Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2001

Forum Archive - Week 2

Thinking about the behavior of quadraplegics, as we started to do on Thursday, suggests that Dickinson (and several of your suggestions) may indeed be right: that the self is not only contained within the nervous system but is in fact "smaller" than the nervous system. The relevant points are that input to the nervous system and outputs from it can occur without the person experiencing either. What do you think of this set of observations and the interpretations placed on it? of the notion of an "I-function" as a box within the nervous system? What implications/questions follow from it?


Name: Paul Grobstein
Username: pgrobste@brynmawr.edu
Subject: second week
Date: Thu Feb 1 13:20:57 EST 2001
Comments:
A rich set of thoughts/comments last week. Thanks to all. And, no, they haven't disappeared, been lost to posterity. I've moved them to an archive, so we can have a fresh page to work with. If you haven't looked at the forum during this week, you might want to check the later set of comments in the archive. There are some interesting links there, among other things. I'll archive every week, probably tuesday evening, so try and get whatever thoughts you have for a particular week in by the following Tuesday (and preferably earlier).

As always, you're free to write about anything that struck you as interesting this week (and to write more than once, if you're inclined, as several did last week). If you'd like some incentive, how about this:

Thinking about the behavior of quadraplegics, as we started to do on Thursday, suggests that Dickinson (and several of your suggestions) may indeed be right: that the self is not only contained within the nervous system but is in fact "smaller" than the nervous system. The relevant points are that input to the nervous system and outputs from it can occur without the person experiencing either. What do you think of this set of observations and the interpretations placed on it? of the notion of an "I-function" as a box within the nervous system? What implications/questions follow from it?


Name: caroline
Username: cridgway@haverford.edu
Subject: andrew newberg
Date: Thu Feb 1 17:00:58 EST 2001
Comments:
Just a word about Dr. Newberg: he is a 1988 Haverford grad and a friend of Wendy Sternberg's. If that changes anyone's perception of the research described in the Newsweek article...
Name: Claire Walker
Username: cwalker@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Behavior and Quadraplegics
Date: Fri Feb 2 08:20:59 EST 2001
Comments:
I found the discussion in class about Christopher Reeves very interesting, because I followed his first few months after the accident fairly closely. I actually do the same sort of horse competitions that he did and although horseriding is inheritly dangerous this was a really rare accident. One thing I found interesting is that he still will move his leg away when someone pinches his toe. This puzzles me. I understand the connection between the sensory and motor neurons (via the interneurons) but when he moves his leg, it has nothing to do with Christopher Reeves, it is just a a sensory reaction.

If this is true and he can't voluntarily move his legs, then when his physical therapists work with him to keep the muscles fit in his legs, they move his legs around with their arms. I don't know if this makes sense, I guess I am confused as to how much his leg will move if provoked (pinched). It seems a little counterintuitive, to say he can move his leg (not that he is moving it)when he is paralyzed.

The other issue that we dealt with was the I-box which makes a lot of sense. Maybe our bodies and all of the sympathetic/parasympathetic nerves are mainly important to tell our bodies to perform tasks and react to stimuli, but when these nerves are disconnected from the brain it doesn't affect who we are. That is really important, our mind and soul is exclusively located somewhere within our brain and even with an injury as severe as Reeves(where he can't breath without help)he still has his beliefs and still is able to dream within his mind. All that is different is that he doesn't have control of his body, but he still has his body.

It seems that the I-box has to be at the rostral end of the brain and that it is always intact when someone is alive, no matter how much of their body they cannot control. I think this has a strong relation to Emily Dickinsons poem, that the mind is bigger that anything but it is enclosed within the brain and that is behaviour.

Now I have an additional question. Can Christopher Reeves arm move if pinched? I was thinking that maybe it can't because his sensory nerves, for his arm, are located above where the spinal cord was cut. How far up his body, will his sensory nerves work?


Name: sarah
Username:
Subject: quadraplegic conundrums
Date: Fri Feb 2 18:57:40 EST 2001
Comments:
When I answered the question 'Does Brain=Behavior'it never occurred to me to consider cases such as Christopher Reeves's. In fact, in class on thursday when asked if his toe would move if it were pinched I answered no thinking it was a silly question. When I stopped to think about it, the fact that his toe moves seems to make sense. That got me to thinking about what types of changes DO affect a person's behavior and my first thought was lobotomies. If I remember nothing else from high school psychology it's the story of Phinneas Gage and how he survived having a chunk taken out of his brain, but his behavior also totally changed. So pretty much Christopher Reeves is just another piece of evidence for brain=behavior. One major question that the postings have given me is what would a mind or soul be if one existed? If it's not a material thing, then what is it? I have a very difficult time understanding things that aren't technically there. At least looking through Spinal Cord Injury websites seems to show that promising treatments are being developed. I can't wait to see what types of questions this subject raises in others!
Name: caroline ridgway
Username: cridgway@haverford.edu
Subject: the "I"
Date: Fri Feb 2 21:46:06 EST 2001
Comments:
When considering Emily Dickinson’s proposal that, given the brain and the mind, one might be contained within the other, I assumed that it was the brain that resided "in" the mind, not the other way around. Obviously the brain, a material object, cannot physically sit inside the ethereal mind, but it made more sense to me that the mind, with its sweeping and intangible properties, could somehow be quantitatively bigger. The brain has clear limits mechanically speaking, however unlimited those limits might be, while the mind does not have a distinct beginning, so how can it be said to end anywhere, even the brain? Whether or not you say that the self is contained within the nervous system, I think, depends entirely on your stance on the mind-brain issue. For me the idea of self or "I" extends directly from the notion of mind: that there might be some more intangible principle behind what is (currently) scientifically observable. To say that this "I" is contained within a box, however metaphorical that assignment be, seems far too constricting for its much more far-reaching capabilities and characteristics. The very notion of "I" is problematic in that it implies an awareness outside of the body’s own activity that cannot be pinned down.

This argument takes on a different tone when considering the idea of a brain that exists apart from the body it controls. The consequences of severing the spinal cord seem to me to provide evidence for the existence of some governing entity outside of neural connections. Take the example from class the other day: that a sensory input cannot be processed such that it results in a subsequent motor response does not preclude the activity or awareness of the self. Indeed, life as we define it is not medically considered over until brain death occurs, indicating an established if scientifically elusive respect for the existence of whatever constitutes the self in relation to the its location in the brain. Many belief systems contend that life continues after physical death; furthermore, many individuals who may not subscribe to any such specific doctrine entertain the notion that some aspect of the person "lives on" after their body has given up, even if only in memory.

As complex and expansive as the nervous system is, I personally still have a problem accepting it all as an evolutionary accident. I am not one to follow a particular faith, and would much more quickly assign myself to the category of scientist than idealist. However, I seem to have a difficult time wrapping my mind around the idea that electrical activity results in the more abstract I, that exists as me, as a person, as only I can exist. What is it that constitutes me? Should I define myself in terms of what I am or who I am? Can one exist without the other? I know, in that I have been taught, that changes within the nervous system directly result in changes in behavior. I can explain to you how an action potential works and what it accomplishes. But I cannot explain to you why there is an "I" in the first place that can know that. Maybe someone else will have a better hold on this concept than I do.


