people often have a certain set of issues, but the depression causes them to feel like they don't have the ability to either fix the problems or to get past them. I guess this is just saying that I agree that depression has to do with feeling like you've lost your will to change things or make things better.

depression and the i-function
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-04-26 00:23:45
Link to this Comment: 14865

In one of my other classes, we talked about how cognition can on some level be altered by the I-function. That is: If I tell myself that the glass is half full, I am able to alter my perceptions to some extent, which then changes mood. The ultimate conclusion of the discussion, which was based on experiments that I can't remember the details of, was that consciously altering one's outlook can alter one's mood, emotions, and perceptions of their experiences. This means that if someone wakes up in the morning and says, "today will be a good day" and makes a conscious effort to ficus on the positive aspects of their experiences, they become a happier person (for as long as they are activly altering their cognitions.) My personal experience of emotional ups and downs agrees with this theory to some extent. I am naturally optimistic and happt, but i go through periods of days or weeks where I'm in "a funk." There are instances in which I fell that I came out of it faster for having focused on the positive things in my life or ahead of me in the future. But there have also been times where I couldn't find anything to be happy about, or if I could it just didn't make a difference. This made me think of two things:

The first was the emphasis that Prof. Grobstein put on his statement that if a person is in a deep depression, they can't just "snap out of it." And it leaves me wondering if there is an actual physical difference (yet to be identified) between the level of depression in which the I-function is still capable of having an impact if fully realized, and the level of depression in which there is no control on the part of the I-function.

The second is that if we are able to change our cognitions of our perceptions and experiences, is this due to the ability of the brain to "fill in" information in different ways? If so, it seems to me that it is possible that the I-function can impact the way in which we fill in the blanks. Which then left me wondering if we can consciously (or unconsciously, but as a result of personality tied into the I-function) fill in other blanks in the way we prefer? That is, if an image is ambigious, and a person tends to perceive things in a positive fashion, will it be perceived as more pleasant to that individual than to one that is depressed?

the unconscious
Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-04-26 00:24:05
Link to this Comment: 14866

Xuan-Shi brought up the idea of tapping into the unconscious. I think it is a very interesting idea to explore. First of all, what kinds of things do we put into the unconscious part of our brains? For the most part, it seems as though a traumatic or life-altering event is the type of occurence to be placed in that "back" part of our minds. Undoubtedly, there are tons of things one unintentionally places there, but overall, those seem to be the most predominant.
Also, I think that the reason (sometimes) unhappy events are there is that the person does not want to think about them, so it's easier to just "pretend" they didn't happen.
One possible answer for finding out what is in the unconscious comes from something I saw on ER one night (so yes, who knows how true it is, but it's just a suggestion). A woman was having sort-of worry induced comas, and in order to figure out how to stop them, the psychiatrist need to understand the cause of the worry. She thought the most efficient way to do this would be to lightly sedated the woman, who was having the comas, just enough that she said she felt like she was "flying." She then proceeded to ask the woman questions about her past and such. While the woman was on the drug she was able to answer the questions without hesitation or reservation. Ultimately, the episode ended with the doctor figuring out that the comas came from a bad past experience, which the woman had put far behind her.
Anyway, I don't know if that answers any questions, but it's just a thought to put out there.

Name: anna
Date: 2005-04-26 00:28:50
Link to this Comment: 14867

After reading Emily’s post I started thinking about more about depression and the structure of the brain. First of all, I was under the impression that it was not just neurotransmitter levels that were responsible for depression, but the existence of dendrites and connections between neurons. For example, research has suggested that the reason antidepressants take 2-4 weeks to work is that they are actually encouraging dendrite growth which in turn increases the signal flow in the brain. If it was just a matter of neurotransmitters, then antidepressants would increase the levels of neurotransmitters (what is a “normal” level of neurotransmitters anyway?) and there would be an immediate improvement.

If the structure of the brain is responsible for depression, does that mean that we have absolutely no control over depression and the I function isn’t involved? What about depression resulting from trauma? Does trauma alter the brain structure or dendrite growth? It seems to me that in the instance of depression resulting from trauma, the I function is more involved. Do different types of depression have varying causes? Are we treating depression as too narrow of a topic?

More about the I function and placebo
Name: Erin
Date: 2005-04-26 00:43:09
Link to this Comment: 14868

In last Thursday's class, I brought up the idea about placebos in the treatment of depression. I think the point that I was trying to make, and didn't do effectively, was that even though depression is thought of as an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain that can be treated by drugs, perhaps there is more to it than that. Like Georgia suggested in her post, maybe the I function also plays a part in the treatment of depression and other mental illnesses. In another class, we were talking about the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in treating obsessive compulsive disorder. This type of therapy is based on the idea of extinction of conditioned behaviors. This extinction is thought to be a form of learning, ie. with repeated exposure to the anxiety-causing stimulus, anxiety levels decrease once the person has learned that nothing bad will happen. It uses no drugs, but has the same effect as drugs on neurotransmitters in certain regions of the brain. It is interesting to me that "engaging the brain" (as my professor says) can cause the same positive physiological results as this engagement of the brain actually engagement of the I function?

odds and ends
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-04-26 02:25:48
Link to this Comment: 14870

Patrick’s idea that “perhaps those things that have access to a 'true' reality are things that don't have a consciousness” really struck me as an interesting observation. I, too, was so caught up in trying to imagine a universal reality that objects without consciousnesses never crossed my mind. But it seems to make sense. Humans can have no concept of “true reality” because we perceive things far too differently; it is our interpretation that limits us from seeing something universally. Our I-function automatically perceives things for the brain to process, there doesn’t seem at this point to be a way to turn off the I-function, so why does this automatic perception have to be a part of the human experience? Why did it have to be built-in in the first place? I wonder what it was about life, when man was created, that prompted the birth of perception.

As the class wraps up this week I’m left with some loose ends about the I-function and how exactly it seems to manage or mismanage depression patients. I’m also left grappling with whether brain=behavior and whether my initial thoughts about Emily are in fact explicative of what’s going on in the brain and individual variation amongst people.

Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-04-26 02:37:51
Link to this Comment: 14871

In response to Anna's post, I don't really believe that the reason anti-depressants take 2-4 weeks to "work" is because they induce dendrite growth. Granted, I have not reach the research to which she is referring, but I do have some personal experience on this matter. My younger brother in clinicall depressed, and when he started taking anti-depressants, he did have to gradually increase his dosage over a period of several weeks. He was on this medication for several weeks, and his behavior was very inconsistant; sometimes, it seemed that the medication was working, and other times it was having little or no effect. His doctor determined that the best course of action would be to try another anti-depressant, so my brother gradually decreased his dosage over a 2-3 week period, then waited several days before beginning the new medication. The reason why the medication has to be tappered in such a way is because they are mood altering drugs, and the levels of said drugs have to increase/decrease slowly in order to avoid endangering the patient and really doesn't have much to do with dendrite growth.

