4/25: The Brain

Please post a question in response to Oliver Sacks or Lettvin, Maturana, et al. You can respond to either of Sacks’s essays, or both.




  1. If the “higher consciousness,” (pg. 42) Sacks mentions in “The Last Hippie” is marked by “utopia, for inner freedom” (pg. 42), could we argue that Greg and the East Village drug culture he immerses himself in is more intrigued with a ‘lower’ consciousness, in which reality as they know it consists of a monotonous, “…conventional life of his parents and neighbors and the cynical, bellicose administration of the country,” (pg. 42) and this allows their minds to become muted for a time? Would Freud view Greg’s use of psychedelic drugs as a means of unmasking the unconscious or a conscious divorcing/ muting of one’s dissonance within their conscious and unconscious drives and experiences?

  2. If the “higher consciousness,” (pg. 42) Sacks mentions in “The Last Hippie” is marked by “utopia, for inner freedom” (pg. 42), could we argue that Greg and the East Village drug culture he immerses himself in is more intrigued with a ‘lower’ consciousness, in which reality as they know it consists of a monotonous, “…conventional life of his parents and neighbors and the cynical, bellicose administration of the country,” (pg. 42) and this allows their minds to become muted for a time? Would Freud view Greg’s use of psychedelic drugs as a means of unmasking the unconscious or a muting of one’s dissonance with both their conscious and unconscious drives?

  3. I was interested in the Sacks article on “The Case of the Colorblind Painter,” and the ability for the brain to adapt to an unusual accident. The article mentions that “work in the last decade has shown how plastic the cerebral cortex is, and how the cerebral “mapping” of body image, for example, may be drastically reorganized and revised, no only following injuries or immobilizations, but in consequence of the special use or disuse of individual parts” (41). The article then moves to give examples of huge hypertrophy that develops for blind people using Braille or remappings in the brain in the areas of the auditory cortex. This made me wonder how pliable or how “plastic” our cerebral cortex really is? When an accident occurs and obstructs the brain’s “normal” neural pathways, then is our brain always able to adapt and compensate for that loss of function? How much damage is too much?

  4. I first read “What the Frog’s Eye Tells the Frog’s Brain”, a bit confused on the relation to the topic besides the obvious that the Frog’s brain is different than a human’s. Then I read “The Last Hippie” and I saw the connection. Greg’s brain tumor injury reduced him to having a brain like the Frog. Unless Greg is stimulated by something he just sits in “idle” mode just like the Frog. “He will starve to death surrounded by food if it is not moving. His choice of food is determined only by size and movement” (Letvin p.1). Greg has no desires or wants, he only eats when it is brought to him and talks when people talk to him and he’s okay with doing so but once the stimulation is gone he goes back to idle mode. Sacks also described how Greg would remember implicit actions, ones connected to non damaged parts of his brain, so could there be a way to focus on that part of the brain and train it to adapt to doing things the other damaged parts used to do? It is also interesting in how we think we know what the brain is capable of but it’s constantly evolving and surprising us.

  5. What relationship of how the brain is impacted by vision of a Frog have with how vision impacts the brain of a human? Does our vision and perception condition our behavior more than our imagination? Or is there a relationship between imagination and perception?

    In the reading The Last Hippie, how does Greg’s behavior represent the differences between the brain of a human compared to a frog?

  6. In the article, “The Last Hippie,” Sacks explains Greg’s spiritual imagination early on in the story. He says, “One problem arose in Greg’s second year with the Kishnas – he complained that his vision was growing dim, but this was interpreted, by swami and others, in a spiritual way: he was ‘an illuminate,’ they told him; it was the ‘inner light’ growing. Greg had worried at first about his eyesight but was reassured by the swami’s spiritual explanation” (43).

    Do certain effects of Greg’s brain make him come to realization that this is all revolved around spirituality? Do past events determine and make Greg think in opposite ways?

  7. There is a bit of Irony in the fact that Greg, from “The Last Hippie” sought a higher sense of conscious, which led to his eventual mental “retardation” by lack of medical attention on his brain tumor. Whether it is the Yogi’s on their aesthetic journey or the Woodstock hippies on their acid bend, why is it that humans must seek this “higher” state of consciousness?