Name: Elizabeth Gilbert
Username: egilbert@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I Function
Date: Sat Feb 3 13:46:01 EST 2001
Comments:
I still have a hard time accepting the box model in general because to me, the nervous system is way to complex to define in terms of boxes with inputs and outputs. But for now I will go with it. As for an "I" function box, this is too far out there for me. The "I" or self is too complex and has too many levels for it to exist as just a box. The brain needs all of its parts to work together to produce a self. So if there were to be a distinct structure that creates the self then I would have to say that it is the entire brain. One cannot say that if you suddenly lose your sight you are the same person that you were when you could see. Or if you were to recieve a frontal lobotomy you would not be the same person. I think all of these structures working together creates the person.

As for Christopher Reeve, I also have followed his injury since I also horseback ride. (As an aside note, he was an inexperienced rider who was on a course that was too difficult for him. He shouldn't have been on the course in the first place. But that is neither here nor there.) I don't think that his "self" has changed because only the connections to the motor neurons were severed. His underlying personality is still there because there was no brain leision.

My understanding of his injury is that he can move his legs and arms when pinched because it is a reflex. Reflexs take place in the spinal cord so there is no need for the signal to have to travel to the brain in order for the brain to give the command to move away from the source of pain. So he may not be able to say "that hurts" but he will move his arms or legs away from the painful stimulus. He can't say "that hurts" becuase it would mean that the stimulus would have to be able travel to the part of the brain that interprets information from pain receptors. Since the connections between the spinal cord and the brain are cut the stimulus cannot get to the brain.


Name: Alexis Webb
Username: awebb@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Phantom Limbs and the "I" Function
Date: Sat Feb 3 16:49:57 EST 2001
Comments:
After the discussion of Christopher Reeve in class on Thursday I found myself thinking about the problem of phantom limbs, which many parapalegics and amputees experience. Though I had heard of the problem before, I decided to look up phantom limbs on the _Scientific American_ website and found an interesting paper from 1992: Phantom Limbs.

Those who experience phantom limbs are quite certain that the part of their body which has been removed continues to exist as part of their self. They suffer pain ranging from cramping to burning, as well as sensations like tickling or wetness. They "know" that their limbs continue to exist in certain positions (often awkward ones), even when the stump of the limb is visible in front of their eyes. Some theories suggest that the nerve endings in the remaining parts of limbs are continuing to fire and transmit signals to the brain. A problem with this theory is the existence of phantom limbs is para or quadrapalegics, like Christopher Reeve. There is no way for sensory signals from these areas to reach the brain due to the severed spinal cord. Therefore, the sensations of pain in phantom limbs must be generated by the brain itself. The _Scientific American_ article goes through some interesting theories attempting to explain this.

For our discussion of brain=behavior and the "I" function, phantom limbs bring up some interesting points. Amputees with phantom limb sensations are perceiving that part of their body, long since removed, still remains; it is part of their self. In this case the inputs and the outputs are not possible (?) but still continue to exist for the individual. Is this the work of the "I" function? Is an awareness of the body the responsibility of the brain or the mind? The brain is generating behaviors (some sufferers of phantom limb feel that their legs/arms are constantly moving and therefore fatigued) which are no longer physically possible, but are very real to those experiencing them.

I feel that I have a long way to go before I can understand or accept the idea of "I" existing as a function of a "box" within the brain. I believe that the brain does play a major role in the idea of "self," but with problems like phantom limbs, where the brain and the self seem to be at odds over something as simple as awareness of one's body, the topic seems, at best, a bit gray.


Name: Sadie
Username: siwhite@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Feb 4 14:31:32 EST 2001
Comments:
The I-function is fascinating to me. If the model proposed in class is true, and one's "sense of self" is contained within the larger organization of one's input-output machinery, then it's interesting that one's "sense of self" seems to be the part of a human that gets more attention than all other parts. That makes sense, though, if it is understood that whatever one experiences is somehow related to the I-function. Without a sense of personal identity, there can be no experience because there can be no awareness that the thing that is happening is happening to "me." I wonder if the I-function is unique to humans/mammals/vertebrates. I understand, though, that this is probably a currently untestable hypothesis. It seems like quite a conundrum, that the brain, as large as it is on Dickinson's scale, would organize itself to limit its own awareness. I wonder what the reason for that would be?

Another question that arises from all of this is whether the significance of one's "self" becomes less significant if one considers it to be a mere part of the brain, and not all of one's being. Is it reasonable to expect humans to temper their behavior based on the idea that all that they experience is not all that happens to them? Can that thought really be understood? Can the "self," as overpowering as it is, ever believe that it is nothing more than purely biological? It seems the consideration would be abhorrent to the I-function.


Name: Matt Fisher
Username: mfisher@haverford.edu
Subject: "I-function" as an answer
Date: Sun Feb 4 15:36:44 EST 2001
Comments:
The "I-function" is an interesting concept. Free will can very easily flow from this idea. Each person is different because of the "I-function." This smaller box could be the mind within the brain. We have discussed that the mind, an unknown quantity, is smaller than the brain. This stems from Emily Dickinson's poem. Thus the "I-function" could be this mysterious mind. It processes different inputs and provides a correct output. This could be seen in our discussion about quadriplegics and Christopher Reeve. The complete system may have been disrupted, but the important part is still there. The "I-function" still works and he is a unique person. In conclusion, I believe the "I-function" might be an answer to the mind question.

This discussion does raise two interesting questions. 1) What does it mean that we as humans do not use most of our brains? 2) What happens to the "I-function" to someone that is in a coma or is described as a vegetable?


Name: Sarah McCawley
Username: smccawle@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Feb 4 15:48:54 EST 2001
Comments:
OK, so I am not sure how I feel about the idea of the I-function. I do think that somehow oneself is somehow connected to the individual is a more than feasible idea, but how it is connected I am not sure. After the discussion in class about how Christopher Reeve's reacts to certain stimuli, I would like to believe that the "I" is contained within the material being of a person. I found it really interesting that he would still move his foot if pinched, even if he could not feel someone pinching it. It never crossed my mind that you would not have to feel something to react to it. The human body is such a complex thing, though, that I don't really put anything past it. The problem is that I don't know how to fathom something so huge as the entire identity of someone being contained within something as small as a human being, let alone within the nervous system.

What I am curious about are those people who claim to have an out of body experience or those that have died and come back and say that they saw themselves dead. I know that I have never personally had this experience, but if these things really do happen, can they be controlled by something contained within a physical being. I know that thoughts and emotions and dreams are all abstract things and they are controlled by something that seems to be physical or contained within something physical, but there is so much out there that we can't seem to explain. As I said before, the problem I have it that it is hard for me to believe that something as small as the nervous system can contain everything that defines who we are and what we will be. Can something physical define us? Is it someting physical at all? I am questioning the whole notion.