On another note, my mother used to do clinical research with antidepressants when she worked at Mass General. One time, she was helping to test a new antidepressant on several patients. What they observed was, when the levels of said antidepressants were increased too sharply, the patient would have an adverse reation, ranging from severe mood swings to (as in one or two instances) a psychotic episode.

I also believe that there is still much we do not understand about brain chemistry, which is why it is necessary to increase the level of medicine gradually.

Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-04-26 02:43:58
Link to this Comment: 14872

I’m very interested in exploring the topic of depression. I was having a discussion in the chem lounge the other day about the causes of depression, and one of the postbacs chimed in to give his own personal story about dealing with depression for ten years of his life. The way he spoke of his recovery was really remarkable. If people with depression feel a loss of control in their lives, then how are certain drugs able to relieve them from these feelings, and how are they eventually able to come off of these drugs (not be dependent on them after a while) so that they are symptom free? It’s kind of like people going on the birth control pill if they have irregular menstrual cycles…how does the body become accustomed to something by using pills, and eventually not be dependent on the drug to carry out a certain normal bodily function? So if we can train our bodies to function normally with certain drugs, then can we have the power to change ourselves if we wanted to? How do drugs have the ability to make the I-function work again? In sum, how much do we control and how much does the I-function control?

Depression, Will, and the Placebo
Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-04-26 03:30:13
Link to this Comment: 14873

I think that there have been various good points brought up about Depression and what the role of the I-function has in it. Specifically what is interesting to me is the placebo's effect in Depression. There was some debate about whether the placebo is having an effect on the "frogs brain" area or the I-function. The best way to see which it is effecting is to see whether the placebo works on animals that do not have the neocortex. I am pretty sure that without a conditioned response type of experiment, the placebo effect would not work with animals. However, if you use a placebo in an environment that has been conditioned to the drug previously, I think it will work. Therefore, the "frogs brain" would be effected. With humans, the placebo effect is not always conditioned, though. This leads me to believe that the I-function is what is causing the change in the "frogs brain". I think it would be interesting to see if there have been studies with animals that used placebos without conditioning. This question is an interesting one that, I think, can be easily answered without causing debate, if there have been studies like this.

Questions re: I Function
Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-04-26 09:04:37
Link to this Comment: 14875

What is it that makes the I function stronger in some people and weaker in others? Why is it that some can override physical, mental, and emotional distress with the I function while others become overwhelmed by the symptoms and give in? How much is the extent to which we use our I function is inherited vs. learned?

Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-04-26 09:16:22
Link to this Comment: 14876

In class we discussed how prescribing medications for depression is kind of a trial and error type of endeavour, which is kind of unsettling to me. There's really no way to know which anti-depressant will work for which person until they have taken it. Also, I have heard that prozac is the "safest" anti-depressant. What makes this drug safer than the others on the market such as zoloft and paxil? In our society the usage of anti-depressants is very widespread, and I wonder if this is because our culture perpetuates that myth that it is important to be happy all the time.

wrapping up, for now ...
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-04-26 16:59:49
Link to this Comment: 14880

Thanks all, for a rich and enjoyable semester working together on the relation between the nervous system and behavior/human experience. I've learned a lot from your thinking/writing/talking, and hope you all found some useful bits in our conversations as well.

For this week, in addition, to whatever else may be on your mind, how about looking back over your own thoughts for this semester (see forum archive), particularly those at the beginning, and leave some thoughts about what has or hasn't changed in your thinking over the semester? I certainly don't expect to stop exploring and re-exploring the kinds of questions we've been looking at but its useful I think to take stock every once in a while, see where one has been, where one is, and from that get some sense of where one might go next.

Hope to have future chances to work with each of you, in one context or another. And these course materials and forum and course will stay here so you can check back (and perhaps even leave future thoughts) whenever you're inclined. Thanks again for time spent working together.

Rock's Reality
Name: Lily Yoon
Date: 2005-04-26 19:02:25
Link to this Comment: 14881

In today's class, we talked about a rock knowing reality better than we do. I felt like this idea,however, was too easily dismissed because it does sound a little bit too ridiculous. We exist as a much more complex being than that of a rock's existence, but maybe the fact that we are able to think brings us further from core reality, whereas the rock is able to "experience" something that is raw and untainted by thought.

Reflecting Back
Name: Camilla Cu
Date: 2005-04-27 13:37:58
Link to this Comment: 14893

Over the course of the semester many of my beliefs or preconcieved notions have been challenged. The discussions we had in class on the existence of free will, the affect that the I-function has on our behavior, the categorization of groups of people by race, and the concept of a single true reality, have forced me to reconsider things that I had accepted as fact. I found myself saying that the notion of race is an archaic classification system, and that there is no such thing as one true reality. Learning about the way that the nervous system functions and how it makes each one of us such unique individuals was also very interesting. We spoke in the beginning of the semester about how it is not a quest for truth necessarily, but an attempt to get things "less wrong". Even though there are many questions about the brain and the capability of the nervous system that we cannot definitively answer, I definitely think that after this class I have a more complete understanding of the topics and can better formulate my own opinions.

Name: Joanna Sco
Date: 2005-04-27 16:19:59
Link to this Comment: 14899

At the beginning of the course, I was very much opposed to the idea that brain = behavior. I felt this was too limiting and too narrow a concept. In retrospect, it felt uncomfortable to agree with such a thing, because I believed that saying brain = behavior is mutually exclusive with ideas of free will and control.

But now I realize that while brain = behavior does at first seem overly simplistic, it does allow for many complex interactions and that this is one way to explain such ‘feelings’ as control and free will. Admitting the brain is involved in all behavior does not mean admitting we have no control or free will; it just puts everything in the context of the brain. It’s even kind of liberating to start understanding how the brain is involved in all the little things we were never aware of, as well as the bigger things we never thought we’d ‘understand’. As time goes by and we learn more (or get thing even less wrong), I think we will continue to see fascinating examples of how the brain = behavior.

Name: Amanda
Date: 2005-04-27 20:35:30
Link to this Comment: 14909

This course has changed my ideas about reality, free will, my internal experiences, and many other things relating to my nervous system. While I still believe that there is one reality out there, individuals simply perceive it differently, I appreciate the diversity of perceptions of reality much more. That in particular makes me think of different views of history. Everyone who experienced a certain event experienced it differently. So although there was one reality occuring, all the participants viewed it differently. Which means hundreds of years later, we can never know what the actual reality of the event was, because who ever recorded the event percieved it differently than everyone else there. As I've gone through the course, I've seen how neurobiolgy is truely interdisiplinary. I see how it's extrememly relavent to anthropology and other biological science.

