Biology 202
Neurobiology and Behavior
Spring 2003

Forum Archive - Week 6

On action potentials ... and mental "illness".

Name:  Paul Grobstein
Subject:  week six
Date:  2003-03-02 09:25:49
Message Id:  4889
As always, feel free to reflect on anything we've talked about, you're read about, you've been thinking about this week. But, if you need something to get you started:

The nervous system "signals" by way of action potentials, which in turn reflect ionic movements, ionic gradients, and membrane proteins which establish and vary the permeability of the membrane to particular ions. Does this make it easier or harder to accept the idea that brain=behavior? In what ways does it help to better understand behavior? What new questions does it raise?

Name:  Tiffany Litvine
Subject:  Still skeptical
Date:  2003-03-02 16:03:58
Message Id:  4892
The fact that the nervous system functions by ways of action potentials, ionic gradients et cetera, has made it easier for me to understand the idea that brain=behavior. It has been especially helpful in understanding certain mental illnesses such as depression. If there is a change/decrease in membrane permeability to certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, it makes sense that ones behavior would be affected by it. Therefore I do agree to a certain extent that brain=behavior since I believe that an imbalance in ionic gradients or membrane permeability can lead to a change in behavior. My skepticism lies in behavior that is more abstract. I still don't understand how the nervous system, which simply consists of action potentials generated by changes in ionic gradients, can affect a person's curiosity, creativity or aspirations. It seems impossible that such behaviors could be linked to our nervous system. I suppose I need a bit more convincing before I can truly believe that brain=behavior.
Name:  marissa
Subject:  brain=behavior chemically
Date:  2003-03-02 20:56:59
Message Id:  4898
I do think that this idea of signals does further increase my reliability on brain=behavior. Because it is a more physical assumption than any others we have already made, I feel like it finally confirms that our brains and nervous systems do control everything. I think that we are raised with such notions of "the heart" and "the soul" that we have difficulty accepting the physical explanation that "the heart" and "the soul" either do exist but not in the realm of what we refer to it in terms of love, etc., or do not exist at all. I agree with Tiffany that this helps me see the greater connection between behaviors like depression and such with this explanation, but I think that the idea of curiousity and such as being unrelated is just something that completely related but shows up in many different ways and is affected by many different things from person to person.
Name:  Melissa
Subject:  Depression
Date:  2003-03-02 21:03:32
Message Id:  4899
I was thinking about the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about depression. It was amazing to see a room full of hands, of people that either knew someone with depression or have dealt with it personally. Yet, it still remains such a taboo topic, an illness that is surrounded with much mystery and confusion. I think this is interesting since mental illness affects so many people. I think it is hard for society, in general, to understand and except what we can't see. The brain is not visible to us, we don't see when something is broken. The only thing we see is the results- the behavior that was caused by the malfunction in the brain. I know this from personal experience, dealing with a family member who battled depression. There were many days when I wanted to tell that person to just get up and snap out of it. For me, it was hard to recognize that the depression was just as much a sickness as cancer or the cold.

Another aspect of mental illness that seems interesting to me is that there has been much said about overcoming illness with good thoughts. People have claimed that the brain or at least thinking positively has helped people cure disease or made them feel better. It is a wonder then that mental illnesses may be the most complicated and misunderstood illnesses, because the very thing that can help you overcome disease is sick.

Name:  Luz Martinez
Date:  2003-03-02 21:50:15
Message Id:  4902
My abnormal psychology professor introduced antisocial personality disorder to us and I realized that we do integrate people that could be labeled with a mental disorder just like serial killers.
If there are people who are still successful in society and can be clinically diagnosed with a personality disorder, then what happened to serial killers with mental disorders? I have to admit that maybe I am responsible for how well adapted the successful people with a mental disorder are, as well as for how poorly adapted the serial killers are. I uphold ideas that are socially acceptable, so I am part of a system that builds people into what they are.
Name:  Andy Greenberg
Subject:  Starting in the Box
Date:  2003-03-02 21:53:05
Message Id:  4903
The idea first introduced on thursday that action potentials can begin within an axon, not a product of external stimulus, but a a product of the nervous system itself. This idea, that stimulus can begin "within the box" strikes me as extremely important.

I am always hesitant to assume that a property of the brain equals a property of the mind, but I have come lately to maybe be persuaded that the mind ontologically supervenes on the nervous system...that the mind is dependent on the nervous system for its existence, and every change in the nervous system affects the mind. (This does not mean that I'm persuaded that mind = brain...Grobstein hasn't won yet)

If the mind supervenes on the physical nervous system, then the fact that signals can start within the nervous system must have strong implications, although what those implications are, I haven't figured out yet.

Does this prove the existence of "a priori" (prior to experience) faculties of the mind, like Kant theorized? Does it help with an argument for free will, since it allows for a sort of self-stimulation? (no giggles, please) Or is it merely a complication of the issue with no real answers for the fundamental philosophical problems of neurobiology? I'm not ready to make any claims yet about the answers to these questions, but I am sure the stimuli which start "within the box" need to be included as a focus of the mind-body debate.

Name:  Annabella Rutigliano
Subject:  veil of brain and behavior
Date:  2003-03-03 00:28:09
Message Id:  4904
Like Andy, I am hesitant to agree that a 'property of the brain, equals a property of the mind.' Although our recent study of the neuron in class has definitively explained that the changes of chemicals affect our mood, and thus our behavior—I still cling to the idea that there is more to human behavior than impulses affected by chemical changes.

To support this theory I look to the ideas of Descartes. He purported that there is a medium, or veil, between mental and physical perceptions. For example, your senses process data that your mind then applies inferred fact to. Through this process you perceive the physical world. This is not to say that the mind and body are not closely intertwined. With that said, what affects the body effects the mind. Therefore, chemical changes do influence us both mentally and physically, because they control our physical bodies. Can the reverse be true—does our mind influence our body? Can the brain control physical processes? One answer to this can be seen in the effects of placebo on medical patients. In a most cases placebos work just as well as actual medications. This can have interesting consequences in the field of mental illness. Is it really mental?!

