Neurobiology and Behavior, Week 2

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.

Your're free to write about whatever came into your mind this week, but if you need something to get you started, what do you think of loopy science?  which summary of observations on brain and behavior (Descartes and others, Dickinson and others) do you currently prefer and why (authority, observations, culture, temperment, etc)? 

Caroline H's picture

Dickinson and Descartes

I think both Dickinson's and Descartes' interpretations of the brain have credibility to them, but I don't think they should be two, standalone interpretations of the brain, i.e. perhaps neither is entirely correct without the other. 

I feel that this is often the case in psychology, neurobiology, and behavior - one example is the diathesis-stress model used to predict an individual's disposition towards a certain psychological disorder.  A diathesis is the individual's genetic predisposition and the stress can be a combination of various environmental factors.  In this sense, perhaps arguments such as the age-old "nature vs nurture" debate are moot, as both nature and nurture have significant bearing on studies in animal and human behavior. 

Similarly, Dickinson and Descartes could both be right, together.  While the brain's neural networks, chemistry, and specific structures are key in determining many things (e.g. personality, as in the case of Phineas Gage or psychological and behavioral patterns, especially those affected by pharmaceuticals), I agree with Descartes' opinion that our thoughts are neither physical nor physical manifestations of strictly biological processes in the brain. 

rkirloskar's picture

Science and Truth

 

 

I think that science is limited because of its need for observation. In order to study something we need to be able to observe it. Therefore if something cannot be seen then science denies its existence completely. But we already know that there is an entire spectrum of light that the human eye cannot see. The only reason we thought of exploring other wavelengths is because we knew that there were wavelengths we could see. So the wavelengths of the visible spectrum were our starting points. In this manner there maybe so many things that we have never studied, because we cannot see them and there is no starting point for us to even think about their existence. Birds regularly use ultraviolet light to hunt and even to attract a mate. In class we had a discussion about whether animals live in another universe, and I think that we share the same universe; it is only our different abilities that allow us to see a different aspect of it.

            I don’t think that science can give us the complete truth, but I do think that it brings us closer to the truth. An example of this is a problem faced in quantum mechanics. Light is both a particle and a wave that allows us to perform observations. The light particle however is larger than an electron. This is a problem because if we want to observe an electron and we direct a light particle at it, the very act of observing the electron perturbs it. So all we know is where the electron was, and all we can do is estimate where it could be, but we can never know the electron’s exact position. Also we will only know how the electron behaved after it was perturbed, we will never know how it was before we threw the light particle at it. In this way science does bring us closer to the truth, but it never gives us the complete truth. Therefore we can say that there is a limit to how much we can learn.

            Hinduism however, says that it is possible to learn about everything in one lifetime. Science again can only bring us closer to the truth, hence we will be able to learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of something, but we will never know the complete truth. Let’s take water as an example. Hinduism says that we could learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of water, but we will never know how it feels to be water. According to Hindu philosophy, the soul is nothing but energy trapped inside a physical form and when we gain enlightenment through meditation, we are able to free the soul from the body and become part of the universal soul/energy. Since we are now energy, we are able to penetrate anything and gain complete truth.

 

rkirloskar's picture

Science and Truth

 
 
I think that science is limited because of its need for observation. In order to study something we need to be able to observe it. Therefore if something cannot be seen then science denies its existence completely. But we already know that there is an entire spectrum of light that the human eye cannot see. The only reason we thought of exploring other wavelengths is because we knew that there were wavelengths we could see. So the wavelengths of the visible spectrum were our starting points. In this manner there maybe so many things that we have never studied, because we cannot see them and there is no starting point for us to even think about their existence. Birds regularly use ultraviolet light to hunt and even to attract a mate. In class we had a discussion about whether animals live in another universe, and I think that we share the same universe; it is only our different abilities that allow us to see a different aspect of it.
            I don’t think that science can give us the complete truth, but I do think that it brings us closer to the truth. An example of this is a problem faced in quantum mechanics. Light is both a particle and a wave that allows us to perform observations. The light particle however is larger than an electron. This is a problem because if we want to observe an electron and we direct a light particle at it, the very act of observing the electron perturbs it. So all we know is where the electron was, and all we can do is estimate where it could be, but we can never know the electron’s exact position. Also we will only know how the electron behaved after it was perturbed, we will never know how it was before we threw the light particle at it. In this way science does bring us closer to the truth, but it never gives us the complete truth. Therefore we can say that there is a limit to how much we can learn.
            Hinduism however, says that it is possible to learn about everything in one lifetime. Science again can only bring us closer to the truth, hence we will be able to learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of something, but we will never know the complete truth. Let’s take water as an example. Hinduism says that we could learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of water, but we will never know how it feels to be water. According to Hindu philosophy, the soul is nothing but energy trapped inside a physical form and when we gain enlightenment through meditation, we are able to free the soul from the body and become part of the universal soul/energy. Since we are now energy, we are able to penetrate anything and gain complete truth.
 

rkirloskar's picture

Science and Truth

 

 

I think that science is limited because of its need for observation. In order to study something we need to be able to observe it. Therefore if something cannot be seen then science denies its existence completely. But we already know that there is an entire spectrum of light that the human eye cannot see. The only reason we thought of exploring other wavelengths is because we knew that there were wavelengths we could see. So the wavelengths of the visible spectrum were our starting points. In this manner there maybe so many things that we have never studied, because we cannot see them and there is no starting point for us to even think about their existence. Birds regularly use ultraviolet light to hunt and even to attract a mate. In class we had a discussion about whether animals live in another universe, and I think that we share the same universe; it is only our different abilities that allow us to see a different aspect of it.

            I don’t think that science can give us the complete truth, but I do think that it brings us closer to the truth. An example of this is a problem faced in quantum mechanics. Light is both a particle and a wave that allows us to perform observations. The light particle however is larger than an electron. This is a problem because if we want to observe an electron and we direct a light particle at it, the very act of observing the electron perturbs it. So all we know is where the electron was, and all we can do is estimate where it could be, but we can never know the electron’s exact position. Also we will only know how the electron behaved after it was perturbed, we will never know how it was before we threw the light particle at it. In this way science does bring us closer to the truth, but it never gives us the complete truth. Therefore we can say that there is a limit to how much we can learn.

            Hinduism however, says that it is possible to learn about everything in one lifetime. Science again can only bring us closer to the truth, hence we will be able to learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of something, but we will never know the complete truth. Let’s take water as an example. Hinduism says that we could learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of water, but we will never know how it feels to be water. According to Hindu philosophy, the soul is nothing but energy trapped inside a physical form and when we gain enlightenment through meditation, we are able to free the soul from the body and become part of the universal soul/energy. Since we are now energy, we are able to penetrate anything and gain complete truth.