Name: Huma Q. Rana
Username: hrana@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Feb 4 15:57:35 EST 2001
Comments:
For me, the example of Christopher Reeve supports the notion of the I-function being contained within nervous system. Reeve demonstrates how the 'I' can become physically disengaged from the body showing mind-body dualism. It is fairly easy to comprehend the severing of the connections between Reeve's lower body and his I box. However, Somatoform or conversion disorders such as "glove anesthesia" which were first described in the mid-1800s are much more difficult for me to grasp. Although these disorders are rare, they are interesting in the sense that there is nothing physically wrong with the patient, but that they experience an actual loss or change in their physical functioning. Patients often experience symptoms that appear neurological, including paralysis, blindness, loss of feeling, or loss of speech, but the symptoms do not have an organic base. People with glove anesthesia or paralysis do not experience atrophy of their muscles as paraplegics do. Instead, they exercise their muscles without being aware of what they are doing. Also, people with conversion blindness do not get into as many accidents as people who are organically blind, which suggests that they have some vision even if they are not aware of it. Are these symptoms a result of a disturbance in the I-function?
Name: Dena
Username: dgu@brynmawr.edu
Subject:
Date: Sun Feb 4 17:29:55 EST 2001
Comments:
Though it would not have been intuitive to me to say that Christopher Reeves leg will move when his foot is pinched, it does make sense. When a person touches a hot stovetop, their first response is to pull back. Even before they realize consciously that they had touched a potentially dangerous object, they are already getting their appendage away and out of range. The “I” was not needed to complete this task, the body could handle it on it’s own. Which is why Christopher Reeves leg moved away from the painful stimulus but Christopher Reeve did not feel it.

This shows that the body does not necessary need an I-box in the to try to keep out of danger; it will do it reflexively. The “I” in fact, tends to override the reflexes, evident when you carry a hot casserole dish from the oven to the table without pulling your hands back and dropping it. So Christopher Reeve is in the brain and not diffused throughout they body. If he was, then severing the spinal cord would have some effect on his behavior but he would still be in control of most of his bodily functions.

It would appear that Dickinson is correct in saying that the mind is contained within the brain. The damage done on Christopher Reeves body did not affect his mental behavior; he is still the same person he was before the accident. But the connection between himself and the body he controls is severed and therefore he can not behave physically, the same as before. If the connections between Christopher Reeve and his body could be fixed and reconnected, then he would once again be able to do whatever his had done before the accident without any difficults.


Name: Meghan
Username: mshayhor@brynmawr.edu
Subject: mind and brain
Date: Sun Feb 4 20:03:20 EST 2001
Comments:
I think that the "I" box is somehow part of the mind, though I find it hard to believe that the mind is somehow contained in the brain. The brain, as described physiologically, just doesn't seem apt to include something as large and seemingly uncharacterizable as the mind. I do believe that the mind accounts for the majority of the differences in the way people think, feel, and act. My mind makes me different from everyone else in class.

The mind has such a broad range of functions that I do not think it could be contained in something the size of a ball. The mind is extrememly complex and I don't think we will ever fully understand the way it works.

How do the mind and brain work together to make us who we are? How big of a role does the brain itself play? What else factors in to make each of us unique human beings?


Name: avis brennan
Username: abrennan@haverford.edu
Subject: i-box
Date: Sun Feb 4 20:15:24 EST 2001
Comments:
I believe that the I-box is a structure that mediates the relationship between the brain, the body and the environment. This box must then exist within the nervous system. Likewise, I believe that the I-box, like the brain, changes across time and as a function of experience. I think the clearest way I can communicate this logic is through drawing a parallel between the I-box and the brain. The human is born with a core. That is, there are hard-wired processes intact that allow body, brain and environment to interact. The core self places demands on those systems in order to survive. Call it soul, call it instinct or drive states, call it the hypothalamus; this self, this I-box, dictates those primal interactions. As a result, circuits get stronger, neurons fire, dendrites stretch. Enter plasticity.

The brain is changing and so are the demands of the I-box. The environment is changing, so are the responses of the I-box. To say that “personality”, or the behavior we associate with the activity of the I-box, is exempt from the physical and external experiences of an individual paints a rather hopeless picture (perhaps this is why Dickinson killed herself). The project of psychological rehabilitation rests on the belief that the I-box can change, and does change as a result of experience. To deny this fact would be to dismiss the feats of abused children and reformed criminals. At any rate, I believe that for this reason, the I-box of Christopher Reeves pre-accident is different from the I-box of Christopher Reeves post accident (I also believe that the I-box of Christopher Reeves when he is hungry is different than the I-box of Christopher Reeves when he is sad, explanation to follow). I could argue that the issue of control itself changes Reeves relationship with his body and environment, and therefore the nature of his I-box. Or I could argue that because the I-box is inexplicably connected to the nervous system, which changed as a result of the accident, his I-box also changed. Either way, the change is the result of a different relationship between the brain, the body and the environment. Point being, change the environment, change the body, change the brain, or any combination of the three, and you have changed the I-box of the individual.

From the vantagepoint of the “fence” the neuro-bio-philosopher can assert that the self is both a concept and a structure. Conceptually, the self is that which initiates response—the system or structure or chemical that communicates reception to perception to action. As a structure, the self is the box responsible for these activities. When we are making decisions our I-box is commanding the activities of the frontal lobe. When we are overwhelmed with nostalgia this box is working through the hippocampus. Therefore the project of understanding the activities and changes of the I-box is the project of understanding the brain.


Name: Kate Lauber
Username: klauber@haverford.edu
Subject: phrenology?
Date: Sun Feb 4 21:58:10 EST 2001
Comments:
After class this week I've been thinking a lot about "activity" and what that word means in the context of the nervous system. After reading the "Searching for the God Within" article in Newsweek I got to thinking about neural imaging and how much faith I place in it. I work in a lab at Penn that does research on cognitive neuro-science. We do lots of neuro-imaging studies and somehow have come to a collective understanding of what activity is without really questioning it much. I assume we think that activity corresponds to neuronal firing, action potential or whatever we want to call it. But does it?

How do we know that neural imaging isn't the new phrenology? Gall seemed to have many confident supporters back in the last century. Gall was attempting to tie together how the nervous system functions and how that can be translated into observable behavior. While today we credit him with localization of function, historically phrenology is recieved as somewhat of a joke. Are PET scans the same thing? Is blood flow truly an indicator of attention and activation or is it the same as linking bumps on the head to particular behaviors? I guess it comes down to what activity and activation are. I don't know and am not convinced that those pictures I see of blood flow and neuronal firing are difinitivly linked to activation in that part of the brain. Obviously, I am not a neuronal imaging specialist, this is just something I've always been skeptical of and reading that article made me even more skeptical. Phrenology used to be a revolution and now its a joke. Will PET scans someday be the phrenology of the future?


Name: Alice
Username: agoff@brynmawr.edu
Subject: a sensitive issue
Date: Sun Feb 4 22:03:00 EST 2001
Comments:
So, despite my hesitations last week to whole-heartedly jump on the "brain=behavior: there is nothing else" bandwagon, the more I read the more this hypothesis is corroborated. In particular, what I have read about the relationship of the brain to the eyes seems to indicate that the self is indeed a function of the brain. In Oliver Sacks’ ‘The Case of the Colorblind Painter’ a car accident eliminates an artist’s ability to perceive color. Because examinations determined no injury to the eyes themselves, while the patient lost consciousness during the accident, it would seem that damage to the brain caused the achromatopsia in the patient. The brain must be at least partly responsible for our ability to see in color. Sacks cites research by scientists and doctors whose experiences have led them to conclude that a region of the brain has a role in color perception. The brain plays a much more active part in seeing than I had thought.