Name:  Grace Shin
Subject:  autism... helped with chemicals
Date:  2003-03-03 03:56:45
Message Id:  4906
"Autism is not curable but can be helped with behavioral treatment and sometimes medication." This is a quota from CNN today... article
As I was reading the articles on like I always do, I ran into this article and found it rather interesting. I honestly do not know much about autism but through this class, i've been more aware of brain disorders and thus this article peaked my interest. The above quote especially peaked my interest with this brain=behavior idea. Maybe I am over-analyzing because I do not know much about autism, but i thought it was interesting how though not curable, autism can be helped with behavior treatment and medication. granted it read many times in the article that there are still great number of mysteries dealing with this disorder, but maybe in our topic of discussion, this medication is related with changing the ion concentrations in the body... and THUS changing their behavior. if brain=behavior, then simply stated, these medications (if treated correctly) could indeed alter the chemical balance of the brain and thus show improvements in their behavior.
Name:  Kelvey
Subject:  Variations=Individuality
Date:  2003-03-03 09:50:59
Message Id:  4907
The transfer of a signal by altering the ion balance along the membrane of neurons through the permiability of a membrane helps to shows how easily a the origin or transfer of a signal can be altered. If a signal can be altered, then it is not hard to make the next connection between brain and behavior. Not only does the number of neurons show the probability of differences between individuals but the mechanism also provides a means whereby the nervous system and the transfer of a signal can be altered which, would ultimatly explain the similarities and yet differences between individual's behavior. Behavior is an action that takes place after a certain period of time, the time it takes for a signal to travel to and from the nervous system, with a number of variations possible along the path resulting in unique outputs. The question are: What stops the signalling? How are permenant pathways created? Where exactly are the points where variations in signalling can take place within the nervous system besides membrane permiability?
Name:  Arun
Subject:  Controlling Disorders and Injuries
Date:  2003-03-03 15:59:06
Message Id:  4909
Ahhh!!!!!! I feel like these discussions have opened up so many possibilities that it makes my head spin. I'm responding to an interesting thought that Melissa had about overcoming illness with good thoughts. I realize that this may be naive, but I feel even today, that most people can control their actions if they REALLY wanted or needed to. Obviously, certain advances in medicine have allowed us to live healthier lives and speed up the healing process from physically debilitating injuries, but I've never been able to get a grasp on the concept of psychological or neurobiological illnesses. This is definitely because of the social stigma that comes with people who are depressed, etc. since we can't actually can't see why they are not acting "normal".

I personally am not someone who has never been too fond of taking medicine. I feel like the act itself is a sign of weakness in our minds, and that the only thing it can due is make us build a resistance, both physically and psychologically to the drug – that if we took one pill for this injury, I must need two or three pills for another injury.

Many times, including yesterday, when I play basketball, I get "injured". But what exactly does that mean is a very interesting question since I typically forget about the pain during the game because my adrenaline is pumping since the bigger priority to me at the time is win the ballgame. In a way, its saying that mentally, if I'm distracted or if I "just don't care as much", I won't feel any pain. I think that similarly, someone with a neurobiological disorder CAN alter their behavior according to the situation. I don't mean to offend anyone by making such a bold statement since there is no evidence of this, but I honestly believe that someone who can typically not perform normal functions due to psychological problems, can in fact overcome their disability under the right set of circumstances. For example, if they saw someone they were very close to, in danger, then I feel a lot of them would react to it in a way that they normally "couldn't". Now its very possible that the response won't be the same as what other people would have, but that's because the illness has built such a strong level of resistance over time that the particular individual may have actually forgotten how to control their behavior.

What I think I'm trying to say is that we have seen a dramatic increase in neurobiological illnesses (i.e. autism) over the past few years and that the issue needs to be approached not in terms of "finding a medical cure", but instead a change in society and how we live our lives. Times have changed as everything in life seems so fast paced that people can easily feel lost and alone. If we could provide people with outlets (sports, music, etc.) and constant support for one another, no one would feel those impulses in their brains that eventually can develop a neurobiological illness.

Amidst all my rambling, I hope people realize that I remain quite skeptical on whether the property of the brain equals a property of the mind. Scientists and pharmacologist develop and sell us these drugs/vaccinations that are suppose to balance our internal chemistry but its just too hard to believe that there is such a simple solution to any illness or injury, especially one involving brain and behavior.

Name:  Elizabeth Damore
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Autism
Date:  2003-03-03 16:08:32
Message Id:  4911
I found the article in Grace's post about autism extremely interesting. Like many mental illnesses, doctors can't say with confidence what causes autism or think of a consistently effective way to treat the disease. But unlike many other mental disorders, autism does not have the stigma associated with it that manic depression or bipolar disorder do. Is this perhaps because people who suffer from autism are so different from "normal" people? I think one of the reasons why we find other mental illnesses so troubling is because a person who suffers from these illnesses can appear "normal" except for periods of strange behavior. Perhaps that makes others fear that they are only a step away from mental illness, while they feel more removed from autism.
Name:  Laurel Jackson
Username:  Anonymous
Date:  2003-03-03 17:38:52
Message Id:  4912
I must admit that I am a stubborn person who, although open to hearing other opinions, does not usually let those alternate opinions sway my own. I still maintain that brain does not equal behavior. There seem to be too many possibilities of factors which affect behavior outside of the nervous system. Genes expression is not merely another function of the nervous system. Personal choice--although people have predilections to make certain choices, I believe that environment plays a significant role that cannot be explained away. I'm still not convinced.
Name:  geoff
Subject:  others's mental disorders
Date:  2003-03-03 17:50:01
Message Id:  4913
When professor asked if we feel comfortable talking about mental disorders, i thought to myself, "yeah, i do." i thought more about this and realized i have indeed become very comfortable talking about mental other people. even as i write this, i know that i could not talk about myself. and i wouldn't want to, i don't have a diagnosed disorder, i am still part of the "we," though i can testify through experiences with family members. "we" are all fine with pointing out that we have members of our family or friends who are affected, and i would not encourage anyone to out themselves in a class of our size, but it is interesting to me to think about how i view myself in relation to "those" people. there is something very condescending about my sympathy and understanding, and something very relieving as well.

as we are now breaking down the functional properties of the brain, it makes sense to me why i am so afraid of giving any credit to my possible deficiencies there. if i know that 99 percent of my actions come from within, then that is all i am working with and that does not leave alot of room for blame elsewhere. if i find that some of that 99 percent is not functioning properly, then i am already not working with a full set (now that i know we use more than 10%), and there is nothing to fall back on. if the "normal" person i measure myself against is working with a full set, that makes me less of something. less able? less in control? less human? i can give support to someone else and say that they are not less of anything, but the one thing i am the most scared of is becoming them.

the way i deal with this fear is by piling so many things on my plate all the time that i can't possibly do them all. when something goes wrong, i always have a quick scapegoat. i think its funny that however dynamic and confident i claim to be, the one part of me i have never examined or questioned, and the part that makes up 99 percent of who "i" am, is the most important. but as long as i see that "normal" person out there walking around, i will avoid asking the question, so that i may also continue to be normal. but, if i don't ask that question, what am i setting myself up for?