 

ewippermann's picture

Same Universe, Different Species

I agree with Eve's comment: we need to define our terms, even if productivity isn't what we're after. Our discussion topics are focused on everyday words like 'brain,' 'mind,' and 'universe,' but from class, I could tell that everyone else's definitions differed from mine.

And the animal discussion--I think humans are way too species-centric. I read this article over the summer called "Watching Whales Watching Us," and it talked about how whales have started for forgive humans for the damages we've inflicted upon them: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/12/magazine/12whales-t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2 . The author spoke about how 'human' whales seem to be: "Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again." Many of these observations would be cited to prove that humans have not just a brain, but a mind or a soul--but what about whales? They have complex social structures, language, and love. Should we open the Descartes vs. Dickinson argument up to whale brains, too?

This sounds sort of hokey, but I'm amazed at the difference of opinion in the Dickinson vs. Descartes debate. For me, the concept of an abstract 'mind' just doesn't make any sense. I don't get it the idea--you 'think' with your mind? ...which is in your brain? which is part of/equivalent to your soul? I know we said in class that observation can't prove one or the other, but you can open a skull, see a brain, and examine the neurons and connections and see how different behaviors and functions are wired to different parts of the brain. But a mind? You can't dissect that.

 

egleichman's picture

Different Universes, Same Vocabulary

It's hard to talk about anything when we don't define our terms. 

That was maybe the issue with getting the discussion rolling during Tuesday's class.  When presented with the question: "Do we all live in the same universe?" (or, even more simply, "do humans and animals live in the same universe?") we failed in defining what we meant by universe.  This was immediately clear in the sort of vaguely confused and unsure answers that the question elicited.  Some took it literally (Yes, we all exist here, our feet are on the same ground), and others kept the question contained to "the mind" (which also really needs some defining).  Of course that is part of the fun -- contemplating what are meant to be (and are, largely) thought-provoking questions, and perceiving those questions differently from perhaps everyone else in the classroom -- but I can't help but wonder if the abundance of teeter-tottering, unsure answers isn't a result of the elephant in the room: we don't know exactly what we're talking about.  And maybe that's OK, but should we not have the starting point of knowing, at the very least, whether we are talking about (for instance) our physical universe in which we all live and breathe --- or the universes we have constructed in our minds?  If terms like this were clearer, wouldn't our answers be, too?  Shouldn't we start from the same place -- grounded in common definitions of the terms we are using -- in order to understand each other more fully, and use time more efficiently?  

rkirloskar's picture

Science and Truth

I think that science is limited because of its need for observation. In order to study something we need to be able to observe it. Therefore if something cannot be seen then science denies its existence completely. But we already know that there is an entire spectrum of light that the human eye cannot see. The only reason we thought of exploring other wavelengths is because we knew that there were wavelengths we could see. So the wavelengths of the visible spectrum were our starting points. In this manner there maybe so many things that we have never studied, because we cannot see them and there is no starting point for us to even think about their existence. Birds regularly use ultraviolet light to hunt and even to attract a mate. In class we had a discussion about whether animals live in another universe, and I think that we share the same universe; it is only our different abilities that allow us to see a different aspect of it.
            I don’t think that science can give us the complete truth, but I do think that it brings us closer to the truth. An example of this is a problem faced in quantum mechanics. Light is both a particle and a wave that allows us to perform observations. The light particle however is larger than an electron. This is a problem because if we want to observe an electron and we direct a light particle at it, the very act of observing the electron perturbs it. So all we know is where the electron was, and all we can do is estimate where it could be, but we can never know the electron’s exact position. Also we will only know how the electron behaved after it was perturbed, we will never know how it was before we threw the light particle at it. In this way science does bring us closer to the truth, but it never gives us the complete truth. Therefore we can say that there is a limit to how much we can learn.
            Hinduism however, says that it is possible to learn about everything in one lifetime. Science again can only bring us closer to the truth, hence we will be able to learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of something, but we will never know the complete truth. Let’s take water as an example. Hinduism says that we could learn about the chemical, physical and biological aspect of water, but we will never know how it feels to be water.  According to Hindu philosophy, the soul is nothing but energy trapped inside a physical form and when we gain enlightenment through meditation, we are able to free the soul from the body and become part of the universal soul/energy. Since we are now energy, we are able to penetrate anything and gain complete truth.

 

yml's picture

What is science?

These first few classes were very interesting yet overwhelming too. As we talked about it in the class quite bit, most of us were taught to believe science is definite and gives truth. I was a firm believer of this idea. In fact, one thing I really liked about science is that it gives definite answers, unlike many other subjects we learn at school. So when Prof. said that science can provide summaries of wide observations, but not the truth, it came to me as fresh mind, as well as shocking. (Maybe people felt this way when they first "heard" that earth is not flat and it's really round?) I was little sad too, that science can no longer give me definite answers. But I realized that it actually openes up more doors to science and provide me with new ways to think about science. I especially liked the idea of "the crack". Usually, crack isn't a good thing (ex. on wall). But in the science, it provides chance of making new discovery and find new observations. This makes sense!

"Making sense" is another idea that I thought about a lot this week. I believe the earth is round and not flat, because it makes sense. Does "making sense" come from my summaries of observations? It made sense that the science give definite answers, based on my experiences with previous science classes and how I was taught. Now it makes sense that science cannot purely be objective and it cannot give truth, because we had this discussion in the class and it made sense to me. I now have new summary of observation. But then another question comes into my mind: if I learn about new thing but I don't understand or I don't agree, therefore it "does not make sense", then do I not have made new summary of observation?

I am tryign to change my previous views about how I percieved the science, this whole universe, or more in the process of resetting my brain. This is quite challenging and thought consuming, but it truly is an eye opening experience.

cschoonover's picture

Morality

 When reflecting on this week’s discussion, I began to ponder the origins of morality. Last semester in my biology class we had a debate about this very topic in an effort to decide if nature or nurture was the bigger player. We watched a video documenting the abilities of primates to share with each other and work together to open a container of food. After much discussion, we came to the conclusion that both nature and nurture play a role in the development of morals.

 
If this is the case, then is there a part of the brain that is specific to morality? And does someone who seems to have a weaker “moral compass” come from a less nurturing background? Or is it possible that they could have had a very nourishing  childhood? Even though nature and nurture are both involved, it seems to me that one may be more so than the other. And if so, which one?
 
