Archive for February, 2009

Week_7 Conscious by Braxton Little

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

As I was watching the full length Tom Cruise interview, and taking to mind all his arguments against the use of medications to alleviate certain problems among humans, many things came to mind. First, that there could be someone so naive to the world of pharmaceuticals, and how they have helped millions of people live better lives. Second, that he did make a valid point about why they should not be used, but presented it in an immature manner that was hard to comprehend, and easy to refute.
I support the use of pharmaceuticals. I believe that they make both the taker, and the people around the taker’s lives better. Growing up, I had many friends that never could listen in school, would always get in trouble, and were just overall oblivious to how a person is supposed to act. However, when on certain medications, my friends were focused, and almost became new people. I understand that making the decision to take medications is one that a minor cannot make on their own, but growing up the right way can make or break ones future. People who get started off on the wrong track many times stay on that track. Likewise, people who are well taught, and groomed for the real world become successful. It should be in a parents best interest that their child gets a chance to grow up correctly, and not shunned because of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
I was extremely distraught over the fact that Cruise tried to say that there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance. While there is still a large amount of research that must be done before scientists can figure out why people are plagued with brain disorders, it has been proven that certain parts of the brain either do not function, or lack in chemicals that cause it to work properly. This website explains more on the subject.

For Cruise to dismiss the fact that some people are born with this disorder is entirely wrong. His extremist ideals got in the way of a civilized interview that could have been used to bring up two strong sides dealing with brain disorders. What I think Cruise was trying to say, and what is a very good point, is that people who are given these medicines are not cured. Their problem stays, but the medications eradicate it for an amount of time that varies. So in perspective, they are not cured at all, but become addicted to the medication that helps them function properly. Also, some people are diagnosed too quickly, and when they get a bad grade, or act out of places, they are immediately deemed “ADD.” When it is a kid, who is not mature enough to make the decision of whether to take medications or not, the parent is very likely to promote the use of a medication, to make their job easier, and they child fit in. This is what Cruise is against in a very brief summary, and he does deeper in these points in his interview. There will always be supporters on both sides, who could arguer for years about who is right and never reach a conclusion.

For Cruise to dismiss the fact that some people are born with this disorder is entirely wrong. His extremist ideals got in the way of a civilized interview that could have been used to bring up two strong sides dealing with brain disorders. What I think Cruise was trying to say, and what is a very good point, is that people who are given these medicines are not cured. Their problem stays, but the medications eradicate it for an amount of time that varies. So in perspective, they are not cured at all, but become addicted to the medication that helps them function properly. Also, some people are diagnosed too quickly, and when they get a bad grade, or act out of places, they are immediately deemed “ADD.” When it is a kid, who is not mature enough to make the decision of whether to take medications or not, the parent is very likely to promote the use of a medication, to make their job easier, and they child fit in. This is what Cruise is against in a very brief summary, and he does deeper in these points in his interview. There will always be supporters on both sides, who could arguer for years about who is right and never reach a conclusion.
Switching to V.S Ramachandran’s power point, I was already very interested in the way that an animal’s conscious works, but was never confronted with direct information. It seems as though every living organism has a conscious with respect to its own realm of existence. While it may be suitable for humans to say that an ant has no conscious, an ant may say the same thing about the giant creatures (humans) that surround it. The same is said for most animals on earth. They exist within their own spheres, which humans have no knowledge of. Our studies show that they do know about their surroundings, and it is only a matter of time until we can fully understand their living habits.

Consciousness in Primates by Danya Linsteadt

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I believe there are two levels of consciousness; a lower level being the opposite of unconscious and an upper level requiring acute awareness of the surrounding world and calculated reactions to it. It is easy to determine whether or not something is conscious as opposed to unconscious. Is it responsive to external stimuli? All living things can qualify for this level of consciousness, but determining whether or not something qualifies for the upper level of consciousness is a little more difficult. For example, does the being experience emotion? Does it have hopes and goals? Does it dream? Can it control its behavior based on acknowledgment of future consequences? Does it preform reciprocal altruism (, Does it manipulate the environment to serve its needs?