The idea of my I-function being "along for the ride," as MK put, is a little scary. I want to believe that I have control over what I do, but I cannot fully believe that anymore. The example given in class of responding to a sudden red light by hitting the breaks before you experience the light being red really made me think. As did "Serendip's 3 doors" and how our "frog brain" would learn how to play the game. It makes me think about how many things I do or that I know that my I-function isn't aware of.

Some thoughts
Name: Xuan-Shi,
Date: 2005-04-27 22:46:25
Link to this Comment: 14916

I was initially suspicious of the idea brain=behavior partly because it appears too simplistic. The self, for instance, seems to be unaccounted for in this equation. How is it possible that the brain, as an organ in our body, holds my experience of self? "Assuming that Emily is right," I think Professor Grobstein has created a sensible story that explains how the brain or central nervous system is responsible for much of our behavior.

It was useful for me to learn that my sense of self may be attributed to the I-function and my personality is represented by the rest of the nervous system. The notion of "self" which I have held on tightly at the beginning of the course, believing that it was something superior or larger than the brain, is fragile and small (for lack of a better word) in this framework. The I-function seems to be vulnerable to insults and is dependent on the rest of central nervous system. The idea of brain=behavior also allows for individual variation, given that genes and environmental factors affect brain development/maturation. I am drawn to the idea that our nervous system is constantly changing, that I am a different person yesterday and would be a different person tomorrow, because it underscores the fact that we are all learning, both consciously and unconsciously. What I have learned in this course also makes me think that we are perhaps not that much different from other organisms. The exploration of reality is interesting and I feel that it nicely illustrates the flexibility and "creativity" of the brain, as well as the immense power it possesses.

Although I have previously underestimated the brain, and although the observations we have examined thus far seems to be adequately accounted for in the conceptual map [communication among boxes], I am still reluctant to believe/uncomfortable with the idea that we may be defined by our brains. In a way, the idea of brain=behavior conflicts with my spiritual beliefs. While Emily is probably right (as scientific evidence accumulates to support her idea), I see the story of brain=behavior as one of many that would help me make sense of my behavior and understand myself. This course has encouraged me to look at things from a different perspective and raised some interesting questions which I would continue to think about/explore.

changing my mind
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-04-27 23:57:05
Link to this Comment: 14921

Although I am not surprised by the idea that brain = behavior, as that is something of which I previous notions, I have been surprised by my changing outlook on the topic as a whole. I was shocked that the class started at the begining of the semester by discussing the aspects of a poem and the likelihood that it is a correct/incorrect model of the mind and brain. I was also opposed to the philosophical approach to neurobiology, as I'm used to being presented with raw information and data as facts, and I felt uncomfortable giving up my sense of "real knowledge" in the form of facts. However, at the close of this semester I have found myself to be much more comfortable with this method, and it has led me to approach topics of neurobiology from different angles and to formulate my own questions about topics of discussion/interest. While all of the information was valuable, I think that it is also very valuable that I have learned to use my mind in a different way when presented with information. And I'm now willing to admit that maybe Emily was right after all.

Name: Bridget Do
Date: 2005-04-28 00:13:30
Link to this Comment: 14922

Even with all the valid statements made about the fact that there is not one true reality, I can't help but continue to believe that this is the truth. So much happens without human intervention, and the world existed for so long before there were humans. I think that people and creatures interpret things differently based on their own minds and experiences, but I think they all witness the same thing. If a crime is committed, and there are several witnesses who report conflicting descriptions of the suspect, there is still one correct answer. Only one person committed the crime, and reguardless of what each witness thinks he or she saw, their description is right or wrong. I think everything else in the world is more easily open to our own interpretations, but that there is in fact a correct answer. It's not that important most of the time, the world would be boring if everyone saw everything the exact same way, but i still think that's the case.

Moment of Zen
Date: 2005-04-28 00:42:04
Link to this Comment: 14924

I read this awesome article in this month's Scientific American about Neuroscience and the Law. Basically, the authors assert that there is a "readiness potential" of the brain, which is activated about 300 milliseconds before conscious decision making, indicating our brains know our decisions before we are consciously aware of them.
The authors went on to say that responsibility is a social construct and not something we ascribe to brains, thus people are free to make choices as they please, brains are determind. Because our legal system defines a crime as having two parts: actus reus (proscribed act) and mens rea (guilty mind), it "assumes 'Harry' is a practical reasoner." But while lawyers are looking to neuroscience to explain 'Harry's' actions, the authors claim that the brain is "an evolved system, a decision-making device that interacts with its environment in a way that allows it to learn rules to govern how it responds. It is a rule-based device that, fortunately, works automatically."

The article just made me think about science and the law and what's going on in our country today. I think I've learned especially from this class, how important it is to keep getting it less wrong. I guess I also feel that with all the changing knowledge about how our brains/behavior work, we should adapt the rules by which we govern ourselves.

My favorite moment in class was finding out that when a tree falls in the woods, if no one is around, it does not make a sound.

Name: Bananna
Date: 2005-04-28 00:43:21
Link to this Comment: 14925

That last comment was from me.

Ideas about the brain
Name: Emily Trin
Date: 2005-04-28 09:26:02
Link to this Comment: 14929

The topics that we have discussed in this class have challenged and yet also enriched my ideas about behaviors and the brain. I always thought that behaviors were defined by how one acts in society and have very little to do with the action of the brain. However, I never realized that there is the “I-function” and it relation to the neocortex. One interesting thing that I still think about is the concept of reality. Before taking this class, I was extremely sure that what I see is reality and that everyone shares the same reality. However, this class have definitely made me think twice about what reality is and how one can perceive reality in many different ways. For instance, the blind spot in the eyes and the ability of the brain to make up images in our mind to replace that blind spot. Another topic that was bought up in class and I continue to wrestle with is the concept of personality. How personality is defined and what influenced our personality? I still think that personality is a production of the I-function, yet I also see professor’s point of view. I am so confused now because I want to know the truth about the brain functions, yet I feel it is safer to stick with the original concepts that I had before taking this class.

