Forum Archive - Week 10
On self-control, pain, gender, and ....
Date: 2003-04-05 17:05:14
Message Id: 5272
I feel that if our brain was able to register every thing that happened in our bodies or that if it were to let us know about everything that we perceive, that would would go crazy. We are to some degree very ignorant about what goes on in our bodies and are only alerted when we feel pain, hunger, sleepiness, or our body is trying to tell us something. I think the topic of free will is interesting because while we feel that we have free will in our actions, we don't have complete free will with our bodies. Whether we know it or not and whether we want it to or not, our body performs certain functions that we have no control over. We explain some things by saying that the person can't help that it is occuring, and I find it very interesting that while we try to control so many things in our lives, we can not help but do somethings like snore, burp or fart. It is these things which "humanize" us and remind us that, while everyone is different, and some people are more successful or pretty, even movie stars fart sometimes:-)
Name: Danielle McManus
Subject: Odiferous starlets
Date: 2003-04-05 20:21:23
Message Id: 5273
I like Shanti's bit about farting stars, and think it has an interesting implication. The idea that involunary bodily activities like farts, burps, etc. are considered humanizing implies that those who could control such little faux pas would be the opposite--somehow super-human. Our culture tends to see our idols as someone utterly in control of everything about their body and behavior. Does this mean that we place a value on having complete control of our bodies, of having exclusive will power over each and every function? Do we implicitly imagine that such control is a reflection of desirability? If we value such an extent of self-control, is it because we dislike the lack of that control in ourselves? If we can control every aspect of behavior, does that imply some sort of superiority of intelligence, of having an I-function more in control of the brain?
Date: 2003-04-06 13:52:00
Message Id: 5279
I agree that the involuntary motions we often exhibit are humanizing, as much as we don't always want to exhibit these actions. It seems that in our frequently conformist society, we are constantly being expected to act in a certain manner and perpetually be in control of our actions - and it seems that the I-function is largely an outgrowth of that fact. This consciousness of the self then can be interpreted as sort of a conformist mechanism that we feel we must have in order to be accepted by society (eg - our I-function tells us not to belch at the opera house, etc etc etc)
On the subject of prodigies, we have discussed how genes and the central pattern generator come into play. After watching the movie "Rain Man" several years ago and discussing autism in class, I wonder how an autism patient is affected so as to display a certain talent. My brother has a high-functioning form of autism (Asperger's), and is an amazing pianist. No matter how much I practiced, I could not match his skills. I wonder then, is it more the central pattern generator that causes him to be a musical prodigy, or is it another factor related to autism?
Date: 2003-04-06 19:46:44
Message Id: 5284
To respond to Danielle's comment, I definitely think that our society places value in having self-control. Not just with involuntary actions but with mental illness, as we've talked about before. I know many people who refuse to ask for help because they need to feel like they are in control. And yet even though I say that it is okay for other people to get help, I become offended if someone suggests that I need help- that for some reason or other, I do not have control over a part of myself. Our society is so concerned with being independent and self-sufficient that we feel sorry for the elderly who cannot take care of them self and fear becoming that old and reliant on others. This also seems to be one reason why people deny that brain=behavior- they think that it signifies some kind of lack in self-control.
Name: Alanna A.
Subject: phantom limb
Date: 2003-04-06 20:56:52
Message Id: 5285
I can't help but wonder if people who experience the phantom limb sensation only experience it because our brain/NS is pre-programmed to send information to all parts of our bodies. Even if a limb is missing, the NS most likely does not know this, so it continues to send signals to the location of the missing limb-that is probably why we feel as if there is a limb actually still there. But then the problem arises of how we can actually still feel a limb when the signals cannot possibly extend into the arm (or other body part) that isn't there....could this possibly indicate that the phantom limb sensation is really just "all in our heads?" Is it just an overwhelming psychological desire to want to have our missing limb back? Does such thinking eventually convince us to feel as if there is still a limb there to make us feel whole and complete again? Or is it just the physiological workings of the NS alone causing such sensations?