With this idea of the basis of morality, I began to question which story I like better, Descartes’ or Dickinson’s. Initially, I preferred Dickinson’s because I liked that it was supported by scientific evidence. For example, mental illnesses were originally thought to have been diseases of the mind. Now, it has been shown that they are really the result of alterations to the brain that can be managed with pharmaceuticals. But now I’m not so sure. I think the idea of loopy science is appealing here because further exploration may provide more information about morality. The notion of “getting it less wrong” makes science more approachable by more than just scientists and allows for discovery of new ideas. This discovery of new ideas is what draws me to science and I hope that loopy science eventually prevails over linear science. 
Congwen Wang's picture

My view of science

Firstly, some thoughts about the “loopy science”: I agree with the theory that science is not linear, but I feel it hard to accept the idea that “science is unable to establish truth”. When saying so, aren’t we already on the way of establishing some kinds of truth? If the truth cannot be established, then these statements are to be questioned, which means it is still possible that there is the “universal truth”. My personal opinion is that science may not reveal the truth does not necessarily mean the truth does not exist. When we say something is “less wrong” than the other, we can also say it is “more right”, otherwise there would be no right or wrong in the first place. And to me, science is the process through which we understand things more and more right. What we discover now might be far from the truth, but one day we will get to the point infinitely close to truth. Just like 0.9999…=1, at that time, what we establish IS truth.

On the basis of my theory about “truth”, here are some other thoughts: What I found most interesting is the conversation about how our comfort zone can affect our belief. Since neither story can be proven wrong, why do people these days incline toward Dickinson’s view? Is that because of people’s favor in science? For me, it seems that I’m intentionally resisting everything that can be marked as “unscientific”. Although I think the idea that we all have souls somewhat comforting, my “hard science” self never failed to make me believe that behaviors are all about brain. The question “Is it legitimate to establish a theory because it is comforting to us?” is especially intriguing. After our class, I kept asking myself this question. Different from Professor Grobstein’s view, my answer is “no”. To me, science is about getting closer to truth. If a scientific theory cannot help us do so, then it loses its scientific value. If we just need some theories to make us feel comfortable, why can’t we simply become a religious person/philosopher? The truth stands regardless of the comfort/discomfort of any individual; so should science be. (Of course, from another perspective, someone can say I think in this way because the idea of “truth” makes me comfortable. That is probably true, but since our brains are far from fully understood, I would just leave the thoughts here…)

natmackow's picture

Thought and language

In class we talked briefly about thought and whether it was a function of spirit, as Descartes claimed, or a function of the brain. This actually got me thinking about language as it is typically conceived of as being directly related to thought. Parts of the brain have been found to function in language acquisition, speech, word recall, etc. and if language is a function of a material object, wouldn’t that mean that thought is as well?

Does one even need language to think? To connect? I believe that higher functioning animals like dogs and horses are capable of thoughts relating to their surroundings and to past and future events, but they are not capable of language in the way we are. Perhaps thought is just a baser ability; a prelude to language.

How much of language affects the ability of humans to have complex thoughts? How much do alterations to the brain affect the ability to communicate and understand language? Do these alterations affect one’s ability to think, to have opinions?

Damage to the brain in locations that affect language has been known to change one’s ability to communicate and comprehend language. For example, Wernicke’s aphasia is a neurological disorder often caused by stroke. The resulting syndrome is sensory dysprosody, “the inability to perceive the pitch, rhythm, and emotional tone of speech.” (
See Article) Individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia can speak fluently but the language content is incorrect. They use incorrect or nonexistent words while maintaining grammar, syntax, and fluidity of speech. For example, one might say something like “I called the door to bark and she flew before.” Patients usually have difficulty understanding speech and are unaware of their mistakes. Watch this video to hear patients with Wernicke’s aphasia speak. There are examples of individuals who recover from Wernicke’s aphasia who report that they were cognizant but could not control or understand what they were saying and what others were saying.

Individuals with Wernicke’s aphasia perhaps demonstrate that the ability to think abstractly is only partly related to the ability to understand and use language. Could thoughts really be related to spirit, as Descartes suggested? Or are their more observations just waiting to be discovered to explain this phenomenon? I favor the latter notion because I know that there is so much about the brain and how it functions that we don’t yet know.


Congwen Wang's picture

Your discussion about human's

Your discussion about human's language ability reminds me of William's syndrome. Patients with William's syndrome often show an IQ roughly equals to that of little children's. However, they are usually highly verbal and can write sentences in a fairly sophiscated manner.  From what they show us, it seems that forming structured language does not necessarily require a strong ability of thinking.

Raven's picture

Various Thoughts: Loopy science, brain and mind

 This week I found it interesting that many people did not agree with the idea of loopy science as real science. I realized that if I never worked in a lab, I would likely think of the linear science as the definition of science. It comes down to the way science is taught to people in comparison to the way science actually produces the knowledge. If students were forced to look at a microscope slide of cells instead of read about cells in a book, what difference in their view of science would occur, if any?

Furthermore, I find it strange that we use our brains to question the way the brain works, it seems counterproductive.

All humans have brains. Most of our brains are anatomically the same. The neuronal connections are most likely the same.  If we think of our brains as the physical matter, then why/how are we different from one another? Is it really just differences in the firing of the neurons that distinguishes me from the rest of you? To me this fact suggests the thing that makes us have different personalities, and individuality is the idea of a mind(soul) separate from the brain. On the contrary, one could argue individuality in personalities arises from the environment. 

dvergara's picture

Loopy science and Mind vs. brain, or Mind=matter

As an agnostic, I can relate to the idea of loopy science. Agnosticism as a philosophy and ‘faith’ [I consider it my faith, even though for me that includes a lack of belief in a deity] acknowledges that ultimate knowledge is unattainable. So, for me, it has always been obvious that science is not about establishing truth, but about establishing a greater understanding of your surroundings, using your own ideas along with others’ ideas in order to establish that understanding. It was particularly interesting to hear my classmates and professor as well, rant about how their teachers would always force this idea of linear science: hypothesis→experiment→conclusion.  I however, don’t feel that way. These were simply just the basic steps you took to make the process of scientific learning easier. I don’t know if I simply got lucky and had very free-thinking teachers vs. very conservative teachers that would try to convince 9 year olds they were going to find random facts no one else did before; but I was never stuck on the idea of science or scientists, as establishing facts through hypotheses and experimentation. Basically, I always just thought science was something cool, it was about learning new things and possibly shedding new light and new theories on old subjects.  Because I consider myself a scientific thinker, I also particularly like that this view of science allows science to continue forever, that there is no possible end to your growing understanding of the world.