Name:  Clare
Date:  2003-03-03 19:33:55
Message Id:  4915
From the comments above, it seems like most people are not convinced that brain=behavior because of things like creativity, curiosity, the soul etc. But to me, all of these things seem like they are based on one's personality- what you like/dislike, what you can/cannot do, and whether you are an outgoing or quiet or well-meaning or kind person. Aren't these likes and abilities and characteristics just programmed in each person through their genes or stored in their brain through experiences and encounters? Maybe I'm not really sure what a soul is... But as for those parts that are stored in our genes (a dislike of classical music or the ability to write creatively), aren't they expressed through actions of your brain? For example, it is your brain that enables you to express your dislike of classical music, to interpret how it sounds and allow you to express your distaste... and it is your brain that enables you to take into account experiences, knowledge, and other writings and turn this into words and phrases that form a story or poem... at least in my opinion. It is your brain that interprets what you sense and, based on your personality, signals whether what you sense is something you would like to find out more about (curiosity). As for free will, what does that mean anyway? The ability for "you" as an individual to decide something or for your individual brain which is "you" to decide something. I guess it is hard to think that all there is to "me" is what is in my brain, but at the same time, your individual brain is so complicated and its actions are far from ever being fully understood that what is so menial about saying that ALL there is to "you" is your brain?...
Name:  Shanti
Date:  2003-03-03 20:11:31
Message Id:  4916
As humans, we make a big deal about being in control or keeping things in balance. Your body is constantly trying to maintain an equilibrium, where if something is being produced in excess, it tries to correct itself but producing something else. Your brain also has this property and so do our minds. In our society, we seem to want to keep correcting things: behavior, appearance, thinking. If someone is mentally ill, or suffers from autism, or is just slightly depressed, we constantly want to "correct" these things as though they are bad. There is a fine line between helping someone because they are harming themselves and trying to alter a person's chemistry.
The more medicated a society we become, the more we seem to want to fix everything. Do you have ADD? take ritalin, are you depressed? take some prozac, overweight? here are some appetite suppressents. How come we don't stop and think that maybe nature has a reason for making some people have these different disorders. Just like we believe that no one's brain is different, doesnt that mean that no one's body is the same also? I guess what I mean is that, with all these disorders that we've been talking about, we keep going to the idea of trying to help people or trying to make them fit into society, but maybe that's part of life. That not everyone is thin, and not everyone is happy all time. I don't know if its natural selection or just the diversity of all living things but I think we would learn something if we stopped to figure out why we are so anxious to "fix" everything.
Name:  Alexandra Lippman
Subject:  cultural perspectives on mental illness
Date:  2003-03-03 20:16:30
Message Id:  4917
In class when we were discussing how our society is uncomfortable with the existence of mental disorders, I thought about something my dad had said that contradicted the class's belief. After med school he worked as the one psychiatrist in Togo. Half in jest, he has said that psychological illnesses in particular depression increase with the amount of psychiatrists there are in that society. While this is obviously not prove-able or necessarily true, it is interesting to think about how different cultures treat mental illness.

While it is partially romantic to think about societies that are less developed as ours, as happier, there may be a grain of truth to this thought. For example, schizophrenics, while they have or had difficulty fitting into our society, may have been able to have been shamans or medicine men. Thus, they would be able to play a functional and very important role in certain societies.

While I do NOT want to underplay the harshness and reality of mental illness (bipolar disorder seems to be a favorite among my family and friends) I think that we expect that we should be happy all the time. Possibly because of this it seems that a huge amount of people are on medication for depression or consider themselves depressed in the U.S. Since I have only lived here and not other countries for extended periods of time, it would be interesting to know more about how mental illness is treated elsewhere.

Name:  nicole
Date:  2003-03-03 20:40:06
Message Id:  4918
I agree that people do view physical illness and mental illness differently and that there is a stigma associated with mental illness. However, I am also concerned with a medical model of mental illness. I think if we just addressed mental illness in terms of a structural difference, or chemical imbalance the actual treatment of the illness may not be particularly successful. In terms of taking pills to combat mental illness, there are a variety of factors that reduce the probability that a patient will adhere to their regiment. Additionally, I feel that the mental health field is already being screwed by insurance companies because they prefer to address the problems with a quick diagnosis and a prescription. There are also other approaches that don¡¯t really aim to ¡°cure¡± a mental illness, but rather they mask it so that a person¡¯s illness doesn¡¯t interfere with normal functioning. Clearly, the mental health field is fighting to stay afloat. Insurance companies are not working with mental health providers to improve the quality of care, society has not fostered an environment where the majority of the people are even comfortable talking about mental illness.

I do think it is interesting that mental illness is socially constructed and that different cultures have different views on what is categorized as mental illness. I think that as we try to define ourselves we categorize something (a behavior or person) as different or abnormal and quickly attach a stigma to it.

Name:  Cordelia Stearns
Subject:  Medication and mental illness
Date:  2003-03-03 21:04:45
Message Id:  4920
Yes, there is no magic label to tell us if something is "abnormal" enough to need treatment. Many people do feel that we as a society are overly dependent on psychiatric medications. However, we are quick to medicate a person with a physical illness that impairs their ability to function or lead a happy life. In fact, it is illegal to deny children and dependents medication in the case of cancer and other such physical illnesses. This has been a subject of debate in many trials of Christian Scientist parents who do not wish to treat their children with medications. However, there are no laws that guarantee the same medical treatment to those with mental illnesses. Despite massive amounts of evidence about the success of SSRIs, ritalin, and other psychiatric drugs, there is still a huge stigma attached to using them or giving them to your children. Yes, it seems that in some cases (especially with ADHD) doctors are quick to prescribe drugs. However, numerous people go without helpful treatment because of the predominant feeling that there is something wrong with being medically treated. No, a child who has a little bit of extra energy should not automatically be put on ritalin. But, if you look in the DSM IV, you will see that the criteria for diagnosing a disorder like ADHD are extraordinarily rigid. Perhaps some doctors do not follow these guidelines as they should, but they are there, and the mental health field does not deserve to be portrayed like a gang of pill pushers. Medicine is simply the best proven treatment for most mental illnesses.
Name:  Kate
Date:  2003-03-03 21:34:05
Message Id:  4921
I think it would be helpful to say that I absolutely believe that brain=behavior and the things we have been talking about in class are exactly why.

