Saturday, September 22, 2007


What I found the readings of this week to emphasize is the hierarchical and the complex entanglement of the brain’s systems. We learn that the brain is organized by specific sections, which themselves sectioned down to the smallest degree of specialization. There are the large divisions of the forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain, left hemisphere and right hemisphere. And then there are the more characterize sections of those general areas like the occipital lobe, pariental lobe, and vestibular lobe. Even lobes are composed of even smaller systems of synapses and particular neurotransmitters, which communicate very specific processes. Despite the divisions in the brain that Le Doux and Hirstein explain, the authors as well as the case of Zasetsky demonstrate the interconnected nature of the brain. The various circuits of the brain have a huge communication network that makes it possible for humans to understand the infinite intricacy of the world. Zasetsky makes it clear just how important having these specialized processing systems is and how essential it is for those systems to have lines of communication. The specific circuits act as a way to process and comprehend a multitude of object, images, language, ideas, problems, etc. in the world. By assigning an anatomical and biological hierarchy to specific systems basic human survival is protected. It ensures that if a human were to suffer from brain damage their more superfluous brain functions would be sacrificed before the systems that make it possible to live.

Such is the case for poor Zasetsky who can still eat, sleep, have a heart beat and such but can no longer understand the world. In some ways, as Zasetsky also conveys, it is almost worst to be living and breathing in the world but not a contributing member, only a body of a person, than to be dead. It is a dilemma that arises when talking about neurological disorders. What toll does the illness or disability take on the person? Is it possible to be physiologically and emotionally resilient? What changes in a person’s spirit because of a mental illness? Is it really worth living if you are a “shadow of a person” as Zasetsky?

I believe it is at this point where philosophy and science do not meet, like Hierstien illustrates how they interact. He conveys that the two disciplines influence each other and that in fact neuroscience originated from philosophy. Heirstien also notes that many other disciplines like the arts and humanities come into play when thinking about mental disorders. The readings to an extent approach and exemplify this by including narratives, scientific reasoning, and more philosophical debates. They also act as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of the brain in this way. We see that must draw upon varying fields, like drawing upon varying circuits in the brain, in our attempt to answer the questions that rise out of neurological disorders.


Molly said...

Hey Maggie,
You are definately right about all the specifics in not only these stories but also in the brain itself. Which makes me wonder why in 'The Case of the Colorblind Painter' Mr. I does not dream in color?
If he was once not colorblind why isn't he still able to think and dream in color? Very strange, and I think that is the saddest part of it all.
Taking aways someone's day to day routine is completely different than taking away someone's fantasy of what might or could have been.
When you ask, 'What toll does the illness or disability take on the person?' and 'Is it possible to be physiologically and emotionally resilient?' The first one leads to the next, the toll that these illness' take on someone leads them to the choice of whether or not they want to face the illness by becoming both emotionally and physiologically resilient. It is an adaption that is apart of humanity. We were created to survive in many different conditions and situations and that is why when we are taken out of our comfort zone, though it doesn't seem this way, we adapt quickly and naturally. I think it is the routine of the mind that has more trouble rather than the body.

When you ask,'What changes in a person’s spirit because of a mental illness?' I think the answer is in the individual, maybe everything changes, or nothing changes, it is relative to the want of overcoming the illness, and not overcoming it, living with it. Mr. I found he liked going out more at night. This would brighten his spirits when engrossed in the night, and since night could be 12 hours in a day, he found a way to thrive in that time frame. Similiar to the dealing that John Hull experienced as he described it as "a dark, paradoxical gift," a "concentrated human condition... one of the orders of human being."
Yes, they may never see in color again and might forget what that feels like. But us the 'norm' we will never experience an intense night where everything is poignant and distinct. It might be us that is missing out. And I think finally to contrast living with an illness with a struggle brings to your question about Zasetsky. 'Is it really worth living if you are a “shadow of a person” as Zasetsky?'
Everyday of his life is devoted to trying to figure out himself and through his writing and his story he has taken great strides. Whether it would be compareable to what his life would be like had he not the injury he would be making strides and changes in other directions. Perhaps in his career or his family. I know it seems unfair to equate to something like a 9-5 job because this is his life 24 hours, but he is still trying to figure it out, and if living in his shadow of a person means that he has the ability to express that he is living in the shadow of a person his words are profound and his thoughts in the situation even moreso. To this question I would ask Zasetsky what the definition of shadow is.

Patrick said...


I'm not sure if I agree with what you've taken from the readings. The interconnected nature of the brain is important, but is illustrated to be a redundant point by many of the readings. It's very NATURE is to be interconnected, and to view connections between specific areas as eminently important can lead to unjustified conclusions, as a physical connection does not necessarily imply a profound or predictable behavioral outcome.

You also said in your post, "It ensures that if a human were to suffer from brain damage their more superfluous brain functions would be sacrificed before the systems that make it possible to live." This is indeed what happened to Zasetsky, but the brain is a fragile thing, and the brain stem and lower brain functions are in many cases just as vulnerable and fragile. I don't believe that the brain was built up by evolution in order to protect the lower functions, but rather to build upon them as higher functions became available and important. And this would be the reason for the brain's structure, rather than any protective basis.

The general sentiment of your post, however, I agree with. The questions you raise in your second paragraph are quite thought-provoking: "Is it really worth living...?" There are of course can only be answers on an individual, personal basis.