When it comes to the question of whether or not we have a mind that’s not controlled by neurons, hormones, etc. I feel many would leave the answer up to religion. This point was brought up in class, that the uncertainty found in science allows religion to play a role in establishing certainty. However, as I said before, I am agnostic, so, no answer has really ever been given to me.  With my pseudo-religion in mind, my answer to that is that I simply cannot answer the question. There is simply no way to know whether or not there is a mind beyond the matter of the brain. Fortunately for me, I’m ok with that, I find it intriguing.  

 

kdilliplan's picture

Dickinson and Comfortable Science

I prefer the Dickinson model of brain and behavior because it makes the most scientific sense to me.  The brain and its functions can be manipulated and observed directly whereas the soul/mind is only an abstract concept.  I may not have spent any time in a neurobiology research lab, but I am willing to accept that the observations made by people who have done such research are generally valid.  I also think we have an awful lot still to learn about the brain. 
Based on what I have learned about the brain, I believe that it is both necessary and sufficient for the control of every aspect of human behavior. Mechanical functions, senses, emotions, memory, everything.  Brain damage can alter motor function.  Drugs or other chemicals can change senses and emotions.  There is a direct cause-and-effect relationship: alter the brain, alter behavior.  I see no need to include the soul/mind in this model.  I don’t mean to say that the soul/mind can’t or doesn’t exist.  I just mean that it doesn’t necessarily have to for behavior to be explained.  It is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain behavior. 

I was interested in two arguments that were made in defense of the soul/mind.  The first was that there are some aspects of observable behavior that can’t be explained by science but could be explained by the soul/mind.  The other was that it is comforting to think that there is something besides the brain controlling our behavior. In response to the first argument, I don’t see how “We can’t explain this” leads directly to “there must be a soul.”  I agree that the influence of a soul is entirely within the realm of possibility.  I just don’t think it’s very scientific to jump to such a conclusion and then stay there.  In response to the second argument, I don’t think being comforted by an idea is enough to count as evidence that the idea is accurate.  Being comforted by something is a very good reason to continue to try and learn more about it, but I don’t think it should be the entire justification for believing it.   

MEL's picture

  This week I found the

 

This week I found the discussion about Dickinson and Descartes very interesting. I believe that the evidence supports Dickinson’s claim which says that behavior is controlled by the mind. As Professor Grobstein mentioned, pharmaceuticals can control a person’s behavior. So if a person has an immaterial mind, then how can it be controlled by material drugs? Although the evidence supports the fact that behavior is controlled by the mind, I find this notion very discomforting. To think that the brain and its chemical reactions solely control my being makes me feel like I have no personal control over myself. I find Descartes’ theory much more comforting because it makes me feel like I am more than my brain. I have a mind that controls my actions and my thoughts.  I choose to believe in Descartes’ theory because it is comforting to me.

I also found the idea of loopy science very interesting. At first, it was hard for me to accept this new idea of the scientific method. How could something that has been taught to me since I was seven be incorrect?  I have eventually come around to accept the idea of loopy science. It allows for new observations and ultimately creates a less wrong version of science.

 

Hannah Silverblank's picture

"The Feeling of What Happens"

Reading the brain through the lens of Emily Dickinson’s poem seems to me to function as a better summary of accumulated observations than Descartes’. In Antonio Damasio’s ‘The Feeling of What Happens’ (this author also wrote a book entitled ‘Descartes’ Error’ so you can see where this is going...), Damasio writes, “some aspects of the processes of consciousness can be related to the operation of specific brain regions and systems, thus opening the door to discovering the neural architecture which supports consciousness” (15). Following this, he states that “consciousness and wakefulness, as well as consciousness and low-level attention, can be separated” (15), and these observations lead me to prefer Dickinson’s model of thought, since the correlations between behavior and its neural geography seem to be emerging more and more. Damasio goes further to divide consciousness into the “core self” and the autobiographical self,” which at first presents itself as a Cartesian split, but is much more nuanced and drawn from laboratory-generated observations (as opposed to Descartes’ internal observations of self and other, which are highly legitimate but derived form something less scientifically malleable/approachable than Damasio’s observations/source body of information). The “core self,” which is the self existent during “core consciousness” (“a sense of self about one moment – now – and about one place – here... does not illuminate a whole being...” [16-17] and lacks all continuity and repeatability, both features that typically define “The Self”), entails a total absence of identity (perhaps what Cartesians fear?) because it behaves as “a transient entity, ceaselessly re-created for each and every object with which the brain interacts” (17). Its counterpart, the “autobiographical self,” employs “systematic memories of situations in which ore consciousness was involved in the knowing of the most invariant characteristics of an organism’s life – who you were born to, where, when, your likes and dislikes, the way you usually react to a problem or a conflict, your name, and so on” (17).
 
So what’s the difference between Descartes’ “body” and Damasio’s “core self,” and where does Descartes’ concept of mind differ from the “autobiographical self”? As far as I can tell, the workings of the “autobiographical self” – problems such as memory, mortality, identity, character – seem to match up with neurobiological functions more than one would expect. First of all, Damasio’s understanding of consciousness (as a largely biological phenomenon) is what mediates, filers, and even directs the way that emotions are processed, since “an organism may represent in neural and mental patterns the state that we conscious creatures call a feeling, without ever knowing that the feeling is taking place” (36). I feel pretty comfortable in the company of Damasio and Dickinson, but sometimes the classicist in me peeks its head above ground and asks me, “really?” Am I comfortable entrusting my selfhood to biological functions and a layered series of filters that are inextricably mine but not necessarily a product of something I “did,” or some way that I “am”? Can I operate as I always have, knowing that my selfhood may be secondary to the gook in my brain, with my only solace being that it is special gook: My Gook?
To be continued...

emily's picture

Andrew Solomon - Moth Podcast

First, I want to share this story I heard from the Moth podcast that I subscribe to. It is by Andrew Solomon about depression treatments. It is a funny, interesting story so I hope you all listen to it:

http://odeo.com/episodes/23948047-Andrew-Solomon-Notes-on-an-Exorcism

I thought about this story when we were discussing mind vs. matter in class. I agree with the "Emily Dickinson" approach, that our brains are strictly matter. However, I do not think this view excludes the possibility of a "spirit" or "soul", just an "immaterial" one. Our brains may be made of small particles fashioned into elements and making up cells; some may see this as dehumanizing. However, I see this as the reason for the billions of differences we find among each of our personalities. The way in which different molecules interact with other molecules in certain patterns is what makes us all different. We like somethings and dislike others. We have memories that are triggered by certain occurrences. Our moods change in relation to chemicals but also to interactions with other people and even the weather (like Andrew Solomon describes in his story). I find the prospect of little particles interacting and electrifying us with thoughts, feelings, and actions to be so beautiful!