Nothing and everything to say
Name: Just one g
Date: 2005-04-28 09:53:01
Link to this Comment: 14931

I'm sitting here typing the last posting, knowing it won't get in on time to be read in the last class. I'm a procrastinator.
All written work for the semester is due in t-minus 32 hours and counting, I'm gazing out at the trees that beg to be climbed, the grass that beckons me to picnic there, the sunlight that encourages me to come and play. I'm a dreamer.
I'm thinking about why I can't tell the woman I love that I love her--at least I think I love her, but then, well, it's complicated story, and besides, I'm not really sure if it's LOVE per SE, or if I just... I'm a romantic. Or I was. Now I'm a wanderer, confused, not knowing what I want, as always.
Despite the beauty of this campus in the springtime, I wish I was studying abroad this semester. But I'm two credits behind and I didn't decide on my major, really, until this semester. I'm a fuck-up. I'm learning to live with my regrets.
My sister is salutatorian of her high school class and does a million other things besides. I'm happy for her. I'm a jealous big sister.
Back at home, a sketchbook, a box of paints, a piano, my CD's, a garden, and a bike wait for me. I'm an artist, a musician, a lover of music and dancing, a lover of all things that grow, and a traveler.
I've made it through these weeks by laughing. And a lot of crying, but I'm letting that fade into my unconcious. I'll meet it again in dreams I'll choose not to remember. I'm a little crazy, like we all are, and a lot depressed, like many are, and I depend on hope like the air I breathe, like we all must from time to time, if not always.
Yes, I've always examined my thoughts, actions, reactions, habits--but never so intensely as I have throughout this semester, with the help of this class.
A conclusion? A point to bring it all together? This morning, it's that reality is personal. The truth is, all I know is myself. And even the "facts" about me are a little fuzzy sometimes. But I know that the way I am is the result of experiences and genes, that I can choose what to do, but I cannot always choose how it will affect me, that I cannot choose what my eyes see, but I CAN choose how my mind perceives... The seemingly random things that happen inside me is a reflection of the seemingly random things that happen to me. The notion that everything is a microcosm of something else is not entirely unfounded. If there can be coincidences in life, perhaps there can also be coincidences in the nervous system, in the way neurons fire. And the thing about coincidences is that they make us stop and think, because really, they seem too significant to just be random.
There's a lot still to learn, a lot to cry about, or (and?) a lot to laugh about, if we choose to, or if we can.

Name: Shu-Zhen K
Date: 2005-04-28 16:15:45
Link to this Comment: 14937

Looking back and my previous forums made me realize how little knowledge I had about the nervous system before this class. In the beginning, I thought the brain was the control center for the whole body and that the self and behavior must all come from just the brain. I never would have thought that the rest of the nervous system could have done achieve so many thing without the self knowing it. One of the topics that got my attention was that personality comes from the nervous system without the involvement of the I-function.
I liked how we discussed unanswered questions such as “is there a true reality?” and even though no answer was in sight, at least we explored many possibilities from what we do know about the nervous system. In each class I gained a better understanding of the nervous system, but after each class, there were also many more questions that come about from the lecture.

Name: Laura
Date: 2005-04-28 23:08:42
Link to this Comment: 14942

At the beginning of the course I didn't fully understand what Emily was getting at in her poem. I was fence sitting in the beginning because I liked both stories, brain=behavior but also that there was something more/separate/higher than the brain (mind/soul/self/etc.), but they were separate stories which seemed applicable depending on the context (brain=behavior, which didn't seem to have room for a 'self', for explaining observations made by science/etc. and the brain/mind in religious/societal/cultural situations). But as the class has progressed I've seen how the bipartite, or better yet frog brain + I-function/neo-cortex/storyteller, allows for the sense of self while still accounting for all of the observations we've discussed. Or like it was said in the course notes, "It isn't that anything 'disappears' as one discovers things related to the brain but rather that the Brain gets 'wider'." Now having a "story" that gives more credit to and explains more in terms of the brain, I'll admit that I've for the most part abandoned the brain plus "something else" story. Describing the sense of "self" as a collection of the interplay and stories told between the 'rest' of the NS and the I-function seems to me to be the "least wrong" answer at this point-- which explains part of what we think of as "personality" being exclusive from the I-function and also experience as being the exchange between the 'rest' of the NS and the I-function; or which can also be useful in explaining particular or varying states of the brain that we group as 'disability'/depression/etc. So, though the model we've arrived at in class is the most useful and appealing to me, I was fence sitting in the beginning and I think I'll stay fence-sitting only because it seems doing so is important for exploring other 'stories'/perspectives/etc. and subsequently modifying our own stories to become (more and more) "less wrong".

how we think about behavior
Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-04-29 12:29:23
Link to this Comment: 14973

I think what I've learned mainly from this class is that we mostly fumble around for ways to conceptualize what is probably too much for us to understand. We put the relationship of brain and behavior in an equated state BECAUSE it is simplistic, and it gives us something to work with and think about. When thinking about neurobiology and behavior, we often start with a hypothesis based on little else but how we think it might work, and use examples and studies of behavior to support the idea. This kind of science gives us something to grapple with so that we can better apply our gained knowledge to social issues like crime and mental illness and brain damage and the like. But like culture changes, and people's ideas change, I feel that even the things we believe about neurobiology today will someday be obsolete, and new hypothesis will replace the ones we use now. Whether this is progress or not we have yet to find out.

Free will and managing deviance
Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-04-29 12:41:47
Link to this Comment: 14978

A lot of people have been talking about free will as something they believe does not exist when its definition can be replaced by the explanation of neurobiology and its effect of behavior. Although it is a useful way to theorize about behavior and try to understand it better, applying these ideas in "the real world" is complex. Punishment for crimes is based on the idea that an offender acts of his or her own free will. Punishment is lessened when crimes are committed by people who have some kind of neurological deficit or disease, because this is a factor in how they act. To believe free will is only a cultural definition of the manifestation of brain physiology is to say that any crime commited where there are no mitigating circumstances, that is, there is no brain damage, no mental illness, no mental retardation, etc., is to say this offender did not act of his or her own free will, and should therefore not be punished. What is to be done about the deviance that obviously still exists in society, particularly deviance that creates victimization. I am a firm believer in mitigation of culpability based on brain dysfunction and deficits, and I believe it is crucial to integrate knowledge about how the brain works into the justice system, but I also believe there has to be some boundary between what mitigates culpability, that is, what overrides personal free will, and personal choice in actions. Because again, what is to be done with apparently healthy offenders who commit deviant acts when dealing with deviance is a basic and necessary function of society?

scientific spirituality
Name: Georgia
Date: 2005-04-29 15:43:41
Link to this Comment: 14990

In the beginning of the course I was very reluctant to believe that brain=behavior. I think part of my reservation was due to the fact that I don't believe we can have access to a True reality, and therefore that any theory we come up with is just that, a theory, but not Truth per se. Also, I was reluctant to diminish myself (my personality, my mind, my soul, my being) to a purely biological/scientific entity. I WANT to believe that who I am is more than just a complicated series of neurons firing in varios equally complex patterns.
I think now I am a little more willing to accept the brain=behavior model (though I still feel that it is just that, meaning just a model). I guess now I feel that just because our behavior can be explained by a completely biological model doesn't mean there's nothing "magical" (for lack of a better word) about human be-ing. Learning HOW the brain works almost adds to my awe, rather than detract from it. Everything we do is so complex, so intricate and synchronized, that it's really quite miraculous.