I want to respond to Arun's comments about overcoming an injury through "willpower". I think the analogy to basketball is an interesting one, but it leaves a lot out of the equation. That adrenaline that runs though your veins is what allows you to finish the game. It dulls the pain (I don't know the exact mechanism, but it has to do with neurotransmitters). So, although we may think of it as the desire to finish the game, its actually through a change in brain chemistry that allows us to continue to function. The difference with the physical injury is that the adrenaline ALLOWS you to ignore your pain. Sure, it is partially a response to your desire to win the game that makes you keep playing. But its also made possible because of a change in your brain chemistry. So its really all about brain chemistry. Brain does equal behavior.

I absolutely reject the idea that people with mental illnesses can change their behavior (in respect to their illness). I'm not saying that a person's perspective on the situation won't change things, but that alone is not enough.

Name:  Tung
Subject:  the brain and life: complexities and secrets
Date:  2003-03-03 22:03:26
Message Id:  4922
As we are trying to explore the relationship of the brain and behavior, the understanding of the action potentials as result of separation of charge and electrochemical ion gradients makes it more convincing that behavior originates from the brain. Just like the existence of life has its foundation in the atoms, the most simplistic infrastructure of the brain can be say to consist of these ions concentration gradients. Thus, mental illnesses and other unexplainable actions, such as a spontaneous movement of a limb that has been paralyzed, are easier to explain and to grasp.

These ion channels may be at the baseline of an extremely intricate and complicated system, thus, a mistake somewhere in the system or a defect in a structure that maintain and operate that system may be account for the behavior produce. This analogy seems tto be saying that the brain is the control center of a complex machine, in which the brain is ultimately itself a complicated machine. I do apologize for using this anology because I fervently believe that theres more to the brain but it will ease the discussion that we've been exploring so far.

Getting back to the anology of the brain as a machine, a defect in the system no matter what it is and where it is gives rise the behavior and the mental illness. So getting back to the accountability of people whose actions they can not control because of some abnormality in their brain, I believe that they are indeed not accountable for their actions. Just like a machine, when the brain malfunctions because of some mistakes or defects it should be treated or fixed as so. I can understand someone who thinks that an intoxicated person should be held accountable for their actions because they choose to drink and be potentially intoxicated. The important implication in this example is that they get to choose an action that give rise to whatever consequences they gotten themselves into; however, with mental illness, how can you choose to be born with a mental illness that give rise to consequences that you are unable controlled? Your brain send signals that maintain and regulate every muscle in your body. However, if you are born with structures that somehow do not maintain and regulate these signals normally then is it valid to say that you are held accountable for hitting someone who was in your way?

Furthermore I would like to stress the tremendous influence our society have on our behavior, possibly as much as the brain. It seems to me, in one of our earlier discussions about similarities and differences between the different brains and different behavior, the brain and behavior have an influence on one another. So if society is shaping the way we behave and act day to day, especially in a time when the media is more powerful than ever, the chemical properties and maybe physical properties of our brain are affected as a result. Thus, society could be a cause of the growing trend of mental illness that are described today.

I find it particularly interesting that the brain, in its complexities,has somehow evolved and acquired the ability, ever since the beginning of its existence of life on earth, to learn and to adapt, and to be able to change its chemical and molecular basis to accomdate its external environment. So in a way the brain feeds on what we see, hear, and feel. And, like food, what it takes in may have an effect on its composition. I can understand that the chemical property of the brain is influenced by behavior and vice versa; however, I'm still unsure whether the physical properties (such as size and shape) of the brain is also affected by behavior and vice versa.

Name:  viv
Date:  2003-03-03 22:26:30
Message Id:  4925
From the posts in the forum it seems like people are still drawing a distinction between behaviors that we can pin down and identify as physical or the direct result of afflictions of the mind and behaviors they see as rooted in emotion and independent thought like creativity and curiosity. I guess this seems like a natural reaction to have since the functions of action potientials, ionic gradients etc of the nervous system are very identifiably physical functions-we can study how they work- and we can more easily connect them to behaviors that are identifiably physical like moving an arm. I think this goes back to the idea of control and free will, maybe people find reducing all behaviors to "signals" of the nervous system threatening of that freedom we believe we possess. And i don't know if you can really believe brain=behavior half heartedly. If they are one in the same you can't omit 'abstract' behavior from the equation. I think it is more convincing evidence that brain=behavior but makes it no easier to accept.
Name:  enor wagner
Subject:  causation
Date:  2003-03-03 23:21:29
Message Id:  4926
Like Marissa and Tiffany, our recent study of action potentials has further convinced me that brain = behavior. The actual anatomical truth of the brain's engineering serves as evidence in an otherwise intangible concept. However, if we decide to adopt this theory, are we validating epiphenomenalism? Are essentially accepting mental states as a byproduct of greater physical events? While brain may = behavior, I find it implausible to reason that every event or state which occurs in our mind is substantiated by the brain's physical work. Otherwise, no one would have a soul, no one could practice free will, and every human being could genetically be programmed and chemically balanced to be exactly the same. If brain = behavior does that merely account for physical behavior or does it account for mental behavior as well such as thoughts, beliefs, and artistic differentiation? Where is the line drawn, or is one even drawn at all?
Name:  Nicole
Date:  2003-03-03 23:33:22
Message Id:  4927
Some of the comments mention society's discomfort with discussing or accepting mental illness as opposed to a better understood illness/malfunction such as cancer. When a disorder affects the brain, fear, ignorance, and mystery surround the source of the resulting abnormal behavior thus isolating the affected person. I must say I agree with classmates' ideas that some of this fear of mental illness is the result of not being able to see or identify the source, the frustration in believing that someone could just "snap out of it if he/she really wanted to", and the fear that something like that could happen to themselves. Why would someone with a mental disorder be considered freakish, especially if they were once normally functional or even superiorly intelligent? Why would we fault them for faulty function of their brain when we do not fault a child or someone with a healthy lifestyle for getting cancer? Maybe some people strongly associate brain and behavior with a person's identity and so a malfunction of the brain becomes a negative reflection of the affected person as a whole, while a person with cancer is considered to be the same person only with a tumor in a specific part of their body that makes them ill yet it is does not define the person's entire identity. Is it the fear of the unknown that attaches a stigma to the mentally ill? I think fear and ignorance play a large role because as I learn more about the biological causes of mental illness it becomes almost impossible to blame the ill person. Of course, in many cases, environment contributes to those changes in brain and resulting behavior but can environment always be controlled? Not always. It is important to examine each type of mental illness and each patient on a case by case basis.
Name:  Kate Shiner
Subject:  mental disease and the soul
Date:  2003-03-04 00:08:30
Message Id:  4928
I did my web paper on autism, and I find so much of what everyone is saying relevant to my thoughts lately. I have to agree with some of Arun's sentiment. When people say that mental illnesses like depression are nothing more than a random or genetically determined imbalanced amount of neurochemicals I get very uneasy, because I feel that this thought completely ignores many of the actual causes of something like depression. I feel guilty talking about this, because it seems like I am trying to blame people who really feel that they cannot control their behavior.