On another, somewhat related note, I have a close friend who in the past struggled with anorexia and depression and currently struggles with crippling anxiety. To say the least, his mind is very peculiar. After our discussions in class, and after re-listening to Andrew Solomon's story, I started to think about all the treatments my friend has tried like different drugs, psycho-therapy, etc. I find it interesting that certain treatments, whether pertaining to mental health or other health issues, work for certain people. This idea supports loopy science! There is no "fact", no specific way that always works in science. Everyone is different, as explained above, and different treatments will work for different people. Science may help to find patterns among the relation of chemicals that could in turn help to establish certain treatments on a practical level, but what works for one person might have a completely different effect on someone else.

aeraeber's picture

Complexity Without Intelligence

Simple is a relative term, in that, to a college student, multiplication is a simple concept, but to a 3rd grader, it is immensely complicated. On the other hand, salt dissolving in water seems like a simple interaction to most people, but to a chemist, it is a complicated process, based on a complex system of rules. Some things that seem simple on the surface are complicated once you learn more about them, but at the same time some interactions are much simpler than they originally seemed once you learn their rules.

I don’t think there always has to be something complicated behind simple rules for “simple things interacting in simple ways.” Certainly complicated things like the human brain are capable of creating systems with simple rules, but such interactions can occur without human involvement as well. Life has changed and evolved based on novel and complicated results of simple interactions, molecules interacting to form proteins, cells interacting to form tissues and organs, and so forth. Certainly there are people who would say that life is the result of a complicated force, of intelligent design, but I am not one of them. Any set of simple rules can create surprising, complex outcomes; intelligence isn’t needed to find the “right” set of simple rules.  Whether or not a pattern or a complicated outcome results seems more based on chance than anything else. In the “game of life” simulation, some of the time randomly occupying 50% of the locations with life resulted in all of the life dying out, other time it didn’t. Which outcome occurred did not have any particular pattern.  Maybe the outcome would change if the rules were changed. Maybe some sets of rules are more likely to produce complex outcomes. Nevertheless, the fact that simple interactions can produce complex results seems to be something that happens without the intervention of intelligence

 

Colette's picture

 I find that loopy science

 

Loopy science more completely encompasses the core meaning of science. This non-constricting view of science seems to more easily allow for changes and new findings, which is a large part of science. As compared to linear science, loopy science more freely allows the possibilities of things to become reality. The common observation is nothing is ever the same and everything is changing little by little. Although predictions may not be initially correct at a later point in time, they could very well be shown to be true.
        
        When comparing the observations on brain and behavior of  by Descartes and Dickenson, I tend to agree with both their definitions. One does not appear to be better than the other because similar to life in general, things are not just black and white.   Physically, organisms are matter that make up the body (brain, neurons, chemical interactions), but it seems to me that these material functions are but a foundation for a “spirit” that takes the material to a whole new level.
Schmeltz's picture

Mindfullness

I've pretty much concluded that I prefer Descartes mind/brain/soul model, because it works for my own personal happiness.  I've been in therapy for awhile now (I think this is okay to just throw out there in the open...I wish it wasn't such a big deal) and the most beneficial part of this experience for me has been developing a sense of "mindfullness", awareness, and presence.  It has taught me to focus in and flush out all the bull shit affecting me.  This experience has suggested to me that it is possible to control the workings of a so-called mind, but perhaps this mind does not have to be distinctly separate from the brain and perhaps it isn't immaterial.  Maybe the mind is embedded in the brain and maybe we do exert an element of control over it.  It is difficult for me to accept the premise that the inner workings of our brain are simply uncontrollable chemical reactions. If I accepted this premise, I feel like I would be saying that meditation, "mindfullness", and any attempt to establish control over negativities and psychological issues is futile.  I do not believe that.  I cannot believe that. Like someone said in class, it is comforting to believe that you have a mind and a soul.  It would be disheartening if it was all brain because it would be accepting that one cannot control thoughts and actions.  This would suggest that drugs are the answer because a drug is a material thing that can allegedly solve material interferences.  It would mean that material explanations and solutions are the answer to psychological issues in all circumstances and that would just be a bummer.  I think humans can alter their minds and transform their perspectives through a will power that is perhaps not accounted for in any material form. However, perhaps the mind is the part of the brain where we have some say and where we have the power to reverse some things and change some of the chemical reactions inducing unfavorable outcomes.  Maybe mind and brain don't have to be such divided ideas.   

 

As for our discussion and description of science, I am satisfied with it.  I think the reformed scientific approach model is the best I have encountered.  I think when science is considered as this unending process of "getting is less wrong", it is more fun, less intimidating, and more approachable.  I have always believed it unrealistic to assume that because this or that has scientific evidence, it is true.  I am always proving theorems in math and accepting them as total truth because I have been programmed to operate in that way.  I wish we were introduced to theorems and proofs as partial truths.  I think it should be acknowledged that this seems to be the best way to prove this so far, and it seems true, but of course there is always room for further inquiry. I feel like my generation is losing that inquiry instinct because we've been taught science and math in a very structured and closed fashion.     

mcchen's picture

 As a Chemistry major, I was

 As a Chemistry major, I was surprised that I accepted the idea of "loopy" science so easily.  When I mentioned the idea of loopy science to my roommate who is also a chemistry major she did not accept the idea at all and was rather concerned about it.  Her major concern was that if science can't establish any "truth" then what exactly are we taught in all our chemistry courses? Were they all lies then? I think that the "truths" we are currently being taught are merely just the current observations/research of the last ten years or so that have been weaved into basic guidelines and presented in textbooks.  There is reason why textbooks are always being updated and new editions every couple of years.  Science is always changing and our interpretation of the observations we make are also always changing as well.

