Week 7 / Brain Chemistry by Marie De Austria

Last Thursday, Siddharth Ramakrishnan gave a lecture on the meaning of consciousness. The dictionary defines consciousness as the ability to be aware of one’s thoughts, actions, and surroundings as well as those of others. Ramakrishnan opened my mind to a whole new way of looking at consciousness.

Ramakrishnan mentioned that brain chemistry changes after a monogamous pairing in rodents. I read an article that talks about an experiment related to what Ramakrishnan talked about. In the article, nine rats were separated from their mates and then subjected to different kinds of stressful situations so that the scientists could see how well they cope with them. After subjecting the rats to a pool of water and suspending them in air by their tails, they concluded that the rats are depressed due to their lack of struggle. They found elevated levels of a chemical called CRF in the rats’ brains and the scientists believe that this is the cause of the “grieving” period after the lost of a loved one. When some rats were separated from their siblings, they did not exhibit the same kind of “depression.” This means that there is something special about a monogamous bonding that changes an organism’s brain chemistry.

I would like to think that thoughts and emotions are sanctuaries of one’s consciousness; things that are independent of science; something that is untouched by the mechanical workings of the world. I would like to believe in what Descartes said, “cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” But from what I have been learning in my classes, it seems “I am filled with chemicals, therefore I think, and this is how I am” is more fitting. In short, the more I learn about how the brain works, the more I think thoughts and emotions are nothing but just chemicals in the brain. My Evolutionary Medicine professor emphasized that everything we feel and think about is the result of different chemicals being released in the brain and affecting an organism’s physiology. The amount and the type of chemicals that are released depend largely on the genetic makeup of as well as environmental influences on the organism. It makes me wonder if everything organisms, especially humans, have done is due mainly to the programming of their genes and their environment. Are we, then, slaves to our genetic composition and our societal environment? Does this not redefine the meaning of individuality? Are we unique only because no one else has our genetic makeup? What then makes us different from robots whose actions are constricted by their programming? Just like Will Smith’s movie, I Robot, where Sonny, an Artificial Intelligence robot, is given an unusual ability to transcend a stereotypical machine, express emotions, and disobey programmed protocol in order to do something, ironically, humane. But Sonny was the exception. All the other robots “think” or “feel” in the philosophical way.

If our consciousness is controlled by the chemicals in the brain, do humans, and other organisms, do what they do and feel the way they do because of their chemical composition? Is the search for enlightenment that Ramakrishnan was talking about in the beginning of his lecture just an effort to balance the chemicals in the brain? Or are humans more than that?


One Response to “Week 7 / Brain Chemistry by Marie De Austria”

  1. admin says:


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.