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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 2006 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

Welcome to the forum
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-01-17 09:18:35
Link to this Comment: 17641

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.

No Mind
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-01-18 17:35:58
Link to this Comment: 17651

In class yesterday, you argued that all we are is a brain. If this is so, what about organisms that don’t have brains? Do they exist without a brain? Are they not there? Also, what about organisms that do have brains? Do their brains have the same capacity as human brains to be ‘wider than the sky’?

I was also interested in what happens when an organism dies. If we are our brains and there is no mind/spirit component to our existence, what happens when we die? Religion and belief in the afterlife seems to be founded on the existence of some essence or soul that exists without body and, therefore, without brain. Yet, how can one measure mind/spirit? Where does it reside? Is it tangible in any way? In class we discussed methods of measuring thought but it seems to me that mind/spirit would be even more difficult to quantify.

The problem of dualism seems to be a clash of science and religion. As this is a biology class, I can understand wanting to eliminate the intangible; cut the mind out of dualism and concentrate on the observable brain. Perhaps the mind/spirit is merely an invention of the human brain, a fabrication to cope with mortality. Maybe we are just our brains. I don’t really know, but I am reluctant to let go of the mind/spirit. How can we know if it is a fabrication? Perhaps we just do not have the right microscopes yet.

Name: Claude Hef
Date: 2006-01-18 18:24:09
Link to this Comment: 17654

I was looking at one of the older web forums about the discussion of brain equals behavior. There was an abundance of evidence given to support the brain=behavior proposition, such as the argument that activity in the brain is visible in MRIs. One person who opposed this proposition argued that eating disorders show that brain cannot equal behavior. The person who wrote this made their argument based on the fact that people with eating disorders put mind over matter to resist biological urges to eat.

Why is it, then, that some people are more able to control their behavior than others? For instance, someone with an eating disorder behaves in a very disciplined way. This person forces themselves to take in very limited amounts of foods, and perhaps to exercise rigorously and often. Another person, however, may have very little self control. He may be highly emotional and unable to resist pressures. Is he a “weak” person because he cannot control his behavior or does brain truly equal behavior? It is difficult to explain the inconsistencies that exist in different people’s behavior. I’m not sure that either brain equals behavior or brain does not equal behavior can answer this question. Could brain equals behavior a little more in some of us than in others?

descartes and dualism
Name: em madsen
Date: 2006-01-18 20:16:38
Link to this Comment: 17657

i'm intrigued by the parts of the emily dickinson poem we did not discuss in class, especially the last stanza, and especially in regards to descartes's view of the mind and the soul. in class, dualism was brought up and then let fall by the wayside, but i don't think that dickinson would approve:

The Brain is just the weight of God -
For - Heft them - Pound for Pound -
And they will differ - if they do -
As syllable from Sound -

is dickinson saying something kind of spinozan here?
that the brain and the soul are double aspects of God?
i'm not sure. i find her difficult to follow sometimes, and here she does not even mention the body or soul... just the brain. is she saying that since god can be contained in the brain, there is no god without the brain? just like the sky?

liberal arts
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-01-18 21:39:13
Link to this Comment: 17659

As a high school senior, I knew I wanted to apply to a liberal arts college, that it was something I agreed with-to learn about all kinds of things and that by learning different things, you actually understood each one of them better. And that they were sort of interrelated to begin with.

And I knew Bryn Mawr was a liberal arts college, and I took cross-disciplinary classes in my first two years. And even the ones that weren't would delve into other departments at certain times-the (cultural) anthropology of biologists, for example. I took C-sems and cross listed classes.

But I feel like I'm in for an extra dose this semester. My physics professor this morning spent a good chunk of time pointing out similarities between physics and art. Yesterday we looked at philosophy, literature, culture, and religion in terms of how they worked with biology and psychology for the course.

I was even a bit surprised by how many people (like me) were not biology or psychology majors nor taking the class for a science requirement.

I've always enjoyed having a liberal arts education, but I guess I must have been taking it for granted for a while. I also wonder if this explicit liberal arts emphasis has always been in a large proportion of classes? Or if a tendancy to divide everything up into separate peices is in the process of being reversed?

the brain
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-01-18 22:01:42
Link to this Comment: 17660

I am looking forward to this course. As a freshmen, I am just beginning to be exposed to all the different courses and opportunities available to me here at Bryn Mawr. Toward the end of last semester I felt a little overwhelmed. I have always had an interest in science, but at the same time I want to explore beyond labs and multiple choice questions. What's more, I was unsure about how engaging Biology courses beyond Intro Bio would be. Yesterday's lecture was exciting because I could really see how this course will involve the "science" of biology but also excercise other skills.

Is the brain all there is?
Name: Tamara
Date: 2006-01-19 09:33:26
Link to this Comment: 17680

I was very intrigued by the poem we read in class. It got me to thinking about other things that we cannot really determine for sure about life. Is the brain really all that stands between us and oblivion? It seems almost frightening to imagine it that way. I think maybe that is a part of why religion is so prevalent, and why many people who are initially not religious become so later in life. The belief that there is some greater force "out there" is comforting.

Dickinson's view of God
Name: Christin M
Date: 2006-01-19 11:48:29
Link to this Comment: 17683

If we use the brain to quantify the sky, do we also use the brain to quantify God? Isn't God by definition unquantifiable and omnipotent? Doesn't God contain our brain and not the other way around? Or is it both? We contain God in our brain and God's brain (if there is such a thing) contains us.

Classics as a Science?
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-01-19 13:16:42
Link to this Comment: 17686

I was thinking today, as we were talking about Scientific Method, about the research papers that I have written for Classics and Classical Archaeology. More than often, these papers start off with an observation. Then, I find myself searching through loads and loads of articles and research, reading through theories, and experimenting with those theories in my mind. I try to see how those theories might work, as well as test out any theories that I may come up with, in accordance with what is known about the history and the culture of the time.

As I work through the material, I find different theories being boosted and refuted. When I think I have a better theory, I make a new observation and must start over, sometimes from scratch.

So in a way, is this a science? Is everything a science, in a way?

Just a thought!


week 1
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-01-19 13:33:51
Link to this Comment: 17687

Glad to see the forum already bubbling. Everyone is free to leave whatever thoughts they've been having given our first week's discussions. If though you need something to get you started, how about your current position on the brain=behavior issue and why? or your thoughts about science as observations/summaries (stories?)? or what about the assertion that everyone is "born a scientist"? If brain=behavior, what would that imply about the brain?

The Big Question: "brain = behavior?"
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-01-19 14:37:22
Link to this Comment: 17688

It is hard to say that the brain and behavior are equal on a synonymous level, rather that one is a result of the other and vise versa. The relationship between the two is that of cause and effect and how changes to the brain result in a change of behavior. The level on which the brain and behavior are equal can be observed in two separate and distinctive ways: first the brain behaves on its own and second, physically noted behavior is a result of changes to the behavior of the brain. In this case behavior and the brain are equal only because of the overlapping similarities and pathways between the two. The brain and behavior therefore are not equal on the same level but are a function of cause and effect. It is also interesting to note what we decide to do as people to cause changes in the brain and its behavior, which in turn results in changes to our physical behaviors. One example of this idea is drug use and addiction. Why is the brain so sensative to chemical dependancy to alter behaviors? Can you as a person override the chemical tendencies towards a certain behavior, maybe induced by environmental chemical stimuli?

Brain= Behavior?
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-01-19 16:32:19
Link to this Comment: 17691

In response to Danielle’s posting and The New York Times article “Can Brains See Depression?”, it is evident that there is a direct correlation between the brain and behavior. From a scientific standpoint, this is demonstrated by alterations in the brain and the subsequent alterations in behavior. However, this is only understood in a fraction of all psychological disorders, those usually involving trauma or brain damage. For example, the article cites damage to the hippocampus part of the brain as the precursor to amnesia. It is still unknown how exactly the brain impacts other disorders, such as ADD, bipolar disorder, and depression. In these cases, the answer may not be as simple as locating the injured region of the brain. Apart from abnormalities in the brain, can these disorders be attributed to environmental cause(s)? Do they develop progressively, rather than suddenly due to a traumatic event? Is there evidence for these conditions to be congenital?

Only brain, nothing more?
Name: Trinh Truo
Date: 2006-01-19 20:55:38
Link to this Comment: 17692

It is difficult for me take in the notion that there is no soul or something more to us and our behavior than our brain because I have always been accustomed to thinking that there is such a thing as a soul. Although we cannot prove that there is a soul doesn't mean there might not be such a thing. To say you don't acknowledge that something exists still does not change the truth about its existence or nonexistence. Also u can never say that something does not exist absolutely without a doubt because our knowledge at this point is finite and we might simply not have enough evidence at this point. It's sort of like saying "nobody can understand me" when you havent met everyone in this world yet to really find out that there is no one out there that can understand you. A statement about nonexistence is difficult to be true beause it always leaves behind doubt. It might be safer to say something does exist but even that is still vulnerable to fallibilty.

Two Thoughts
Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-01-19 23:25:08
Link to this Comment: 17693

Two thoughts:
1. Even though this thought might be more appropriate for a theological discussion I thought I'd throw it out there. During class, I kept wondering how, if Dickinson's approach to the nature of the brain is correct, the brain came into existence? Certainly there are evolutionary explanations for such a question, but I hardly find them satisfying. I guess, essentially, I'm wondering what the point of a brain is at all.
2. In response to both Prof. Grobstein and Emily's posts, I'd even go one step further about the born scientist question. I would go so far as to say that everything we do as humans is part of the Scientific Inquiry. It seems to me that much of what we as humans do is to try to puzzle meaning out of our lives (summarize observations) and make decisions (draw understanding from the summaries). I recognize that this is a broad sweeping generalization, but after all, aren't I just posting this to test my summary of human existence and see if any new observations are made by everyone's responses??? Haha.

are brain and behavior reallly the same?
Name: Rachel Fre
Date: 2006-01-20 10:41:21
Link to this Comment: 17700

Although my initial thought is to say that brain=behavior, there are many times when we can't explain our behavior by mechanisms within the brain. For example, people who malinger (exaggerate or fabricate symptoms due to some identifiable external reward)show no abnormalities within their brain. In fact, those in the neurology/psychology field have no idea why some people malinger and others don't; the reason being because through PET scans, CAT scans, and MRIs, there are no differences between the brains of malingerers and non-malingerers. What then is causing someone to malinger if it's not their brain? Does this mean that brain and behavior are not always the same?

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-01-20 11:21:52
Link to this Comment: 17702

I am very interested to progress in this class and to expand upon this brain=behavior idea. At the moment I am having a great difficulty accepting that the brain is all there is and that there is no other part (a mind/soul like Descartes?) that influences the way we behave. I think it is hard to be within my body and to be aware of myself and my thoughts and to (I feel) be in control of what I do and say and to believe that all of these things are simply caused by the neurons activating in my brain. However I know that over the course of this class my ideas will be challenged and changed every class and I am very much looking forward to that.

Name: Sylvia Nch
Date: 2006-01-20 14:39:14
Link to this Comment: 17705

From the two days that I have been in this class it seems very interesting and Im excited for whats to come as I continue with this course. For now I guess, I am not conviced entirely that brain=behavior but I think as we continue to discuss this matter I will understand the relationship between the two better. So far from past readings, I know that changes in the brain can produce changes in behavior but Im wondering can changes in behavior produce changes in the brain's chemistry?

Name: Astra
Date: 2006-01-20 19:10:07
Link to this Comment: 17707

My problem with the brain=behavior theory seems to be different from the common issue that has been stated. I have no problem with the idea that neurons, and more importantly the synapses between neurons, are part of a complex system that drives human behavior (keeping in mind that memory drives many behaviors, and memory is a function of synaptic connections). My problem lies in the thought that, biologically, neurons and synapses are all that is driving behavior - such an arrangement would lead to a rather reactive behavior - all behavior would be reacting to the world based upon previous reactions (though now that I write that down, such an idea doesn't sound too bad). I'm currently reading The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, which brings up the idea of the need to replicate our own genome as a controller of behavior. I'm having trouble merging that idea with the idea of brain=behavior.


Name: Courtney
Date: 2006-01-21 10:59:48
Link to this Comment: 17714

In doing a lot of thesis research on depression, I've been thinking about brain chemistry. It seems like whenever people reference neurochemistry in class it's implied that these levels are set genetically, from before birth, and exist as static truths creating our personalities. But is it necessarily true that they're so consistent? Can we allow for experiences (in childhood, or even beyond) that impact and continually alter chemical levels? If we use medication (a set of chemicals) to alter neurochemical levels, why don't we put more emphasis on the ways other chemicals (namely, food) impact neurochemistry, and therefore mood?

Language as a behavior
Name: Suzanne La
Date: 2006-01-21 12:17:21
Link to this Comment: 17715

The brain=behavior concept brought me to thinking about the connection between brain damage and language disorders. For example, aphasia, an impairment that occurs when the brain is damaged by injury or strokes. The alteration of the brain causes a change in language comprehension, which leads me to put language in the behavior category, although I never really thought of it that way before. I've mostly associated it with biological functions like breathing.

jumble of reactions
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-01-21 13:49:20
Link to this Comment: 17717

In reaction to Courtney's post and what we've been talking about in class--this discussion of the "brain=behavior" brings about an important question of innateness. While I'd rather just talk about monism vs dualism rather than the brain "equaling" behavior, when you do take a monist point of view (my own), and say that behaviors are a direct effect of the brain and and nothing else, you are not saying that the brain's structure and patterns of activity are innate and unchangeable/unaffected by the environment. Someone else asked in a post whether behavior can change the brain and it has been proven many times that it does. I can't think of any good examples right now, but I know that there are many in relation to learning. But I feel like when people talk about the biological basis of things they tend to assume innateness, and genetic predispositions, when the gene by environment interaction is so strong and your environment and your behavior do in fact affect your brain chemistry. (But of course on a basic level everything is controlled by your genes--hence why it annoys me when people ask if something is genetic or not. What about the question do genes=behavior?)

And as we start discovering the biological basis of more and more behaviors it sometimes gets dangerous to say that since those things are "natural" then they are somehow justified or good in some way. For instance, there has been a lot of research on the brains of psychopaths and how they are different. If they do in fact have a different brain structure or different brain activity, does that mean that they are somehow vindicated? This goes along with what we were saying about character deficiencies vs. alterations in the brain. I believe that your character lies in your brain, so is it really one of the other?

And with this new wave of trying to find the source of everything in the brain--obviously the root of every behavior lies somewhere in the brain, we just might not have tools advanced enough to see it. But when we do finally see where everything originates in the brain, then what? Are we ultimately going to try to alter the brain and make everyone identical?

But all in all, I do consider myself a monist--material things alter material things. This it he problem I have with Descartes' dualist argument--that the soul (an immaterial thing) somehow has an effect on the brain and the person's behavior (material things). As far as I know he never explains this besides saying that the pituitary gland is the "seat of the soul" and somehow it directs brain activity from there. So maybe as monists we're just saying that the whole brain is the "seat of the soul" and that the only external forces it is affected by are its environment and not a higher power or spirit.

Dickinson and Brain = Behavior
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-01-21 17:31:04
Link to this Comment: 17721

I have to admit that at first I was not so fond of this forum idea. But so many interesting ideas and opinions have been brought up so far. Kudos to everyone. I just have a couple quick points to make.

The first is concerning the Dickinson poem:

What really struck me about the poem after looking over it a few more times are the metaphors she used.
The Brain - is wider than the Sky . . .
The Brain is deeper than the sea . . .
The Brain is just the weight of God . . .

The sky, the sea, and God. All of these can be seen as extremes in our world. Is there anything wider than the sky, deeper than the sea, or weightier than God? I personally think not. These extremes all allude to the idea of the power every one of us has between our ears. Our brains are truly amazing. Just think of all the knowledge that we can take in and put back out. The things we can do to manipulate our situations and solve problems.

The second is on brain = behavior:

I do not believe that brain = behavior and that’s the end of the story. Brain = behavior to me would be the equivalent of moving your arm. You know that constricting certain muscle groups will cause your arm to raise or lower. I do not think the brain is that predictable. There are too many variations in the general illnesses concerning the brain to jump to that conclusion. For example in a previous psychology class I had, we discussed the possibility of a brain tumor causing an eating disorder. In the case we were studying, all the evidence led to the same conclusion. But, there are many people who have eating disorders who clearly do not have tumors. So what exactly is going on? Different changes in the brain are leading to the same behavior.

Name: Perrin Bra
Date: 2006-01-21 19:23:59
Link to this Comment: 17722

On Thursday’s class, somebody mentioned a distinction between behavior and thinking. In a class on neurobiology, I think that such subtle diction is very important. My question is—what exactly constitutes a thought? If, as Astra said, cognitive behavior consists of a process involving neurons and synapses, can reflexes and other such unconscious movements be included in the act of thinking? Is a Freudian slip merely a “mistake” that a neuron made or is it something more?

Reflectiojns on lecture
Name: Liz Patere
Date: 2006-01-21 19:42:01
Link to this Comment: 17723

I suppose I do not like Dickinson's idea that the brain can contain the sky. I have always felt that human judgment is clouded by perception. We think we understand the sky but really all we can see is a tiny fragment shown to us through the visible light spectrum.

I am also slow to accept that the thinking portion of the brain is entirely one with the rest of the nervous system. Because facial recognition was so important to human survival, the brain can "see" faces in things that do not have a face (flowers, doors, burned pieces of toast). We pull away a hand from a hot stove before we know it is hot or feel pain. This is behavior but it unconsicous. Does that make a difference? Does thinking count as a behavior if you can't see any external signs of it? Does the seeing of the face count as behavior or only the reaction we show to it? These questions are why I feel a better defination needs to exist between brain and the rest of the nervous system and how this unit correlates to behavior. Do we want to simply look at them as one unit, that generate behavior together or look at the interaction of units and see how that impacts behavior. I suppose I am more likely to feel we are only the thinking portion of the brain. Just as neurons relay the outside world, the conscious brain tells us what those nerves are sensing. It can create artificial stimulation, like in a dream that we think is reality. However, at the moment that is the only reality and does not matter what your neurons sense from the external environment.

What came first the brain or the environment?
Name: Whitney Mc
Date: 2006-01-21 20:33:29
Link to this Comment: 17724

Through the past class discussions I have had some issues grasping the concept that there is a brain and the brain alone. This difficulty possibly stems from the fact that I am very religious among other factors. But if there is only the brain what made the brain the way it is? What contributed to then environmental factors that caused evolution of the brain? There would have to be outside elements. For example, there would have to be an environmental element telling one of the first men of earth that he needed heat and protection, therefore leading to the discovery of fire and the development shelter. And yes, I know the world is viewed different for everyone and the way one perceives the sky or the earth or the universe for that matter varies as well but I feel each persons understanding of those things are basically the same. Lastly, if there is only the brain then what the mind is, is it just created by the brain as well? I apologies for having such an unorganized response but this just reflects how my mind is working on this topic.

Name: Mariya Sim
Date: 2006-01-21 20:43:14
Link to this Comment: 17725

I’m one of the 14 who don’t think that brain=behavior. However, I don’t consider myself as part of either the monist’s or the dualist’s camps that Gray was talking about. Instead, I’d like to suggest a third way of looking at the problem of the relationship between the physical brain and the “something more”/soul/spirit. Both before and after Descartes, Christian thought conceptualized the human being as a holistic creature. Descartes sharply separates between the brain as a mere physical machine transporting signals and the soul/spirit as an autonomous entity “residing” in the brain, but not truly being a part of it. Other Christian thinkers, starting with Paul, argued that the physical and the spiritual are so intertwined in the human being that they cannot be separated without doing damage to the whole. They spoke about the soul embodied not in the sense of it occupying a hotel room for an x number of years, but in the sense of their deep and unbreakable interrelatedness and interdependency. It was this holistic understanding that made the doctrine of resurrection so crucial – the body cannot exist without the soul, and the soul (even if it can in some sense exist without the body) cannot truly be what it is meant to be. Without going into too much theology, I would like to suggest that this understanding of the body/soul relationship is perfectly consistent with the evidence that changes in the brain alter behavior, that thinking takes time, and in general that “spiritual” phenomena are physically observable. To say that we as human beings exist in two worlds is not enough: the two worlds become one in us.

In relation to this understanding of the brain/spirit relationship, I have some questions:

1)If we think of behavior as not only that which is observable from the outside but as everything on the inside, how much weight can we give to self-observation vs. the “objective” outside observation. What I mean is this. When someone presents us with the results of an MRI or some other test, we tend to accept these results, since they are something “verifiable” and “scientific”. However, when someone talks about their inner experiences, we tend to be skeptical about his/her self-reflecting assertions. This is particularly true in the cases involving psychical/religious experiences: that is, we tend to believe that some changes in the brain took place but doubt the person’s assertions about the truth/validity of these experiences. If human brain is arguably one (or one of the few) things in the universe capable of thinking about itself, why don’t we give some weight to its self-reflections, as well as to the “hard” observable data?
2)While thinking certainly takes time, how would the brain=behavior person explain the following. In the online experiment based on Donders’, the mere thinking about black and white squares takes a sizeable chunk of time. But we all are familiar with the “revelatory” moments of flash-like insight, when we come up with the most brilliant ideas in less than a second. Doesn’t the sharp difference in the “quality” of thought suggest a presence of a third element: that is, brain, time, “something more”? Or do we want to explain it in terms of our subconscious thinking breaking through to the conscious level and, therefore, taking less time, since the thought was already mostly developed in our unconscious?
3)If, as was suggested in the forum, our behavior is patterns developed to ensure survival, how do we explain conscious self-destructive behavior: I’m not talking about eating disorders or addictions, but about acts we consider brave/laudable: like going to death to defend your ideas or sacrificing your life for another person. How can that be explained in terms of brain=behavior?

I have more questions, but this posting is already dragging on forever – I’m sorry! I’m looking forward to exploring these and other issues together!

Oh, and in re: to “getting it less wrong”. I have an enormous respect for the current developments in neurobiology, but sometimes I feel that the current feeling of “we’ve got the necessary tools to prove that all we are is a bunch of neurons” is similar to Newtonian physicists’ thinking that they’ve got the laws of the universe figured out. I think that our conceptual, our factual, and our technological knowledge, especially in neurobiology, is in the state of infancy, so much so that we cannot even speak of the “tendency” of evidence leading us to think that matter is the only thing in us. And this is why I like Professor Grobstein’s insistence on being wrong and continuing to make new observations.

Re: Classics as a Science
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-01-22 02:25:33
Link to this Comment: 17728

I think that, using the explanation given in class for the scientific method with the caveat that anything that uses the scientific method is a science, you could probably classify just about any major as a science. The question then is whether or not the scientific method is the only thing determining what is and isn't a science.

Storytelling and Science
Name: Nancy
Date: 2006-01-22 11:38:28
Link to this Comment: 17730

Not to depart too much from the current discussion in the forum...but in trying to negotiate the role of an English major who has completed her dreaded science requirement in a course on neurobiology, I am drawn to the idea of science as a process of storytelling and "trying to get it less wrong". As I was reading for a film class this weekend, I began to realize that the preoccupations of the humanities--specifically vision, life, reality, movement, and death in my film readings--are not so very different from the subject matter on the syllabus of this course. So, rather than considering myself a non-scientific outsider with little working knowledge of the brain (or neurons, or chemicals, or...), I prefer to believe I am learning and participating in a different version of the same story we tell in the humanities.

some thoughts
Name: Lori Lee
Date: 2006-01-22 15:20:26
Link to this Comment: 17732

I guess this might just be something of my own curiosity, but discussing the scientific method in class seemed to hint at the notion that nothing is certain. I agree with prof. Grobstein that scientific thinking is a summary of observations, which can be revised by new observations, which make implications about the original observations, but then is nothing really certain? Not gravity nor death? But off that subject, I find it very interesting that a material structure, which is a concept of the brain, can be used to physically change the brain in order to alter behavior.

Theory vs Data
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-01-22 19:02:03
Link to this Comment: 17736

Hi everyone, here’s a brief intro about how I will post and a not so brief intro about who I am.

First of all, I will try to make some sort of argument in all of my posts. These arguments may or may not have something to do with what other people are saying. To balance this out I may devote a section at the beginning of my posts to respond directly to what others have said. I will try to include the exact quotation that I am speaking to. “***” will signal my switch between free response and argument. (This is an embarrassing amount of trivial information. I am so sorry.) So, here goes:

liberal arts
Name: Erin (
Date: 01/18/2006 21:39
Link to this Comment: 17659

…I knew I wanted to…learn about all kinds of things and that by learning different things, you actually understood each one of them better…[My] physics professor this morning spent a good chunk of time pointing out similarities between physics and art. Yesterday we looked at philosophy, literature, culture, and religion in terms of how they worked with biology and psychology…I also wonder if this explicit liberal arts emphasis has always been in a large proportion of classes? Or if a tendancy to divide everything up into separate peices is in the process of being reversed?

A professor at Haverford once told me that Haverford as an institution must do everything it can to resist the fad of “interdisciplinary education” that he claimed was choking liberal arts faculty. He said the trick is to find ways to cram faculty back into their narrow disciplines, for instance to encourage a sociologist to work with another sociologist rather than to work with a classicist. In his mind interdisciplinary work is very valuable but only if it is done by people who have actually mastered multiple disciplines. In his opinion, these people are the exception, so expecting people to do ad-hoc interdisciplinary work will only result in a dilution of their career. Is it better for faculty and better for students if faculty stick to what they are good at? Should Haverford and Bryn Mawr cancel their interdisciplinary initiatives and funnel those resources into strengthening (hardening?) the “narrow” disciplinary focus of academic departments? I’m not sure.


I’m a sociology major at Haverford and I’m interested in two things: first, I fancy myself a theorist in an empiricist world. This means I privilege theory alongside data (observation), but I never privilege data over theory. In my opinion, there is no such thing as objective data, if objective means that the data is somehow free from the shackles of an (arbitrary?) theoretical interpretation. Because I believe observation never speaks for itself, I think Paul made a mistake in his lesson on the scientific method.


In Paul’s diagram the replacement of a summary of observations is always preceded by a new observation. This is an inaccurate depiction of some instances of scientific progress. Indeed, some of the most important scientific progressions saw the relationship reversed: a revised summary of observations (a new theory) led to new observations. Einstein is the perfect example; his theoretical innovations occurred without any data pointing the way. This is not to say that data is unimportant. Data will always trump theory in the end. But in the beginning, theory may sit at the throne.

I admit that I do not have a commanding knowledge of the history of scientific revolutions, thus I cannot very well defend the claim that sometimes theory (heroically) precedes observations. As a student I have been “raised” on these beliefs within my discipline (A favorite quote of my advisor is: “Data is the last refuge of scoundrels”). This is true partly because sociology is a very undeveloped scientific discipline. There are hardly any common standards for theory falsification, thus arguing from data doesn’t win over the profession. It leaves a niche for “pure” theorists who don’t do observations or experiments. I think there’s such a niche in all disciplines. Do y’all think “pure” theorists have a legitimate role to play in scientific progress? The empiricist culture of our society has it out for theorists. Even in sociology, many journals will not accept papers that do not have at least some data in them.

Thanks for being patient with my long post. I’ll make a last little cryptic remark here. As a self-described theorist I’m interested in theory plain and simple, from any discipline. I want to do theoretical synthesis using the tool of general theory, that is, theoretical frameworks that span a wide range of objects of inquiry. In this class I will be interested in developing a single functional theory that, with the help of a methodology called “nesting,” can be applied to biological systems, social systems, and cultural systems. That sounds crazy. I’m Brian Fellows.

Some arguments against brain=behavior
Name: Claude Hef
Date: 2006-01-22 20:23:35
Link to this Comment: 17738

After reading everybody’s remarks this week, I was starting to lean towards the brain=behavior side of this debate, until I began my reading for Anthropology. In the book The Bridge to Humanity by Walter Goldschmidt, a number of excellent points are made regarding how “culture” is transmitted. Many of his statements have much broader implications than anthropology, particularly a section on language. As Goldschmidt explains, language and perception influence one another. Color is a useful way to illustrate this point. In the English language, there are many different words to describe color: black, white, yellow, purple, green, red, blue, orange, to name a few. Obviously, this doesn’t even begin to get into more specific shades of colors. In other languages, such as that spoken by the Himba, a tribe in Namibia, have only five; the word “serandu” describes red, orange, and pinks while “zoozu” describes dark color such as greens, blues, purples, browns,etc. Even when the Himba were taught English words and colors, they could not accurately comprehend the meaning of these words because their perceptions were influenced by the simpler two word color scheme ( for more on this). The point being, that if brain=behavior, how can this occur? The language (behavior) is not predetermined by the brain. This phenomenon cannot be explained as a genetically influenced difference because there may be descendants of the Himba who live in America and think of color in terms of the English system. The explanation that Goldschmidt presents is that things such as language (and perception), the behavior, are influenced by what people are taught culturally, not by physical features within the brain.

Goldschmidt also mentions the fact that people cannot accurately express their emotions and thoughts. If brain=behavior, and emotions and thoughts are within the brain, how come we cannot articulate them through the act of speaking? If thoughts and emotions are to be defined as behavior, than this further indicates that brain cannot equal behavior, because the only the thing that can be equated with behavior is behavior.

One more point on the subject- we were speaking about depression in class the other day and how it can be eliminated by manipulating the material structure of the brain through the use of antidepressant drugs. The American Psychological Association says that “Often a combination of psychotherapy and medications is the best course of treatment” for depression. If this is the case, than brain does not equal behavior because therapy (altering behavior) is as necessary for the treatment of depression as altering the material structure of the brain (through drugs).

A more complex survival
Name: Scott Shep
Date: 2006-01-22 22:35:42
Link to this Comment: 17740

In partial response to Mariya's third point, and speaking more generally to the seeming contradiction that, biologically speaking, it is counter-intuitive that a human being will continue to "kill himself" in the name of honor, character, bravery, or some other ideal, I would like to propose that science can account for such martyrdom. Obviously, the world has become a more complex place with politics, language, beauty, etc. but these ideas cannot be ignored as part of the scientific process—a storytelling process that arguably has been going on since the improbability drive, the mechanism of evolution, began. Evolution is actually the most probable improbabilities because although certain impropable structures have developed, they have had to develop in a certain way, ways that allow their unlikely structure to perpetuate. Once an improbable structure has settled into a stable cyclical perpetuation of itself, as human beings have, it will continue to “try out” different stories to suit its own existence. An improbable structure is not defined by its desire to survive—surely this is a deep and instinctive pattern that human beings carry beyond their immediate reactions into the realm of language and morality. Eg. not only are we wired to run away from tigers, we also talk about suicide as immoral and death as something lamentable. In the realm of language, however, the ideal of survival must compete with ideals that have also risen from communal survival. Dying for a country is another, relatively microscopic, form of improbable reproduction. As the self-aware process of deconstruction continues, science, evolution has come to an interesting paradox—humans have not good justification for why they exist except that they do. Religion, tradition, patriotism, morality, etc. are all GREAT stories that humans use to justify survival, and in rare cases death. On an instinctive level, death is bad and terrifying, so if on a theoretical level, humans can die for a purpose, these purposes can be infused with meaning, thereby keeping survival sacred on multiple levels simultaneously.

--Scott s.

Science and Human History
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-01-22 23:16:06
Link to this Comment: 17741

One of the questions I enjoyed this week was "do you consider yourself a scientist, and why?" I answered yes, and that I feel that way because I feel that I am incapable, indeed that we are all incapable, of really knowing anything; we can only continually try to make guesses at the nature of the world, ourselves, and the existence/nature of a larger force, and then wait to see whether or not our guesses are supported. Human history, therefore, could be seen as a series of hypotheses and then a whole lot of waiting around to see whether or not later events support or go against those hypotheses.

For example, when we talked about what does and does not cause epilepsy- once upon a time, someone looked at a person experiencing an epileptic seizure and thought something along the lines of, "They look like someone who is being attacked by a creature- I bet there's an animal-type-thing in there somewhere, torturing them!" But then obviously no one saw a creature, so demons became invisible, metaphysical. Then we found ways of measuring invisible things like radiation, and so the presence of these invisible beings seemed less believable; then we moved on to things like bacteria, genes, and so forth to explain diseases. These hypotheses are unprovable- and undisprovable- just like everything else in science.

born scientists?
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-01-23 00:12:52
Link to this Comment: 17743

I've been thinking this weekend about the idea of everyone being born a scientist. I absolutely agree that everyone is born with the capacity to develop scientific thought, but the Piagetian psychologist in me isn't so sure that we're actually all born as scientists. Yes, from the time we're born, we're learning things through trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn't. But as a two-month-old, did I actually think about the best method to get my parents' attention and go through each one in order to determine which would be most effective? I'm inclined to say no. I agree with a lot of Piaget's theory of the development of scientific thought. Not to go into the entire theory in detail, Piaget theorizes that it's not until approximately 12 years of age that children actually possess the cognitive structure that allow them to really "think like a scientist" (i.e. use reason to think about hypothetical situations and draw conclusions from experiements).

Piaget also states that although everyone becomes capable of scientific thought, not everyone puts it to use. It requires some sort of training and experience in order to actually be a scientific thinker. I'm not sure to what extent I agree with this last idea of Piaget's, but from all I've read, the rest of his theory is pretty convincing. I can't really wrap my head around the idea of an infant performing mini-experiments from his or her crib, especially when I'm not sure that infants are capable of truly thinking at all.

just some thoughts...
Name: Jen Lam
Date: 2006-01-23 10:10:22
Link to this Comment: 17747

As a self proclaimed scientist, I believe that the brain is essential to behavior, for modern science has proven time and again that chemical imbalances in the brain and/or physical damages to the brain produce “abnormal” brain functions and therefore altered behavior. However, as Professor Grobstein encouraged us in class, I am willing to be wrong. There is no “truth” in science, only summary of observations and probably explanations as to why we see what we see. With that said, I remember my peer in class bringing up the idea of other organisms without a nervous system such as prokaryotes and other simple organisms. They behave in such a way without the aid of neurons and brain matter. Perhaps, evolution and nature has programmed into these creatures techniques of survival, but the question remains, how do they “know” what to do and when to do it? These organisms may not remember/learn things or feel emotions, but they still behave in a particular way that raises questions that pertains to the act of survival behavior. In order to understand human brains, I think we should begin to examine the most primative form of behavior in simple organisms and work our way up from there.

Now for more of a philosophical discussion, in response to Emily Dickenson’s idea that the brain is wider than the sky, I think she’s on to something even though the brain is a finite, material substance. We can perceive what we call a sky and a universe and this pen beside me, but we cannot fully understand the idea of the mind/soul. Just as a natural progression of categorizing ideas, we usually begin to understand simple ideas that eventually progresses into more complex ideas. It’s easier to observe the physical world around us than to examine what is metaphysically occuring. She is perhaps alluding to the mind/body connection and its elusive nature.

Name: Amber Hopk
Date: 2006-01-23 14:31:20
Link to this Comment: 17750

I really like the thought someone shared that maybe things exist without us, but they don’t exist in the same way. I have often wondered if people perceive things the same way that I do, whether they see the same color that I see, or if they see something different, but know it by the same name. It’s just a thought, but individual perception intrigues me…

New York Times article
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-01-23 18:38:14
Link to this Comment: 17752

There is a big article in this week's New York Times Magazine called "The Animal Self".

Perhaps it seems more related to our discussions in classs because they have been on my mind, but I thought it was interesting that I was just checking it out and the cover story just happened to bring up some of the questions we have been talking about.

The article deals with the work that scientists have been doing to show that animals like octopuses and even fruit flies have unique personalities in the same way that humans do in an effort to answer the "if a tree falls in a forest but there is no one around to hear it..." question. The studies suggest that species that we as humans try to seperate ourselves from may actually see the world in a way very similar to the way we see it.

I would recommend checking this out. It is interesting to consider animals other than humans when thinking about our perceptions of the world.

a single functional theory sans interdisciplinary
Name: nancy
Date: 2006-01-23 20:35:19
Link to this Comment: 17755

As Brooks said in his posting, "I will be interested in developing a single functional theory that...can be applied to biological systems, social systems, and cultural systems".

I find this interesting; however, I see the possibility as inherently a product of interdisciplinary education and thus I am resistant to [professor x]'s notion that such work should be practiced only by those who have little to learn about another discipline (i.e. those who have "mastered" both their own and another field). My original posting spoke to this a bit--I believe all disciplines are thematically similar, using different tools to endeavor towards answering the same questions. I, too, am resistant to the quantitative and the empirical, yet I don't see the possibility for theory that spans biology to culture without a fluidity of methodology and approach.

Some Reactions
Name: Julia Patz
Date: 2006-01-23 21:46:23
Link to this Comment: 17757

1. I would agree with Mariya that neurophysiology is such a young discipline, it is difficult to make any definite assertions beyond a very basic understanding. Researchers have observed relationships between specific electrical stimuli and the responses with which they are associated in the body. So what we have is a limited understanding of some corollary events that do not at all indicate causation, and that certainly don't indicate a high level of "understanding" of neurobio. The progress in neurobio. trails behind other areas of medicine, not due to lack of effort, but more due to the extreme complexity of the subject matter. This also does not necessarily justify or negate people's assertions of the existence (or lack thereof) of "souls, etc." 2. I think another interesting issue to ponder is the difference between distinct areas of the brain. Some areas are more associated with physical movement while others are connected to sensory perception or feelings or one's identity/personality. Do these differences mean that certain sections of the brain are more relevant in discussions of "behavior" than others? 3. Side note: I am quite dissatisfied with our current definition of "behavior;" it seems lazy to dump every option we can think of into one category, especially considering traditional bio. definitions of behavior. I am looking forward to improving/exploring it as the semester progresses.

One more thought...
Name: Julia Patz
Date: 2006-01-23 21:55:03
Link to this Comment: 17758

Since I don't like our definition of behavior, it is difficult to answer the "brain=behavior" question. I will assert, as part of the intellectual minority, that anything that happens in the human body (including thought, emotion, action, etc.) is a direct result of biochemical interactions between cells and neurons. There is not strong scientific proof otherwise. And observations/beliefs of random people do not constitute 'scientific evidence.' Obviously training, education, and intelligence all contribute to the validity of scientific discovery. While we are all educated critical thinkers, we do not have the same clout as well-respected neurobiologists, researchers, and physicians.

Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-01-24 00:53:14
Link to this Comment: 17764

I agree that the brain governs behavior, and that most types of behavior can be analyzed vis a vis the signal-response mechanisms between the brain and the rest of the body to uncover how and why they occur. But what about the act of dreaming?

Dreaming is a behavior whose method of generation and purpose is debatable. Many believe that our dreams have meaning, that they foreshadow some future event in our lives. Some think they are merely figments of the imagination, but maybe dreams are a manifestation of information stored in the subconscious, as Freud claimed: "The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind." (Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900).

I would like to think my dreams have meaning, but what if my dreams are just delusions and distortions of reality? How does my brain enable my mind to play tricks on me?

Name: Brom
Date: 2006-01-24 01:20:14
Link to this Comment: 17765

"but Im wondering can changes in behavior produce changes in the brain's chemistry?" I think the short answer to this question is an emphatic yes. Behaviors like exercising, causing the release of the endorphins, or drinking alcohol, or doing drugs, all change the brain's chemistry. What I am unsure about is whether one can have a behavior without a change in the brain, the decision to act has to be made, and therefore I am inclined to believe that you can't have a change in behavior without a change in the brain.

Perception, bias and conditioning
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-01-24 08:32:28
Link to this Comment: 17768

I find that in the "brain - behavior" relationship, perception is essential. Brom said that certain behaviors cause a physical change in the brain with a change in the chemical balance. However, it is the brain "perceiving" that it is exercising that causes this result. Often then brain can be tricked into believing certain thinks, especially with the use of psychotropic drugs. As the Matrix explored, the brain is surprisingly easy to trick and produce certain reactions.
Because of this, I feel that behavior has to be explored in terms what the brain thinks is going on as well as what is actually happening. Saying that a stimulus is being applied is doesn’t help us understand behavior unless the brain thinks/knows that a stimulus is being applied.

Our individual perceptions are what cause differences for us on a more conscious level as well. What we have perceived to be true about society form our biases and our understanding in the world. Referring to Grobstein's alternative scientific methods, I would want to change "summary of observations" to "biases of expectation". I find hypothesizes useful as a statement of expectation, of bias.

Finally, a question about conditioning. How do we learn these behaviors and biases? I understand the concept of classical conditioning with the simple pain/reward system. But it seems that certain behaviors are easier to learn. Would this mean that in the nature-nurture debate, everyone has a certain innate sense of what to learn?

forum archiving
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-01-24 18:38:10
Link to this Comment: 17776

Will in general be archiving on Monday to keep things organized around here. You can always find previous comments by going to the course forum archive.

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-01-25 16:41:44
Link to this Comment: 17787

I had a few thoughts/questions about some of the topics we have been discussing recently in class. We have been talking about whether brain=behavior, which I am not quite sure about yet, but want to consider more deeply. I was wondering, however, where exactly (if brain DOES = behavior) the changes between individuals originates from. Are these changes genetic and influence the shape and function of the brain, thereby causing different personalities in the same way there are different eye colors and shoe sizes? But then again we were talking about the effects that culture plays on behavior. So then is this a nature/nurture thing, where we are given a brain that is genetically formed one way, but the way that we are raised and the experiences we have can change/form our personality? Does that then mean that these experiences actually physically change the way the brain works, in order to change our behavior?
I know this is simply a bunch of questions, but I was just wondering how other people in the class felt about this and what they felt the interpretation of these comments were.

Name: Bethany
Date: 2006-01-25 17:03:18
Link to this Comment: 17788

With regard to what we discussed in class on Tuesday about science and the scientific method:
Though we can say that "there's no certainty in science" or that science is just another way to explain observable phenomena, I would argue that the average person subcribes to the "unquestionable authority" of science and science professionals (e.g. doctors). For the average person science IS certain because of the authority it has been given by society. Our society is very rationally and logically orientated (which bodes well for the establishment of scientific authority). However, the scientific perspective is nothing more than a possible explanation for phenomena. [For example, one could look at the phenomenon of suicide from a psycological perspective and say that it is a result of mental illness or a sociological perspective and say that it is a result of a low level of social integration into a community.]
The influence science has had on medicine has resulted in the belief that there exists a "normal body that functions normally". Deviations from this norm are deemed pathological, abnormal. The authority society has given science and consequently the field of medicine has allowed so-called "professionals and experts" the right to label individuals as normal or abnormal. The problem lies in that these labels are value-laden and will affect the way the individual is treated and viewed by society at large.

brain modified by experience, memory
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-01-25 20:40:55
Link to this Comment: 17793

With the brain=behavior discussion and the possibility that the brain is modified by external experiences, culture, etc. It seems like memory is a good example, and maybe if I knew how remembering worked biologically that would help with thinking about it.

Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-01-26 14:14:10
Link to this Comment: 17812

Following up on what Bethany said, I, too, believe that the average person subscribes to the "unquestionable authority" of medical professionals. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

5 years ago now, I hurt my foot. After many sets of X-rays, I was assured over and over that it was not broken, just sprained. However, it continued to hurt, and a year later, when it still was hurting, I went to a new doctor only to be informed that I shouldn't even be able to walk, because when I hurt my foot before, I fused 3 bones together and would need a set of surgeries to seperate them.

Before I got that second opinion, I, too, beleived in that authority that doctors had. Now, I do not. At all. I question everything. Absolutely everything that comes out of the mouth of a physisican that I or one of my friends is seeing. I guess, for me, this is a matter of conditioning. I had always been conditioned to believe that doctors were right, until one of mine was horribly wrong.

Now that I think about it, conditioning has a very big effect on everyone's behavior. How does it really work? Like biologically, at a neuron level?


week 2
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-01-26 14:43:08
Link to this Comment: 17813

Maybe we should all learn to be skeptical of "unquestionable authority", whether attributed to doctors, to scientists, to .... ? See Writing Descartes ... .

As always, you're free to write about anything that struck your fancy this week. But if you need something to get started .... what do you think of the idea that the nervous system is just lots of interconnected small input/output boxes? Mostly listening and talking to one another? And that the differences between different individuals must be to a large degree in how pretty much the same boxes are organized?

Name: courtney M
Date: 2006-01-26 15:10:26
Link to this Comment: 17814

To clarify my initial posting, of course I recognize that environmental and cultural factors can impact neurochemistry. I guess I take issue with the notion that genetic predisposition points us towards a specific method of altering the chemistry we’re given, namely, other chemicals, and specifically, pharmaceutical medications. I enjoyed Gray’s posting challenging the aim of mapping the brain, and, it seemed, offering a word of caution against the potential homogenizing effects of identifying a “standard” for neurochemistry, and I wonder if this isn’t the aim of many such medications—enforcing a standardized ideal of mental health or “happiness.” I’m interested in the parallels between brain=behavior and the mind-body connection emphasized in eastern thought, and the potential repercussions this model could have on these conversations.

Excuse the philosophical jargon, but I recently came across a debate that seemed especially germane to our recent conversations: we’ve been saying that “hard data”—empirical claims upon which we can agree—drives our definition of reality. The “idealist” school of thought claims that the objects of knowledge are dependent on the activity of the mind—there is no external reality without the individual thinking being; to me, this is reminiscent of Dickinson. “Solipsism” takes this to an extreme, claiming the self is all that can be known to exist, but I find the line between the two ideals is fine and often blurry. We finally decided that idealists (Berkeley et al) acknowledge other minds/causes/spirits, just no ulterior physical reality, where as solipsists truly see the self as the only reality. If we think of this in terms of neurobiology, can we dismiss these arguments by pointing out the existence of sensory nerves, which clearly act to connect us to the outside world?

Finally, I wanted to bring up one more controversy from a related class that fits into our topic. Anencephalic babies are born having all or part of the cerebral hemispheres and the rear of the scull congenitally absent—extreme cases even lack parts of the skull, skin, etc. Do we think of such infants as persons? Do they deserve the same medical care and rights we would grant a “healthy” baby? If not, where do we draw the line—is this just a slippery slope to the potential eugenics that disabled persons insist pre-screening could eventually incur?

Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-01-26 15:21:06
Link to this Comment: 17815

With no real way of understanding the nervous system before (at least that I thought worked well), I like the box system. I think it certainly makes conceptual sense. The organization of boxes seems like a good explanation of why some people "think differently" than others. It makes sens, at least to me, who does not have what some people would call a "scientific brain."

questions about the NYT article
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-01-26 15:57:01
Link to this Comment: 17816

I read the New York Times article “This is Your Brain on Schadenfreude. Do You Feel Bad About Feeling Good?” and some issues came up that I want to address. Firstly, why do men’s brains show that they are satisfied when the “bad guy” is punished whereas women feel empathetic? I thought of several possible explanations. Firstly, this difference could be a biologically based sex difference. It could be due to conditioning of the different sexes to have different reactions, making it either a result of the neuroplasticity or, if we do not accept brain=behavior, it could reflect the effects of environment.

Either way, I wonder what the broader implications of this discovery will be. Will we be able to detect all sorts of emotions by viewing the brain’s activity? If so, what emotions? Since culture shapes our perception, it may also shape our ideas of which emotions people interpret as distinct. Will cultural differences be present in the brain formation? Maybe this sort of discovery will allow us to detect patterns in emotions and how they play out in actuality (ie what if people with certain organizational patterns are more likely to become serial killers). I’m sure some things will be made clearer in the future, but it’s certainly interesting to muse over potential long term effects.