But in our society I feel we are so quick to look for an easy solution without looking at the real causes. We just want to say, "there is no reason, it's just physical, pop a pill, it will go away." But that reminds me of so many distopian novels full of overmedicated, numb people. I am definitely not saying that people classified with mental illnesses are weak and inhuman. I think the concept of mental "illness" has so MUCH to do with society.

In America I feel like we share this ideal and dream that everyone should be happy almost all of the time. We watch Friends or Will and Grace and think thats how life should actually be. Why is it so shameful that you don't feel able to attain this goal? Life is a struggle, for everyone. And struggles teach so much and are so enriching in inspiring actual thought and growth.

I am not saying that society completely creates differences that are often very genetic. But the pity and the stigma that is attached to mentally unique people is destructive and exacerbates what we see as their problems. There is nothing wrong with being different. We should appreciate unique people for the perspectives they bring to the human experience. This reminds me of a quote from a movie (called Molly) about a girl with autism I put in my paper:

"In your world, almost everything is controlled....I think that is what I find most strange about this world, that nobody ever says how they feel. They hurt, but they don't cry out. They're happy, but they don't dance or jump around. And they're angry, but they hardly ever scream because they'd feel ashamed and nothing is worse than that. So we all walk around with our heads looking down, but never look up and see how beautiful the sky is."

There is so much repression associated with mental illness. People who are classified with it feel the need to hide, and we need them to hide their differences in order for us to feel normal. If we all didn't have an idea of what normal was, we wouldn't feel such a need to gear our society towards one type of (bland) personality and to label so many people as pitifully incapable. They may not be capable in the ways that we are, but are our ways the "right" ways? Why do we have to fix them?

If we accept the concept of brain=behavior,as well as the idea that we can create our behavior to a large degree(which I think most of us are far from abandoning), then we have to accept that we can change our brains, and that means our brain chemistry. Genetic predisposition to traits is real, but it works hand in hand with environmental factors.....which are often the results of personal, group, or societal actions. There is no such thing as "just physical," because the brain and the soul are intertwined.

Name:  Katherine
Subject:  states of mind and body...
Date:  2003-03-04 00:17:35
Message Id:  4929
I also related to Arun?s comment about basketball and the mind?s connection to the body during athletic events. My experiences have been with cross-country running, and the extremes of physical and mental functioning that can be accessed during situations of racing or during intense interval sessions. It has definitely been true, in my experience, that the mind can reach a different state in these situations, and that this state can enable the body to perform things that would not normally be feasible. I am also convinced by the fact that, to a certain extent, the endorphins produced by exercise can have an effect similar to anti-depressant medications.

In terms of Kant (as mentioned earlier), it is an interesting idea that the ability for signals to start from ?within the box? could help to justify his idea of ?a priori? subjectivity. It doesn?t seem to work completely, however, because it is still unclear to me where the possibility for ?choice? exists and does not exist, and how this relates to prior experience. It seems that, although a signal from ?inside the box? is independent of external experience, it could still be linked to a certain INTERNAL experience, related to the I-function, which would necessarily differ for each person and would thus not be ?universal? as Kant intended.

And, to be honest, I am still very worried about free will? does this mean that am I stubbornly trying to grasp the mirage of ?decisions? and ?choice? and ?free thought? while my brain chemicals merely watch and laugh, tricking me into a false sense of control?