I personally preferred Descartes' story about the brain because if it were all just "neurons/matter" I feel as though we would have a much better understanding about the brain and how to treat various psychological conditions.  While I have not observed the "soul" or anything, I feel that there is a spiritual aspect to it that can be equated to having a religion and certain beliefs.  The idea that the brain is just physical entities makes me wonder why depression can't be fully treated by anti-depressants if it is just a "chemical imbalance of the brain"; here is an article I read about anti-depressants not being able to cure depression: http://www.nature.com/scientificamericanmind/journal/v17/n4/full/scientificamericanmind0806-8b.html.  Even though I prefer one story, I know that the combination of the two stories allows for a broader interpretation of how the brain works and the behavior associated with it.

molivares's picture

"hard" science vs. anthropology, linear vs. loopy

I was quite intrigued by our class discussion on linear science versus loopy science.  From our class discussion, it seemed that our understanding of what science should be inched from the standard linear model (hypothesis → experiment → conclusion) to a loopy model (summary of observations → new observations → implications).  But what I find most interesting is that while the “hard” sciences may be increasingly looked at from the loopy science framework, it seems like the social sciences, like anthropology, are still trying to emulate the “hard” sciences by trying to fit into the linear science model.  
In class, we came to the conclusion that:
    
-empirical knowledge cannot be universal
-science is unable to establish truth
-there are an infinite amount of summaries for any given observation
-science cannot be completely objective, there is always some degree of subjectivity in science (the crack)

These are all tenets that the study of anthropology has adopted and thus early and modern anthropologists have naturally used the loopy science framework in their studies because it is the model that is most accommodating to their line of work.  Yet, the field of anthropology still feels the pressure to try to fit into the linear science model to help legitimize its work.  So what happens when the loopy science model does become the model that is presented to 1st graders in their science classes? Will anthropology realize that maybe they did have it right all along?

 

AndyMittelman's picture

Science is Unable to Establish Truth

        I have been thinking about this week's conversation regarding the purpose of Science. We arrived at the conclusion, “Science is unable to establish truth.” So if we are unable to establish truth, what is the purpose of science? To get some of my thoughts going, I consulted the foremost authority on all things, Google Answers, where the top response for “What is the purpose of Science?” comes from “Aicha” who explained:

 
            Science is basically a systematic knowledge of everything around us. The basic purpose of science is to help people understand this world and their surrounding. It satisfies the natural curiosity of human beings by giving them logical answers.
 
        Aicha’s answer appears to be somewhat on par with our conclusions, however I do object to a few things she proposes. First of all, I am not convinced that science is systematic. “Systematic” suggests objectivity, unidirectionality, and known purpose. As someone (I’m sorry, I forget who) mentioned on Wednesday, science cannot be truly objective. The “Crack” in the scientific process prohibits it. But is this a good thing? I think yes. As science is aimed at furthering human understanding, perhaps it is necessary that it be “tainted” with a human element at its core.
        I agree that humans are naturally curious. Check out this article from the Reasons to Believe Science-Faith Think Tank. While I do not agree with the author that humans are innately curious because God intends us to discover Him, I do agree that humans have a higher level of curiosity than animals or other creatures. Perhaps scientific observation is of little use in their universe. (This suggests the question "Does science only apply to the observer's universe?"...which is a whole can of worms in itself!) But does science provide us with “logical answers?” I would also disagree with this point and instead suggest that it provides us with empirically-supported answers. Sometimes the answers are not logical, or at least not at onset. I would suggest that the evidence comes first and the logic second. When we drop a rock, we observe that it falls. From this experiment, we then search for logic to justify our observations. Only once we have dropped a rock can we then identify the force of gravity and further test it under varying conditions. (What happens if we drop a leaf? How come it does not fall like the rock?). 
        Furthermore, the answers science provides us are not always immediately logical. Remember the science student we talked about- they are rewarded for getting the correct answer. But if all scientific answers were perfectly logical, would there be a purpose to experiment at all? Perhaps it would be called “Demonstration of Known Logic” rather than “Experimentation.”
        Obviously the task of defining science is a difficult one. I will attempt to provide my own definition based on what we have been discussing, and maybe Aicha (and the others at Google Answers) will find it here:
 
Science is a method of testing unknowns through observation and assessment of empirical findings. It is innately affected by the observer, and can provide hints about subsequently observable trends that may (or may not) continue to exist.
Kwarlizzle's picture

Unperturbed

 Perhaps this is a testament to my general lack of interest in a lot of scientific inquiry. I have always held that there was more to life than science and what scientists decide, so I am left unbothered by a lot of stuff. Science also deals with the material world, and not the immaterial, so.....yeah. A brain and a mind/soul do not have to be mutually exclusive of each other.

  The thought of whether there is nothing else but brain was something I dealt with a long time ago (when I came across different philosophies while reading Sophie's World) and came to the conclusion that the brain exists, and so does a mind, a soul, a spirit (Just ask Asaase Yaa and all the people at the Nogokpo Shrine).  

This conclusion was also reinforced by religion (I'm Christian) and my own personal experience. And since what I have experienced in my lifetime has always been more important to me than what scientists say or what the general consensus in the scientific community is, I am pleased to let it rest at that. 

 

lfrontino's picture

When considering which story

When considering which story I felt the most comfortable about, Dickinson or Descartes, I realized that I'm not really sure which I believe. Although I feel more comfortable with the idea that there is more to our personalities and identities than chemicals and matter and thus favor the Descartes version, I realize I have no evidence backing this claim. I merely choose to defend it rather than succumb to the idea that my thoughts, actions, and ideas are simply a combination of chemicals and signals. When we discussed the reasons for the Dickinson story coming more into society's favor, I found myself almost begrudgingly agreeing to some of the points. However, it is true that alterations to our nervous system will affect our personality to a point and therefore there must be some deep connection between our sense of selves and our brain. I think about those who suffer from memory loss and brain trauma. Do victims of Alzheimer's still have an inner sense of their identity?

 In doing this activity, I learned more about myself and my own tendency to defend my own ideas quite blindly rather than consider a possible other side to the story or think of a compromise. If I look at both explanations from a completely honest point of view, I would say I favor a combination of both ideas. Our brain and nervous system make up who we are. Different combinations of neurons and chemicals must make up for alterations in personality. However, I still can't shake the feeling that humans have a so-called 'soul.' Therefore it is quite logical for me to decide to adopt a combination of both the Descartes and Dickinson theory. 

Saba Ashraf's picture

Descartes vs. Dickinson

When deciding whether I agree with Descartes or Dickinson, I like to believe in Descartes’ belief more than Dickinson’s.  Although I do agree with Dickinson’s argument to an extent because of all the scientific progress that has been made, I don’t like to think that everything comes from matter.   However, the reasons for why Dickinson’s argument is becoming popular were very convincing.  The idea that altering the nervous system can alter behavior was particularly interesting. It is surprising to hear that altering something physical, the brain, could have treated something that was thought to be part of the mind years ago, such as epilepsy.  In fact, those with epilepsy and schizophrenia are probably relieved that these illnesses are no longer looked at as problems of the mind since generally problems of the mind are a lot harder to get rid of than problems that has a physical origin to them.  I would also imagine that this particular idea about altering the brain gives hopes to those with other mental illnesses that don’t have proper treatments currently.  Despite all of this, I still want to believe there is a lot more to a human being than just their brain and body.  Just as other’s have mentioned, it is a lot more comforting to believe in a soul living after death than a physical body after death.   Even though Dickinson’s argument is becoming more popular due to the observations we are able to make of the brain, there is still possibility and time for more to be discovered about the “soul” and “mind.” We have much more to learn and perhaps in the future, Descartes’ argument will become more popular.  