Two Responses
Name: Christin M
Date: 2006-01-26 19:51:37
Link to this Comment: 17818

In response to Claude's comment on the "Schadenfruede" article, I think Western women are culturally conditioned to be maternal and sympathetic. Since men supposedly have a greater competitive urge, it makes sense that they would feel satisfied when the bad guy is punished.

In response to Courtney's comment on anencephalic babies, I think they are definitely people and still deserve the same medical rights as "healthy" babies. Nonetheless, I think genetic pre-screening (particularly in cases of Tay-Sachs, Hunterdon's chorrea, and CF) are a good idea. Of course, this could lead to all sorts of eugenic measures such as pre-screening for a child's gender...

Newly Defined Nervous System in Relation to Brain=
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-01-28 10:46:59
Link to this Comment: 17830

With the view of brain=behavior how does the idea that the brain is an extension of the spinal cord come into play? From the discussion today it seems that the brain is merely a compartmentalized “swelling” at the end of the neural tube that facilitates, organizes and processes inputs. In terms of brain= behavior, the real question should be, does the spinal cord or neural tube=brain=behavior? If so then the brain itself is merely a compartment of neurons (boxes) that organize, while the real inputs are coming from the neural tube and other more specialized neuron “boxes” located throughout the body.

If the nervous system is comprised of a large box with millions of inner boxes that lead to different and “chosen” outputs, then can the nervous system itself change the pathways of certain inputs? Do inputs have a box of definite fates or can an input change direction? It seems that since there are so many possible pathways for an input, that there is no way of knowing how a certain input will result.

The Nervous System
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-01-28 13:29:05
Link to this Comment: 17832

It was really interesting to see in class how the box model translated into the nervous system and how neurons are the smaller boxes in the box model. The box model made sense to me when it was introduced in class, but it became clearer and more complete when I saw how it directly applied to the nervous system with neurons, gray area, and white matter. For me, it changed from theoretical with inputs and outputs to actual with axon bundles. I like the idea of the nervous system as made up of input and output boxes and it especially makes sense to me where individual differences are explained by the different organizations of the boxes rather than by differences in the actual boxes. By having so many boxes, the various organizations of the boxes that become individual differences are immense, which is very interesting.

Doctors, intuition, inside/outside
Name: Mariya Sim
Date: 2006-01-28 20:56:02
Link to this Comment: 17834

In response to Emily’s posting: I had a similar experience with American doctors. In my sophomore year, I had terrible headaches for a whole semester. I underwent a lot of tests, including MRI, and various doctors offered various diagnoses, from brain cancer to depression. When I got back to Russia, where medical technology is close to non-existent, my doctor took one look at me and told me that I’ve had a sinus infection for 6 months straight. He was furious, especially since he just couldn’t understand how, having all of the technology at their fingertips, the US doctors couldn’t diagnose something as simple as that. One of the problems with American health system is precisely that they rely too much on technology. Health care is as much of an art as it is a science, and I feel that the creative/individual aspect of it is often overlooked here. The specialists believe in the truth of “hard data” gathered in the labs and consider the good diagnosis to be a label matching this data. They sneer at the word “intuition” as being unscientific. However, I think that both in health care and in science in general the presence or absence of intuition is what distinguishes a good scientist from a bad one.

Which raises the question: how does intuition fit into the brain=behavior proposal? How can we explain/describe the sometimes irrational “hunches” and bold guesses, which often lead to break-through discoveries, in terms of interactions within the brain? What about the fact that scientists literally make discoveries in their dreams? Do they arise from the interplay between the “conscious” and “unconscious” boxes within the nervous system? Actually, do we still want to think in terms of “conscious” and “unconscious” in this class?

Another question I have relates to Prof. Grobstein’s insistence that the nervous system has sharply defined “inside” and “outside” domains. I think that this division depends on the definition of the vague term “information,” which we used to describe interactions between the neurons and other cells. If by “information” we mean something purely physical, like chemicals (neurotransmitters) traveling via axons, then, I suppose, the distinction between the “inside” and the “outside” is valid. Does most current evidence suggest that the exchange of neurotransmitters is all that goes on between the neurons and the outside cells? Do we include electrical impulses in this category? And even if we take neurotransmitters as our definition of information, wouldn’t the microscopic scale, on which this exchange is going, challenge the sharp distinction between the “inside” and the “outside” of the nervous system. What I want to suggest is that, while most of the brain’s activity is indeed internal, perhaps there is a closer connection between its “inside” and its “outside” than we suggested in the class.

I guess at this point we all have more questions than “less wrong” answers. Which is good science.

Harvard Law of Animal Behaviour
Name: Tamara Tom
Date: 2006-01-28 21:53:37
Link to this Comment: 17835

I think the Harvard Law of Animal Behaviour is a rather mundane and silly discovery. I can't believe that it took a team of scientists and researchers to come up with a so-called "law" that seems to govern (or not, as it were) animal behaviour when we have been observing it for centuries. It's rather presumptuous to presume that animals will react any differently from humans when stimuli are introduced. There is always a choice when it comes to what behaviour will be expressed by one affected by a stimulus. As part of this argument, I think that we should maybe look at behaviour in two different ways.

One way to look at it is Brain=Behaviour. That is, what goes on chemically in the brain (in reaction to a stimulus or not) is, in fact, a behavioural expression. BUT, an outside expression of behaviour (and by outside I mean thoughts, internal feelings, and outside action--anything that is not just unfelt chemical reactions) is a different part of behaviour than the brain chemicals.

If looked at in this way, it can be argued that the female cricket will always react in the same way to a male cricket's chirp: her brain will always show that she has heard and recognized this chirp. The second part of this behaviour, the outside manifestation, does not have to always be the same. She can react in may different ways externally, but the brain chemical reactions will always be the same.

Brain and Behavior
Name: Rachel
Date: 2006-01-29 11:11:31
Link to this Comment: 17837

Why does the question of whether brain=behavior have to be a yes or no answer. Maybe, the brain impacts some of our behavior, but not all. Therefore, the brain does equal behavior in some respects. I think that it is important in science to never make absolutes; there are always exceptions. When looking at the last model we discussed, it seems that it only accounts for how inputs or outputs cause the brain to affect our behavior. Since we havn't proven that only our brain affects our behavior, how then does the model account for behavior not affected by the brain?

Brain = Behavior
Name: Sylvia Nch
Date: 2006-01-29 12:32:19
Link to this Comment: 17839

I agree with exactly do you account for behavior that has nothing to do with the brain or malfunctions of the brain?

Random thoughts
Name: Liz P
Date: 2006-01-29 14:11:26
Link to this Comment: 17841

I found the Schadenfreude article interesting although I have to say that despite being female, I definately fall into the catagory of wanting to see the side I don't like (bad or otherwise) get their due. That makes me think that female sympathy is conditioned or that I have a more "masculine" brain simply as a result of natural biological variation.
I was thinking about how the neocortex interacts with the rest of the nervous system. If the neocortex is our consiocusness, then that is all that matters to our interpretation of the world. If we could create the correct stimulation to it, we would sense a world that isn't there in a sense. So what do this power to override do to the rest of the boxes. Maybe nothing. But I wonder if all that matters is this box and what its percieves inputs are, regardless of what the actual inputs to the other parts of the nervous system are.
I suppose that I choose to think of the nervous system as controlling behavior alone because I have seen no other evidence for anything else. There is still so much information in the areas of the nervous system that we don't understand that it is a possible that more clues to personality could be found there. The evidence for anything else (souls, etc) seems circumstantial and untestable. Being a natural skeptic, I find it difficult to put much merit in claims, although I do not discount them entirely.

NY Times Article "This Is Your Brain on Schadenfre
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-01-29 14:34:37
Link to this Comment: 17842

In response to both Claude and Liz, I agree that the New York Times article, “This Is Your Brain on Schadenfreude”, raises important questions about the influence of “masculinity” and “femininity” on the workings of our brains. The study demonstrated that women were empathetic when bad things happened to bad people, while the men felt that the bad people deserved what happened to them.

Is this reaction something that is learned in our culture or is it an innate response, due to gender? Do these rules apply to men and women across different cultures? I find it difficult to generalize such a reaction, whether it is conscious or not. If these feelings of empathy, or lack of empathy, correlate with gender, then how do you define gender? Not all women are “maternal” and not all men are “competitive”. Are our emotions driven by our DNA or our culture?

Name: Astra
Date: 2006-01-29 18:59:38
Link to this Comment: 17846

I think that here we have the classic case of "nature vs nurture". In the past decade, scientists were strictly divided into camps of thought - one said that most behavior came from genetics (nature), while the other claimed that environment and upbringing (nurture) was the final arbitrer of behavior. This argument raged. And then one day, someone had the bright idea that it wasn't so much nature vs nurture, and nature AND nurture. So I think the answer lies in the connection between the genes we are born with, and how those genes are modulated by our environment. So while females may be born with some innate nurturing tendencies, stemming from their biological sense of reproduction, the culture we live in, also strongly influences "nuturing" behavior from its females.

scientific method applying (or not) to life in gen
Name: Rachel M.
Date: 2006-01-29 21:25:53
Link to this Comment: 17847

I don’t agree with the idea that the scientific method does not apply to life because of a lack of progress. Thinking about the example someone gave in Tuesday’s class about a person taking part in self-destructive behavior. And that if the person wasn’t assessing and reassessing what was happening in their life and instead continuing with the self-destructive behavior even though they (possibly) realize that it is more harmful than it is good then they could not be thought of as using the scientific method because they weren’t making progress. But the person participating in self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse is constantly observing the effects this behavior has on them and their lives and making the choice to continue doing it so they are still using the scientific method to get to that conclusion. And eventually they will get to the point of changing their behavior, whether or not they hit rock bottom and go to rehab or support groups such as AA or wind up in jail or homeless or dead or suddenly wake up one day and realize that it is time to stop or find religion, whatever happens there is a point in time when it will reach the final stage of the scientific process and then begin again, and so there is eventually progress. Even if the self-destructive behavior persists for a long period of time, at some point there will be an assessment of the observations and choices are going to be made. It seems to me that whether or not the progress happens in a timely fashion is irrelevant. If we are going to say that not all humans and disciplines use the scientific method because of a lack of timely progress then we should also apply that to science. For if that is true then many things scientists have discovered because of reassessment and changing opinions and new evidence, data and observations then what they learned from these things could not be thought of as progress, could it?

brain = behavior
Date: 2006-01-29 22:08:38
Link to this Comment: 17848

The brain (or our central nervous system as a whole) enables us to exhibit a series of certain types of behaviors. But what about living things without brains? Plants exhibit behaviors such as reproduction and growth, but plants aren't able to experience Schadenfreude like us. I think this calls for a demarkation between the types of actions organisms exhibit as a result of thinking (even if we don't realize we're thinking) versus actions that are purely a result of a response to an "input" or stimulus, For example, a plant leaning toward a light source for energy needed for photosynthesis, is a response to a stimulus, the sunlight.

brain = behavior
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-01-29 22:09:22
Link to this Comment: 17849

The brain (or our central nervous system as a whole) enables us to exhibit a series of certain types of behaviors. But what about living things without brains? Plants exhibit behaviors such as reproduction and growth, but plants aren't able to experience Schadenfreude like us. I think this calls for a demarkation between the types of actions organisms exhibit as a result of thinking (even if we don't realize we're thinking) versus actions that are purely a result of a response to an "input" or stimulus, For example, a plant leaning toward a light source for energy needed for photosynthesis, is a response to a stimulus, the sunlight.

"personal experience" vs. "observable behavior"
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-01-29 23:59:47
Link to this Comment: 17850

I've been thinking about our brief discussion on Tuesday about how we should categorize self-reflection and other subjective internal experiences. Personally, I don't see any reason to exclude these things from the category of behavior. By its broadest definition, behavior is simply everything that living things do that dead things don't - thought certainly fits into this definition. Besides, just because you can't measure something directly doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Years ago, we couldn't directly observe dozens of bodily activities, but we didn't necessarily deny their occurrence. Even today, with our ever-increasing access to technology, we can't confirm every psychological theory through direct measurement, but is that a reason to exclude them? Of course not - these unobservable behaviors may pave the way for new hypotheses and future research; they could very well be considered "undeniable fact" in 50 years.

Some Thoughts on Behavior
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-01-30 00:04:58
Link to this Comment: 17851

"Now that I think about it, conditioning has a very big effect on everyone's behavior. How does it really work? Like biologically, at a neuron level?"

...that was from Emily's earlier post. I think that what I have gathered from one and a half years of Bio is that the more our neurons fire along a certain path, the more they will do it again- like the way we wear a path in the woods, and so we'll want to walk along it again, except that instead of footsteps, it's steps in a chemical reaction. But I don't think I've learned (and I'm not sure if anyone knows) how the steps "sink in" to the dirt of our brains, if that makes any sense. I would love to know how these things work.

Another thought: we've been talking about behaviors that are normal or considered normal, and about how and why these distinctions are made. I think the main litmus test that is used here is whether or not the behavior is harmful to oneself- it would be considered weird to keep your hand on an oven or to bang your head against a wall or to cut your arms open. There are behaviors that are harmful that we consider normal, like eating fries or pizza, but when these behaviors were first developed, eating a lot of food that brought quick, expendable energy could be a very good thing, and there was plenty of exercise to burn it off. I wonder if the obesity epidemic will affect evolution- will the eating-lots-of-crap behavior evolve out of the population as people who tend towards harmful behaviors die younger and younger?

Free Will and the sliding scale
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-01-30 00:08:04
Link to this Comment: 17852

Marissa Patterson:
“So then is this a nature/nurture thing, where we are given a brain that is genetically formed one way, but the way that we are raised and the experiences we have can change/form our personality? Does that then mean that these experiences actually physically change the way the brain works, in order to change our behavior?”

I feel as if too much emphasis is given to the divide between nature and nuture, especially when it comes to behavior.
First of all, when people attribute certain qualities as being from “nature”, it seems to hold the implication that a person isn’t responsible for their actions. Its gets back to the problems presented with determinism and LaPlace’s demon. Just as in the famous example of the two twins, separated at birth only to find that both were moustache wearing firemen with similar personalities, we keep on finding examples of how alike we are. And since we all have different childhoods, we attribute this to nature. We can’t help who we are, its in our genes.
On the flip side comes free will. I agree with William James’ pragmatic approach to free will, that it is a useful concept and that it serves an important purpose, even though we may not actually have it. However, with free will is nurture, something which I think makes a profound difference on how people behave.
It’s a sliding scale, with both fighting for control over the intellect. There are some things that reside more in the realm of nature rather than nuture, such as the instinct to breathe. But to say “Thank you” is much more cultural. We can’t separate the two, because they affect each other far too much.

I just wanted to reference that some people might recognize the turtle story from Stephen Hawking.

Finally, while Professor Grobstein says that you cannot compare a brain to a computer, I still feel that you can compare it to a computer language. Those who still remember logowriter and microworld can relate to this metaphor. You create a series of small “cells” that then reference and rely on each other. Some of your cells will only be to transform numbers, some will carry out movement, some will coordinate both of them. You have certain biological constraints, such as the limit on the language used. Then you have the “outside world”, which includes the body. You can manipulate how your turtle/body gets information, and how it interacts with the world. You can even manipulate the world in which it exists. But in the end, you rely on a series of cells that are useless on their own, and create complex and intelligent behavior.
In this metaphor, the behavior is a result of the input the brain gets, so brain does not directly equal behavior.

if brain=behavior, lack of brain = ?
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-01-30 02:54:04
Link to this Comment: 17855

Re: Ebony
I agree that there ought to be a notation of the differences between the two types of behaviors - or perhaps the actions in organisms lacking a nervous system shouldn't be classified as behaviors at all? I can see arguing either way given the definition of behavior that we are currently working with.

Name: Amber Hopk
Date: 2006-01-30 11:16:11
Link to this Comment: 17857

The other day, when we were talking about chemical dependencies and their interaction with the brain, the question someone posed about whether something in the brain can override another part of the brain when it is dependent on some substance struck me. I haven’t ever thought or studied this in detail, but it seems to me that if this is the case, then maybe brain doesn’t quite equal behavior, but rather it regulates behavior?

Emily Dickinson
Name: Lori Lee
Date: 2006-01-30 11:40:24
Link to this Comment: 17858

Maybe this is not worth posting about, but so far in class we somehow find ourselves back to Emily Dickinson and her poem. But what if Emily dickinson is wrong? is the brain then the same in all people? and is the brain then still the nexus point for all influences on behavior?

Images over substance
Date: 2006-01-30 15:45:52
Link to this Comment: 17868

I think the idea of a behavioral dichotomy (brain vis a vis behavior) presents problems for a philosophical approach that we have all been struggling to formulate through the first weeks of class. The fact is that nature of reality has shifted from substantial truth to image-based truth.
Let's say for instance that the universe is deterministic on some level (I don't believe that it is but, hypothetically let it be so) the intellect (someone referred to him as the demon in an earlier post) who could predict everything that could ever happen in the world by knowing the initial circumstances of every quantum particle--what the hell does that mean? Really, to synthesize data is to presume that the world is a function of its smallest bits. It is an attempt to validate some core substances that direct the world, to separate brain from behavior. We think that there's this thing that processes something outside of it, and yet even as we study the material brain by using pervasive technologies and abstracted topologies, we are still intuiting the world, our own theoretical structures, in terms of images, experiences--this is truth. Behavior is EVERYTHING, because even the attempt to make some essence or some substantial truth that is extricable from the appearance of things the object of study, this process itself will have a certain appearance that cannot be detected by its own projections and systems. The attempt to systematize behavior is like the snake eating itself. To consume (scientifically systematize the brain), as the all-knowing intellect could do, is self-effacing. The brain cannot be one step ahead of the brain.


Some random reactions
Name: Julia Patz
Date: 2006-01-30 18:30:33
Link to this Comment: 17877

1. I think the issue of nature v. nurture is very relevant, especially in dicussions of individuality, memory, and predictions of a person's future behavior.

2. I do not agree with the argument that western women are culturally conditioned to be sympathetic and maternal. There are biological differences between the roles that men and women play in the life support of their child, especially in the beginning of life; I believe that much of the traditional female identity stems from these biological roles. There is definitely room for both genders to share many qualities, but there are just some things women are biologically programmed to do better than men and vice versa (e.g., breast feeding, physical protection, etc.).

3. As far as the scientific method being equated to 'progress,' I will admit that the wording could use improvement, but I also stick to my original point that compulsive/addictive/self-destructive behavior has been shown externally and in the brain to override the survival mode of human beings. People rarely sit down and consciously assess the validity of their behavior when it involves substances and tendencies that prohibit that thought trajectory.

4. Medicine is a developing science. Intuition, while a valuable tool in diagnosis, is formed from a history of training and experience with other patients. It is not an amorphous gift or skill bestoyed on a select few. How well physicians use their intuition varies greatly between indivudals. The biggest inhibition to patient improvement is actually patients' ability to consistently follow the recommendations of their physician, referred to as 'compliance and consistency' by the pharmaceutical companies who have this issue as their biggest challenge to success. It is a patient's perogative to seek a second opinion, but it also a patient's responsibility to become knowledgeable about their illness/condition and to take control of their own path to wellness.

Neurological boxes
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-01-30 19:13:25
Link to this Comment: 17879

Concerning the theory that the nervous system is made up of "boxes"...We talked about how the organization is what separates us from other animals. At what point of organization is the separation between a human and a gorilla? The formation of these boxes must begin very early in the stages of life to determine species, so it must be somewhat genetic...I'm pretty caught up on actually imagining physical boxes making up the nervous system, which is an interesting observation in itself...

boxes and gender
Name: em
Date: 2006-01-30 19:14:09
Link to this Comment: 17880

anyone interested in the schadenfreude discussion might want to click on the link "exporing what makes us male or female." in this article, dr. anne fausto-sterling, a biology and women's studies professor at brown, talks about her work with hermaphrodites and the role of biology in gender. i was particularly interested in this article because i see biology as a really potent ally for women's studies and feminism in general. what fausto-sterling is seeking to accomplish in terms of expanding the definitions of what it means to be male or female is really awesome. she's trying to get people to see that there are varying degrees of gender, manifested most outwardly in hermaphrodites.
this got me thinking about boxes and orders of boxes. fausto-sterling says she believes in "nature AND nurture." so, the combination of the boxes AND the way in which a child is raised in a culture and society will contribute to the way in which they perform gender. this is an interesting counterpoint to feminist theorist judith butler's views of gender being completely a performance... if gender has to do with box order AND performance of socially accepted roles, then maybe butler's work could be expanded to fit with fausto-sterling's. and maybe the range of performances of gender could be expanded... think about all those possible boxes and all those possible combinations! how could there possibly be one set-up for males and one set-up for females?? there must be nearly infinite variations on gender with all those permutations. people could say "well, i'm really interested in the red sox and i look good in pink and i love hamburgers, and i'm also really good at crocheting and... i have a penis." ??? what would these new definitions of gender look like if fausto-sterling's loosening of gender's grip on society succeeds? would we do away with "male" and "female" in favor of more subtly nuanced or shaded terms?

scientific method: nature and nurture
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-01-30 20:12:22
Link to this Comment: 17882

Personally, I’d like to think that science is progressive and that we (all being scientists in some way) are learning from our “experiments,” continually gaining knowledge about ourselves and our environment. Like Rachel M., I believe that if someone were to partake in “destructive behavior” than their decision to do so does not go against the scientific method. The culmination of their observations results in their decision to participate or not participate in that behavior. Sometimes people don’t make the wisest decisions or are rather stubborn to the fact that their actions are doing harm to them, but that doesn’t mean that they are not learning through their observations and using (to some extent) the scientific method. Stubbornness and other personality traits bring up an interesting conflict between nurture and nature and the bridge that links the two together (see Astra’s post). I think the scientific method is inherent in humans (and other organisms) and that our environment/society forges a certain behavior. I am by no means an expert on personality and what makes up individual’s personality traits, but perhaps, the intermingling between the nature/nurture results in a personality. Just as there are infinite ways to organize a nervous system, there can be infinite ways to construct a personality by varying experiences, environment, and genetics. It is our personalities, or rather the link between our own observations from the experiments we perform and the influence of society, that eventually leads us to make our decisions.

Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-01-30 21:19:19
Link to this Comment: 17884

In terms of dreams and innate behavior, I would argue that they both are behaviors and a dream is the same kind of behavior as drawing ones hand back from a flame. Dreams like other ”regular” actions are formulated by a physical or emotional feeling which may or may not create a thought which in turn creates a reaction to that feeling. And because all brains are unique, all feelings to a single situation is unique, making most dreams unique. Furthermore, I feel thoughts are behavior and therefore the physical actions and pictures that appear across the brain while dreaming are all behaviors as well.
Also, in terms of the brain I was interested in If the mind is able to distinguish between good and bad behavior. I would argue yes, the mind does distinguish between good and bad behavior. The brain is able to synthesize if a behavior is detrimental to the longevity of the body, or will this behavior better ones chances of reproducing a healthy offspring or if the behavior would be detrimental to the environment one lives. So yes, although many personal values are societal implementations, the brain is able to understand consequences (cause and effect) on its own. This comes with the development of a scientific mind.

contradicting myself (interneurons and treatment)
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-01-30 22:02:05
Link to this Comment: 17886

I was very interested to learn that 99.999999 percent of our neurons are interneurons. If everything (practically) we do is processing information instead of receiving or sending information... it seems like so much unecessary complication. Why/how is it that complexity is advantageous for a species? It just makes it that much more impressive how well organized our brains and nervous system are. I wonder if the number of interneurons in an organism directly correlates with its intelligence? That would make sense since the organism is less reactive and has more control over its behavior, but it almost seems like the more directly you are sensing and interacting with your environment the better you should be at surviving... (This goes back to the question of brain size correlating with intelligence, which I've heard conflicting answers for.) and on a separate point, I know there are different types of neurons, but does anything actually differentiate them besides where they are located?

The "Can brain scans see depression?" article really rang true to me, and I talked about this in my last post, but what are we going to do with all of these imaging findings? (and I say this as someone totally fascinated by these studies.) So we find that this certain part of the brain lights up a little more in people with this disorder, or when some people do this certain activity, but how is that going to actually help people in need get better treatment? Even if we can eventually use the imaging techniques to more effectively diagnose, does that really mean they will get better treatment? Should we be focusing our research solely on areas that are directly related to treatments we currently use, like neurotransmitter systems and psychopharmacology? Or are these studies worth it just to amass a larger base of information, and hope that eventually it will all come together and lead to breakthroughs in treatment? Basically, I think neuroscience as a field, and each researcher, needs to answer the question "so what?"

Name: Trinh Truo
Date: 2006-01-30 23:22:05
Link to this Comment: 17888

I am very much sold on the idea that we have so many subnits in our brains that the different orgainizations of them is what "letters" and it is the arrangement od these letters that makes us unique.

In response to the psychoanalysts article, I think that it is reasonable to not depend solely on DSM because the human brain is not a simple network of direct causes and effects or inputs and outputs. Drug A doesnt always produce result A on everyone since everyone is very different. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst should explore talk therapy as an alternative or complementary remedy to psychological conditions, because jsut as behavior is influenced by the chemicals in the brain, the brain can be influenced by behavior to make chemicals to affect itself. The question left is perhaps which type to treatment has the stronger effect; which is should be the primary and which the secondary?

Name: Trinh Truo
Date: 2006-01-30 23:28:12
Link to this Comment: 17889

I am very much sold on the idea that we have many of the same subnits in our brains that the different orgainizations of them is what makes us different from one another. Is this a result of the our DNA having only 4 "letters" and the arrangement or sequence of these letters is different resulting in diff. organizations?

Date: 2006-01-31 03:01:21
Link to this Comment: 17896

I was intriguiged by Marissa's comments on the origins of the differences between individuals. Are the differences between the individuals due to the shape of the brain? Does shape affect the function of brain, in regard to differences in the distance of neural pathways(therefore the speed of processing information and messages), and does shape affect how the various hormones and chemicals are processed or produced?

The brain is a box.
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-01-31 09:42:22
Link to this Comment: 17899

The idea of the brain being a box with a bunch of smaller boxes inside is a really neat. However, I feel that by making parallels between the brain and boxes, it is being too contained. A box has fixed walls, edges, and volume. The brain, especially if you include the mind, can be endless. So, I like to think of the brain more as a space with a few spaces inside, and then you finally reach the boxes that are more concrete structures of the brain like lobes, and nuclei, and neurons.

While reading “The Organization of the Brain” an article in Scientific American, the idea of spaces and boxed organizing the brain with varying pathways jumps right out. The article starts off with two descriptions of the brain. “The frist one is heroic: it affirms that the brain is the embodiment of thinking and feeling and wanting, of learning and memory and of that curious sense that human beings share, a sense of the future.” These aspects of the brain, all make up the different spaces.

“The brain plainly has divisions because the appropriate staining techniques embedded in a feltwork of their filamentous extensions.” These are the boxes of the brain. More specifically they can be viewed as the rhombencephalon, mesencephalon, and prosencephalon.

I think the although, the class has more or less agreed that the newer box model of the brain is correct, the older model that is more structured and predictable still applies. With less complex organism, you can see that a certain stimulus will always yield a certain reaction.

“ . . . it contained an occasional cell that stood out as if it were a neuron. At the base of such a cell, Parker could see the beginning of a filament, looking rather like an axon that broke up into end branches as it approached a muscle fiber.” This qutoe discusses a researchers findings when observing a simple animal’s nervous system. The nerve connects directly to the muscle. So, stimulus A will always result in reaction A.

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-01-31 12:36:51
Link to this Comment: 17900

I just read Mariya's entry about distinguishing between inside and outside of the nervous system, and it made me realize just how complex the problem is. As I'm studying in Biology 102 right now, the nervous system is made of neurons which can interact with the ednocrine system. However even these two systems within the body aren't completely separate. For example, neurosecretory cells, cells that secrete hormones into the circulatory system to regulate bodily functions, fit into both of the systems. Is it possible that there are more cells like this that expand the nervous system? As someone (I can't remember who) mentioned earlier in the semester, should we include the input (even those that are outside the nervous system) into our definition of the brain??
Also, something has been troubling me in the class and I'm just wondering if it has troubled anyone else. I've been thinking a lot about cultural reletivism, a concept that I was introduced to in an Anthropology class. Cultural reletivism, in a sense, says that we need to be careful about how we analyze, judge, and even observe diffferent cultures because biases are inherent in all observations. While I think that this is an important concept, it's also important to get beyond it lest we get stuck in the enormous ditch of political correctness. The same applies to the brain. If Emily Dickenson is right, can we see a brain as its own culture BECAUSE of differences in behavior? Behavior should be an output resulting from an input, so the cultural differences would come in the form on interpreting the inputs in different ways....

Name: courtney
Date: 2006-01-31 12:59:24
Link to this Comment: 17901

I really resist the idea that science is progressive--we may be learning from our experiments, but does that have to mean we are moving towards some improved conception of reality? The idea of "progression" implies a linear evolution, indicating that our current "knowledge" and perceptions are superior to previous developments. However, this notion overlooks the socialization and cultural acceptance of the ideas presented during any given age, as well as the power and authority involved in the institutionalization of such knowledge. To say that the scientific method is inherent in humans, as Jen suggests, ignores the conditioning each individual undergoes as far as valuing rationality, a dualistic worldview, etc. This is not to put a value judgement on such procedures, but instead to suggest that standardizing any method, particularly by insisting it reflects and innate tendancy, dangerously normalizes our conception of what it is to be human.

rules, patterns, and copy cats
Name: Bethany Ke
Date: 2006-02-01 00:53:32
Link to this Comment: 17908

Paul mentioned something last week that I would like to hear more about. It was something like “Simple systems interact to form complex results”, referring to the brain-as-boxes-w/in-boxes model. This was particularly interesting for me, because that, on a simple level, is exactly what linguistics is: simple systems combining and interacting to yield what can be very complex surface representations (or outputs). One of the beautiful things about studying linguistics is looking at something that seems so busy and random and jumbled, and then finding that you can write very simple rules to explain that phenomenon. Since language originates from the mind/brain, I suppose it makes sense that the brain might be organized in a similar way.

On another note, there were some parts of the New York Times article, “Cells that Read Minds”, that I found to be particularly thought-provoking, though the entire article was relevant to what we are discussing in class. Below are some excerpts:

“The monkey brain contains a special class of cells, called mirror neurons, that fire when the animal sees or hears an action and when the animal carries out the same action on its own.” … “Humans, it turns out, have mirror neurons that are far smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than any of those found in monkeys, a fact that scientists say reflects the evolution of humans' sophisticated social abilities.
The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions.”

'' ‘When you see me perform an action -- such as picking up a baseball -- you automatically simulate the action in your own brain,’”… “‘Circuits in your brain, which we do not yet entirely understand, inhibit you from moving while you simulate,’”… “‘But you understand my action because you have in your brain a template for that action based on your own movements.’”

“Other animals -- monkeys, probably apes and possibly elephants, dolphins and dogs -- have rudimentary mirror neurons, several mirror neuron experts said. But humans, with their huge working memory, carry out far more sophisticated imitations.”

“Language is based on mirror neurons, according to Michael Arbib, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California. One such system, found in the front of the brain, contains overlapping circuitry for spoken language and sign language.
In an article published in Trends in Neuroscience in March 1998, Dr. Arbib described how complex hand gestures and the complex tongue and lip movements used in making sentences use the same machinery. Autism, some researchers believe, may involve broken mirror neurons.” …

Link for article:

When we listen to someone speaking, do the same neurons fire as those that would if we were saying what they are saying themselves? What about sign language? I’m sure there are different firing patterns, because there are different resulting actions, but what about the overlapping part? What is that?

What does this say about thought (abstract thought?)? About the unconscious? About the inside/outside distinction? I feel like this is potentially very important. I’m going to have to think about it some more.

Name: Bethany C.
Date: 2006-02-01 16:44:30
Link to this Comment: 17915

Our discussion of whether or not men and women can be categorically separated was missing a clarification of gender vs. sex. Sex is based on anatomical/physiological differences while gender refers to socially constructed roles. It is assumed and expected that if you are anatomically male that you will adher to gender norms associated with "being a man" and likewise for women. Of course, there are people who do not fit into the anatomical distinctions of sex (e.g. intersex individuals) and there are people who reject the gender role that is assigned to them by society (effeminent men/masculine women). I do not think that gendered behavior (for example, women are nurturing, compassionate while men are aggressive, assertive) has a biological basis. That is, there is nothing in our brains that compels us to "be a women/be a man"....those behaviors are determined by society.

question from New York Times article
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-02-01 20:16:30
Link to this Comment: 17917

Bethany’s questions from the New York times article were very interesting to me. Specifically “’When we listen to someone speaking, do the same neurons fire as those that would if we were saying what they are saying themselves?” It is interesting that someone else has raised this question because lately I have been very conscious of almost translating when I am listening to other people talk. This is kind of hard to explain because it is not that I don’t understand the words but instead that I am more aware of my brain processing them. I think I want to call it translating because I first noticed this last semester when I was taking a Spanish class that was much more intensive than any I had taken before. As the semester progressed I noticed that the kind of translation I had to do in my mind was different from just pairing the Spanish word with the English word but instead kind of processing the Spanish word. Anyway, that was kind of a bizarre comment, but it’s a long way of saying that I do think that we have to “fire” the same neurons when we read or listen to words that we would have to fire if we were saying them.

Historical Normalicy
Date: 2006-02-01 20:57:55
Link to this Comment: 17918

During our in class discussion on normal behavior vs abnormal behavior, I began to wonder how, historically, we decided upon our current standards of normalicy. We are forever holding up examples of "abnormal" behavior, but for there to be an abnormality, someone, sometime, must have defined what "normal" is. I find it interesting to think about how standards are defined, and the ramifications of our thinking when we consider that those standards might be incorrect.

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-01 21:53:03
Link to this Comment: 17920

I, like Bethany,think we were short a few categories when trying to define gender. I’m not sure if I think there is or isn’t a biological basis for gender. The obvious physical differences and differences in levels of hormones among other things are indications that this is probably a biologically based distinction. Like many of the issues we are discussing, however, it is impossible to tell if the general characteristics that people consider male or female are biologically influenced at all, since we could never remove the cultural component of these categories. I find that to be an issue with almost everything we are discussing in this nature versus nurture debate: we cannot remove nurture and as a result, we may never know how significant a role it plays or does not play in shaping people’s behavior.

On another note, I sort of reject the idea of “normalcy” and that there is a universal definition of “healthiness.” I remember my high school Psychology teacher saying “Nothing is a problem unless it’s a problem.” It doesn’t sound very profound, but he meant that with things we characterize as disorders, need not be addressed unless a person’s life is being effected by their disorder in a negative way. I think I pretty much agree with this idea. If we take every little quirky behavior people exhibit and define it as abnormal, it will be more of a problem than a solution. Personal judgment does and should play a role in determining if someone is living a healthy lifestyle. Some people behave in ways that are not consistent with society’s norms, but I think it would limit our ability to understand people and the world in general if we make judgments that will affect the way we look at things.

week 3
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-02 12:09:31
Link to this Comment: 17936

Lots bubbling here already. To which we can add ... the usefulness of thinking in terms of interconnected boxes given topographic organization of inputs and outputs? The legitimacy of asserting from instances of quadriplegia that there is an additional box, tentatively termed the "I function" that may or may not be, at any given time, involved in observable behavior, and that depends on other parts of the nervous system both for access to input and to play a role in generating output?

Name: Christin
Date: 2006-02-02 14:19:28
Link to this Comment: 17937

I think we fire different neurons when speaking and listening because they are two separate actions. They are probably similar neurons but I doubt they are the same. Do we fire the same neurons when listening in English as we do when trying to translate into another language or is that a different process as well?

Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-02-02 14:41:35
Link to this Comment: 17938

I really wonder about Christin's question.

Naturally, I feel as though I have to think harder when trying to translate Greek or Latin, but this makes sense as neither is my native language. I would assume we fire different neurons, but I really wonder about that.

On that same note, when reading English, do we fire the same neurons as we do when reading another language?


Name: Perrin
Date: 2006-02-02 19:47:30
Link to this Comment: 17943

We had an interesting discussion on Tuesday regarding addictive behavior and brain chemistry. I found myself thinking more about what someone said concerning how some individuals are more biologically predisposed to addiction than others. While this may explain the diverse spectrum of drug and alcohol abusers, I think that additive personalities are more situational than biological. Not meaning to re-hash the old nature vs. nurture debate, but addiction seems to be resulting more from environmental stresses and personal choice rather than genetics. Dismissing chemical dependence as a predisposed trait seems to anticipate failure rather than treating the psychology behind the issue.

Neurons and death
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-02 22:02:23
Link to this Comment: 17945

Would we consider death a behavior? Is the "action" of motor and sensory neurons shutting down a behavior? And is there any sort of muscle movement that would require only one motor neuron to act with the muscle, or is there a minimum number of neurons involved in every action?

Gender and Pain
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-02-02 23:14:25
Link to this Comment: 17946

1. I think death is technically a loss of behavior just as black is the absence of color. (Is birth like white- combo. of all colors with unlimited potential for genetic/environ. combo.?) 2. In response to Bethany's perceptive distinction, I think gender and sex are inextricably linked. To suggest that "male" and "female" are socially constructed norms is male will ever be able to naturally breast-feed, and no female will ever be able to impregnate another female. The behaviors we may identify as 'conventional norms' for each gender are often derived from the biological and physiological differences between the sexes. There are reasons why women used to stay with children in the tents while men went out to hunt and gather food...and that reason has been proven anthropolgically to be a derivative of necessity and logic, not 'societal convention.' 3. A beginning explaination of the direct/indirect connection between the perception of 'pain' and sensory recption: 4. This article reveals the medical perspective and objectives in pain research...considers subjective individual experiences as well as role of CNS/neuro-chem. signaling, and the combo. of the two in the management of pain from chronic illness: 5. An interesting article connecting pain and gender/sex:

Spinal Chord Injury
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-02-03 10:37:16
Link to this Comment: 17949

When we were first discussing Christopher Reeve's injury I was surprised to find that when his toe is pinched, his foot will withdraw. I originally thought that he wasn’t able to move anything below his waist. However, after looking at the model of the nervous system, I now understand why he can move his foot when pinched, but not be aware of the movement. By having his spinal chord severed, the information that would usually register in the upper parts of his spinal chord can’t and therefore he experiences no pain.

I realized afterwards that doctors simulate this same phenomenon when they give patients a spinal block. I happened to have received one when I had my knee operated on in October. After I woke up from surgery, I had no feeling below my waist allowing me to experience no pain, but when the doctor made my quad muscles contract, they did. Unlike the injury Chistoper Reeves had, the numbness below my waist subsided as the medication wore off. I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel to live daily with the inability to connect information from the top half and bottom half of one's body.

Re: language comments
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-03 10:59:07
Link to this Comment: 17950

“Language is based on mirror neurons, according to Michael Arbib, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California. One such system, found in the front of the brain, contains overlapping circuitry for spoken language and sign language”

I think the neurological activity that goes on for spoken language applies for sign too. There are many parallels between the two in regards to phonetics and phonology, even without the auditory aspect. Also, some studies have been conducted regarding aphasias and how damage in certain areas have the same results in spoken and sign languages. I assume that the motor neurons have variation because of different muscles used…

I’d like to make the claim that second languages form in a different way and different area than a native language, so speaking/reading Spanish when your native language is English would make different neurons act, especially if you acquired Spanish past a certain age.

Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-02-03 11:13:21
Link to this Comment: 17951

I agree with Suzanne. It certainly seems to make the most sense...

I wonder how different it is, though, if you aquired Spanish past a certain age.


another thought
Name: Bethany K
Date: 2006-02-04 11:01:58
Link to this Comment: 17958

I think the potentially really exciting part of studying (mirror or otherwise) neurons in cases of signed versus spoken languages is that the neurons firing for the actual execution would be in different places, for signed they would cause the hands arms and face to move (or simulate movement without actually moving), and for spoken they would cause movements in the mouth (face and hands too? where do we put facial expressions and gesture?). But if we took pictures of these two and looked at them side by side, the different parts would be execution, and the parts that overlapped would be raw language? I suppose we already know a lot about this from studying things like aphasias, but maybe it could still be interesting...

Name: Anna
Date: 2006-02-04 14:45:38
Link to this Comment: 17961

The comments about native language versus a non-native language that is learned past a certain age are interesting. Is it that different neurons are firing or that it is the same neurons, but that they are arranged in a different pattern? Is it like the metaphor with music that we discussed in class where different patterns of the various instruments make different symphonies?

Brain Injury
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-02-04 18:11:26
Link to this Comment: 17962

When the brain experiences an injury, it does not usually recover, and these injuries lead to changes in what is seen as normal behavior. Why is it then that behaviors can be changed, reformed and recovered, but the brain itself can never return to “normal” once changed or damaged? Overall it seems that some brains react to certain traumas differently than others. Do these differences in trauma lie in the variability of neuron boxes throughout the body or the way certain traumatic inputs are processed? Once the brain is injured can “normal” behavior be recovered?

Language and I-function
Name: Mariya
Date: 2006-02-05 00:08:53
Link to this Comment: 17963

To add to the language discussion: I am curious about the effect of age on our ability to learn foreign languages. Until recently, the story about language learning was that human brain had a larger capacity to acquire foreign languages in childhood because the neurons responsible for it “died” as the individual matured or because the brain became less malleable with age. Now, however, there is some research showing that a) certain neurons regenerate and b) our ability to learn languages is not lost in maturity, but we have to use different learning techniques because the structure of our brain does change. I think I agree with the later findings. I wonder what the others think about that.

Also, in re: to the “I-function” box. It certainly is clear that Reeves would say that his sense of “I” remained functional after the injury; therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the “I-function” box is located in the brain. I wonder, however, what this does to our earlier brain=nervous system concept. It seems that the brain=behavior=the entire nervous system model describes a more holistic understanding of self. “I” does not simply mean the thinking, experiencing, and self-reflecting “I,” but the whole set of our behaviors, conscious or unconscious. I actually liked that understanding a lot because it was a way to resolve the mind/body dilemma by including the body, the conscious, and the unconscious into our definition of “I”. I wonder whether this still holds true. If the “I-function” is located only somewhere “above the shoulders,” wouldn’t it send us back to the Cartesian split, at least in some sense? I’m looking forward to exploring the I-function more and to maybe finding ways to re-connect it to the rest of the nervous system/body. Actually, now that I think about it, would Reeves really say that his sense of self did not change at all after the injury? What about the phenomenon of phantom limbs? What about the psychological/behaviorial adjustments he had to go through? Can we really say that his "I-function" remained unaltered?

Name: courtney
Date: 2006-02-05 09:08:16
Link to this Comment: 17966

Thanks Mariya for addressing this topic so well. I have difficulty accepting the model of self entirely encased in the head/brain. To add to this, as a massage therapist, I've found that so much of the "self" can and should be defined beyond the rational thinking being. In many cases the nervous system fails to transmit properly signals that will be beneficial to the individual, and it is up to the practitioner to determine the correct pressure, etc. The client is experiencing little feeling, but I know that hir muscles shouldn't be exposed to a more rigorous massage. The self in the muscles and the self in the brain are not connecting, but that does not mean that one supercedes the other. There is such a heavily symbiotic relationship between the brain self and the physical self that I hesitate even to make that distinction--each impacts the other, and hierarchizing aspects of the self seems counterproductive to understanding fully the "self". Working with techniques such as aural stroking and chakral clearings, which I know may be easily dismissed as hippie nonsense by most of you, I've observed a number of ways in which the self--both the self receiving inputs and the self making outputs--is located throughout the physical person. Modern medicine severely neglects the topic of energy within the body, whereas Oriental medicine and complementary therapies often emphasize this tertiary aspect of self. Accepting the brain=self model seems to eclipse this understanding of being, and to limit severely our investigation of the self.

thoughts on the I
Name: liz
Date: 2006-02-05 09:52:03
Link to this Comment: 17967

In the brain versus self debate I suppose I've always felt the self is somewhere in the neocortex. Even if the rest of your body reacts to some stimulus, if the brain doesn't get the proper signals does it even matter? It is as if the the experience never happened and does not become part of the self that we recognize as I. It reminds me of people who snore and tell you "I don't snore". Their body is clearly doing something others percieve but there isn't an easy way to make them know that. To the self they did not do this. Without our perception of it, perhaps it doesn't really matter if something happened.

identity=biology or identity="self"
Name: Tamara
Date: 2006-02-05 11:19:31
Link to this Comment: 17969

I have been thinking about something we briefly mentioned in class: what is identity? How can we define it? The usual explanations are those of a biological nature, that we are what we look like. But if the "self" is something purely ethereal, if it is only within the brain, then could we form idenities that do not correspond to our outside biology?
For example, those born with the anatomy of one sex but with psychological connections to the opposite, or idividuals whose biological identity is formed from more than one race or ethnicity. What determines their identity? Is self-identification on par with biological identification? Does one supercede the other? Who determines our identity? Is it only ourselves or the world at large? Can we self-identify with a group who does not accept our self-identification as valid? Does their rejection of our identity make our self-identification invalid, or is self-identification, regardless of outside approval/disapproval what actually determines "who we are"? Just something that's been bothering me, something to think about; I don't know if there are actually any concrete answers.

how much is needed for self
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-02-05 12:06:16
Link to this Comment: 17970

One thing I was thinking about as I looked at everyones comments about the "i function" and the location of self was exactly what is needed for "self." Christopher Reeves had a whole "brain" but no connection to his spinal cord, and he still had a self. People who have had strokes sometimes retain "self" but sometimes do not. Phineas Gage had a large metal pipe blast through his brain, and he still had self, but it was a very different sort of self than it was prior to his accident. Even more drastic, people have had parts of their brain removed to stop seizures, and they still retain a sense of self. Even patients who have had a hemispherectomy, having an entire half of their "brain" removed many have paralysis but (as far as I am know) remain aware of themselves and who they are. So then can we say that the "self" or "personality" is not contained in that half of the brain? Does that mean that it is contained in the other half? Or that there is somehow enough in each half so that when one part is removed, "self" somehow transitions entirely to the remaining half? And what of infants born with anencephaly, a total lack of a "rostral swelling of the brain." Even if these infants were somehow able to survive, would they be able to have a "self?" Where would it be, then?

Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-05 12:56:39
Link to this Comment: 17971

In response to Mariya's comments on language -

The new research being done on "critical periods", the time until you're about 12 when language acquisition is comparatively easy, is very interesting. Recently the issue of competence vs. knowledge is being explored, and it seems like those neurons that we have as kids might actually stick around, but our competence might not be as good as adult second language learners, which could be paritally due to environmental factors. Two linguists that come to mind in relation to this issue are Suzanne Flynn and Gita Martohardjono, who have done research and written about whether or not universal grammar is accessible to the second language learner, so I imagine they'll come up on a google search.

In relation to language, I was thinking about how we count. I don't know much about math but I was curious if we have the ability to combine an infinite amount of numbers, depending on our competence. Linguistic competence is defined by how many novel sentences you can create, so does it work with numbers too? I know that there is a learning aspect to math so I assume if you never had elementary school math, it would be difficult to add 345 + 12, but it was just a random thought.