So what? How does this support the "brain = behavior" theory and the "I-function"? Well, it seems to me that a critical element of self and thus of behavior is our perceptions, our experiences, our senses. What we see, hear, touch and taste must shape who we are. If you pinch Christopher Reeves’ toe he retracts it but he doesn’t FEEL it because he has severed the connection between his brain and the rest of his nervous system. If Christopher Reeves had felt you pinch his toe it might effect his behavior--he might stay away from you, or wear shoes when you were around. If these two instances are reflective of the brain’s connection to our other sensory perceptions, then I think it could be argued that brain equals behavior. Whether there is nothing else I’m not sure how to determine.


Name: PaShawnda
Username: pbriley@brynmawr.edu
Subject: "I" function
Date: Sun Feb 4 22:10:16 EST 2001
Comments:
I agree that there could be an "I" box, but I don't think that is a person's entirety (in my opinion= mind and soul), contained in the physical brain. I am not convinced that the brain equals behavior, because Christopher Reeves can move his toe when his leg is pinched. He is still self aware, has a unique personailty, and makes free will choices. I gues I am idealistic to believe that the mind is larger than the brain. I think the mind can be, but is not limited to the box called the brain. But then there's the soul, which is not contained in the brain, but in the body, yet does no thave any control over his limbs, therefore there can be no evidence of the soul. Possible evidence of the soul could be found in Christopher Reeves ability to make moral decisions, since I think that's it's main function. I think it makes sense about the sensory, motor, and interneurons, as a communication pathway in the body and how the location of the motor neurons correlates to the bodily response.

I have a question about hypnotism. Does a hypnotist hyponotize the "I" or just gains control of the person's nervous system, controlling behavior? If brain equals behavior is true, then all the hyponotist has to do is somehow gain control of the brain. Since the hypnotist doesn't do any form of brain surgery, it doesn't support the brain equalling behavior theory. But if there is a mind, brain, and soul a hyponotists would have to gain control over all three entities to control behavior. I don't know, I guess it all depends on the way you identify you- physically, abstractly, or a combination of the two.


Name: Jessica
Username: jamiller@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I-function
Date: Sun Feb 4 22:49:45 EST 2001
Comments:
I do believe that the self, the personality, whatever you want to call it, is a small part of the nervous system, more particularly the brain. I really had never questioned this, it always seemed like a natural assumption to me. Though some cultures have often thought that the self was contained in other areas of the body, i.e. the heart, growing up in this age the idea that the brain is the self seemed more logical. The "I-function," facinates me, and the implications which follow from the quadraplegic response makes me think even more so that this part of the brain is present, and should be further explored. What questions I have are as follows, if, as was suggested, a brain were taken out of the body, and allowed to remain "alive" would there still be normal responses going out of it and even more so, since by virtue of the "I-function" the self is contained with in the brain, does that mean that this freely existing brain would be a person, an individual? Just something I wondered and hope to find at least more insight into as the classes pass.
Name: Andrea Miller
Username: n2tiv@aol.com
Subject:
Date: Mon Feb 5 10:27:35 EST 2001
Comments:
OK, Reeves' case clearly implies that the "I" function is physically and functionally separate from reflex. Reeve's experience of pinching the toe is dissociated from the reflex of it. And it seems clear that we can localize the experience part somewhere above his lesion (the medulla?) and the reflex part somewhere below it. But Im still hung up on the question about what the "I" function encompasses. It seems to be more than the sensation of the thing. Is it the perception of the sensation? Or maybe its the awareness of the perception of the sensation (ie, being conscious of consciousness). I bet all animals havesome kind of perception-- they experience pain, right? But do they have consciousness of their experiences? What about babies? Do they have an "I" function if they experience pain and pleasure but have no self-awareness of it? And what about autistics? One mark of autism may be that they lack "theory of mind" -- ie, the awareness that other people have mental states. Does the "you" function somehow relate to the "I" function? I mean, if there are people who are unaware of their consciousness or that of others, do they have an "I" function? I really resist saying that, though I cannot articulate why just yet.
Name: Diana Applegate
Username: dapplega@brynmawr.edu
Subject: consciousness and the i-box, etc
Date: Mon Feb 5 12:56:26 EST 2001
Comments:
First off, I wanted to mention our discussion from last week on the (HUGE) number of neurons in the human brain and how they account for diversity and uniqueness among people. Although I wasn't surprised by this information, it made me stop and reflect on how amazingly complex and advanced the human brain is. When I do something as simple as picking up a pen, or tapping my foot, my brain and the rest of my nervous system are hard at work, transmitting signals here and there. What about higher-level behaviors, like thinking, or dreaming, or recalling information from memory? What's the difference neurologically? Is it simply that larger numbers of neurons are involved, and that the interactions between them are more complex? Or does the "I-box" play a significant role here?

Neurons are found in the frog, the leech, etc. - and the layout of their nervous systems is even similar to ours (but more simplistic, of course, and without the neocortex) - so what is it that makes us human? I'd have to say it is the so-called "I-box", which, to me, doesn't necessarily have to be an enclosed structure (or a material structure, for that matter). It resides inside the brain, and could derive from all of the signaling activity and communication going on in there.

My question is: how does the I-box relate to consciousness? IS it consciousness (or an inner awareness of yourself and the world around you)? Or is consciousness an even smaller "box" within the I-box? What else is going on inside this I-box? Do emotions reside here as well? What about language?

For further reading on these issues, and just about any others that have come up in class, check out the MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. There are topic indexes for linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, and related fields of study...I found the articles to be really helpful. They're brief yet in-depth and to the point, and each one also links up to related websites and other entries. The link to the encyclopedia is also on our Course Web Resources list. Hope this is of interest to some of you!


Name: jenny cohen
Username: jecohen@brynmawr.edu
Subject: The "i-box"
Date: Mon Feb 5 14:21:52 EST 2001
Comments:
I don't have a problem with saying that the mind is encased within the nervous system or even exclusively within the brain. I have no problem with the idea that the "I" box or function is or is part of the mind. If men can design computer chips that can fit on the tip of my finger capable of running entire computer systems, then I don't need to be convinced that God or nature has been able to do the same type of thing on a biological level. People seem to have a lot of issues with thinking that the mind or the self is so small that it can fit entirely inside our bodies or one section of our bodies. I think the reason for this is that these people assume that this issue of size and containability carries with it certain theological or ideological implications. This is not true. From a scientific standpoint, identifying the self as being located in the nervous system somewhere allows scientists to make certain hypothesies or to attempt to form theories, but they're still basically just saying, "Well, IF this, then wouldn't THAT stand to reason?" For religous believers and all others who are not satisfied with science's way of viewing the self, science can never prove that there is not a god or some higher power out there who designed everything purposely to be the way it is. All they can do is get closer to discovering the actual blue-prints.

What is interesting me now, are people with psychological disorders such as split or multiple personality disorder. Have their "I" boxes been divided into parts? Is something "clogging" up the input and output channels? If the "I" function is what makes us behave as individuals, then what's going on in people who behave like more than one?