I don’t think cephalopods, naked mole rats, and voles qualify for this level of consciousness.They may perceive their environment and change color to match it or have similar hormonal reactions to mating, but that doesn’t mean they are conscious of these behaviors. I believe these behaviors to be an automatic instinctual response. The classification gets a little more complicated when discussing something like the chameleon, which changes color based on its “mood” ( However, I still don’t think they qualify for the higher level of consciousness.

I do think that primates can be classified as having a higher level of consciousness. It is hard to tell whether or not something experiences emotion, but when separated from its group, a primate exhibits symptoms of depression, “monkey anaclitic depression may mirror human anaclitic depression more closely than any other specific monkey pathological state” ( Primates have also been shown to exhibit reciprocal altruism ( They manipulate their surroundings by creating and using tools (, making nests in trees (, and various other means. These behaviors fulfill most of my constraints for defining a being as having the higher level of consciousness and lead me to determine that primates have indeed attained that level of consciousness.

Hypothesizing whether or not primates have a higher level of consciousness brings up the discussion of whether or not the ability of language is required for a higher level of consciousness. Although primates have been shown to be capable of communication (, they are not considered to have a language compared to humans who have multiple spoken, written, and gesture languages. Personally, I don’t believe that a humanistic level of language is required to be considered as having a higher level of consciousness. Primates preform many humanistic actions without the use of language and communicate quite well with each other and accomplish many complicated group tasks.

Drugs for a better future by Brendan Ryan

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Tom cruise said that pharmaceutical drugs only mask the problem, and that’s what’s wrong with them. I have to ask, why is that not just as good? Treating the symptoms effectively is just as good as taking out the cause really? If I had a cold (I do) and the symptoms of it were that I felt totally regular all the time (they aren’t) then I really wouldn’t mind getting sick. In the same way that If I can get so depressed that I just want to do all the same things I normally do that’s also fine. I don’t really get Tom’s argument against pharmaceuticals because masked problems are not really problems.

I have heard about a drug called piracetam which is over the counter, and is used to increase memory and pretty much make people smarter. You can read the Wikipedia article about it here:

It is impossible to compete at the professional level in spelling bees without the aid of this drug (not a joke). Pretty much every contestant you see, meaning children, will be on piracetam. Also a friend of mine is trying the drug as an experiment to see if it is really the wonder drug it is supposed to be. Because of its widespread popularity among spelling bee contestants and boggle players (also not a joke) the drug shows, to me, great promise. Very opposite to Tom Cruise’s cautionary remark “We don’t want to end up in a Brave New World” to try and keep people away from drugs, I think drugs like piracetam could play a role in a better brighter future. It is very recently that the technology to make drugs like these developed but now I think it could create a kind of snowball effect where making things that make people smarter could be the way of the future. Piracetam could be just the beginning soon we could increase our brainpower ten fold! Tom Cruise sees the Brave New World side of drugs, whereas I see the Men Like Gods side.

Anyways, so the drug piracetam increases your memory and cognitive functions, but did you know that there is a man out there with no memory at all? His name is Clive Wearing and this is what it is like:

The man with no memory

Memory and Consciousness by Sagar Mehta 1C

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

In the realm of the mind there is nothing so convoluted and complex than memory. Our brain is just a conglomeration of billions of nerve cells that fire impulses of electricity and chemical signals and yet it has the capacity to memorize and retain an entire lifetime of memoirs, knowledge, and history. It is an incredible thing that has puzzled many in the past and continues to do so even today where we can monitor the brain using fMRI imaging technology. Even René Descartes who was very confident in the other areas of science and mathematics in which he proposed ideas which area are still used today was not sure of the location of the memories in our mind. He erroneously tied the immaterial mind to the physical pituitary gland. Current researchers however are getting closer and closer to the truth and have realized that the new imaging technology has determined that those who are in a persistent vegetative state do respond to verbal cues from researchers and the parts of their brain deemed “dead” at one point may not be.

V.S. Ramachandran’s lecture on consciousness also opened my eyes to how many creatures are actually aware of their surroundings and themselves. The ability of an elephant to recognize something is on its face or of an octopus to communicate using intricate patterns of coloration on its body show that the animals are aware, that they are conscious of their own environment. Mr. Ramachandran was keen to point this out as well, that the animal may not be conscious to us but it is so to its own environment, an idea I had not thought of in regards to animals. The following link explains how that the increase in complexity of an animal the higher the tendency of it to be conscious and goes on to say that the typical frozen deer in the headlights is not because the deer is simply frightened but that the animal switches from an instinctive grazing to a conscious states which allows its brain to analyze the situation.