Some final thoughts
Name: Beth Diamo
Date: 2005-04-29 21:29:36
Link to this Comment: 14999

Georgia put my thoughts into very succinct words; about learning the workings of the brain as adding to our awe of neurobiological science. I agree, and I have always believed that science is a dynamic process of discovery that should indeed be an interesting, always-changing and ever-fascinating realm of study. No matter how many times we go over a certain concept, whether it be in class or in the lab, the fact remains that neurobiology is, no pun intended, a very thought-provoking field. For even though we know that love, pain, loss and joy are all functions of neurons firing, the idea is so simple as to be confounding... how can things so complex be the patterns of our neurons firing, most of which do so without our input? I believe once we mentioned that the I-function is a way of integrating these signals and making a story from them-- perhaps another of its functions is to make us crazy in trying to figure it out; we could spend years in trying. For now, let me say that I greatly enjoyed this class; I have learned much and I have also developed a new way of looking at the world, knowing now that neuronal activity explains a lot more than I thought it did. Thanks Prof. Grobstein, for a memorable year.

A Look Back...
Name: Kristin Gi
Date: 2005-04-30 14:00:40
Link to this Comment: 15000

I think like most students in the beginning I could not believe that Emily was right in saying brain = behavior. I thought that experience, environment and other factors contributed to who we were and how we acted. Based upon our talks as well as my first web paper on OCD, I have become more accepting of the idea that brain might really equal behavior. Looking at this enigma from a purely scientific standpoint makes sense however I still have some reservations in just attributing personal qualities and characteristics to our brain chemistries. Also, where does the I-function fit in with this brain = behavior model? I still have some questions regarding this function and its role in our daily lives.
Another topic that I have radically changed my viewpoints on is the notion that there is no one true reality. In the beginning of the class, I firmly contested that there had to be a reality because after all, we are all living in one connected world (whether we like that fact or not, it is true) and thus, there had to be one uniform reality. However, taking into account, the brain = behavior theory, then how can there really be on true reality? Each individual is going to process sensory input and other stimuli differently and in their mind every experience will be extremely personal and specific to them. Comparing experiences between individuals is futile, because each person will internalize the events on their own and experience them in a unique way. So, every individual out there has carved their own true reality in this world, therefore, it does seem truly improbable (to me at least) that we can make a blanket statement that there is one true reality. The only true reality must be then that there are an infinite number of personalized realities out there. Therefore, I believe that my viewpoints on this particular topic have dramatically changed from the start of class.
I also think Professor Grobstein brought up a valid and relevant point when he said that a good class raises more questions than it can answer. I really felt that way about the way this class was structured. Each week we would talk about topics and answer questions that we had, but then inevitably, more questions would be brought up. As the class is ending, I definitely have more questions concerning, the brain = behavior notion, I-function, multiple or uniform realities. And I like to think that this class opened my mind up to new ideas and new theories, thereby forcing me to really think and examine topics that I normally did not think about in my other science classes.

A look back...
Name: Student Contributor
Date: 2005-04-30 21:25:58
Link to this Comment: 15004

At the beginning of the course I was uneasy with the brain=behavior theory. I'm not completely comfortable with it now, but I'm a lot less uneasy. I think I was afraid that if brain=behavior then that left no room for the 'me' or the 'I.' I tend to think of my brain as separate from 'me' when really it IS 'me.' If brain=behavior, and I am my brain then I=behavior...that seems a lot less scary.

I also particularly enjoyed the discussions regarding mental illness and creativity. All too often people hide their mental illnesses for fear of being dubbed 'not normal' when in reality we owe a lot to these individuals - Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh, Herman Melville, to name a few. I had never thought about it that way and am really happy that this course opened my eyes to this important correlation.

Name: Elizabeth
Date: 2005-05-01 21:10:24
Link to this Comment: 15007

I very much enjoyed this semester’s discussion and thought provoking ideas. I can honestly say I will never look at the world around me in the same way. The teaching style used was very helpful in many ways. Many loose ends that I did not know existed in my mind were brought to light. I found confusion in many of my thoughts during the semester, however, clarity was often found through further thought. When brain=behavior was first suggested, I was not so much confused to the concept as to the way it would be explained. Many previous classes had touched on the subject but not in the same way. It was very enlightening to supplement previous knowledge with information and thoughts provoked from this class. Things just make more sense and in useful ways.

As I peruse past forum areas, I notice confusion and questions becoming clarity. Postings made by other students were extremely helpful in clearing up questions and generating questions of my own. I suppose lingering questions still do exist, but I now feel that I have enough background knowledge to generate thoughts that can eventually lead to answers.

My current reality as false as it is works for me. I enjoy the world as I see it and adhere to its demands, but do realize its downfalls. Maybe now that I might be able to understand these downfalls reality as I know it will become something else.

Looking Back
Name: Catherine
Date: 2005-05-01 21:43:23
Link to this Comment: 15008

I think it’s difficult to look back at my own comments without considering the rest of the discussion. As a class, our opinions changed and became more accepting of ideas. As for me personally, while I have learned a lot, my opinions haven’t changed much. However. I’d like to think of this as a continuing conversation, so it’s likely that my opinions now will not be the same several months from now. And, even though my thoughts haven’t greatly changed, they have evolved somewhat.

It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future with the continuing advances in scientific knowledge and understanding – aiming to “get it less wrong.”

Emily, the brain, and the little man inside your h
Name: Patrick We
Date: 2005-05-02 12:22:15
Link to this Comment: 15013

In reflecting on the work we've done this semester, I couldn't help but think back to our very first class days and the debate over whether Emily was right in saying that "the brain is wider than the sky," containing the sky "with ease and you beside." When I first came upon Emily's point, I was resistant to it. To me the idea that the whole world fits inside our head was kind of a weird thought that ran against my intuition that the world I see is around me and not inside my head. I thought of my perception more as looking through a window to see what's going on outside than a movie projection room.

The movie projection room model seems more isolated, more confined and more limited in it's capacity to get direct access to the 'real' world. To me, it is a model that feels like a trap. I picture this little man watching movies in the room in my head, unable to see what's really out there and relying only on the movies presented to him. While the man has some control over how the films are made (content, focus of the film, etc), he cannot actually see the physical realities happening outside the projection room.

If Emily is right (and I believe she is after this course), then the man in the head is the better way of thinking about perception. Perhaps a movie projeciton room is a little crude and a 'virtual reality simulator' would be a better way of thinking about it. This way, the man in the head that represents the I-function is wired into a VR machine that does everything it can to provide the experience of what is going on outside. This way of thinking about it is actually more comforting to me, as VR simulators provide a much more complete picture than a movie projected on a screen. Perhaps one way of thinking about the brain is that it is the greatest, most complete VR simulator our consciousness has access to.

