Philosophy

Mind(s) of Your Own

The prominent debate in the young years of neuroscience was whether or not the brain had specialized functional regions or whether the brain as a whole was responsible for all cognitive functions.

Franz Joseph Gall was the first to assert the radical notion that all behavior emanated from the brain and that specific regions of the cerebral cortex (the large, convoluted structure on top of many pictures of the brain) controlled specific functions. Though, these assertions would be shown to hold water, he falsely viewed the brain as being synonymous to a muscle, with specific areas getting larger with use, which would cause the skull above these areas to bulge, meaning that the surface of the skull could give information about one’s mental state. This became known as phrenology and though the idea of the skull’s shape being indicative of mental capabilities has been conclusively discredited, Gall’s first two assertions have been supported.

In support of Gall’s claims that the brain contained specialized functional areas came the research of Pierre Paul Broca of France and Karl Wernicke of Germany. These two men studied aphasias, which are disorders of language. Broca discovered that patients who displayed difficulty in generating speech, yet had no ailment of the mouth or vocal cords, often had a lesion (damage, such as that caused by stroke) in a very specific site in the left cerebral hemisphere. Wernicke’s patients, who could speak, but not understand language, also had lesions in another specific site of the left hemisphere. Wernicke thus came to the conclusion that the brain was a parallel distributed processor, meaning that complex functions, such as language, are the result of different brain regions working in both serial and parallel manners.

In using using this model of cognitive function, Wernicke successfully predicted another aphasia called conduction aphasia in which these areas were intact, but the connections between them were compromised. Patients with this condition generate nonsensical speech, despite being able to form words and understand language.

Picture

Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. Source

If understanding and generating language takes place solely in the left hemisphere, then what occurs at these places on the right hemisphere? (more…)

Advertisements

Ending the War on Drugs: How Studying the Brain Gives Us Optimism for an Effective Drug Policy

 

In complete contrast with his brother’s views about drug policy, Christopher Hitchens expresses a more libertarian view, criticizing and advocating an end to the War on Drugs in the United States and Britain. In conversation with David Frum, it is pointed out how if drugs were legalized, addiction rates may increase. Well, why the hell should we ever advocate for a policy that would have such a result? (more…)

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Science?

I’m going to step away from the two sensational articles I’ve written on drug addiction and decision making to discuss some feedback I’ve been getting about some of the articles I’ve posted. Don’t worry, I will wrap up my discussion on drugs soon.

Have you ever been told something you were quite surprised by and didn’t want to believe at all, only to see over time that it was in fact true? Perhaps, at first, you denied it vehemently. Then you accepted it begrudgingly. Then you regarded it as a a mere fact. Perhaps you have even come to a point where you find it interesting and take a pride in it.

For example, maybe you’ve been told that you look just like someone else whom you’d rather not look like, perhaps a celebrity that you don’t see as particularly attractive. At first you may be insulted and claim you look nothing like them. Over time, however, enough people point out the resemblance and you begin to see objective truth in their observations and eventually impersonate this celebrity every year on Halloween. Though I was mortified when it was first brought up in high school, I’ve simply come to terms with and embrace the fact that I’m a near perfect duplication of a young Brad Pitt:

(more…)

I Can’t Choose…Really, I Can’t

In my last post, I explained a little bit of how addiction works in our brains. For addiction to occur, we must have had to have taken the addictive substance in first place, something many people, such as Peter Hitchens you may remember, regard erroneously as a choice that is worthy of punishment. Let’s look at how our brains make decisions and see if we agree with Mr. Hitchens, or if we have a different opinion. (more…)

Learning to Do Drugs

“Neuroanatomy and neurochemistry?! And you’re going to link it to an important social issues?! I knew you were a generous man who knows what I need,” you’ll say at the end of this article.

Have you ever heard someone say that addiction is a disease? Have you ever heard someone say that addiction isn’t a disease, but rather, substance abusers merely choose to make themselves sick? Have you ever heard someone defend either of these positions adequately? (more…)