Neurobiology and Behavior, Week 13

Paul Grobstein's picture

Welcome to the on-line forum associated with the Biology 202 at Bryn Mawr College. Its a way to keep conversations going between course meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our conversations available to other who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them. Leave whatever thoughts in progress you think might be useful to others, see what other people are thinking, and add thoughts that that in turn generates in you.

As always, you're free to write about whatever thoughts you add this week. But if you need something to get you started, how good is the "bipartite brain" story?  Does it usefully summarize observations?  Raise new questions that open new avenues of exploration?



ddl's picture


I really liked the idea of the storytelling component of our brain that is capable of confabulating a consistent, elaborated story to make sense of the things that we may perceive with our senses.  I think back to experiences that I've had in my own lifetime and this seems to explain a lot of tendencies which I previously lacked an explanation for.  For instance, when I was a kid, I typically was afraid to go into a particular room in my house because I swore it was haunted.  This assumption was directly linked to the idea that I thought I saw a ghost-like figure move across the room out of the corner of my eye one day when I was there by myself.  It now makes sense that I could have been perceiving something like a change in light from the window and, consequently, in an effort to make sense of this perceived alteration in my sensory input data, my storytelling component made me convinced of the fact that I was seeing the undead.
bpyenson's picture

Levels of Precision

I suppose the most thought-provoking thing we discussed last week for me was that Dr. Grobstein insisted that psychotherapy was the most precise method of altering the mind, followed by drugs, and then surgery.  I was wondering why this hierarchy is inherently so?

One anecdote I can relate with is being drugged up on valium (prescribed pain-killer) before getting my wisdom teeth out about 4 or 5 years ago.  That experience (initiated by a drug, perhaps also partially constructed by my I-function recognizing that I was on a mind-altering substance) was pretty powerful and I would argue mind-altering.  Moreso, I would argue that this experience was more powerful (precise?) than many psychotherapy-type conversations I have had over the years.  So, does precision = potency here?  What exactly does Dr. Grobstein mean by 'precision'.  Is precision identifiying one of those boxes and being able to isolate it from the network of other ones?  Indeed that is a difficult task and I would like to hear a rationale for why this hierarchy of precision exists.

Leah Bonnell's picture

The unconscious and self awareness

I am interested to know if there is a connection between self awareness and unconscious thought. Does a high sense of self awareness also mean an ability to comprehend unconscious thought? I think we have to ability recognize unconscious thought by thinking about why we make certain actions and decisions. Currently, researchers are trying to measure "unconscious bias" by analyzed test subjects' responses to varying situations. After the experiment the test subjects can become aware of their unconscious biases based on race, gender, and age. 

This leads me to wonder how unconscious thoughts become conscious?


Marina's picture

week 13

wrong forum
fquadri's picture

Thoughts on the Bipartite Brain

Overall I can understand the bipartite brain story and accept it. I recently wrote a paper about how the unconscious part of ourselves affects our likes and dislikes, such as our favorite things. Sometimes when people are asked why their favorite movie, book, or painting is their favorite, they respond with, “I don’t know, it just is”.  Are these preferences fueled by the unconscious emotion that the conscience is not fully aware of? I think so for the most part.


One hypothesis I’ve heard of that was proposed by Damasio was the Somatic Marker Hypothesis. It says that emotions can guide behavior especially when it comes to decision making. If emotions and the unconscious can play a huge role in behavior, is this the answer to the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior? Animals are not robots that have a specific output to specific inputs but they have emotions that contribute to their behavior and since emotions are unpredictable, so is behavior.