Subject: pleasure and pain
Date: 2003-04-06 21:50:56
Message Id: 5287
I find it very hard to believe that pain is purely of figment of our imagination. I guess it makes sense from our discussion of phantom limbs (pain must be made in the brain if a body part that isn't physically there can still hurt), but pain seems very real and localized. So if pain is all in our heads, I guess that must mean that pleasure is as well. Which I guess I can also believe since often a woman's inability to have an orgasm is rooted in some problem in the brain (such as a need to be in control at all times). I found some articles that discuss pleasure and pain and how some of the same centers in the brain are activated in the perception of both pleasure and pain. What I'm curious about are the properties of the input that could be responsible for the differentiation of pleasure and pain if all that the body does is send action potentials. The action potentials cannot be different because it's an all-or-none phenomenon and they can only differ in frequency. So how do we perceive pain and pleasure as two distinct sensations if we are sending identical signals that arrive at the same part of the brain?
Name: cordelia stearns
Subject: "phantom sensation" and hemineglect
Date: 2003-04-06 23:34:56
Message Id: 5290
A quick response to Nicole's above posting, then on to my own. I don't think anyone ever suggested that pain is just a figment of the imagination. Though the saying "all in your head" has that connotation, what actually happens in your head is probably the closest thing to real we have in explaining ourselves. Yes, the "feeling" of pain is localized in your arm if your arm is held above a flame. There are an abundance of reasons for that to happen, foremost because your nervous system is telling your arm to get away from the flame. But take out the activity that is "all in your head", and your arm would burn painlessly. Not so good. Also, as we've discussed in class, the vast number of different neuronal pathways account for different experiences, such as pleasure and pain. Why do pain and pleasure feel different? They ARE different, sent through different neurons and synapses. Yes, the method by which the action potentials travel and the ions penetrate the membranes is the same, but the differences in paths account for the incomprehensibly immense array of human emotion, action, thought, etc.
OK, now on to what I was originally going to talk about. I am doing my second paper on hemianopia, a phenomenon that most frequently occurs after a stroke, in which a lesion on one side of the brain causes the person to lose the opposite field of vision. Not lose sight in one eye, but actually LOSE that side of things when you look at them. So, for example, one woman only put lipstick on the right side of her mouth; give someone with this disorder a plate of spaghetti and they will eat the right half of it and swear up and down that they ate it all. This disorder is sometimes accompanied by complete paralysis of the half of the body opposite the lesion. The reason I'm talking about this in the forum is because both of these disorders are often accompanied by anosognosia, which is a disorder that seems to have causes similar to those of the phantom limb sensation. In anosognosia, the patient does not recognize their paralysis or visual neglect. They insist that they are moving their bodies normally, even while they are lying perfectly still. In one case a woman SWORE she was touching her doctor's nose and kicking her leg, when neither her arm or leg were moving at all. PRETTY STRANGE, I think. So, like with phantom limb, some people think this is just plain denial of the condition; the patient doesn't want to admit their limb is lost, doesn't want to admit they are paralyzed. BUT, a theory similar to the one that Dr. G talked about last class with phantom limb holds up with anosognosia. A motor signal goes to the target muscle but at the same time goes to a monitoring area (apparently in the parietal lobe, I'll cite this at the bottom). The brain gets no return signal from the targeted limb to tell of its position, and the patient doesn't register on that half of the body visually. BUT, the monitoring area has gotten the motor signal, and thinks the motion has occurred normally. So the brain can't distinguish intent from action. The conscious image of the self is just plain wrong. So, could this or something like it maybe occur without a lesion?
OK, even stranger is a different, less frequent phenomenon that can also occur with hemiparalysis. This one is called somatoparaphrenia. Patients with this disorder insist that the body parts on the affected side belong to someone else (most frequently the doctor, just because they're there). Maybe this is for a similar reason; if the visual information (an unmoving limb) given to the brain conflicts with the motor information given to the monitoring area, the motor information is trusted before the visual info (this would make sense, the visual world more frequently offers us illusions not to be trusted, right?).
Sorry for the length of this, but I think this is really interesting stuff, especially in relation to the phantom limb discussion.
