Archive for the ‘week 7 memory and consciousness’ Category

Week #7: Consciousness by Jeff Poirier

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I found Dr. Ramakrishnan’s lecture on consciousness very intriguing, especially since it was from a physiological perspective. The discussion of the different levels of consciousness (as represented by the various definitions) aided in understanding how “being conscious” can apply to different situations. For example, when considering consciousness as the ”the state of being aware of something…within oneself,” the case study concerning the elephant reacting to a reflection of itself by touching its actual being rather than the projection is a clear example of this. The elephant obviously saw the reflection merely as a representation of what was real and, thus, touched its body and not the mirror. Honestly, I was not that surprised by this. I have seen a sense of self-awareness in animals with my own eyes. This level of consciousness is evidently a commonplace trait amongst more advanced organisms.

                Another example that was presented in the lecture was that of cephalopods with the biological ability to “disappear” into their surroundings as a defense mechanism. This fascinating capability provides evidence of the aforementioned level of consciousness in cephalopods, the awareness of one’s own being and projected appearance. However, it too supports the idea that cephalopods have yet another level of consciousness, the “state of being aware of an external object.” The ability of these organisms to quickly blend into any surrounding at the instant of a threat was impressive, more effective than I would have guessed (as evidenced by the videos shown). While I do believe that some of the traits associated with this defense mechanism and “consciousness” are probably instinctual, evolutionary adaptations, I absolutely agree with Dr. Ramakrishnan’s analysis that the cephalopods have an awareness of their own image and the image of their environment.

                Though I found the previous two studies convincing, I was most interested in the case of the “bachelor” vs. “bonded” voles. The bonded, or monogamous, voles experienced a level of consciousness that could include the “state of being characterized by sensation and emotion.” One could argue that this monogamy of mates is an example of “love,” as experienced by an arguably low-order organism. The bachelor vole, on the other hand, does not practice monogamy as would be expected of rodents. The difference in the presence of certain neuron receptors between the two types of voles is considered to be the reason for these drastically different lifestyles and levels of consciousness.

                The debate regarding the role of neuron receptors in determining emotion (especially in humans) also came up in the scientology/Tom Cruise interview. I had seen this video before and it angered me just as much now as it did back then. My family has a history with severe, spirit crushing, dream killing mental illness. Without antipsychotic medications, my life would be hell. I am aware of the over prescription of mind-altering drugs and the failure of diagnosis in many cases, but Cruise’s arguments against antipsychotics were based in sweeping generalizations and impassioned activism. In saying “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance,” Cruise is just plain wrong. Biological abnormalities do exist and do cause mental and emotional disorders.

Side Note: I want to go to medical school to become a psychiatrist because I have seen the horrors of crippling mental illnesses. I have experienced the drain that they place on families and I have seen them change people from the inside. I want to help people in these situations and I know that in some cases, the only way to do that is through the careful, responsible, and monitored treatment with antipsychotic medications. I do not see drugs as the end all of treatment nor do I see them as the most preferable option. I respect their power for good as well as their potential for destruction.

-Jeff Poirier

Week 7 - Memory and Consciousness

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

In the discussion on Tuesday the 17th, I couldn’t help but be aroused by the video presentation involving Tom Cruise and his verbal treatise on Scientology and drugs, as well as the pertinence of the Matrix to the quest for life and the reality of reality in a world so smitten with normalcy. I first want to approach the Matrix, as I was deep in thought about it the day it was being addressed. To recognize that the Matrix was addressing an issue with such depth as consciousness was so engaging and relevant as I was thinking about how we’re all plugged into this central operating system that controls, more or less, the way we think about and approach life. Those of us who are not plugged into this OS are outsiders, operating on their own battery packs and viewing the world with more of an awareness of themselves than they would have if they were still connected to the general OS, the main ‘normalcy’ platform. And so it is no surprise that these things that operate outside of such a platform appear somewhat of a virus to the rest, thus warranting attacks on those who dare to stand alone. Those who dared to say the earth is round, those who dared to question the authority of the church, and so on, were independent of and banished from a platform afraid of being overridden/interrupted.