Name: Daniel Burdick
Username: dburdick@brynmawr.edu
Subject: The most commonly used word in spoken English is "I"
Date: Mon Feb 5 15:34:05 EST 2001
Comments:
That comes from a thoroughly unauthoritative source, though. Plus, it has little bearing on what I'm going to write about. Actually, it could have some bearing later; I'll have to see.

Well, I certainly am confused -- a sure sign of progress! I confess I haven't yet read all the other postings, but so far, I'm unclear on just what we mean by the "I-function." Are we talking about an actual self or just a sense of self? (Actually, I probably shouldn't say "just" a sense of self, since that may well be a more important determinant of behavior than an actual self.) It is easier to accept that a sense of self is contained in the brain; this, I thought, is closer to what was meant by an "I-function." After all, this is what Christopher Reeves would be talking about if he were to say, "I did not move my foot," even if his foot were to draw back from a painful stimulus. He doesn't mean that he didn't move his foot, he means that the part of him that he perceives as himself didn't move his foot. It makes perfect sense that this perception would be housed in the same part of the nervous system as other higher-order perceptions.

Whether this sense of self can be extended to an actual self -- with all of its theological and metaphysical implications -- is of course trickier. In part, it depends on who gets to define the self. I think it's fair to say that most of us are accustomed to thinking of the self as defined by the self, but it's not clear to me that that's accurate. Christopher Reeves may say, "I didn't move my foot," but the rest of us would surely say (at least in typical conversation, which is the same context as Mr. Reeves' presumed statement), "Christopher Reeves moved his foot." Who's right?

Other similar examples can be seen in behaviors under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or even psychoactive medications. It's common for someone under these influences to say that such behaviors "aren't me -- it's the drugs" (or in reverse in the case of mental illness, "it's not me -- it's the illness"), even though observers would most likely say that it was this person. Again, who's right?

I suppose this answer in turn depends on the purpose of defining a self. I define Christopher Reeves to describe how I observe him as a part of the world, whereas Christopher Reeves defines Christopher Reeves to describe how he interacts with the world. It's a fundamental split -- for both of us -- between "me" and "everything else." So my subject line is relevant after all (hooray!): "I" is the most commonly used word in spoken English because our language reflects our perception of the world.

This is the part where I try to bring all this back onto topic. I think my point is that an actual self can't be defined solely by a sense of self because how others define us is as valid a description of our interaction with the world as how we define ourselves. By this line of reasoning (and I have pointedly avoided issues of theology and metaphysics), an actual self is not contained within the brain's I-function, only the sense of self.


Name: karen munoz
Username: kmunoz@haverford.edu
Subject: "i-box" and unconsciousness
Date: Mon Feb 5 15:43:44 EST 2001
Comments:
i also had the same question as matt fisher about what happens to the "i-box" when the person is in a coma or what happens to that part of the person when "brain death" occurs, when a person is living with the help of machines, when they are still breathing and their heart is still beating. there are so many ethical questions that come up when a person goes into a coma, and there are many arguments that take place about when it is appropriate to disconnect someone from the machines that keep them "alive." there is still "behavior" that is occuring but where is the "i-box?"

i'm also thinking of the boy with autism with whom i used to do therapy. the way his therapists described his problem to me was that his brain was fine and his body/motor skills were in tact, but the connections between them were in need of strengthening. if i asked him to make his mouth into a circle by asking him to imitate me, he would try to do it, but would often not be able to do it. if by chance his mouth formed the correct, we would give him rewards and he understood the rewards. through this reward system, we were able to strenthen the connections of his mind to his body, but otherwise those connections would remain unconnected. i'm just wondering how his "i-box" works differently than people who do not have autism. some part of it is there, he enjoys doing things, he finds joy in computer games and toys, and he is able to walk around and dance, but his mind is not able to tell his body to do certain things without the help of the reward system. and what of the people with parkinsons disease? i'm thinking specifically of those people from the movie "frozen addicts" that some of you may have seen if you've taken behavioral neuroscience with earl thomas. they were indeed frozen; they were not able to move. but if someone yelled "fire" their bodies were able to run across the hall, but when asked to move of their own will, they were unable to do so.


Name: Megan Mendillo
Username: mmendill@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I-function, etc
Date: Mon Feb 5 15:50:35 EST 2001
Comments:
Just thinking about the I-function causes more questions to arise than anything else. For one thing, although I think that the box input/output model is a good one for describing (however loosely) the complexity of the nervous system, the term "I-box" does not sit as well with me. I-function seems to be a safer term because of the inability to localize it any further than to say that it's somewhere within the brain. Another question that came up was that of the stability of the I-function. People have been commenting on whether or not an injury to the spinal cord change a person's self/I-function; no, because it does not change the brain itself, or yes, because it has affected the mind indirectly. When I think about the "self" alone, I think of something that is completely dynamic throughout a person's entire life. Factoring in the idea that this self is governed by or stems from certain areas of the brain, does this mean that the I-function is in a constant state of change? All of the sensory information which a person absorbs/encounters has an effect on the self. Our brains are always at work... Loosely related to this is a recent article in TIME magazine, Life in the Margins which emphasizes the idea that our minds are constantly working to revise themselves. Although these changes are most likely not observable physical alterations in the brain, the I-function, in the way that I understand it at this point, seems to be the expression of the minds' interpretation, encoding, and response (a little different every time) to all sensory information received by the brain.
Name: Christine Farrenkopf
Username: cfarrenk@haverford.edu
Subject: I function and the brain
Date: Mon Feb 5 16:13:52 EST 2001
Comments:
I, like many other people in the class, am grappling with the question of how the "I function" is related to the brain. I have the inclination to say that the "I function" is a separate entity from the brain as I have difficulty with the thought that a person's personality is a material thing (as the brain is). On the other hand, it appears that the "I function" cannot be an entirely separate unit because it cannot exist without the inputs of the brain.

A child is not born with a personality. Instead, this personality ("I function") develops as the child grows in response to stimuli. This has been a subject of conversation within the scientific field recently in regard to the issue of cloning. If we were to create two babies, each with the exact same genetic code, they would develop into two different people because of their differing responses to their environments. This implies that the mind (ie, the "I function") cannot exist without the brain.

The "I function" must be able to influence the nervous system. Personal will can overcome a nervous response. For example, if one were to hold a hot plate, the nervous response would be to immediately let go of the plate. However, a person can force himself to hold onto the plate despite the pain.

What would we be like if there were no such thing as the "I function" (ie, the mind)? Without the ability to think and feel - - which must be the functions of the mind since we all do so differently although our nervous systems are very much the same - - the brain could exist, but it would have no real purpose. The body would be alive, but the person himself (ie, his personality) would not.


Name: Kristine Hoeldtke
Username: Kristineh44@hotmail.com
Subject: the "I-function"
Date: Mon Feb 5 18:54:29 EST 2001
Comments:
Wow, this is all a lot to think about! I do not view the sense of self as a box within some bigger thing. What is bigger than the experience? And what is the significance of something not experienced? But this is not to say that the sense of self is everything. After all, things obviously go on inside of our bodies that we are not necessarily conscious of. We are not aware of the ham sandwich being digested in our stomach or the rate of our hair growth. I instead view the I-function as a cornerstone of sorts that permeates other input-output "boxes", whether or not that penetration takes place on a conscious level.

