Articles was another thing I forgot to mention. If I find anything I'll link, and if anyone knows of any interesting articles then please do post them.
InC: Somewhere along the line we'll have a lecture on dreams and the brain, I can raise the question there about the brain's ability to process a lot of information in a very short timespan. Too bad the lectures are about 2-3 weeks apart each time.
There was the article esper posted in another thread (deja-vu): http://www.crystalinks.com/holographic.html
It's a new approach I find very interesting.
Anyway, so here's a summary of the first lecture:
A little about the brain: The brain has about 1,000,000,000,000 cells, called neurons. Each neuron can make connections with 1000 or so other neurons. This forms the nervous system. Obviosly, with so many neurons and connections, and if we assume that a different nerve structure is what affects personality, thoughts, knowledge, then it's easy to see why people are so different - the number of possible nervous system structures of the brain is huge.
One of the main subjects that Brain Studies delves into is the "mystery of body and spirit". People are all made of the same kind of matter, the same basic building blocks, as the rest of the universe, including inanimate objects. There is an important difference between them however - since the objects follow the strict rules of physics in our universe, if we know the state of an object at the current moment, we can succesfully predict precisely where this object will be in a minute. If you hold a pen up and drop it, you can predict it will be on the floor a few seconds later. Humans, however, are unpredicatble. If a person suddenly makes a decision to do something, they can. We are limited by the laws of physics, obviously, but we have free will, and this allows us a lot of control over where we will be and what we will be doing a minute from now.
So, where does this free will come from? Supposedly, it's this part of our body, this spongey organ inside the skull that lets us THINK, excercise free will and make decisions.
The problem here is understanding how an organ made of matter like anything else gives us this ability to think. At the base of this "body and spirit" problem lies the contradiction between the brain as a part of the body, and the soul, the spiritual part of our minds - conciousness, thoughts, personality and feelings.
There are 5 approaches to this problem:
1. Materialistic approach - Matter is everything, everything is matter. The soul is an illusion.
2. The soul lies within the brain - In order to understand the soul, you must only understand the brain.
3. The soul and the brain are seperate studies that can't be described using the same set of and terms. It's best not to combine study of the two things.
4. The brain lies in the soul - Understanding the soul will allow us to understand the brain.
5. Idealism - Everything is the soul. It's impossible for us to think about what we don't think about (kinda like the beatles song
, now that I think about it. There's nothing you can do that can't be done, nothing you can know that isn't known). Basically, we are trapped inside our soul, we can't conceive of anything outside it.
An idea was raised that the soul does not neccesarily lie in the brain, but in other parts of the body (I believe the person who said it was implying genitals. which, actually, isn't that far fetched), or perhaps in the body as a whole. I once read about a heart implant that was said to have changed the person's personality. It could have been the trauma from the organ transfer that caused the change, but it could be that some of the "soul" is in other organs.
Notice how a lot of things "could be". This is where philosophy was brought into the discussion officially. As I was in a philosophy course last summer, in the same university (Tel Aviv) the points were familiar to me. He presented it like this:
A long time ago there was a man named René Descartes
, who said "I think therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum). In his book Meditations
, he proved, using logical reasoning alone, that everything can be doubted, except for one thing. As mentioned in another thread, questioning our beliefs is a sure way to make them stronger, or find things we believe in more.
But doubting beliefs is obvious. Now, it may seem trivial to you, for example, that you are sitting in front of a computer screen right now. You don't have a reason to doubt that. But some hours ago, I dreamt that I was sitting at the computer looking at the screen. I was completely certain that the screen was there in front of me, very real. But in fact, this was only a dream. Ok, so I can doubt that the screen in front of me is there. But at least I'm sure that this is my body, my hands and my feet. Right? But then, an hour before that dream, I was dreaming that I was a unicorn with wings, flying over purple lakes. What if I really am that unicorn, and right now I'm dreaming that I'm a human with hands and feet?
So I can doubt my body. What about maths? If I ask you how much is 2+2, you'll say with full certainty 4. And how much is 367*452? Not so sure now? What is the square root of 205,067? If you try to work it out, do you agree that you stand the chance to make a mistake? What if when you say that 2+2=4, you're making a mistake? It's possible. *
What is there left that is undountable? And Descartes came to the conclusion that "I doubt everything, but I can't doubt the fact that I doubt." A paradox led him to the only certain thing. If you doubt, then you must think. And, cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore I am, I exist.
Later he goes on to prove the existence of god using logic, but I don't know the details as to how he does it. The book is supoosed to be a fairly easy read.
Some ways to study the brain and the different parts - studying people who have hurt a part of their brain and how this affects them, brain scans, psychological study (the movie "Rain Man" was mentioned, I haven't seen it but I know it's about a guy with some psychological disorders including OCD).
Moving on to some of the parts of the brain, there is the Central nervous system (the brain in the skull and the spinal brain), and the Peripheral nervous system (nerves in the rest of the body, such as around the intestines). The brainstem is responsible for all the basic functions needed for survival - breathing, the heart pumping blood through the body and our conciousness. The Lmbic system is respinsible for our feelings, personality and thought. The passing of information and the effects of hormones are also part of that system. There's the large brain, Cerebrum, and the small brain, Cerebelum. The small brain is connected with small things like the way we stand. Reflexes, like the famous knee-hit-causes-leg-to-jump thing, are handled in the level of the nerves that are around that area, so unlike insticnts, they do not come directly from the brain.
On the second lecture, which was less about brain and more about addiction and the different effects that drugs have on people, both physical and psychological, a thing called "satisfaction cicrcles" was brought up. Apparantly, when we experience something that causes us pleasure, from hearing a complement, through running into an old friend, to taking a drug, an actual, physical circle is created in a part of the brain. After one experience, we will seek the same experience to fulfill the existing circle's needs. This is an addiction to satisfaction (dopamine is produced when we do or experience anything positive, and that causes the feeling of satisfaction or even euphoria). An interesting notion, since this means that we might be addicted to anything we take pleasure in and would like to experience again. The difference, of course, is the ease of stopping, and in the feeling that you can't survive without what you're addicted to. Withdrawal symtoms aren't severe when stopping an addiction to, for example, swimming.
* A note on doubt: Sure, we can doubt anything and everything, all that we were sure was true could be a lie. As the lecturer so nicely put it (though I think it was accidental), 3000 years ago or so, the world was flat. Now, the world is round. Why is it so? We say we can prove it, we have photographs. But isn't there the possibility that we are wrong? So the world, round or flat, is what we make it, what we decide it is.
If we decide to doubt everything, though, we cannot make any kind of progress. It is equivalent to walking into a dark room and trying to understand, from nothing, what is there. In order to make some kind of progress, we need to build on things we now consider facts, even if it is to discover later that they are false.
Brain study is a relatively new field that is quite "in" right now, and no surprise since now we have the tools to study it, and the desire to understand ourselves better draws us to this subject. There is so much we don't know yet, which makes this field somewhat philosophical in nature.
Here's a little experiment I'd like to do, not directly related to this lecture but I read about it somewhere:
Try, for one whole minute, not to think about white polar bears. Think about anything you like, just not polar bears. 2..1.. Go!
How'd it go? When I tried I managed to block them out part of the time but the fact that they needed blocking out was in iteself counted as thinking about them. When I did this to a friend I gave her 10 seconds, and she managed pretty much not to think about polar bears, but she kept laughing all through the experiment because of how hard they were trying to get into her thoughts.