Spinal Chord Injury
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-02-05 13:12:09
Link to this Comment: 17972

In response to our class discussion on Christopher Reeve and to Rachel F.’s posting, I too was surprised to learn that Christopher Reeve’s toe withdrew when pinched. Such a response confirms that, although physically separated from the brain, his spinal chord retained its most fundamental functioning. To be in such a debilitating state is understandably frustrating. With his mental capabilities unchanged, Christopher Reeve’s “paralysis”, for lack of a better word, was only a physical one. To deprive spinal chord injury patients of federal funds for stem cell research is a shame. Stem cell research holds a world of possibility for these patients. Perhaps, in the future, such research will bridge the gap between the brain and spinal chord and enable these patients to regain their whole “self”.

language, eastern medicine
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-02-05 14:40:11
Link to this Comment: 17974

I think the discussion on language is fascinating. I've really enjoyed the comments/knowledge shared on the subject in this forum. Maybe some of the people with more background in the area can enlighten the rest of us during class? It would be great to have another I-D discussion that includes linguistics, biology, anthro., etc. Trauma to the brain is another interesting subject because it is difficult to quantify. Currently, brain trauma is measured mainly by observable behavior, but how can we compare all trauma on a consistent scale without understanding the intricate differences in physical effects and behavioral (in our more broad definition) effects? Different types/locations of brain damage also contribute to the difficulty in categorization. Also, with the loss of some neural function, do people with trauma gain other abilities? Ex: loss of 1 sense tends to heighten other senses- blind people tend to have very acute senses of hearing and smell and touch. Does the same pattern follow in brain damage, and do the potential gains include physical behavior, specific mental ability, emotional capacity, etc.? Courtney's post about eastern/holistic medicinal practices brings up important gaps in current western medicine practices, but the two do interact in some ways. It has been suggested that some of the gains from holistic medicine/massage/mental imaging/etc. has to do with the chemical response in the brain and body to certain external stimuli. People often benefit from massage and psychological therapy because their seratonin and endorphine levels are elevated by human contact, having someone touch them or listen to them. This explanation does not negate the effects or potential of these types of treatment, but the best outcome for patients is often reached through a combination of western scientific approaches and eastern holistic approaches. If it works, it works, but it would be nice to have a better grasp on how to get from point A to B so we could use both types of treatment to maximize patient care/recovery. Our lack of understanding lies in our vast ignorance of brain and body function.

Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-02-05 18:45:45
Link to this Comment: 17976

I am interested in the issues of choice and determining what in the nervous system initiates choice. If choice is just a random pattern in a certain box in the nervous system what initiates that pattern? Is there any way of changing the brains structure that would change an individual’s choice? And is this measurable? Can the brain differentiate between bad and good choices? If assuming that a person’s brain initiates choice and that changes behavior in the body, then can a really developed brain develop the choice to stop all bodily processes and essentially die or to change its bodily processes and be healed? Just a few thoughts and questions I had on how important the brain was to the body in relation to choice or intended behavior.

Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-02-05 18:55:04
Link to this Comment: 17977

We now know that spinal cord injuries can lead to the disconnection of certain parts of the nervous system to the extent that one may lose the ability to physically function as one did before the injury.

What about when a traumatic event causes someone to become physically altered or disabled, without any part of the nervous system being severed? It would be interesting to examine the brain of someone with trauma induced "paralysis," blindness, or deafness to understand which parts of the nervous system are affected, if any... (i.e. how regions of the brain may appear different in one with hysterical blindness vs. one who is born blind.)

Pain and the Brain
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-02-05 20:47:04
Link to this Comment: 17978

I was thinking about an issue that arose in class about paralysis and sensations of pain. When a person is paralyzed, as Christopher Reeves was, his brain is severed into two unconnected brains. This is the reason that Reeves’ foot would recoil if pinched but Reeves would not be able to report feeling the pinch or pulling his foot away. This leads to the question of whether or not paralyzed individuals are able to feel pain in the areas which are no longer connected to the rostral part of the brain. The rostral part of the brain reports no sensation of pain, yet the caudal part of the brain, which manages the affected limb, exhibits a reaction… can we define this reaction as pain?

This quandary reminded me a lot of another question that came up in class… the infamous ‘if a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?’. If a tree falls, it creates vibrations in the air which, when transduced by the human ear, is called a crashing noise. Without the ear, however, there are only vibrations. So, without the ear, does the noise still exist? This situation can be applied to a paralyzed person such as Christopher Reeves. When his foot is pinched, it draws back. Sensory neurons have relayed a pain message to the lower spinal cord and the spinal cord has induced motor neurons to move the foot… but does the lower spinal cord *feel* pain? The rostral part of Christopher Reeves brain can verbally report sensations of pain, but the severed/separated caudal part of his brain cannot… yet it still reacts… so, is it capable of feeling pain?

"I" function
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-02-05 23:38:08
Link to this Comment: 17982

I was reading Mariya's post, and the definition of the "I function" is intriguing. When we ask "where is Christopher Reeve?" and state that he is in his head, doesn't that somehow imply that there's a split of some sort? It seems to go back to the idea of dualism. If we assume that brain=behavior, how does the "I function" come in? Isn't it redundant? I can't seem to reconcile these two ideas for myself; they seem too contradictory to be two parts of the same theory.

Reconstruction of Anatomy
Name: Brooks Amb
Date: 2006-02-05 23:56:37
Link to this Comment: 17983

I want to respond directly to people's posts in light of some of the things I'm going to begin writing, so I don't want it to look like I'm ignoring the conversations everyone is having! Please let me know if you think this long essay style is an inappropriate use of the forum.


     I have a confession. I walked into this course with the prejudice that neurobiological theory as it stands is "wrong" and that therefore it is only useful insofar as I can learn something by demonstrating its fallaciousness. Paul's lectures have confirmed my prejudices, and though prejudices have a way of proving themselves despite the evidence, I hope that there is a rational basis for my conclusions. I wish to dedicate much of my writing for this class to the task of making the logic of my prejudice transparent, in the hopes that you will do me the honor of explaining whether I am right or wrong.

My mini-thesis is this: we can understand the limitations of neurobiology as a paradigm if we are able to A) demonstrate what is arbitrary about its theoretical foundations and B) provide a superior alternative paradigm. (Disclaimer: If I'm in over my head and/or barking up the wrong tree, this probably won't make a lick of sense.) I can't do much more than begin at step one with this post, so here goes.

Part 1.    The Reconstruction of Anatomy: Neurobiology as a Theoretical Synthesis

     Concepts, like neurons, are units in a structured system. Each system has a name appropriate to its unit and structure: organized neurons are called a nervous system; organized concepts are called a theoretical system, a theory. I would like to examine Paul's lectures as an exemplar of the theory that grounds the discipline of neurobiology.

     Neurobiological theory, again as exemplified by Paul's lectures, seems (logically) to be an attempt to critically synthesize three theoretical paradigms: nueroanatomy, radical behaviorism, and systems analysis. The first two are much more like each other than either is like the third.

     Nueroanatomy (Paul's diagrams of chopped up brains and spinal chords) and radical behaviorism (crickets) can be characterized as materialist-empiricist. (1) This term means that within each paradigm a researcher allows no concept to enter the theory that is not a direct generalization from an observable, and further where what is observable is defined as what is material/physical within the boundary of the body (actually, the material structure of the nervous system and its immediate environment (e.g. muscles but not bones)). For my purposes, nueroanatomy and radical behaviorism are methodologically equivalent save that they roughly fall along a divide between the dead and living body, respectively.

     Systems analysis (Paul's box model) may be characterized as structuralist-functionalist. The structural component of systems analysis defines concepts as units that derive their meaning from other units to which they are (systematically) related. As a consequence of this relational construction a unit can and should be understood in terms of its consequences for other units in the system. Structural theory is often built on the metaphor of machines, which are relatively simple systems. When systems are highly complex, as is the case for living systems (when they are taken as wholes), systems analysis may invoke the functional level of explanation. Within a functional logic, concepts are defined in terms of their consequences not for other units but for the system as a whole. (2) (3)

     If a theory is not relational it is descriptive but not explanatory. Nueroanatomy is descriptive. Because nueroanatomy is a theory of cataloging physical objects literally on the basis of differences in their appearance, it is useful as an explanation for behavior only insofar as observable physical differences (coincidentally) coincide with real relational differences. When physical differences do not correspond to significant relational differences, an explanatory endeavor may be misled, that is, it may look for relationships that do not exist. Conversely, when a physical structure seems visibly undifferentiated, the researcher may fail to see a relationship that does exist. Though it may be the case that physical differences are often "honest" indicators of relational differences, one cannot a priori assume a direct correlation (unless we have a theory about such a correlation, which we don't).

     Systems analysis moves to explain the ambiguous relationship between anatomy and behavior by using theory to abstract from the physical phenomena. Through abstraction systems analysis departs from material-empiricism, that is, it uses theories like the box model to make predictions about physical structures (instead of beginning with an "innocent" survey of physical features and deriving theories directly from that). These theoretical predictions guide new investigations into anatomy-behavior relationships.

     In the long run the success of these investigations depends on the status of measurement. (4) However, regardless of what is currently measurable the systems methodology relies heavily on constructs to fill empirical gaps in the explanation of behavior. (5) This means that the cutting edge of neurobiology will always rely on theory to be one step ahead of observations. Because the paradigm is very theory dependent, ye should not be fooled by its pretension to an objective empirical grounding.

     This has been a simple plea to take the (totally unresearched) theoretical underpinnings of Neurobiology seriously. Tune in next time for:

Part 2: Consequences of the "Arbitrary" Origins of Neurobiology: Toward a Structuralist and Functionalist Critique

(1) Radical behaviorism unlike its normal counterpart allows internal explanations of behavior if they are directly observable.

(2) Systems are analytically closed. Thus by definition two units are a part of the same system only if a change in one produces a change in the other. If this is not the case, a system boundary must be drawn between the units. In this light last Thursday's discussion of Christopher Reeve makes the concept of the nervous system a conceptual error. If boxes in the spinal chord are in no way affected by being separated from boxes in the brain, then they were never really related in the first place and thus cannot be categorized in the same system. We really have many nervous systems, not one. I have yet to figure out if this is theoretical nitpicking or if it is actually important.

(3) Functional logic is controversial; I think of it as a guide in the development of structural theory, a stopgap solution to understand systems that are so complex that at first their structures are impossible to see transparently. Others may view this prospective structuralist approach as futile either by condemning functional analysis as too narrowly circular or by accepting it as legitimate on its own.

(4) Unfortunately, in the long run, we are all dead.

(5) Constructs are concepts that do not refer directly to observables though they are used to explain observables. Paul's box model and Freud's model of the personality are both examples of constructs.

"I" function
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-02-06 03:07:58
Link to this Comment: 17984

In reference to whether Reeve's "I-function" changed as a result of the injury, if the "I-function" is including "thinking, experiencing, and self-reflecting", then it underwent changes as a result of the injury. I would argue that, rather than the "I-function" being based soley "the shoulders", that in his case it was restricted to "above the shoulders" because of the injury.

I'm also curious as to what implications, if any, the reports that he had begun to regain some sensation in his limbs before he died have on our discussion (I do not know if these reports are true or not, as I could not find any mentions in medical journals, only some articles at CNN and CBS).

The connections we can't see
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-02-06 07:25:48
Link to this Comment: 17985

I was reading the New York Times, and came across an article entitled" Searching for the Person in the Brain". (

The article discussed how, with the advent of imaging technology, the brain has become the pop star of the scientific and behavioral world. There was a very interesting section of the article, that I think really connects to our discussion of the boxes in the brain and their connections.

"The catch is that, for all their power, imaging machines are like the Mars probe: they see surfaces, mountain peaks, valleys — without being able to take samples of the underlying terrain.

The regions that peak in activity when a person is happy or guilty or jealous are connected to many other areas along complex circuits distributed throughout the brain that are, for the most part, still unlit by the computerized spotlight of the imaging machine.


The subtle biology that integrates and coordinates disparate areas of the brain, like the visual, the verbal and the emotional — the interlocking symphonies of activity that make us individuals, that help determine what we do when jealous or inspired by a work of art — are absent, despite all the color-coding and exotic names for areas of the brain.

"The risk is that seeing the neural activity allows people to take away or excuse responsibility for a behavior — to take away the individual person," said Dr. Brown of the Einstein School of Medicine.

I agree with Dr. Brown in that the intese scrutiny of the brain is really turning it into the be all and end all of behavior. But since the images we are seeing aren't necessarily the whole picture of what is going on in the brain, isn't it dangerous, or at least irresponsible to be making specific claims as to what is going on inside the brain in terms of behavior?

Also, while I agree that brain (aka whole nervous system) is behavior, but maybe such a statement is too simple - we need to keep in mind that so many more factors govern the formation of the brain - genes, evolution, environmental factors such as toxins. I find myself focusing only on the structures of the brain, but if, as the NY Times article reminds us, there is a level of organization beneath what we can see on the imaging machines, isn't it alltogether possibly that there are further levels of organization that extend beyond the boundaries of the brain to encompass the whole body, or even the whole environment?

The "I" function, memory
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-02-06 10:22:31
Link to this Comment: 17987

The concept of an “I” function raises some interesting ideas about the identity and self-recognition. If a survey was taken, I believe the majority of people would consider their mind to be the essence of their “self,” but then the question arises, “Is it the only thing we need to identify with ourselves?” There are several modes of thinking out there that I am familiar with: there is the Bernard Williams’ physical continuity theory, and there is the Cartesian idea that one’s identity is associated with the mind.

The physical continuity theory is based on the idea that one identifies with his/her physical body more so than his/her own psychological self. Although I don’t wholeheartedly follow this theory, it does raise an interesting point. Place yourself in the following situation and ask yourself what would you do?

There will be a series of events that will vary how connected your physical being is to your psychological being. These events will be in the form of some sort of physical torture followed by changes in your psychological being, so that by the end of the series of events your physical body is the same, but your psychological being is totally different. Would you try to escape?

My answer would be yes, but not because I more closely identity with my body than with my mind. Instead, I would try to escape out of sympathy for my body and the “new” person existing in original physical body at the end of the series of torturous events. Naturally, we have a close connection to our physical body, but I don’t think that it is essential to our own identity.

The other theory is based more on the mind/brain and memory than the physical body. If there were to be a brain transplantation between your physical being and another’s, where will “you” be? I believe that “I” will exist wherever my mind exists just as long as I retain my memory from who I was before the operation occurred. Memory is the link between our individual mental states; without my memory, I would not exist as the being who I believe I am even though my body and brain are still functioning. I know this raises a whole new set of questions about memory, which can be saved for a future forum discussion.

Searching for the Person in the Brain Response
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-06 14:58:33
Link to this Comment: 17990

I am responding to Astra’s comments about the New York Time Article “Searching for the Person in the Brain.” I am conflicted in how I feel about using MRIs to generate so much knowledge about the brain for exactly the reason that both Astra and the article mention- excusing behavior and loss of individuality. This risk is even more serious if we are operating on the brain=behavior premise which we have discussed goes two ways (brain=behavior and behavior=brain). If we can show that certain behaviors that people exhibit are biologically based, they may make no effort to control these behaviors. If they did control their impulses, perhaps they could ultimately alter their brain in such a way as to eliminate them. This probably sounds clearer with an example, such as smoking. If a tendency to become easily addicted is inherent in someone’s brain and they are aware of this, they may not try to resist the urge to smoke. If they do not convince themselves that this is biological, perhaps this person will exercise the will to stop smoking and ultimately this behavior will reduce the brain’s addictive tendencies.

While I am completely in support of using MRIs in courts or to help people with mental illness, I do think it is possible to expose so much information about the brain that it creates more problems than solutions.

MRIs and the "I function"
Name: Jessica E.
Date: 2006-02-06 18:36:43
Link to this Comment: 17991

I also read the NY Times article on MRIs and found it to be short-sighted despite (or perhaps due to) it's intention to look ahead. I see MRIs as just being a prerequisite to future technology; I predict that eventually scientists will be able to create a device that can replicate brain waves and neuron transmissions and thus portray dreams, memories, current perceptions, and perhaps even thoughts in a way that outsiders can perceive. Obviously, knowledge of which portions of the brain and which neurons' signals to focus on is necessary for this, which is being rapidly provided by the brain mapping done by MRIs and other scans (CT, ETG, etc.).

Consequences of MRIs and any other study of the brain (such as placing blame on biology) are significantly more good than bad. Smoking was cited earlier in the forum as an example. If certain individuals are more prone to smoking addiction, chances are they don't need a brain scan to tell them that. Besides, prone or not, anyone can use the excuse that tobacco is chemically addicting to absolve themselves of blame for their addiction, but finding this out was significantly more beneficial to addicts than not letting them know. Knowing about its chemically (and psychologically, for that matter) addictive qualities helps people receive better treatment--under the assumption that cigarettes are only psychologically addictive but not chemically addictive, most people would just be told "you don't have enough willpower to quit" rather than receiving more useful help (not that social pressure can't be useful . . .)

Moving on, I'm not particularly fond of the "I-function" in that it makes decisions seem rather simple and one-dimensional. The problem is in defining just what goes into the "I-box." Let me illustrate with a personal example:
As a child (and even now) I was terrible at getting shots. On one occasion I ran out of the room and down the hall in my paper gown upon seeing the needle. Frequently, the nurses had to nearly pin me or my arm to the examination table. Even on my better days, I still pulled my arm away at the last second. What part of "me" caused this behavior?

On the most basic level, sensory neurons did not receive any input that would illicit a reflex since most of my reactions occured before the needle was anywhere near my skin. So the sensory neurons->spinal cord->motor neurons situation (like pulling your hand away from a hot stove) is not applicable. My reaction required visual input, which requires analysis from the brain. However, even the eye->visual cortex->spinal cord->motor neurons model is too simple (this would apply for seeing a sudden flash of bright light where without thinking you shield your eyes or blink) because although needles are scary-looking, it's only upon contemplating why they could pose a threat that they become threatening.

So clearly, there is some additional cognition involved. Although complex, it probably goes something like this: seeing the needle stirs previous memories involving that same instrument, which are memories of pain. Through classical conditioning, the brain knows without conscious congition that needles are painful. Thus, needles are considered a threat and so it sends a message to the arm to move itself away from the threat.

Still not complex enough. After all, I could have my eyes closed and still know the needle was there and want to retract my arm from it because the nurse told me it was time for a shot. The sound "it's time for a shot" is not threatening, so the sound of the words has to go through the ear to the temporal lobe, but then to the language comprehension sections of the brain, which then requires a level of recognition of what a "shot" is, prompting memories of previous shots, needles, and pain, prompting fear, prompting a recognition of a threat, prompting the message to the arm to move away.

So this example indicates that the "I-box" has many levels, from basic to advanced, dependant upon how complex the steps (and what parts of the nervous system) are needed for the output. But there's one problem. Eventually, I always ended up getting the shot after all, by holding my arm still rather than retracting or running away. Despite all these levels of cognition and reaction, I did not act the way these processes wanted me to. There was cognition going on that thought "I need to get this shot, to get this shot, I need to stay still." Now, my question is--did this function "override" the "lower" functions? In which case, is the part of my brain thinking "ohgodaneedleihateneedlesgetitaway!!!" lower than the part thinking "keep the arm still"? If so, then how come there arises another part that also wants to pull away, that snaps back at the part wanting to stay still, "what do I need a polio shot for? The last case of polio in the Western Hemisphere was in Peru back in 1991!"? At this point, there are two conflicting parts of "me" wanting to do two totally separate things, yet both on equally "high" levels of cognition (although one is based in "lower" cognition while the other has no backing from "lower" cognition).

On a more philosophical note, perhaps this is where humans got the knowledge of the demon on one shoulder and the angel on the other. The demon argues for something desired by more "basic" portions of the nervous system, while the angel argues for something that goes against the "analysis" of the "basic" portions. Is the angel the true "I-box"? Then why is the demon able to argue on equal grounds (in that they are both having a verbal argument in the form of conscious thought) and still not part of the "I-box"? Even more complex, what of when there are two or more "angels" arguing for two different actions, none of which are based upon "lower" levels (such as picking rock, paper, or sissors)? Is the "I-box" what determines whether "I" listen to the demon or angel? Would the "I-box" have to include the simpler thought processes of conditioning, or visual sensation, or even anything occuring in the brain (vs. the spinal cord/sensory/motor neurons)? I think an "I-cloud" would be better (borrowing from the "electron cloud" in physics).

And there is my page-long-single-spaced explanation of why I don't like creating an "I-box" in our model of the brain. Whoops. ^-^;

I box/response to Jessica's post
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-02-06 20:20:47
Link to this Comment: 17992

When Jessica was talking about getting a shot, she asked if she didn't act the way her brain processes "wanted" her to. I'd say that brain processes don't want you to do anything--although you might be predisposed to act in a certain way because of past conditioning, learning, and associations (in a sense, habit). (It is an interesting question though--where "want" lies in the brain. I'd say mainly in the lower areas of your brain like the limbic system and brain stem, where most of our more primitive drives come from.) But yes, I do think that in that situation, parts of your brain, probably mostly your frontal lobe/prefrontal cortex, played a very important overriding/controlling role. There are tons of times when this part of the brain executes self-control, in a sense acting as a check on the more "primitive" areas of your brain that I just mentioned. I'd say it's this self-control and other functions of the cortex that set humans apart from other animals (hence why our cortex is so much larger than other animals relative to the rest of our brain). (In a sense, we don't obey the Harvard Law--put us in a certain situation and we won't do whatever we want.) I can't think of any incredibly amazing examples of this controlling done by the frontal/prefrontal cortex, only not eating when you're hungry, and like I've been talking about, "getting over" your fears. Many times, I think getting over fears (and many other processes) requires a process of re-learning, such as systematic desensitization for various phobias--where the patients are gradually exposed to what they are afraid of, and practice relaxation techniques so they learn that horrible things do not happen when they are exposed to the scary stimulus.

I think that just because we put an "I box" in the model does not mean it is simple in any way. But I do think it needs to be included somehow, we just have no idea how else to include it. In general, scientists have no clue how consciousness is manifest in the brain--so why not start by giving it a box? Our model is obviously extremely simplified--the boxes should overlap, be contained within each other, have a ton more connections and feedback loops--between and within the higher and lower regions. It is possible that giving the "I function" its own box is misleading, and we should just say that our sense of self arises from all of the boxes and their connections. But this reminds me of the Gestalt psychologists a while ago and their theory that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (which I don't agree with in this situation). I think we need to try our best to explain how all the parts lead to the "I function," instead of implying that the sum of all of the parts somehow magically produces it. Sorry this wasn't very coherent...

Pattern Making
Name: Nancy
Date: 2006-02-06 20:46:44
Link to this Comment: 17993

As we were first introduced to the nervous system as a series of input/output boxes, I felt as though all the stress on the variability of arrangements and possible responses was somehow missing the point. Isn't it ultimately more useful to look for patterns in the boxes? Especially given the infinite number of variations possible.

I had a question about the spinal cord and damage blocking signals from the lower half to the brain--- I understand the concept that signals still occur below the damaged area in the spinal cord but never make it to the brain. I am wondering about the damaged part of the spinal cord... If the spinal cord is organized to map onto the various parts of the body, will the body parts that correspond to the damaged area respond to stimuli like the foot of a quadriplegic?

Neurotransmitters and Alzheimers
Name: Brom
Date: 2006-02-06 23:45:58
Link to this Comment: 17996

In reading about Alzheimer's I learned that one of the sypmtoms of the disease was a drop in the levels of neurotransmitters like Acetycholine. According to my pre-med friends the chemical structure of the neurotransmitters is known, if this is the case how close are we to being able to give an Alzheimer patient a shot of whatever neurotransmitter she is lacking? Is exposing the brain to higher levels of the neurotransmitter enough or do we need to get them to precise neurons and neural connections? The construction and manipulation of neural transmitters into the brain seems to present man with a unique opportunity to manipulate the brain, and therefore behavior, with chemicals native to the body helping people suffering from a wide variety of neurological disorders.

Identity & Happiness
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-02-07 02:11:11
Link to this Comment: 17999

There are many comments on this week's forum about identity. One aspect of identity and neurobiology that fascinates me is the concept of happiness. Happiness is really a catch all word that captures many feelings like contetment, excitment, pleasure and more. An article in Time Magazine* discusses how people's happiness levels are determined by a mix of factors, including genetic disposition, past experiences (presumably including sociological conditioning), and individual free will.

As far as environmental factors go, people are often happiest who have encountered "mild to moderate doses of negative experience", rather than no negative experiences or many extremely negative ones. In addition to environmental factors, individual choices and willpower can also play an important role. For instance, people who meditate frequently often have higher neuroactivity in the left prefrontal lobe, especially along dopamine pathways. Activity in this area has been linked to the kind of happiness associated with being on the way to achieving an important personal goal. Buddhist monks and corporate workers have been the main testing samples to illustrate this phenomena.

This information is significant because it illustrates how the brain/individual can make specific choices that increase the likelihood that it will be happy and the body as a whole will function healthily (high activity in the left prefrontal lobe has been associated with lower risk for diabetes and other ailments).

Another important issue to come out of the research is that happiness is made of of distinct parts, like satisfaction at being close to reaching a goal vs. pleasure at eating pizza, that cause neuron firings in different parts of the brain. Happiness is a term that will undoubtedly remain in popular vocabulary, while neurobiological researchers will probably replace it with more precise language to illustrate a variety of other phenomena that make up an overall state of well-being.

*Lemonick, Michael. “The Biology of Joy.” Time Magazine Special Mind & Body Issue. January 27, 2005.

Name: Scott
Date: 2006-02-07 05:04:29
Link to this Comment: 18000

These are just a few general points to complicate the simplicity of the construct we are abstracting from two types of scientific observations: 1) observations of behavior (in the broadest defenition we have allowed), (from brain activity monitors to hammer knee reflex test) and 2) observations of observations, which speak to the un-pinnable plentitude of our personal experience of the world. So, the fragmentation that is inherent in language haunts our observations at every step because language is an abstraction, a 're'-presentation that forbids catching the fleeting world. Since language cannot catch the world before it happens, it projects a reality onto the world, so the world seems ordered and things match up (love the concept and the love the word inform each other--and so the world becomes a tenuous space that has no fixed place). We are talking about the "i-function" and it's location, but we must remember that 'i-function', although related to an empirical reality, only has a location because of the "way" that the mind projects a metaphysical reality onto our experience of reality which was but no longer is nameless--it was sacred like god when we couldn't talk about it, and now by violating it we have also begun to deconstruct its mysteries. We are caught between two theoretical realities that approach each other--the description moves towards reality and reality moves towards description. There's more to be said about the 'i-function' but we can't forget that science is just another language, no more privileged or progressive than any other type--philosophical, artistic, literary, etc.


location of the I-function
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-02-07 08:21:44
Link to this Comment: 18001

If I had not been shown in grade school the brain in the human body and told that that's where thinking happens, would I still picture my thoughts in my brain? Did/do other societies who believe/d the person is elsewhere imagine their selves located in the heart or some other organ? As I'm not conscious of all the little boxes in my brain and their interactions, I can't know on my own that that's where my thoughts occurr.

More on searching for the person in the brain
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-02-07 09:22:15
Link to this Comment: 18003

I also read the New York Times article, Searching for the Person in the Brain. I thought that is was really interesting. I agree with some of the ideas that have been stated about how dangerous it can be to use this technology in order to help us in understanding the brain. I was shocked, for example, to hear in the beginning of the article how lawyers use these new discoveries to their advantage in protecting criminals by claiming that stabbing someone to death is just a result of their brain.

This particular passage of the article really struck me:

The technology, he said, though now central to brain science, "is in one sense disappointing, in that so far it has told us nothing more than what a neurologist of the 19th century could have told you about brain functions and where they're localized."

And that may be where the hazard lies. The brain's increasingly popular image is a fascinating prop, a colorful as well as useful map, but so far it provides only the illusion of depth.

The subtle biology that integrates and coordinates disparate areas of the brain, like the visual, the verbal and the emotional — the interlocking symphonies of activity that make us individuals, that help determine what we do when jealous or inspired by a work of art — are absent, despite all the color-coding and exotic names for areas of the brain.

This above passage parallels my view of how these new discoveries about the brain should be viewed. I believe that although we can use MRIs to find out what happens when I hug my sister, or laugh at a joke, that is all just the surface. The areas that light up are more or less just an internal response to a certain stimuli. But it is the unique outward manifestation of that stimuli, still allows us to be unique. When two people hear a joke, what makes one person laugh to the point of crying and another person just smile. The same areas of the brain may be stimulated, but the outward response is totally different.

I understand the concern some of my classmates and this article have expressed. That this technology takes away our individuality, but I believe we are much more than just colorful lights on a display. Our brains may all have the same mechanical functions, but our minds, our souls, are totally our own.

Name: courtney
Date: 2006-02-07 11:22:10
Link to this Comment: 18005

As I said in class, my initial post had less to do with treatment and more to do with perceptions of the self. Equating “self” with “brain” fails to acknowledge the extent to which we are reliant on our bodies for our selves, and the ways in which our non-nervous systems constitute the self. The classic philosophical example is the ‘brain in the vat.’ If the brain is the self, this entity should be a self, also, right? But without a body to provide input, the brain is useless…it doesn’t even know that it is a self, or how to define that self without the ability to relate itself to the surrounding world. In the world of Eastern medicine, there are several counterexamples pointing at the life of individual cells, energy fields impacting the body, effects of non-neuro body chemistry, etc. which significantly alter an individual’s life and identity. Essentially, cognition is not the primary requisite of being (see also: Jessica’s examples pertaining to doing things without being aware of them…clearly issues of cognition and recognition and need to be unpacked). These arguments may in fact enforce the brain=behavior model, yet resist the isolated self=brain model…perhaps as a syllogism the whole argument retains its validity. Also, in relation to Astra’s post, it does seem that we are hierarchizing the nervous system as the premier, most fundamental organization of the self, and I would caution that this methodology engenders a particularly narrow view of, well, life.

On the subject of massage as treatment, I want to point out that the effects of massage can in fact be measured—cortical levels, blood pressure, effects on the lymphatic system and circulation to a specific area, etc. Lately I’ve been fascinated with the Foucauldian take on disease: he discusses the shift from diagnoses that emphasized the four humors within the body and heavily relied on the subjective nature of “disorder” to the articulation of disease as an isolated, localized abnormality within the body. With this shift, disease suddenly became objectified, externalized, and pathologized—a non-existent ideal of the normal human form was held up as a map, from which every individual would inevitably deviate somehow. I bring this up because it obviously has dramatic repercussions as far as identifying the self, identifying disease, treating disease, separating mind and body to do so, etc. Isolating the brain as the self and disease as something that happens to the body removes the personal agency involved in healing according to the primary tenets of massage and other “alternative” medicine practices.

Date: 2006-02-07 12:24:38
Link to this Comment: 18006

A few thoughts about the discussion in class today....
1. I really liked what was said about The Self today. If we accept that The Self of a brain transplant patient would be different, and examine the possible causes for the differences, we come up with the conclusion that these differences originate entirely outside of what we define as the nervous system (hormones etc.) However, if we're simply pointing to the environment as this source of change, then our Self changes every day just as our environments change every day! It seems like the entire concept of The Self is much more fluid than the way in which we've been presenting it. I would appreciate some expansion on what The Self really means. To elaborate on this point, I'm currently reading An Anthropologist on Mars, and in the book, there is a lengthy discussion of lobotomy and how The Self changes post-precedure. Basically, lobotomy had been fairly unquestioned medical practice until the early '60s, and it was because people saw observable changes in The (formerly "tormented) Self of the patient. Clearly, the patient had a Self pre-procedure, and the patient clearly had a different Self post-procedure, but how do you distinguish whether the patient is a new person or not?
2. Furthermore, if the surroundings (hormones, the differences in the structure of bodies etc) play such an enormous effect on the system (CNS), can we discard the notion that brain = behavior and say the combination of everything (the brain and all possible stimuli) = behavior?

Is the Self the Highest Box?
Name: Brooks Amb
Date: 2006-02-07 13:00:28
Link to this Comment: 18007

Mariya made a comment in class today that problematized how we normally think of the self. She said, or at least I think she said, something to the effect that often the "self" is spoken of as a "high" level of our organism, if not the "highest." We are being asked to reject the Cartesian notion that the self is so high that it floats above the body, but in our own model we might hypothesize that the self is still the "highest" that you can get within the nervous system. Highness needs to have a meaning, and I think this notion of the highness of the self has something to do with the presumption that our egos are more or less in control of our behavior. I If we accept the I-function as an autonomous box that is interdependent with other autonomous boxes, we can certainly think of the self as processing signals and giving commands. This would shed light on the questions we have been asking about choice: the only limitation on choice is the quantity and quality of information receivable by the I-function (the problem of attention). Within that range of understanding, "we" have a tremendous capacity to choose (the problem of intention), even if our commands may be conditioned by the capacity of our "lower" nervous system and body (the problem of control?).

But might there be higher levels of control than the I-function? We can easily rearrange our box model in a way that knocks the brain down the chain of command. Instead of or in addition to processing data and issuing commands, perhaps the brain receives commands--which it must obey--from a higher authority that has already processed information outside of the I-function. It is in this context that some "feelings" we discussed make sense. Perhaps the difference between the feeling of the chair under our bottom and the feeling of sharp pain is that we may or may not feel the chair depending on our "attention," but we have no choice but to feel the pain, and a much more limited choice as to whether we "intend" to do something about it. Maybe pain is a higher, more primitive source of decision making that is located outside of the I-function. Or maybe pain is a remote control built inside of the I-function to be exploited by some nefarious stranger.

Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-02-08 03:15:56
Link to this Comment: 18014

During class today, I came up with several questions:

- What happens when we laugh? I know that it relaxes us and makes us feel good, but why are those two things connected?

- What is it about alcohol that makes you forget? It's almost like getting drunk puts you in that place just before sleep where you can't remember anything. I've fallen asleep watching TV and then woken up the next morning in my bed with pajamas on and everything, having the same "Well how did I get HERE?" feeling people with hangovers often have.

- In response to Nicky's comment about the Spanish speaking, I've noticed something similar with French. I've been taking the language for many years, but it's only recently that I've noticed that after leaving class, I would still sometimes speak or think in French. And then one day last semester, it just didn't stop, and ever since then, I've had two lines of thought going: one in English as usual, and then a second later, one in French. So what's going on up there? I think maybe my brain finally switched the "processing French" process over to the same neurons as "processing English", since they don't happen at the same time, but they work equally well.

Date: 2006-02-08 10:16:28
Link to this Comment: 18019

Oops, in my post above when I said brain I meant "self," so it should instead read:

perhaps the self receives commands--which it must obey--from a higher authority

Is there a way to edit a post?

Drinking and Memory
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-08 19:35:49
Link to this Comment: 18024

When we were talking about the “I” function and awareness the other day, I began thinking about drinking. We agreed that sometimes we are not aware of all the output we create. How come when a person drinks heavily they create output that they are then unaware of but can be reminded of? For instance, if someone has a heavy night of drinking and creates output unknowingly, the next morning they will not remember it on their own, but if one of their companions mentions it they will recall many more events. This phenomenon may not be unique to drinking, because repressed and other types of memories could be considered similar things. It does, however, occur with a great frequency when alcohol is involved. I know that alcohol inhibits certain areas of the brain, but this example would seem to indicate that once the alcohol has left the system, some sort of cue is needed to reactive memories that were stored without the person’s awareness.

week 4
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-09 11:48:21
Link to this Comment: 18041

Busy week ... from the I-function and its implications to action potentials, ions, concentration gradients, and membrane permeabilities, which, it turns out, have some pretty interesting implications too. Some places to get started perhaps, but looking forward to hearing about whatever seemed most interesting to you this week.

The Self
Name: Christin
Date: 2006-02-09 16:20:12
Link to this Comment: 18044

The Self and the I-function really are extremely fluid. In her memoir _Where Is the Mango Princess?_, Cathy Crimmins discusses her husband Alan's extreme personality changes after his TBI (traumatic brain injury). In the initial months after the accident, he is extremely juvenille and often exposes himself in public. To her distress, he also loses his sardonic sense of humor. The book also examines the effects of Alan's TBI on Crimmins herself and her daughter Kelly. She says it's "terrifying" how unstable the personality is, and I am inclined to agree with her. Isn't it strange to think after a bad car accident that we could wake up as a completely different person?

I've also read that people who have organ transplants experience radical changes in mood and appetite. This is not the same as personality but it is interesting to think that we are impacted on some small level by this shift.

Date: 2006-02-10 17:47:10
Link to this Comment: 18056

During class we were discussing how as humans, we are always getting inputs and outputs but that our awareness of inputs are a small part of behavior. I think that inputs are a vital part of what makes behavior and what controls out actions. In some cases as we were discussing in class, we can have sudden unconscious actions or realizations. Do we then have the ability to control what inputs we want to be conscious of? When do we decide to be conscious about a specific input stimulating behavior and does this therefore result in our abilities to manipulate those internal mechanisms? As seen in habituation, it is very clear that we can decide what we want to be conscious of and how we want to respond. Does this mean we have internal habituation, where certain inputs do not effect our actions?

Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-02-10 17:50:20
Link to this Comment: 18057

During class we were discussing how as humans, we are always getting inputs and outputs but that our awareness of inputs are a small part of behavior. I think that inputs are a vital part of what makes behavior and what controls out actions. In some cases as we were discussing in class, we can have sudden unconscious actions or realizations. Do we then have the ability to control what inputs we want to be conscious of? When do we decide to be conscious about a specific input stimulating behavior and does this therefore result in our abilities to manipulate those internal mechanisms? As seen in habituation, it is very clear that we can decide what we want to be conscious of and how we want to respond to certain inputs. Does this mean we have internal habituation, where certain inputs do not effect our actions?

Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-02-10 17:52:32
Link to this Comment: 18058

Sorry everyone... somehow my comments got put in the forum twice! The second posting is the polished version and my completed statement.

Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-02-10 19:50:42
Link to this Comment: 18060

I enjoyed reading the conversations between Kristine Stiles and Paul Grobstein concerning proprioception/I-function. I had trouble at first understanding the meaning behind the term I-function, but once it was explained in terms of propioception (a term I was already familiar with) I am now able to grasp its meaning. Everyone experiences the outcomes of propioception, but they may not know they are happening. According to Paul Grobstein, "All incoming sensory information goes first to the "unconscious" part of the nervous system and only subsequently and after processing there does it reach the "I-function". The important point here is that our conscious experience is necessarily and always an interpretation of signals received from the unconscious; we (our I-functions) have no direct information about what is "out there". What we experience (and hence what we are capable of reporting to others through the "I-function") is inevitably an interpretation involving prior processes in the nervous system of which we are unaware (and hence what we experience, and in some cases report, might in principle always be experienced/reported in some other way)". Only a few people are able to really demonstrate exactly how propioception works. For example, those who experience a phantom limb or have "blindsight". However, I was able to experiece the workings of propioception when I learned how to walk downstairs again after I had knee surgery. The muscles I use to walk downstairs were unused for almost 3 months. As my physical therapist and I tried to go through the motions of walking down a stair, my knee didn't know how to bend (it was as if the muscles were asleep). What helped me was watching him make the motion and then visualize making the muscles in my knee bend. It took a while and a lot of practice before the muscles in my leg were able work well enough so that I could walk down the stairs. I think what made it so hard was that the unconcious part of my nervous system wasn't able to process the motion of walking downstairs since the muscles hadn't be used in such a long time, therefore the conscious part of my nervous system had no output to give me.

Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-02-11 15:47:12
Link to this Comment: 18069

I think the questions about memory are very interesting. Many people have mentioned the effects of drinking on awareness. Particularly I am interested in learning about long term memory and how knowledge is "stored" in the brain. I have always been fascinated when someone reminds me of a song or game that I learned ten years ago and how after I think about it for a moment I can remember the words or the rules.

Random Reactions
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-02-12 12:58:11
Link to this Comment: 18073

1. I agree with Nicky that the concept of memory is fascinating, but I wish the discussion were less focused on substance use/abuse and more focused on medical trauma, etc. The choice to drink too much should not be romanticized beyond the juvenile impusle that it is. I am not coming from a perspective of complete abstinence on the issue, althought it may sound like that. I just think that the college atmosphere elevates alcohol consumption to a level it does not deserve. Bright people can make less than intelligent decisions, but I would rather investigate the range of mental/psych. impulses to become inebriated and 'forgetful' than the effects of drunkenness. I heard some interesting thoughts on coping, addiction, genetics/environmental influences ealrier in the semester and would love to hear more discussion on those issues. Also, some people make claims about memory loss during drinking that are fabricated, and some people's memory loss/blackout is an indication of alcoholism- how do these circumstances fit into the discussion?

2. Christin mentioned the effect of organ transplant on one's sense of self- does the transplant directly affect the brain? Does the trauma of the medical procedure affect the psyche which indirectly affects the brain? Are the changes post-transplant conjured up by the patient's perception of their own physical changes, which equal a change in self (according to Courtney)?

3. Courtney makes an important point about the self necessarily including the physical being. I have to admit that her assertion makes a lot of sense. On another note, the correlation between massage and its physiological effects is not necessarily proof of a causal effect between massage and healing disease. The gap between those two things is similar to the gap between the practice and health effects of eastern medicine.

4. A couple last thoughts...pain seems to be obviously a primitive form of self-defense/alerting the brain to bodily harm, and pain has been medically proven to vary based not only on external stimuli but also on the person's awareness of their injury and the potential for amelioration...bad injuries often have delayed pain responses in crises where a person has to keep functioning before they tend to their own wound. I think Brooks was more accurate in his assertion that there must be a box 'higher' than the I-function box and that we should flush out our definition of 'higher' because current use of the term seems to imply a hierarchy of instinct, conscious thought, etc...

And how can the brain = stimuli? In my mind, stimuli affects the brain, which affects behavior. It's a linear progression as stimuli must traverse the brain before it can affect behavior. And (as previously discussed) we can have stimuli without behavior and behavior without stimuli.

Axons and Action Potential
Name: Jessica E
Date: 2006-02-12 13:41:21
Link to this Comment: 18074

When we were first discussing the action potential, to help explain it, several analogies were put forth (such as a traveling battery). I thought the transmission of a signal down the axon reminded me most of the Maglev trains. These are super-high-speed trains that are propelled by magnets and actually levitate over the tracks due to strong opposing magnetic forces. The idea is that the tail of the train is of similar polarization to the track behind it while the head of the train is of opposite polarization as the track in front of it, causing a push from the back and a pull from the front. One method of accomplishing this is using electromagnetic technology to change the polarization of the tracks as the train travels along it, so that the tracks have a "normal polarization" that changes only when a train is close by or overhead. This is obviously similar to the sodium-potassium pumps that alter the axon's polarization inside and outside the axon to propel the signal in one direction or another.

The thing I don't get is why a more advanced system didn't develop. Obviously, having reaction times of a second or more is extremely slow and potentially dangerous. Why couldn't a system develop more like that with electrical lines that run through the wall from a light switch to a light bulb in the ceiling? Isn't the brain an organized "electrical storm"? We know that electrical shocks from an outside source can cause muscle movement, so why did the body adopt such a time-inferior system?

Name: Liz
Date: 2006-02-12 13:53:54
Link to this Comment: 18075

I don't think that I see the self as being the highest box but rather the limit of perception. We can say that other parts of our body impact our mind, I won't argue that it does seem this way. However the question always lingers in my mind of whether those things that I think are happening are actually happening. I wonder if the reason that my self is altered by things outside my mind is only because my mind percieves as occurring. I keep coming back to this idea of whether or not there is anything here but my consicousness and my perception.
The mind has so much power over the body. I suppose it could all be explained biochemically; however, from being a martial artist one thing that you learn to do is shut off pain. A choice by my conscious mind is now impacting my perception of the world around me. I don't really know how to rationalize that but I just think that looking from the opposite side (the mind's impact on the perception of physical body not the body's impact on the mind) is interesting. I was always amazed when reading those faith healing stories and I wondered if the power of the conscious brain could really change the physical form.

Action Potential/Twins
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-12 15:21:12
Link to this Comment: 18078

If I understand correctly, since the size of an action potential is constant, it is the frequency of the action potential that creates variation in the strength of an input we receive. If this is the case, why do we have individual variation in how we perceive constant things? For instance, if some microwaves popcorn, we might walk by the kitchen and notice the smell one time, but the next time we walk past, it may seem really potent. Would this be a result of the action potential firing more frequently? If so, how can things in the environment change the frequency of an action potential? Also within that example, how can the sensation of smell lead to the feeling of hunger as it often does?

I thought it was really interesting how even though action potentials are firing all the time, we are often unaware (as in the question of whether or not we feel the chair we are sitting on).

Back to the recurring brain=behavior discussion, I was thinking about how identical twins fit into this picture. They have the same physical brains from birth, and are often raised under very similar conditions, and still can develop very distinct personalities. I’m not really sure how personality fits into the brain and behavior schema because I think that personality is more than just a combination of behaviors.

Brain = Behavior
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-02-12 16:47:55
Link to this Comment: 18081

I agree with the comments about re-defining the idea of brain=behavior to the brain's interaction with the body = behavior. This concept was supported in class with the example of the brain transplant and how a new self would be created as a result of a new brain interacting with a new body. It can also be supported with the example of someone with ALS,which was mentioned in class, where one's behavior is drastically changing and it is not the result of simply the brain changing, but by the brain's interaction with the body. The concept further shows the immense variablitiy of individual personalities, where people can be different not only by the many different organizations of "boxes" in the brain, but also by the many interactions that the different brains can have with different bodies.

Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-02-12 17:12:46
Link to this Comment: 18082

Rachel F’s posting about how she had to learn how to walk again after knee surgery reminded me of how astronauts have to learn how to walk after traveling in space. The astronauts have “forgotten” how to walk under the Earth’s gravity and have to learn again step by step. I found it interesting that it helped her to watch other people walk to remember how to do it herself. Her brain was able to use the visual stimulus to trigger the memory of walking, an action that we take for granted. None of us consciously “think” about the act of walking. By watching others walk, our brains can register the information and, in turn, remember how walking feels. By watching others perform an action, our brains are able to understand how they are doing it, and can help us to mimic them.

The adaptability of the I-Function
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-02-12 19:33:28
Link to this Comment: 18085

In class, I started to think about our discussion of Mr. Reeve and his "I-function". I wondered how flexible/adaptable our I-functions are. The idea of the I-function brought up, for me, issues on how, biochemically, my personality changes throughout my life. I would say that I definetely am not the same person that I was even 3 years ago - to what am I to attribute such a change. Certainly, I have had experiences that have had a profound influence on me, but how, in fact, does that influence work? Is my I-function being altered? My behavior in response to similar cirumstances is different, but in the past 3 years, I'm fairly certain that biologically I haven't changed much. So is the main purpose of our "I-function" the integration of current stimuli with previous stimuli/response sets? Also, to what do we attribute "second thoughts" - are they a blatant attempt by our I-funtion box to override the decisions/connections that we have made in the past and that we would otherwise tend to follow as precident?