I got most of the info for this from http://dubinserver.colorado.edu/prj/mos/osgood5.htm
this is a grad student project, has a lot of good info on just plain phantom limb stuff as well
Date: 2003-04-07 00:52:11
Message Id: 5291
As I was scrolling through the comments tonight to see if there was anything that someone had mentioned that I would like to elaborate on, Clare's message jumped out at me. It was exactly what I had been keeping at the back of my mind as I was reading everyone's message. American society places high value on self control and self sufficiency. We are raised to expect to do things for ourselves and not to have to fall back on others. I remember feeling that one of my best friends in high school was just plum weird for choosing to stay in our extremely small town to live at home and stay close to her family, instead of moving to California and getting a tech job when she had the chance. I still have trouble grasping the fact that she was willing to give up that opportunity to be independent and support herself, to stay at home. I was the ultimate home body in high school and most of my life expected to go to college relatively near home; instead, I felt the need to get away from home and be independent my senior year of high school, so I ended up here, 3000 miles away from home. I feel that especially since we are in a college environment, there is a heightened pressure on us to be independent, break away from our parents, and exert control over our lives.
I guess this is a round about way of saying that I've been slightly uncomfortable with how we've been talking about free will. I've been uncomfortable with how others in the class are uncomfotable with the fact that we aren't in complete controll over every little aspect of our bodies. CPG's and collorary discharge aren't really giving me a problem with the amount of control I have in my life. I like the fact that I don't have to worry about controlling my digestion or remembering to breath. Yes, my nervous system is doing things that I'm not aware of and generating inputs and outputs that influence my behavior in subtle ways. But I don't think that affects the fact that I have free will. I make decisions based on my entire sensory package; both inputs from outside and inside of my body. I just have to acknowledge the fact that my body and nervous system is aware of things that my I-function isn't, and get on with my life.
Date: 2003-04-07 20:57:10
Message Id: 5301
Since we're sort of jumping around with topics, I want to talk about this experience I had last night. I went back to my parents' house for a visit, and ended up watching television a lot. I haven't got one at Bryn Mawr, so I binged myself on cable and true hollywood stories, etc. What struck me as so unsual was that I was having INTENSE emotional responses to most of the programs I was watching.. I watched a documentary on the Central Park Jogger, and also a show on teenagers with eating disorders. I was in tears through each one. I thought back to a time where I watched television regularly.. and I thought about how I was rarely moved to tears by anything I watched. But last night, even when I knew that things were -obviously- aimed to be sappy or "moving", I still cried. I thought how I had been conditioned to not respond emotionally to "sad things on tv" when I watched television all the time. Then I started thinking about what was physically going on in my brain to allow this to happen. Due to regular exposure, parts of my brain that identify with human suffering or empathy of some sort were being affected. Some signal was obviously getting blocked. Obivously, this wore off.. but this whole phenomena struck me as terrifying.
Subject: phantom limb
Date: 2003-04-07 21:16:32
Message Id: 5302
I was reading up about the pleasure/pain sensations that can be felt as a result of this 'phantom limb' phenomenon. I found this article that states:
"When a lesion is made such that an adult animal loses sensation from a particular area (by removing regions of the skin or ablating regions of the retina), the region of the cortex innervated by these missing nerves loses its input. However, after being silent for weeks, this cortical region becomes active again, being innervate by other axons, often from those adjacent to the lesion. Axons sprout from the neighboring nerves, and some pre-existing synapses, which had been below the activation threshold, are now activated (Darlan-Smith and Gilbert, 1994; Das and Gilbert, 1995). With the inhibitory active axons removed, these other axons can function. This reorganization of the sensory cortex is thought to be responsible for the "phantom-limb" pain, the pain perceived to be at the end of a limb that had been amputated. Here, the intensity of the pain is proportional to the amount of cortical reorganization seen in scans of the patients' brains (Flor et al., 1995). Thus, the brain has reorganized itself after the injury such that neurons that were responsive to the missing inputs become responsive to remaining inputs. Even the adult human brain is able to reorganize due to changes in sensory activity." http://zygote.swarthmore.edu/axon6.html
I really enjoyed hearing a possible physiological reason for the sensations that are felt by a person that experienced pain after a limb was removed. I think that society can easily accept this explanation because they can try to 'fix it'; as opposed to a psychological explanation that society would not accept as readily if at all.
