Thank you for visiting!

Thank you for visiting!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Free will" redux :oD

Thank you all for your fabulous, thoughtful responses regarding the question of "free will". I loved reading each of your thoughts and stories on the subject!

It appears we are mostly leaning in the direction of yes: yes, there is such a thing as free will. At the same time, we all suspect there are times when we make decisions in a state of mind that is less than completely "free". Case in point: the schizophrenic man who is off his meds and  acting in a manner that he wouldn't if her were taking them...

Perhaps the "free" part is sometimes buried in so many layers of choices that we have trouble finding it in retrospect? There is a song by Casting Crowns called "Slow Fade" that speaks to this a bit. You can check it out here:

I have a follow-up question, however. As a mom, I have long lamented the fact that our children may make immature, even childish decisions (an exercise of will) of which that, due to their immaturity, they may be incapable of grasping the significance/potential consequences.

Is it appropriate, then, to say that they have "free" will? Is decision-making truly free when one is unable to truly evaluate the potential outcome?

I don't know. Perhaps you have some thoughts?

One last thing I'd like to share as you ponder your response to this question:

The Casting Crowns song (above) incorporates the lyrics of an old children's hymn that kind of bothered me when I heard it. It goes something like this: "Be careful little eyes what you see (repeat). For the father up above is looking down with love; be careful little eyes what you see."

I confess that this song always seemed a bit, well, confusing to me. At once a warning (be careful what you see), simultaneously a promise of God's love (for the father up above is looking down with love).  I was never sure what the lyricist meant by the juxtaposition of those two statements.

Recently I read a book in which the author talked about an experience he had with this song that he felt put it in to perspective. He was being driven through an extremely impoverished area by a missionary friend, assailed by the incredible challenges being faced by the people whom they passed on the road. Lack of permanent housing, food instability, poor health amid filthy conditions...

Then from the back seat of the car, the missionary's daughters, who had been singing children's songs to pass the time, started singing "Be careful little eyes what you see...Be careful little feet where you go...".  And it struck the author then that this lyric was not so much a threat or admonition, but a plea to pay attention. A reminder to really SEE those who surround us and to remember that (1) God loves each of them, too, and (2) God wants us to act as conduits: to SEE and to ACT.

But back to children and free will: is it "informed" enough to be "free" will to those unable to grasp the consequences?

Inquiring minds want to know ;o)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Free will? Or is it "all about the meat"?

Hi there -- I hope you are enjoying a relaxing weekend. Or an exciting weekend. Or a (fill in the blank) weekend that is exactly what you would hope for.  :oD

I'm going to try to keep this brief, but would LOVE to hear what you think. Heck, share this with your friends, enemies and co-workers. It would be fun to get a discussion going on this:

Is there such a thing as "free will"?

As a neuroscientist who also happens to be a christian, I find that question bounces around the walls of my brain with a remarkable frequency. Matt, who is also a neuroscientist, but an atheist is firmly in the "it's all about the "meat"" camp. He believes that the chemical soup that bathes the various areas of our brains is responsible for how we feel and act at any given time. That there isn't much choice, or "will" to be tapped.

I admit he's got a point. I imagine that you, if you have ever suffered from a neurological issue such as narcolepsy, depression, bi-polar disorder or a similar challenge may also understand his point -- whether or not you actually agree with it.

I suspect that most of us have had experiences, thoughts, feelings, actions, that were modifiable via a neuro-active drug or chemical. Have you ever had a "runner's high"? I, sadly, haven't. I do, however, find that pretty much any other kind of exercise will elevate my mood, no matter how depressed or "normal" I was feeling prior to the exercise.

Pharmaceutical treatments act in much the same way. As do some "over the counter" (or "under the radar") street drugs. They change the chemical composition in an area of the brain that makes one feel, think, or act differently.

There was a sadly common story in today's Oregonian about a man with schizophrenia who refused to take his meds and eventually digressed to the point where he stabbed to death his sister who was trying to care for him. That man is a different person on and off his medications. Or at the very least, he certainly acts like a different person when he is on his meds.

So -- answer me this please: is it all about the meat? Are we pretty much a product of our brain chemistry?? Or does he or you or I have "free will". And is this really an "either/or" question?

Oh, and one last question. What do you think about the practice of forcing someone to take their medication? Some states allow this for mentally ill individuals who are deemed dangerous; others don't. What do you think? Is this every appropriate? Is it ever inappropriate?

This inquiring mind wants to know ;o)

Now go get some exercise or do something positive that makes YOU feel good!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The hair of the dog!

Hi there -- I hope you are doing fabulous on this lovely evening!

As for me, I am sitting here next to the unhappy pup, listening as Dr. Phil fixes some rude teens on the TV. I love TV -- I watch it far too much. I think I am addicted to the hope that I, too, will tidily resolving all the conflicts of my day in a single 30-60 minute time slot.

Do you ever wish that life would imitate "art" in this way?

I think Brooklyn does. At the moment she looks like she has leprosy or something. I never knew a dog could be so vain! She has been skulking around the house all day. I think she knows it is going to take a good long time for her beautiful latte-colored curls to grow back. Those bald patches really do make her look like she got into a fight with a week whacker, and the whacker won.

Yesterday started out so uneventfully. Matt was playing his computer game, we had some coffee; I took Brooklyn for a nice walk through the park.