However, just because I accept the theory of the bipartite brain, it doesn’t mean I’m completely comfortable with it. It makes me wonder how many secrets my brain is hiding from me. In a way, it makes studying the nervous system more intriguing and fascinating. At the same time, it seems a little frightening living with this knowledge even though I know that so far my brain hasn’t harmed me by making up some things and that this may be an evolutionary benefit.

aybala50's picture

story teller

The idea of a story teller in our minds that completes thoughts that don't make sense to us is interesting because it takes the idea of truth to a whole new level. At the beginning of the semester we talk about the fact that truth does not exist, but until this idea of a story teller, I didn't very much doubt my own ideas and feelings etc. Now I realize that my own brain is making up stories to make up for what doesn't make sense, hence my own brain is lying to me. I can't trust my own thoughts and feelings. 
Sam Beebout's picture

sci fi reality?

I have been watching the new show Dollhouse. The premise of the show is that people are programmed with different people's personalities and that they pull from this person's memories and personality. The idea is that when these people are not programmed with their personality they are blank slates, possessing enough base information to function, but lacking any sense of individuality or personality. It seems like this concept of being able to program someone's personality is more science fiction than reality, at least in the way it is described in the show. It doesn't seem possible to just program a personality because it functions as such a complex interaction between different boxes in the brain, indeed it is a fluid construction of the brain that doesn't seem easily removable or transferrable.

I was reminded of one scene from the show after our discussion in class on Thursday. The story about the hypnotized man walking around the table because of a subconscious instruction that the table was there. In the show there is a "sleeper doll" who is both programmed with a personality and programmed defensively to a verbal cue. I think it is possible to program this type of information into a person so that they respond to a stimulus, but don't know or consider why they are responding to it. 

OrganizedKhaos's picture

The idea of memory and the

The idea of memory and the I-function as a storyteller is very interesting. The idea that it functions as a way to "fill-in" the blanks brought a lot of ideas and helped to understand a lot.

I always thought that people viewed stories or events in different ways based upon their cultural influences and other factors but the I-function is part of the reason why I may see an event one way and someone else in another sense. For example two people may remember seeing a car and identify the model the same way but if the color is a vague recollection, the I-function will fill in that blank resulting in the observance or recollection of the same car but in two different colors?  I think this is interesting because often times my friends and Ihave argued about things like these andboth ended up with the wrong answer.

This is a very interesting topic that I think should be studied even more.

drichard's picture

language and the story teller

On Thursday we spoke about the story teller and its relation to language. We came to the conclusion that the story teller is not dependant on language, but that language was a tool with which the story teller could communicate its output. I think this conclusion is imperative should not be taken lightly. It would be devastating to our story teller if it was language-dependant in the modern world as so much of language is broken. Language is often ambiguous (for example, the word "love." what does love mean? many things). It seems that one of the functions of the story teller is to overcome the ambiguity already inherently present in the world so as to afford us coherent realities. If it was performing this function with an ambiguous tool its work would be rendered useless.
jwiltsee's picture

From what we learned in

From what we learned in class, memories are just stories that we are recalling with elaborated details.  We also learned that damage to the back part of the neocortex makes our stories less visual and damage to the middle of the neocortex causes the story to lose its ability to influence body movement.  Is it something to do with the neocortex that allows one individual to have a greater memory than another individual.  Does the neocortex respond differently in people in their ability to learn; that is some people learn better by listening, seeing, or doing the work themself.  Is there a section of the brain that is excited more than another section when someone who is a better listening learner, and this allows them to recall their memory through auditory stories in their brain.   
redmink's picture

What can we ever touch?

I enjoyed reading people’s posts about how personality affects cognitive conscious part of the brain beause whatever information is coming from the unconscious, it will interpret partly based on the personality trait the person has.

My question is,

What determins the range of every individual’s unconscious?

Is it the childhood experience?

Is there a way to control the range of possibilities of the cognitive unconsicous?

I see cognitive unconscious ingredients of some dish and conscious as a cook.  Depending on the cook’s skill and preference, the dish might turn out as Korean, American fusion, or French.  But can we somehow not buy certain ingredients from the beginning?

All I could think of for example is meditation.  By thinking only positive things and allowing positive energy flow throughout the body and the brain, a person can direct his/her unconscious temporarily. 