Name: em
Date: 2006-02-12 19:48:34
Link to this Comment: 18086

when thinking about the I-function, and some of the comments posted here about gender and sex, i keep on turning back to anne fausto-sterling's work. in her book, "sexing the body," she looks at the dichotomous way in which sex and gender have been presented in feminist theory since around the 1970s. what she emphasizes in place of this either/or tendency is an emerging trend of observing sex and gender less dichotomously (both/and), and more systemically, acknowledging that there are complex networks in place which act and interact to create both sex and gender... sometimes, as with hermaphrodism, the biology (sex) is not as clear as a biologist would hope, with individuals of one phenotype bearing the outward appearances of the opposite. and other times, the body literally does not recognize the presence of hormones in the body which would make a person one "sex" or "another." what i'm trying to ultimately say is that if we could say that the I-function itself were not an impenetrable box but rather just as fluid and multi-faceted as any other of the boxes we've talked about, i'd be very happy. how many boxes are there inside the I-function? ... or as emily dickinson puts it "Germ's Germ be where?"

Name: Ebony
Date: 2006-02-12 23:06:30
Link to this Comment: 18087

This weekend, I broke my ankle. Granted the injury was to a region of my body far from my brain, my behavior has certainly been altered. I have to learn how to multi task with crutches and do homework with my leg elevated in bed. If brain = behavior, is it valid to say that my broken bones have had an impact on my brain in such a way so as to influence a change my in behavior? Or is this change in my behavior brought on by something separate from my brain?

I function and personality
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-02-13 09:25:48
Link to this Comment: 18089

I was re-thinking my perception of the I-function this weekend and how we discussed that the "self" may be changing constantly as we move from environment to environment. How much of this "self", then, is fixed? Where does our relatively static personality fit in? Is it part of the I-function or is it something entirely separate?

Name: Jen
Date: 2006-02-13 11:17:48
Link to this Comment: 18093

In response to Andrea’s post, I don’t think we are ever “fixed” or that our personality is “fixed.” The concept of the self is changing just as our environment around us. We learn something about our “self” with every new interaction with our environment. Without this interaction between self and environment, we probably wouldn’t have these concepts of self since there is nothing to juxtapose ourselves against; without the concept of “outside,” how can we determine what’s “inside.” We are constantly evolving—both in the internal and external sense. Just as science is under constant revision with the attainment of new observations and the adjustment of old theories, we are constantly altering our sense of who we are and how we interact with our environment.

However, if I understand Andreas’ questions correctly, I think she is wondering what anchors us to “who we are.” I think memory plays a large role in creating this link between who we were last year to who we are now. Imagine a spectrum of events in one’s life from, say, two years ago to now. What are you identifying with that causes this continuity from one event to another. Is it not the I-function? The bridge between one event to another resides in our ability to remember what happened two years ago. Think about someone who suffers from amnesia. In the most severe form, they lose all memory including the concept of who they were. From this point on, he/she must rebuild their I-function, or their idea of who they are.

Random thoughts
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-02-13 11:23:15
Link to this Comment: 18094

I found Rachel's post regarding proprioception to be fascinating, particularly the idea that the "conscious" portion of the nervous system relies on the "unconscious" portion for all information, which leads me to wonder what happens when the "unconscios" portion interprets the signal incorrectly. I hope that we cover that in more depth later in the course.

Thursday's dicussion of resting potentials and the sodium - potassium pump made me wonder what would happen if there was either a deficiency or an over abundance in one of the ions necessary for the pump. Could it result in an action potential inadvertently being created?

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-02-13 20:38:40
Link to this Comment: 18104

I also thought that Rachel's post on proprioception was really interesting. It occured to me while reading just how many signals and processes must be going on "under the radar" at all times. I would even feel comfortable hazarding a guess that there are many times more inputs and outputs that we are not even aware our body is dealing with. How then does the brain decide what signal "surfaces" consciousness and what criteria would such an input have to meet? It seems to me that the only times when I would notice an input that normally goes unnoticed would be to illicit some sort of behavioral change.... I'm not sure why yet this seems so significant to me, but it does.
I'm considering doing my research paper on "psychic blindness", or blindsight, which is an intersting consequence of specific stresses on the body or interruptions in the pathways that lead from the eyes to the brain. Basically, people who exhibit psychic blindness react to seeing objects and light (normal reflexes etc) but completely deny seeing. It seems like nearly all of the neurodegenerative disorders or just kinds of damage to the brain that people survive from damage the axon bundles, or the connections between boxes. Hmmm.
Lastly, while doing a bit of poking around online for more info on psychic blindness, I came across several articles discussing psychosomatic symptoms, a topic that I think is absolutley fascinating. I think I recall a discussion on this forum earlier on this subject, so I hope I'm not unconsciously (!) ripping off another's ideas. I think psychosomatic symptoms strike many people as bogus or fake, but I was surprised at how in line the idea is with our understanding of the nervous system! It seems to me to be totally rational that if the brain controls behavior, the brain could in fact control behavior of the body in the expression of different behaviors commonly categorized as symptoms. However, there is an element of a slippery slope in this claim, as I suppose it could be reversed to claim that if the body can in fact "give" itself symptoms of disease, why it can't always cure itself without medicine or any intervention.

"seeing thunder/ hearing lightning
Name: Brom
Date: 2006-02-13 20:49:23
Link to this Comment: 18105

I was fascinated by the idea of "seeing thunder and hearing lightning." I have heard that when under the influence of certain drugs one could "see" music or "taste" colors. Upon doing a little research I discovered that people who were not on drugs experienced this phenomenon, it is called synaesthesia. It is interesting to think about the implications of synaesthesia in development of the brain, in what situations would the ability to see sounds or taste colors be useful? What about the relationship between those experiencing synaesthesia and the vast majority of the human populations who experience the world in quite a different manner? Language seems like the connection between the two, because language is created in the abstract, it is not an experience, but rather something created or developed by man to sort out the varying experiences.

Controlling our axons
Name: Trinh Truo
Date: 2006-02-13 22:28:50
Link to this Comment: 18109

Sometimes to be more content people will "limit" or "control" desires which they feel should not or could not fulfill (i am unsure how or to what extent), so that they don't have to suffer from disappointment. When our desires or urges are shooting off signals for us to act to satisfy them, there must be another part in the brain that reconsiders this desire and the consequences of acting on it. Then when a decision of inaction is made, are the signals from the urges then ignored? Can the urges eventually be trained by the part that makes this decision to simply stop? To what extent can we control our involuntary desires or more specifically our awareness of them. Can we be our own anesthetics? Can we make ourselves not perceive pain, hunger, thirst or sexual arousal without any external inputs.

The I function and Attention
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-02-14 00:18:36
Link to this Comment: 18110

We have been talking about action potential and how that relates to the I-function. I am curious about why certain signals seem to “get through” to our brain, whereas others are ignored. While talking to a friend about this, she told me about a phenomenom called a “cocktail effect”. This occurs when you are having a conversation while many other conversations are occuring around you. Although you tune out the other conversations and pay attention only to your own, as soon as you hear a stimulus (such as your name), your attention is directed to the conversation you had been ignoring up until that point. The question is: have you been ignoring it the whole time or have you been processing it in some other “box” other than your I-function? Why is it that certain people are more easily distracted by stimuli during test taking than others? Is this because of ADD? Is this an actual disease and if so, what is it that causes these people (diagnosed with this disorder) to not be able to “tune out” as well as others? Many believe that ADD is not an actual disorder. Many people have difficulty concentrating at some point in their lives or in certain situations. I wonder what causes us to sometimes be able to control the signals that get through to our I-function but other times, be helpless to distractions.

mirror neurons
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-02-14 01:02:36
Link to this Comment: 18111

I'm doing a project on mirror neurons and I was thinking about where they might fit into our spaghetti bowl model. These neurons fire both when we perform a goal-directed action and when we see others perform the same action, and the same for facial expressions and their corresponding emotions. (These neurons are not activated in autistic children.) I think they are fascinating--that we are actually experiencing the other person's emotion or internally representing their action in our own brain, so that we can better understand, and directly understand, the action/emotion. Since these neurons have both motor and sensory functions, where would they go in our box model? Would they just be bidirectional arrows going through the same boxes? It was also amazing to me how specific these neurons are--for example, different neurons in this region fire for different ways of grasping objects, if the same motion is carried out without the object, and they do not fire if the action isn't goal-oriented or if the person uses a tool to grasp the object instead of their hand. Can all of our neurons really be this specific? If there area as many neurons as stars in the milky way galaxy I guess they can. And what defines a "goal-oriented" action in our brain?

I Function
Date: 2006-02-14 01:17:45
Link to this Comment: 18112

When we talk of the I many boxes are in this box? Or is it a box of its own?

consciousness misleading word
Name: Scott
Date: 2006-02-14 02:10:33
Link to this Comment: 18113

I think that we must re-visit problems that language causes when we try to conceive of a structural model for identity. The words: ego, consciousness, sub-consciousness, voluntary, involuntary, i-function, and others all imply certain things that are less than accurate about the experience of reality. The idea of 'sub' assumes a spatially organized model, but it loses an aspect of identiy's temporality--are parts of the self literally pushed down or back, and does this mean they have a certain lasting quality or that they are more "deeply" informative? As Rachel pointed out above can the direction and 'networking' abilities of attention really be mapped out, include, and/or exclude different factors from a universally descriptive i'function? Through meditation and conditioning can a 'self' change or is it an old self becoming more open to stimuli that were already there? Brom's example of synaesthesia perfectly demonstrates how categorical structures have invaded the organizational reality of the mind so that it seems impossible to see music or taste colors, and yet the potential for irrational experiences of reality is obviously a matter of who's doing the talking to one's 'self'. The thing we can't forget is that the way we talk about experience actually shapes its reality, and the variations of an 'i' function are infinite, especially when we begin to find new vocabularies to talk about them. I think I would even go on to say that in talking about identity scientific progress can no longer claim that it is getting the story less wrong, but as new stories are told new realities are created--the truth about the i-function does not exist beyond somewhere, it exists differently all the time, in the now, and in the process of re-describing it.

The Brain's Language
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-02-14 20:40:10
Link to this Comment: 18120

There has been some discussion about the brain’s role in language, specifically language acquisition. I was curious about what happens once a person has a mastered a language; the story doesn’t end there.

I was curious about certain aspects of language which seem unconscious? I was wondering what part of the brain chooses the words that we communicate with. Is it the ‘I function’? I began thinking about this after reading an earlier post where a classmate talked about learning a second language; how, when (s)he (?) began, (s)he was more aware of speech and more conscious of word choice but as (s)he has gained fluency, language has become more automatic. (S)he stated that (s)he didn’t know what language (s)he thinks in… which seems so strange. Language is something that I tie intimately to the ‘I function’ and, while I am aware that it is a behavior like any other (sensory input-interneuron-motor output), it was strange to think of language as an automated behavior (especially as I sit here typing, highly conscious of the words I am using).

I was also curious about gesturing. Why do we have unconscious movements that accompany our speech? What is the function of such movements? Cues to help aid retrieval of memory? If so, why do people gesture when they are talking on the phone and the person they are talking to cannot see them? To help communicate the speaker’s message? But how can this be when many gestures are vague and when everyone has their own unique gestures or ways of gesturing. In some ways, I think that gesturing is kind of like the brain’s own language… like the brain is joining in on a conversation… I am still mulling things over, but I am curious about other behaviors that the brain supplements seemingly independent of the ‘I function’.

Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-02-15 00:27:21
Link to this Comment: 18123

I am interested in the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious mind. I have a sense that sometimes the two (although "the two" implies a clear barrier, which may not be the best way to characterize the distinction) fight one another, for example when we have a desire for something like food. That desire is not something we really invent, we really do need food to survive. But it is possible, with practice and discipline, to take one's consciousness, one's sense of self, and sublimate that desire so that it is no longer consciously perceived, and the individual no longer feels hungry. This is done, I think, by changing the way one consciously perceives hunger, or the importance of it- see it as small and unimportant, and it lessens its grip. So this is an example of the consciousness "winning" over the unconsciouness.

Here's another example: while I was taking notes in class today, I conceived in my conscious mind the word I wanted to write. But if I didn't focus hard enough consciously on the formation of the letter I wanted to write, sometimes they came out wrong- r's as n's, or something. I guess this is an example of the unconscious part of me (motor neurons?) not quite getting the signal right, and my conscious mind not working hard enough to override that. So here, the unconscious "wins". It makes me wonder at the strength of the sort of athletes I watch on the Olympics- physically, yes, they're strong, but also, they must have very strong conscious minds, to, for example, override the times their unconscious mind doesn't quite process the signal well enough to let them keep their foot steady while they spin around on the ice, they have to consciously think it through every time and exert the physical effort to complete such a difficult motion, at the same time.

Conscious pain?
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-02-15 10:17:32
Link to this Comment: 18127

In class, the topic came up as to whether one could make a conscious decision to turn off pain. I think that yes, that is possible.

My freshman year of High School, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot. Assured over and over again my various doctors that it was not broken, I convinced myself of this "fact" and willed my foot to quit hurting. It wasn't until Junior year of High School when I woke up and found that my foot no longer moved that we finally realized that something was truly wrong. But it didn't hurt anymore. Or rather, I wouldn't let it hurt, even through rehab after the surgery I needed to fix it.

Last summer, when I broke my wrist, it didn't hurt either. I have, according to my doctor, been conditioned to no longer feel pain.

But this begs the question: since I am so used to not feeling pain, could I ever start feeling it again?


Action Potential and Orgasms
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-15 16:15:13
Link to this Comment: 18140

I am curious as to how the neural impulse creates orgasms. Are orgasms just a serious of action potentials? One action potential? Is the time in which the neuron’s membrane becomes sodium impermeable what is called the refractory period? Whether or not I am calling this by the correct name, I am wondering why women can have multiple repeated orgasms and men are less likely to be able to experience this phenomenon. Would this mean that the time during which the nerve membrane is impermeable to sodium is shorter in women? If so, does that hold in other parts of the body?

Name: rwoodruf@b
Date: 2006-02-15 21:04:02
Link to this Comment: 18147

I think it's interesting that just as people who walk on hot coals can condition themselves to not feel pain on the soles of their feet, we can condition ourselves not to feel internal pain (Emily L's experience). One stimulus comes from outside the body, and the other comes from within. Is a brain capable of regulating the outside world and its own internal world in the same way?

Furthermore, if the brain can manifest symptoms in itself (psychosomatic disorders) is it capable of taking them away just as easily? What are the limits to this restorative power? Does the brain have the power to cure the body without medical intervention?

In response to the dialogue concerning consciousness, I wonder if there must be liason boxes between the I-function and the other boxes that deal with inputs that never surface consciousness. Brooks, is this kind of what you meant when you talked about "highness"? If such mediator boxes existed, might they be "higher" than the actual I-function since they would control what the I-function experienced?

Lastly, I'd like to marvel a bit on another awesome moment I had thinking about the brain. I was watching The Royal Tenenbaums the other day, and my favorite part of the entire movie, when Owen Wilson says, "...and they rode off into the friscalating dusklight", got me thinking about action potentials. Friscalating wasn't a word before this movie came out, and yet, (just like Shakespeare!) in the context of the passage, viewers understand what the word is supposed to mean. In other words, the brain understands and even goes so far as to create meaning for something that hadn't existed previously. This is kind of like action potentials. Isn't it incredible that the brain can interpret and derive meaning from the infinite amount of combinations of action potentials down axons?! Even action potential patterns that it hasn't ever dealt with before!

Action Potentials and I-function
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-02-16 08:43:44
Link to this Comment: 18152

The discussions we have been having this week on the basic functioning of the brain have been very interesting. The only question I really have is what causes the initial action potential that drives all the others? Does the idea of the I-function have something to do with it? For example, does my arm move because the I-function, or the self, wants it to move? So the initial spark is started somewhere within the I-function. I don't even think we can get an answer to this question.

Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-02-16 08:50:14
Link to this Comment: 18153

On the subject of brain & behavior, Paul mentioned on Monday that humans have evolved in a way that is not the most biologically efficient. One of the evolutionary flaws of humans must be our occassional irrational predilection for violence. I wonder if neurobiological technology (MRIs?) will be able to help us understand how violence is triggered and thus how it can be avoided. If we learn how to avoid using the part of the brain filled with neurons that cause violence perhaps it will just atrophy away. I realize this is incredibly idealistic, but I really would be fascinated to see how neurobiological tech might eventually be used to help humans become more compassionate and rational.

signals starting in the middle of the box
Name: squirrels
Date: 2006-02-16 16:37:00
Link to this Comment: 18160

(Just a warning--this ended up as a jumble of unanswered questions and beginnings of thoughts.) Today in class I was very interested in the concept of signals starting in the middle of the box and the idea of the leech brain (and theoretically a human brain) producing patterns of activity when completely isolated. I also found it fascinating that restricting sensory input (i.e. darkness, silence, solitary confinement) very often induce hallucinations and schizophrenia-like symptoms. Under what circumstances does the brain create its own signals (its own inputs), and what sort of patterns are they created in? Why does the brain always need input/signals? Can people be trained not to hallucinate in this setting? (What amount of control do we really have over these "spontaneous" signals? How spontaneous are they really? But "we" are our brains, so of course "we" have control over these signals, perhaps just not conscious control...) And what if someone was raised in this dark room? I almost think that they would still hallucinate--but what would they hallucinate? I wonder if the hallucinations people experience in this setting are mainly of one modality or another (say, voices or visions) and not more tactile, "simple," maybe even motor sensations. It would be interesting if the brain had a bias for the types of signals that it created itself--why would that be? This independent creation of inputs seems like a computer having a ghost-writer or a network of computers starting their own spontaneous chat room. But you wouldn't say that the leech is "hallucinating," because its brain probably isn't "complex" enough to integrate these firings into anything complicated like stories or voices--what brain components do you need to hallucinate? Is this in the I-box? This got me thinking about dreams and the theory that they are random firings in the brain and that our "higher" brain regions like the prefrontal cortex make up stories to incoorporate/make sense of them. Again, we cannot last the night without creating our own inputs. And one unrelated thought--at the end of class, professor mentioned the possibility that not just individual signals, but patterns of action potentials can occur spontaneously--and I am very hesitant to believe this. I am more comfortable believing that neurons fire randomly (maybe certain neurons more than others, depending on a host of factors) and our prefrontal cortex, or some other region, is reponsible for the integration of these signals into something that we can understand.

Name: Gray
Date: 2006-02-16 16:39:34
Link to this Comment: 18161

Sorry, that last post was from me--I spaced out and entered my name wrong.

why oh why
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-02-16 20:57:01
Link to this Comment: 18164

So I'm trying to write this web paper, and my brain keeps getting up and pacing around. In fact, I have to pace around every time I have a uh, whatchucallit, thought. It isn't very efficient. Sooo, Paul, is there some sort of root, ray gun, hypnotic wheel, or children's cough syrup that will chill out my brain? Or should I just stop thinking?

And let's get on this topic of orgasms. Is that a sensory or a motor phenomenon?

on a less serious note
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-02-16 22:10:21
Link to this Comment: 18165

I'm reading about General Systems Theory and came across, in addition to the concepts of "input" and "output," the concept of "throughput." From the article (which I believe is temporarily free, so get it while it's hot):

"The fourth level is that of the 'open system,' or self-maintaining structure. This is the level at which life begins to differentiate itself from not-life: it might be called the level of the cell. Something like a an open system exists, of course, even in physico-chemical equilibrium systems; atomic structures maintain themselves in the midst of a throughput of electrons...Flames and rivers likewise are essentially open systems of a very simply kind. As we pass up the scale of complexity of organization towards living systems, however, the property of self-maintenance of structure in the midst of a throughput of material becomes of dominant importance. An atom or molecule can presumably exist without throughput: the existence of even the simplest living organism is inconceivable without ingestion, excretion, and metabolic exchange." (Boulding 1956: 203)

I was thinking about our box model with its inputs and outputs in the context of the brain in the vat or the man wrapped in gauze. Throughput gives the impression that, paradoxically, constant input and output of resources is required for the improbable stability characteristic of life. The nervous system is certainly in constant processing. Does it require throughput? If it did, putting it in a vat would have functional consequences. Just as a car engine requires at least a little bit of gasoline to keep from stalling, might the brain require some small (or large) amount of action potentials to keep from stalling? Is this what happened when they "induced schizophrenia" in the man wrapped in gauze? Was his brain stalling out? Since he really wasn't cut off from throughput we can't really compare it to the situation of the brain in the vat. Maybe the brain in the vat would be ok, since action potentials can start within the nervous system. But action potentials certainly don't all start from within. How much of the brain is dependent on "successful" input and output? Is it possible that 90% of the brain in the vat would stall out after it was cut off from throughput? That sounds like it would really suck. And what would our poor brain be left with?


Boulding, K.E. (1956). "General systems theory - the skeleton of science," Management Science, 2: 197-208. Reprinted in Emergence: Complexity and Organization.

making decisions.
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-02-17 10:03:23
Link to this Comment: 18171

On Tuesday’s class, we briefly talked about the idea of being able to will away pain. The whole concept of mind over matter has always fascinated me and continues to still produce more questions that answers. Being an athlete most of my life, I have learned to stay mentally tough, ignoring the physical pain my body experiences during a difficult workout. No pain, no gain…right? Like a Buddhist monk deep in meditation, I sometimes obtain a feeling of calmness during a long run; some people refer to this as the “runner’s high.” At this point in my workout, all of my physical pain has subsided, and I feel as though I can run forever. Whenever I begin on a run, my body feels lethargic and I contemplate the idea of just stopping. Most of the time, I ignore this feeling and continue on with the run; sometimes reaching this place of calmness. Unfortunately, I do not always achieve this high during my runs. Sometimes, the physical pain of my body is too much for me to ignore to begin with or that my state of mind just wants to be lazy. Relating my own experiences to topics discussed in class conjures up some questions. If we simplify our thoughts and physical actions as action potentials and their patterns, then when I make the decision to either ignore my physical pain and continue or to accept it and stop, is my brain producing a different pattern of action potentials or different action potentials all together? And how does my brain decide when to stop being lazy when it’s dealing with physical actions? You can apply these questions to being mentally lazy. What is the brain doing when I stop being lazy and procrastinating and start to do work? How does it make these decisions? Is having a good work ethic inherited and/or learned? Are some people more predisposed to work harder/ be more mentally tough?

Action Potential Inhibition?
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-02-17 11:38:03
Link to this Comment: 18175

As defined in our discussion Thursday, words, feelings and thinking (in general) are all patterns of action potentials. It is interesting to note that we can control all three of these categorized patterns of action potentials. If a feeling, for instance, is the result of a pattern of action potentials, then when we suppress feelings are we blocking the action potential from continuing or was there never an action potential to begin with? If these patterns of action potentials can be changed or suppressed, how do they “stop” within the body to prevent further response? Do we actually control these patterns of action potentials through inhibition or do we re-route the action potential to yield a different response? In the case of strong emotional feelings, some people deal with their sadness by suppressing tears and encouraging laughter. Thus, could it be that we are changing the pattern of action potentials to get a response quite different than the original?

Consciousness and Pain
Name: Christin
Date: 2006-02-17 18:57:58
Link to this Comment: 18184

In response to Emily L's comment, it is definitely possible to channel your conscious pain in another direction. The Hindi tradition of walking across firey coals or laying on a bed of nails is one example of this. People who enjoy experiencing pain (compulsive cutters, those who pierce their flesh with hooks) also say that extreme pain is a release and brings them to another level of consciousness that because of pain they are able to tap into their unconsciousness.

Central Pattern Generators
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-02-18 12:22:31
Link to this Comment: 18188

In class on Thursday we talked about how action potentials must be able to start within the nervous system and that these action potentials are organized patterns. This makes perfect sense when thinking about the role of central pattern generators. A central pattern generator (CPG) network does not rely on phasic sensory feedback from peripheral receptors for its expression. The input that triggers a CPG network need not contain any timing or pattern information; it only has to cause rhythmic movement. In humans, walking and chewing are examples of rhythmic motions caused by a CPG.

pain and injury
Name: Marissa
Date: 2006-02-18 13:40:52
Link to this Comment: 18189

In response to Christin (and lots of other peoples) comments, I find it very intersting to think about personal responses to pain. How is it that, for people who self-injure, this physical harm does not trigger the
"proper" pain pathways but instead brings them to a different sort of enhanced conciousness? Is that something that had always been present in their brain and they were expanding on that? But then what about when they "get better" and stop injuring. Do whatever sorts of therapy they go though help to refashion the brain so that these pathways do not exist anymore, or at least they arent as strong? Also, I think that often with this illness I think that the important part is "self-inflicted"--I would think that if they broke their arm or stepped on a nail they would still feel pain, perhaps because they werent in control of it? Does that mean then that they are somehow shutting some sort of pathway off before they self-injure, something that they can do as a way of preparing?
Also on the injury vein, often times if you have a mild cut or scratch, you do not feel pain until you realize it is there, usually by looking and seeing the blood. It is only when you notice it it begins to hurt. Why would that be?

Pain Addiction
Name: Liz P
Date: 2006-02-18 21:40:14
Link to this Comment: 18195

I find addictions to pain interesting. Beyond not feeling pain the hormones released can become addictive. In my martial arts class we discussed the addiction to the hormones released when people have freezing water dumped over their bodies in the cold for conditioning. I think I relate to this. When I was little I was hypersensetive to everything. To learn to function I basically learned to turn off pain. Now I do high pain sports; figure skating, pointe dancing and martial arts are all examples. I went to two concerts this week and I am so bruised that parts of my body just won't move and yet in some way it feels good. I am addicted to the feeling but I feel it is different in some way from those who self multilate. I suppose it is because I am more addicted to the hormones than the pain as the pain involved is minimal for me. This all changes my behavior and makes me in act in dangerous ways.

week 5
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-19 09:54:28
Link to this Comment: 18200

Things bubbling along nicely here, and you're welcome to stay in the flow or create your own. If you need something else to get you started, how about last week's realization that signals really DO start in the middle of the box and some of the problems/implications of that?

Name: Anna
Date: 2006-02-19 10:35:20
Link to this Comment: 18201

In the example with hallucinations and how they can start on their own, how is it that some people are able to control their hallucinations and others are not? Furthermore, how is it that some people are able to rationally explain that what they are seeing doesn't make sense and therefore, it can not be real while others are not able to differentiate between the two because both are a pattern of action potentials?

Photographic memory
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-19 13:26:26
Link to this Comment: 18203

I was thinking about the link between what we actually see and hallucinations and how the brain treats them the same (at least, I hope that's what we agreed on...)
At a young age I was told I had a photographic memory, although ironically I don't remember this happening at all and never thought that I remembered things differently from others. I've read that it may not exist, so maybe this really is how other people think, but I can "see" pages of notes from junior high school in my head. I'm curious why that's possible, and if anyone else does this.

seeing sound, hearing sight
Name: Tamara Tom
Date: 2006-02-19 13:52:54
Link to this Comment: 18204

I'm curious about the phenomenon of "seeing sound" and all other forms of apparent sensory mis-wiring. Are we sure that all people who see sound and feel colours are miswired? Or is it maybe just a conditioned response/association? What about sensing things that happened before? My mother would tell me of how she used to sense emotions in rooms. When her parents had been having an argument (which she did not know about and was not presentn for) in one room of the house, when she walked into that room she could sense the anger and hurt in the room. Similarly, why do some places just "feel creepy"? Is it because we have learned to associate certain aspects of these places with "creepiness", or is it actually something about the place that gives off something our sensory receptors pick up and we then "feel"?

Controlling Behavior and Action Potentials
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-02-19 16:39:59
Link to this Comment: 18205

In response to Danielle’s posting, I find the idea of “controlling” behavior through the controlling of action potentials very interesting. It is clear that we can control our behavior to some extent. We all “think” before we “say”, or so we are taught. If words, thinking and feelings are all action potentials, then what controls our ability to have “control” over these action potentials? Since all action potentials are of the same magnitude, then no one action potential can have more of an effect than another action potential. In other words, no one action potential can override another. So, how do we control our words? If thoughts, words and action potentials are all related, then how come we don’t always say how we feel?

Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-02-19 17:27:45
Link to this Comment: 18206

Playing off of the idea that signals are created inside of the box and thinking of the last question posed in class of “how do we come to know things we do not have receptors for” could it be that those boxes that create signals with in them shape perception of things we have no senses for. Could it be that some reaction created in a box; within the brain help to formulate our individual ideas about religion and higher powers? Could we actually have sensors for these things but the brain has a box, which created a reaction that makes higher powers and infrared light insensible?

Controlling Behavior
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-02-20 07:04:41
Link to this Comment: 18218

I'm not sure I buy into a concious ability to actually control the action potentials. I would think that our ability to control behavior comes from an ability to generate action potentials that override contradictory AP's. For example, say that our eyes are sending stimulatory action potentials to both the centers of our brain that control emotion, and to our prefrontal cortex. If the responses generated by the two centers are different - say one produces excitatory action potentials while the other produces inhibitory signals, then when the contradictory patterns reach the muscles, wouldn't the strong one win? I do know that at the dendrites (recieving end) of the neurons, both inhibitory and excitatory AP's are recieved, but only one type of AP is sent out - which implies some sort of processing of signals from all over the brain.

Also, a thought I had in class was: if Actionn potentials can start in the middle of our system, it makes sense to me that they can stop in the middle. I find that thought provoking in terms of what we see and react to.

Re: Controlling Behaviour and structure
Name: Caroline
Date: 2006-02-20 10:40:24
Link to this Comment: 18221

I’m not sure that I see what all the fuss is about in regards to “controlling behavior.” The degree to which we actually perceive that we control behavior may be an illusion anyway. We begin actions before our brain consciously registers beginning.
I do recognize the fine line between voluntary and involuntary actions. I agree with Astra that “our ability to control behaviour comes from an ability to generate actions potentials that override contradictory AP’s.” I feel that other variables have to be taken into account. Especially emotions, motivation, attention and predisposition.

I think that we are thinking about macroscopic concepts, such as feeling, but looking at microscopic structure. Maybe we need to zoom out a bit and look at bigger structures rather than just the basics of neurons. I feel that many of our discussions have a relationship to the amygdala, for instance, and the frontal lobes.

hallucinations and religion
Name: Mariya
Date: 2006-02-20 11:38:21
Link to this Comment: 18224

I, like Gray and Anna, have been thinking about the relationship between sensory inputs, signals starting in the middle of the box, and hallucinations. I’m ok with the concept of signals starting in the middle of the box. I’m even ok (as much as one can be) with the fact that one’s consciousness/I-function does not take it kindly when it is deprived of all input and starts to generate it for itself. But I have a different story to add to PG’s story.

In the former Soviet Union, solitary confinement and imprisonment of absolutely sane people in mental institutions were “normal” means of governing. Most people who went through these experiences of complete isolation (and even of literally being deprived of motion) ended up like the subjects in PG’s story, except that their schizophrenia-like symptoms did not go away in time. Psychologically healthy people (understandably) developed various mental illnesses that continued to disrupt their lives more or less violently after prison. This poses questions about the ability of the I-function to distinguish between outward and inward signals and also about our (apparent?) ability to easily “switch” to internally originated signals but (apparent?) inability to “switch back” to sensory input.

But what interests me most is this. Many religious people went through these experiences, and there are some studies in Russia now that suggest that these religious people were much more likely to remain sane. When they were asked what helped them, they answered “prayer”. Why is this possible? I’m, of course, in no way suggesting that believers were somehow more “healthy” or “better” than unbelievers! But. If by prayer we mean an encounter/conversation with something Other than ourselves, and if that Other does not depend or is not akin to normal sensory inputs, then it would make sense why the I-function didn’t go bezerk in the absence of signals from the outside. It was receiving them, but not from “conventional” sources. Which, for me, again poses a question of: does brain=behavior? Or is there something else intimately connected with brain, and both of them = behavior? Of course, one could say that religious people were simply hallucinating just like the unreligious people; they just rationalized the hallucinations as prayer, as “seeing” or “hearing” something. But then why one kind of hallucinations produces madness and another helps to stay sane, even if this is not a simple 1:1 relationship? Why is it that specifically religious “hallucinations,” if that’s what they were, seem “normal” to the I-function? I don’t think that it’s the question of “conditioning” – that these people believed prior to prison/mental hospital that the encounter with the Other is perfectly normal. Besides, they never described their encounters with the Other in hallucinatory terms; normally, they spoke of an experience that was at once a sensation and “something more” than a sensation, again pointing to the twofold nature of human mind/behavior. So… I don’t think I can formulate an answer to this yet. And sorry for the long post!

Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-02-20 11:50:10
Link to this Comment: 18225

While I was reading the comments on the ability to will away pain, I remembered something that I had read a couple of months ago, about children who are born without the ability to feel pain. If I remember correctly, the children would chew through their lips while teething, because they didn't realize that they were harming themselves. I was wondering what causes this problem, and if it was related to the ability to will away pain at all?

signals starting in the middle of the box
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-02-20 14:59:26
Link to this Comment: 18229

I think to some extent it has to be possible for signals to start in the box, as we sometime have thougths that pop into our heads. I often am just about to go to sleep, when I think about something I forgot to do, or need to do the next day. It can't be that the trying to sleep itself triggered the thought, but maybe it was there all along and when I stopped paying attention to other things, my I-function, or something, decided to pay attention to that message.

Also, with the idea that there has to be a certain amount of potential to actually set off an action potential, but that these potentials aren't perfectly consistent. It seems possible that every once in a while a convergence of potentials could become high enough to set off an action potential that would trigger some thought depending on where in the brain this all occured. In some ways, though neither of these (the message finally getting through or the randomly generated action potential) are completely independent of what's going on outside the brain. Just that the exact way they play out and bring up thoughts is so complicated/dependent on so many different chances that we can't trace it back to all the events that converged to set it off.

brain and behavior
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-02-20 23:47:41
Link to this Comment: 18247

I was thinking about whether the brain really equals behavior...In high school, I read about a man, I believe his name was Phineas Gage, who was in a serious construction accident. In this accident, a very long pole went through his head. Although he did not die, his behavior changed drastically. He became too aggressive to keep a job when he had previously been capable to do. I hadn't thought about this example before but now upon rethinking it, I believe it is rather good evidence for the brain actually equalling behavior.

Middle of the Box
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-02-20 23:48:23
Link to this Comment: 18248

In response to Andrew, are you implying that compassion is a necessary human characteristic? Is it compatible with survival? Maybe "random violence" (what is random) is an evolutionary development to support the existence of the brain's home, the body.

In response to Rachel, if the CPG is responsible to rythmic movement, how do we account for conscious and unconscious variations on that pattern?

Some of the problems with signals beginning in the center are related to our class discussion on what's controlling the center. It cannot logically be spontaneous, but the 'center of the box' hypothesis assumes no external stimuli. Is the I-function organized a bit differently/more complexly than the rest of the brain? Does self-awareness exist within the I-function box, and does that location have a special method to its madness separate from the rest of the brain's neural spider web? What is the mediator between the motor/sensory neurons and the I-function box? And if signals start and stop in the center, how do we even know they exist?

Action potential and membrane permeability seem too structured/limited to describe all possible brain function...the same process applies to moving one's leg and to philosophy and to love?

the brain's power to cure...or not?
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-02-21 00:54:19
Link to this Comment: 18252

Touretts syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary muscle and vocal tics, and often times compulsive swearing and other behavioral problems. From what I understand of the disorder, most individuals who exhibit symptoms have some genetic predisposition that causes this involuntary behavior. But what about people with sporadic touretts, who doctors claim have TS without the genetic factors. If it's not hereditary, then where does it come from? Is it just like any other neurological disorder in which one might be capable regulating the outside world and thereby regulating the inside world? (Recall the example of people being able to walk on hot coals without feeling pain.) This would suggest that one with sporadic TS, who has no genetic basis for the disorder, could use the mind over matter approach of eradicating TS from the brain. At this point in time, I cannot comprehend the brain's ability to cure such a disorder without medication, but perhaps I am underestimating the power of the brain...

Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-21 12:08:46
Link to this Comment: 18269

I was thinking about the subject of rationality and what I recently learned in a cognitive science class. There's a phenomenon called "probability blindness" that prevents us from seeing certain odds and probably is why we're such bad gamblers. I thought about this in relation to things we don't pick up on, like the infrared stuff. We talked in class about the possibilities that we could either have or not have the ability to perceive these things, or they could just be created in the brain. So then, what is math? Are there some sorts of math that we don't pick up on, or is math something we've made up to understand the world?

Unconscious mind
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-02-22 11:13:29
Link to this Comment: 18283

I was reading the Science Times section of the NYT yesterday and came across an interesting article dealing with the unconscious brain and how its possible role in complex decision making. “The Unconscious Mind: A Great Decision Maker” reports on a series of experiments that test a group of participants faced with the decision to choose the best buy out of four car choices. Given a series of car attributes, the participants choose the best car when they were given time to think about it, instead of when they were distracted and then asked to chose a car. However, when the participants were given 12 attributes, those who were distracted in some way made the wiser decision as compared to those who were given several, undisturbed minutes. This finding brings some relevant questions to our class discussion.

The unconscious mind doesn’t seem to be a part of the “I” function we have been talking about in class. Then what is it? Just a pattern of action potentials? From the evidence of this case study, it seems like the pattern of action potentials that go “undetected” by the “I” function are not totally random since the participants were able to make a sound decision when distracted. So, does this pattern of action potentials have a pre-determined course/pattern in the CNS? If so, how are they determined? Genetics? Memory?

Varied Neurotransmitter Levels?
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-22 14:42:46
Link to this Comment: 18285

We’ve all heard that various problems, ranging from jetlag to depression are a result of :chemical imbalances.” What exactly does the term chemical imbalance refer to? Hormones? Neurotransmitters? Both?

I know that hormone levels can vary in individuals, influencing or causing growth, puberty, diabetes, etc. They can even change in a very short period of time, from watching a romantic movie, one study shows (

But what about neurotransmitters? Can the level of a neurotransmitter change dramatically and quickly? When a person finds out that a relative or friends has just died, does their seratonin level immediately change? When people experience mood swings, do their neurotransmitter levels fluctuate significantly? What about people with bipolar disorder? When they go from a manic to a depressive state is this a result of changing neurotransmitter levels?

I am curious about how big a role neurotransmitters play in determining mood because I think this could have great implications. If neurotransmitter levels can change easily, is it necessary to put depressed patients on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or other types of medication in order to correct their condition? Maybe there is a simpler solution to the complex problem of mood and mood change.

Date: 2006-02-22 17:17:35
Link to this Comment: 18288

Building off of Ebony's post.... I'm reading a book that describes a case of a surgeon who has Tourette's Syndrome. While most of the time he displays typical symptoms of the syndrome, when he is scrubbed in and operating on a patient, he has no symptoms (tics, inability to control speech, rage, compulsions, etc). How can this happen? He describes a clearness of mind whenever he's performing surgery. What does this dramatic behavioral change say about the brain=behavior argument? Does focusing on a specific and high-accuracy task actually changing? Is he meerly focusing on a specific goal, and, if so, does that constitute a structural change in the brain? Furthermore, if the presence of Tourette's Syndrom signifies a lack of inhibition pathways in the brain, how are these pathways established when he's in surgery?

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-02-22 17:18:21
Link to this Comment: 18289

That post was mine by the way.... I'm really terrible at not including my name.... this is like the third time it's happened.....

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-02-22 21:45:08
Link to this Comment: 18302

I found Rebecca's post very interesting--Ive read the same book but had forgotten that. How would certian activities somehow be able to override behavior? Ive heard of this happening with other conditions as well, where the symptoms dissapear when a certain activity is undertaken. Are the action potentials fromt that activity somehow able to override those of the symptoms? What would be so special about that activity that enables them to have no symptoms? Would there be some way to tap into those behaviors to get rid of Tourettes completely?

Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-02-23 11:39:03
Link to this Comment: 18312

Interesting issues posed here already, and, as always, whatever struck your mind this week that you think might be interested to others is fine. But, if you're in need of something to get started ....

We are through with the "microscopic" and have/will get started on things at larger scales. So its a good time to sort of think back, about the challenges we set ourselves at the beginning of the semester and how far we've been able to go at the microscopic level to meet those challenges, and about what we should be looking for as we move more into the macroscopic range. Reflections, projections?

Brain and Self-Creation
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-02-23 17:02:19
Link to this Comment: 18315

Before I took this class, I didn't think very deeply about the connection between the brain, nervous system and rest of the body. I assumed that the brain mostly dictacted commands to the rest of the body based on stimuli it received from the outside world.

However, now that I think of the brain as just a lump at the top of the human nervous system, it has made me think more about what dicates what the brain does. We have talked about this issue in class a little bit, and I think today's discussion went a long way towards putting together the puzzle for me. Since the processing of signals by the nervous system has the power to change the structure of the system itself, that means that in a sense the brain has the power to create itself.

This partially explains why there does not need to be a higher "authority" in the body than the brain: the brain has the power to change itself, which means that it can kind of control itself. Although I think it is everyone's decision to say whether they want to believe in God or not, I personally do not believe in God in the traditional sense. This information about the brain lends greater credibility to the point of view that humans and nature control humans since brains can in a sense propel and recreate themselves. However, I guess it could be argued that God is the entity who set this process in motion, and now He just lets it be.

The fact that the nervous system has the power to change itself is one of the most fascinating things I have learned so far in this class.

Name: Christin
Date: 2006-02-23 23:58:54
Link to this Comment: 18320

I once read an article about the hormone oxytocin. This hormone produces feelings of love in the brain. It is also produced in women when forming friendships and when breast-feeding children. Isn't it interesting to think that such a complex emotional response as love is created by a hormone? I also know you can buy oxytocin on the, I guess love is for sale.

Which Comes First?
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-02-24 11:10:26
Link to this Comment: 18325

In my Learning Theory and Behavior class, we look at learning from a behavior analysts' point of view. Therefore, according to my professor, learning affects the brain not the brain affects learning. How do I know which one is right? I can see where he is coming from, yet isn't the only way you are able to learn is through patterns of action potentials? Help!...

Patterns of Action Potentials
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-02-24 14:37:28
Link to this Comment: 18327

In class we defined different behaviors by differing patterns of action potentials. If a behavior is a series of action potentials then can we control these patterns of action potentials with our behaviors? Do random behaviors have to do with random patters of action potentials firing within the nervous system? If a “motor symphony” is written before it is “preformed”, then how do we make new “motor symphonies”?

random patterns
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-02-25 14:38:03
Link to this Comment: 18339

I would think that each specific behavior has an pattern - there are not such things as random patterns, since each pattern will have a specific action associated with it. I'm not talking about complex behaviors - its more that moving your pinky finger will be caused by a specific series of action potentials. However, the combinations of these patterns - which patterns are set of with others, and how these patterns affect each other - has the greater significance to "random" behavior. If indeed any behavior can be described as random

Name: courtney
Date: 2006-02-25 21:42:03
Link to this Comment: 18341

Claude brings up a good point, and I want to reiterate my emphasis that the myriad chemicals we add to our system--particularly food products--significantly affect body chemistry, including neurochemistry. Similarly, I want to point out that medications such as SSRIs certainly affect neurochemistry, but also act on other chemicals in the brain and body, often with unpredictable results. For example, a recent study in California showed that people on SSRI antidepressants reported themselves as incapable of falling in love. The "stabilizing" properties these drugs exhibit acted to prevent the highs and lows associated with falling in love, providing an overall numbing but not necessarily improving mood or behavior.

new yorker article
Name: courtney
Date: 2006-02-25 21:43:48
Link to this Comment: 18342

also, I found this article in the new yorker on the pursuit of happiness, with some interesting asides on brain functioning...

Name: Bethany Ca
Date: 2006-02-26 14:09:31
Link to this Comment: 18348

I was reading an article regarding homicide and violent behavior.(
As a sociology major, I have been trained to think of violent behavior as deviance which actually serves a functional purpose. Deviance reinforces societal values and lets society at large know the acceptable boundaries for behavior.
This acticle purposed that there was a biological basis for violent behavior. THe brains of killers where actually different than the brains of non-killers (this of course supports our "brain=behavior" theory). THe condition that these homicidal individual's have is called psychopathy and is much like any other disease. The implications of looking at homocidal behavior in this way is what happens then to personal responsibility? Can killers really help their behavior because it is predetermined by their neuro-anatomy? If they can't help it, should they be punished or submitted to rehabilitative efforts?
And where does the I-function fit in with this? Are they not aware of what they're doing or are they just apathetic toward their victims? The I-function must be aware of what its doing (in some cases)but perhaps the sense of what is right or wrong is not congruent with the rest of society. And what causes this lack of awareness of what is right and wrong? Different neuron pathways?

Unconscious vs. Conscious Decision Making
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-02-26 19:11:18
Link to this Comment: 18354

I found Jen’s posting quite interesting. The notion that decisions made unconsciously can be more accurate than those that have been carefully thought out raises many questions concerning our ability to process and interpret information that we are presented with. This “instinctual” response is often attributed to why detectives have a “feeling” about a suspect in a criminal case- they might not have the actual evidence to back up their gut feeling, but somehow they know who did it. The real question remains whether such instincts are trustworthy or if it is just a matter of luck. Much of our impression of someone is made in the first few minutes of meeting them- “you only have one chance to make a first impression”. How much can we really gather about someone/ something in the first few moments?

Name: Erin
Date: 2006-02-26 21:07:03
Link to this Comment: 18355

I think the idea that most of what the nervous system does is inhibition very interesting. On a larger scale, is that what makes all kind of personalities different-exactly what we refrain from doing? Also, does the process of learning social inhibitions so that you stop saying, or at least some people do, socially uncomfortable things as you get older happen on a more microscopic level with brain development? As an infant/toddler you have to learn how to do all kinds of things-walk, make sounds, focus your eyes, etc. How much of that is inhibition-driven? How closely related is the inhibition of the running action potential pattern in chickens to human social inhibitions?

Name: Anna
Date: 2006-02-26 21:53:34
Link to this Comment: 18356

The two comments about Tourettes were very interesting and how one behavior can override another behavior. Is there some part of the nervous system, maybe the "I-Function", that is able to create a hierarchy of action potentials and then decide which action potentials are needed to be inhibited at some time more than the others due to the importance of certain inhibitions in certain situations?

Behavioral distinctions
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-02-27 00:18:18
Link to this Comment: 18360

When discussing patterns of behavior, how do we seperate the cognitive behaviors, such as thought or emotion, from the physcial aspects of behavior, such as moving your hand? We seperate them when we try to analyze behavior, but they are both simply patterns of behavior.
Then what influences emotions and physical behavior? Is it the physical aspect of motion (such as smiling and then feeling happier), or is it the internal discussion that leads to a physical manifestation (frowning when confused). Or when you feel pain and then begin to feel emotions.

Emotion vs physical behavior
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-02-27 01:33:35
Link to this Comment: 18361

I found Caroline's post very interesting. It seems to me that emotions can be similar to and sometimes the same as physical behavior. For instance, the sensation of falling can be quite scary to many and the event causes the hands and feet to involuntarily flail in the air (due to gravity and air resistence). What about the emotion associated with falling? Just as one cannot overcome the force of gravity, can any one overcome the fear of plummeting to his or her death? When do emotions stop being a choice and start being a function of our behavior (or the state of our brain)? Can some emotions be embedded in us/instinct?

Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-02-27 05:40:50
Link to this Comment: 18362

Recently (mainly due to Valentine's Day) I've thought a lot about the nature of romantic love; why someone falls in love with a particular person and so forth. Christin's post on oxytocin, as well today's Dear Abby, however, sparked a particular train of thought.

We call it chemistry when two people make sense together, for whatever reason; when something in each person simply seems to fit with something in the other and they make a good pair. But what if it really is chemistry? What if different people trigger different amounts of oxytocin and/or different mixes of other, related chemicals in our brain, and it's these various mixes that determine how we feel about each person...and a particular mix makes them our "special someone"? This mix is partially based on physical characteristics (what we first see), but also on what we know about the person, and so it can change over time.

We know that different people produce and process different chemicals and signals in different ways. Maybe this is why, as Dear Abby wrote today, "Sexuality is a matter of degree, and no two people are exactly alike"? If there are infinitely various brain setups, then there are infinitely various ways to process attraction and love, with only one of the facets being the gender(s) one happens to be attracted to.

Re: homicide
Date: 2006-02-27 11:48:39
Link to this Comment: 18363

I found the questions that Bethany brought up to be very intriguing. The implications of the differences between the brain of a "normal" person and the brain of a killer could be astounding. I wonder if, in the future, we might be able to provide a drug treatment for the condition rather than just imprisoning the person who committed the crime.

comment above
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-02-27 11:49:26
Link to this Comment: 18364

Sorry, the last comment was mine.

Name: Liz P
Date: 2006-02-27 12:17:21
Link to this Comment: 18366

A lot of people have been talking about oxytocin. Not only is it vital in female relations to infants, but it is also thought to be vital in male attahcments to females and male caring for infants. When a pologymous species of vole had a gene from a monogamous vole species with male infant care, males of the polygamous species showed increased attachment relationships. I wonder if this creates the huge variety of behaviors and ways in which different people react differently to relationships. Perhaps this explains why one person may be so attached to a single mate, whereas others attempt to have as many mates as possible. Could we build the perfect monogamous mate? It is an interesting question.

Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-02-27 14:11:57
Link to this Comment: 18367

I recently read an article about neurostimulation, and small machines called "neuromodulators" that help disorders like Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. The article I read is located here:;_ylt=AuYZU7mjij4q0qkJfXbxtVGs0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3czJjNGZoBHNlYwM3NTE-

Anyway, it made me think about a couple of issues that aren't exactly current in class, but still interesting. First, the article says that the majority of these modulators are placed in the spine. I thought that was interesting because it lessens the emphasis on the brain, and you wouldn't expect something that controls these disorders to be placed in the spine. Or maybe you would...It's not what I expected.

Second I was wondering how this foreign machine fits into the box model. Is it its own box, or does it work with a specific box? And do the other boxes work like tiny machines?

I also found it interesting that the article mentions potential to use these devices in disorders like obesity. It sounds extreme to me, and I never thought of putting epilepsy and obesity in the same thought.

Birth Order and Personality
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-02-27 16:18:44
Link to this Comment: 18369

I’m really interested in the issue of personality. If we agree that brain equals behavior, we can explain different behavior as resulting from a different brains. How are brains “shaped” to have a certain personality? Are there certain neural pathways that lead to certain traits such as empathy? Are there commonalities in the brains of people with similar personality traits? And if brain is effected by experience, does my brain look anything like my sisters’ brains? Theoretically it should.

And why do children tend to exhibit certain qualities related to birth order? For instance, it has been observed that youngest children tend to be talkative and extroverted, have short attention spans, and be self-centered. I find the qualities I exhibit, as the youngest to correspond to what is predicted for me, and I find that each of my two sisters show the traits that correspond to their birth order. Is this a nature or nurture phenomenon? It’s hard to imagine how nature could contribute in this case because the brain of the first born cannot know whether or not more children will be born, so it cannot know whether to have oldest child traits or only child traits.

As a side note, I am completely in agreement with the article Bethany discusses regarding criminal behavior. I do not think that criminal behavior, or more specifically, very violent behavior, can be explained as merely deviance. Most of us cannot probably fathom murdering someone, which to me indicates that there must be something fundamentally different about people who are capable of killings. S

...getting it less wrong...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-02-27 18:01:45
Link to this Comment: 18373

I wanted to share a couple of quotes that I came across that reminded me of our discussion. The first is Emerson and reminded me of our conversations about action potentials, neurotransmitter levels and our journey towards a ‘less wrong’ concept of the brain.

The method of nature: who could ever analyze it? That rushing stream will not stop to be observed. We can never surprise nature in a corner; never find the end of a thread; never tell where to set the first stone. – Emerson
How can we analyze the brain when is in a constant state of flux? How useful are observations on static samples? What entry point is best when observing/examining the brain?

The second quote is Thoreau and it also made me think of our goal to become ‘less wrong’...

All science is only a makeshift, a means to an end which is never attained. After all, the truest description, and that by which another living man can most readily recognize a flower, is the unmeasured and eloquent one which the sight of it inspires. No scientific description will supply the want of this, though you should count and measure and analyze every atom that seems to compose it. - Thoreau

This made me wonder how useful it is to talk about our sensations and behaviors in terms of patterns of action potentials when nobody can really read/speak the language of action potentials (well, except for our neurons). To say that smiling, or tasting a sandwich or stubbing your toe… ect is a pattern of action potentials oversimplifies these events. I can accept that action potentials trigger/mediate/modulate all brain events and I think that studying them is interesting and important… but I don’t want to miss the big picture. (Like looking at a Seurat painting from an inch away instead of from across the room) It is kind of like talking about sleep in terms of brain wave patterns… I do not deny that the fact that brain waves during deep sleep (when dreaming occurs) are the same type of waves as when a person is awake is very interesting observation… but brain waves don’t tell you jack about what a person is actually dreaming about… and the main point of dreams is what you dream about… not brain waves (though the two are intimately connected). ( Fun link… and nostalgic for those who read Jack Prelutsky as children…)

the language of action potentials
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-02-27 19:41:18
Link to this Comment: 18374

I'm not sure I agree with the idea that we are unable to read the "language" of action potentials. I have been learning in another biology class about swimming in leeches. We stimulate the leech nervous system, and then watch as, on a computer screen, complex electronic equipment interprets electrical signals into a recognizable pattern. This pattern, whenever it shows up on a graph of leech nervous system potentials, signifies that the leech is swimming - even if all that remains of the leech is the nervous system - the body has been completely removed. This extremly recognizable pattern, i would say, is the "language" of the action potentials.

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-02-27 20:20:23
Link to this Comment: 18376

I don't understand how, if all APs are the same, then how any signal modification (inhibition/excitation) takes place at the synapses of the body. Is there some kind of preemptive "thinking" going on inside the neuron. It seems that if the neuron modifies the signal, it must have some "understanding" of what kind of response the AP will ilicit. How is this possible? How then can the nervous system respond appropriately or coherently to completely new AP patterns?

personality, dopamine, and addiction
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-02-27 21:38:42
Link to this Comment: 18380

So in my paper on addiction, I reviewed the genetic basis for addiction. One of the major differences between addicts and non-addicts is the sensitivity of an individual's dopamine receptors in the brain. The article posted below describes the link between dopamine sensitivity and an extroverted personality. If the same neurochemical present in all of us is responsible for both metal illness and infrastructural personality traits, what does that mean? Are all of the emotional/psychological/mental manifestations of the brain (all a series of action potentials) merely a function of the same few neurochemcial transmissions? Is personality the same as mental illness (on a neurobiological level)? How unromantic!

Name: Brom
Date: 2006-02-27 22:12:36
Link to this Comment: 18381

The case of the surgeon with Tourette's got me thinking about good ole action potentials. I thought maybe the part of the brain responsible for dealing with the action potentials involved in Tourettes was the same as those involved in surgery. I am not sure how this would work but if it were the same neural pathways necessary for both it seems possible that one action would trump the other. In a similar vein I was wondering about the size and scope of the patterns of action potentials, I assume that the pattern of action potentials necessary for the composition and typing of this sentence are isore complicated(not a great choice of words) and in some larger than those necessary for realizing that something is poking my arm. Is this assumption false? It seems that more complicated tasks would involve much more of the brain's neural pathways.

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-02-27 22:49:29
Link to this Comment: 18382

A reflection on Brom's post--while that idea seems interesting, would this mean then that other people who have their tourettes "turned off" by, say, riding horses or baking have different pathways of action potentials than the man from the book? Then perhaps their symptoms are a result of completely different mental processes that somehow cause the same result...?

Love, Attraction, Chemicals
Name: Jessica E.
Date: 2006-02-27 23:10:42
Link to this Comment: 18386

Continuing the previous discussion on chemicals/neurotransmitters/hormones and their affect on attraction/love ~

In my social psychology class last semester, we learned of a study where after male subjects walked across either a low, solid bridge or a high, rickity bridge over a large crevass, they were greeted by an attractive female who asked them if they could fill out a survey and call her with the results. The subjects who had crossed the more dangerous bridge were significantly more likely to call her back. The idea is that they mistook the excitement and fear of crossing the dangerous bridge were misinterpreted as feelings of attraction (or intensified any existing feelings) prompting them to want to call her back more than the participants who had no rush.

So here we can see that perhaps what triggers other emotions may be rather similar to what triggers emotions of attraction, otherwise how could they be confused?

On a slight tangent, attraction is clearly socially-driven. In medival and ancient times, a full-figured woman was attractive, because it meant she had enough to eat and was healthy enough to bear children, a stark difference from current American culture. Although even in the U.S. in the past century, there has been a change from super-skinny yet curvey to a more athletic build (more muscles, slightly less curvey) as being considered most attractive in women.

In a context other BMC students will find closer to home, I've recently talked to many students who, after seeing the Goodhart performances, have found themselves suddenly strangely attracted to several of the women on this campus for whom they did not have any feelings before. So is this because they suddenly saw their fellow Mawters in atypically revealing outfits, or because they had been surrounded by an audience of cheering and whooping female students, so it was suddenly socially acceptable (and perhaps encouraged?) to be attracted to these women. I noticed a similar phenomenon at another certain recent BMC event as well, so I don't think this phenomenon is limited to Goodhart performances.

Granted, there are some ingrained attraction "guidelines" such as the prevalence of a certain waist-to-hip ratio and desire for youth in women. At the same time, women universally tend to prefer men slightly older than themselves.

So I guess on a neuro-bio level, the question posed might be "what causes these emotions, what sets the "baseline" for them, and how is it that they can change over time and be influences by environment?"

The Brain's on Overdrive
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-02-28 00:09:15
Link to this Comment: 18387

If behavior is, as Grobstein mentions, a function of inhibition rather than excitation, perhaps this is what causes random firing of neurons. To clarify, our brains are constantly getting information/stimulation which it has to process. It is impossible to process every stimulation that we receive. For example, it is impossible to feel every piece of clothing on our skin or to notice how our surroundings smell (a sense that is often ignored, but why?). You only realize how something smells when it is foreign. Furthermore, proprioreceptors are never realized; our sixth sense is never consciously perceived. Therefore, it leads me to believe that random firing is a result of a “backup” of stimuli firing. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli but the signals don’t get through most of the time. When these stimuli do get through, they may feel random. However, they are not completely random. Using the example of feeling our clothing on our skin, I can better explain this. Yesterday, while studying for italian, I suddenly became aware that my sweater was itchy around my neck. I had been wearing the same sweater all day and so it had obviously been itchy all day, yet it wasn’t until that moment that I felt uncomfortable. Thinking about this in terms of this class, I believe that my body probably felt the discomfort (and sent signals “about it”) but because there was other stimuli that was more important at the moment, the signals were ignored. The random signal finally got through while I was studying because, perhaps, the signals that should have been perceived (italian) were boring. This leads me to question whether anything is ever really random.

intuitive chunking
Name: Scott Shep
Date: 2006-02-28 02:29:48
Link to this Comment: 18390

This is a bit of a distinct tangent, but I got to thinking about how reactive the mind was to patterns of action potentials and now that we're trying to think about the brain on a more macroscopic level, I wonder what limits minds from being more sensitive to certain patterns than other patterns. I understand that the more one does something the more one can do it again--the process of engraining or conditioning is based on pattern recognition and replication. Is there a way to heighten the mind to patterns that are less 'visible' or straightforward to the five senses. The idea of the sixth sense was brought up in an earlier post and humans' uncanny abilities to perform miraculous tasks must have to do with extreme pattern receptivity/attentiveness. Isn't this what Thoreau and Emerson are talking about a little bit in one of the earlier posts as well--the world is always ripe with newer patterns and newer ways of perceiving it, which is why the meticulous deconstruction of nature (science) is only one story of getting one type of seeing less wrong.

The Unconscious Mind
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-02-28 08:58:40
Link to this Comment: 18392

I also read the article on the Unconscious Mind in the New York Times. I was very surprised, like other in the class who have looked at the article, that when given many options the best decisions are made when the person is distracted and has little time to think. In other words our unconscious mind is the better decision maker. Thinking has been described as a series of action potentials, so this article brings to mind the idea of the many action potentials that take place in our minds unnoticed by our selves, or the I-function.

reactions to class
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-02-28 14:57:10
Link to this Comment: 18395


Some reactions to class:

1) I thought we were being pretty hard on the neuron when we denied its ability to understand problems. I mean, it might not be able to understand Plato, but it does seem to understand other pretty complex things, like cocaine. If I remember anything from intro to biopsych, neurons respond to too many inputs from neurotransmitters by reducing the quantity of their own receptor proteins. Tolerance is the neuron's intelligent solution to its understanding of the consequences of cocaine. Is this not a functional response, an adaptation?

I suppose you could take intelligence away from the neuron if, for instance, the cocaine itself was simply destroying receptor structures. However, if the reduction of receptors is the patterned result of some information processing system, how is this functionally different than what we mean by understanding at the level of the I-function? Of course, we have to let the neuron play by its own rules if we are going to give it some intrinsic problem solving ability.

2) Paul commented on the discussion of randomness by writing:

"Maybe there actually IS internal randomness and that's important for one's ability to "heighten the mind"? one can generate new patterns and that in turn allows one to see/detect them?"

It seems to me that randomness in the form of intrinsic variability is the logic of evolution, of natural selection at the level of neural patterns instead of DNA. Here the selector is not the exigencies of the organisms environment (at least not directly) but some sort of selection process within the nervous system itself. As Scott explored in his first web paper, human creativity may not come from our "self" but in fact may come from the blind watchmaker within us. Maybe we need to learn to humble our"selves" and give more credit to the intelligence of our body apart from the intelligence of our "self." Artificial selection was really natural selection the whole time.

3) Finally, the notion of the reafferant loop made me think of tone deafness. Of course some people can't carry a tune, but others who normally sing very well sometimes sound terrible when they are singing along with music that they are listening to through headphones. Unable to hear the sound of their own voice, their behavior, singing, is "corrupted" due to the fact that the nervous system is lacking its own output as input (the song) to create the correct output (the song).

A response: multi-tasking
Name: Christin
Date: 2006-03-02 00:04:35
Link to this Comment: 18430

In response to Brom's post and thought on patterns of action potentials, what about multi-tasking, for example, talking on the phone while typing. Obviously, multiple neural pathways are operating at once. And what about when they overlap and you start to accidentally type what you say? How many neural pathways can operate at once? What exactly happens when too many are operating? Which ones get shut-off?

Neural basis of instincts/predispositions?
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-03-02 00:53:32
Link to this Comment: 18431

This is somewhat unrelated, but I am very interested in how behaviors occur without experience (without ever happening before or without learning the "appropriate" response to a situation/stimulus, like professor's son curling into a ball). And why some novel behaviors are more likely to happen than others (aka instincts--how do they exist structurally in the brain? are there just more connections between certain neurons than others?) In order for these neuronal biases to be present in huge groups of people at such a young age there must be a genetic component--this interaction between genes and neuronal development is a very hard one for me to visualize and I think it would be a very interesting addition to our discussions. In general, what in our brain makes so many of us predisposed to act in the same way?

week 7
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-03-02 11:37:46
Link to this Comment: 18434

To think about, or to be reminded of ...

Have a good spring break everyone. Looking forward to seeing where we are/go when we all get back together.

Nature vs. Nurture
Name: Danielle M
Date: 2006-03-02 22:04:55
Link to this Comment: 18437

Nature vs. nurture, do genes effect behavior? Since genes effect behavior then these behaviors can be passed to another generation. But you must take into account the diversity among individuals and the environmental factors that can influence behaviors. Overall, although behaviors can be inherited the environment can have ultimate control over the behavior.

Nature vs. Nurture: Ambition
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-03-03 16:32:26
Link to this Comment: 18445

There was an article I read recently in Time Magazine that sheds some light on the issue of whether behavior is more determined by genes or environment.

As Paul mentioned, it has been clear for a long time that both nature and nurture influence behavior. However, recent studies of "achievement motivation" (i.e. ambition) in twins can give us a clearer picture of how much of one of the most common behaviors in the human experience is determined by experience and how much by genes. The experiments show that twins' motivational drive overlaps 30-50% with each other.

For this kind of study, anything above around a 30% correlation (although individual statisticians will differ) shows that there is a signficant connection between two variables. So it is clear that genes do strongly influence people's levels of ambition. However, from what we know so far, at least 50% of ambition is determined by experience, which indicates that experience probably has a larger effect than genes on our levels of ambition.

On a similar note, we also have to be careful of what evidence we look at when we ponder this question. For instance, the writer of the Time article, Jeffrey Kluger, cites studies about immigration as evidence that ambition is largely determined by people's surroundings. He says that many immigrant children from collectivist societies like those in Asia and Latin America quickly adapt to the competitive American educational system and even outperform their peers. However, this is shaky evidence, because who is to say that people who immigrate from other countries do not have a greater presence of a certain gene that gives them the ambition to emigrate to new countries in the first place. Maybe those immigrant children were more successful than their peers in their homelands, too. Just a cautionary note about accepting as valid evidence everything we read about, even in a mainstream magazine like Time.

If you would like to read the article, you can find it at: It's called Ambition: Why Some People are Most Likely to Succeed by Jeffrey Kluger. It was in the November 2005 edition of Time.

starting in the middle of the "box"
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-03-05 20:14:23
Link to this Comment: 18456

When I was thinking about a signal starting "in the middle of a box", an example I thought of was that sometimes one can have a craving for a certain kind of food. However, I'm not sure that we can tell if a signal is starting on its own or if we simply don't understand the stimulus that causes it.

Happy Break
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-03-09 22:38:44
Link to this Comment: 18480

Hope everyone is having a happy break. If you're interested in the debate about ADHD and the anti-depression medications, check out this blog on CNN. It's an interesting glimpse of the types of arguments that are prevelant in American culture right now. Though there's a tremendous amount of controversy, there seems to me to be a finite set of explanations of and justifications for or against the attention deficit and depression drugs. Included are strong statements of the medical validity of the condition as well as the righteous condemnation that the whole enterprise is an excuse for laziness. I'm particularly interested (and troubled) in pop-science explanations like this one:

"I believe the high number of adults taking ADHD drugs is because adults are being better educated about the condition. This education comes as a result of parents of ADHD children realizing they have struggled with the disorder all of their life. Apparently, the major cause of ADHD is genetics."

I've been skeptical of reductionist theories for a while, but I hadn't taken seriously the power of geneticist explanations in popular culture until I started reading my book for the semester. It's Human Natures: Genes Cultures and the Human Prospect by Paul R Ehrlich. The author is explicitly fighting what he considers to be the culturally dominant "reduce everything to genes" method of argumentation. Science is certainly the source of such popular notions, but I wonder, why are some scientific theories popularized and others not?

Incidentally, I expect that much of the population variance in depression and ADHD can be explained with social structural variables without recourse to biological variables. Is anyone aware of studies that attempt to compare biological and social structural approaches to the explanation of depression?

Paying attention
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-03-12 16:28:45
Link to this Comment: 18486

So over break I was reading the book I am thinking of doing my report on (Mind Wide Open: Your brain and the neuroscience of everyday life by Stephen Johnson) and the author at one point participates in a neurofeedback activity aimed at helping children with ADD and ADHD to concentrate better. They are hooked up to machines that measure their brain waves, particularly theta waves, for which higher levels are associated with being more distracted. What occurs is that the participant in the activity is given a goal theta range that is more focused than their baseline and when they are able to focus and lower their brain activity, the readings of lower theta waves cause a bike to move forward on a screen, somewhat like a video game where instead of controlling the game with your fingers, you control it mearly with your mind. What fascinated me with this recounting is that the author brings up the point that many children with ADD are told to "pay attention," but they do not know exactly what this means. In playing this "game" they are able to specifically recieve immediate feedback as to whether they are "paying attention" and if they learn how that feels they can recall that feeling and "pay attention" in other situations. It also brings up an interesting line of questioning--in a "normal" brain, does one indeed learn to pay attention? Or is is something the brain does on its own but is not able to do automatically in someone with an attention disorder?

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-12 18:40:07
Link to this Comment: 18488

Marissa’s question about whether or not people without ADHD must learn to pay attention has broader implications. What are we born knowing and not knowing? Babies exhibit a sucking reflex and a rooting reflex (if their cheek is touched, they turn their head in that direction) seemingly from birth. Other reflexes such as a the propping reflex or the walking reflex take longer to appear. Are reflexes hardwired to appear at certain times? Is there a possibility that things that are considered reflexes are actually learned behaviors? Maybe a baby demonstrates his walking reflex at a later age because it is not actually a reflex but a thing he has learned from watching those around him walk. Could mirror neurons play a role here?

As with many other things, it seems difficult to define what it is learned and what is known. It may not be possible to divide these categories so rigidly since behavior is a result of a combination of nature and nurture.

Name: liz p
Date: 2006-03-12 21:20:37
Link to this Comment: 18489

Over the break my friend and I were discussing the overmedication of American youth. He said that drugs for anything, psychological or otherwise always fail on him because he thinks that they are placebos. I thought that this was interesting in relation to discussions on how people with ADD can will themselves to focus. The mind's ability to regulate itself when using the conscious will is more powerful than the drugs given to alter it. What changes, if any, happen chemically in the brain when someone fights a predisposition? What in the brain allows some people to fight their predispositions better than others? Is that a seperate genetic component or does it simply mean that one person's disease is worse than another's?

...thoughts on ADHD and treatments...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-03-12 22:06:58
Link to this Comment: 18490

There have been a couple of posts about ADHD that provoked some thoughts: Stating that children with ADHD or ADD do not ‘know’ (from Marissa’s post ) what it mean to pay attention requires a definition of ‘knowing’. Is knowing an experience? A description? Being able to identify something? I think that ‘knowing’ is a term with too much grey area and I do not believe that children with ADHD or ADD are incapable of ‘knowing what it is too pay attention’. I do, on the other hand, think that these children have disorganized/uncoordinated/underdeveloped neural pathways or motor schemes which make it more difficult for them to attend. Depending on a child’s strengths and weaknesses and the severity of ADHD/ADD, scattered or disorganized thinking fluctuates. I think it is important to highlight the range of abilities that span the spectrum of any psychological diagnosis. As with any diagnosis, a person can display a range of symptoms, whether they are just enough to push a person over the sub-clinical threshold or if they are so severe and extensive that they constantly interrupt all activities of daily life. In class, we have had a few discussions on drugs vs therapy. In ( Brook’s post , there was a link to a forum about ADHD/ADD. A lot of the discussion, and indeed the controversy, around psychological diagnosis such as ADHD/ADD revolve around, in general, over diagnosis of disorders and, more specifically, over prescription of drugs. To address the over diagnosis issue, I would like to highlight one criteria of diagnosing a disorder with the DSM which is shared for most of the disorders (I think that the exception is eating disorders): that symptoms interfere with daily life. I think that people who feel like something is interfering with their abilities to function and lead healthy lives should have free access to services which would allow them to work through their problems (let’s ignore the health care issues that arise from this ideology and stick to psychology). This leads directly to the issue of over prescription of drugs. I have stated that I believe that everyone who feels like they are not functioning to the best of their abilities should have some type of support system to help deal with their problems. I do not, however, believe that drug therapy is always the healthy or best solution. I think that our country has a stigma against talk therapy and that our aversion to talking through problems (whether it be with friends, family, or a psychologist/psychiatrist) has had a detrimental effect on our level of general mental health. I do not think that anybody’s psychological problems can be solved with medication; some sort of talk therapy is also necessary to maximize treatment effects. If anybody is interested in psychological disorders, I would recommend looking in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Version IV) to see the criteria for obtaining a diagnosis. You can look them up on search engines and usually find this information. I would also highlight that one of the criteria which is shared for most of the disorders (I think that the exception is eating disorders): that symptoms interfere with daily life. (If you want an article on ADHD prevalence with shows particular attention to diagnostic criteria here is a link… … also, here is another article about ADHD which I found interesting….)

Walking and Genes
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-03-12 22:20:24
Link to this Comment: 18491

Brooks was asking about why certain scientific theories become popular and others don't, specifically in connection with the fact that the "it's in the genes" theory has gained a lot of popularity of late. I think this could be a) because it's nice to have something other than ourselves to blame our troubles on, and b) because the idea that there is a gene for just about everything gives us a sense of connection; e.g. each person displaying a particular trait has the same gene, indicating a common ancestor, and traits can be traced through our family trees.

In class last Thursday, we said that the brain decides which pattern generator is turned on/off at any particular time. I personally would like some clarification on this. For example, does this mean that behaviors that are at least partially in us from birth- e.g. sucking, maybe walking- are turned on by the brain when it knows we are ready (e.g. walking when our muscles are developed enough to handle walking) or when we need them (e.g. sucking when we need to eat)?

In that vein, it would seem that walking is to a large degree an inborn pattern. Bipedalism is a big deal, and it developed over millions of years from the "old" way of walking on all fours. Natural selection affects gene frequencies, and this behavior was selected for- so it's at least partially genetic. I am particularly intrigued by this given a story I heard about on the news the other night: there is a family in which five of the siblings walk on all fours, and there is a genetic abnormality present in each of these siblings.

The article is here:,,3-2072832,00.html

Name: Mariya
Date: 2006-03-13 11:54:35
Link to this Comment: 18494

In reply to Carolyn's post. Not only there is a stigma in this country against talk therapy, there is also a tendency to "pre-package" psychological advice, when it is sought. Too often, psychiatrists/psychologists don't take into consideration the individual variations and situations, but try to work in established frameworks, using available vocabulary. I've observed these effects in some people I know: they went into therapy with vastly different situations and were themselves different people. After a course of treatment, it felt like they were brainwashed: they all talked about "A personalities," "defense mechanisms," "goals," etc. I don't want to deny that there is a common structure of psychological illnesses, and that we are all human, and therefore have a tendency to similar problems, but I think that there is much too much effort to homogenize and "normalize" psychological health, to impose a single framework onto a variety of cases. This can be seen in "healthy" situations/society. Just walk around high schools in the US and read the posters on the walls. The "catchwords": be yourself, positive attitude, "you are a star", etc. are the same everywhere. From their earliest moments, American kids acquire a "pre-made" vocabulary, into which they squish their emotions and lives, be it the "prep-school" vocab or the "indie" vocab, or some other style. Of course, it facilitates communication and makes us feel less alone. But I think it largely erases individuality/personality. Of course, this is an opinion of an outsider, since I'm not from US, but I went through a US high school, so I have an inside/outside perspective. And I know that the homogeneity of the US psychology and culture always strikes foreigners. Of course, this is an over-generalization in and of itself, so it is bound to be wrong, but I think there is some truth to it.

Middle of the Box
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-03-13 13:42:23
Link to this Comment: 18495

The explanation that signals can start in the middle of the box is very interesting and it helps to explain certain things, but Nicky brings up an interesting point about signals and if the signals do start in the middle of the box. How do we really know that signals are starting in the middle of the box? Are they occurring beause of an outside input and we do not know about the receptors for it? I don't know if we can get answers to those questions because if we are not aware of the receptors, then we have no way of proving it either way.

Nature v. Nurture
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-03-13 21:49:31
Link to this Comment: 18498

Which one of these controls our behavior? Do individuals differ in the relative importance of these two components? Where does "free will" fit in- is part or all of the I-function considered "free will?" The environment can influence genetic expression, but genes cannot change the environment. So is the external more important than the internal? And if, as Prof. Grobstein claims (and I agree), free will is purely an internal function of randomness and decision-making in the I-function, then is the environmanet irrelevant in relation to "free will?"

Name: Brom
Date: 2006-03-13 22:49:39
Link to this Comment: 18500

I am curious as to the origins of ADHD and to some extent depression, if they are due to chemical imbalances they probably have always existed in the human brain. I think it's probably environmental factors that cause them to manifest themselves. We (those who live in the United States and the industrial world) live in a world where our basic needs our taken care of, most of us have food, shelter etc. Furthermore, we are subject to constant stimulation(tv, radio, computers etc). The combination of these two factors perhaps puts stress on the brain, a different kind of stress than is on the brain when one is worrying about survival. Perhaps we are victims of our success, how common is depression or ADHD in pre- modern tribes and cultures? It must exist, but maybe there is no vocabulary to describe and analyze it, and then does it not exist? Sorry for the incoherence of this post

Nature vs Nurture
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-03-13 23:00:18
Link to this Comment: 18502

It seems to me that free will in the philosophical sense, the ability to choose freely from a set of viable alternatives, does not really exist in the neurological sense. From a scientific perspective, it seems to me that one's environment and genetic makeup influence both unconscious and conscious brain activity. This implies that choosing freely isn't much of an option if we have been conditioned by factors in our environment or in our genetics to make certain choices. The question that still remains in my mind is whether actions based on instinct are condsidered choices and if they are how do our brains make a final decision? How did Dr. Grobstein's son as a toddler choose to roll up into a fetal position when he became aware that he was falling?

central pattern generation in swallowing
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-03-13 23:03:08
Link to this Comment: 18503

The last class we were beginning to talk about central pattern generation. It reminded of something I learned in another biology class, and think that it must be an example of CPG or something related. When someone swallows, they have conscious control over their throat muscles close to their mouths, but that motion actually continues all the way down to the stomach even though we cannot feel it or control it in any conscious way. At the time I assumed it was a sort of chain reaction, but now I wonder if it's a pattern generated elsewhere where we only know about the first part of the pattern because that's the only part where the feed back ends up in our consciousness.

Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-03-13 23:38:59
Link to this Comment: 18504

I don't think nature/nurture is quite the same dichotomy as genetic/environmental, though in intro to biopsych the first lesson was that both were false dichotomies. There's what I think is a really neat article by Linnda Caporael that discusses a model of epigenetics(1) called "repeated assemblies." To paraphrase, the basic theory is that the environment of DNA is "designed" for the DNA. The environment exhibits the same property of "specified complexity" that DNA does, indeed, DNA and environment are two halves of the same packet of information. But I guess the immediate physiochemical environment of DNA is probably a pretty narrow definition of environment that would definitely fit under the category of "nature." Caporael is neat because she extends the concept into what is traditionally understood as the domain of "nurture", for instance, the social environment. From the article:

"11. "Repeated assemblies" are recurrent entity-environment relations composed of hierarchically organized, heterogeneous components having differing frequencies and scales of replication. This mouthful definition needs to be unpacked in pieces. To start, a mammalian zygote, for example, is the repeated assembly of two sources of DNA, centrosomes from the sperm, and other components, all of which, if in the right place, at the right time, automatically result in a zygote. There is no "genetic program" that directs or controls the assembly of the zygote. Instead, the analogy is to a chemical reaction, where, given a set of constituents, against a background of enabling conditions, an explosion, a precipitate or a vapor results -- or repeatedly assembles.

"12. At the level of the organism, genes will always be among the multiple, heterogeneous resources of a repeated assembly (the organism), but they are inert without the epigenetic components at their own and other levels. Genetic action is dependent on the reliable recurrence of appropriate contexts, from cellular machinery to social events to constancies of atmosphere (Griffiths & Gray, 1994). Neither genes nor environment are privileged (although the microbiologist would still focus on genes and the educational psychologist might focus on classrooms). Some resources will themselves be repeated assemblies: ideas, customs, artifacts, learned skills, languages, and group configurations can all be repeatedly assembled." (2)

This will probably sound cryptic, but I think that the traditional material distinction between the organism and the environment is wrong. I think that social structure is an important part of homo sapiens that exists between the human body and the environment of the human organism. The significance is, I think, that social action is not understandable in terms of the material structure of the body, either of DNA or of the nervous system, thus an enormous amount of behavior cannot be explained at the individual level, either genetically or neurologically.

(1) This article on epigenetics sounds awesome, but it doesn't appear that anyone in the Tri-Co has an online subscription to the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. I hope I'm wrong about this; can anyone in the Bio department get a hold of this digital article for me? The full reference is:

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 981:7-49 (2002) Theories in Early Embryology Close Connections between Epigenesis, Preformationism, and Self-Organization LINDA VAN SPEYBROECK, DANI DE WAELE and GERTRUDIS VAN DE VIJVER

(2) Linnda R. Caporael (1995) Sociality: Coordinating Bodies, Minds and Groups. Psycoloquy: 6(01) Group Selection (1)

Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-03-13 23:40:20
Link to this Comment: 18505

I read the same article that Brittany did on the siblings that walk on all fours (,,3-2072832,00.html). I'm fascinated by the concept of a trait that I consider funamentally human (bipedalism) not actually being universal. I suppose I always thought that on some level bipedalism was genetic, but it didn't connect that being genetic implied that there must be some variation in the population. I'm still contemplating this, so I'll end with a query: perhaps we shouldn't throw the word "innate" around as carelessly as we do; I've always considered walking on two legs to be innate, but clearly, we need to be more specific now.

Phantom Limb Syndrome
Name: Amber
Date: 2006-03-13 23:47:42
Link to this Comment: 18506

A question that recently popped up in my mind- what is going on at the neuronal/action potential level when people who have had limbs amputated experience pain or sensations on that phantom limb? what explanation exists for this phenomenon?

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-03-13 23:57:34
Link to this Comment: 18507

About internal chaos... I'm reading a book right now called The Brain & The Mind by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, and he seems to have some interesting things to say about chaos and order within the brain and the universe at large. Schwartz has teamed up with a physicist/neurobiologist and they've devised a Quantum model for the brain, specifically how the OCD affects/how a person can affect the brain. Basically, Schawrtz claims that the brain follows Quantum mechanics in which there are an infinite number of possibilities of what the brain could do (kind of like chaos?) that all collapse into one reality the moment a question is posed or an observation is made. Schwartz's ideas are pretty much an extension of the "Schrodinger's cat" thought experiment. For example, with OCD, a person can either decide to fulfill the compulsion or to do something else that's productive. Therefore, both possibilities exist (or do neither??) and then the person chooses a question to ask of himself and the brain and then all the possibilities of how he will deal with the obsession collapse into one reality. It's rather complicated and I'm still trying to (unsuccesfully) find the words to do so. Anyway, Schwartz's idea pretty much seems to wrap the whole internal chaos problem up quite nicely.
I realize that this post was probably rather confusing, and I'm quite confident that I explained the concept poorly (not being a physicist) but I think that it's important for us to branch out of the traditionally defined world of biology and into some other fields for answers.

'free' association
Name: Scott Shep
Date: 2006-03-14 03:21:43
Link to this Comment: 18514

I've been thinking about some of the issues that we have been building up to in class and I was trying to conceive of the ordering mechanism/process that connects patterns of action potentials in the mind. Often this process is referred to as free association, which is clearly misleading because we are neither completely free from influences nor are we slaved to deterministic thought processes (as in the binary computer model)
so, in the traditional model one thinks about the brain's memory in terms of 'holding' like a box full of signifiers or experiences or something. We seem to be working to shift this paradigm and I wonder if this new model is helpful or on the right track: every pattern of action potentials leaves its mark on the nervous system not as a written record or anything like that, but it makes it more likely that the nervous system could 'come across that pattern again'. This is only because the patterns are connected so that if a thought of a pond often connects with the word pond and this word connects in a smaller way with the word wand, then the mind is just a system that is loose and makes more and more connnections possible as it makes certain connections more and more probable. It opens itself to a thousand new connections, but it is bound to the older more stable connections that had to be more established so that they could give way to these newer, less likely connections. All the patterns that persist (for instance your mother's name connected with her face) is given weight, so that its repetition is no longer sensitive, it is old news. But, what is being repeated is not a thing it is the experience of highly similar patterns on more and more microscopic levels. A memory is just the ability for free association to come across (not find) an old pattern. Old patterns flare back up but they will repeat so much that the smaller less likely connections--new ideas--are like causeways to other more cemented or engrained patterns. I've tried to visualize this in terms of signals being attatched to many gates that usually react in a very typical way but as the patterns continue deeper and deeper into the brain new patterns happen to be created at a hyper-microscopic level. This is what we've been calling "progress" or "development".
So here's the leap that I'm wondering about. if a pattern happens in our mind it is actually just the movement back through old patterns that makes things seem structured. Consciousness itself is just the brain making similar enough patterns on a large enough scale that it is categorically marked as meaningful phenomenon, when really our mind is just finding improbable patterns in the world and distinguishing them from even more improbable patterns. Its not that mathematics is amazing or grand it is just one way in which our mind has been able to improbably re-cognize the same patterns over and over and over again. What is crazy is that because of probability there will always be improbable orders out there and there is nothing really special about them--the infinite potentional hierarchies between the most probable patterns and the least probable is a huge complicated mess and each improbability drive that delineates improbable situations from other improbable situtions within other improbable situations is starting to seem very arbitrary. I'm starting to see how it is possible to see nothing as special. What does it really mean that our brain is shifting the weights of its neural gates so that patterns start to rise out of the murky depths--given an infinite universe or even a very huge one, patterns within patterns within patterns within patterns must exist and of course they will be intricately complex and of course improbability drives will continue to map themselves around the improbable patterns, but there is no point, no virtue, no truth, no ought, and even the process towards these ideas is a delusionary purpose becuase we can see what's going on can't we--it's just seeing what's reliability how often given certain established things--so what? I feel myself slipping away--got any optimistic advice that can bring my brain out of the labyrinth?

Drugs v. Therapy (why should there be animosity be
Name: Jessica E.
Date: 2006-03-14 09:28:42
Link to this Comment: 18516

Relating to the discussions on using drugs or therapy to "fix" psychological problems:

I agree that drugs are being used way too frequently in the U.S., partially due to the baby-boomer mentality that all problems can be fixed with a pill, partially to advertising (notice the number of drug ads on tv? watching them makes me a temporary hypochondriac), partially because people are ignoring the other methods of self-help (i.e. talk therapy). I'm of the opinion that drugs (such as prozac, ritalin, even antibiotics and ibuprofin) should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. However, that doesn't remove the opportunity for homeopathy, flower essence, acupuncture, etc. More importantly, not relying on drugs gives the opportunity for self-reflection into *why* one is getting sick in the first place. Example: my sister used to get sick frequently (to the point where she almost had to repeat 1st grade soley due to poor attendance); eventually, we figured out it was on the weekends when she'd have fries for dinner (usually when we ate out on Fri. or Sat.) and then have cake and ice cream at a b-day party on Sat./Sun. When she stopped eating both in 48 hours, she rarely got sick. I have connected my consuming sugar with a slew of problems.

Point is, it would have been silly to keep administering medicine to cover up symptoms pointing to an easily-fixed problem. Similarly, when people take prozac to "fix" their depression, they're much less likely to continue looking for the source of their depression. Yes, there are individuals with severe chemical imbalances for whom depression is very difficult (to impossible) to overcome without drugs, but there are many others for whom outside factors are leading to their depression. At the very least, drugs of this sort should always be paired with some other form of therapy.

Although I'm not as familiar with ADHD/ADD, I'd hope that people affected by this would not have to go their whole lives on drugs to "correct" the problem. Wouldn't it be better to figure out what environments irritate ADHD and which subdue it? There was a fairly recent article in Newsweek about boys' difficulties in school and how that might be because schools are geared more towards girls' learning styles. Could we not take the same concept that different brains work best in different situations and apply it to creating an environment for ADHD kids? For exasperated parents/teachers who can't handle their kids' behavior anymore, putting them in an environment geared towards them might at least buy some time to find out of the kid actually *has* ADHD (since so many kids are being misdiagnosed nowadays).

Name: Astra
Date: 2006-03-14 09:44:32
Link to this Comment: 18518

Over the break, I spent some time thinking about conciousness - the gap between all we know about neuronal activity and our self-conciousness. There just seems to be an enormous hole that seperates our neurons, action potentials, even the summatative experiences that Scott was discussing, from the conciousness that defines our status as "thinking" beings. It really seems that currently, the best expilnation is that the sum is greater than all the parts - that somewhere along the line, something is happening so that our experiences which can be explained by neuronal activity are accompagnied by subjective experience. Anyone have any thoughts?

Mental Illness
Name: courtney
Date: 2006-03-14 10:32:50
Link to this Comment: 18519

I have a lot to say in response to Brooks' post regarding account of certain mental illnesses that rely upon "social structural variables without recourse to biological variables." This is essentially what I'm writing my thesis on--I'm arguing against a strictly postivistic understanding of mental illness, that is, one that relies upon a biological basis for mental "disease." A host of writers have expounded on this topic, ranging from antipsychiatrists such as Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing to theorists such as Foucault and Bourdieu. The arguments can essentially be divided into two groups: one claims that "mental illness" per se doesn't actually exist--what we identify as mental disease is actually a byproduct of some combination of the "human condition" and social structure. The second claim is not as extreme, but still points out that social norms and power dynamics inevitably affect our view of mental disease, resulting in an unrealistic goal of homogeneity and the marginalization of certain populations. For example, the DSM II identifies homosexuality as a mental illness; after considerable political controversy, this diagnosis was removed for the third edition. Similarly, the identity of "ADD" or "ADHD" or "Adult ADD" has shifted significantly throughout the past decade, which problematizes our notion that we can match a certain diagnosis with an underlying genetic or biological disposition. The very idea that "ADD" is a problem is challenged when we look at the variety of possible learning styles and the restrictive resources available. I also argue that we can still see attempts to oppress and marginalize certain populations through the process of diagnosis, as seen through the astronimcally higher rates of depression within female and minority populations, groups that clearly suffer considerably more cultural oppression and social obstructions. Choosing to medicate these populations ignores greater and deepers societal problems, effectively denying the suffering of the indivudals involved while further represssing such groups. Overall, the act of grouping a set of behaviors together, calling them symptoms, and using this politically-charged procedure to identify a disease clearly reeks of social normativity and power ploys, and regardless of the biological "truth" we shouldn't dismiss the social influence.

Name: Bethany C.
Date: 2006-03-14 18:46:17
Link to this Comment: 18523

With regard to what we were talking about in class today, I was thinking that maybe signals are started "within the box" all the time but there are other patterns of action potentials that surpress these spontaneous signals so that few of them are actually expressed? Or maybe people don't act out on the spontaneous signals because to do so would be socially unacceptable?

More on medication
Date: 2006-03-14 21:33:49
Link to this Comment: 18525

Jessica’s post got me thinking about the problem of overmedication. I am in complete agreement that drugs should be a last solution to problems, but reading her comments made me realize that this attitude is good in theory but difficult to use in practice. For example, with depression, it is certainly likely that methods other than medication can and do help solve this problem for the majority of people. But how do you separate those cases from the people who have serious chemical imbalances that cannot be corrected without drug treatment? Not only is it difficult to quantify degrees and causes of depression, I think it would make patients uncomfortable. Imagine psychiatrists separating people in medicate-able and non-medicate-able categories. The message the people in the medicate-able category would get is that their case is severe. The people who couldn’t receive medication might begin to believe they are at fault for their depression. It is probably not wise to give depressed people reason to believe either of these things. I also agree with Jessica that self reflection is an important thing, but if people were put into such categories in order to prevent overmedication, then the people on medication may not see an incentive to reflect and I think reflection is always a good thing.

On another note, we’ve talked in the past about the effectiveness of medication. Over break I was speaking to someone who had taken anti-anxiety medication after being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. She reported that even after discontinuing the medicine for several months, she felt much less anxious. I don’t know if that is possible on a biological level but it got me thinking that maybe effectiveness doesn’t always count for medications. Whether or not people are actually responding to their medication, if they feel that they are, they are probably acting as though they are. I’m not advocating medicating indiscriminately because some medications have such serious side effects (ie that drug prescribed for depression that resulted in a number of suicide) that do not outweigh the benefits of effects of supposed effects, but it is an interesting idea.

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-14 21:34:45
Link to this Comment: 18526

The last post was mine. Sorry.

on twins
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-03-15 13:14:54
Link to this Comment: 18536

I didn't think this was relevant to bring up in class, but in my psychology class my professor read us a brief bit from an article about identifical twins (monozygotic) who were separated at birth and grew up in environments that were similar but different. I believe it was in the New Yorker, if anyone wants to find it, but I couldn't.
What I remember is a little bit sketchy, but I think they both were raised Jewish, one in a lower middle class family and the other in upper middle class. I think both were in NY State...Also they both had a little brother. Long story short, they had a lot of different input, but both developed a sort of personality disorder despite the fact that it was predictable in one, but the other seemed to have an ideal upbringing. I guess I was thinking about that in relation to how genes determine things and it's an interesting case.

CPG thoughts
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-03-15 14:29:52
Link to this Comment: 18538

Much earlier in the semester I posted about how I was wary of the idea that patterns could be spontaneously created in the brain. And now that we have discussed CPGs more, I still am. We have described them as coordinated performance of independent players, or organization without a conductor, but there still needs to be that intitial trigger in almost every case (at least that's the impression I got). (Paul still needed to tell us to clap our hands--we wouldn't have done it on our own.) It does not surprise me that once triggered, a certain chain reaction can occur. But I wouldn't call that a CENTRALly generated pattern. I realize that sometimes (as in the leech nervous system) the pattern can be generated on its own if you wait long enough. (I wonder how often and in what scenarios that occurs in humans.) But what about when we consciously trigger a pattern of action potentials like a memory, or decide to start running or pick up an object? How is that very first action potential started? I would say that "we" have the power to consciously move ions/start action potentials, but that just means that our brain/I-function has the power---but where??

And I have been picturing single axons connecting these circuits, but that seems way too fragile--that severing one connection could keep the whole chain from firing--so there must be axon bundles in these circuits, right? How is it that severing a connection (like lesion treatments) can have profound effects on the brain and behavior but taking out a ganglion in the crayfish does not stop the pattern from being generated? I would almost think that human beings would have even more of an ability to compensate for these lesions than crayfish--but this wouldn't agree with that.

And if we are now thinking of all of these patterns of action potentials (all of our thoughts and behaviors) as relying on the right neuronal circuits being connected in the right order, it makes it that much more amazing to me that the brain is so flawlessly and so similarly wired in so many people.