I was feeling a bit down, missing our family, and I shared this with Matt. I decided to work out since that never fails to make me feel better.

Matt decided that he would do something nice to surprise me. Brooklyn's coat was getting a bit matted so he set about giving her a trim.

This is not the first time Matt has cut Brooklyn's hair. He's done it a couple of times now, both with rather disastrous results. And yet, all I've been able to say is "Thank you, Sweetie, for taking care of that chore".

To be honest, I would much rather he vacuum the house. Or clean the bathrooms. Or do just about anything else that needs to be done. (and that's a list that has lots of choices on it!)

But do I tell him this? Oh, no.

Why don't I tell him this? For goodness sake, he spent nearly 3 hours shaving the dog and she looks WORSE than when he started. Heck, I finished working out, showered, got a drink, tidied up the downstairs, and then joined him for a good 45 minutes while he continued to whack at her curls. And I sat there while he kept chopping away.

This weird thing happens sometimes when Matt takes his "wakey" meds: he gets so engrossed in even the simplest task that he literally can not put it down. About 2 1/2 hours into Brooklyn's "trim", I realized that this was what was happening.

So I asked him "So, Hunny, how do you know when you are finished cutting her hair?".

The pup's ears perked up, and I blotted at a couple of bald patches that were starting to bleed a little.

"Uh, I don't know. I just keep pulling up the hair and trimming until it looks like it doesn't need anymore. Hmm, I've got a couple of bald spots here" Matt replied. "Maybe I should stop and just shave it all off the next time? It will be much easier next week now that I've done all this!".

"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea" I said. But what I was thinking was "thank God!"

I don't think I can print what Brooklyn was thinking.

So now I need to figure out a gentle and kind way of re-directing Matt's attention to a different task next weekend. Perhaps the car needs an oil change? I really need to find a sufficiently manly chore.

Winter comes soon and that doggy is way too vain to let me put her in a jacket!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Neurocurious? I am ;o)

It may appear so, but I have NOT forgotten: I promised to share some thoughts Matt and I have had about just how his brain is being derailed in a way that causes him to collapse in a cataplectic lump o' humanity. In an unexpected way on a recent weekend, a new piece of that very complicated puzzle called "Matt's narcolepsy" may have revealed itself.

Oops! I once again get ahead of myself and forget my manners. What an impersonal greeting! Please accept my apologies and allow me a short detour to remedy that moment of rudeness:

Hi there. I've missed you! It's been awhile since I have had a chance to check in. I was away from home, separated from my computer and in full-on care-taking mode, aiding my Dad who is recovering from surgery. Dad is doing better and I am back home with my Sweetie and the pup. Yay on all three counts!

OK, now that we've said a proper "hello", lets get to work on that puzzle.

So far what we have is mostly some nice edge pieces and a few corners. Hmmm, even the most cursory examination indicates that once it is complete, this puzzle is going to be a very revealing picture of Matt's brain. And despite it's rogue activity in the sleep arena, it is a pretty awesome brain if I may say so myself. Yeah, I know I am not the most objective person, but this is my blog so we will go with that ;o)

This new puzzle piece fell out of the sky a few weekends ago. We were hanging around the house, enjoying the beautiful weather when Matt started having uncharacteristic, repeated attacks of cataplexy. There he was at the computer, playing a game and suddenly he would feel an attack coming on. The weirdest thing about this was that this is one of the few activities that occupy Matt's attention in such a way that he never has attacks while doing it. Seriously. Never.

I confess I was pretty concerned, worried that what we were observing was the beginning of a worsening of Matt's symptoms. The night before we had a couple of friends over for dinner for the first time in months, and he had a long, uncharacteristic attack then also. It seemed odd. He hasn't had an attack around our friends in quite some time. And then the next day he was suddenly having these attacks in the middle of a normally "safe" activity.

Confession: I tend of hang on, white knuckled, to the hope that Matt's symptoms have hit bottom. That they will not get any worse. I have lost so much of him already. We are so limited in how much we can do together. And Matt is so limited in the number of things he can do and be fairly confident that he will remain awake and able to move. This disease sucks. The thought that it will get worse? Very, very frightening.

So, this weekend was sick-to-my-stomach scary.

And then I started to get a migraine. No surprise, I often get them when exposed to flashing lights or repeated auditory stimuli. Matt observed that the low frequency sound vibrations caused by the planes flying overhead was probably triggering my headache.

Oh yeah, did I mention that there was an Air Show being held just minutes from our house?

Yup, there were planes flying over our house all weekend long. Droning overhead during the time we were attempting to share a meal with our friends. Zooming by during the time Matt was playing his computer game. Flying around during all the times in between.


That sort of thing is called a variable. Something that is different from one "experiment" to the next. Or, as in this case, something that was different from one weekend to the next. Something that made this one weekend different than many weekends past during which Matt didn't have attacks while visiting friends or playing his game.

Of course we may be deluding ourselves. The increase in attacks may have nothing to do with the auditory stimuli from the jets flying by, but the next weekend, when the planes were gone, Matt was back to "normal": no attacks during his game play. And we haven't had a repeat of that increase in frequency of attacks yet.

So, yeah. I admit it's kinda lumpy and poorly defined, but I think this piece fits in the puzzle somewhere. Heck, it may even turn out to be one of those important bits, a piece that allows one to finally put an entire region of the picture together.

Until next time, sweet dreams!