Some other sites I found of interest were:
Subject: all in the head
Date: 2003-04-07 22:04:12
Message Id: 5303
i am also having some trouble imagining that all the pain we feel occurs solely in the brain. i understand that the sensation is mediated by the nervous system and that the delay in pain comes from the voyage from the sensory input to the brain. but the next part i am stuck on. the complexity of pain we feel does not seem to me like it could occur all in the brain. when you have cut or bruise, the pain we feel is dynamic. the pain is specified exactly to where the damage is, and it varies with distance to and from the damage and the type of agravation to the spot. with the spatial limitations that the brain seems to have, i can not imagine the brain constructing and then holding onto all those sensations.
on the other hand, i suppose these limitations would be the ones that show when we are have more than one pain at the same time and we only feel one at a time. still, i think there must be synapses firing in those specific spots (where the pain is being felt).
other than the truly physical pains we feel, the stomach gives me alot of trouble here, because we feel all kinds of emotions in our stomach. if the brain held all sensations, why would we feel negative emotions like guilt or fear or anxiety in our stomachs? there are some that i definitely feel in my brain, like euphoria for example, i can almost feel the synapses firing during euphoric sensations, so why doesn't all our emotion get felt there?
i suppose the answer to that question is because we need to distinguish our emotions from one another. cordelia says that pain and pleasure would each have their own set of neurons and axons and synapses, and if they did, i don't think we feel anything in our stomach, they could all be distinguishable in our brain. i think many sensations we feel come from the same source, and go through the same circuits, but are distinguished by context (and then travel to different places like the stomach or a wound, etc). did we know what it meant to be hungry before we ate something for the first time and felt a satiation to the pain we had before eating? no, we just felt a general pain in our stomach, that could very well have been ameliorated by comforting hug from our mother (if it had been anxiety--as it was the hug would have done nothing). we learn to distinguish the same sensations from one another, but we are still not perfect at it. we may feel hungry if we are depressed. eating won't make the hunger or the depression go away, but we still feel that urge. pain that feels pleasurable is learned as well. an athlete will enjoy feeling a burn in his or her legs after a good run, it will feel euphoric, while the same circuit may trigger that pain in a different context and promote anxiety or just extreme discomfort.
Date: 2003-04-07 23:22:44
Message Id: 5307
In reference to the discussion on control, I agree with most of what has been said but I think that the desire to control our behavior stems from a more basic need to differentiate ourselves from our bodily functions and from other animals. Humans generally share the illusion that we are somehow special primarily due to our "superior" brain abilities. That elusive thing called consciousness - our ability to know, determine, and function cognitively - is therefore valued more than other biologically given attributes like instinct. Instinct or inherited behavior becomes trivialized because we are not aware of it; it is not consciously learned/given by the I-function and therefore contains an aspect of the uncontrolled and the animalistic. However, controlled behavior and uncontrolled behavior seem connected at many points. Some instincts must be honed and learned to be effective just as many controlled behaviors could be products of inherited abilities.
Subject: mechanic humans
Date: 2003-04-07 23:57:42
Message Id: 5308
Recently I have been doing research on different government programs, and have found some fascinating statements that demonstrate just how much our society values control. For example many agencies purposefully train their operatives to enter into a voluntary socio-pathological state. They can turn their emotions off but still operate normally as if they were taking the dog for a walk, when they were in reality preparing to an assassination. These people are the epitome of control, the erratic heart rate, sweating, tremors, and frantic eyes that are the trademark of a person about to commit a murder are systematically 'switched off.' Allowing them to operate in extrem conditions. The same effect is naturally seen in children that have suffered abuse all of their lives; they develop a method to distance themselves from the situation. Many times in the past these people have been diagnosed with having split personalities. After all, how could the school bully be the same child that hides in a closet to escape an abusive parent?
To me this demonstrates that in extreme conditions a person can control just about anything. Even a burp can be controlled, and this control is what separates man from the beasts. We are able to organize and direct our attention to specific tasks. I like Shanti's idea of a super-human defined by their level of control, because it is demonstrated to be true in everyday life. It seems as if the more control you have, the better off you are. The ease with which I can admit this is terrifying in its implications. Are we really moving towards a mechanical future where humans ape machines in their cold, calculated actions? Or is there a tenuous thread of hope to be found in the erratic nature of our free will?