Now in pertinence to Tom Cruise, I recognize his concern and his passion towards the drone of a heavily drugged society. How odd is it that we cannot operate on our own, that we are told we need a drug to control us, rather than be encouraged to control ourselves in a way that is best for us. Drugs, in my opinion as well as Mr. Cruise’s, never seem to solve a problem. Rather, they appear much more likely to introduce a new problem, to mask a problem or contain it, and give off the appearance of a solution. I had a friend with depression, who was given antidepressants, and not much counsel. One day she was driving and I said to her ‘Friend, you seem happy today’. And she told me ‘Funny thing is, I just look happy. But I can still feel this depression underneath this drug, and it’s making me more depressed’. Funny how one of the side effects of an antidepressant is suicide, eh? Obviously the only thing antidepressants do is increase the depression and give it a face contrary to the one it had before. Drugs are not the answer.

Unplugging ourselves from ‘the source’ just might be.


- Katura Croney, Section C

Week 7 - Memory and Consciousness Tung X. Dao

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

“Two-thirds of the subjects reported having a ‘full mystical experience’ at the time, and many reported feeling ‘a one-ness with the universe.’” While this may sound like something from a class on Zen Buddhism or a darn good motivational info-session, it turns out that that is how the subjects in a test, in which they were prescribed the active ingredient in shrooms, psilocybin, felt afterwards(1). A friend, who shall remain nameless of course, reported a similar experience during an encounter with shrooms. Awareness of one’s place in the universe can come from many places, not just drugs. Perhaps something fundamental about the universe is suddenly realized, or someone brings forward words of wisdom so elemental that makes one become humbled. Such moments of epiphany reveals to us one more face of reality. These moments are essential to the human experience. We have been quite lucky to be the species that has evolved to be able to comprehend our minds around the shadow of reality.

Finding the ratio between the nucleus and the electron shell reveals that 99.9999...% of an atom is empty space.

Finding the ratio between the nucleus and the electron shell reveals that 99.9999...% of an atom is empty space.

I recall a funny experience my mother had with rain. As a young girl, she thought that whenever it rained, it rained everywhere else as well. It made sense from what her senses told her; it is quite difficult to see an area that is not raining when in one in rural Vietnam. Without internet and telephony, she would have difficulty in cross referencing her observations with another person’s. However, when she came to realize that rain is a local event, she told me she felt her view of the world had certainly changed. The event shows that with our senses, we can only perceive so much about our world. However, with some tools it is possible to view the world in a different viewpoint than what our senses tell us. For instance, did you know that we are 99.999999…% empty space? Looking at ourselves at the atomic level, atoms are a nucleus surrounded by a tiny electron floating around in a cloud with a radius many times larger than the nucleus itself. At our level, we have defined empty space as space we can put other things in. At the atomic level, the same definition would tell us that we are, in fact mostly empty space because it is possible to put more stuff within each atom. To completely fill up space with matter would mean making a neutron star. When I was presented with the numbers, it completely changed my view of material substances. What astounded me was that all the facts where there, but I had never thought to put it together and come to that conclusion.

The same feeling goes for all sudden realizations. From trivia to self-realizations, they all make us grow as a person, as a society. From the elephant realizing that it has an “X” taped on to its face to a deeply religious moment from shrooms or life, each time is a reaffirmation that we exist and that our senses are telling us that we live in a mobile universe.

By Tung X. Dao


Week7_Memory and Consciousness By Manuel Aleman

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

            Psychiatric medication is a licensed psychoactive drug taken to exert an effect on the mental state and used to treat mental disorders. Usually prescribed in psychiatric settings, these medications are typically made of synthetic chemical compounds, although some are naturally occurring.  Psychiatric medication requires a prescription from a physician, just like any prescription medication.  Sometimes these medications have unfavorable side effects.  Some of these side effects can be treated by using other drugs.  Some of these side effects, including the possibility of a sudden or severe re-appearance of demented features, can appear when the patient stops taking drugs, particularly when the medication is suddenly discontinued instead of tapered off. 