Yes, I know that sentence sounds strange considering the I-function is supposed to be consciousness. But couldn't it be possible to have different levels of consciousness? I'm not talking about the super-ego and all that but maybe something more discreet. I was talking with an acupuncturist-in-training recently who told me that the body holds on to physical memories of experience. For instance, sometimes people who receive accupuncture treatments experience old physical or emotional reactions to drugs taken years ago. While the drug is no longer chemically reacting in this person's brain, the sensation is very real, supposedley because the stimulation activated the same part of the brain that the old drug had.

The manifestation of psycho-somatic symptoms and stress reactions also may provide some support for a subtle consciousness. How does one explain the adverse effects of mental anguish and stress on the physical body if he/she can't accept the possibility of the body and consciousness interacting in ways that aren't discernable by the "I" of here and now? And how exactly is a stressful life situation translated into a biological response such as a headache or an ulcer?

To get back on track though, I realize that in Christopher Reeve's case, the connection between his self and sensory system was severed so that the I no longer had access to the sensation. But why does this have to diminish the capacity, or size of the self? I think paralysis is an acknowledgement to the structure of part of what the self deals with, in this case pain sensations. Can't the consciousness still involve a labyrinth of associations, some of which possibly even transcend our immediate experience of awareness? To sum this up, I guess I'm saying that I think the I-function is not a just a component of a bigger box, but a more complicated keystone.


Name: Nazia Ahmed
Username: nahmed@brynmawr.edu
Subject: second week
Date: Mon Feb 5 20:07:22 EST 2001
Comments:
As I read each comment I become progressively confused.... a better reason to post thoughts before "loosing" them.

For someone who has never really thought about neurobiology actively I am still grappling with questions like “brain=behaviour” and defining brain and mind. These questions seem all the more ambiguous as I try to place the “I” function among them. I’m not sure if I accept the “I.” If the “I” is a central system that responds and defines behavior can we say that the “I” becomes disengaged from an individual or stops to exist? Or is it that the “I” changes rather than disengage with every experience in life? Something like the “I” adapting to various situations one finds themselves in. If this is true I'm not sure I believe the "I" to be defined at any one particular place. To me it seems that if the "I" is so holistic than perhaps it is larger than the mind.


Name: Euree
Username: echoi@brynmawr.edu
Subject: Will the Real Reeves Please Stand Up
Date: Mon Feb 5 20:30:26 EST 2001
Comments:
The "I-box/function" poses some very interesting and controversial issues, which are yet to be fathomed. With many, I agree that the mind is greater than the brain. I do not see how the mind can been thought of as an entity of tangible matter. I believe that humans have made the "mind" something capable of measuring in order to understand its greatness. Therefore, no way can the mind be reduced to boxes within a box.

In class, it was stated that Christopher Reeves is not really Christopher Reeves from his neck to toe(?) because the connections from his spinal cord to his brain were interupted; and that he is only himself in the head because he can sense and react to instances that usually involve the medulla or midbrain (like hearing, tasting, seeing, thinking). Can this be applied and be true for people with amnesia--who claim to not remember, thus considered to be different people? The issue here is, is a person with amnesia really a different person, since he/she has no concept of oneself? Is a person with amnesia exempt from going to prison for committing crimes...since he/she wasn't considered to be the same person when the crime was committed? John Locke would say that a person with amnesia is not the same person because his/her mind would not exist in the same nature of existence (or something like that). What makes a person who one is? If Christopher Reeves had lost an arm or something, would we say "a body has lost an arm" or would we say "Christopher Reeves has lost an arm"? Thus, is Christopher Reeves exempt from being himself where nerves have been interupted? But then again, there's that whole issue with "phantom limbs" which I found very fascinating.


Name: sural shah
Username: skshah@brynmawr.edu
Subject: hocus pocus
Date: Mon Feb 5 20:45:06 EST 2001
Comments:
Could it be possible that the mind exists within the brain, much like the true wizard in the Wizard of Oz?

I had made this suggestion in my comments for the first week of class, as a potential means of explaining the "missing element" from brain=behavior. In retrospect, especially considering the example of Christopher Reeves, as well as the "I-box" discussed in class, I would to have to say that while I remain intrigued by the notion, I want to tweak my views a little. Obviously, I would agree with the "mind" concept, or the idea of the self being contained within the nervous system. In considering the example given in class considering Reeves, I feel relatively convinced that this mind or I-box functions within the brain (reason: severed connections result in loss of "communication" between conscious awareness and physical action). What is interesting about the example with Reeves is that an action occurs without this "central command" being aware. Initially, I thought that this finding disproved my theory entirely; afterall, if the body can react without the mind, then there must be some stimuli that don't pass by the brain, which i consider the central processing station of the body. In considering further, though, I realized that the more powerful suggestion made by the case of Reeves is that some actions don't require the "consent" of the brain. This idea is one that I can deal with, I think, though it necessitates an alteration of my first thought that all perception was processed in the brain. I can't say that I remember the specifics of The Wizard of Oz well enough to know if there were any defense systems that were like reflexes, but I can see it as a "first-line" of action, and therefore potentially compatible with my model. As long as we maintain our definition of brain as the central nervous system, then brain can also still equal behavior.

The next question at hand is the issue of the particular physiological arrangement of the I-box within the nervous system or beyond the nervous system. Others have commented that they have difficulty perceiving the I-box as a component of the brain because its capabilities are of a higher nature. My theory is that the mind is probably not a structure within the brain, but rather the result of the interactions within it. I feel like this discussion almost unavoidably leads to questions concerning the soul and its existence. However, I don't feel like my explanation necessarily involves an intangible aspect such as the common definition of of the soul. In trying to "think out of the box" (no pun intended), this idea is the only one that I can come up with. Somehow, it seems incongruent that the mind would physically exist within the brain (in this case, specifically the brain within one's skull), despite the fact that I am relatively convinced that whatever the form the mind comes from, its interactions or location or whatever is in the skull. So...I guess my theory is that the "mind" is the convergence of many many many interactions within the brain. It's awareness because it is the center of all of the processes for perception. I know this seems a little farfetched, but it's just a thought.... let me know what you all think, too, about this idea....


Name: Irma Iskandar
Username: iiskanda@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I box
Date: Mon Feb 5 23:11:08 EST 2001
Comments:
Class ended last week with the fascinating question of whether or not one could be a person without inputs/outputs being experienced. But does this mean that the self/"I" is contained in the nervous system? It does seem to veer in that direction - in the example of quadripalegics, the toe pinched would not give the person pain, since the individual cannot feel the information of pain from the brain. Therefore, it seems that an "I" identity should be smaller than the nervous system.

However, I am not totally convinced that everything that constitutes an individual is dependent upon the nervous system. Sure, our emotions, our behavior, etc. all depend on the it, and furthermore, all that we learn in life is experienced through the nervous system, whether it be visual, auditory, or sensory learning. However, I still believe that a person's mind need not be contained inside a box. Many debates have been going on for some time whether a person's soul could possibly be contained in something as finite as the nervous system, and this I admit is difficult to prove by science or even explain. However, I believe that in the grand scheme of things, we humans have only been on the earth for a few seconds. There are billions of things we still do not know, regarding behavior, etc. We believe science is the truth, but only because it seems to give us seemingly consistent patterns we don't completely understand but regard as the final truth since it is given to us empirically. I'm not 100% sure where I'm going with this, but it should be obvious I still don't completely believe in the "I box" theory - at least, yet.