Might there come a day when technology surpasses the brain in this capacity and a computer wired directly in the brain could bypass the 'frog brain' in a way that would give a more complete picture of reality? Something to think about that I know will be on my brain in the future.

Wrapping it up
Name: MK McGover
Date: 2005-05-02 13:06:02
Link to this Comment: 15014

When the question of agreeing with Emily was first posed, I had no problem agreeing with her. The idea that brain=behavior made perfect sense to me, and I had no angst about whether or not we had free will or there was such a thing as a soul. Either way was fine with me because I'm essentially content with the way I interact with the world, and whether or not we have a soul or free will doesn't change the way I interact, only my understanding of that interaction.

I viewed brain=behavior as an academic rather than personal question, but as the course progressed, and I realized more of the nuances of brain=behavior, I realized I did care how it turned out. My assumptions about some areas of behavior contradicted this equation, while others supported it. My understanding of brain & behavior did not always add up to my original conclusion that brain=behavior.

This was disconcerting to say the least, but toward the end of the course, everything seemed to come together a bit. The bipartite brain model explained alot of the questions I had around behavioral control and self. I flip-flopped about whether the I-function is in control or not, and have ended up with the idea that control is shared, and this is ok. The nervous system seems to have evolved in a way that maintains a fine balance between what the I-function needs to manage and what the "frog-brain" needs to manage. I'm personally ok with this because I feel that I can trust my frog-brain, but I think it's important to understand the frog-brain thoroughly, so that there are ways to help someone when the frog-brain becomes unreliable. The same also applies to the I-function.

This particularly came home to me during our discussion of depression, and whether it was a lack of will. Though I have never tried it, I have a feeling that if I told a teacher I would not be able to take a test or needed an extension on a paper because I had been depressed, that I would face stiffer opposition than if I made the same request due to, say, strep throat. I have a friend who has been having trouble in physics all semester, and she has been to get help from her professor repeatedly, but she still can't seem to do well on the tests. The professor basically told her she had a "psychological" problem, so her inability to understand was essentially her fault, not his. The complete lack of sympathy, and sometimes even impatience or animosity, for mental differences that permeates our society is dangerous and ignorant, and I feel that a class like this one should be a core requirement for all teachers & students.

conclusions about the rock
Name: liz bitler
Date: 2005-05-02 13:59:43
Link to this Comment: 15015

I've been thinking (entirely too much) about the concept of a rock having a more correct reality from Patrick's post. Then it struck as clearly as anything: it doesn't matter. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel:
"and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries"

the end is just the beginning....
Name: Leslie
Date: 2005-05-02 16:06:16
Link to this Comment: 15018

"To begin with, our perception of the world is deformed, incomplete…” (Claude Simon)

Ahhhh, I still don’t know if I’ve made up my mind about the Emily controversy. After our class I’d like to believe that Emily is right and that every single person has slightly different neuron compositions but there’s still a part of me that’s torn. In a general way I would agrees that everyone is different but there’s always the exception of identical twins. It is because of my interactions with my twin that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely agree with Emily.

I was looking back at my forum postings, specifically the ones that Prof. Grobstein had highlighted each Tuesday in class. I had to laugh at some of the things he’d pointed out. I had made some silly comments but I guess my posts were just my way of getting things less wrong. Had I not gotten them wrong in the first place I’d never have been able to grow and learn from them. At the time they seemed like legitimate ideas but it was only after rereading that I realized the follies in my thoughts… But it’s been through our discussion of the brain this semester that I’ve been able to critically rethink some of my past assumptions.

When our discussion commenced in January I felt grossly out of place. My high school biology experience had been basic to say the least and things just confused the hell out of me. I was frustrated like none other and wondered what I had gotten myself into but it was the frustration that forced me to do research on my own to even understand the most basic of concepts. That in itself will be invaluable when it comes to my future classes….

Anyway, possibly the concept that made my mind spin the most was the idea of color merely being our perception. I always assumed that things had definite color and that our minds and eyes were not an essential part in interpreting this. At first I was very hesitant in believing this and even now I still question it to some extent but it definitely made me reevaluate my view of the world.

… “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Name: Ayumi Hoso
Date: 2005-05-02 23:08:34
Link to this Comment: 15021

I felt comfortable with the notion that brain=behavior at the beginning of the semester simply because what controls our behavior is the personality and some social factors and they would be in our brain..where else would they be? Looking back the beginning of the semester, I realize that I had almost no knowledge of nervous systems. I was really surprised to know that it is just not simply our brains, but the great involvements of nervous system and I-function.
We spent so much time discussing about the reality, and one of the most memorable class activities was the “dot game”. I used to think that what we saw was what we’ve got, and I never thought that our eyes sometimes get “confused” (we saw a dot though it did not exist). Though I understand the perception varies among people, I still feel uncomfortable accepting that there is no one fixed reality. I still feel like I wish there were one fixed reality even though we humans all perceive it differently. Though I am not big fan of science, this class was very enjoyable and I gained a lot of new knowledge. This class helps to makes sense of myself and what we humans do in everyday life.

Final Thoughts
Name: Sonnet Lof
Date: 2005-05-03 01:22:12
Link to this Comment: 15024

I definitely learned a lot this semester. I came into this course with almost no background knowledge. The last biology course I took was about six years ago in high school. I think that despite the prior background in biology, the set up of this course has really been able to accomodate students of all majors, interests, etc. I personally feel that I have made much progress over the semester. I have learned that it is ok to think out of the box in an attempt to be less wrong. Not having the pressure of finding the final answer truly helped me to think deeper, look more closely, and most importantly, take the time to wonder. I have gone from questioning the relationship between brain and behavior to looking at what exactly the I-function does. The course has allowed me to grow as a student by not only Professor Grobstein's lectures, but also by the sharing of knowledge that has come by way of discussions, the online forum, and the web papers. This course has changed the way I perceive things. I no longer accept what is given at first sight, but instead look for what makes it appear the way I see it for the first time.

Arbitrary isn't always so bad
Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-05-04 20:03:18
Link to this Comment: 15040

As I have been working on my final paper, I am more inclined to believe that although mentioning my opinions about a topic in the paper seems arbitrary, a lot of the information I am finding from reputable sources also is in a way, quite arbitrary. I have read sources where people quote other people who also have controversial opinions, and so their conclusions are based on questionable previous ideas. This is of course a reflection on what we discuss often, about whether we can reliably talk about neurobiology as scientific and absolute, or if it is all a process towards trying to get it less wrong. I think this class has taught me that can be ok, that when fact and truth are difficult to pin down, speculation and observation isn't a bad way to go. So I feel more comfortable about the thought process, figuring it out on my own, rather than relying on scientific studies as infallible proof of the way things are.