            People argue about the pros and cons of psychiatric medications.  People such as Tom Cruise argues about all the cons and do not approve of the use of psychiatric medications.  Tom Cruise argues that getting people off heroine and methadone is easier than getting people off psychiatric medications.  Cruise also adds that, “[he is] going hard on those guys, and their reign - psychiatrists. I’ve had, I mean, I’ve absolutely had it. It’s disgusting to me. No mercy - none. Psychiatry doesn’t work…When you study the effects, it’s a crime against humanity”.  Others have argued that psychoactive substances provide only temporary relief, but always make things worse in the long run and that they make things worse directly and indirectly by distracting from the real issues.  One example that many people use in arguing against psychiatric medications is Ritalin.  Most arguments about Ritalin generally revolves around alleged or established side effects, concerns of illicit use and abuse, and the ethics of giving psychotropic drugs to children to reduce ADHD symptoms.  Many of these people’s arguments make valid points, but they do not consider all the good psychiatric medications have done for people.

            Psychiatric medications have made it possible for some children to have normal social and emotional developmental breakthroughs.  They have also made it possible for some children to benefit from cognitive or behavioral therapy, improve the length and quality of sleep, and even let some sleep.  Psychiatric medications have also prevented depression, suicide, or accidental death or injury.  Medication may reduce the long-term and severity of the illness.  Another pro is that psychiatric medications can help to control anxiety and depression and may even prevent deterioration of the organs in the stress axis.  Psychiatric medications such as, antidepressants can even lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Medicating a chronically unhappy or disruptive child also reduces stress for the other members of the family, especially siblings.  Psychiatric medications may have a few controversial examples, but there are more pros than cons.

 Manuel Aleman

Week 7: consciousness & humanoid (artificial consciousness) by zoo duck hwang

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Dr. Ramakrishnan defines ‘consciousness’ as following, 1) the awareness of something internal, or external, 2) the state of being volition, thought, sensation, and emotion, 3) the perception of a relationship with others. In his slide, he demonstrated the first definition of consciousness by giving the example of cephalopods. According to him, even though the level of intelligence is comparably lower than mammals and human beings, cephalopods are still considered as the one with consciousness because they are able to form body patterns reacting to both external and internal circumstances. As the example for the second definition, difference in the active regions of oxytocin receptors and vasopressin receptors between promiscuous montane vole and pair-bonded praire vole suggests that consciousness as the state of being emotion is existed in those voles. Furthermore, bee’s dancing ultimately encoding the location of food to other bees as referencing the direction of Sun by interpreting the pattern of polarized light from Sun.The simple and evident truth can be extracted from above; human beings must be thought of as being conscious because all three definitions can be found from their mundane life.

Now, an interesting question is arisen regarding to above definitions of consciousness, ‘Can human-like robots (especially those who are called as humanoids) be conscious?’ My answer to the question is yes because I believe that it is theoretically possible to create the humanoid that is aware of itself and environment with emotions if additional breakthrough would be done to the current work. For the sake of simplicity, suppose that we would have done to program every emotion that we have and every corresponding situation and proper behavior to those emotions into the humanoid, and the humanoid has the ability to precisely and adequately use the programmed information by mathematics. In fact, I admit that such humanoid will require millennia of hard wok, but I should not say it is impossible and it would not fulfill above three qualifications. So, isn’t the robot conscious?

Our Wall-E is conscious for sure

Our Wall-E is conscious for sure. Agree?

If we can design the robot can be conscious, next question will be then, ‘how would do we treat that conscious robots?’, or ‘should the similar idea like the dignity of every life apply to the robot, too?’ Well, I don’t know.        


Followings are the reasons from the people who believe in the impossibility of a conscious robot.

  1. Robots are purely material things, and consciousness requires immaterial mind-stuff. (Old-fashioned dualism)
  2. Robots are inorganic (by definition), and consciousness can exist only in an organic brain
  3. Robots are artifacts, and consciousness abhors an artifact; only something natural, born not manufactured, could exhibit genuine consciousness
  4. Robots will always just be much too simple to be conscious

If you want more details,


zoo duck hwang

Week7_Consciousness by nolan nishimura

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Consciousness is an extremely interesting topic because of the fact that it is one of the few things that can be applied to both humans and other organisms. As we saw in Siddharth Ramakrishnan’s presentation, animals show some level of consciousness as well. The one I found the most interesting is the octopus because of its abilities to mimic their surroundings. They can blend in very well due to the fact that they have some understanding of what their surroundings look like. Some of the other behaviors can be explained due to natural selection creating certain behaviors however this example goes beyond that due to the variability of what the octopi can mimic.