Name: rachel kahn
Username: rkahn@brynmawr.edu
Subject: self
Date: Mon Feb 5 23:58:29 EST 2001
Comments:
I tend to think of self in different ways. In one way, I consider the self to be simply the brain, in which case, the self would be smaller than, and contained within, the nervous system. However, when I go beyond this definition and think of the self in terms of ego, identity, etc... I have a hard time comparing the size of the self to the size of the nervous system. If forced to, I would lean toward saying that the self, as an immaterial concept, is larger than the nervous system, which is material and measurable.

If I think of the "self" or the "I-function" as the sensations which one experiences, then it would follow that the self is contained within the nervous system. The nervous system enables the existence of a self, and when the nervous system is damaged, as in Christopher Reeves, part of the self is lost. The part that is lost, though, seems to be only physical sensation, and is that really all a self is?


Name: Melissa Hoegler
Username: mhoegler@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I Box
Date: Tue Feb 6 00:18:07 EST 2001
Comments:
I have to agree with Irma. I have been talking about the "I Box" theory with my friends and we are all so hesitant to believe it. When we first started discussing the I in class, my very first thought was to resist the idea of myself being merely a part of my nervous system or brain. I honestly believe that who I am is not part of anything. Sure life experience, my genetic makeup, and brain all compose me, but I feel that there is MORE to me then these physical things.

I would like to think that I am actually not a tangible thing. I feel that whom I am is actually immaterial. I am just some energy or something like that. When I die, I would like to think that I am not actually dying. Perhaps I have just read too many supermarket tabloids filled with tales of people having out of body or near death experiences where they can step out of themselves. I cannot easily accept the notion that "I" am a part of my body. I think that science and the truth are always changing, and right now perhaps the idea of an "I" box makes sense, but this can change. After all, not so long ago, people thought the world was flat and the universe revolved around Earth.


Name: Gwen Slaughter
Username: gslaught@haverford.edu
Subject: I-function
Date: Tue Feb 6 00:42:06 EST 2001
Comments:
The notion of the I-box as a separate part within the brain is confusing to me. It's easier for me to think of the brain as a mass of interconnected neurons that communicate and work together. So, I am more inclined to think of the I-function as part of the entire brain--not just a box within it.

Christopher Reeve and other quadraplegics must lead very frustrating lives. They still have thoughts and desires to behave and move, but the connections between the brain and the rest of the body that allow freedom of movement are no longer functional. I believe the separate I-function box theory and the lack of connections between the brain and body should be seen as two separate things. It is clear that quadraplegics still behave--they dream, they produce facial expressions, they think.... All of these behaviors use different parts of the brain that are interconnected. So, how could the I-function possibly exist in just one place?


Name: Nana Dawson-Andoh
Username: ndawsona@brynmawr.edu
Subject: More On Phantom Limbs
Date: Tue Feb 6 01:58:21 EST 2001
Comments:
I was interested by Alexis Webb's comment what the phenomenon of phantom limbs and how is related to the question of quad/parapalegics and the "I-Function". I was reminded of an article that I read last year in New Scientist about an innovative method of treating patients who had pain and even paralyis of phantom limbs. The paper can be found here: http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/infomark/902/304/23088541w3/purl=rc1_EAIM_0_A63676311&dyn=3!xrn_1_0_A63676311?sw_aep=brynmawr_main, its a fascinating read and I urge people to at least skim it.

This neurologist at the UC San Diego has began to treat his patients who have sensations in their amputated limb with mirrors. His aim to "trick" the brain into changing its body image. He found that the body maps of these patients had been transferred to other parts of their bodies. One man felt the doctor touching his missing hand, when he was really just stroking his cheek. And the man could also sense his missing arm when it was really just the stump being stimulated.

The doctor decided to see if he could take this knowledge and help out his patients who felt paralysis in their phantom limbs. By placing a mirror sideways in front of the patient, so that so that they saw a reflection of their good arm where the phantom was. Many of his patients have benefited from this therapy. Some have been able to shift their paralyzed phantom arms back into more comfortable positons, while a few have even been able to make his phantom limb disappear completely.

This example seems to prove in some ways that brain does in fact equal behavior. Patients may feel sensations or pain of phantom limbs because the brain has not adjusted to the fact that it no longer exists. The brain is still sending signals to the now non-existent motor neurons and seems to be receiving signals from the missing sensory neurons. But the success of mirror therapy seems to indicate that the brain may be able to retrain itself into readjusting its own view of the body.


Name: Caitlin Costello
Username: ccostell@haverford.edu
Subject: reflexes and "I"
Date: Tue Feb 6 02:09:48 EST 2001
Comments:
So I was thinking about reflexes and the brain and the I-function...it makes sense to me that a reflex behavior like moving away when the leg is pinched is unaffected in Christopher Reeve because the signal goes right to the motor neurons, not to the brain. But what about when you approach the line between what is a reflex and what is a brain-moderated action? For example, if someone pokes your brow bone, you blink (try it, it's kind of fun), but if you concentrating on it, you can keep from blinking. Your brain must be involved in that. But the stimulus is still the same, so the interplay confuses me somewhat. I guess that the brain must send a signal that intercepts the pinch-to-motion neuronal firing that otherwise bypasses the brain, but I'm not sure how this works exactly, as it seems as a signal would have to go to the brain, not just come from the brain, and the brain is not supposed to be involved in this reflex.

Another example....when someone pokes my tummy, I kind of squeak. This seems like a reflex behavior in me, something that bypasses the brain, as I can't really help it unless I'm anticipating it. However, not everybody exhibits this reflex, and what differentiates me from a nonsqueaker, I would assume, is at least somewhat related to personality or temperament, and so must lie in the I-function somehow. (This difference in reflexes between people is also evident in some people being particularly "jumpy", and more likely than other people to exhibit a startle reflex if you sneak up on them from behind, for example.) But if the I-function is in or related to the brain, and the brain is not involved in this reflex behavior, how does the I-function mediate this behavior? Has my I-function somehow preprogrammed my muscles or the spinal cord neurons that do not involve the brain to make this response? Somehow my "I" seems to have infiltrated places where it has no business being, if it can affect a signal that doesn't go to my brain.


Name: mel
Username: mrohall@brynmawr.edu
Subject: focus
Date: Tue Feb 6 09:13:30 EST 2001
Comments:
In thinking about the recognition of sensation in an amputee, memory seems to serve a function. People born without limbs do not experience pain from that area as they have never experienced feeling where the limb had normally grown. In the case of quadraplegics and amputees, there may not exist the intact nervous system in those areas which formally did function normally. With the knowledge that the impulses may no longer travel through the now damged system, perhaps memory of those sensations still exist. In other words, despite the absence of a limb, there is a belief that it remains and should receive feeling. A paraplegic who is unaware of something touching a paralyzed leg will not feel anything. It is only when the touch is noticed that there is feeling. Some people in a trance state have developed blisters from touching an ice cube. Touching an ice cube would not normally produce blisters unless there was a belief that the object was quite hot. This was the suggestion under which these people were. Due to the fact that amputees and quadraplegics expereince sensations before the damage to the nervous system, the same physically manifestation is possible.
Name: Mary Ferrell
Username: mferrell@brynmawr.edu
Subject: "I"-What is it?
Date: Tue Feb 6 09:16:59 EST 2001
Comments:
What is "I" anyway?