  8. In Sack’s article, “The Last Hippie”, Greg experiences a loss in the overall function of his brain and short term memory due to his excessive use of drugs and lack of attention to his personal health. If Greg were to administered a mind altering drug, such as those he previously used at concerts, how would this alter the parts of his memory that are still in tact with his past?

  9. “…he left home and went to live in the Village, where he dropped acid and joined the East Village drug culture-searching, like the others of his generation, for utopia, for inner freedom, and for ‘higher consciousness.'”

    In “The Last Hippie,” Greg takes drugs that supposedly assist him in creating a utopia or inner freedom. How do these drugs alter the human mind, and can it still be considered your personal conscious or something completely different?

  10. In “The Last Hippie” , we are introduced to a culture of rebellious young adults seeking a “utopia” that they seem to believe can be found through unraveling their minds with the recreational use of psycho-active drugs. While their trips that take them beyond the specificities of our one, mundane reality are only temporary, some (such as Greg) are left with permanent repercussions of the drug use. Was this what they were looking for? Is the idea of separating mind from reality the “inner freedom” they sought after?

  11. What do these readings tell us about the brain and how it works? What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

  12. Sacks describes two patients where damage to the brain causes changes in perception and personality. In the first, a painter with damage to the medial prestriate cortex (V4) can no longer see color, but only shades of gray. Through testing, the patient can distinguish different wavelengths of light, but the interpretation of “colors” by the damaged part of the brain is destroyed. Sacks concludes that colors are constructed by the brain, and have no objective reality. But experiments by Land (described by Sacks) indicate that the perception of colors depends on the surrounding colors/surfaces. If that is correct, then isn’t some aspect of color perception determined by the environment?

    In the second reading, a patient, Grateful Dead fan, a brain tumor destroys portions of his frontal lobes. This results in a change in personality, a “disinhibition” or lack of psychological distance between the patient and his environment. He also suffers extreme memory loss, with short-term memories not transferred to long-term memory. Yet his music memory, unlike factual memory, was not affected. Given that music and language are related, how does Sacks explain this difference?

  13. The story “The Last Hippie” had some interesting, and tragic, insights on recreational drug use and its long term side effects. I remember a story called Flowers for Algernon where a developmentally disabled man is give an experimental procedure that makes him extremely intelligent, as a result he realizes how people previously had been mocking or abusive towards him while he remained blissfully unaware. Is there some ancient “natural law” argument (not law as in regulartions, but in the Catholic intellectual “stick to these principles for human flourishing” sense) that threads so many of these types of stories together, whose moral is “Dont mess with the human brain, no matter how bad things are?” Did the ancients know this? Even in the Odyssey there was an island of Lotus Eaters whose minds had been melted by prolonged drug use. What would the primordial/ explanation for this knowledge have been? Do apes encounter druglike natural substances as well and shun their use?

  14. “The Last Hippie” talks about youth in rebellion in search of a “utopia” and “inner freedom.” The reading follows a man named Greg who was involved in drug culture. By dropping acid he was able to create his own world–his ideal world. Later, he realized that this lifestyle wasn’t for him and stopped doing drugs; however, this did not save him from developing a brain tumor. From this, he “lacked the constant dialogue of past and present, of experiencing and meaning, which constitutes consciousness and inner life for the rest of us” (50). Greg took drugs to have inner freedom and find his utopia, but at what cost should we be willing to sacrifice our physical well-being for out mental-well being?

  15. I was thoroughly interested in Sacks article of “The Last Hippie”. In this article, we are introduced to a man Greg who is stuck in a recreational drug world in order for him to reach a higher utopia. Because of this, he suffered the long term affects by developing a tumor which caused him to be blind and develop memory loss. I was primarily interested in Greg’s point of life where he suddenly forgot things said to him a few minutes later, however, some new things stuck to him. While Sacks states that Greg has lost the “the ability to acquire information about new facts and events” (53), Greg not only retained his ability to play the guitar, “but actually enlarged his musical repertoire, learning new techniques and fingering with Connie” (52). This notion was further explained when Sacks stated: “he might nonetheless have an unconscious or implicit memory” (53). This conclusion made me question the authoritative power of the unconscious mind. Did Greg’s drug use mute his internal unconscious? If so, how did the use of Greg’s drugs reveal his unconsciousness when he became sober?

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