This happens to connect with something else that Ramakrishnan said, the idea of Buddhism. I do not know whether or no this was intentional but Buddhism explores the idea of consciousness in organisms other than humans as well. The Buddha was a man who had achieved this state of consciousness or enlightenment, but there is a teaching in Buddhism that states that animals can attain enlightenment as well. A popular example is a dog because of the fact that a dog shows compassion and unconditional care. One can scold a dog for doing something we define as bad, such dirtying the floor, but the dog will come back after a few minutes as if he had not just been yelled at. This idea in my sect of Buddhism, Jodo Shinshu Buddhism is explored often due to the constant search for what is consciousness.

Is it possible to create consciousness? Can we fully immerse ourselves in something artificially created and still call that being conscious? Consciousness is basically a point of view or a relationship between the self and the surroundings and the only condition is usually being awake and responsive to the environment. What I am getting at is if we step into someone else’s consciousness or point of view, that can still be considered being conscious. For example, films often explore consciousness through a direct presentation of a character’s point of view. Even more popular are first person point of view video games. Both tell a story of an experience through a character’s consciousness which I find is interesting. To use point of view as a medium for storytelling and art can be a compelling experience due to the fact that if the creator is good, then the viewer can be completely emerged into the environment created. The creator can create their own version of consciousness for someone to interact with and in turn learn something about their own consciousness. To truly understand consciousness, the idea needs to be explored in different contexts such as in other organisms or different states of mind. We touched on this in class a little bit such as the idea of chaos and letting go of reality and the idea of drug use affecting our perception on reality. In conclusion I wanted to show this video of a college student’s point of view when first using the dorm bathrooms. I’m sure we’ve all had thoughts about our bathrooms similar to this.

nolan nishimura

Brain vs the Mind by Jane Chen

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

From a historical standpoint, the “mind” was something different from the brain, something that might make up the “soul” of an animal or human being.  The questions regarding the existence of the human mind began centuries ago, where Heraclitus in the 6th century BC postulated that the mind is an enormous, unreachable space.  In the 4th century BC, Aristotle stated that the heart was the source of nervous control and the “seat of the soul” (the mind).  In the 17th century, Rene Decartes came up with the idea of the mind-brain dualism. in which he believed that the body and mind were separate and should be studied separately.  Although the body was what all animals had in common, the mind was exclusively human.  With this in mind, neuroscientists are scientists who study the brain.  They believe that the mind is what the brain does.  In other words, the mind is a result of the overall activity of the brain.  This is evident in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s that involve the loss of cognitive function and in mental disorders such as schizophrenia, which leads to abnormalities in perceptions and expressions of reality.

From an animal point of view, there are many arguments concerning the existence of a consciousness within these organisms.  Although I believe that, to some extent, animals are capable of feeling emotions and being aware of their existence (like when a dog feels sad when his owner is absent for a few days or when he plays dumb after doing something wrong), the extent of their consciousness or even conscience is very limited.  With this in mind, I’d like to bring into light something interesting that Dr. Ramakrishan discussed in lecture: the bee dance.  As extremely skilled navigators, it is almost impossible for a bee to lose its sense of direction.  In fact, a simple waggle dance performed by a worker bee can provide information regarding direction and distance of a patch of flowers.  The angle of their dance even changes to accomodate the changing position of the sun throughout the day.  A defensive adaptation that has evolved among Japanese and African honeybees is heat tolerance.  When a beehive is invaded by a hornet (which can kill up to 40 bees per minute, a few hornets can kill a colony of 30,000 bees in 3 hours), the honeybees form a protective ball around the invader and vibrate their flight muscles, raising the temperature of the bee ball to 47 degrees celsius, killing the hornet which can only withstand temperatures of 46 degrees celsius.  The honeybee itself can withstand temperatures of up to 48 degrees celsius.  Given the amount of precision (in temperature regulation) involved in this adaptation, one can question the existence of a bee consciousness.  Biologically speaking, the bee is programmed to detected the pheromones given off by the hornet and, in turn, react by forming a bee ball.  In a sense, this is similar to human reflex systems where the body reacts to a life-threatening stimulus before the stimulus can be processed by the cortical regions (areas of higher cognitive function) of the brain, proving that the intial bodily responses are innate and do not require commands from the brain (and actually originate from the spinal cord).  With that, it seems like the bee is simply reacting to the hornet invasion as a necessary action for survival.  (not that we can actually know if bees do think and plan out their actions like humans do…..)