Name:  Neela
Date:  2003-03-04 00:53:41
Message Id:  4930
In reference to Alexandra's comment, it seems that the prevalence of an illness increases with the amount of the population anxious to diagnose it as such. For example, ADD was a hot topic in the media, schools, and doctors not too long ago. After the disorder became popularized, accepted, and medicated, the number of young children with it shot through the roof. Perhaps in our overzealous attempt to homogenize behavior, we create disorders where there are none. (However, to underplay the existence of medical illnesses as a whole would be irresponsible.) Now, it's being shown that many children on Ritalin do not have a particular illness but they have irregular sleep patterns which interfer with their ability to concentrate. Our society and the environment in which people live surely have an affect on our behavior as well as our brain (abuse has been shown to affect neural pathways). Should we treat such changes as biologic, psychological, or merely personal "problems"?
Name:  Kat
Date:  2003-03-04 01:01:26
Message Id:  4931
Shanti's post got me thinking on another subject: What qualifies someone's behavior as "disorder"? Assuming brain truly equals behavior, and everyone behaves slightly differently, therefore everyone's brain is slightly varied. But how far does a brain have to be from the "norm" in order to qualify as abnormal? There must be a range of deviance that is considered "normal" within the psychological community and the society at large. But because a mind (or some behavior) falls outside of this range, does this mean that the person in posession of the mind should medicate themselves in order to fall within the range of "normal" deviance? Perhaps our societal assumptions have more implications then we care to examine.
Name:  E. Fulchiero
Subject:  medical benefit vs. societal cost
Date:  2003-03-04 01:10:24
Message Id:  4932
As I read my classmates postings, I find myself dismayed at how seemingly jaded our generation has become with regard to the supposed epidemic of overmedication in our society. Although statistics reflecting the enormous numbers of people afflicted with depression, ADD, ADHD, and obesity seem abnormally high, and diagnosis often seems excessive, I cannot help but believe that these statistics and diagnoses are not signals of an impending homogenization of society nor of a systematic eradication of those attributes which define unique personalities. Rather, I believe that they are the beneficial consequences of advances in medical technology. Human mood disorders such as depression are effectively treated with drugs, which specifically block the reuptake of serotonin into the presynaptic axon terminal. The resultant enhanced serotonin activation brings about a cascade of events ultimately resulting in a reduced sensitivity of presynaptic autoreceptors for serotonin and reduced serotonin synthesis. Meanwhile, Methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant enables children and adults with learning disadvantages to improve their performance and increase attention spans. I am certain that we would not be critical of diabetics for taking insulin, of paraplegics for using wheelchairs, nor of the sufferer of a common cold for relieving symptoms with an aspirin. Similarly, prescription drugs utilized to treat those for whom biochemical depression or genetic predisposition to being overweight decrease quality of life are simply devices for providing normalcy and stability, and potentially healthier lifestyles. Anti-depressants do not provide an artificial happiness for otherwise normal human beings; rather, they enable depressed individuals to achieve a level of physical, mental, and emotional functionality similar to other healthy human beings. How fortunate we are that there exist such tools to minimize disadvantages caused by such diseases and disorders. Regardless of potential misdiagnose and over-treatment, there can be no end to the benefits reaped from a society in which science can provide remedy for the failings of nature.
Name:  Adina
Date:  2003-03-04 02:33:44
Message Id:  4934
A hot topic in the forum seems to be the way our society treats mental illnesses. There seem to be conflicting views about wether or not altering the chemical make up in the brain of someone with these illnesses is actually a good thing or a bad thing. I think that over-diagnosing is a serious problem in our society. Of course, that is not to say that there are no serious illnesses that require attention. There are people who are genetically pre-disposed to severe depression, but then there are also others who just do not want to deal with their problems and their lives. Instead they choose to take drugs that "help them deal." I became quite depressed last semester, I experienced what is commonly called the "sophomore slump." I was used to living with at least three other people in my room last year, but now, i was all alone. My two best friends live in other dorms, and i'm not really good friends with any of the other people who live on my hall. This new isolation would keep me up at night, which is the loneliest time when you spend all day alone. The lack of sleep at night would cause me to sleep through my classess the next day. And missing classes can turn into a viscious downward cycle. After missing a week of class, one is reluctant to have to talk to the prof. and explain that she is just a slacker. This lack of wanting to deal with problems then in turn leads to missing more and more classes, which just becomes even more depressing. However, I decided that I did not need the help of drugs to overcome this. Instead I just needed to grow up and face the problems that I myself had created. I didn't even dream of seeing a counselour. I did not want to have to tell my parents that i could not handle my problems on my own. They are European, and were raised in a totally different fashion from any of us who were raised here in America. ADD and depression were unheard of. If the kids did poorly in school, they would have to deal with the wrath of their angry parents. That was motivation enough to pay attention. If someone was unhappy, too bad, that was life.

I realize that things do not work that way anymore, especially in this country. A parent cannot threaten his/her children in order to make them pay attention in school. However, I do not think that drugs are the best or only answer. E. Fulchiero said that "there can be no end to the benefits reaped from a society in which science can provide remedy for the failings of nature." This reminds me of the society created by Aldous Huxley in "Brave New World" where there are no real experiences anymore. Instead, life is a drug-altered stupor that seems pointless to someone who was not raised in that society. It seems to me that our society is headed in that direction. "You've got a problem? We've got a drug that can take care of it." Drugs may be the answer to some of life's problems, but it is not the answer to all of life's problms.

Name:  Christine Kaminski
Subject:  Creating new disorders to treat?
Date:  2003-03-04 02:44:17
Message Id:  4935
As I was browsing the internet, I came across a BBC article titled: "Myth of 'female impotence' created" in which the writer talks about how it has become more and more common to try to treat sexual dysfunction in women, since so many men have been treated already.

Here's the link:

Since Viagra has been so successful in sales, drug companies are looking to recreate that kind of market among women. However, it is entirely possible that this "sexual dysfunction" in women is due to natural changes in their sexual feelings which may happen after childbirth or being with the same partner for many years. There is probably also just a disinterest among many women, not necessarily indicating that there is something medically wrong with them. By producing a drug to "solve" this problem, it creates a mentality among women that says "Hey look..there's a drug out there that is geared to help you with this, you should take it if you have these 'symptoms'..." However, instead it might be better to look into other factors in the everyday life of these women to get a complete overview of what might be really wrong.

This is not to say that I do not believe that medication does help with chemical imbalances and in general some disorders/illnesses. However, I think that this article may shed light to the idea that some disorders can be cured without pharmaceutical medication by looking elsewhere. So while I do believe in the power of the drug, I sometimes feel that they become so commercialized and relied upon that it becomes more of an issue of sales than concern of the human body's condition.