Thought about last class...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-03-16 09:45:22
Link to this Comment: 18555

In our last class, we were talking about pattern generators. I got the impression that we were working towards the idea that our brains have multiple pattern generators and that there is no master pattern generator. I was wondering were the ‘I function’ fits into this idea. Is the ‘I function’ a product of pattern generators or is a pattern generator itself? Also, if the ‘I function’ is a pattern generator, wouldn’t it be the master generator? I am still trying to work things out…
I was also wondering about the physical properties behind pattern generators. From our class discussion, I have somehow linked pattern generators with perpetual motion… I just don’t see how it works without breaking some law of physics… How is it possible? (a link for more on perpetual motion)

Genes Influence Behaviour
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-03-17 09:52:29
Link to this Comment: 18568

I think we've come a long way in society today (in our culture) to recognize that genes influence behaviour but do not necessarily determine behaviour.
It makes me wonder, however, how far we've gone in terms of the ethical issues that arise today regarding genetically "engineering" the perfect child...whether that be for him/her to have blue eyes instead of brown, or for him/her to be smart enough to get into an Ivy League college vs averagely intelligent. It's interesting to me that these things still matter to many, even though we can say with confidence that environment influences behaviour as well as genes, so "Engineering" a perfect child is a waste of time. How far will we go as a society to try to genetically engineer individuals even though there are other factors that influence behaviour?

Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-03-17 15:20:42
Link to this Comment: 18581

During the last class we spent some time speaking about bird flocking behavior and playing with the simulator that let us remove the front bird in the "v" flight pattern. I'm interested in the possible connection between that kind of conformity behavior in birds and conformity behavior in humans. For instance, in situations where "white flight" takes place minorities slowly move into a neighborhood and whites slowly move out until the point where about 20% of whites have moved. At that point, whites quickly seem to "flock" out of the neighborhood a much higher rate until minority groups actually become the majority group in the neighborhood. It seems like humans, like birds, may have pattern generators in our brains that are triggered when we see many other humans that we think are like us doing a particular activity, and that pattern generator may encourage us to perform the same behavior. Of course the example I gave takes place over a much longer period of time than the birds, but it still has to do with conformity. The instinct to conform to what others do in humans is probably caused a certain combination of pattern generators.

Macroscopic vs. Microscopic
Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-03-18 17:28:23
Link to this Comment: 18586

Looking over some of the previous comments I came across a comment about bird flocking pattern. The argument made compared bird flocking pattern and removal of the head bird to those patterns noticed in neighborhood dynamics. Although the comparison reveals interesting sociological data about conformity, the comparison is too broad and fails to consider many external variables that influence the generation of patterns. The observation made relies more on a macroscopic scale while pattern generation, as previously found, relies on a microscopic scale. The model stated suggests that there are inherent biological differences among people but the fact remains that we are all composed of the same neurological circuitry and therefore we can not associate internal patterning by physical differences.

Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-03-18 21:34:12
Link to this Comment: 18588

In my psychopharmacology class, my professor told us that people with chronic pain don't seem to become addicted to pain killers and when they reach an optimal dose, they don't need more of the drug to maintain a pain free state (those who do become addicted are thought to have a addictive personality and are already predisposed to addiction). In addition, he told us that if he were to bring in brownies laced with heroin, we wouldn't become addicted either. He said that in order to become addicted to a drug, one must use it recreationally. I don't see how this is possible. Are different neurons firing depending on why one's taking the drug? How does the I-function differeniate between drugs taken for pain and drugs taken for "fun"?

more on "flocking"
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-03-19 14:09:47
Link to this Comment: 18593

To comment on Andrew and Danielle's exchange, there is an "emergence" topic in the Complex Systems section of Serendip that toys with a model of human segregation, and which could be used as a starting point to understand white flight. The segregation model is actually much simpler than the logic of what Andrew is presenting. In the segregation model, the group segregation pattern emerges out of the simple and unchanging preferences of individuals. Because individual attributes are constant, the behavior of individuals changes only insofar as the situation in which the individual manifests her preference changes. The preference is defined as a willingness to stay put only if the individual is immediately surrounded by some percentage of individuals like her (the preference is identical for everyone). Over time, a stable pattern of segregation will emerge.

Andrew's "model" is similar at first: as nonwhites move into a historically white neighborhood, a small percentage of whites, presumably some of those who come in contact with the nonwhites, choose to leave. However, Andrew's differs significantly in that at a certain point, when 20% of the whites have left, the "intolerance" (racism) of all whites increases dramatically, and whites begin leaving at a much faster rate. Because the overall system pattern is explainable by a change in the characteristics of individuals, Andrew's model doesn't seem to quite fit the notion of "emergence." (Andrew's model is a complex system from complex units rather than "emergence" which is a complex system from simple units. Perhaps this is nit-picky; I'm sure a model could be invented where the same pattern is achieved from simple units.)

Danielle, I'm curious as to why you think Andrew's model requires biological (racial?) differences? I'm operating under the assumption that, even if there are intervening variables, racism (and probably classism) is a factor critical in explaining the system pattern, and that racism is not biologically determined. I think the micro/macro distinction you brought up is really important. The "boids" model and Paul's "flocking" model are examples of theories that are able to explain macro patterns in terms of "micro" processes, where micro here means the level of the individual and the "preferences," or rules, that make her choose one course of action over others. I think the question is whether, specifically in the case of humans, macro patterns can be explained by reducing them to the "micro" level. While I agree that this "atomistic" type of theory may work for birds, I don't think it works for humans; therefore I don't think it can be used to explain segregation patterns in human neighborhoods. Human social structure and culture (what Weber refers to as "the level of meaning") change the equation entirely. From Weber:

"Social action is not identical either with the similar actions of many persons or with action influenced by other persons. Thus, if at the beginning of a shower a number of people on the street put up their umbrellas at the same time, this would not ordinarily be a case of action mutually orientated to that of each other, but rather of all reacting in the same way to the like need of protection from the rain. It is well known that the actions of individuals are strongly influenced by the mere fact that he is a member of a crowd confined within a limited space....It is not proposed in the present sense to call action 'social' when it is merely a result of the effect on the individual of the existence of a crowd as such and the action is not orientated to that fact on the level of meaning." (1)

Talcott Parsons on culture as the level of meaning:

"Action consists of the structures and processes by which human beings form meaningful intentions and, more or less successfully, implement them in concrete situations. The word “meaningful” implies the symbolic or cultural level of representation and reference. Intentions and implementation taken together imply a disposition of the action system—individual or collective—to modify its relation to its situation or environment in an intended direction…Human action is “cultural” in that meanings and intentions concerning acts are formed in terms of symbolic systems (including the codes through which they operate in patterns) that focus most generally about the universal of human societies, language." (2)

The basic question is, referring to the problem of "flocking," how are humans not like birds, and perhaps more importantly, can humans ever "flock" the way birds flock? This tradition of sociology claims that most human interactions are mediated by some culturally defined meaning. This culture is a system that must be thought of as analytically autonomous of the preferences (intentions, inner rules, etc) of any individual or aggregate of individuals. "Atomistic" theories (such as the flocking models), theories that analyze systems in terms of the attributes of individuals are inaccurate from the Parsonian perspective. (3)

(1) Weber, M. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. New York: Free Press. (pp 113). A translation by Talcott Parsons of volume 1 part one of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft.

(2) Parsons, Talcott. 1966. Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. (pp 5).

(3) The classical definition of this problem is from: Parsons, Talcott. 1949 (1937). The Structure of Social Action. New York: The Free Press.

Name: Erin
Date: 2006-03-19 19:11:20
Link to this Comment: 18596

I don't think two interacting pathways which produce seemingly different reactions to the same input are what is normally implied by choice. The model from the Pleurobranchea (sp?) is really a different outputs because of different combinations of inputs.

I suppose it's possible that what we think of as "choice" when given the same circumstances is really just a set of slightly different inputs that produce the different responses. But I think there is a sense that we feel ourselves making decisions, and not just in a way that could be explained by the set of interacting patterns and systems being made conscious.

Nervous System Organization
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-03-19 19:26:21
Link to this Comment: 18597

The example with the flying birds and how they do not follow a leader, but all fly together, creating a pattern through communication was interesting. But I am still wondering if they maybe start out as individuals and then during the flight, if one bird becomes the leader and then the others follow it. So, it doesn't start out with a master coordinator, nor does it maybe end with a master coordinator, but in the middle, there is something coordinating the others to achieve the cooperation. In the second example with clapping hands, does it happen that one person begins to clap in a strong and definite pattern after a while and then the other people start to follow him or her, thus creating the overall pattern like with the birds?

Complex Systems
Name: Nancy
Date: 2006-03-19 20:25:45
Link to this Comment: 18598

In response to Brooks' posting regarding the Emergence group... my thesis adviser participates in the group, and explained the segregation hypothesis to me in one of our recent meetings. In her summation, on a micro level, people like to look around and see individuals who are similar to themselves. This tendency draws people to live, work, and interact with those who are similar to them. The inverse--staying away from those who are different--is not as salient, yet segregation of different groups emerges despite the fact that it was not an actively desired outcome.

I had been thinking still about our clapping experiment in class and the suggestion that there was no "conductor." However, the clapping began at Professor Grobstein's request and--if I am not mistaken--choatic clapping unsued until three or four individuals in the back of the room created a rhythm that was louder and recognizable and then everyone else joined in (I was paying close attention...). So, while there was no one conductor, we did manage to have a subset of individuals who dictated the pattern. I feel as though there must be some similar stratification among the segregation model. How does the group of similar people get going? When is there a critical mass that becomes attractive to other similar individuals. Perhaps I should go look at the site for myself before thinking about this, but I do think smaller patterns have to emerge before a large, organized pattern can be seen.

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-03-19 20:30:27
Link to this Comment: 18599

A while back I wrote a post about the neuron's ability to "think." I used the word "think" because I couldn't find a better way of describing what I was trying to get at and I think that's why I left the class so dissatisfied after that term was criticized. After learning about Pattern Generators and the way that neurons can communicate, much of the uncertainty has been cleared up. I think it's so cool that there doesn't have to be a master coordinator for all of the trillions of cells in the nervous system to work together to be productive.
Also, Erin wrote a post a while ago in which she talked about consciousness/unconsciousness. She talked about the cascade effect that a conscious or willed decision could have. I think the example she used was digestion, and how the conscious act of eating facilitated a series of involuntary events. How does this apply to pattern generators? Why is it that after I make a choice to do something (eating), I can't stop the events that follow whereas if I make a choice to do something else (walk) I can stop the process (stop midstep)? What makes the two fundamentally different?

More on Flocking
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-03-19 21:01:04
Link to this Comment: 18601

Although there may be many factors associated with human “flocking” from one neighborhood to another, it is interesting to compare it to bird flocking movement. To say that when a minority populations enters a particular neighborhood, the current white population will subsequently exit, not only implies that minorities and whites cannot and will not coexist in the same place, but also suggests that we are somehow wired to “follow” our own flock. I find this conclusion to be an incomplete assessment of how humans decide where to live. Does this argument work the other way around? In other words, if whites were to suddenly enter a predominantly minority neighborhood, would all the minorities pack up their belongings and leave? If we are programmed like birds to follow our flock, then can all races truly coexist on a global scale? How does this explain why many people choose to leave their native country to live somewhere else?

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-19 22:14:27
Link to this Comment: 18603

The other day when we were discussing phantom limbs, Caroline asked if people who were born without a limb still experience the pain and Professor Grobstein's response was yes. I am utterly confused as to how this can happen. Wouldn't the idea of neuroplasticity apply and cause the brain to be rewired to accomodate for a missing limb and not "know" the difference? Because the person was born without a limb, it would make sense for the brain to rewire so that the neurons intended to coordinate that limb with the nervous system were converted to another purpose.

Lacking yet feeling
Name: Tamara Tom
Date: 2006-03-19 23:23:28
Link to this Comment: 18606

I was also curious about the idea that people born without limbs would still feel pain, just like those who have had a limb removed. It seems that we have been raised in a culture that suggests that one cannot miss what one never had, usually the argument for the noble savage and how "primitive" people are happier than "civilized" ones. But the idea that there is pain for a limb that does not exist opens many new possibilities. It means that we can miss that which we have never had, as we always new we could (example, coveting). It also makes me wonder if those born blind know (or think) that they are "missing" something by not being able to visualize what those who are not blind can; does this thought also cause them pain, perhaps not physically but emotionally and mentally? How can a body miss something it's never had, not in terms of emotionally missing but physically missing?

Phantom Limb stuff
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-03-20 07:34:11
Link to this Comment: 18608

I too was thinking about the issues discussed in class about phantom limb pain. My thoughts:

If one is born without a limb, is the neural circutry guaranteed to be intact? How does teh nervous system adapt during development to such massive morphological errors as missing limbs? My view on phantom limb pain has been that the severed sensory connections from the limb in question are depolarizing in "the middle of the box". But in a limb that never developed, would those sensory connections have formed in teh first place? And if not, what happenes in the part of th ebrain that would normally have been the destination of the sensory signals?

I guess that I am just dissatisfied with the in-class explinations of phantom limb pain.

Flocking... joining the fold...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-03-20 11:14:53
Link to this Comment: 18609

There have been a series of posts exploring the phenomenon of flocking. In one of these posts, Brooks asked “can humans ever "flock" the way birds flock?”
I think that humans do ‘flock’. How many of us have attended family reunions, gone home for the holidays or called their parents to check-in (this in addition to the ‘white flight’ that has been the topic of many posts)? Or an even simpler example: what happens when a few people start lining up… the line gets longer and longer as other people join them. You can even parallel this to this to our own forum. How many people have 'flocked' to the topic of 'flocking'?
I think that we are looking at flocking from a single perspective that is too large-scale. Brooks asked if humans can ever flock the way that birds flock... this question is thought provoking, but limiting. This perspective does not take into account the range of different flocking behavior among birds. Nor does it appreciate the wide variety of human behaviors.
There have been studies on arrangement of flocks. Some large birds (ex: geese, pelicans) seem to gain an ‘energetic benefit’ when flocking together” ( since following birds can take advantage of vortexes in the air produced by the ones ahead of them.) The formation of the flock reflects this. In other cases, groups of smaller birds seem to flock together to help stave off predation. “When frightened by a flying predator, a flock of small birds such as sandpipers or starlings will bunch up and fly in as compact a mass as possible.” link
There are also examples of mixed-species flocking of birds (and birds with other animals... what does this say about humans and their pets!); this can occur for a variety of reasons (protection from predation, maximizing resources…ect). “Yellow Robins follow Brush Turkeys, pouncing on insects the turkeys stir up as they scratch through the dead leaves of the forest floor. Cattle Egrets "flock" with cattle and tractors for similar reasons.” “There are other interesting aspects of mixed-species flocks. For instance some species appear to take the lead in forming the flock -- to serve as "nuclear" or "core" species. Such species often have conspicuous plumage or behavior. Titmice in North America (and tits in Europe and Africa) play this role, as do antbirds (which often "flock" with army ants and snap up insects their raiding columns disturb) in tropical America, babblers in tropical Asia, fairy wrens and thornbills (tit-like birds) in Australia, and Gerygone warblers in New Guinea.” link
As you can imagine, there are many more examples…
Asking the question “can humans ever ‘flock’ the way birds flock” limits our exploration of behavior.... Birds don’t always ‘flock’ the way other birds flock... or even the way the same group of birds flocked last year. Also, humans have a wide range of behaviors, some of which may have parallels to flocking… Instead of exploring ‘flocking’ from a single perspective, we should explore the phenomena from as many as possible. By entering the question from as many angles as possible, we will learn more and get a clearer (less wrong?) picture of what is going on.

More thoughts on Flocking
Name: Liz
Date: 2006-03-20 13:20:00
Link to this Comment: 18612

In reading the debates about flocking, I ended up thinking about human's ability to group. Humans may show a biologically driven preference for insider versus outsider; however, what qualifies as outsider may be determined socially. We can see these behaviors in chimp models, where they form parties to hunt members of other groups (all members who are not migrating females). Does this preference for members inside a group drive humans to flock? Do we feel uncomfortable and vunerable when we begin to think we may become outsiders, thereby causing the flocking behvaior?

Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-03-20 18:49:55
Link to this Comment: 18613

I've found the discussion on human "flocking" so far to be fascinating, and wish that I had more to offer on the subject. For those that are interested, I would suggest looking through some of the books that are assigned for the intro level sociology courses as I know that at least one of the books in Sociology 103 deals rather thoroughly with the subject, although I cannot recall which one it is at this time.

disorders...nature or nurture
Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-03-20 20:24:25
Link to this Comment: 18619

In relation to the comment Ebony made I have also been interested in the power the brain has to change (heal) itself. I find it very interesting how some “disorders” stem from environmental factors but are treated with chemicals. However, I would feel the best treatment would be the way of psycho therapy. Like depression, for instance, I personally believe that depression is mainly caused by the environment (i.e. events, the weather, etc). If these things influence a person’s behavior in the form of depression then altering a person’s perception of the environment or offering a new way to deal with the environment would be a more effective way to change those behaviors. Are disorders a factor of nature or nurture? If, it is society that defines a disorder then that favors the nurture side of the argument and therefore psychotherapy and other noninvasive treatments would be more effective in treating those disorders.

Flocking and pain
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-03-20 22:52:08
Link to this Comment: 18622

The concept of "flocking" fits in what we are doing in social psychology: in ambiguous situations, people tend to mimic other people. So if a group of people are looking up, you are likely to look up because you don't know what they are looking at. We flock because we are unsure and hope that someone else has a clue about what we are doing.

When we were talking about the idea of pain in class, if made me wonder if people have certain built in tolerances to pain? Not simply the tolerance to being harmed, but being able to deal with situations where you are unfamiliar with what is supposed to happen. For instance, is confusion a form of pain? And why do some people enjoy new experiences more than others? Are their brains wired to be more accepting to conflicting expectations and realities?

Flocking, Race, Nature v. Nurture
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-03-20 23:23:17
Link to this Comment: 18623

Some of the posts have been discussing the relationship between race and flocking. Interestingly enough, race doesn't exist biologically...all humans have the same genome, and the physical characteristics that we use to define 'races' (which are constantly being redefined) are determined by gene expression in groups of people. That expression is affected by the external environment, which explains the patterns within groups of people from the same geographic region. So if race is an artificial construct, then what does that mean about flocking? Is flocking a purely social/environmental reaction, a biological urge to survive in groups, or something else? How much does 'free will' play a role in this tendency (assuming free will is a whole other discussion)? Do different 'races' differ in their enactment of this behavior? Are Americans really a self-selected group of risk-takers, dreamers, and independent thinkers?

Pain tolerance
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-03-20 23:46:18
Link to this Comment: 18626

In response to Caroline's question about built in tolerances to pain...

I'm not sure this is a great example because it's a result of conditioning, but my psych professor mentioned that victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (i.e., veterans of war) have a higher tolerance for pain. In situations where they would need morphine like after surgery or something, the victims of PTSD require less of the painkiller than ordinary civilians, which possibly indicates higher levels of endorphins. I think that this is called stress induced analgesia, which is interesting from a neurological standpoint, but I'm not sure that this is built in besides the fact that people tend to be predisposed for PTSD.

Name: Brom
Date: 2006-03-21 00:42:51
Link to this Comment: 18627

Caroline and Suzanne's comments about differences in pain tolerance and the ability of some people's brains to accept new and different situations interested me. Are people who are better able to deal with new and different situations able to process and understand "rules" and patterns of the situation more quickly than others? Or perhaps they have a less firm grasp on their everyday reality so adapting to a new one is not as much of mindwrenching process?

On Conductors
Name: Scott S.
Date: 2006-03-21 03:39:29
Link to this Comment: 18628

When I was thinking about flocking and conductors it made sense to me that macroscopic patterns in human organization are similar to birds natural flocking instincts, but because humans can be aware of their own organization, they have the ability to condition some tendencies. Andy Warhol once said that he only liked amateur actors because professional actors had become too good at re-presenting the right codes for the right situations. This comment shows that the human ability to recognize repetition and derive abstractions from particularities makes them somewhat different from birds. They can write new tendencies into their actions by re-defining group lines, re-evaluating what a decision means according to some other tendency, and so on. On the other hand isn't the step that Warhol just a more complex and un-grounded form of the same flocking patterns. A human's ability to project a changing reality makes their decisions seem free or un-governed, but I think the patterns are still there, we just exist in a world that is so folded in on itself that it is no longer possible to trace our actions back to probabalistic tendencies. The world to which human beings are reacting and in which they are flocking is transient and un-grounded in empirical facts but, it is constantly being re-figured and re-defined by human minds that are aware of awareness. A human mind can experience the pull of a flock that is merely a self-prepared idea, it can see certain groups and ignore others, it can map un-founded ideas on external realities. It is not that humans are not also guided by rules, but the specificity of every human's perception of an environment and a situation is far greater than say, a bird's projected reality.

Name: Jen
Date: 2006-03-21 09:33:31
Link to this Comment: 18630

Flocking seems to be the hot topic of discussion; I , for one, think it's interesting how the behavior of animals in flocks, herds, and schools can be related to the animals' nervous system--that patterns which arise in the nervous system can be projected to the external behavior of animals. A prime example would be the idea that there is no master pattern generator in the NS just as there is no leader of the pack. Perhaps, this provides some simplistic explanation of how genes affect behavior. If we say genes are responsible for the development of the nervous system and the pattern of action potentials that arise from "within the boxes," then we can also say that genes can be (partially if not fully) responsible for the natural behavior of animals. Although the pattern of the NS is common to all individuals, there exists diversity among each NS in the form of different pattern of action potentials. So while there is unity, there is also diversity.

Also, questions about individuality. It can be detrimental if an animal breaks away from its group, since individuals of the group find strength in numbers. Why would an individual stray from the pack? Is there an intrinsic "abnormality" in their NS that causes this behavior? Can animals be curious? What accounts for curiosity?

Date: 2006-03-21 11:34:12
Link to this Comment: 18632

I think that it is ridiculous for researchers to be investigating the existance of race from a biological perspective. This research will only support/fuel the ideology that has and continues to oppress many groups of people. I'm sure the money being fueled into this project could be utilized for cancer or AIDS research which is of the utmost importance.

Name: bethany c.
Date: 2006-03-21 11:34:27
Link to this Comment: 18633

I think that it is ridiculous for researchers to be investigating the existance of race from a biological perspective. This research will only support/fuel the ideology that has and continues to oppress many groups of people. I'm sure the money being fueled into this project could be utilized for cancer or AIDS research which is of the utmost importance.

Name: Bethany C.
Date: 2006-03-21 11:38:02
Link to this Comment: 18634

With regard to the "deer in the headlight" phenonmenon:
I think that in situations where one doesn't know how to react it is because the neural pathways are not often used and are therefore more slowly activated.
One way to improve at a sport like basketball is to do "muscle conditioning" in which you repeat one move over and over until it becomes automatic. What is really going on is that you are strengthening those neural pathways.

Pattern Generator
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-03-21 13:48:45
Link to this Comment: 18635

I thought that Carolyn’s response was very interesting and would like to add my own thoughts to what she was saying about pattern generators and master generators. I also think that there are multiple pattern generators in the brain but it wouldn’t make sense, based on the body’s other patterned processes (ie: different types of movement, talking, etc) to have many “masters”. It seems to me, especially with the example of language, that there is one major generator that has many “tools” that it can use to create different patterns. This makes sense because it is the best way (most efficient) to have many complex options but still remain as simple as possible.
Using the example of language, one can understand how this is more plausible. In language, we have rhythm, accents, tone, letters, words, sentences, paragraphs etc. There are many tools which we are able to utilize in order to create an impression or idea. However, there are overall patterns to the way we use them. This makes it a very efficient system where a few key components allow for infinite ways to communicate.
I think movement is similar. All of the key elements to movement, when simplified, come down to neurotransmitters firing but the patterns are what change. Walking is different from running because of the patterns. However, the patterns share the basic elemental stratedy, making it easier for the body to be capable of millions of movements. In conclusion, it seems to me that the body may have a master for a general thing and not many master for each thing. The body probably has a “master pattern generator” for movement but not for walking, running, leaping, skipping, etc. It just wouldn’t be possible and even if it was, it wouldn’t make sense or be as effective/efficient.

The middle of the box
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-03-21 21:50:40
Link to this Comment: 18639

Some of today's comments in class got me thinking more about patterns that may or may not start in the middle of the box. We've seen that isolated nervous systems are capable of starting patterns without any external input, but does that mean they necessarily do so in the context of a body? Isn't it possible that it's the very lack of input that causes the nervous system to begin generating patterns on its own? I think it's entirely possible that external input may inhibit these patterns from occurring. Patterns that start in the middle of the box, then, may be possible, but could not actually occur in natural living systems. There doesn't seem to be any way to find out if this theory is accurate, though, since all of our theoretical experiments have involved removing the nervous system from its body, the very thing this idea goes against...

more on the deer in the threshold
Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-03-22 01:59:37
Link to this Comment: 18642

I, like Bethany, have been pondering the "deer in the headlights" phenomenon, and I've been comparing that feeling of not being able to choose (or rather for your unconscious nervous system to "choose") which path to take. Why is it, then, that Prof. Grobstein's son's unconscious nervous system seemingly had no trouble deciding what to do in the falling-off-the-couch situation? In other words, why is is that the nervous system can easily "pick" a pattern generator in some situations, but not in others?

I returned to our classic answer: "a pattern of action potentials!", and maybe that's just it. We know that in order for an action potential to be generated, a certain threshold must be met in terms of ion concentration differences. Could it be that along some pattern generation pathways, the threshold is lower and so that pattern is more likely to occur? If so, could it be that in certain situations (e.g. falling off the couch) that the difference between thresholds is large enough that a particular pattern easily "wins out" over the others, but in other situations the difference is not so large and so we're stuck is stuck until the I-function can make a decision?

more on phantom limbs...
Name: Bethany K
Date: 2006-03-22 12:47:49
Link to this Comment: 18644

The discussion on Thursday, and revisited yesterday, about subjects with amputated limbs was very interesting to me, especially the bit about the experience of pain in a phantom limb. I am curious about cases where a patient with a phantom limb experiences the growth or movement/gradual disappearance of that limb. Many patients with a phantom limb experience a sensation that the limb they have lost is slowly disappearing. I remember one example where a woman’s arm was amputated just below the shoulder, who could tell you where, on any particular day, her hand and fingers were in relation to what was left of her arm. Over time, the phantom limb receded so that if she or someone else poked the end of her physical amputated limb, she reported feeling it in a finger. Poking at a different point on the stump produced a report of feeling in a different finger, or different part of the hand/arm that was no longer there.

I would like to take a closer look at the differences that might arise in cases where one is born without a limb versus when one loses a limb. I think that previous experience must play at least SOME role… For example, the case mentioned in class when the amputation of a man’s arm/hand occurred while the man’s fist was clenched, and he experienced a feeling of a continued clenched state, even though the limb was gone. Would we ever see something like this in someone who was born without a limb? If so, could this be something that was generated in the middle of the box? Would it have to be generated unconsciously? Could it be conscious?

Deer and light
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-03-22 15:40:10
Link to this Comment: 18648

In response to Brittany's comment, could it somehow be that the amount of light floods the pathways that allow deer to make the decision to run? Why on earth do they go from bounding across the road to stopped and looking straight into the light? Does the light affect the pattern of action potentials/trigger new action potentials?

Surgeon General on mental health
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-03-23 09:39:18
Link to this Comment: 18669

I read some of the Surgeon General’s report on mental health and culture. I have always known that there are many outside factors that play a role when it comes to diagnosing and treating mental health. He made the case that the prevalence of various mental illnesses is practically the same within different countries across the world. The only difference that occurs within the countries is how often it is brought into the public eye and recognized. In our discussion in class we also hinted at this when it was stated that the prevalence of mental illness also has to do with the time period. For example, the diagnosis of hysteria is very rarely seen today whereas depression is much more common. This same trend can be found in differing countries. Depression is a very common diagnosis in the United States, but may be less common in other places.
While I was reading the article and thinking about how different cultures feel differently regarding mental illness, I also found that this meant the way they are treated within differing cultures also differs. In the United States, whites are more likely to seek out profession, while minority groups are more likely to turn to religion, traditional healers, and family and friends as a source of treatment. These findings are very interesting and I wonder how these different approaches come together in actually treating the illness.
In Western medicine, taking a pill to cure symptoms is enough. But how do religion, traditional healers, family and friends, non-conventional methods work in healing the brain. Since these methods are not based on altering the chemistry of the brain, is the brain then healing itself?

A Response to Fatu
Name: Christin
Date: 2006-03-23 16:22:10
Link to this Comment: 18673

In regard to Fatu's comments on the Surgeon General and the history of mental health diagnoses, is it possible that nowadays, the diagnosis of "depression" is a catchall in the same way that "hysteria" once was? I think this is comparable to the Victorian diagnoses of various illnesses from cancer to TB as "consumption". And concerning the treatment of mental illness with faith and friendship, I think non-traditional or homeopathic remedies make sense because mental illness impacts both the physical and emotional aspects of life; it is not merely a matter of neurobiology. It would be interesting to see how people who relied on religion and companionship in addition to traditional medication for treating depression did in a study comparing them to those who were only on medication.

week 9
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-03-24 07:55:20
Link to this Comment: 18677

Interested in whatever's been on your mind this week (as always), but if you need something to get you started ...

We've moved from the micro to the more macro, starting on the output side of the nervous system. And next week we'll shift and look at how things look from the input side. So its an appropriate time to reflect a bit on Lessons learned "from the output side" and to think a bit about what we have yet to make sense of and the directions that might be productive in doing so.

Pattern generating movements and Coordination
Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-03-25 12:57:58
Link to this Comment: 18685

From our discussion on Thursday, I was very intrigued by Professor Grobstein’s anecdote about his daughter and sons ability to move their entire hand instead of one finger as young children and the associated pattern generating events that took place. I guess I don’t quite understand why a baby or young child can’t extract a given movement from a pattern generator, while an adult can specify certain movements as dictated by the pattern generator? The main question is, can a baby/young child not specify movement because the pattern generator is not well developed or is it that the baby/young child cannot coordinate its movements enough to specify, for example, the movement of one digit? Also, can coordination and pattern generating be similar in origin? Is ones ability to fractionate movement just a series of coordinated pattern generating events?

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-26 15:58:17
Link to this Comment: 18687

Two articles in last week's Science section of the New York Times highlight some of the issues we've discussed about drug therapy. On article reported new findings that medication may not be nessecary after the first psychotic episode schizophrenics experience, as previously thought. It goes on to explain that this finding will have limited application, but that no or less medication may be used to treat schizophrenia than some people believe.

A second article explained the importance of talk therapy for elderly people fighting depression. Results from one study showed that talk therapy alone has approximately the same success rate as drug therapy in this situation.

It is interesting after all our discussions about how pro-drug therapy American society, that these two articles both suggest limiting drug use. I wonder how solid the evidence is in either case because it could be that the NYT is just trying to sensationalize news and sell papers, or perhaps there is a backlash among scientists against overmedication.

Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-03-26 17:35:38
Link to this Comment: 18689

To add to the previous comments regarding the diagnosing of certain psychological conditions, I believe that patients are often misdiagnosed or over-medicated for many conditions. Sometimes, a patient may not even have the supposed affliction he is being treated for. It has become the norm to expect to leave the doctor’s office with a prescription. We live in a society where the only credible treatment can come from the pharmacy, as opposed to other effective forms of treatment, such as talk therapy. As Claude stated, we have too much faith in the use of medications to “cure” us from various disorders. Americans can’t get enough of their “quick fixes”, and think that a prescription will quickly remedy what ails them, regardless of possibly serious side effects. Many medications designed to help psychological disorders, such as ADD, are relatively new on the market, and their long-term health effects remain unknown. That is not to say that all medication is bad; some people do need and do benefit from the use of prescription medicines. However, I think it is important that we don’t underestimate the effectiveness of other treatment options.

Set Weight Points
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-03-27 01:00:46
Link to this Comment: 18691

For me, the most interesting point made by Grobstein in the last class was about the set points of weight. I found it intriguing that the body’s set point is something that cannot be changed permanently by the I-function but rather, only over a long period of time by the body. If the I-function only changes the set point temporarily, how does it then change for good with only the addition of time? What does time do that the I-function cannot?
I also found it interesting to think about this in terms of evolution. When we were gatherers and hunters, back in the day, we had a set points for our weights that, most likely, were very different than the average person’s now. Back then, the I-function need not control food intake or even think about it because we ate what we found/killed and there weren’t potato chips to tease us around midnight. It’s disconserting for me to think about weight in this way because although the set point theory makes sense, it is hard to accept that our set points are permanent and not really influenced by our I-function as much as we are usually taught to believe.
For me, the most interesting point made by Grobstein in the last class was about the set points of weight. I found it intriguing that the body’s set point is something that cannot be changed permanently by the I-function but rather, only over a long period of time by the body. If the I-function only changes the set point temporarily, how does it then change for good with only the addition of time? What does time do that the I-function cannot?
I also found it interesting to think about this in terms of evolution. When we were gatherers and hunters, back in the day, we had a set points for our weights that, most likely, were very different than the average person’s now. Back then, the I-function need not control food intake or even think about it because we ate what we found/killed and there weren’t potato chips to tease us around midnight. It’s disconserting for me to think about weight in this way because although the set point theory makes sense, it is hard to accept that our set points are permanent and not really influenced by our I-function as much as we are usually taught to believe.

Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-03-27 01:01:53
Link to this Comment: 18692

My comment doubled itself. sorry!

Symptoms and Culture
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-03-27 11:13:20
Link to this Comment: 18696

I was reading Fatu’s comment and I wanted to add a little…
I don’t know about international prevalence rates of psychological disorders, but I do know that how symptoms are displayed can differ across cultures. Western cultures often tend to have more psychical symptoms or a higher prevalence of coomorbid depression while somatic complaints are not unusual in other cultures. For example, in Hwa-byung (Korean) and ataque de nervios (Spanish) are both psychological problems with somatic complaints linked to mood states.
Here is really interesting link about cultural differences in display of symptoms of psychological disorders (including schizophrenia) if anyone is interested...
And Here is another article for further reading. This one is about Hwa-byung and ataque de nervios.
Also, Claude’s comment on different treatments of schizophrenia and depression furthered my thinking about cultural influences on the mind… if cultural beliefs can influence symptomotology, wouldn’t this also affect treatment? We have been discussing genetic and environmental impacts on the brain and Paul introduced the idea that race could be more than a social construct, that the human genome project had found information (groups of nucleotides ?) which seems to correlate with racial groups. So… what is race now? Should we keep the term? (There are a lot of articles floating around on the internet concerning genetics and race... and how the information could be used to segregate people) What do we do with this new information?

race: bio vs. social definition
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-03-27 15:49:40
Link to this Comment: 18698

My take on the issue is that race is a modern concept that exists only as a social construct used to separate individuals of a society into broadly defined groups, and not as a scientifically valid category of the human species. Race within a cultural and historical context is defined by superficial appearances, such as skin color, and is used to divide individuals into different artificial categories, categories that ostensibly represent ethnic or geographic origin.

If there is a genetic basis for "race", a biological definition or scientific explanation for the existence of groups of people of varying geographic origins and phenotypes, then I'm not convinced that such evidence is entirely accurate. Because populations of individuals are constantly in flux, migrating, mating, increasing genetic variation among individuals, can a defined race remain constant over time? And what happens when there are races with overlaps? Do overlaps cause a new hybrid race to form?

The I - Function
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-03-27 19:55:15
Link to this Comment: 18699

I am also interested in the role of the I-Function and the Negative Feedback loop. Is the I-Function ever involved in the Negative Feedback loop where the body's goal is to return to equilibrium? I was also wondering about the "Placebo Effect" and how that fits into the Negative Feedback loop where when the placebo works in some cases, is the body truly returned to equilibrium and if so, is the I-Function then involved?

Dead or Alive
Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-03-27 21:13:29
Link to this Comment: 18701

On thinking about the damage Christopher Reeves did to his nervous system and going over the effects of damaging the Basal Ganglia, Cerebellum, etc, seems to be implying that the body can “function” without the I function. It is just the connections between the “I function” and other parts of the nervous system that allows us to “control” our bodily movements. I put the word control in quotes because we are not sure if there is such a thing as free will in terms of the body. Therefore, this leads me to the question of what death really means. If the N.S. can essentially act independently of other parts then if all major parts were disassociated from the others would we be “dead” or because our body is sill generating random action potentials are we alive? In a corpse, is death just the lack of an “I function”? If all parts of the nervous system are disassociated how one can tell if there is in fact an “I function” but just not able to show it because of the disassociation of motor neurons, etc. Or is it universal that the heart beat defines life or death and should we revise this thought based on what we are now learning about the nervous system?

looking forward to input side/memory
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-03-27 21:37:46
Link to this Comment: 18702

Looking back on what we have learned about the nervous system, I am pretty impressed with how much we have accounted for in just looking at the output side and reafferent loop, but at the same time, there is so much we have yet to learn and comprehend about the complexity of the nervous system. Looking ahead at the input side of the nervous system, I’ve tried to relate what I’ve learned (ie action potentials) to what I have yet to learn or want to learn. One such subject that has always fascinated me is memory/recognition and how is it formed, retained, etc. With the advent of some serious scientific research in the field of Alzheimer’s disease, we can correlate the loss of memory with a damaged cortex. But what about those-like me- who suffer from the occasional absentmindedness? How can we account for this? Sometimes when I forget something, I usually need an “input” to jog my memory again. Usually a word, sight, or smell would stimulate my memory. Why is that? The pattern of action potentials has always been there—correct? (at least it has been there since the memory was made) Why is it that sometimes we aren’t able to call upon a memory when we want to? Is it a glitch in the system? Similarly, why are some memories more readily called upon than others?

weight and "I function"
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-03-27 21:37:51
Link to this Comment: 18703

In response to Rachel M.'s comment on the body's weight set point, in seems to me that body composition changes with age. I don't know much about this, but changes in body weight controlled by "time" that cannot be influenced by the I function seem clear. For example, humans certainly cannot control weight gain during puberty, so it is not a stretch that other events during the course of one's that we don't think about "reset" the equilibrium body weight.

Date: 2006-03-27 21:39:51
Link to this Comment: 18704

Somewhat related to some of this discussion: it seems that so much of the notion of "healing" depends on how we define "sickness"--and *who* gets to define that. When do we acknowledge a given individual and/or condition as "healed"? Is there a difference between these two scenarios? Is self-identification as healed as or more important that a "professional" diagnosis? What gives the professional power and agency? Does the notion of healing rely on the idea of a "right way to be," and if so is it impossible to escape some degree of normalization/homogenization in questions of health? Not saying this is entirely bad, but wondering if this is the only way to look at it...

Need the I Function
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-03-27 23:18:37
Link to this Comment: 18705

So if we don't have a lot of control over our bodies, our brain's start random signals on their own, and the I function has such a limited scope, why is consciousness such a big part of daily life? While it is what "we" can perceive, it seems the critical feature that defines humans. If you were to damage the I Function, then the body becomes a headless chicken. Why would evolution favour such a system that seems so dependent on such an unstable variable?
Could anyone function without an I Function?

Pain and the I-Function
Name: Brom
Date: 2006-03-27 23:34:12
Link to this Comment: 18706

I was reading an article that appeared in the New York Times(the link is below) about ultra-endurance athletes, specifically the cyclists who participate in the RAAM race(a bicycle race from San Diego to Atlantic City taking around one week) and was interested by the neurobiology of these athletes. The article presents evidence of the nervous system "tricking" the body into thinking that it is tired. The studies mentioned in the article pushed endurance athletes to the exhaustion while observing the percentage of muscle fibers used by the athlete. The scientists thought that as the athlete reported to be exhausted the body would be using all the muscle fibers at its disposable to carryout its task. The opposite occurred, as the athletes said they were exhausted and could not go on, the percentage of muscle fibers being used was actually quite less, more of the muscle was resting when the athlete was tired than before. The scientists posite that a "central governor" exists within the brain monitoring wide variety of factors associated with the endurance events. The purpose of the "central governor" being "to hold our bodies safely back from the brink of collaspe painful sensations that we interpret as unendurable muscle fatigue." One researcher in the article argued that endurance athletes are able to beat the brain and continue in their events because "they just shift their brain dynamics and alter their perception of reality so the pain matters less. It 's basically a purposeful halluncination." I was wondering where this ability to "shift their brain dynamics" comes from? Is it in the I-function? If the I-function is changing the brain chemistry to reinterpret the pain inputs as some other form is it sometimes undermining one's survival? How does it determine which pain signals to reinterpret?

The link for the article is:

Race and Weight
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-03-27 23:41:47
Link to this Comment: 18707

I completely agree with Ebony on the issue of race as defined in the context of biology. The idea of race has been historically used for so much control and destruction, and I think culture could be a much more appropriate way to categorize differences between peoples. Using the idea of culture would assume many similarities between peoples, such as religion, food, etc., but it would also allow more options for growth and change within and between categories.

But then, on the subject of culture, would culture be a completely environmental construct, and would it allow for free will?

And on the subject of set weight seems from recent American history that weight is not as much set in individuals as much as food intake and activity levels are set. Weight is so affected by environment (upbringing), stress levels, climate, etc.... How can we claim that each body is pre-set to a specific weight?!

And to come full circle, doesn't culture influence weight much more than an individual's predisposition?

Name: Scott Shep
Date: 2006-03-28 03:11:45
Link to this Comment: 18709

After reading Brom's comment and listening to an NPR report on Salvia Divinorum, I started to wonder about the nature of hallucinations. If you want to read up on Salvia you can on the NPR websit--it is a legal hallucinogenic drug that is very potent and actually makes you feel like you are living in a different universe with new sets of information. Based on what we've learned so far this semester, it makes sense to me to think of hallucinations as generated patterns that organize in very improbable ways. I would argue that we can't even say that a hallucination is ONLY an experience that cannot be traced back to the empirical world or inputs because we know now that very legitimate patterns start inside the brain. Patterns can start arbitrarily in the brain, but it is less probable that a pink elephant visual pattern will be sustained than some other random, but "rational", action potential. My question is how can hallucinations be so wild and simultaneously have their own organization.
Salvia experiences, for instance, are unique to most hallucinatory experiences. The drug puts a person in a world that is beyond surreal; it is other than this world. It seems to be its own self-sustained system, but this system does not just present the brain with new information, it gives the brain a new way of organizing never before experienced information. It is not like a dream where a person experiences a phantasmagoria that, although imaginative, at least resembles waking life. The information that one experiences from salvia exists in a new ordering system--it's not just a pink elephant, it is like knowing another language with other truths and other feelings. How do brand new mental patterns organize in completely new ways? How improbable are hallucinations and does this make them more meaningful?

Unconscious Thinking
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-03-28 08:14:01
Link to this Comment: 18710

Our discussions last week about the nature of reafferent loops and negative feedback loops made me think more about how much of what we humans do isn't really based on conscious decision-making. Many so called reflexes, and perhaps other processes and habits that we haven't thought of yet, operate outside of our I-Function. One example that immediately comes to my mind is that of having great ideas when we're taking showers. Showers are often taken in the morning after we've slept for the night, and while we sleep our brains are hard at work solving problems that our conscious minds or I-Functions have been thinking about. Then when we go to the shower and get jolted awake we get hit with some of the good ideas that are the result of all this subconscious processing while we were asleep.

Perhaps when we are asleep a box inside our brains outside the I-Function identifies a few of the biggest problems that the conscious mind had been pondering while it was awake the previous day. Then that box sets in motion a reafferent loop that proposes different solutions to the problem until it seems like it has reached a good one. Once it reaches a good solution maybe another reafferent loop is set in motion to solve the next problem. Then when we wake up, a couple of these good ideas that the reafferent loops solved are "presented" to our I-Functions, which is that lightbulb we get in the shower. What do you think?

Unconcious Thinking and I fucntion control
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-03-28 08:33:53
Link to this Comment: 18711

I like the idea that the brain proper is fully capable of running permutations all by itsself. I've been thinking of it like a computer program - the brain goes through all the possible permutations of possible responses to a stimuli, and presents the i function with the results. the i function isn't involved with the behind the scenes work of manually processing all our possible reactions. And since our brain stores the memory of stimulus and response pairings, it makes sense to me that the unconcious bits are responsible for going through those memories to find the solution to the problem.

However, the I function has to be more involved in the process that the think that recieves the final product - it has to have some sort of executive decision making - is the final override of any actions that we take.

Deciding who's alive
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-03-28 11:41:58
Link to this Comment: 18712

I'm having a lot of trouble reconciling the idea of not being alive unless you have some sort of awareness of yourself. By this definition, children probably shouldn't be classified as being alive until about 18 months, when they start developing language. Before that point, at least from my way of thinking, babies don't really "think" in the sense that we use to mean having an awareness of themselves. The concept of not calling a baby alive until it's almost 2 years old is very disturbing to me. What are the first months of "life" if they're not actually life?

Name: Rebecca
Date: 2006-03-28 23:16:56
Link to this Comment: 18715

During the discussion about setpoints such as weight, someone mentioned the possibility that the body had such setpoints for things like emotion. I thought about those major determinations of personality (introversion, extroversion, etc) that were discussed in Intro Psych and I saw some similarities to the body weight example. Drugs can alter a person's personality (a very shy person can be the life of the party when drunk) just as drugs can alter a person's body weight (diet pills), but according to what we learned in class, we always seem to revert back to the setpoints. How, if at all, does this correlate with treatments of and our understanding of depression?
Even though we're putting the topic aside for a while, I think that the death discussion comes at a perfect time in the course. Right now we have enough information to be able go froma micro understanding of the nervous system to a much more macro understanding. It seems to me that the "two definitions" that Tamara mentioned in class follow this way of thinking. An individual cell (micro) can be biologically alive, but it's how and in what ways those cells interact (macro) that constitute the common definition of life. This reminds me very much of the concept of emergence, which says that an organism, for example, is not merely the sum total of its parts. There's something more to life that has to do with the interaction of all of the cells in a human's body.

Name: Astra
Date: 2006-03-29 21:22:47
Link to this Comment: 18728

So would single-cellular organisms not be alive? I would view life as the possesion of self-replication - as long as something can undergo mitosis or meiosis - number of cells or the complexity of their arrangements nonwithstanding.

Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-29 21:42:47
Link to this Comment: 18729

I agree with the observation that finding babies not truly alive is disconcerting, but based on what I read in my book for the semester, The Ethical Brain, by Michael Gazzaniga, maybe language is not the most useful starting point. Maybe we could use the presence of a nervous system, the ability to receive and process inputs and outputs as a way to define life. If we go by this definition, Christopher Reeves would have been considered alive because he did receive some inputs and produce outputs, though there were limitations, and Terry Shiavo would not be considered alive since, if I understand this correctly, she did not receive and process inputs and outputs. This definition is more satisfying to me, because I would prefer not to be alive in sense of the word than to be "alive" in the way Terry Schiavo was. This can also, as Gazzaniga argues, draw a line for when abortion is moral and immoral.

Name: Jen
Date: 2006-03-30 00:16:09
Link to this Comment: 18735

In response to all the postings concerning life, I think we can associate being alive to responding to an environment/stimulus, having a metabolism, and being able to reproduce. If we just take into account whether or not an organism has a nervous system then we are discriminating against the billions of prokaryotes that are, in my opinion, alive. As for the abortion issue, I think I agree with what Andrew said in class on Tuesday about the fetus being able to ‘dream’ after the first trimester and how we could possibly look at that as a way to define ‘life’ in higher organisms when it comes down to such a controversial topic.

Alive or Dead?
Name: Sylvia
Date: 2006-03-30 02:44:54
Link to this Comment: 18736

I agree with Andrea. Does self awareness make a person "alive"? If that's the case, what about people who are in coma's? They are in a state of unconciousness, so are they temporarily dead or alive or are they alive but not responsive. Finally, how does someone in a coma differ from a person who is brain dead?