Jeanette Bates's picture

Descartes v Dickinson

             I like Descartes’ idea better than Dickinson’s idea. Dickinson believes that everything is a construction of the brain. Having everything be a construction of the brain means that everything we are-like our behavior and morals-is solely determined by the brain. Strictly speaking, I think that Dickinson’s language is beautiful. The brain can create and explore an infinite amount of things. However, if the brain is all that we are, if it completely constructs our reality, then it leaves little room for morals. If our brain is everything, that means that our actions are determined solely by our brain. Since we cannot control the way our brain is constructed, this would seem to mean that we couldn’t even control our actions. This would mean that we wouldn’t have to take moral responsibility for our actions. It bothers me that there wouldn’t be any external influence on our behavior because I want to believe that our actions aren’t solely based on something material. I like believing in the idea of a soul. I also feel that if there isn’t another force determining our behavior besides the brain, it is hard to argue for the idea of free will. If the way our brain is made, which we can’t control, is the only thing that determines our behavior, then it seems like we don’t have the ability to control what we do. I would like to think that we have that ability. It is for that reason that I like Descartes; however, I do not agree with him. I believe in Dickinson’s idea. There have been many cases where “normal” people with “normal” personalities have suffered severe brain damage, specifically in the frontal lobe, and then had complete changes in personality. I would again like to bring up the fact that people with “normal” brains would press a switch that would have a train kill one man in order to save five men, but would not push a man in front of that train in order to save five. Those with damaged frontal lobes didn't see a difference between the two situations. The observations that I see cause me to infer that the activity of someone’s brain completely determines how they act. The brain even determines what they think from a moral perspective. My thought on this, therefore, is that I like Descartes’ idea, because it is comforting, but I agree with Dickinson.

kgould's picture

 I've been dealing with

 I've been dealing with anxiety issues since middle school and have only recently been diagnosed with mood disorders-- the treatment I receive now is effective; I take anti-depressants and, PRN, a drug that helps stop panic attacks. All of my symptoms are largely controllable now, but in extenuating circumstances I still have anxiety symptoms, disassociating from my body and panicking as a result.

And I think that is one of the reasons why I really like Dickinson's point of view. Other than my general lack of spirituality, this depersonalization, where I feel like an observer of my body and of the things around it, terrifies me in anxious situations. (This is kind of like a trance-like state; everything feels foggy, swimmy, I often experience dizziness or vertigo.) Likewise, I have intense daydreams in moving vehicles that makes me feel unattached to my body. Staring out seems to initiate these moments sometimes, which can be from reading a book or using a computer. (These moments are not as scary because they do not seem to come on by themselves.) I hate those spontaneous moments where I lose control of myself. Everything feels like a dream, like nothing is real. In those moments, I don't know if I am... anything. But by using different techniques, including reciting a mantra in my head, I am often times able to pull myself back into my body.

I do not want to be a body and a mind. Those dissociative moments terrify me and make me feel less real, less in my skin. I know it sounds like I should be embracing Descartes idea because of these experiences-- that I seem to observe the separation between the material and immaterial. But that's not how I feel. I like being a whole, entirely physical being. I find the idea comforting; it's what pulls me back into me. Sometimes I need a shock to my system, like cold air or plunging my hands into icy water. When I am me, I am real

To meditate does not mean to fight

with a problem.

To meditate is to observe.

Your smile proves it.

It proves that you are being gentle

with yourself,

that the sun of awareness is shining in

you,

that you have control of your situation.

You are yourself,

and you have acquired some peace. 

  -  Thich Nhat Hahn

 

This is the mantra I recite. I think it may have some interesting significance with our course, and I felt like sharing it. 

These are not the only reasons why I think I align mostly with Dickinson, of course, but when I tried to pin down why I felt more comfortable with "just brain," this is what came to mind.

emily's picture

your post was moving -- thank

your post was moving -- thank you for sharing it with us!

Riki's picture

Dickinson's animals

I don't quite understand the poles toward which we are gravitating. Rather, my belief lies between the two -- one has a material body with a material brain that generates material thoughts, which compose a seemingly immaterial mind (I think mind and soul are interchangeable terms, but I prefer mind); however I do believe the mind has an entirely physical basis, which probably means I'm in the Dickinson camp. I also like her explanation better. The idea of there being an immaterial part of me actually makes me feel less comfortable and less connected with the universe.

I was perplexed in class on Thursday when some people said they didn't think animals had minds or thoughts, because I have two pet rats and firmly believe that they are little thinkers. I read this interesting National Geographic article on animal minds. It raises the question of what intelligence is and gives examples of studies that showcase animal cognition. I don't know how else to explain the animals presented in the article or ones like Koko the signing gorilla and Chantek the signing orangutan other than to conclude that some animals have conscious minds. To think that humans are the only conscious beings on this planet seems implausible to me.

Lauren McD's picture

Contradiction

I thought it was interesting in class how we only discussed which option we LIKED better: Descartes' or Dickinson's. In my case, the option I 'like' better and what I truly believe in contradict. Descartes' theory is more appealing to me because I believe it holds more comfort, which was mentioned in class. People prefer to believe in a soul, or anything besides the biological and chemical processes in the human mind. It is a comfort because if we really are only made of matter, we have the same ultimate fate as everything else on Earth. And while humans are selfishly known to believe they hold higher significance than other organisms and material objects, it is natural to want to find comfort in a soul not associated with matter, an afterlife, a higher power, or a significant purpose in our lives. I really want to believe in the human soul existing outside of matter because I prefer this option to the other. However, the logic in my mind is more persuasive than my hopes; I must admit that I actually believe in Dickinson's theory. Not everything humans achieve can be explained by science now, but I believe over time, we will gain higher and higher understanding of processes that many people attribute to the 'human soul.' But just because our minds are made of neurons does not mean that we don't have 'soul-like' qualities.  We didn't discuss what people actually mean when they refer to the 'human soul,' but I would describe it as an entity that encompasses our complete essence, existing after we die. I don't want to get into what happens to the soul after death, but I can certainly accept the soul as our 'total essence.' But why can't the soul be the outcome of the actions of matter, such as countless neuron firings?  In conclusion, I believe that the human soul does exist, but it can be explained through material things. This is not too discouraging to me because this statement doesn't disregard a higher purpose in our lives. While I would like to believe in the supernatural, I am forced by logic to believe everything can be explained through matter.