Name:  Jen
Subject:  Diagnostic criteria of ADHD
Date:  2003-03-04 08:51:41
Message Id:  4937
In regards to Cordelia's posting, the diagnostic criteria of AD/HD which can be found in the DSM-IV can be ambigious and require more observation than the medical/ psychiatric community is willing to give to the child being diagnosed. By ambiguity i am simply stating that the diagnostic symptoms of AD/HD are extremely similar, if not identical, to a gifted child. If the acting out is specific to certain situations, the child's behavior is more likely related to giftedness; whereas, if the behavior is consistent across all situations, the child's behavior is more likely related to ADHD.
However, i think that it is hard to diagnose what we can not see (such as a broken arm, wrist, etc.) or maybe what we do not fully understand. I think there can be individual variation in the way that a child acts, her behaviors, i would like to think are unique and i don't think i could feel confident diagnosing a child with AD/HD. I think that it is hard to understand something that we can't physically see, other than behaviors exerted by the child.
Name:  nicole
Date:  2003-03-05 22:12:01
Message Id:  4958
I agree with E. Fulchiero (her posting) that medicine can be beneficial if not abused. However, medicine is often used as a solution to a particular medical problem. For example, there are many obese individuals with high blood pressure. Doctors often recommend a healthy diet, incorporation of exercise into a person's life, and also prescribe medicine. Some individuals don't make any lifestyle changes and instead depend on the medicine to control their high blood pressure. This also holds true for some individuals with mental illness. E. Fulchiero compares diabetics, paraplegics, and people suffering from the common cold and state that they are not frowned upon because of their use of drugs or medical equipment because it improves their quality of life. I think this is reasonable assertion. But this is different from someone who becomes dependent on the medicine. I think all of the above examples are different from someone who had knee surgery and continued to take vicodin or percaset long after pain medicine was necessary. It is different from the depressive patient who relies on anti-depressants rather than seeking medical help to improve their quality of life. Ultimately it is the choice of the patient suffering from a mental disorder to decide if they want to take medicine or live with the symptoms of their mental illness. In my opinion, they should either use the medicine in conjunction with other methods to improve their quality of life (behavior modification or some other form of psychological treatment), or live with their illness, rather than rely on medication to "cure" their disease. The reality is that the medication is not a cure. It's a temporary solution that may ease the burden of living with a mental illness, but unless other techniques are used in with medication, the illness will reappear as soon as the person stops taking their medication.
Date:  2003-03-06 01:47:42
Message Id:  4965
There are people who can lower their blood pressure by using meditation. If that is true, then that means that we can change the signals being sent out by the brain. If we can change the brain, then we should be able to control many other biological processes in our bodies. Can you think of all the possibilities? It is mind boggling. So how does the power of suggestion work? How does it affect the brain - chemically speaking?
From my own experience,... I have suffered from panic attacks. They were absolutely ridiculous. They made no sense. For example, I would be swimming the in the pool and I would starting panicking about the presence of a shark in the pool. I tried all types of rational thoughts, such as: the pool is chlorinated you dumb-ass. How could a shark survive in this environment? Not to mention that it would make no sense for Bryn Mawr College to add a shark to their pool and watch their students being torn to pieces.
Nothing worked. It took months and months of "quite time" for me to grab control of this debilitating illness. Why would my brain signal my respiratory system to breath faster? Why would my heart rate go up? My panic was based on colorful imagination rather than my behavior, or visual input.
It seems like I have a lot of questions and very few answers. But look at the bright side: what if one day we could control the brain through the power of suggestion. We could potentially cure cancer and HIV!!!
Name:  Grace Shin
Subject:  drugs-- are ther benficial?
Date:  2003-03-06 14:54:44
Message Id:  4974
In regards to many of the student's comments on medication being the cure-all: Medication is indeed a source for help for various cases, both physical and mental illnesses. However, I'm reluctant to agree to E. Fulchiero's comment "there can be no end to the benefits reaped from a society in which science can provide remedy for the failings of nature." Similar to what Adina and Nicole said, I feel that medication is a supplement to our own efforts to improve our quality of life. It is a scary thought when you think about a life controlled totally by the medications we take.

In some aspects, i feel like people turn to medications (especially for some of the mental illnesses aforementioned) more because they want to give the control over to the hands of someone or something else (ie. doctor, medicine) instead of taking the responsibility upon oneself to want to overcome this obstacle oneself. Sure, we can say that some people are just not capable of taking this initiative and what not, but I think that's just all an excuse. Working in an elderly nursing home for over 4 years, I've seen people who basically turn to medication more because they have given up trying than because they seriously want to help themselves. Medication helps... and yes, there are just amazing benefits that we have and will reap from the medicinal technology. However, the problems arise when people turn to their doctors and ask for prescriptions merely because they just can't bring themselves to the point where they themselves want to make that difference.

I know someone mentioned obesity, and i agree that some people are predisposed to obesity. However, too often you see these college students, who are obviously not taking care of their body (ie. exercising and eating healthy) and then complaining that they have a weight problem... going on pills to lose weight. When I see that, I want to just shake them and say "Just exercise and quit eating three apple pies every meal!" I know a HANDFUL of friends who always try these diet pills thinking it'll help them control their appetite and what not... but sometimes, you really need to just take control yourself. I know the class hasn't fully decided yet whether we have control or not... but til we do, I am still prone to say that we do have some control over our lives and that free will does exist. And we ARE able to make choices for ourselves without the alterations from pills in our heads...

By the way, this class is getting pretty interesting... and I'm glad that people are being so honest with their opinions!!

Name:  Sarah
Username:  Anonymous
Subject:  Hmmm...
Date:  2003-03-10 21:51:35
Message Id:  5001
February 11, 2003
State Can Make Inmate Sane Enough to Execute, Court Rules

The federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled yesterday that officials in
Arkansas can force a prisoner on death row to take antipsychotic medication
to make him sane enough to execute. Without the drugs, the prisoner, Charles
Laverne Singleton, could not be put to death under a United States Supreme
Court decision that prohibits the execution of the insane.

Yesterday's 6-to-5 decision is the first by a federal appeals court to allow
such an execution.

"Singleton presents the court with a choice between involuntary medication
followed by an execution and no medication followed by psychosis and
imprisonment," Judge Roger L. Wollman wrote for the majority in ruling by
the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Judge Wollman said the first choice was the better one, at least when the
drugs were generally beneficial to the prisoner. He said courts did not need
to consider the ultimate result of medicating the prisoner.

"Eligibility for execution is the only unwanted consequence of the
medication," he wrote.

Judge Gerald W. Heaney, in dissent, said there was a third choice. He would
have allowed Mr. Singleton to be medicated without fear of execution.

"I believe," he wrote, "that to execute a man who is severely deranged
without treatment, and arguably incompetent when treated, is the pinnacle of
what Justice Marshall called `the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance.'
" Judge Heaney added that the majority's holding presented doctors with an
impossible ethical choice.

Mr. Singleton killed a grocery store clerk in Arkansas in 1979 and was
sentenced to death that year. His conviction was affirmed in 1981 by the
Arkansas Supreme Court.

In 1986, the United States Supreme Court held in an opinion by Justice
Thurgood Marshall, that the execution of the insane was barred by the Eighth
Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

Mr. Singleton's mental health began to deteriorate in 1987. He said he
believed his prison cell was possessed by demons and that a prison doctor
had implanted a device in his ear.