Subject: the necessity of inhibition
Date: 2003-04-08 00:10:55
Message Id: 5309
Reading about the inhibition (or in this case) disinhibition which Kathleen talked about in refereference to television reminded me about something one of my friends from highschool had told me recently. This weekend he tried foxy-methoxy, a drug which was recently made illegal. While on it, everything seemed much more intense. Although all senses were affected, sight seemed to be especially affected and all colors were of a brightness that he had never experienced before. At the beginning of his trip, however, everything was so intense, he had to lie on the ground hiding under a comforter. The lack of inhibitory firing of neurons seemed like it could explain the effects of the drug. Without, or with less, neuronal inhibition, the body seems like it cannot deal with all the input which it is receiving. By trying to imagine how overwhelmed people can become without inhibition, it is possible to understand and appreciate the huge importance of inhibition to behavior. Without sufficient inhibitory firing, people would be too amazed to function and would not be able to take anything for granted and be able to move on with any tasks. Also the constant excitation seems like it would be too exhausting to handle.
Subject: "Like" gender differences
Date: 2003-04-08 01:39:27
Message Id: 5311
I was talking to Kate today and she was telling me how this speaker came to her Semantics class to talk about how a discourse particle, such as the word "like" is used. She explained that people use the word "like" to undermine their view or idea. Any phrase that follows it isn't so fixed in reality or truth – it could be completely true, but there is some room for possible variation from what is being stated. Most importantly, there is the invitation for the listener to supply feedback or to fill in w/their own interpretation
One part of the discussion that really caught my attention was how women are known to use "like" more than men. Now maybe its just me, but it never crossed my mind that people who speak very slowly and with lots of "ums" and "likes" actually use the word unknowingly because they have been natured and nurtured over their lives to be not necessarily sure of the facts because they realize that others will disagree, and thus they wish to not step on anyone's toes by being too assertive.
A point she made was how a room full of women can have a dialogue that respects each others feelings, letting others in on their thought process and willing to mold their opinions according to what they hear. But when you insert even one or two men into that crowd, they tend to be overconfident and dogmatic in their views.
Now I am aware that at times people use such discourse particles because the person is unsure of the proper sentence formation, with their thought process being slower then their actual rhetoric. Studies have shown that the more time a person takes before to plan an answer before responding, the fewer number of likes they will use, assumedly because they will be or at least seem more sure and definite about what they are saying. Even so, this is a very intriguing notion to the discrepancies between men and women. Amazing how such an insignificant word can actually spark such a discussion.
Name: Andy Greenberg
Subject: Self-awareness and its limits
Date: 2003-04-08 01:51:56
Message Id: 5313
I've been thinking about proprioceptors and self-awareness a lot, mostly due to a philosophy course I'm taking which has begun to discuss theories of self knowledge. If we take a materialist approach, it seems that it's difficult to distinguish between proprioceptors' function of telling us about the placement of limbs on the one hand and the mental processes of our brain on the other. But if proprioceptors were to make us aware of our mental activity, this would imply what philosophers call the "luminous" theory of mind. (i.e. all thoughts are "illuminated" in our minds, and we are aware of them) Gilbert Ryle points out that if the "luminous" theory of mind is true, it leads to an infinite regress, as we become aware of the awareness of the awareness of the awareness etc. of our thought. So the questions become (1) Do proprioceptors give us knowledge about our mental states? and (2) What is the limit to that knowledge, so that an infinite regress is avoided?
Subject: "like", conflict, control
Date: 2003-04-08 03:00:50
Message Id: 5315
Ok, first I just want to clarify my views on what Arun said. I don't really think that people are trying to "undermine" their own views when they use the word "like" (as in: "that is, like, enigmatic"), I think it is more of a buffer. Perhaps women tend to be more open to the possibility that truth isn't always absolute, and that many factors undoubtedly will come into play. It is not necessarily a fear of being aggressive but rather this comprehension of complexity and the ability to let others in on their own thought processes. I also realize that is not only women that use this word at all, but rather it is a tendency marked in the sex that could be very much a product of environmental/cultural factors. But the relation of this observation to Prof. Grobstein's story about his son's brashness at a young age compared with his daughter's hesitant and thoughtful planning is very intriguing to me.
Proprioceptors and corollary discharge circuits could play a very large role here. It has been very enlightening for me to realize that we aren't in fact in control of our own perceptions, and that it is these perceptions that inevitably at least partially lead to our outputs and actions. It sheds new light on the whole serial killer thing for me...but that's a whole other can of worms.