In response to the drugs that affect consciousness, I am certainly for the use of controlled drugs in order to restore someone back to sanity or calm someone who is very excited, aggressive, or depressed etc. The majority of problems I find occur when those very prescriptions are used as substitutes for effort and for time. There are certain points to Mr. Cruise’s argument in that children are often misdiagnosed and treated with medications they do not need. This ties back to the fact that we have become lazy as a society and that our lives are too fast paced for our families to be properly care for them. However if we continue to treat every child as if they have attention deficit disorder we will have bigger problems in the future.

Sagar Mehta 1C,9171,1580394,00.html

Week 7 Insect and Plant Consciousness by Roger Call

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

This past week in class focused on consciousness, and all aspects pertaining to it.  The lecture began as attempting to define consciousness.  In short, coconsciousness was defined as “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself” or “the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact” or simply put, “awareness.”  As humans we are by definition conscious beings, and we assume all other humans are conscious beings.  This definition of consciousness is universally extended to animals, who we believe have a sense of self and are “aware.”  To a lesser extent, we associate consciousness with insects, tiny creatures that have minuscule brains, yet seem somewhat of their surroundings.  However, we do not rarely associate consciousness with plants.  Do plants actually have a conscious?  Are plants aware of their surroundings?

First off, do insects have a conscious?  How do insects think?  According to Nicholaus Strausfield, a neurobiologist at the University of Arizona, insects possess “the most sophisticated brains on the planet.”  Through meticulous dissection of a variety of insects, Strausfield and his graduate research students have picked through countless brains of insects using microscopes and other pieces of sophisticated technology.  Cell by cell they have sifted through the various levels of insect brains, discovering areas of higher cognitive function thought not to have existed in insects.  Yet another researcher, Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at Caltech University now states, “Most people say, ‘For heaven’s sake, a bug isn’t conscious.’ But how do we know? We’re not sure anymore. I don’t kill bugs needlessly anymore.”  Insects have hundreds of thousands less brain cells than humans do, but they have evolved in such a way that these brain cells are packed more densely together than any mammal in existence today.  As research continues and we discover more about how insects actually function, one day we may be able to determine if insects possess a conscious or not.

The research I accumulated in regards to plant consciousness was categorized into two main groups, scientific and supernatural.  Plant consciousness is not a wide topic of discussion and is often associated with “mystics” or other such supernatural plant related healing efforts.  Researchers have determined that plants are able to communicate with one another, even amongst different species.  Whether this is proof of consciousness or not, has yet to be determined, but researchers at Cornell University claim that they, ”have discovered that when a hornworm sets about eating it, a sagebrush will send out a blast of scent that alerts surrounding plants—in the case of the study, wild tobacco—that evil is afoot.”  These plants, not necessarily sage brushes themselves, can then begin preparing a chemical defense to the invasive horn worms.  Clearly the sagebrush was aware that the horn worm had begun to devour it, and for some reason, conscious or instinct relayed the message to the surrounding plants in warning.  Much research remains to be done before plants will be proven to have a conscious or not, and this question still remains a mystery we await the true discovery of a plant’s consciousness.

Roger Call

Section C

Week 7_Memory and Consciousness by Dalton Abbott

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I’d like to preface my argument by saying that I am a very tolerant person. I’m completely accepting of any religions, approaches toward life, and schools of thought. However, I must say, that although my I can understand the basis for many of the claims of Scientologists, I’m not more completely opposed to any single school of thought than I am to Scientology. Though I can understand many aspects of the religion, even the presence of the all powerful