"I" came up with the idea that "I" is "awareness of being a certain alteration of amazing matter", an awareness of the experiences of my organism's individual behavior, emotions, and reasoning (which are all functions of the nervous system). The existence of free which would allow for infinite behavioral possibilites would perhaps connect the "I" to another level of definition. But does free will exist? Or are our choices limited to our neuron possibilities?

Some random thoughts about "I" 1)What are the evolutionary reasons for"I"? 2) Dogs definitely know you. Do they and all other mammals have an "I"? Do starfish have an "I"? 3) The "I" gets so big during adolescence.

Why are we aware of ourselves?


Name: Katerina
Username: grkdelfini
Subject: Going in circles
Date: Tue Feb 6 09:40:51 EST 2001
Comments:
I read all the posted essays in the forum on the subject of "I", and every single one of them made some sense to me. So where does that leave me? It's so hard to explain what the "I" function is. I always try to find some scientific explanation, - how it happens, what happens, when it happens, what components are involved and so on... This is more difficult than I originally thought. I especially liked what Avis said about the "I" function. "The human is born with a core. That is, there are hard-wired processes intact that allow body, brain and environment to interact. The core self places demands on those systems in order to survive. Call it soul, call it instinct or drive states, call it the hypothalamus; this self, this I-box, dictates those primal interactions. As a result, circuits get stronger, neurons fire,dendrites stretch. Enter plasticity." His explanation gave me some security because it gave me a step by step process of the developement of the "I" function. Even though I felt more comfortable after reading some of these essays - I just didn't want to settle into someone else's ideas. So these are my only thoughts . . . I think the "I" function exists, and that it continues to exist even after death. But when did it begin to exist? I do not know. If it existed before birth then wouldn't I know about it? - remember it? And let's say that I was isolated from the world from the day I was born till my death (and I didn't need food or water or anything else to survive). If I were placed in a vast open space of darkness - would my "I" function develop? - Would I even have an "I" function?
Name: Christine Farrenkopf
Username: cfarrenk@haverford.edu
Subject: Addiction - in Newsweek
Date: Tue Feb 6 22:22:43 EST 2001
Comments:
I thought that I would point out that Newsweek's cover story this week is on addiction. Of particular interest to this class is the article "How It All Starts Inside Your Brain" by Sharon Begley.

These are a few highlights of the article:

An addict's brain is both physically and chemically different from a normal brain due to the fact that drugs such as heroin, nicotine, and amphetamines cause changes in the nerves related to pleasure. Persistent use of druges will cause long-term changes to nerves, which reflects the fact that users must increase his dose of drugs over time.

Drug users have deep-rooted memories of their use, which scientifically explains why they have such a hard time kicking the habit. "And just as Pavlov's dog learned to salivate when he heard a bell that meant 'chow time,' so an addict begins to crave his drug when he sees, hears or smells a reminder of past use."


Name: Janine R. Fuertes
Username: jfuertes@brynmawr.edu
Subject:
Date: Thu Feb 8 17:02:04 EST 2001
Comments:
In reading everyone's comments, it's interesting to see just how circular the topic of mind vs. body can really be. It's as if once we think we have grasped the ultimate truth, another question arises, challenging the idea that took so long to understand in the first place. Luckily, we have this forum to think aloud...(through, written word, that is)... I share Dickinson's stance, although in what she refers to as "the brain" I would be more inclined to call "the mind". As many have already stated, the brain is simply a tangible thing - a large clump of cells (neurons), that differs from other organs only in its extraordinary capabilities. In my opinion, its greatest feat is holding the mind, for the mind is what encompasses a person's thoughts, emotions, and reasons behind doing the things she does. It is the mind which, though it resides within the nervous system and subsequently, within the brain, spans far beyond anything we could ever imagine. I agree with Rachel in that when something damages the usual function of the nervous system, a part of one's self is lost. However, if no harm has been done to the brain, then the person's mind has not changed at all. That person will still believe what she will and experience emotions the same way. The is because the person, in avoiding damage to the brain, has merely altered her "self" in a physical manner, separate from the untangible complexity of the mind.
Name: Henrike Blumenfeld
Username: hblumenf@brynmawr.edu
Subject: 'I'-function and the rest
Date: Fri Feb 9 11:35:10 EST 2001
Comments:
From reading through this week's comments, it looks like I'm not the only one that is having trouble with the exact relationship of the 'I'-function to the rest of the brain. I've been having trouble teasing apart what should be part of the 'I'-function from what should not be. Here are some thoughts:

I like Avis Brennan's idea that there is a 'core' we are born with, which places constraints on our cognitive functions and starts to forge relationships -- the idea of plasticity of the brain up to a certain age. However, this core seems to be more of an 'instinct' (Steven Pinker wrote a wonderful book, 'The Language Instinct', where he argues that part of language is innate -- that there is a 'core', which kind of ties into this idea).

However, I don't want to think of the 'I'-function as an instinct, and have a tendency to believing that it develops more through experience instead of being an 'entity' we are born with.

But I think the idea of plasticity and the forging of connections between different parts of the brain is extremely important in this. Karen Munoz mentioned therapy with an autistic boy where the goal was to strengthen the connection between 'mind' and motor skills. Building on this idea of connection from the 'I'-function to the rest of our functions, we know that injury to different functions influences 'who we are' to different degrees. Christopher Reeves seems to have kept his personality (except for indirect effects on self confidence etc?), on the other hand we would not be as likely to say the same about Phinneas Gage. So a possible conclusion might be that the connections between whatever constitutes the 'I'-function and say the frontal lobe are stronger than the connections between other functions that would not influence personality to such an extent if injured. (?)


Name: Huma Rana
Username: hrana@brynmawr.edu
Subject: I don't even know
Date: Fri Feb 9 14:29:14 EST 2001
Comments:
We are born with the capability of learning every language spoken in the world. However, unless we hear these languages, practice them, and put those neuronal connections to work, we quickly lose the ability to acquire all language. This is why it easier to learn language as a child than as an adult, or why children who are abandoned (raised by wolves,etc) can never develop the ability to speak a human language. I'd have to agree with Henrike that this suggests a critical period for the development of cognitive functioning in the brain.

It seems to me that the I-function is like the body's and mind's accountant. It evaluates inputs from the organs, muscles, and brain and is the summation of who the person is. Phinneas Gage's personality completely changed because his I-function was no longer receiving input from his frontal lobes (because of the damage done there). We know that certain parts of the brain such as the frontal lobes and the amygdala have a profound influence on personality while the spinal cord does not (explaining why Christopher Reeve's personality didn't change). To me, this doesn't mean that the I-function has a stronger connection to any one part of the body. Instead, I see the I-function as encompassing many different things and that's why damage or injury to a specific part of the body leads to a specific change in behavior.






| Course Home Page | Forum | Brain and Behavior | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Friday, 23-Sep-2011 17:07:32 EDT