Here’s a video link to an example of the bee’s defensive mechanism against a hornet invasion:


by Jane Chen

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I found this week’s lecture to be one of the most interesting so far.  I would have thought the subject to be much more difficult to approach considering the idea is an intangible one.  However, where there’s a will there’s a way.  I felt  Ramikrishnan’s power-point lecture was perfect in that in addressed the subject by first asking what consciousness is.  Obviously there’s consciousness in the sense of being self aware, as in the Elephant self aware mirror experiment by Charles Choi.  However, professor Vesna has brought up the idea of consciousness several times already, especially pertaining to artificial intelligence.   True artificial intelligence is considered to be “self aware” and therefore make decisions, and adapt to different decisions free of a pre-programmed scenario.  This becomes a little more complicated with algorithms etc.  The lecture also addressed the fact that different animals react and collect information from their environment differently, so consciousness is somewhat relative in certain circumstances.  I felt the slide displaying the definition of “umwelt” was designed for relaying this message. Obviously biology is completely different for all animals, so the way in which we interpret our surrounding environment can be vastly different.   The way bees navigate, communicate and visualize the world around them is completely unlike the way we communicate etc.  Nonetheless, they retain the ability to socially organize etc.

Consciousness is a type of mental state, a way of perceiving, particularly the perception of a relationship between self and other. That’s wikipedia’s definition of consciousness, in “short” anyway.  It’s interesting to try and sort animals that are self aware.   It’s also interesting to note that communication implies an awareness of others, and therefore one’s self.  Ramakrishnan ran the gamut of various animals such as octopi, bees etc. and the different ways in which they are considered self aware.  Wikipedia also brought up several other issues involving conciousness that were interesting and are currently being researched, such as the level of conciousness in a coma, or the question of the stage at which a fetus becomes “self aware.”  The level of conciousness a person has in a coma has been a common theme in movies, such as “While you were sleeping.”   People often wonder whether or not those in a “vegetative” state are coherent and can understand what those around them are saying, doing etc.  There was a case in 2006 where a woman who had been in a vegetative state proved to be “conscious” to the point of being able to respond through brain activity.  Doctors  requested that she imagine herself playing tennis during a functional MRI.  The doctor’s noted that that part of brain was in turn stimulated, proving that the woman was indeed conscious.  However this woman was put in vegetative state, where the recovery is usually at a 20% chance. Other victims have had the same test and proved to be unresponsive.  Nonetheless the discovery has had a serious impact in the medical field.  If anyone would like to read more about it, they can at

Below is a popular image that if i remember correctly was shown previously in class.  It’s a 17th century representation of consciousness. I thought it was interesting to compare the artistic representations of conciousness from several different cultures.  On the right is a representation of astral projection, the idea of essentially removing conciousness from one’s physical self.

Week 7 Animal Consciousness - Rocio Flores

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

The Animal’s intelligence has been question, ever since the creation of the first human. The reason being is that the human’s race negates the possibility that there exists another species in this word that is as complex as it, holding some sort of intelligence. However the lecture on consciousness by Professor Siddharth Ramakrishnan on Thursday’s allowed me to realize that animals themselves are intelligent.

