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The Inevitable Illusions of Daily Life (book review)

Neurobiology and Behavior is a class based on the desire of the students to explore their existence in the world: how do we interact with our surroundings? How do we interact with each other? How do we act as autonomous beings? And the main goal of the course is to make the answers to these questions accessible to all students. Likewise, in Inevitable Illusions, by Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, the author attempts to help readers understand the universal illusions from which we all suffer on a daily basis. In  so doing, Piatelli-Palmarini unknowingly wrote a book that would greatly benefit a course like Biology 202.

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Food Cravings - Compulsion or Choice

          Everyone experiences intense cravings that distract them from their daily lives at one time or another. Are these cravings an operation of the I-function or can one truly not resist said urges because of a chemical imbalance? There are many explanations for cravings, both physiological and psychological. By definition, to have a food craving is to strongly desire a particular food item, of which the most commonly craved are carbohydrates. Research has been done that shows that when one craves carbs, his/her body is actually in demand of more calories. The carb craving is in reality the result of a feedback mechanism in which low carbohydrate levels lead to low levels of serotonin in the body, which results in a craving. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for positive moods and satisfaction after eating; having low levels of such a substance leaves a person wanting so that he/she may achieve the elation felt when high levels of serotonin are present. Changes in serotonin levels can also explain the uneasiness felt during a craving: lack of this neurotransmitter is found to be a cause of depression, leading one to connect cravings and negative moods: being caused by a deficiency of the same substance, maybe the two go hand-in-hand (1).

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Why Does Pain Tolerance Differ Among People?

            Pain has been a topic of discussion in lecture on many occasions, perhaps because pain is something that most experience, but want to avoid. Though most experience some form of pain, incidents vary in intensity and people’s reactions are of different extremes, as well. Why? What causes these differences in pain tolerance? It was determined in class that pain is the result of certain pattern generators in the nervous system, so it is only natural that one looks to the brain to get to the root of pain tolerance. Research has been done that claims the source is genetic, psychological, or even gender-based. But in fact, this student believes that pain tolerance is the result of a combination of at least these three conditions.

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Addiction: A Disease?

      Addiction is regarded by most as a social problem to be solved with social solutions, i.e. incarceration. But, scientific evidence argues otherwise: addiction is a brain disease. Interestingly though, this clinical condition has both behavioral and social components that need to be attended to, just as other disorders, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s are treated. Furthermore, researchers argue that addicts should be viewed as victims, suffering from an altered brain state, just as schizophrenics are viewed (1).

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