I find the fact that Scientologists such as Cruise broadcast certain facets of the religion that serve virtually no purpose rather than to belittle and discriminate. I know this may sound like a cliche reaction, but I assure you my point in using this example is valid. My mother is an extremely intelligent, strong-willed person. In her lifetime, she’s managed to combat and overcome a multitude of obstacles, including alcoholism and drug addiction. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was in her twenties, and although she always assumes complete and total responsibility for her past actions, as one should, the impact of this disorder on her life is immeasurable. I grew up seeing two distinct personalities within my mother, each appearing and eventually retreating, giving way to a seemingly different self. She refused medication for over twenty years, subscribing to the same philosophy that many do, which suggests that willpower and discipline can overcome supposed mental deficiencies or imbalances. Eventually she gave in, and spent 5 years trying out a variety of anti-depressants. Eventually, she found one that worked for her and has continued to use it to this day. I’m not attempting to simply provide a story of my mother’s rise to mental stability, but rather show the difference that successfully handling her disorder has made in her life. Her incredibly difficult, unpredictable, and essentially unmanageable personality ruined her relationship with my father and most of her surrounding family. She has been on her current medication for the last ten years or so, and everything in her life has returned to a more normal, natural state, from her relationships with her family to her career to her overall attitude toward life in general.

I’ve had the displeasure of meeting Tom Cruise on a few different occasions, and to say that he lacks authenticity is a complete understatement. His entire demeanor, at least from my experience, is painfully forced and I think that my experiences with him may have caused me to develop a slight dislike for Cruise even before hearing the message he is trying to send. That may contribute to my frustration with him conveying his beliefs to a public audience, but it does by no means affect my feeling about the message he’s trying to send. I still find it difficult to believe that certain people have the audacity, having no knowledge whatsoever of specific cases, to assume that medication isn’t required for a massive range of medical conditions. I’m not suggesting that certain ailments and conditions can be combated without the use of a certain medication, but one of the many concepts discussed in DESMA is the absolute complexity of the human genetic system, for one to state that there are no potential conditions or specific cases that require something other than sunlight, a positive outlook, and a large amount of willpower is completely ignorant. I understand that I may view this situation in a biased light, but it by no means changes my outlook regarding the teachings of Scientology. I greatly enjoyed the lectures from last week, because a lot of it covered exciting information that I’ve researched extensively on my own time. DESMA has led me to appreciate the the complexity of the human mind, not only through learning about the incredible ways in which art and technology are intertwined, but also through an excess of information on the adaptive, responsive nature of the mind. Through the information I’ve learned, I’ve come to the conclusion that the use of medication is a highly personal decision, as each person, and more importantly each mind, is highly unique.
- Dalton Abbott

Week 7: Tom Cruise and the Controversy of Prescription Drugs - Ricky Irwin

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

On the June 24th, 2005 episode of the Today Show, Tom Cruise infamously clashed with host Matt Lauer on the controversial nature of antidepressant medication and psychiatry, and also criticized Brooke Shields for taking antidepressants. Having watched this video clip in its entirety, I came to the conclusion that while Tom Cruise does touch upon some fundamentally true aspects of drug addiction, he is simply too radical and off-base with his comments, the most likely cause of his public image destruction. When he says “the antidepressant, all it does is mask the problem. There’s ways of vitamins and through exercise and various things,” it can be true in certain situations. People who are suffering from real issues and complications in their lives can just mask their problems with drugs, and would be better off cleansing themselves of such problems with therapy, and perhaps exercise like Tom Cruise suggests. However, Cruise goes on to say, “There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance,” which is simply untrue in scientific research, and is a dangerous sentiment for those actually suffering from an imbalance. The problem is that too many people in America are being subscribed prescription drugs that either don’t need the strength or just need an alternative solution, and can end up in a worse state of addiction.

The first thing I thought of with this week’s topic of prescription drugs and psychiatry is a bit of standup from comedian Katt Williams that I have seen recently. He talks about how happy and energetic his son was, until his nurse at school said, “you don’t understand whether he’s happy or not, it’s unhealthy” and prescribed him Ritalin to “even him out.” Katt Williams talked about how the first two hours were wonderful for him as a parent, able to do so much, but after three hours, the drugs just seemed to have an unnatural and disconcerting effect on the mellow behaviour of his son. This just shows how in America, there is a demand for anything and everything that seems to simplify and better life, parallel to the rapid rise of technology in everything. There seems to be medication for every symptom, and they all play to the “self-improvement” desire of Americans that compel them to first seek prescription drugs for problems without first addressing the causes and nature of the problem. With Ritalin, the drug is being abused from its original intent of aiding focus in areas like academics into usage by parents who wish to make their own parenting lives easier, while stifling the personality of their kids.