Life and death
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-03-30 09:01:52
Link to this Comment: 18739

The discussion we had in class as well as those in the forum on life and death were very interesting. I disagree with the thoughts brought up during class that an organism needs self-awareness in order to be considered alive. I also do not necessarily think that having multiple definitions of life and death are the best way to solve the problem of deciding if a hand in a dish with nutrients can be considered alive. I think that one of the problems with the ideas of life and death is that we look at them through the perspective of human beings. The qualities we have that make us alive or dead can not be applied to other organism. We are only one kind of life that inhabits the planet. I think we need to look more at the basic functions and interpretations of begin alive in order to find a definition that will fit everything from amoebas to humans. The same goes for death.

Name: Rebecca
Date: 2006-03-30 12:19:25
Link to this Comment: 18743

To clarify, I do think that single-celled organisms are alive. I was trying to say that the usual biological definition of life doesn't always apply satisfactorially to every situation. There seem to be two definitions already in use.

I was thinking about seeing and the spatial problem of the retina. I'm still not convinced that there are enough photoreceptors to make up the complete visual picture I see. I think that the problem is that I perceive the picture to be a continuum of light, and if it's continuous, isn't that kind of like infinity? And if I see infinitely between these light sources, would there have to be an infinite number of receptors? That was my initial problem, but after the experiment we did in class, I guess that the photoreceptors take in light and the nervous system just "fills in" on a quite large scale so that what I think I see is a continuum of light and color gradients.

Also, I thought that the fovea was really interesting. It seems like the more we learn about vision, the better it serves as a model for attention. In the case of the fovea, a spotlight is literaly being fixed on an object and it is more clear. Could we do this without attention? I think that there's something a lot bigger beneath the mechanics of it.

Finally, when I became a lifeguard, we were instructed to use our peripheral vision to scan as it's the most efficient for detecting potentially struggling swimmers. Is this just because, like the case with driving, the I-function interferes with vision and complicates it (maybe through attention...)?

Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-03-30 12:59:51
Link to this Comment: 18745

I suppose given that I haven't been very well trained in evolutionary biology that this is a just so story, but here's my hypothesis:

chlorophyll and hemoglobin are unique in the wavelength they gave off in the evolutionary environment. Is it functional that red and green are so clear in the image of plantlife and blood? Green indicates food sources, protection, o r perhaps a background against which fruit or other nongreen things can be discerned. Blood is a good indication of danger, or for predators, a likely prey target to focus on.

Paul said that color is a scam. How so?

so many questions...
Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-03-30 13:06:48
Link to this Comment: 18746

Since the fovea is such an important part of the overall eye structure, could it be possible that a developmental deformity could cause the development of two identical fovea structures in each eye? If it were possible to have two fovea structures per eye, then what would that individual see? Could the brain process the information or would the individual see nothing at all? Also, are some people more prone to changes in lens curvature? If so what are the underlying factors?

A Question for Claude
Name: Christin
Date: 2006-03-30 19:32:54
Link to this Comment: 18751

According to Ganzaggia's definition, would abortion be immoral because from conception the fetus responds to stimuli and is affected by the mother? And it creates output later in its development by kicking, moving, growing? Is this correct?

In response to Christin
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-03-30 22:05:37
Link to this Comment: 18753

I think perhaps I didn't make it entirely clear where his argument ends and mine begins, but he defines life based on "consciousness" and he doesn't really draw a more specific line in terms of what you refer to. He says "In neuroethics, context is everything" (p. 18). That's the best I can tell you. But his book is really great and a quick read so I would recommend it if you're interested in more

Looking Through A New Lens
Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-03-30 23:18:31
Link to this Comment: 18756

This eye stuff is very interesting, and a little trippy- I keep looking around at everything and trying to figure out exactly what/why/how/if I'm seeing, and thinking all these deep thoughts.

For example, when I read Danielle's post, I was intrigued by the question of why people have differing tendencies with regards to lens curvature. My first thought was, "well, the lens is made of proteins, and the shape and flexibility and interaction (e.g. how much they do or do not squish together and how bendy they are) must be what creates the shape of the lens. And since proteins are encoded by genes, well then it must be genes!"

I hopped onto Google to look for more. I gleaned the following: - shows and talks about the structure of Aquaporin 0, one of the main proteins involved in the lens, and specifically how its structure is changed over time and under different circumstances.

Both of these talked about the genetic basis of cataracts, and even specific genes linked to specific proteins that cause cataracts at particular ages in an individual. It made me think of my mom's family, and how she and her two siblings each had to get glasses at the same age. All of this leads me to believe that genes play a big role in the structure of our eyes and in how they change over time.

week 10
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2006-04-01 09:28:02
Link to this Comment: 18779

"Deep thoughts" always welcome, on whatever ... Is interesting, perhaps, to think about what we've learned so far about the brain making things up in seeing and the question/controversy about what life is?

Visual Agnosia
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-04-01 13:11:49
Link to this Comment: 18781

In class on Thursday, we were talking about the differences between the picture on the retina and the picture in your head. A person with visual agnosia is unable to identify items merely by looking at them. For example if they saw a rose they would not know what it was. However, if the person was pricked by a thorn or smells the flower, they will instantly recognize it. People with visual agnosia are not blind; they can distinguish light from dark and they can discriminate basic shapes. Does this disorder explain why the picture on the retina is different than the picture in your head?

Vision and blind spots
Date: 2006-04-02 11:42:17
Link to this Comment: 18788

We spoke in class on Thursday about the blind spots in the eye and how the eye "sees" what types of patterns are around those spots to fill in the holes. But what happens when you see a new complex design, such as a piece abstract art. If you only look at it quickly, in passing, how can your brain fill it in? Or does your eye move that fast, that there isnt actually a "quick glance?" And what if your brain fills it in wrong because it can't tell what was there? Do you then change what you feel it looks like when you really get a good look? Just some general wonderings...

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-04-02 11:42:41
Link to this Comment: 18789

Sorry, that was me

Evolution of Eyesight
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-04-02 16:01:14
Link to this Comment: 18791

Today, we take for granted the convenience of eyeglasses and contact lenses. But, when these corrective measures were not available, having poor eyesight was quite a hindrance on everyday living. What is the evolutionary significance of being nearsighted or farsighted? Humans have come to use their eyes for much more intricate actions (i.e. reading) than those performed by our ancestors. Farsightedness is a common problem with aging. Is this because eyesight gets progressively worse with age? For a trait as critical to survival as eyesight, why would poor eyesight persist? Does eyesight get progressively worse with age because it is just another feature that worsens as we age? Or, are our eyes not programmed to perform functions such as reading?

Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-04-02 17:04:57
Link to this Comment: 18793

Why is it that only the fovea part if the retina is the area of the eye where we are able to see well? Is there a biological reason to this structure of the eye? I am hesitant to accept the “It just works” explanation for this type of structure because wouldn’t it make since for the whole retina to pick up signals acutely, and not just a portion (the fovea).

Moreover, are illusions a product of how light falls on the retina, the processing of the stimulus (light) received, or both? And how will we know? If nothing that we see is real to the extent of how each individual perceives it, then illusions, as a negative pathological construct, is a product of society. Because of how they eye is structured, how it functions and the way light is processed there is no way one individual can dictate to another that what they see is not real. What does that say about science and more interestingly art?

brain and behaviour
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-02 17:32:57
Link to this Comment: 18794

We've discussed thus far that a means by which to alter one's behaviour may lie in altering the brain in some way. An article in this weekend's NYTimes Magazine describes a type of brain surgery (known as deep brain stimulation) used to treat mood disorders such as depression. It seems remarkable to me that our society has reached such a progressive medical p

Here is a link to the article for those who are interested:

brain and behaviour
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-02 17:40:01
Link to this Comment: 18795

Apologies for the re-post...I got cut off mid-sentence. Here is the complete posting.

We've discussed thus far that a means by which to alter one's behaviour may lie in altering the brain in some way. An article in this weekend's NYTimes Magazine describes a type of brain surgery (known as deep brain stimulation or D.B.S.) used to treat mood disorders such as depression. It seems remarkable to me that our society has reached such a progressive point in medical and scientific achievements...We are now able to cut people open and maually fix their brains to make them "normal" again! It's remarkable because this means that decades from now, there may be cutting edge procedures available for treating serious neurological disorders, which of course can help a wide range of people. But, what I find disturbing and a bit scary, is the possibility for such a surgical procedure, to one day become as popular and available as some cosmetic surgeries are today. Could D.B.S. be the new prozac in 20 years?

For those interested, the article can be found here:

The Co-Arising Brain
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-03 03:10:24
Link to this Comment: 18798

One of the points that has struck me most from our discussion in the past week and a half has been that the nervous system has no master control. The way the system operates depends on the interactions between different pattern generating circuits rather than the guidance of one overall power center (not even the I-Function would count as a master control, since so many behaviors take place without its guidance). This organization of the brain reminds me a lot of a key Buddhist concept called co-arising. Co-arising states that in cycles there is an interplay between the factors involved rather than there always being a strict cause and effect relationship. In the play, many pattern systems are simultaneously operating and mutually influencing one another's actions. One example of this would be that corollary discharges send messages from boxes that are closer to the outpot side of the system back in the direction of boxes that are closer to the input end. Behaviors are generally the result of many factors, and the behaviors themselves send signals back to the brain that can actually change the brain (As we agreed upon in class, behavior can change the brain).

life and death of the individual
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-03 14:05:13
Link to this Comment: 18803

From a general scientific point of view, one can view life as a period of time during which one is able to breathe and have a heartbeat. However, new terminology has come into the fold to suggest that life ends not when someone stops breathing or when one's heart fails, but rather when all brain activity has come to a complete and irreversible stop. To me, this implies that when the body as a unit can no longer function, when the ability to function has come to a permanent end, the individual is dead. While this seems like a very unromantic view, I think it can be important when discussing topics in medical ethics. However, I believe that because we as humans have emotional and spiritual biases, it may be quite difficult for us to come to a consensus (even in the scientific community) about what life (and death) truly means.

Questionable Vision...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-04-03 17:27:20
Link to this Comment: 18806

In Whitney’s post , she asked, “why is it that only the fovea part if the retina is the area of the eye where we are able to see well?” I would like to highlight the fact that the eye is a unit and that vision would be severely impaired without all the parts working together. Remember when Paul drew his picture on the board of an eye without its front apparatus (cornea, pupil, lens, iris…ect)? As for the fovea being the part of the eye that we need in order to ‘see well’, this depends on circumstances... What exactly do we want to see? The fovea contains a high concentration of cones, which are sensitive to color but not to light. Rods, photoreceptors sensitive to light, are found outside of the fovea and, as a result, your peripheral vision is much more sensitive to light. “Since the rods predominate in the peripheral vision, that peripheral vision is more light sensitive, enabling you to see dimmer objects in your peripheral vision. If you see a dim star in your peripheral vision, it may disappear when you look at it directly since you are then moving the image onto the cone-rich fovea region which is less light sensitive. You can detect motion better with your peripheral vision, since it is primarily rod vision.”

Regarding this, I had a question relating to rod photoreceptors. If the actual sensory information we receive from our eyes is much more limited than the ‘picture’ our brain tells us we see… do we actually have peripheral vision? When we did the little experiment in class (closing individual eyes and moving our fingers to mark where our visual fields ended) it seemed all peripheral vision is in the area that is ‘made up’ by the brain, that it is out of the region from which our eyes actually get sensory information. If that is the case, what is peripheral vision? Is it actually less ‘peripheral’ then we think? If not, then isn’t much of it a story about the ‘picture’ that the brain has filled in? Also, if the brain is filling in the information from our peripheral vision, why is it disconcerting when peripheral vision is blocked? Example: wearing a hood… especially if you are running around (maybe this is because the rods in the periphery are so sensitive to movement)?

New York Times article
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-04-03 18:20:39
Link to this Comment: 18808

I also saw that article and found it interesting how it explained the "depression switch". They described depression as a combination of numbness and pain and that the DBS procedure basically turned on a switch which alleviated the pressure controlling the patient. It is weird to think of depression as something that can be controlled so locally and not as a pervasive and elusive concept. I question how this procedure could become the "new prozac" though. It seems to me that a person is going to need to be very desperate to be willing to get a hole drilled in his or her skull.

Name: Anna
Date: 2006-04-03 18:23:54
Link to this Comment: 18809

During our discussion about the Nervous System actually making up information for the picture in our head, the point about hallucinations was brought up. Are hallucinations just the product of an over active Nervous System, which is making things up? If so, what makes the Nervous System over active?

Depression Switch
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-04-03 19:42:04
Link to this Comment: 18811

How sure are medical professionals that this depression switch procedure works? It sounds very extreme, for something that can usually be treated with medication.

I guess, like Nicky, I was fairly certain that depression was an elusive concept, difficult to track down and figure out. Now, it can be localized. It's honestly rather wierd and I am still very skeptical.


NY times article on Impulse
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-04-03 21:20:20
Link to this Comment: 18812

This week, I read an article in the New York Times entitled Living on Impusle. It was a discussion of varing severities of impulse behavior, treatments for severe impulse related personality disorders, are various causes of impuslse.

What I found most interesting, was the broad range of origins discussed concerning this last topic. The article mentioned both genes, brain structures, and part experiences as influences on the power of impulse in behavior.

The area of the brain was the "dorsal anterior cingulate. The cingulate is part of the brain's prefrontal area — its supervisory manager — which is involved in shaping deliberate behavior, in measuring a proper response or reflex."

The gene in question is called MAOA. It causes the production of an enzme that reduces serotonin activity in the brain, which in turn will cause a decrease in dorsal anterior cingulate activity.

However, the scientists interviewed also said that, in addition to genetics, "emotionally disorienting early experiences puts people at high risk [for self-destructive cases of impulsivity], as do some very familiar personal instincts."

While reading this, I rememberer a brief discussion in class (perhaps last week) as to the nature of impulses, and I found it interesting (though in hindsight not too surprising) that different people have different propensities towards impulses, and that the very idea of an impulse can be divided into smaller categories of behaviors. It also made good sense to me that the behavior of acting on impulses is an amalgorithm of both genes, physical structures, and environmental factors.

Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-04-03 21:39:18
Link to this Comment: 18813

Anna reminded me of the topic of hallucinations and I think it's interesting to attribute it to an over active nervous system. If extra neurons are activated in a certain pattern, I imagine they would produce an image that isn't really "there" (what does it mean to "be there", anyway?) Hallucinations can be chemically induced, like acid trips, and I wonder if those chemicals can make the nervous system overreact.

I've never had a visual hallucination, but I have imagined some strange things during a high fever. Once I was afraid that I couldn't feel my legs. What term would we use for feelings rather than what we see?

Eyes and Vision
Name: Jessica E.
Date: 2006-04-03 22:05:19
Link to this Comment: 18814

I'm glad we've started learning about vision lately, since I've always found the senses exceptionally interesting. There was a question before about how so many people have poor eyesight even though it puts one at such an evolutionary disadvantage. I've heard two reasons for it:

1) Humans with poor eyesight (like other animals) used to be weeded out in a more primative society, but ever since the formation of civilized society, those with poor vision have been helped either with inventions (eye pieces) or with assistants (seeing-eye dogs, a personal servant, etc.). Just because someone had incorrectible eyesight that doesn't mean they couldn't live to reproduction. There are many stories in the bible about individuals with poor or no eyesight (along with other disabilities) who were helped by friends, family, and neighbors. If people with this impairment could survive 2000 years ago, certainly poor-eyesight genes have more than saturated the gene pool by now. Even the past few hundred years is enough, ever since the first common use of eyeglasses.

2) Humans use their eyes for different purposes now, but the organs remain the same. The first humans needed their eyesight for distance vision much more frequently than modern humans. They would scan the horizon for predators, prey, enemies, edible plants, shelter, and so on. Hunters used their distance vision constantly, and even the gatherers needed it for finding new berry bushes. Additionally, the only method of locating another individual was to scout them out, even from long distances. For the past millenium and even longer, eyesight has been used for embroidery, craftmanship, reading, writing, detailed art, and reading computer screens, with less emphasis on the distance viewing. This unbalanced use ends up causing unusual strain on the eye, which is where the bookworm/computer geek and glasses stereotype may come from--individuals who spend unusual amounts of time using their close vision only may be injuring their eyes in ways others don't. I believe this is true from personal experience--two years ago I was engrossed in a painting that was extremely detailed, so I ended up painting for hours on end with my eyes no more than six and as little as two inches away from the canvas. The project took less than a month, but my eyesight had worsened significantly during this time, more than usual.

Now to ask my own eye/vision questions:

Why is it that our eyes move during REM sleep even though much of the rest of our body is "paralyzed"? Is there even a reason, or is it just that moving our eyes does no damage to the rest of our body, unlike moving our hand or leg during dream cycles?

If scientists did give someone eyes in the back of their head, would the brain be able to perceive a 360 degree view? Pause and think about what it would look like. I keep imagining a warped movie screen with a small seam down the back. Now try to imagine what having eyes implanted all over your body would be like. It's really difficult to imagine being able to see everything at once, so I wonder if it's an experience limitation, or if the human brain really can't incorporate all that information.

I've also heard that humans can only "see" so many colors. Is it that after a point the colors are so similar they're indistinguishable, or that, like computer screens, there are only so many set colors that we can actually perceive, and any color we come across is perceived as the most similar color to our color set?

Owls...Sight and Awareness
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-03 23:12:18
Link to this Comment: 18817

Thia article below describes how the physiological overlap of sight and auditory componenents in the brains of owls is directly related to the owls' attention-span and ability to receive/process external signals. Is ADD in humans (ignoring the issues of over-diagnosis and over-medicating) a function of neurobiological shortcomings instead of an issue with the I-function? Is it possible that the variation among people's concentration abilities and even their intellectual abilities are pruely variations in sensory physiology? These variations can obviously be affected/improved by external stimuli...does this new finding in owls imply a connect or a disconnect between attention-span and intelligence? What is the role of self-control in this case?

Hallucinations vs. Compensating
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-04 00:18:16
Link to this Comment: 18821

I think it's interesting that we see things that our eyes aren't technically detecting. I would like to know more about the difference between that and hallucinations. It seems like on some level they must be related, and at what point are hallucinations good in and of themselves and at what point are they the result of some useful characteristic taken too far? Compensating for your blind spot seems like a much smaller, simpler and shorter addition to sight than hallucinating whole imaginary people. It seems like the compensating might occur somewhere within the more immediate chain of neurons that process images where hallucinations of people or events must come from some more macro level part. But then the book I read for my final paper seemed to suggest that there isn't some overarching control center. So I don't know where that leaves me.

Framing of vision
Name: Caroline
Date: 2006-04-04 00:42:09
Link to this Comment: 18822

I am comfortable with the idea that my brain fills in what it thinks is supposed to be seen. My brain has been doing a lot of this late. I have been having double vision, and when my brain is trying to reconcile what it is seeing, it will choose which image to prioritize. Sometime the I function can even get involved and I can choose which double that my brain will see, and the other simply becomes a transplanted ghost.
The two images don’t always overlap. The brain will simply choose to ignore certain parts of data which conflict. But how does it do this? While it seems logical to me how it appears, what aspect of neurology determines what is seen and what is ignored?

some thoughts and confusion
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-04-04 01:25:02
Link to this Comment: 18825

The way I try to understand what we learned in class last week with questions arising in the forum is to think of vision and its relationship to the nervous system as a spectrum. On one extreme end, we can see everything in the physical world the way it is. As we discovered in class during the vision experiments, this doesn’t happen. On the other side of the spectrum, we see nothing in the physical world and hallucinate everything we do “see” in our head. Somewhere in the middle, there is a region of “normal” vision where we basically see most of the physical world as it is processed through our “I” function. Drugs and chemicals can alter our position on this spectrum- hallucinogens forcing us one way, antipsychotics the other.

Perhaps, hallucinations are merely random firing of neurons in our brain that escape the “I” function filter and enter into our perception of reality? The way I think of this is similar to the stimulation/inhibition relationship between the brain and spinal cord. Maybe the “I” function acts as an inhibitor of neurons that otherwise would fire at random moments, producing hallucinations. When the “I” function is damaged or impaired in by some mechanism, we hallucinate to varying degrees based on the extent of the damage. So, essentially I guess what I am saying is that we always have the potential to hallucinate but as long as our “I” function regulates what is processed by our brain we will essentially see the physical world as it is (with a little exception). But then again, this implies that there is an “overarching control center” for vision, but, if there is no master pattern generator in our nervous system, maybe there is no control center for vision as the book Erin read seems to suggest. Or maybe we need to distinguish what we learned from the output side from what we are attempting to learn from the input side. So, essentially, like Erin and many of my classmates, I am in the dark about this issue.

Random Thought
Name: Brittany
Date: 2006-04-05 02:05:46
Link to this Comment: 18839

When we were talking about lateral inhibition today, and about how the information we receive really only tells us about the differences between light intensity in different areas, I was suddenly reminded of the day about ten years ago when my mother and stepfather were about to be married. My Mom couldn't pick between two dresses that were very similar except that one was ivory and one was off-white. When she related this story to my stepfather, he could not have been more perplexed. "There's a difference?!" was more or less what he said. I also remember trying to explain the difference between two areas of color in a sunset to one of my guy friends. "That's magenta, and that's mauve." "I have no idea what you're talking about," he said, even though to me the difference was definitely there.

Anyway, this made me think that maybe there is some sort of genetic difference in how/to what degree this lateral inhibition thing happens, and that difference may be related at least in part to gender. Why in the world would something like that develop along those lines? Is there some situation relating to female life that makes this a good skill to have? We know that girls and women tend to be more attuned to subtle changes in emotions, maybe this ability to sense tiny changes in one area translates to another. Also, some studies have indicated that gay men and women respond in the same fashion to certain stimuli- and how many straight, male home decorators do you know? Maybe there's something going on there, too. Or maybe it's just society telling guys it's too girly to notice those little differences and I'm off on a wild goose chase. I looked for information on this online but I couldn't really find anything...maybe someone else has some thoughts?

Frogs eyes
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-04-05 18:36:33
Link to this Comment: 18850

I am reading a book called "The agile gene: how nature turns on nurture" by Matt Ridley, and he just brought up a very interesting point in relation to the discussion about vision we had last class. While (as we said) adult frogs have eyes on the top of their head, tadpoles have one eye on each side of their head. As they grow, not only must the eyes migrate to a new location, but the brain must learn to interpret a totally different picture of the world to still comprehend what is around it. The new picture has two eyes where the vision overlaps, completely different from that of a tadpole with two distinct pictures (like a whale). Turns out that a gene is turned on that causes a protein to grow calle ephrin B, which repels growth cones coming from half of each eye. Then, new neurons to grow from the retina to the brain, crossing over to give binocular vision. It is incredible that the brain can adapt at such a relatively late stage.

Event at Haverford
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-04-05 21:09:38
Link to this Comment: 18852

If y'all don't know, Ashok Gangadean is a total trip:

View his online video invitation. Trippy, right?

There's a conference this Saturday from 1-5PM in Sharpless Auditorium at Haverford. It concerns the intersection between science and spirituality, but crazily has several brain specialists speaking. Seriously, Gangadean is a total trip into outer space, so come check it out. I posted the info below. Paul, you gonna show up? There's a talk on emergence!





Chair & Coordinator: Ashok Gangadean (Professor of Philosophy, Haverford College, Founder-Director of The Global Dialogue Institute)

Featuring Keynote Presentations by:

Dr. Ursula Goodenough (Professor of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO, author of The Sacred Depths of Nature):


Dr. Karl H. Pribram, M.D. (Distinguished Research Professor, Georgetown University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at George Mason University in the School of Computational Sciences):


Dr. Daniel A. Monti, M.D. (Executive and Medical Director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital)


with General Commentator and Discussant:

Dr. Andrew B. Newberg, M.D. (Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiology and Psychiatry at the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, and staff physician in Nuclear Medicine; author of Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, and The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Belief)

Each presentation will be about 45 minutes, followed by brief discussion. After all three presentations, there will be a more extended dialogue between the panelists that will open up to involve the audience.

This Event is free and open to the public. Audience participation is encouraged.


SATURDAY, APRIL 8, 2006 1:00PM TO 5:00PM

Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-04-05 21:13:07
Link to this Comment: 18853

Uh, looks like that link is broken, if you want to view Gangadean's online invitation, try this:

Name: rebecca
Date: 2006-04-06 12:37:32
Link to this Comment: 18874

A while ago, Prof. Grobstein talked about why a human wouldn't want to be locked in a dark room with a snake. As I recall, the reasoning was that the human couldn't see the snake without light input going to the photoreceptors, but the snake could sense the human because snakes have receptors other than photoreceptors. Isn't this an example of a specific circumstance where an organism that doesn't have to rely on the Lateral Inhibition Network as we know it? But what would the human look like to the snake? The human would certainly have to be defined enough for the snake to strike and kill or else there wouldn't be a threat.

It seems like this whole depth perception thing is pretty shady. I'm having a hard time figuring it all out. Why do some people have better or worse depth perception than others? Can inaccuracies in matching the light inputs be corrected like other vision problems? Why in the first place would the eyes get into an argument, so to speak, with each other and then with the nervous system? It seems like an awful system to me. Also, I think everyone has heard the example of when natives of thick forested regions are taken out of the forest, they have very poor depth perception. How is this possible since we learned that Lateral Inhibition Networks are innate?

The thing that I'm most interested in here is the choice that the brain is making about which image to see. I could only see the skull, and could only see the woman when Prof. Grobstein walked me through it. From what I understand of the nervous system, my brain is perfectly capable of seeing the woman, and indeed my brain must to have seen it in the first place, but for some reason something happened so that the only story I got was of a skull. Clearly there's flexibility, but why don't I see them both at once? Is there truly a choice going on? How does it involve the I function?

Eye Functions
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-04-06 12:58:49
Link to this Comment: 18875

So in class talking about the optical interface and nuerological processing in the eye, we commented about the real but limited ability of the I-function to affect our visual perception (seemingly only in situations ambiguous to our "fast" visual information systems). While were were talking about this, I was thinking about the role of the I-function in parallel movement of the eyes. We can obviously dart our eyes back and forth, and this has a real feeling of voluntary control over the eyes themselves. ("I" feel them move.) However, when we shift voluntary control to moving our neck, to swiveling our head, our eyes seem to automatically fix their gaze on an object. In this situation, our eyes move relative to our head in order to remain in a constant position relative to the object we are staring at. This movement, the same movement that was previously voluntary, doesn't even feel like it is happening. I get no sensation that my eyes are moving when I move my head.

Another very sophisticated information processing system beyond the I-function? Perhaps part of it involves inhibiting proprioception from the sensory nuerons in the muscles that move the eye. That doesn't explain what is controlling the "dynamic fixedness" of the eyes themselves. Crazy. Try moving your head while keeping your eyes pointing forward. It's really hard to keep them from darting to and from objects! It is much more naturally to track objects for a time, and switch rapidly to a new object and track it until your head comes to a rest. And your eyes seem to look straight ahead when your lids are closed even when you turn your neck. The thermostat in this system perhaps relies on image clarity and foveation.

Apparently this is called the "eye-head saccadic system." Maybe Paul can explain what the line from this abstract means: "The putative function of the vestibulo-ocular reflex during a gaze saccade is to adjust the movement of the eye for the movement of the head by adding the saccadic command and the vestibular signal."

Here's another article by Douglas Tweed entitled "Three-Dimensional Model of the Human Eye-Head Saccadic System." And here's a funny diagram. This is a model of something, but I don't know what. Paul?

Two Things
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-06 13:33:35
Link to this Comment: 18876

First, I am curious about some of the optical illusions we did today. After doing them, I got a headache. I am wondering about why visual problems and headaches are so often linked. I often get headaches when I wear my glasses but not when I wear contacts. Perhaps since I wore my glasses today, I had a headache because of that, or maybe it had something to do with the visual strain of the illusions. Or, are headaches a manifestation of some sort of difference between the anticipated input and actual input, much like motion sickness? Also, how come depth perception is so different with contacts versus glasses? I have much better depth perception when I wear contacts, but aren't they supposed to be doing the same thing?

On another note, I was talking to my Mom yesterday about my overdiagnosed cousins and then we got to talking about depression and she said she thinks that maybe the high rates of depression are a result of the fact that people live a more depressing lifestyle today. Many factors that were not present in the lives of previous generations, such as computers video games, lack of exersice and time outdoors, boring office jobs, and the like may actually make our lives more depressing. It made me think maybe of an additional why a lot of college freshman may describe themselves as depressed, particularly during their first semester. In addition to all the other changes, at college one spends a great deal more time inside and on their computer than they did in high school (at least for me). I think this is an interesting way of framing the question.

Dominance, depth and switching the story
Name: Tamara
Date: 2006-04-06 21:52:10
Link to this Comment: 18886

Today (Thursday)'s class raised several questions/issues for me:

1) The issue of dominance. We touched briefly on it in class, but I still am not sure exactly why it exists. Has it evolved as a way for the brain to cope with two different pictures or "stories"? By making one dominant, the brain doesn't have to meticulously work to place both stories together and make sure they work well enough for the organism to function. If one eye is dominant, that story will be preferred, with the other eye's story only adding more 3-dimentionaliy and depth. Which brings me to the second issue...

2) What about depth perception? I learned in Driver's Ed that people with sight in only one eye have a harder time with depth perception, and thus shouldn't drive. They even had us try picking out how far objects were with one eye closed. I was also testing this out in class by looking at people in front of me and alternately closing one eye and then the other, and paying attention to any changes between one- and two-eyed "stories". Sure enough, there was a small difference in what I saw with both eyes open and one eye closed--the person sitting in front of me seemed to get smaller/further away. How does that work?

3) Another question that came up in class while watching the ever-so-clever animation with the flying dog going through a box: why does it take a noticible time for our vision to "change the story"? It is very disconcerting to see it change without my I-function telling it to, and not be able to change back with my I-function telling it to. Why is it so hard to do that? For example, once an illusion is seen/seen to be something else, why is it is difficult to see the illusion again? Like seeing a face in a tree and then determining that it was only a patter of leaves and never being able to see the face again?

Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-04-08 09:57:45
Link to this Comment: 18900

If there are particular structures in the brain that “fill in” a picture, what happens if we have no genetic basis or previous experiences with the picture being filled in? Does this mean that what we see is startling because our imagination is left to “fill in” the missing pieces? How does the imagination play a role in determining what we see and how we interpret different pictures? What happens if a person’s nervous system does not “fill in” and does not have this ability? Does this make the person delusional, in which they are trying to “fill in” structures that do not exist?

Optical Illusions
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-04-08 19:30:33
Link to this Comment: 18912

When we were looking at the optical illusions in class, we all saw one of two pictures when the screen was flashed in front of us and then quickly changed. Our brains were trying to make sense of the image by processing the different light intensities to distinguish boundaries (lateral inhibition network) and form objects in the image. Only one image stood out to us at a glimpse. However, after looking at the image for a while, almost everyone was able to see both pictures without having it pointed out to them.
Every time I looked at the optical illusions from class I saw the same image first, even when I was consciously trying to see the other. What affects what we see in a glimpse? For example, does our state of mind influence the picture we see? If there is a negative image, are we more likely to see it if we are in a bad mood? Or are our brains more likely to see one image over another one regardless of emotional influence or experience?

vision issues
Name: em madsen
Date: 2006-04-09 10:05:40
Link to this Comment: 18916

individuals who believe in intelligent design, or wish to discredit evolution for personal or religious reasons often use the example of the eye as proof of their own ideas--how could something as complex as the eye be made in any other way than by the hand of an intelligent creator?
after class this week, i'm not so convinced that this argument holds that much water. i mean, the eye is not a particularly elegant creation, it would seem to me. there are many places where it can go wrong and does... we're left to fill in gaps, wear glasses, or bump into things.
and now that i'm thinking about evolution--i've read and heard that eyes perhaps developed from groups of light-sensitive cells that cropped up on the surfaces of organisms--and also, that human history is about the size of a quarter at the very top of the empire state building. ok, so--eyes have developed in a relatively short time. recently, scientists discovered a prehistoric fossil fish that had evidence of developing prehensile bones in its fins. i don't think eyes have been fossilized, hence their development cannot be tracked in this way... i'm wondering if, as some other posters have suggested, we've really reached a stopping point, or if in another thousand years, our eyes might perform some different function, or evolve to help humans detect new dangers in the atmosphere--nuclear radiation, or free radicals... hm.

sidenote about drawing
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-04-09 11:23:22
Link to this Comment: 18918

So our talk about light and depth in class on Thursday got me thinking about drawing. For one, it was interesting to think that it is not purely the amount of light that is hitting our retina but the relative brightness compared to the environment (which stays constant over different illuminations). In drawing, you definitely need to pay attention to relative amounts of light, and portray that, but you also need to pay attention to the "actual" brightness of the object and not what your I-function might be telling you. I think this is one of the hardest things about drawing. For example, a black cloth could actually be one of the lightest things in your drawing because of the amount of light reflecting off of it.

Now that we've been talking about the I-function, I now have a name for what I was fighting against when I drew. Your "I-function" has an image of what a foot or a nose looks like but you can't listen to it when you draw. You have to solely go on what you're perceiving at that specific time and bypass your I-function (if you're going for a realistic picture that is). This also involves trying to limit your lateral inhibition. One of the most important things I learned for drawing was never to make outlines, but to indicate the relative brightness on either side of a line which makes the edge. And this makes total sense now. We don't see outlines, we fill things in, so in a sense you need to help the viewer do this and give him/her a reference to the background.

It's interesting that in drawing we're going from the flat image on our retina and the 3D image our brain constructs, and trying to make it back into a flat image, hoping that it appears as a 3D image to the viewer. Drawing seems like one of the most powerful examples of consciously battling our I-function that I've encountered. And one sidenote I just thought of--is the I-function our time keeper? I would often get immersed in drawing and then look up and realize that 3 hours had passed. This makes me think that when we are really able to shut off my I-function (perhaps also like athletes "in the zone") we are no longer keeping track of time passing... just a thought.

evolution and the eye
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-09 18:40:40
Link to this Comment: 18924

em's post was about the problems in the eye and that being an argument against intelligent design. I wonder what our being able to correct vision problems does evolutionarily. Or would people with vision as bad as mine have been able to muddle through before there were glasses (I can read anything really close up, but without my glasses things get blurry about a foot in front of me)? We talked about the brain making sense of less than perfect images, would that still hold?

Seeing without eyes
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-04-09 20:50:03
Link to this Comment: 18926

I just found a very interesting article entitled "New device allows woman to see, even without eyes"
It says it works by using a camera that views the world then translates that to electrical brain stimulations in the brain, causing the person to see flashes of light and outlines of objects. The procedure is not yet performed in the US, and can only be done on people who once had vision.
It doesnt explain much about how it works, but it absolutely fascinates me that it actually works. I wish it explained more about what it was the woman actually sees. What does this say about our picture of vision? It seems apparent that the eyes do not have much to do with it.

Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-04-09 20:54:53
Link to this Comment: 18927

I was reading about a phenomenon called blindsight. People with blindsight report being blind in a certain part of their visual field, but when an object such as a vertical stick is placed in that part of the visual field they are able to describe the stick as being vertical. This seems really odd to me because how can a person who is blind all of a sudden "see". It seems like this phenonmenon happens without the help of the I-function because the process is unconscious and the person doesn't even know how they've come to the conclusion that the stick is vertical. It makes me wonder how much of our visual system is controlled by the I-function versus our unconscious?

Lazy Eye
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-04-09 22:58:37
Link to this Comment: 18928

We'd mentioned in class the idea that since there are several ways for the brain to perceive depth, is there really a reason for us to have two eyes? Talking about this reminded me of the condition of a lazy eye. As a kid, my dad was prescribed glasses, but never wore them. As a result, he now has a lazy eye. In some cases, this means complete blindness in one eye. In my dad's case, it means he only uses the affected eye for depth perception; everything else goes through his other eye.

It strikes me as odd that the one thing we said you don't really need two eyes for is the one thing that my dad uses both his eyes for. The way the body can compensate for abnormalities never ceases to amaze me.

Close Your Eyes...
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-04-10 09:32:57
Link to this Comment: 18930

Maybe this has already been answered, and it seems like an obvious question, so if it has, I apologize.

Why is it that when you close your eyes, you see patterns? Why do they keep changing colours, like a computer screensaver? Also, in light, you (understandably) see light coloured patterns, but in the dark, I, at least, see both light and dark patterns. Why does this happen?


wondering about the eye
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-04-10 15:52:24
Link to this Comment: 18932

I was just kind of thinking about the eye… we talked in class about the pupil dilating or constricting to control the amount of light that gets to the retina. I was wondering why we need to control the amount of light. I understand that the actions of flexing and relaxing the muscles in the eye to operate the pupil results in information sent to the brain about the actions of the eye and may help the brain ‘fill in’ the ‘picture’ that we ‘see’…. But don’t we get the same type of information when we adjust the lens in the eye? Is it harmful to the retina of the eye if it is exposed to too much light? But then don’t some nocturnal animals reflect extra light out of their eyes (making the eyes seem to glow) without any harm to the eye?

I was also wondering why it hurts when there is a rapid change from dim/no light to a bright light? Is it because, like I have asked above, the retina is too sensitive to the light and so the eye hurts as a result of too much light getting to the retina before the pupil can close and reduce the amount of light entering the eye? I was wondering about the eye and thinking that maybe this pain is kind of like phantom limb pain in the way that it seems to be based on expectation. The brain expects there to be a continuation of the dim light conditions just like the brain expects there to be a limb even when said limb has been amputated. The “I Function” cannot control what the brain expects… people who know that their limbs have been amputated may still report feelings of phantom pain in their amputated limbs… and even if a person knows that the light conditions in a room are going to change rapidly (i.e. turning on a lamp) you cannot make your pupils contract in advance to prepare for the change that you know is coming… Who is in control of the brain?

vision and evolution
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-10 18:32:25
Link to this Comment: 18939

I was just wondering about the evolutionary development of the photoreceptors in our retina. Why did we develop into organisms that see multiple colors opposed to others that don't (i.e. dogs are dichromats)?

Re: wondering about the eye
Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-04-10 18:53:02
Link to this Comment: 18940

In response to Carolyn's questions about whether too much light is harmful to the retina, and why pain is felt when there is a rapid change from dim light to bright light, I'd been taught that it is possible for the retina to be injured if thee is too much light. That is one of the reasons people are not supposed to stare at the sun, or to shine a flashlight at someone's face. It is also at least part of the reason why there is pain when a sudden transition is made from little or no light to a high level of light.

Retina protection
Date: 2006-04-10 20:11:07
Link to this Comment: 18943

And isn't that also why the sensory cells in the retina are located "backwards" to the confuguration we would assume? Having three cell layers between the light and the neural pickup would certainly limit the amount of light that gets to our rods and cones....

More rentina protection
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-04-10 20:12:24
Link to this Comment: 18944

And for that matter, why blinking isn't under the control of the I-function. blinking protects our eyes from sudden influxes of light. If we had to actually think about blinking, then damage would be bound to occur.

Eyesight, Hallucination, etc.
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-11 00:24:44
Link to this Comment: 18954

Some links on the evolution of avian eyesight:

I found a fascinating article on the causes of hallucination: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, mourning/stress, acquired deafness, flashbacks, psychotropic and OTC drugs, epilepsy, narcolepsy, migraines, etc...

It's fascinating because the eye seems to be so intricate physiologically, but as we discussed in class, all of what we see can be attributed to our perception. In addition, where is the neurobiological overlap of these such diverse categories?

One last unrelated thought...Prof. Grobstein tld me the other day that "modern medicine is merely a codification of folk practice." True or False?

Perceptual Blind Spots
Date: 2006-04-11 08:16:41
Link to this Comment: 18963

My research for my web paper has revealed something interesting that parallels what we learned in class the other day about humans having visual blind spots. We talked about how there is a disparity between what takes place in reality and how our eyes visually represent that for us in our brains. When the brain doesn't have full information about an image, it often just makes up the rest. In a similar fashion, we often greatly misperceive the reasons behind other people's behavior. Humans tend to overestimate the significance of people's character traits and underestimate the importance of the situational context of the event. This tendency to misattribute responsibility for situations is called the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). This huge limitation in our perceptions also supports the idea that the human body definitely isn't as efficient as it could be, but rather it's just good enough to get by.

optical illusions
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-04-11 08:30:37
Link to this Comment: 18965

I found it really interesting that when the class looked at the optical illusions, everyone saw only one of two things or maybe both things at the same time, but no body reported seeing an orange instead of the skull for example. I am still intrigued by how that is possible since neither picture actually exists. It is solely an optical illusion, yet we all see one of the two same pictures in our heads.

Color and reality
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-04-12 11:07:28
Link to this Comment: 18996

I'm having a really hard time swallowing the idea that color isn't real. I don't see why having a threshold for perceiving color makes it any less a matter of reality. The way I see it, color exists. It's a fact of the world. We can measure it empirically, so why does it matter if, under certain circumstances, we can't perceive it? We can't hear dog whistles, but the reaction of dogs to such high-pitched noises shows us that there are indeed sounds of that frequency. This all seems to go back to what we once talked about with not having receptors for certain stimuli. We can't sense infrared light, but some organisms can. Does that make it less real? Absolutely not.

Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-04-12 16:16:05
Link to this Comment: 18999

So I was really fascinated by the illusions we had seen in class--I found a few more that are very similar and interesting is some word illusions, and then
is a site that shows quite a few different types of sensory perception issues to demonstrate how faulty your own perceptions can often be.
I find it fascinating that even after talking about perception in both this class and my psychology class, I am still making the same mistakes. Often, even knowing what the illusion is and why you percieve it that way, you still can't correctly percieve the picture.

the limitations of human vision
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-12 16:22:29
Link to this Comment: 19001

When talking about frequencies of light and sound that we can't see or that we see more colors than dogs, it reminds me of a conversation I had with my physics lab partner when we were doing a lab on color and vision. We were wondering what it would be like to be able to see microwaves since some animals see ultraviolet light (insects, I think) and some see infrared (snakes), though microwaves are farther to the extreme. Anyways, we concluded that first, it would have to be "microwave" colored, although I'm thinking now that maybe it would only set off the rods so it would just be light instead of dark. And secondly that it would make microwaves (the kitchen appliances kind) glow when turned on, and so maybe we then wouldn't be too interested in microwaving our food anymore.

Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-14 01:51:20
Link to this Comment: 19028

I think an important metaphorical parallel should be drawn from the lessons we have learned about our visual perceptions (literally our lens) of reality: We can't perceive an absolute reality (at least on our own), and we should keep a humble and open mind in our daily lives when we encounter people whose core cultural perceptions, and thus behavior, are fundamentally different than ours. Since people literally do see things differently and there is no right way to see them, we should also be appreciate of people who express different views than our own since they may (as Paul stated in reference to visual perceptions) help us form a new story that will bring us closer to understanding a truth about reality.

Face Blindness
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-04-14 10:56:25
Link to this Comment: 19030

I think it's really amazing how people can see faces, but are unable to tell them apart. This phenomenon shows the complexity of the visual system well. The area in our brain that determines that what we're seeing is a computer is different from the area in our brain that tells us we're looking at a face. In addition, the area that tells us we're seeing a face is different from the area that gives the face a name. These subtle divisions in the brain make a big difference in our life. I wonder if the brain was constructed in this way so that if brain damage occured, only some of our functions would be interrupted. It's better to be able to see faces and not know who they belong to, than to not see any faces at all.

Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-04-16 13:35:50
Link to this Comment: 19047

What I found very interesting is the way the brain settles disagreements between the two eyes by creating one view that satisfies both. It makes me wonder what other disagreements go on between the other senses and what the brain is doing to compensate for it. This further shows me that in some way I can choose what I see and smell. As I was looking at the word and picture illusions in class I noticed I made choices in my brain to see what image I wanted to see. I chose to understand an input (the picture) in a way that would be more understandable and acceptable for me. This also brings me back to one of my childhood memories of being able to scare myself by simply looking in the mirror. My visual input was the same as all the other times I looked in the mirror but the processing of that input is what made all the difference in my understanding.

Rainbows and the Retina
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-16 17:18:54
Link to this Comment: 19049

Did anyone else see a rainbow in the sky on Thursday at around 5pm? I was walking along Landcaster Avenue and saw a rainbow in the sky and it made me smile and think about our class discussion earlier that day. I wondered at that moment how many other people saw a rainbow that day too and were overcome with a sudden feeling of joy to see the brilliant blur of ROY G BIV. But, then I realized that like many things we see, the experience of seeing a rainbow is unique for every individual. Just like color, its very likely that the rainbow is in the retina of the beholder.

questions about vision
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-04-16 20:26:28
Link to this Comment: 19050

When I was little in the backseat of my parents car I would watch other cars drive by. What I noticed then is that even though the car is moving forward, the wheel and hub cap look like they are moving backwards. I saw this phenomenon when I was watching a film this weekend, and it made me think of the issues we have talked about in class dealing with vision. Why does this happen, why do I see a wheel rotating backward when I know the car is actually moving forward?

Muscle Memories
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-17 08:33:40
Link to this Comment: 19053

In my high school Psychology class, we memorized the line "Hippocampus- Memory" in order to remember that the hippocampus is the part of the brain in which memories are stored. I am wondering now if muscle memories and other memories are all stored in the same place or in different places. When someone's memory deteriorates because of old age or disease, they may still be able to walk or to eat. They can perform physical actions that require their muscles to have remembered, but they cannot recall certain dates, events, etc. Why is this? I went horseback riding at home this past weekend, something I did daily for 12 years but haven't done in about four months now, and was fully competante because my body remembered how to ride. The difference between muscle memory and non-muscle memory is something I'd like to know more about.

tired senses
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-04-17 16:10:59
Link to this Comment: 19056

Why do our eyes get tired (headache, dull throbbing behind the eyes)? None of our other senses ‘get tired’…. They habituate, but they don’t feel worn out or overused. We don’t get pain in our skin after swimming (which seems like a situation where you would get a lot of touch information). The nose doesn’t hurt while we are cooking (lots of olfactory info)… in fact, being in the kitchen while something is cooking is rather pleasant. Well, I guess that depends on what's cooking... but even if it is unpleasant, it doesn't tire out the nose. Maybe our eyes get tired because we can, sort of, turn this sense off… we can close our eyes (even though we still get information about light while our eyes are closed... so does this mean it is the fovea and the cones that are responsible of tired eyes?). We can’t really turn off any other sense, especially touch. We can plug our noses or our ears, but the eyes have a specially designed flap of skin to cover them up. Why?

Name: Rebecca Wo
Date: 2006-04-17 17:13:26
Link to this Comment: 19057

In Japan, people refer to the colors of traffic sinals as red, yellow, and blue. To me, however, the colors were definitely red, yellow, and green. However, Japanese people call the same things blue that I do and the same things green that I do, so I don't see how the difference could be simply a cultural thing. Do they as a population see green differently than I and many other Americans do?

