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The two papers cited above were used in a discussion of consciousness as an area of ongoing research in the Senior Seminar in Neural and Behavioral Sciences at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges during spring semester, 1999. The following are comments on the article by participants in that seminar.


Name: Sarah Zimov
Username: szimov@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Hobson, Vitaliano
Date: Sat Mar 20 18:40:18 EST 1999
Comments:

Vitaliano and Rokovic had a very unusual paper. My initial reaction was to question why in the world we were reading this. First they claim that "biologists generally define consciousness as an 'ability to react to the environment.'" Not once in our discussions have we ever concluded that the abiliity to react to the environment is conciousness. In fact this we called being a zombie, which was entirely unconcious in our terms. Next they go on to discuss ULF brainwaves. I understand to some degree how magnetic fields are induced electrically and I do see their point in hypothesizing that these wave fields could be produced in the brain and contribute to conciousness. But, where is their experimental evidence? Perhaps I'm just naive in not having read their references, but in this type of paper they need to have some experimental support Especially since most readers are genuinely sceptical from the start. As soon as they mentioned healing phenomena and psychic energy I certainly became much more critical and longing for some kind of experimental support so that I could consider their hypothesis. In all, its an interesting topic but there was not nearly enough information to make any relevent comments.

Fortunately I read the paper by Hobson and Stickgold first. It was a well organized paper reviewing why they are using a home based sleep monitoring system. It also discussed the sleep states with special attention to REM sleep. And ended up with a conclusion about the wake state and REM sleep/ dreaming as they relate pharmacologically with aminergic and cholinergic dominance. I'm interested in how the cholinergic dominance produced in sleep relates to the cholinergic state in other forms of unconciousness....anesthesia/ trauma induced. Also, are we considering REM sleep as an unconcious state? Seems like an altered concious state with properties seen in other altered states (drug induced). I'm assuming this has to do with the shift to cholinergic dominance. In all this was a good paper to introduce the dream/wake realm of conciousness, but left me hungry for a more specifics and relations to other dream like states.


Name: Luise Pernar
Username: lpernar@brynmawr.edu
Subject: First Set of Student Papers
Date: Sun Mar 21 12:09:11 EST 1999
Comments:
I agree with Sarah that the Vitaliano and Rakovic paper is a little strange. I believe though that the definition of consciousness in Neurobiology and Behavior was something like the one given by these two authors, i.e. an animal's ability to react to its environment. Nonetheless, I agree with Sarah that this definition seems more descriptive of a theoretical zombie than a conscious being. However, a nice thing about the biological definition, as put forth by these authors, is that it attributes consciousness to all biological organisms - from amoeba to fern to humans. I do not suppose this necessarily was the authors' intend, but it is the inevitable outcome of their assertion. The model the two authors propose - consciouness arises from the electromagnetic field whihc in turn surounds the electrical activity in the brain is 'interesting'. However, there is not any support cited nor referenced. How can they make this assertion lacking any substantiating evidence? I believe the article is not necessarily helpful in arriving at answers to questions about consciousness, but I do believe it serves as a good example of the kind of literature and ideas the consciousness debate has given rise to, i.e. literature that spans from detailed experimental data to the magic of dualism.

The other paper, by Hobson and Stickgold, belongs more in the former realm, i.e. it cites experimental evidence for its assertions. I liked that the authors did not make generalizatins from their work about consciousness in gerneral but kept it at the level they actually were investigating. I found particularly interesting the fact that different neurotransmitter systems are active during different phases of sleep and that there is a link bewteen the qualitative experience of each phase to the neurotransmitter system tha is active during it. By this I particualrly mean the phenomenon of dream amnesia which can be linked to cholinergic activity during REM phases.


Name: A. Forray
Username: aforray
Subject: Hobson & Stickgold, Vitaliano & Rakovic
Date: Sun Mar 21 22:39:08 EST 1999
Comments:
The Hobson and Stickgold paper was interesting and easy to follow. It did a good job of combining the psychopysiology and neurobiology of dreaming. Although I was familiar with some of the information covered in the article I thought it was a good summary of waking consciousness and REM and non-REM states of dreaming, especially the aminergic-cholinergic interaction. The article focused on REM sleep, and the part that talked about the role of the visual cortex during REM sleep made me wonder if there are differences in the dream experiences of people that are blind from birth. It would be interesting to know what the articles referred to in this paper say about dreaming, in order to get a more detailed understanding of the different features which distinguish dreaming from waking life.

The article by Vitaliano and Rakivic was a unique attempt to scientifically explain phenomena such as transpersonal interaction, time and space distortion, etc. I do not quite grasp the concept of gaseous ionic structures that supposedly yields these altered states of consciousness and what ultraradian rhythm is. It is also somewhat overwhelming to think that the flow of ions and the EMFs these currents can carry information from one person to another, even though sodium and potassium currents give way to the movement of information across a neuron. There were no concrete experimental data in this article, which left me wanting to know more about how these proposed biophysical events (EMF, gases, ion flow, etc.) actually work to create altered states of consciousness.


Name: erin h
Username: ehunter@brynmawr.edu
Subject: sleep and altered states of consciousness
Date: Sun Mar 21 23:44:20 EST 1999
Comments:
As I am one of the people presenting on Altered States of Consciousness, i will admit that the article was a bit shady. However, i have to say that it was one of the most scientific articles i could find on altered states of consciousness. i was really suprised at the lack of scientific investigation into the subject. But more will be discussed in class.

As for the Hobson and Stickfield article, I thought that it was a very well-written article that gave me a good view of what is involved in sleep and dreaming. I remember reading earlier in the course (Searle?) that sleep wasn't considered to be conscious. But i question that. I feel that sleep is simply an altered form of consciousness, the evidence for this being that we dream. Our dreams act to process our conscious lives therefore there must be a strong link between them. It seems to be a very gray area to me. I would be interested to find out on what level of consciousness we really are when we are sleeping and dreaming. And to what degree the neurotransmitters talked about in the article play a role in the shifting of the states of consciousness?


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