So maybe I should be more sympathetic towards guys...maybe they really just don't get it the way I do. That's what I've gotten from all of this.
I do think we can all understand each other...but it may be necessary to consciously reshape our perceptions. As much as is possible, anyway. That could be instrumental in solving all kinds of conflict in the world.
Of course what can and cannot be controlled by the I-function is also very crucial. Is it only what one would call a sort of low-level behavior like heartbeat or eye movement that we cannot control? Or are the implications much greater than that?
Date: 2003-04-08 05:42:04
Message Id: 5316
perhaps i have the wrong conception of what propriaceptors are, which might nullify my question, but i was wondering how our body distinguishes between sensations we need to pay attention to and those that are not an essential part of our awareness?
Date: 2003-04-08 06:40:53
Message Id: 5317
this is in response to stephanie's post. she suggests that the cause for pain in a phantom limb is psychosomatic. not to say that this couldn't be part of the reason amputee's feel pain, but people who experience a phantom limb that is a result of congenital defect feel this pain as well. the nervous system of a person with a congenital defect develops in the same way as that of a person without a defect who loses a limb somewhere down the road. i'd speculate that the cause for pain in both scenarios would be the same-that the corollary discharge signals expect certain sensory inputs from the limb and the discrepancy between the model of expectation and the actual inputs results in pain.
i think this leads into a lot of the questions and ideas geoff posed about the dynamic of pain. during our last class i wondered why we feel certain types of pain in particular areas of our bodies at different times and how this relates to that discrepancy of expectation. if the corollary discharge signals have a fixed model for what they expect then is the variation in the pain we can potentially feel exclusively related to variation in the sensory input? somehow that seems to simplified....
Subject: I feel like, I don't know, maybe?
Date: 2003-04-08 08:34:35
Message Id: 5318
Shanti's comment that if we consciously registered every input our brain had, "we would go insane" jumped out at me. That seems correct (I feel like I'm going crazy now, and I have to worry about 4 classes, 2 jobs, my future and my relationships; let's not add digestion and breathing!) but why? Is it because the I-function is a small part of the brain and can't handle that many signals?
I was also intrigued by the "like" discussion. The desire to undermine ones views and seem less self-assured is a phenomenon I've often wondered about. It touches me personally because I seldom do it, and the results often confuse me. Ever since high school, people have complained that I think I'm always right. That can't be further from the truth, and I think that anyone who has ever taken enough time to understand my mannerisms realizes that. But as I've investigated over the years what it is that makes so many people react that way, I've narrowed it down to my speech. I don't usually attempt to sound as if I'm unsure of my opinions, because I often know exactly what my opinion is. That is not to say I think it's absolute truth, and everyone should agree -- only that I'm sure it's what I think. (If I'm unsure, I say so, and I don't get a negative reaction.) Apparently, this is a threatening or otherwise offensive way of speaking. But why?? If one holds an opinion, shouldn't one simply state that opinion without jumping through verbal hoops to convey that one isn't insisting that that opinion be universal?
In a room full of Mawrters, it's true that you will have almost every person in the room prefacing sentences with, "This is just me, but..." using "I feel like" instead of "I think", and interjecting, "I don't know" into the statement multiple times. Why? Can't we decide what we think and then say it? Are people really that threatened by self-assuredness?
I'm wondering what this may have to do with neurobiology, particularly proprioceptors. Is it possible that a simply stated, assuredly held opinion signals to others that s/he is a threat? If so, what could that possibly be touching on?
Name: Michelle Coleman
Date: 2003-04-08 08:58:23
Message Id: 5319
Thinking of pain, something that we all have become so well affiliated with, as merely a conflict between our expectations and our inputs seems to be a little extreme. While I was certain that our psychical actions could simplified into basic neurological events, I never had I imagined that "pain" would have an explanation through the corollary discharge system. It is interesting to think about pain, however, b/c it like many other activities are not completely reliant on outside inputs. As we may have all speculated over our lifetimes, pain may arise from internal sources, which makes it an fascinating topic given our exploration of internal inputs our the nervous system.
Send us your comments at Serendip
| Course Home Page
| Course Forum | Brain and
Behavior | Serendip Home |
© by Serendip 1994-
- Last Modified:
Tuesday, 08-Apr-2003 09:37:31 EDT