I thought that the dark adaptation/movie theater experiment was rather interesting because of what it said about the I function. We've all been in that situation before and for most of us, I would imagine that there was no "Aha!" moment where we were suddenly aware that we were seeing light but not color. However, when the subject in the expeiment was forced to report the colors over and over, there was an "Aha!" moment where the color suddenly disappeared. Does this mean that the rest of the nervous system can push information into the I-function? Come to think of it, isn't that perhaps the basis of talk therapy? Putting people in a different environment that forces them to see things differently. I just thought that was an interesting observation.

Color Blindness Test
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-17 20:15:29
Link to this Comment: 19058

For those of you who are wondering, here is a test to find out if you're color blind...

Do you really want to know, or are you ok with the way your clothing matches in your own eyes?

"Red is the Color of Power"
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-17 20:21:52
Link to this Comment: 19059

Are the psychological associations that we have with colors instinctual/genetic or are they learned/environmental?

Can blind people really detect the color by touch, or are they detecting the color based on other surrounding variables (texture, peoples' reactions, etc.)?

Do color blind/blind people miss out on the emotional reactions we have to colors? Why is color so much more important to some people than others?

Article on psych associations with particular colors:

"A Mighty Wind"
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-17 20:24:36
Link to this Comment: 19060

"Terry and I worship an unconventional deity. The power of another dimension. Now you are not going to read about this dimension in a book or a magazine because it exists nowhere... but in my own mind. Through our ceremonies and rituals we have witnessed the awesome and vibratory power... of color...

This is not an occult science. This is not one of those crazy systems of divination and astrology. That stuff's hooey, and you've got to have a screw loose to go in for that sort of thing. Our beliefs are fairly commonplace and simple to understand. Humankind is simply materialized color operating on the 49th vibration. You would make that conclusion walking down the street or going to the store.
No, ladies and gentlemen, we don't ride around on broomsticks and wear pointy hats. Well, we don't ride on broomsticks."

[Movie, "A Mighty Wind," by Christopher Guest]

color blindness
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-04-17 20:47:38
Link to this Comment: 19061

I visited the link Julia posted to the test on color blindness and seem to have normal color vision. One interesting thing I noticed was that in the last picture, I definitely saw the "normal" number, but I couldn't make my eyes see what a red-green color blind person would see. In the visual illusions, like the lady in the skull, I could concentrate and switch back and forth between interpretations, but with this color test I couldn't. Is it because, according to what my nervous system says, there is only one possible answer for this test, but the illusions had more than one option?

Colors and Emotions
Name: Brom
Date: 2006-04-17 21:38:19
Link to this Comment: 19063

In our discussion of color, as far as I remember we haven't discussed why certain colors are associated with emotions, for instance red is associated with anger, are these associations strictly the result of culture, or does the perception of certain colors physically trigger other parts of the brain resulting in the feeling of a certain emotion? Would the emotional feeling be as strong in a person who does not perceive color like most of the population?

Lateral Inhibition Networks and Nature vs. Nurture
Name: Bethany K.
Date: 2006-04-17 22:09:26
Link to this Comment: 19066

Rebecca said a while ago in the forum, "Also, I think everyone has heard the example of when natives of thick forested regions are taken out of the forest, they have very poor depth perception. How is this possible since we learned that Lateral Inhibition Networks are innate?"

I had actually never heard of this example before, but it sounds very interesting. If we think about this from an evolutionary perspective, then we might be able to answer this question. If a group of people have been living in same environment for a long time in which depth perception is less essential to survival, there would be less selection pressure on this particular ability, and we would be more likely to see people with poorer depth perception. It is also possible if the group is more or less isolated that there is some sort of hereditary sharing of a genotype that results in poorer depth perception. These conjectures could go hand-in-hand as well, with less selection pressure leaving room for more variability in depth perception ability, with subsequently more variability in younger generations due to inheritance.

However, if poor depth perception is a wide-spread phenomenon throughout such a group, I would say that it is likely that experience plays a role in shaping/ affects the Lateral Inhibition Network. Do we know if babies have the same sort of depth perception as adults? What about children? Is this something that we learn (or construct) as we grow? How much does nature count? How much does nurture (environment) count?

color blindness
Name: Amber
Date: 2006-04-17 22:26:21
Link to this Comment: 19067

I also followed that link to the color blindness test, and I also seem to be "normal," at least until I got to the last one- then I seem to be in the opposite situation of Suzanne, where I can see the color blind number, but not the "normal number." - But I saw all the previous normal numbers! And I can kind of guess as to where I think the normal number is, but I'm not sure if I'm right or not. Could this mean that there is perhaps more than one right answer? I don't know...

Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-04-17 23:00:39
Link to this Comment: 19068

Re: "In Japan, people refer to the colors of traffic sinals as red, yellow, and blue. To me, however, the colors were definitely red, yellow, and green. However, Japanese people call the same things blue that I do and the same things green that I do, so I don't see how the difference could be simply a cultural thing. Do they as a population see green differently than I and many other Americans do?"

If I remember correctly, the reason that they refer to blue as green at times is that, at one point in time, they had no word for green in their vocabulary. They just considered green to be an extension of blue. This resulted in some of their modern words for blue and green being used interchangibly. So it is both "a cultural thing" and seeing green in a different way than most Americans.

Name: Anna
Date: 2006-04-18 08:17:13
Link to this Comment: 19077

It was very interesting to learn that when our two eyes see different things and then send different signals about what they see, it is the Nervous System that uses the signals along with other cues to choose the picture that is the picture in our head. Does the Nervous System always use a combination of the signals of both eyes or does it sometimes use the signals of one eye more than the signals of another eye?

Senses and expectations
Name: Caroline T
Date: 2006-04-18 08:27:42
Link to this Comment: 19078

After seeing this: BBC Senses Challenge
I wonder if we can train the brain to reject previous expectations. Such as if you do a lot of optical illusions, you know what to look for. However, is this even desirable?

Genes and Mental Illness
Name: Fatu Badia
Date: 2006-04-18 08:41:29
Link to this Comment: 19079

Today in the Science Times Section of the New York Times there was an article on the discovery of a new gene, called neuregulin-1, that may play a role in schizophrenia. The article said that researchers believe that this gene plays a major role in organizing brain structures and that a faulty version of it could be linked to schizophrenia. At the moment, more studies need to be done looking at the brain matter of those who had schizophrenia. But researchers are hopeful that they are heading in the same direction. This article goes back to one of the major points made in the class about how genes influence everything, but determine nothing and how different brains lead to different behaviors.

Re: Vision
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-04-18 09:13:52
Link to this Comment: 19080

In response to Anna's thought, I would think that our nervous system would only use one eye for our peripheral vision. We know that each of our eyes have different ranges of vision, and that our total vision is a summation of both eyes and has a larger range that either eye on its own. This makes me think that at the edges of our vision, only one eye is contributing. Does this mean that our peripheral vision is not 3D?

Camera and the Eye
Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-04-18 09:56:38
Link to this Comment: 19082

In high school, I remember learning about the different parts of the eye. I was always intrigued by the metaphor of a camera, to describe how the eye works, because I enjoy taking pictures with a manual camera. However, thinking about this metaphor in terms of this class, brings up many questions and interesting ideas about how far we can actually use the camera working like an eye metaphor. The eye has a blind spot and gestalt theory tells us that what we think we see is not always what we see. How much is a camera like this? When I decide to take a picture, I see an image, but when I look into the camera, the image is already somewhat different. Then, when I take the picture and develop it, it's different again. I used to think it was simply the shape of the lens, allowing for a different range of "vision" than my eye. But even if you take this into account, it's still different. Last week, I noticed that the colors,light,and depth seem different. What causes this? When you look into a camera, I wonder why you can't capture what the human eye sees. Also, I started thinking about professional photographs that I love. They seem to capture the picture how I imagine I would see it. Are they able to transcend the restrictions of the camera in a way that I can't or is it just that this picture is of something I have never seen, and I have no comparison?

Thoughts on Reality
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-04-18 23:49:38
Link to this Comment: 19091

To comment on what Astra said- I think peripheral vision probably isn't 3-D. I actually tried it out, and I can't really perceive how far away something is or where it is in relation to something else when it's in my peripheral- that is, I don't have depth perception, so yes, I think only one eye is working in each peripheral.

Today's discussion was very interesting. I particularly liked the discussion of the notion of reality. I found this really weird site a few years ago with this conspiracy theory about how a plane never hit the Pentagon on 9/11, it was made up and we all accept it because it's part of our collective reality. I don't think it's true, but it made me think about the whole idea of reality being whatever we agree on, sort of like history.

At the beginning of the semester, I made a post about history being a series of hypotheses being tested, and I think that can apply here as well. If you have a hypothesis on how things should be done (e.g. we should have a democracy, we should form a rebellion, we should pass such-and-such a bill), this is based on your idea of reality. If you can find enough people that agree with that perception of reality and/or the need to change it, you can bring about that change.

concerning blindsight
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-04-19 22:59:03
Link to this Comment: 19099

After class on Tuesday, I was intrigued by the concept of being able to see but not be aware of it. I found an article from the National Geographic News that interviews a group of psychologists from Rice University who study blindsight. They developed a electromagnetic machine that enables them to temporarily blind volunteers while performing a number of visual tests. They found that those who were more certain in their answers were more accurate as well. They hypothesized that the neurological route associated with vision that bypasses consciousness is somehow related to a feeling of certainty. They also mention that this unconscious pathway occurs in only higher-ordered mammals, which I thought was an interesting piece of information because I associate the neocortex with higher-level organisms. So, if this part of the brain is damaged, I would think that the individual would lose a certain amount of complexity in their vision processing and revert back to a more simplistic pathway. I think I am just confused about the information brought forth by the article; perhaps I am misinterpreting their hypothesis or the information I gained from class.

The link to the article:

dream journals
Date: 2006-04-20 11:14:16
Link to this Comment: 19104

In response to the question in class about "Does it matter if you don't remember your dreams?"--Researchers who study dreams often encourage people to write down their dreams within five minutes of waking up. This can help you remember more, and also identify your own personal set of "dream symbols" that can help you decode the subject matter and symbolism of your dreams. So oviously the more you make an effort to grasp and understand your dreams, the more they affect your "real" actions...

Sleep and related stuff
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-20 16:26:51
Link to this Comment: 19108

Today we talked about flacid paralysis occuring during sleep and I am curious as to whether or not this occurs for other animals. Horses, for instance, sleep standing up which would seemingly be inconduicive to a paralytic state.

I am also curious to know if anyone has had dreams which parallel events that occur in reality. I remember when I was about five years old having a dream that my house caught on fire and on the same night, a building on a family friend's property burnt down. Perhaps this is not the best example since many five year olds fear house fires, but the coincidence is strange and I think it could have occured to others.

FInally, I noticed myself yawning a great deal today while we were talking about sleep and I observed it in others as well. The U of Washington website describes yawning as similar to stretching since it increases blood pressure and heart rate while flexing muscles. This theory does not explain why we yawn when we yawn, such as when we are tired or bored.

Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-04-21 02:17:56
Link to this Comment: 19112

In response to Claude's post- maybe we yawn to keep ourselves awake by increasing blood pressure, etc.? Even if this is the purpose, we all associate yawning with tiredness/boredness, so sometimes that act in and of itself just makes you more tired. OK, now I can't stop yawning.

I thought it was very interesting that those neurons at the base of the brain reach all throughout the body; perhaps this is why we have those twitches just as we're falling asleep, that sometimes feel like falling- the sleep neurons affect the whole body.

Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-04-21 19:29:21
Link to this Comment: 19115

Why are the eyes and inner ear the only parts of the human body that engage in extensive motor neuron activity during the deepest part of sleep? Is there an evolutionary benefit to having motor neuron activity within the inner ear and eyes while the rest of the body enter a flaccid state? During sleep the body enters a flaccid state but what happens to those people who “sleep walk” and engage in extensive conversations with those around them, are they considered to be sleeping?

Sleep and Personality
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-04-21 22:00:07
Link to this Comment: 19117

The impacts of sleep deprivation may challenge our notions of personality. Many people think of personality as being something static, that doesn't really change. For example, Jack is either cool, easy-going, a jerk, hard-driven, or a combination of two or three of the four, but I think most people wouldn't say he could be all four if they were describing him off the top of their heads.

However, research about sleep shows that the amount of sleep we get can drastically affect our personality. For instance, someone who gets enough sleep to be alert will be able to understand the risks facing him or her in a risky situation better than someone that is sleep-deprived. Basically this means that the more well-rested person will generally be better at making decisions.

It is probably not the case that people who happen to sleep less are overall essentially (i.e. genetically) less competent people in general than others because it is common knowledge that many people in competitive jobs in industries like investment banking and consulting, which require a lot of skill, don't get much sleep.

So the conclusion is that people who happen to sleep less in general lose decision-making ability, which is an important part of personality. This is strong evidence that personality is something that changes in different situations and under different conditions rather than something that remains static in all but the most drastic life or death situations.

Recurring Dreams
Name: Stephanie
Date: 2006-04-22 14:24:49
Link to this Comment: 19120

In response to our discussion last Thursday about dreams, why do we have recurring dreams? Are they a form of “unfinished business” in our subconscious? What is so special about recurring dreams that makes our brains think of the same scenario time and time again instead of making up a new one?

Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-04-23 12:07:47
Link to this Comment: 19121

Along with the recurring dreams that Stephanie brought up, I wonder about dream interpretation. Why does it work for some people? Why do people believe that your subconscious expresses its opinions in the form of vague, cryptic messages?

I guess I have always found it a bit creepy that people think they can interpret my dreams. I've never believed the "interpretations," but my aunt is really into trying to read my dreams. She isn't usually right about mine, but she is usually closer with my cousins. Why doesn't dream interpretation work for me? Why do some people firmly believe in it?

(Sorry, that was a fairly rambling post!)


dreams predicting the future
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-04-23 16:55:57
Link to this Comment: 19122

I've always found the idea that dreams can predict future events fascinating. For instance, my mother claims that seeing my greatgrandmother in her dreams is an indication of something bad that's going to happen. On three occassions my mother saw my greatgrandmother in a dream and within a few days, we got news of a death in the family. Perhaps it's just a creepy coincidence, but part of me somehow believes (for no rational reason) that there's meaning in my mother's preminitions.

Paralysis During REM sleep
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-04-23 17:34:18
Link to this Comment: 19123

In response to the posts about flaccid paralysis during sleep, I've always been under the impression that paralysis only occurs during REM sleep, not during the rest of sleep. This explains why people can sleep walk; adults only spend about two hours in REM sleep per night - there's lots of time left to move around or even walk during the night.

Also, there was a question about the reasons for being paralyzed during REM sleep. As we already talked about in class, REM sleep is the stage of sleep when most dreams occur. In a class last semester, we talked about REM paralysis as a way to make sure that we don't act out our dreams. Can you imagine if, in the middle of a dream, you actually got up and started running away from the monster chasing you? It'd be a complete disaster.

In terms of other animals, we also talked last semester about dogs and dreaming. In dogs, I believe that only muscles that work against gravity are paralyzed during REM sleep. This is why you might see a sleeping dog look like it's running in its sleep (while flat on its back), but you won't see a sleeping dog actually running.

The dream state and hallucinations
Name: Whitney
Date: 2006-04-23 20:44:03
Link to this Comment: 19125

What part of the brain influences the alteration of perception from the wake state to the dream state? What processes of the brain changes, allowing one to know there is not actually a fire breathing dragon chasing then down a dark hallway? Whatever system that influences that understanding of the differentiation between the two is it the lack of this function that occurs in people that hallucinate, or is there a deeper complication to hallucinations? Because the I-function is basically in control of the dream state, could one be choosing to hallucinate? Sorry for the over loaded in questions but I am really interested in the relationship between the dream state and hallucinations.

dreams and anesthesia
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-23 23:18:18
Link to this Comment: 19128

I'm wondering if and how being anesthetized is different from sleeping and dreaming. I have a younger brother who had his wisdom teeth removed a year after I did, and had a completely different reaction to being knocked out than I did (I just felt really tired and wanted to sleep). He woke up, demanded his teeth from the nurse and then continued to speak in Spanish for the next half hour, even quoting a poem from his Spanish text book. My mom was in the room when he woke up and of course speaks no Spanish and so was answering him in English, saying she didn't understand and he wouldn't switch. So his I-function was clearly doing something that wasn't matching up with reality at the same time that he was recieving sensory input. Could it be that the sensory perception gets "turned on" while the connection between input and the I-function that allows you to double check stories is still asleep? Or does something else happen with anesthesia?

dreams=random firing?
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-04-24 00:33:00
Link to this Comment: 19129

After my psychology classes that discussed sleep, I took on the view that dreams are just "random" neuronal firing that our I-function tries to make a coherent story out of. (This firing (among other thigns) helps strengthen connections between neurons--why it's good to get a good amount of sleep after studying for a test.) This random firing idea is challenged, though, by recurrent dreams. (If it's random why would there be repeated dreams?) Which neuronal connections get strengthened and which don't? I think it is likely that while awake, different neurons upregulate or downregulate, changing sensitivity so that they are more or less likely to fire during sleep. Thus, our experiences and brain activity while we're awake influence what we dream about (which many people believe). If this is true at all, I wonder why the I-function "feels the need" to make a somewhat coherent story out of the neuronal firing? And how is that consolidation/connection process actually occuring on the neuronal level?

It also seems that you often dream about what you're thinking about/doing right before you go to bed--why would those neurons be more likely to fire just because they fired more recently? Are they warmed up somehow?

more on dreams...
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-04-24 11:08:48
Link to this Comment: 19133

I was wondering what happens when we daydream. Is it just and expression or do the same parts of the brain activate during a daydream as during dreams during sleep? If they are the same, can you tell the difference between the two on a brain scan? It seems to me that daydreams are more like hallucinations then they are like dreams... but that makes me wonder, how different are dreams from hallucinations? I guess it all boils down to an awareness that what you are seeing is real (but what is real?!)... but sometimes I have dreams that feel like they are real and I think I am awake. This happens a lot in the mornings. I dream that I have gotten out of bed and am going through the process of getting dress/brushing teeth/getting ready for the day ect. and then my snooze alarm goes off and it turns out I dreamed it all. Sometimes it really freaks me out because the dream felt so real.
I was also wondering about sleep walking. Are sleepwalkers asleep? If they are asleep, how are they moving around? If the dream is the reality of a sleeper, how can sleepwalkers function in the reality outside of their dream? It seems to me like all sleepwalkers would be dead because they fell down the stairs or something...

Sleep and Dreams
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-04-24 19:06:16
Link to this Comment: 19135

Since dreams help you to see yourself in various situations that can then affect the way that you will act when you are awake, what happens to someone if he/she does not dream? Are there people who do not dream or do they just not remember what they were dreaming? If so, could that affect the development of those people?

In-between dreams
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-24 20:05:59
Link to this Comment: 19138

When I was younger and went on car trips with my family, I used to fall asleep and have dreams but wake up and be able to recall elements of the conversation my parents and sisters were having while I was asleep. Is that a dream or a daydream or neither? Is it possible that my I-function was active while my non I-function areas were dreaming?

depression and dreaming
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-04-24 20:20:05
Link to this Comment: 19139

I just came across an interesting website while I was researching for my thesis stating that depressed people dream more than everyone else. ( have more REM sleep and less deep sleep, which is needed for recuperation, so they are less rested when they wake.) While it is a somewhat sketchy website, and probably not the best source, it was an interesting idea that I had never heard before. This website also stated that it was the ruminations that depressed people have while they are awake (dwelling on negative feelings and events) that are causing the increase in dreaming. I wonder what is going on on a neuronal level to make this happen? (And would this mean that these depressed people have more negative dreams?) Just a thought.

dreams and sleepwalking
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-04-24 21:55:19
Link to this Comment: 19140

I have been really interested in our discussion about dreams and since covering the topic in class I have been having fun talking to my friends about it-- everyone gets really excited about dreams!

Something a few people have mentioned is sleepwalking. My roommate sleep walks quite frequently, which can be entertaining for me. Usually she gets up after sleeping only for a short time, so it is hard to tell if she is awake or not. I carry on conversations with her and see how she responds. The next day, she usually remembers what happened even though she didn't know she was sleepwalking at the time. A few days ago I asked her a ridiculous question while she was sleep walking and when I asked her about it the next day, she was surprised to hear that she hadn't dreamed it. I thought it was interesting that this question was a cue to her that it was a dream.

Name: Brom
Date: 2006-04-24 22:11:04
Link to this Comment: 19141

With no I-function in dreams the justifications and rationalizations we create to explain our actions and attitudes are stripped away. In this sense the feelings and thoughts in dreams may represent a more accurate or "true" sense of our souls, if one believes in such things, than our waking behavior. Perhaps dreams are the purest expression of our being.

Name: Amber Hopk
Date: 2006-04-24 22:31:50
Link to this Comment: 19142

This discussion of sleepwalking has been interesting to me as well, and it brought to mind memories of sleeping at my cousin's house when we were little- Christian, my older cousin, used to sleep walk- but as far as I know, he now longer does. Is sleepwalking something that people can grow out of, and if so, what has changed in the nervous system inhibiting this behavior?
Further, the website says that sleepwalking is more common in boys than girls. Again, why is this?

Name: Rachel Mab
Date: 2006-04-25 01:23:56
Link to this Comment: 19144

This weekend I went to an interesting concert that combined classical music with visual imagery. The people behind the program, Arts in Motion, have synesthesia (a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the stimulation of another, as with this concert specifically, when hearing sound stimulates the visualization of color). During the concert I couldn’t help thinking about Neurobio and Behavior. Wouldn’t this be a situation in which brain truly equals behavior? These artists, because they were born with synesthesia (which the man in charge of the concert was so kind as to inform us that only around 2% of the population have this) are able to recognize any note because of the different colors they see in their head. The reason I connected this to what we were learning about was because not everyone is able to do this. Only a select number of people have this phenomenon. It is interesting to think about how, if our brains were wired only slightly differently, we, too, may be able to see colors when we hear songs. If you take this idea a step further, we may be able to hear noises when we feel materials or smell certain aromas when we hear sounds. The possibilities are endless. The only reason we see, hear, touch, etc the way we do is because we were wired this way. I found this interesting to think about and imagine all the possibilities of having our brains slightly different and how this would effect how we experience the world.

Dreams + Depression
Name: Julia P.
Date: 2006-04-25 01:24:55
Link to this Comment: 19145

Based on previous comments, I thought I'd conflate our recent ponderings...the relationship between dreams and depression...

- Causation or Correlation? If, as some articles have claimed (see below), the relationship is causational, which direction does it function? Depression --> dreams; dreams --> depression; or both ways?

- At the very least, why the correlation? It seems odd that depression is characterized by a lack of external activity and a lack of waking activity in combination with overactive internal nocturnal activity. Can someone speak to this?

Harmony like Color?
Name: Scott
Date: 2006-04-25 02:41:03
Link to this Comment: 19146

I was wondering about our discussion the other week about how color is actually just a projection or mental mapping onto the real world, and in that way it does not exist even though the differentiations it makes are based on the wave frequencies that the retinal nerves are perceiving. This led me to wonder about the concept of harmony, and whether it is a similar human projection. Certainly what we 'hear' when we hear a harmonic chord is not something that is 'out in the real world'--this goes back to Dickenson's argument, but I'm wondering more specifically about how harmony is different from color. It is a mathematical structuring behind it, but mathematics are also a human construct in order to create/see patterns and make sense of the world. Do animals hear different harmonies? I mean i imagine that harmony is euphonic because the waves are matching up in a certain way, but isn't the idea of waves matching up so they don't frustrate each other's pattern still a human way of thinking about sound? Can animals with senses of sound perceive different patterns that are as "beautiful" to them even if the chord creates more conflicting or irregular patterns of waves. As Seinfeld would say, What's the deal with beautiful music?


Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-04-25 02:54:39
Link to this Comment: 19147

The discussion of sleepwalking reminded me of an article that I had seen in a newspaper a few weeks ago. The article mentioned a link between certain sleep aids and not just sleepwalking, but other activities that do not normally occur in one's sleep, such as eating or driving. While the article mentioned the correlation, no possible reasons for these abnormal activities were given. What could cause such activities to occur?

Sleepwalking instincts
Name: Caroline
Date: 2006-04-25 08:58:03
Link to this Comment: 19148

Sleepwalking also raises the question of instinct, since a person is essentially operating on automatic. So if sleepwalking demonstrates the range of capabilities that a person is instinctively acting a way they were born or taught, the I function has very little is must do in order for the the body to function.

Required Reading
Name: Brooks
Date: 2006-04-25 09:05:37
Link to this Comment: 19149

Re Brom's post: "Perhaps dreams are the purest expression of our being."

This reminds me of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, specifically, the theory of secondary revision ("secondary elaboration" in the linked translation). From the text:

"And here we are forced to consider the relation of this secondary elaboration of the dream-content to the other factors of the dream-work. May not the procedure perhaps be as follows? The dream-forming factors, the efforts at condensation, the necessity of evading the censorship, and the regard for representability by the psychic means of the dream first of all create from the dream- material a provisional dream-content, which is subsequently modified until it satisfies as far as possible the exactions of a secondary agency. No, this is hardly probable. We must rather assume that the requirements of this agency constitute from the very first one of the conditions which the dream must satisfy, and that this condition, as well as the conditions of condensation, the opposing censorship, and representability, simultaneously influence, in an inductive and selective manner, the whole mass of material in the dream-thoughts. But of the four conditions necessary for dream-formation, the last recognized is that whose exactions appear to be least binding upon the dream. The following consideration makes it seem very probable that this psychic function, which undertakes the so-called secondary elaboration of the dream-content, is identical with the work of our waking thought: Our waking (preconscious) thought behaves towards any given perceptual material precisely as the function in question behaves towards the dream-content. It is natural to our waking thought to create order in such material, to construct relations, and to subject it to the requirements of an intelligible coherence. Indeed, we go rather too far in this respect; the tricks of conjurers befool us by taking advantage of this intellectual habit of ours. In the effort to combine in an intelligible manner the sensory impressions which present themselves we often commit the most curious mistakes, and even distort the truth of the material before us. The proofs of this fact are so familiar that we need not give them further consideration here. We overlook errors which make nonsense of a printed page because we imagine the proper words. The editor of a widely read French journal is said to have made a bet that he could print the words from in front or from behind in every sentence of a long article without any of his readers noticing it. He won his bet."

This is still a critical concept for sociologists. Freud's point is that we do not understand our own dreams, and we do not even know that we do not understand our own dreams. The symbolic content of a dream is constructed in a culture, a code of meaning, particular to our unconscious. Our ego, however, is social, that is, it is constructed out of the common culture, the culture that we must submit to so that we may be understood by others. In understanding our dream, we are translating it into a message that "we" understand, and that therefore can be understood by others. The "true" meaning of the dream is lost because we do not understand how to decode the meaning that our unconscious has created. Enter the entire enterprise of psychoanalysis.

From the sociological perspective, and I think from a neurobiological perspective, this makes perfect sense. It would be absurd to imagine that the symbolic content with which every individual makes sense of the world would arise spontaneously to be messages translated into the exact same code, and that we would all have the exact same decoders to make sense of them. The commonality of meaning that we share must be function of social reformatting of our brain, of children's brains more accurately. The original formatting however is not deleted, in Freud's language, it is repressed. Just like when you delete something from your computer, the patterns still remain, they are just not accessed by the top levels of the computer's interpretation system. Dreams are the "golden road to the unconscious," and to a source of creativity that has been socially repressed because of the need to make sense to others. Groovy?

My sleepwalking
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-04-25 09:24:01
Link to this Comment: 19150

I am interested in the concept of sleepwalking as the automatic nervous system flexing its hypothetic muscles. I sleepwalk, talk, and give directions. My roommate last year eventually stopped telling me when I talked to her - I never remembered a thing. Sometimes I do things like get up and wander about the room, or carry on a meaningless conversation. But other times i engage in rather complex behavior: I've given someone directions to another city, I've lend someone my sharpener - and spend a good 5 minutes looking for it by my roommates account. I have no memory of either of these events. How would we integrate what I feel are complex processes with the idea that sleepwalking is all automatic machinery. Maybe my case is reinforcing the idea that there are several levels to concious and unconcious behavior - there are more layers than reflex and i-function.

Vision and Color
Name: Jessica E.
Date: 2006-04-25 09:51:29
Link to this Comment: 19151

Last minute thought (I came up with it in the shower this morning)--

When a room is dark, close your eyes, and what do you see? I usually see green blurry circles expanding, replaced by blue expanding circles, and then those by green again and so on. What is that? If I close my eyes and not focus on seeing, I won't see this display, nor if I move my eyes (the blue and green disappears). Is this a hallucination of sorts, where the I-function is demanding visual information that the eye cannot provide? Is it a reflection of sorts of blood pulsing through the eye/eyelid? I also sometimes see stars (like the old AfterDark screensavers) that move toward me when I have my eyes closed or am exercising. I heard that's from dehydration. Is this true?

Another weird thing--
When I was in 2nd grade or so, there was this game kids would play on the bus, where the "victim" sits with their eyes closed and the "torturer" says and pretends to do the following things to the victim. The chant went something like this: "You're a prisoner in the Civil War. They stick a knife in your back, feel it poke through your stomach, crack an egg on your head, feel it drip down your back . . . (it continued, but I forget the rest) . . . now, what color do you see?" And kids would almost always say "purple." I can't remember what the point of the game was (it was supposed to have some significance), but does it have a point? Why would kids (myself included, if I remeber right) report seeing purple or other colors? Is it an emotional thing, or was it a visual trick?

Philosophers Zombie
Date: 2006-04-26 16:56:16
Link to this Comment: 19153

Our inclass discussion yesterday seemed to be skirting around the concept of the philsophers zombie. When I see the theory on paper, I don't much like it, but in class it seemed that we could almost call sleepwalkers zombies. I was wondering if anyone else had come across this idea in their studies, and what they thought about it.

Animals and Souls
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-26 21:30:55
Link to this Comment: 19156

I have always felt that animals definately have "souls" but now that we are nearing the end of the course, I actually have good reasons to believe this. All of our recent discussion on consciousness has revealed that the I-function is the part of people that controls behavior whereas other parts of the nervous system behave independently of the I-function.

Animalsmust definately have an I-function because they are trainable. Animals can and will exhibit certain behaviors on command, meaning they are fully capable of controling their actions. So if the I-function or the self is like a "soul," animals must have one.

Bio 202
Name: Erin
Date: 2006-04-27 08:38:48
Link to this Comment: 19157

I think when the class started I had some combination of the "bag of chemicals" model and a shaky conception of interconnected neurons. Now I have a better understanding of how that would all actually work to produce complicated results with corollary discharges, central pattern generators, and picking up differences and edges rather than true colors, sounds, etc.

When I was little I pictured a little person in my brain with a slide projector and all kinds of files, and the small person would look through all the files and show whatever "slides" of memories that I was thinking about. By high school/college, I had a story that didn't still require something else unexplainable to explain the unexplained, but the other thing I was forced to realize with this class was how much of "myself" is really unconcious.

It was a process a bit like learning about how DNA works. I remember arguing with my dad that it wasn't possible for little inert chemicals to dictate physical attributes, lead to cancer, etc. After having to look at the whole process of transcription of protiens, and even before that deciding to turn "off" or "on" different DNA segments, it actually does seem possible. Learning about the brain was similar. I knew some of what went on, but it didn't actually add up to a workable explanation of everything that happens in the brain/with behavior.

Closing Remarks
Name: Marissa Pa
Date: 2006-04-27 09:14:59
Link to this Comment: 19159

Going through this class has enriched my understanding of the interconnectedness of the brain. The idea that a signal could start "within the box," a stimuli coming not from the outside world but rather from within the brain itself. It has also shown me there can never be a single"do-it-all" neurotransmitter--the sections of the brain are specific and the same input can have many different kinds of outputs depending on many different circumstances. I am very much looking forward to taking this mode of thinking with me as I progress through my future NBS classes.

How have my thoughts about the brain changed after
Name: Carolyn
Date: 2006-04-27 09:36:17
Link to this Comment: 19160

... I don't really think I can answer that question... I am still working through some ideas that have arisen during class. We have simplified the processes of the brain and of the self down to patterns of action potentials... patterns that have no master controls... I have not encountered these ideas from the perspective of this class before... with such stark application. Sure, I'd learned about neurons, neurotransmitters, actions potentials ect. but I hadn't had the carpet pulled out from my feet. I had learned about these concepts but I hadn't worked through their implications. What are we? Action potentials? Do we have any say in who we are? Do we really exist? What is reality?
I don't really know what I am thinking... I am still thinking about some of the questions that were introduced that first day of class. What is thought, reality, the self, the brain...? I have heard some new stories about these concepts because of class... and I am working to integrate these new ideas and come up with a new story... but I am not there yet (nor do I think I ever will be)... I'm still thinking things through... whatever that means... Cheers.

Wrap up
Name: Claude
Date: 2006-04-27 13:36:53
Link to this Comment: 19164

It's difficult to sum up my reaction to this course but I do think I like the story we were told. The first post I wrote was about free will and whether "brain equals behavior a little more in some of us than in others." At this time, I understand the numerous complex factors that go into allowing us to have free will as well as the reasons for personal variation. So much of the nervous system cannot be dissected because of minute variations between nervous systems that account for so many different aspects of our being. I definately feel that I have a better idea of what goes on in the nervous system, but perhaps more importantly, a much more positive view of what science is and what it does than I did before taking this class.

Name: Danielle
Date: 2006-04-27 19:08:39
Link to this Comment: 19166

There are so many questions in the scientific world! This class has taught me how to think about questions and come up with new questions. While I feel I learned how to be more inquisitive and question science I also learned that science is ever changing, and with new observations taking place of old ones, answers are never clear cut. There is never scientific truth, but a series of observations made that lead to specific implications that can change with new observations. At the beginning of the course I thought that concepts proven by science were definite/concrete, but now I see that science is nothing but observations and implications that are ever changing (even if proven at one point). I truly believed that the nervous system worked as an input/output box going from A„³B, but I now realize that there are so many pathways an input can take within the brain. An input can come in from the outside environment or from the internal environment of the nervous system itself. The class also made me see the brain and sensory pathways from an unconventional manner and I especially enjoyed the classes on vision. I also did not know the complexity of the role of the I-function in determining a person¡¦s sense of self. The class revealed the true complexity of science and biological systems, and questioned the standard approach of looking at them. Over the course of the semester, the class has been enlightening and taught me how to see science from a completely different approach.

Final Wrap
Name: Emily L.
Date: 2006-04-27 20:53:41
Link to this Comment: 19167

It's hard to sum up how my thoughts have changed over the course of this class. I came into the class hoping to get an idea of how people think. With the aspiration to become a teacher, I figured I should know something about this. I definitely got a good taste of that in this class. It helped a lot to understand about the I-Function, and the "2nd nervous system" of the neocortex recently. It was also extremely helpful to understand how the Brain does or does not equal behavior in different situations. The nervous system makes a lot more sense to me, a Classicist who has little science sense, now.


Name: Sylvia Nch
Date: 2006-04-27 23:04:25
Link to this Comment: 19170

This class was one of the best classes I have ever had...I definetly came out with a better understanding of the "self" and the I -function etc. I think the subject that really stayed in my mind was the subject on reality and what is alive and not alive. I am okay with the fact that all our actions and I guess the way think is due to basically action potentials... Overall though I think this class offers another point of view or perspective in how we view ourselves, our lives, and the world around us. This class definetly opened my mind to the myriad of subjects that deal with neurobiology and behavior and from this point on I will definetly read more about some of the subjects that sparked my interest and find the connections that we made in class and integrate that information with new information that i read. THANK YOU.

Wrap Up
Name: Rachel F.
Date: 2006-04-30 21:33:35
Link to this Comment: 19197

Coming into the class, I thought that what I had learned about the nervous system in previous biology and psychology courses was all I needed to know. However, my view of how the nervous system works definitely changed over the course of the semester. I always just assumed that there were inputs and corresponding outputs. The concept of an I-function never crossed my mind. It makes perfect sense that the I-function controls our conscious thinking and allows messages to start from inside the "box".

I really enjoyed thinking about science in a new way. Nothing should be thought of as concrete...there are always new observations to be made and new hypotheses to be formed from those observations. In addition, being wrong is not always a bad thing and may even help you discover something you've never thought of. Thank you for a wonderful semester and for helping me to get things less wrong.

Getting Less Wrong
Name: Ebony Dix
Date: 2006-05-01 12:55:02
Link to this Comment: 19201

Coming into the course, I knew nothing about neurobiology and behavior, but I have learned a great deal about the nervous system and its complexity. I learned that it's okay to be wrong, but as the course progressed, I learned how to become less wrong about certain things, how to see things things from an entirely different perspective (i.e. I now know that color is a preception rather than a real entity). I learned that there are many factors that influence our brain and hence influence our behavior. I learned that the brain is a very powerful organ, housing both the conscious and unconscious, both which I believe are crucial to our survival.

last post
Name: Gray
Date: 2006-05-01 23:25:17
Link to this Comment: 19204

I came into the course a monist, believing that our thoughts, behavior, and sense of self were all a product of neuronal activity. But it seemed then, and still does now, that the whole was greater than the parts--that there must have been something more to "me" than just that. I haven't come to terms with this yet but this course gave me many ways to start tackling that question.

In this course I've gotten more of a sense of how everything is a story, and yet how it could be that everyone's stories are so similar. I've also become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of patterns being generated in the brain without input--an idea I was not willing to accept at the beginning of the course (although I still want to see what a human NS would do in isolation).

As a psych major, I kind of took some of these things for granted without actually thinking about them (that everything's a pattern of action potentials, the stories we create, etc) and I tend to get wrapped up in technical jargon and it was useful for me to have to step back and practice writing for a more general audience. This is a very good skill to have.

I also like the idea of getting things less wrong, because it bothers me about this field how little we actually know for sure, and this gives me more faith in the process/where we stand.

I am still waiting to see how researchers will apply all of this new knowledge to coming up with a breakthrough in treatment for those who have psychiatric disorders and other neurological disorders.

I do wish that we had had a chance to get to all of the things we had touched on along the way--but it's been great getting this new perspective on the brain and how to think about it/study it.

Final Thoughts
Name: Astra
Date: 2006-05-03 14:21:45
Link to this Comment: 19210

Before taking this course, I had taken several courses discussing the neurophysiology of the brain. The portions of this class that dealt with anatomy and physiology of the nervous system were very much reviews. However, our discussions of the I-function, and my choice of the book we had to read, started an interest in the mechanisms of conciousness. I found connected outside reading on conciousness with the discussions we had in lecture to be fascinating - although we never used the terminology I learned through reading, our discussion often connected to current debates - even though we never actually addressed those debates.

I also enjoyed reading "layman's articles" - articles not in scientific journals that discuss neurobiology - in search of topics to discuss in this forum.

I believe I'm coming out of this class with a greater appreciation of all of the behaviors and aspects of the nervous system that we must discuss if we are to investigate neurobiology

it's never the last word...
Date: 2006-05-03 15:29:30
Link to this Comment: 19213

I think one of the benefits of this class has been helping me realize how tenuous any conjecture is. While I was hyper-aware of the open-ended nature of scientific knowledge, taking this course has really made me think about the way people create, enforce, and alter their stories. While I entered with a vested interest in conversations on depression and mental health, I found some of our most interesting conversations to be those on human perception of the outside world. I wish we would have had more time for discussing emotion and memory, but as the title of my post acknowledges, there's plenty more learning to be done...

Last Thoughts
Name: Amber Hopk
Date: 2006-05-04 14:02:56
Link to this Comment: 19228

Wow, it's over! I also feel that we have been successful this semester in getting things "less wrong". I think the thing that has struck me most about this course is how important it is to be continually ask more questions, even if you think you have reached the end of something- because how do we know that it is the end? I have really enjoyed being able to explore on my own, and I know that I will have to continue to explore, to get closer to my own "end" or to get it "less wrong."

in closing...
Name: Jen
Date: 2006-05-05 16:08:33
Link to this Comment: 19254

Looking back to the beginning of the semester, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Being the student that I am, I like to prepare myself before class, so that I can concentrate on class discussion and not get caught up in the details. However, preparing for a class like Neurobiology and Behavior is somewhat difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. At first, this alarmed me, but as the semester progressed, I became comfortable with not knowing what to expect. I also came to accept that notion that it’s ok to be wrong, if fact it’s actually encouraged! Science is progressive work--setting a hypothesis based on observations, testing the hypothesis, making new observations, reevaluating the original hypothesis. This is how we learn, how we live, and being wrong is just part of the process. I enjoyed the rich and diverse class discussions and learned more than I thought I would learn from them. Listening to the ideas of my peers and being able to freely discuss interesting the topics brought up in the forum has helped me formulate my own ideas. What I found most interesting is the power of the brain, how the brain is able to be the maker of our reality. The stories it tells constitute our world. This concept is mind-bending and makes me re-examine my reality. The take home messages: always question things, don’t be afraid to be wrong, have fun learning from other people.

wrapping it up
Name: em
Date: 2006-05-05 16:34:26
Link to this Comment: 19256

while this class encouraged me to think in new ways about the brain it also got me thinking about the complications inherent in a process of self-reflexive study. as we commented earlier in the semester, it is difficult to make observations about the brain because we're using it as we think about it! what are the limitations that this imposes on our thoughts about the brain? is it possible that there are stories we just cannot even think of yet because we are bounded by the brain? i'm interested in seeing what will develop in neuroscience over the next few decades. i think neuroscience could benefit from becoming more integrated with other disciplines concerning the body. i'll be reading along to see if that happens...

Final Reflections
Date: 2006-05-08 12:53:24
Link to this Comment: 19283

Like Ebony, I think one of the main things I took away from this class was an understanding of the methodology of getting it less wrong, testing and retesting hypotheses. I like how we sometimes went through the motion of examining hypotheses that looked correct until you examined them for another point of view. I really like this way of seeing the world, and I have found that it applies to sociology (my major) as well.

I also feel like I have gained a deeper understanding of who people are. We are not just rational beings that think and act about everything. Actually the I-Function, or neocortex, only accounts for a little bit of what people do and who they are. A lot of who we are takes place unconsciously without us even knowing it. I always knew that humans had innate drives to get sleep, have sex, and eat, but I didn't realize the unconscious was also responsible for so many other routine things we do.

I'm very glad I took this class, I learned a lot! Thank you very much, Paul!

Final thoughts
Name: Andrea
Date: 2006-05-09 12:07:45
Link to this Comment: 19292

I think that if nothing else, this course helped me to solidify my own views of the world. I spent a good deal of time trying to reconcile my own preconceived notions of reality with what we discussed in class, and for the most part, I've stuck with what I started with. It was very interesting and thought provoking to try to see things another way, but in the end, I'm still convinced that the physical world that we perceive really is out there, despite the way our brains may contort things like color and sound.

This course really stretched my way of thinking, and I appreciate that, but I can't say that it's going to change the way I think about all of my future science classes. I'm the kind of person who needs to have things very rooted in fact and reality, and although those may not actually exist, in order to not go a little crazy, I have to pretend they do.

No Name
Name: Andrew
Date: 2006-05-09 13:46:02
Link to this Comment: 19293

Hi everyone, sorry I forgot to leave my name on my post. Mine is two above this one, and is titled, "Final Reflections." Happy summer!

Final Reflections on Neurobio
Name: Brittany P
Date: 2006-05-09 20:24:29
Link to this Comment: 19294

I have learned a lot in terms of science and physiology- e.g. how the optic nerve works- but I think the most rewarding things I have learned are more metaphysical. The concept of life being a process of finding and testing and rejecting hypotheses was an incredible revelation for me. Just as with the way our brains fill in parts of what we see, I found during this course that I have held many thought and behavior patterns without even realizing it.

As someone who decided to enter into a science major relatively late in the game- and whose friends are by and large liberal-arts majors- I really appreciate the way we tried to turn scientific information into layman's terms in our papers.

I really found it rewarding when in the course of discussion, we tried to figure out what processes involve conscious thought- the I-function- and which don't. That aspect gave me a lot of insight into those behaviors and why we have them, in larger evolutionary terms.

Finally, like Andrew, I enjoyed going through the process of testing a hypothesis step-by-step and finding out whether or not it was right, and if not, finding a jumping-off point to another potential hypothesis. Turning the scientific method into an actual, workable thinking process is a wonderful way to structure a science class.

final reflection
Name: Suzanne
Date: 2006-05-11 09:34:22
Link to this Comment: 19309

Over the span of this course, I've learned about how the brain works, on a microscopic and macrocopic level. I've learned what causes dreams, how colors are perceived, and a little bit about emotions. I've also learned to question everything incessantly, to the point that I can't accept an irrational explanation. I feel like there is always some underlying cause in the brain, and I'm certainly not afraid to be wrong.
Now I'm just trying to figure out what reality is, and how it fits into my brain.

Thanks everyone for a thoughtful semester.

Final Thoughts
Name: Nicky
Date: 2006-05-11 23:11:32
Link to this Comment: 19335

I came into this course with an interest in learning more about the brain, and looking back I think I expected to learn about neurons and specific parts of the brain. I did learn about neurons and action potentials, but what I really got of the course was a new way of thinking. I never realized just how often we make assumptions about our environment. This is something that I will be able to apply to everyday life.

Have a great summer!

Final Reflection
Name: Anna
Date: 2006-05-12 10:54:31
Link to this Comment: 19367

In the beginning of the course, I listened and understood all of the new information. However, throughout the course, I learned how to ask more questions about it and to really think about the different concepts that were discussed. Furthermore, I learned more about many different aspects of the brain like the "I-Function", vision, action potentials and much more. The course made all of the concepts understandable and interesting, which makes me want to learn even more.

Name: Anne-Marie
Date: 2006-05-12 12:49:44
Link to this Comment: 19376

I have enjoyed this course much more than I was expecting to at the start of the semester. I especially enjoyed the lectures towards the end of the semester, and wish that I hadn't spent a good portion of this semester being ill. I'm still not sure about some of the concepts covered in the class, but that's mostly because the whole story still isn't known.

Research project: Test your senses!
Name: Sarah
Date: 2006-05-22 04:11:56
Link to this Comment: 19413

I`ve just started research for my master thesis and I would very much appreciate if you participated in my test. It consists of an online test, followed by a short survey. The whole test takes 15 minutes. Basically, the test helps to find out what is your dominant sense, if it`s either sight or hearing. Most of the people think that their dominant sense is sight, because it`s the sense of survival and they couldn`t imagine their life without eyes. But this test helps to discover the truth :-) Here`s the link: (if the link doesn`t work, copy and paste it into your browser) Regards, Sarah Perrier

Research project: Test your senses!
Name: Sarah
Date: 2006-05-22 04:14:08
Link to this Comment: 19414

I`ve just started research for my master thesis and I would very much appreciate if you participated in my test. It consists of an online test, followed by a short survey. The whole test takes 15 minutes. Basically, the test helps to find out what is your dominant sense, if it`s either sight or hearing. Most of the people think that their dominant sense is sight, because it`s the sense of survival and they couldn`t imagine their life without eyes. But this test helps to discover the truth :-) Here`s the link: (if the link doesn`t work, copy and paste it into your browser) Regards, Sarah

reply to masters audiovisual test
Date: 2006-07-23 12:19:35
Link to this Comment: 19970

too confusing to work, honestly this test is a nice attempt but extremely inacurate: normal ppl will unavoidably confuse sound with image

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