Sunday, December 2, 2007


I think this weeks readings was a great way to end the semester. They provided an interesting way to reflect on what we've read, not just on a neurological level but also on a moral and ethical level.

We've spent a lot of time discussing the various processes of the brain, how these processes can malfunction and how viewing these malfunctions allows us to better understand or perhaps even acknowledge their existence. I think through this weeks reading, rather the semesters readings, has shown us that "the self" is in fact a summation of many parts that create a single whole and that the brain is a reflection of "the self," an integration of functions that are shaped by are genes and environment. And perhaps our society reflects this, a group of diverse people that must work together (and yet separately) to maintain order and stability, where there can easily be chaos.

With that, I think there certainly is something hardwired into our society that allures us to the chaos, parts of us want to see things go wrong (we don't read books about utopian societies.) I often wonder why that is, why we are so intrigued with what can go wrong? But as we studied the brains processes, especially the chapters in LeDoux about fear conditioning, I began to wonder if it's instilled in us for self preservation.

When we watch a movie or read a book, fiction or no, we give ourselves up to that suspension of disbelief because it is exciting and intense I wonder if that is similar to fear. That we need to know what can go wrong in order to prevent it, that perhaps we get excited and this triggers something chemical that is necessary to protect us. But with something like neurological disorders how much can this hypothetical self imposed fear conditioning do? Can we really prevent such disorders? So again we question the ethics of Sacks. Is he really exploiting his patients? I think it is fair for Couser to make the distinction between freakshows and Sacks; the contact between the viewer and the patient is indirect-- less traumatic -- because he is at a safe distance.

I think any time pieces of anyone's life is put on display is can be exploitation, no matter the intention, it is so easy to perverse what is meant to be positive. I think it is important that we hardwire our society's brain to have an objective opinion. I also believe people are hardwired to perceive things in a way that is specific to them and because everyone, when reading or watching, brings "what they have to the table," they will perceive Sacks differently. I don't think it's possible for a patient to fully understand the capacity of what they are doing when they allow their lives to be used as an example or case study for scientific purposes, similar to anyone in any other situation where potential "fame" is involved.

I do feel that it is necessary for us to read Sacks and similar case studies. I do believe that although Sack's cases may be extreme, they do show the humanity in people with various disorders. They show the "soul" separated from the brain which is necessary to our understanding of illnesses. They show us that one malfunction is not the end of the entire structure and that there are alternative ways of living subconsciously or consciously; and I do believe it is important that we as a society see that we can still function as a whole even if some of us fulfill our processes differently than the rest. But perhaps I am just hardwired into thinking this way.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

I agree with Emmy that these readings were great to finish the semester with. We are left with an air of optimistic skepticism toward writings such as Sacks', which I feel is the proper vantage point to view them from.

In this last reading of his work, I couldn't help but think about Weber and all of the ethics articles that we read about Sacks this week. I couldn't shake the feeling that Bennett was somehow being exploited behind the scenes. There were shades of this in the chapter itself as well. The language he used to describe the way in which Bennett delivered his lectures seemed to evoke the freak show idea we were reading about this week. "Hey look everyone, isn't it odd that he must lecture lying down?! What a strange case, no?"

But overall, I still feel that it is achieving the goal that even the critics conceded to it: giving the voiceless people a voice, letting their stories be told to further educate the populace with regards to their conditions. And to this end, I am optimistic.