The professors on Thursday, several definition of Consciousness for the animal one of them was “the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact”. I would say that this definition is a great one, for I believe this definition allows describing the animal’s intelligence. When a bird is flying near a home, it knows when to avoid it. In addition it knows not to go through a window, it knows that the window exist as an object that holds things back. Both these examples display that birds are conscious of their environment, thus showing that they are, intelligence however not to human’s standards. In addition, from experience, birds are aware of their eggs and if they, the eggs, have any alternations let’s say a person touches them the bird doesn’t take care of it, it just lets them die. This shows that birds are conscious of the appearance or scent of their eggs.

The example the professor presented on Tuesday using cephalopods, allowed me to reflect on my experience described above. Ramakrishnan discussed that octopuses had a conscious, in order for them to be able to hunt. To hunt the octopus would disguise themselves as their surroundings. The professor utilized this example to interpret the definition of Consciousness, which I described above “the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact”. The octopus in the example camouflages himself to the rock, taking into consideration of his environment, and when his pray arrived he jumps on it. Many animal’s like the octopus are aware of their surrounds, for they understand that by being aware of their surroundings and using them in such a way will allow them to survive. The link below is an example of a dog being conscious of its surroundings, and what he must do to survive.

Animal Analysis

The penguins showing affection for each other, also display the animal’s intelligence trough the definition of consciousness, which is “the state of being characterized by sensation, emotion, volition, and thought”. This example exemplifies that animal’s are intelligent and also show emotion. In conclusion animals are intelligent, however not to human standards, and can be seen through their consciousness.

On a side note, I believe that pharmaceuticals should be used in the aid of improving the health of a person. However they shouldn’t be used on young children, until they themselves are able to decide if they need it or not. In addition I made a quick search on pharmaceuticals and found out that there are several pharmaceuticals in our drinking water, which can harm us and our environment, thus I believe we should lower the amount of pharmaceuticals that enter our water system.

Pharmaceuticals in the Environment

~Rocio Flores

Week 7: Consciousness by Sarah Lechner

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

Consciousness of the human being is a complex and intricate labyrinth.  Although we’re able to perform surgeries on the brain to remove tumors, we still don’t fully understand the “behind the scenes” complexities of the human brain.  Why do we love?  How do we perceive?  In what why do we think?  All of these are questions that we attempt to answer but can only scratch the surface.  The sheer number of neurotransmitters and synapses in our brain that are fired everyday is overwhelming.  The ability of the human brain to retain such large volumes of information, as well as such detailed memories, seems magical.  So, how does it all work?

In lecture, I thought the connection made between The Matrix and the human mind was really insightful.  Plato’s allegory of the cave is a classical analysis of consciousness and The Matrix’s close relativity to the cave concept was very interesting to me.  Plato’s allegory of the cave.  There are prisoners that exist in a cave where they are forced to view only one wall of the cave.  The “puppeteers” behind the prisoners cast shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners.  Because the prisoners only know of the wall that exists in front of them, and nothing else, they believe that these shadows are all there is in the world.  The prisoners think that the shadows are reality when in fact, an entire other sphere of existence is taking place behind them.  The same idea is present in the movie, The Matrix. Everyone goes about their everyday lives without realizing that their bodies are being used to power the world of robots–a world that they are completely unaware of.  They go about living their daily lives with no idea that they are being sabotaged and taken advantage of.  Because they do not know of the greater problems that are taking place, they are completely unaware of the world that they are prisoner of.  

I think that this relationship can be connected to the idea of human consciousness in general.  Although our brains are extremely advanced, we do not have to ability to comprehend exactly how are thought processes work.  While part of this problem may be attributed to a lack of technology, I think that a large portion of our inability to understand that human mind is a definite limit of our brain.  What if a limit exists that prevents our brains from understanding the working of our minds?  Is it possible that our brains are incapable of making sense of how they work?  I think that this possibility is very real.  Even though we’ve essentially mastered the workings of the majority of organs in the human body, the brain still largely remains a mystery.  

This brings me back to a fundamental question that has existed throughout the age of science (as well as prior to this): Are the human brain and human consciousness separated?  This question enters into religious realms because it inquires about what happens after death.  The following website looks into what the human consciousness really means for us during life and after its end:

While I believe that much of our consciousness will remain a mystery, I hope that during my lifetime technology will open the window between our mind and our understanding of it.