In December 2001, he wrote to the appeals court to inform it that he did not
believe his victim was dead and that she was "somewhere on earth waiting for
me - her groom."

Based on extensive medical evaluations describing Mr. Singleton as
psychotic, his lawyers have argued that he is mentally incompetent and thus
cannot be executed. Drugs alleviate his symptoms, however, and Judges
Wollman and Heaney differed yesterday on whether they rendered Mr. Singleton
sane or merely masked his psychosis.

The Supreme Court has held that prisoners may be forced to take
antipsychotic medications in some situations. Prisoners who are forced to
take medications to ensure that they are competent to stand trial are
entitled to a hearing to consider the medical appropriateness of the
treatment, the risk the defendant poses to himself and others, and the
drug's effect on the defendant's appearance, testimony and communications
with his lawyer.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether prisoners may be medicated in
order to make them competent to be executed.

Over the years, Mr. Singleton has sometimes taken antipsychotic medication
voluntarily and has sometimes been forced to take it. Arkansas officials
argued that Mr. Singleton must be medicated because he posed a danger to
himself and to others.

Mr. Singleton's lawyers responded by saying, in Judge Wollman's
characterization, that forcible medication "becomes illegal once an
execution date is set because it is no longer in his best medical

The majority decision yesterday said Mr. Singleton's interest in being free
of unwanted medication must be balanced against society's interest in
punishing criminal offenders. It overturned a ruling by a three-judge panel
of the court, which had commuted Mr. Singleton's death sentence because he
could not understand his punishment without being medicated.

Judge Heaney, in dissent, noted that the majority's decision gave doctors
hard choices.

"Needless to say," he wrote of the majority's holding, "this leaves those
doctors who are treating psychotic, condemned prisoners in an untenable
position: treating the prisoner may provide short-term relief but ultimately
result in his execution, whereas leaving him untreated will condemn him to a
world such as Singleton's, filled with disturbing delusions and

Judge Heaney's opinion was joined by three other judges. Judge Diana Murphy
dissented on a different ground. She said the record was not clear on
whether Singleton was psychotic and that it was premature to take up the

The American Medical Association's ethical guidelines prohibit giving
medical treatment that would make people competent to be executed, said Dr.
Howard Zonana, who teaches psychiatry and law at Yale.

"You can't treat someone for the purpose of executing them," he said.

Jeffrey Marx Rosenzweig, Mr. Singleton's lawyer, said that he was
considering asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case, which
he said presented an important question of constitutional law.

"To what extent," he asked, "can a government take invasive, involuntary
action using medical personnel who are sworn to heal, save and treat when
the result of their medical application and experience is not healing,
treating and saving but instead has the result of causing execution?"

Kelly Kristine Hill of the Arkansas attorney general's office, who
represented the state, said the court's ruling was limited and correct.

"The ethical decisions involving doctors are difficult ones," she
acknowledged, "but they are not ones for the courts."

Name:  Annabella
Subject:  Balance
Date:  2003-03-11 00:50:21
Message Id:  5002
I am very interested in the discussion on whether medication is an effective tool to use for mental diseases, because your vantage point all depends on if you believe that mental disorders are psychological or physiological. Often I have heard the opinion that people with mental disorders can find the root of their disorder in the circumstance of their life. For example, a highly traumatic child hood, a devastating action – and the list goes on. Others opine that we can trace the root of all mental disorders to a chemical malfunction in the brain. Therefore it can be treated with a medication. Is this true? Is happiness just a pill away?

Oddly enough both arguments can find sufficient evidence in today's scientific findings. People who are given placebos do get better, and it is entirely because they fool themselves into it. No chemical balance was restored. However, just as many times those who have been mentally ill for several years are miraculously cured by the latest wonder drug. What then is the correct way to treat the mentally ill? Many doctors today blend a regimen of pharmaceutical and psychological therapy to help their patients achieve balance in their lives. This begs the question, what defines balance? The greatest creators of our history can all be classified as mentally ill. What Einstein's, and Mozart's have been turned into this societies definition of balances individuals? The definition changes daily.

Name:  Kathleen Flannery
Subject:  sk, again.
Date:  2003-03-11 13:22:17
Message Id:  5003
I hate to bring up the dreaded issue of serial killers again, but I think what bothered me most about our conversation in class this past week is that whenever the issue of rehabilitating serial killers comes up, a kind of cynicism sort of sweeps the room. Part of the responsibility of being an educated, conscientious citizen is being objective. Just because something is as it is ("they wouldn't be accepted back into society", "you'd feel differently about trying to help them if a member of your family was killed by one") doesn't mean that's how it should remain. Dismissing the idea as idealistic is a mistake.
Name:  E. Fulchiero
Subject:  more meds
Date:  2003-03-12 03:05:35
Message Id:  5004
Grace stated in her posting that "medication is a supplement to our own efforts to improve our quality of life. It is a scary thought when you think about a life controlled totally by the medications we take."
I feel that this statement addresses the very question initially posed in this course: is there a difference between brain and behavior. I personally find it to be the single most important question that exists today as we are learning to treat a wide range of illnesses. Furthermore, I find it fascinating that we are so able to treat diseases of the brain, which lead to diseased behavior or abnormal behavior (I am disregarding the fact that normalcy is a societally defined term here due to lack of a more accurate vocabulary.) Certainly, I think there is an essential piece of the brain=behavior puzzle missing, which is necessary to illuminate the role which we play in controlling mental health. I have been considering the treatments used for clinically defined depression and have come to no conclusions. I have, however, discovered several facts. First of all, there are several medications available for treating depression. These differ in mode of treatment physiologically and have variable degrees of efficacy for different individuals. I can only conclude that this is further evidence of the differences in brains within groups of patients. Also, I have considered the very active role which patients take in treatment of depression, and I believe that Grace has another very good point: the act of taking an antidepressant is not always enough to provide for its relief. Therapeutic means of dealing are often paired with drugs, which leaves me wondering what exactly is being treating via therapy. What element of the brain is being treated (altered?) by means of that therapy? I also wonder just how important the very act of simply taking a medication to treat depression is in deciphering the human role in determining happiness. Is not the act of taking an antidepressant a very conscious, controlled decision made by an individual? Once again, I am stuck reaching for a distinction between the individual and the brain, which may not be valid to make.

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