As we grow and age, which part of the biparte brain is evolving?

What can we touch?  

Crystal Leonard's picture

storyteller and deja vu

Our discussion about memory got me thinking about deja vu. I experience deja vu about once every 2 months. Every time it happens I try to find a way to justify the sensation, but I never have a good explanation. Perhaps the fact that the storyteller creates memories as a way to explain changes in the cognitive unconscious is responsible for deja vu. Perhaps deja vu is a glitch in the storyteller's memory making process in which some input causes the storyteller to create a "memory" out of nothing.
jrlewis's picture

I find the idea of a

I find the idea of a bipartite brain very interesting.  In fact, I was wondering whether or not it might be useful for understanding other mammals.  Horses have a neocortex; therefore, horses have a storyteller element of their brain.  I am curious about the stories horses’ brains tell.  Are they similar or different to the stories human brains tell?  Do the stories about shared experiences between my pony and I convergence or diverge?  How can anyone tell?  It seems that most of our conversations in the course are about the role the cognitive unconscious plays in behavior.  So does the storyteller influence behavior? How?  What sort of experiment would allows us to see the part the storyteller plays?  To interpret something of the horse’s story? 
nafisam's picture

I found the connection

I found the connection between the I-function and feelings to be interesting, in that the basis of our storytelling comes out of a basic set of feelings. In truth, I found this to be quite unnerving because feelings for something or someone can never be absolute. One day you may feel admiration or love for an object/person, and the next day you may not. It seems as though feelings have a fickle nature. I would say that most of how we live our day to day is based on feelings that have no basis in anything concrete, and are most of the time made up. For example, a classmate may state an idea that you feel is inappropriate, and this may change the way you feel towards that person, even though you may not know their reasoning behind stating that idea.
Percival52's picture

Looking back on class this

Looking back on class this week i was also reminded of what we said the first day of class, "there is no truth, there is nothing absolute." I think we came to an agreement that this statement isn't true, or atleast incomplete. It seems that there are things that are true seperate from our perception of them, but we are unable to describe what those things are without bringing our own subjective perception. The next closet thing to those "true" obejects are our feelings. Yes feelings are fleeting but how long a feeling linger doesn't correalate to its validity. Remebering that we have way more then five senses, I see the story teller as a compiler of our multiple senses into one "coherent" reaction or feeling. So when i meet someone and immediately don't like that person, it might very well be because something is wrong with this person, something that i might not be able to put my finger but still something real for me. I think that function of the storyteller is showcased by its ability to update stories while keeping them consistent. If we couldn't remember how we felt when we first met someone then it would be horribly difficult to remember others or unique things about our environment. I also think that their is a dividing line between reacting to actions and reacting to statements. If someone says something innappropiate then you may think about them differently but unless you see a behavior that supports what they said chances are you won't feel any different about them.
ilja's picture

week 13

The cognitive conscious (story teller) and the cognitive unconscious are two different groupings that we have identified in the brain. I’m still thinking about the differences between the two (as in the difference between feelings and emotions for example) and how this affects our lives. How do things end up in the conscious or unconscious? Which part of the brain chooses where the information goes and which part is more important? I understand that there is no complete control of any singular part of the brain but I still wonder how the coordination between the different parts leads to a specific result. What is the combination of factors that leads to an output? Can we say that the conscious factors are more important in certain situations? What situations? I also thought it was interesting how we stumbled onto similar discussions in terms of meaning (leading back to the question of whether something is there if there is no one to experience it) as we did earlier in the semester. I’m curious to talk more about culture and the example of the bipartite brain.

bbaum's picture

I understand the idea of an

I understand the idea of an object not holding any meaninguntil it is given meaning. I think many of the differences that exist betweencultures arise because of differences in the meanings that we place on certainobjects or concepts. This is also the reason that it can be so easy to offendsomeone. For example, certain religious groups put a lot of value and meaningon certain animals that may hold no special meaning for other groups. When anindividual is not aware of the religious significance of the animal, it may beeasy for them to offend the religious group by eating or harming the animal insomeway. The individual never learned to put any significant meaning on theanimal, so it is difficult for her to understand why the religious group isoffended. This is why I believe that education about differentcultural/religious groups is so important. Humans don’t have the inheritability to understand and except every aspect of  all cultures. In order to live peacefully with everyone, weneed to have the ability to see an object in many alternative ways.