Jeanette Bates's picture

Agreed...

 I just want to say that I agree completely and pretty much said as much in my own response. I like Descartes, he makes me for more comfortable, but the observations that I have of the world cause me to agree more with Dickinson. 

gloudon's picture

simple things in simple ways

 It seems to me that as humans, we should like simple descriptions of simple things.  However, it seems that some things are so simple that a simple description for how it works is just too scary for us to accept.  If you think of death for example, could it just be explained as people wear out, their body stops working, they die and decompose.  However, death seems like such a huge deal to living people.  Rightfully so I guess, because we spend so much time focusing on life.  When we are born, we have no clue about the world, and spend years figuring out how to move around and communicate with others.  Then, we spend a few decades being educated.  Toward the ends of our educations, we start the extreme worrying about what we are going to do with our lives, how we are going to make money and thrive.  And as we become working adults, our worrying just digresses to less and less important things, such as which electric company will charge me the least, or when am I going to file my tax returns?  It seems to me that there are older, retired people who start to see the importance of living again, as death is approaching.  But really, who wants to hear the simple explanation that all of this ends one day and your next job will be rotting.  A simple explanation to a simple thing like death is scary.  With a simple explanation of death like this, it would seem as though you spent almost 100 years running around and then one day ran off a cliff.  There is no dramatic ending, there is no better place, their is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? 

Therefore, I think that in some cases, complicated explanations are needed to justify the energy we spend building up to them.  For our own sanity, we need these complex stories of afterlife, heaven, and rebirth to keep doing what we do during life. 

mcurrie's picture

Matter and Mind

 Looking through my notes and how society is leaning more toward Dickinson view of the brain as matter instead of Descartes view of the brain and the mind. Society has made many discoveries of using drugs and chemicals to treat certain neurobiological symptoms. Seeing that instead of treating a person's spirit it is better to treat their physical body. I was thinking about other inventions that have been created over time making us more dependable on matter instead of the spirit or soul. But how did we come up with these inventions? Maybe it's just for the money or maybe it;s the passion the excitement, etc. What if the push behind making new discoveries is our mind, the soul, the spirit trying to find new understands instead of matter making us pursue the new realms we have yet to explore. Personally I like to agree with both Descarte and Dickinson in that yes we have a brain, neurons, all of the matter that makes our body function and all of the chemicals that interact with other matter that we can manipulate. But I also feel that we do have a soul or mind that also contributes to how the body works. I just can't seem to grasp that everything is just matter and that all that we think and create is due to chemicals coming together and saying You know what you should try to make, something that flies, or you know that bouncy ball could go in a hoop and you can make a game, yes and wonderful game that is fun and new. I just think that there has to be something else behind our thoughts, something else that is behind our thoughts and pursuits. It is the mind and spirit that makes us question and explore, brings out our passions. I just feel that if you say everything is just matter it makes everything seem one dimensional whereas if you then add the mind there is much more excitement and much more things to explore. 

Paul Grobstein's picture

Descartes et al vs Dickinson et al (and other sundries)

Interesting conversation this morning.  Thanks all.  A couple of things that came out of it that I want to mull further ...

Methodologically, there was a nice reminder of the tendency of all of us to justify one's own preferred story by attacking alternatives, and that's worth thinking more about in terms of the brain.  If it is accepted that there is no observation that disproves either Descartes et al or Dickinson et al, why favor attack over .... simply stating the merits of one's own preference and leaving it at that?  How would either a Descartist or a Dickensonian account for the common inclination to try and eliminate unfavored alternatives from the field of play? 

More generally, I was greatly intrigued by the fact that three different characteristics were cited by both Descartists and Dickensonians as reasons to favor their own positions:

  • more open to future possibilities/explorations
  • more amenable to agency/control
  • less self-centered, egotistical

It hadn't occurred to me before that each these could be used to favor either position.  Its a nice piece of brain (mind? soul? spirit?) exercise to get one's head around that.  What, I wonder, is the difference that would cause some people to see Descartism as favored by any of these and others to similarly see Dickensonionism? 

I trust everybody recognizes that Dickensonionism reflects my story/summary of the observations that are Dickinson's poem, and that other stories/summaries of those observations are of course possible?  See Schmeltz for more along these lines.

Sorry about forgetting to put a Phineas Gage link in the course notes (have corrected).  Here's the recently discovered possible photo of him and some background in an accompanying articles.  For more on Gage and modern work related to his case, see Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error.   Another relevant classic case that is being revisited with current technology is that of H.M., who became amnesic after surgery for epilepsy.  See here.  

Toward the end of class today, someone raised the issue of whether you needed something complicated to create the rules for the "simple things interacting in simple ways" that we look at.  Let's talk about that more here if you're inclined?

 

meroberts's picture

Simply Complicated

Do we need 'something complicated to create the rules for the "simple things interacting in simple ways" that we look at'? It is never enough to say something is simple and leave it as it is. Language, the assignment of arbitrary symbols and words to objects and feelings, is seemingly simple. But when people try to classify it, it gets complicated. Rules are always complicated. I babysit a young boy and every time we play a game (especially if he's losing) the rules get complicated. Perhaps he isn't old enough to appreciate simple explanations, or perhaps his perspective of the world isn't quite as simple as mine. The point is, explaining the theory behind a game of Tag shouldn't take longer than it does to play the game, right?

Maybe not. Maybe I think the game is simple because I already know the (complex) rule system associated with it. Does knowing the rules help individuals perceive the outcome as simple? My friend recently sent me this article: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/brain-mapping.html

People have been working for decades already trying to map, or create, a structure analogous to the nervous system of a C. elegans, the nematode responsible for much of the breakthroughs in our commonly shared understanding of modern neurobiology. By creating this map of neuronal activity in the nervous system, scientists are creating a complex set of rules with which they will ultimately be able to explain, and maybe even predict, behavior. The article states that, "Mapping the millions of miles of neuronal “wires” in the brain could help researchers understand how those neurons give rise to intelligence, personality and memory, says Sebastian Seung, professor of computational neuroscience at MIT." Here is an excellent example of how scientists are using something complicated to create understanding about seemingly simple things, like personality and memory. Perhaps this will lead to new discoveries of the potential of the human brain/mind to construct our own realities, which in turn are influenced by our personalities and memories. Maybe scientists will even determine the specific neurons (probably somewhere in the frontal lobe) responsible for personality, and the personality change exhibited by Phineas Gage as discussed in class.