Crime as a disease
Name: Jenna Rosa
Date: 2005-05-04 20:18:32
Link to this Comment: 15041

I found this really interesting quote:
We shall look on crime as a disease, and its physicians shall
displace the judges, its hospitals displace the galleys. Liberty
and health shall be alike. We shall pour balm and oil where
we formerly applied iron and fire; evil will be treated in charity,
instead of in anger. This change will be simple and
—Victor Hugo

This is really important when we are talking about managing deviance in society when deviance can be connected to brain defects. Because brain defects can be seen as a disease, the behaviors arising from them can also be seen as a disease, and should therefore be treated as such. When you argue for brain=behavior, you have to consider that there are social consequences to this point of view, some of which can be very progressive for institutions like the justice system. I realize I talk a lot about the implications for brain physiology and behavior as it relate to crime, but its really fun when it can be so applicable to parts of our society that may be quite outdated considering how much knowledge we accumulate all the time about what affects behavior. Its interesting to think maybe one day our society will manage criminal deviance as if it were a disease, treating it and rehabilitating offenders the way we would people in mental institutions or children with learning disablities. Perhaps even one day, treating deviance in this way will be as uncontroversial as these acceptable kind of rehabilitation practices as well.

Wrap Up
Name: Katherine
Date: 2005-05-05 01:10:08
Link to this Comment: 15045

At the start of the course, I came in with the general mindset that while the brain is a remarkably plastic and complex organ, it is generally the same in all human beings and our behavior is largely a product of socialization. I recognized differences in brain chemistry that would effect behavior, but I think I still gave more credit to social upbringing. However, our discussions this semester demonstrated that I didn't really have the brain/self/behavior all figured out; perhaps, I'm not even close. But if I've taken anything from this course, it's that everyone has to start somewhere, and "getting it less wrong" is probably a more effective way of approaching a situation than to expect to "get it right."

Wrapping It All Up!
Name: Jasmine Sh
Date: 2005-05-05 20:24:09
Link to this Comment: 15051

To be honest, at the beginning of the course, I couldn’t fully comprehend Emily Dickinson’s poem concerning the brain, which we have been discussing and bringing up various times throughout the course. I couldn’t really accept the literal meaning of the brain being larger than the sky and even containing the sky. Maybe I was naïve. But now, it makes complete sense, and I think the course was cleverly structured around that main theme because during this semester, I really learned how complex the brain really is and how it can create our world and our experiences in it (which is why it is wider than the universe and actually contains everything in the world). Before beginning this class, I had learned about brain function and associated disorders such as OCD, Depression, addiction, etc., but I never delved deeper into the brain structure and function behind everything. In addition, I was in denial that brain could equal behavior. There was an unsettling feeling with me, saying that it wasn’t possible for every behavior to be caused by the brain. I thought it was all our nature/personality that controlled how we behaved. I also thought there must have been some part of me that had free-will. However, after completing this course, I believe the brain does = behavior. My conclusion to this statement became definitive after I wrote my first web paper on brain death; I had concluded that when the brain is dead, the behavioral responses of the body cease functioning, so the brain (and nervous system) must = observed behavior. However, although the brain does = behavior, there is no statement saying that the brain doesn’t contain traits that define our personalities…which gets me into my next topic.

What defines our personality, and are brains of different people different? To go along with these topics, I also became very interested in how much humans are aware of. I knew there were always things we weren’t aware of (like we can’t hear certain frequencies), however, I wanted to know if my experience of what I was aware of was the same as my fellow peers (like whether or not we see the same colors). As we learned, no two people’s experiences are ever the same, due to different brain wiring etc., so I thought that was also annoying because I don’t want to be living in some false reality. And I also learned and finally actually believe the fact that we are a result of our genes and our society (nature/nurture) and that as a result of these, our brains are all different and so we all have different realities of the world. Some of us are aware of more things, some of us less. I think this is extremely fascinating because there is so much we humans can all learn from each other because we all view things/perceive things in different ways, and we are all creative in our own ways.

So then I accepted the fact that each of us was different, however, I wanted to know how humans were able to change themselves, or become changed as a result of society and life experiences. Obviously, as we grow and mature, we are made aware of more things and the realities of life, so I wanted to know how our brains changed as a result of that, and if we were able to induce change in ourselves? With science and the advancement of medicine, we have been able to change ourselves through surgeries (to cure problems) and as I wrote in a posting, through magnetic impulses to rewire the brain and relieve patients from depression. While science can produce these changes, I believe we also have the power to do so, but we must work hard at it and it probably takes lots of time.

Furthermore, one of the main topics of this class was that science only gets it less wrong, not correct. And I couldn’t agree with this any more. Throughout the course, we examined many different topics on brain function and as I learned more, I realized that Professor Grobstein had a very good point. Science never seemed to be getting anything “right.” Sure, scientists can come up with drugs for this and that, but those are just improvements. They can solve something and rule things out (getting it less wrong), but it seems like there will ALWAYS be more to solving the puzzles of the brain and the world in general. So, throughout the course, as I have learned SO much more about the brain/nervous system and the causes for our behavior, I realized that there is still so much to learn and so many things that there is no answer. To me, it is unsettling, but exciting, for I know that I will be able to keep questioning things, learning about it, making up stories about, etc. so I will learn from it (Active learning, topic of my second web paper!).

Overall, I thought this was an amazing course, and I’ve learned so much through my professor and peers (through lecture, class discussions, forum discussions and reading the web papers!). Everyone’s comments made me learn and think about things a lot more and in different ways. My mind has opened up to the vast knowledge and functioning of the brain and nervous system, and I have learned to question science to dig deep and attempt to find the answers to the puzzling questions we have examined in this course. It’s been a memorable semester, and many thanks to everyone!

Final thoughts
Name: Lauren Doc
Date: 2005-05-07 18:39:45
Link to this Comment: 15076

Looking back at the semester I found that many of my ideas about brain and behavior were solidified while others changed. For instance, at the beginning of the course I was one of the students who believed that the brain did equal behavior rather than the existence of a soul or other aspect controlling who and what we are. Now as I look at all of our previous discussions I am even more convinced that this is the case, however I have put more stock into the concept of an I-function as a less concrete component that makes us unique. I think that some of this change in my way of thinking is the realizations that I had concerning the definition of reality. The more I learned throughout the course the more I realized that reality could only be defined in the sense of one person or individual and what they perceive around them. I think that there are still many unanswered questions but that these discussions have created the opportunity to answer them on my own.

Name: Imran Sidd
Date: 2005-05-07 23:26:53
Link to this Comment: 15077

We began the year discussing brain = behavior, and truthfully, I was a bit skeptable. Now, having completed the course, I am convinced that the brain = behavior is the best possible theory regarding the explination of one's behavior. From what we have learned over the simester, the nervous system plays an encompassing role in our behavior, perception of reality and entire lives. Everything humans experience is related to the brain, because everything humans experience end with the brain. This concept seems extremely elementary now, but at the beginning of the semester, it didn't seem that out of the ordinary to question.