I also found our discussion of memory very interesting. Thediscussion made me think of a situation that happened to a childhood friend.She had a dream when she was 5 years old of being taken hostage by an armedrobber in a store but somehow she remembered this dream as reality. For over 10years, she completely believed that this event had happened until she wroteabout it in a college essay and her mother confronted her about the incident.If the I-function is the storyteller and controls and shapes our memory, whywould it choose to remember a terrifying experience that didn’t actually occur?I also wonder how common it is for individuals to have a dream or see a movieand ultimately interpret these stories as fact? It makes me leery about some ofmy own memories, did they actually occur?  

eglaser's picture

the bipartite brain

I must admit that I am not entirely sure of the concept of the bipartite brain. I do agree that there is a structure inside the brain that is similar to that of a bipartite brain but it seems too simple to me. Within a brain there is a conscious mind that is processing data(the story teller), our personality and thoughts(hmmm, do I pick the hotdog or the tofu burger?), there is the subconscious mind (tofu is gross, go with the hotdog), and the automatic controls (heartbeat, temperature etc.). I think that the boxes within boxes model is better then simplifying it down into only two sections. Even if you can divide it into a rough conscious/ unconscious divide, it still feels like there are missing portions of the brain that are left out of that model.
Sarah Tabi's picture

What is a liar?

After learning about the neurobiological foundation behind the storyteller, I started to think about the concept of a liar. What would constitute a liar if we create stories in order to account for changes in the cognitive unconscious for our memory?  We even discussed how confabulators generate stories to make sense of information, so how can one accuse another of being a liar?  Is someone a liar because their story isn't consistent with mine? But then who am I to say that my story is truer than the person I am accusing of being a liar to begin with?
jrlewis's picture

a conscious lie...

Recently, I lied to my trainer, telling her that I had ridden my pony and she was lame.  One the day in question, I had clean out my pony's hooves with a hoof pick, walked her on the driveway, and deduced from her behavior that she was in pain.  I guessed that she would begin limping sooner or later.  My trainer responded by lying to me that she had jogged my pony earlier that same day and found her sound.  The next day, the farrier came, checked my pony's hooves, jogged her, and decided she was definitely unsound. The vet took x-rays and confirmed a problem in her hooves.  So my question is: should I feel guilty about lying to my trainer? 

My story was consistent with the story told by the farrier and the vet.  Since it was not disproven, does that disqualify it from being a lie?  Could anyone have known that I was lying in the absence of this confession?   

Lisa B.'s picture

Week 13

Although Sigmund Freud's theories of the unconscious mind continue to influence modern psychoanalysts, it would be interesting to know if cocaine abuse altered his results. If dreams, according to Freud, are a fulfillment of unconscious wishes, then what is the advantage of a drug, such as cocaine, that alters the nervous system's reward mechanism? If cocaine was a component in many of Freud's case studies, then how could these results benefit modern psychologists? It seems that by using a drug that alters the NS, the user could not accurately determine where their dreams originated in the unconscious. 
jlustick's picture

Story telling, psychoanalysis, and writing

I am interested in the connection between our calling the I-function a storyteller and Freud's conception of the "talking cure" which involves a patient being treated through the construction of a personal narrative. This form of psychoanalysis depends upon a patient actively playing the role of storyteller. What I realized in class, however, is that a person is always a storyteller. It seems that Freud wants the patient to include more of the information in the cognitive unconscious in the storytelling. In other words, storytelling, when performed in a sort of deliberate, introspective way, can be a vehicle for uncovering and making sense of the cognitive unconscious. Freud seemed to believe that a person's sense of self and psychological state depends upon their story...the way they've integrated and woven their experiences together into a kind of coherency. 