However, of the different types of prescription medication, I think antidepressants are the least effective. In a study conducted by Yale University, it was found that for 70% of people, antidepressant drugs were completely ineffective. Also, antidepressants can sometimes do harm, as instead of treating depression, they can completely numb and neutralize the users emotions altogether, making the result not completely worth it. I think that antidepressants and prescription drugs in general have their uses and in some instances are very instrumental, but just like most problems in America, they have been dragged to excess and are too flooded into the market for people who may need therapy or different kinds of treatment.

source: (more…)

Week 7, my experience at the nanosystems seminar, and other bloggings by thomas yeung

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

My experience at the NanoSystems Seminar series

Having slept way less than eight hours and took only a brief nap before my last discussion class, I was a little worn out. I was also a little nervous. This was my second time attending one of these seminars. The last seminar was full of graduate students, professors and people who appeared extremely serious and knowledgeable. Being a student who sat in just to observe a seminar, I was out of place. I feared being out of place again.

I was early to this seminar. I sat at the back row. At one point I got up and asked a guy holding a folder if the slides can be found on the internet. He told me it can be found on the internet. There was a man standing not far from my right who was preparing to film the lecture. A woman/girl with long black hair walked in and sat two seats in front of me. She blocked my sight so I scooted over to the seat on my right.

The man who was lecturing wore a black suit. Sometime after the lecture began, a larger man sat to my left. He looked middle-aged and was holding a couple of pieces of paper. I still had my notepad out. I was planning to take down notes but eventually closed the cover and held it on my lap.

He began the lecture about this eyeball-look-alike nano particle. There was a core and surrounding the core is a sphere. This “thing” had ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ variables printed to the right. One of the slides showed risk as a function of hazard and exposure. He talked about reducing hazard which would definitely reduce risk. I lost interest in his lecture when he began digging deep into a cheaper method of manufacturing nano gold particles. I left when he showed us the chemical equation.

For the remainder of this blog, I will be blogging about memory puzzles. Sources over the internet claim that there are memory puzzle games that can improve your memory. One of those games is the popular memory matching game. This game can be found in Super Mario All Stars.

Above picture is taken after entering the game and your character is on the map. The mushrooms inside the red box is where your character has to go to play the memory matching game.

Brain age. This game is believed to improve brain functions and one of those functions is memory.

Ever imagined how it is like to live a life with amnesiac, well just watch the movie “50 first dates”. Adam sandlar plays as the character who has to remind his beloved everyday of everything she has forgotten.  Drew barrymore plays as the amnesiac character who lost her memory due to an unfortunate accident. Everyday she wakes up to the video adam made for her.

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| Courtney Kennedy

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

This week the assignment was to write what we thought about the Tom Cruise episode, among various things. I think that Tom Cruise is a really nice guy, but he just has some ridiculous thoughts. I think that modern medicine has greatly helped people with mental disorders, and that under no circumstances should someone with a problem not seek medical help. Of course, there are problems with the system, as there are often errors in medicine and other wrong diagnoses that end up doing more harm than good. However, I think that overall there is no reason to turn one’s back on this aspect of the medical field entirely. The fact of the matter is, I think we should regard Tom Cruise as what he actually is: an actor. He is not a professionally trained doctor, psychologist, or therapist. He is a professionally trained actor and has been doing that for a long time- and very well. However, I think there is something wrong with America when it starts taking medical advice from an actor. 

The next topic we discussed last week was consciousness. I think one of the most interesting aspects of this presentation was the idea that without our consciousness, we would not be able to form some of the greatest emotions humans are capable of: love and bonding. Its really a beautiful aspect of human society that we can form these feelings and make our lives based upon them. Yet it is even just humans that make these connections, its animals too and it was interesting for me to see the differences between the brain patterns of the moles who were bonded versus those who were not. Its incredible that brain chemistry can change so dramatically based on something that many people may not see as very important, or they might not consider animals capable of. For animals, the feelings of being bonded to another individual are not the same as human emotions of love, of course. Love is something a little more complicated than I think animals could feel. Also for us it is a social construct, and thus not something animals would probably form in the same way. For example, love for a country is not something animals would feel; the idea of a country is something they probably could not process in the largest sense. 

I think this is an interesting article on the topic:

This is an article on the voles:



What love does to your brain

What love does to your brain