One aspect of the course that really entriged me was the concept of reality, and if there is actually is one. Obviously, we could not arrive to any solid conclusion to this topic, but what the discussion did accomplish, at least in respect to me, was generating thoughts about what the brain "creates" for us. If there is a "true" reality, ewhich I think there is, then it is very likely that the true reality is extremely different from our sense of it.

Overall, this semester not only taught me experimentaly tested theries about how the human brain works, but more importantly it taught me to think differently. It taught me to think more deeply, and to think about things in a way that is not as influenced by my self generated perceptions of reality. However, as learned over the semester, no matter how hard we try, humans will always be influenced by our own sense of reality, and we must continue to strive to be less influenced in our thinking. At least in regard to the natural sciences.

Final Thoughts
Name: Sarah Mala
Date: 2005-05-08 18:14:53
Link to this Comment: 15083

Looking back on this semester I have really learned a lot. I find it completely interesting how the many different people in our class has influenced my learning. Everyones postings and discussion in class has helped me to get closer to getting it less wrong. I especially like how in the beginning we decided it is getting it less wrong rather than getting it more right. I now feel that the brain and body are not separate and are connected very closely. The brain effects the body and vice versa in ways that we truly cannot explain, but we can find correlations.

Thank you again to everyone in the class, I learned so much from all your thoughts. I really enjoyed this class and am going to miss it. Have a great summer everyone!

Name: Amelia
Date: 2005-05-09 20:42:35
Link to this Comment: 15094

It seems as though everyone is reflecting on the semester, so I guess I will too:
To be entirely honest, a lot of what was discussed in class was somewhat over my head. For example, when we were discussing the retina and eye function, the layers (literally and metaphorically) are so complex; each is filled with neurons, which in turn all have a purpose. Until this semester, I do not think I have truly contemplated the fact that every cell/molecule/atom is a part of or working for something greater. Just knowing that everything is related within the body really does boggle my mind. I never thought of the nervous system having to adjust the eye lens, and not one's I-function. I guess it is involuntary, but you're still telling yourself to look in a certain direction.
One great aspect of the class is that we were all there to learn for the sake of understanding and interest, not just for a test. Each class taught me something new that changed how I had once perceived the topic. Some of the questions brought up in class and on the forum have only made me more curious about our brains and bodies. The reason I feel even more lost in the world of neurobiology (than before the class) is because I have learned so much, that my own questions are endless. I think it's true that the more you know, the more you desire to know, and that can be really hard to grasp, but simultaneously, it isn't a bad feeling.
Regardless of one's major, I think this class can bring up questions about life and how it is lived in general, because we use our brains in everyday tasks, but now we can almost look a little more "behind the scenes" at what's going on.
Also, I think that the web papers are a great idea (although I may have trouble with the pasting format). I have learned so much just from reading other peoples'- it's actually been an intriguing educational experience!

My Existential Crisis
Name: Kate Matne
Date: 2005-05-12 11:41:21
Link to this Comment: 15129

In all honesty, at the beginning of this course I felt annoyed by the breadth of the issues we were grappling with. I found it frustrating to talk and talk about whether we have free will. I thought it was pointless and unproductive to argue over questions philosophers have grappled with for centuries, forever, because I knew we would never agree. Furthermore, I knew that no matter what I could intellectually conclude from our discussions wouldn’t necessarily change my perception since I often chose to believe things about reality for reasons I can’t logically explain. And so, annoyed at the hopelessness of reaching conclusions I thought I wanted to come away with concrete understandings of action potential propagation for example rather than debate over existential questions. And towards the beginning of the course I often got bogged down in the details of concrete neurobiological mechanisms.

About a week ago I was lying in the grass by Haverford’s nature trail after a run, and I guess I had what would be called an existential moment. They have hit me periodically since a very young age. Basically I suddenly feel really shocked that I have no idea where I came from and, in fact, no one does. What struck me this time though that I hadn’t really identified as part of the shock in previous existential moments is that we proceed, everyone proceeds, as though we knew what we are. Not to undermine study of details because I believe ignorance is dangerous (as an example, how they use to kill epileptics believing they were possessed,) but at the same time it seems crazy to me that we (I) get wrapped up in all these details and the big question of what all of this is gets ignored.

Because I still accept that my beliefs about reality are subjective I didn’t really change my perception of reality over the course. Reflecting on how I experienced the course though I’m grateful to recognize my reaction. Because on second consideration I am really grateful that those questions (of who we are, what this is) is finally addressed in a class at Bryn Mawr. And I think my reactivity is telling about my own sense of overwhelm in confronting my own existential crisis as I enter adulthood.

Final post
Name: Beverly
Date: 2005-05-12 22:33:20
Link to this Comment: 15141

At the beginning of the semester, I came into his course expecting to be told how exactly the nervous system relates to behavior. Initially, I found myself to be frustrated by the discussion format of the course, but after a short time, I started to appreciate the opportunity that we had to reflect upon what we know about the nervous system and how it correlates to what we think we know about behavior. This philosophical approach seemed to soften everyone's preconceived judgments about behavior and actually made us fairly uncomfortable, yet this discomfort is a reflection of our willingness to change: we finally started to see that science is not always about getting it right, but about getting it less wrong.

Thanks to Prof. Grobstein for serving as a guide for us during this unique learning experience.

Name: Christine
Date: 2005-05-13 00:01:06
Link to this Comment: 15145

I came into this course thinking that I would learn about the different parts of the brain and how they affect what we do. I found that at this point in my learning, the specific areas of the brain are not as important as the big picture, which to me centers around the difference between the "frog brain" and the neocortex. I would still like to learn about what exactly it is about the human brain that makes it so special. Although you can show how advanced animals like dolphins and primates are, it is still incomparable to the complexity of what humans have created and destroyed on the Earth.

final thoughts
Name: Samantha T
Date: 2005-05-13 10:34:28
Link to this Comment: 15155

Now that the class has come to an end and I look back to reflect on the past 12 weeks, I can remember my expectations at the start of the class. I admit that when I found out there would be no textbook; my wallet wasn't the only thing that was confused. I expected memorization and long tests, but instead I received what i believe to be a deeper understanding of a subject that is highly controversial. I now realize that the relationship between neurobiology and behavior cannot be understood through a textbook, since there are so many theories to go by.

My favorite part about the class was learning about all of the mysterious functions of the nervous system (the blind spot, phantom pains and consequences of genetics).

I now take with me a new method for approaching science. Less as fact, and more as theory.

Good luck to the class of 2006 next year!

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