As a writer, I was also interested in the idea that storytelling is an inherent part of humans. Writers seem to also tell stories on a conscious level. In addition, writers construct a believable fictional narrator by creating a storyteller that seems real and psychologically reasoned. This idea only affirmed my sense that creative writing requires an enormous amount of psychology.

 Finally, as a writer, I was interested in how the subjectivity and inconsistency of memory relates to the genre of memoir. It made me realize that memoir is only nonfiction in the way that it represents the author's current self. The memories of the past are dependent upon the writer's contemporary storyteller. It seems that the most valuable part of memoir is not in the recount of past experiences but in the expose of a person's "storyteller."

Brie Stark's picture


I was very interested in the discussion on memory today, both because it was a new idea I hadn't put much thought to before and because it seemed plausible.  I watched an interview with a woman who "could not forget," (hyperthesmia, I believe) -- I was astounded as she rattled off small factual tidbits from twenty years previous.  During class, I tried to apply this to the concept of memory telling a 'story.'  It seemed, by observation, that this woman was able to pull newly acquired sensations and apply them to sensations she had 'learned' years ago.  Perhaps there is an "extra" or enhanced connection between this woman's cognitive unconscious and storyteller that allows her to apply/recreate (in effect) information learned in cognitive unconscious many years ago when prompted by her storyteller in the present (when cued by some input/sensory information)?

Paul Grobstein's picture

Post class conversation: objectivity and subjectivity

Is there anything left as "objective"?  Or, perhaps,we could accept a fundamental "subjectivity" and find useful ways to redefine "objectivity" in relation to it?   Objectivity exists as an aspiration because of fundamental subjectivity?   
SandraGandarez's picture

filling in the blanks

While talking about the story teller we learned that it has a strong tendency to make things complete and coherent; this applies to the blind spot in our eyes. It compensates for missing areas in our mind without us even being aware. This seems to beg the assumption that we can go through our lives being completely fooled by aspects around us. We have very different perceptions from someone standing mere feet away. This aspect of our brains causes a significant amount of variation among us, which ties into our discussion of earlier in the year when we were discussing how many brains it is possible to have.  This adds another layer to that already intricate web of information.

This is assuming that the excuses our brains come up with can differ from person to person, like the man looking at the pictures on the wall in the class example. That being said, does our brain fabricate different stories depending on our personality or tastes? Would I use a different excuse for walking around the table then the man in the experiment? I feel like it would reflect our personalities rather than having a normal response, which would be the reason for variations. Are there other possible differences between the story teller in two people?

Bo-Rin Kim's picture

I am intrigued by the idea

I am intrigued by the idea of how personality affects a person's story teller. I know it is true that personality does affect how people interpret an event or interaction they have because I remember learning this in my personality psychology class. In this course we learned that people with different personalities will interpret the same situation in different ways. For example, someone who is neurotic may interpret the event of not receiving a response from someone they said 'hi' to as they were passing by as that person not liking them whereas someone who is extraverted may just think that the person did not hear them and accidentally did not respond. Thus, it seems as if our personalities do play a big role in what kind of story we tell.

This leads me to wonder whether personality is part of the cognitive unconcious or cognitive conscious. I don't think we really control our personality and sometimes aspects of our personalities manifest in ways we are not conscious of (like in the example above, I doubt the people are consciously aware that their personalities are altering how they interpret the event). Yet, we are aware that we have a personality, and have a general idea of what it is like. If personality is part of the cognitive unconscious, this means that the unconscious shapes the conscious as personality shapes what kind of story we tell to ourselves...which is an interesting idea. Are the two really seperable then?