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week 2

Focused Freewriting

1. I thought that the article was very scientifically informative, protrayed a good portion of Thernsterom’s own beleif, and was a bit unorganized and unfocused. I felt like it was all over the place, and didn’t have a clear topic other than the human body in general. It was also cluttered with too much information, so much that I got lost at some points.

2. The text is both a science essay and a personal essay, although it leans more towards personal. At times the article flip flops between Thernstrom’s personal accounts and explanations of scientific material. Everything relates back to her personal accounts in some way however.


“Suddenly, the machine made a deep rattling sound, and an image flickered before me: my brain. I am looking at my own brain, as it thinks my own thoughts, including these thoughts.”  (page 1)

This passage is particularly important to the author. One of her deepest interests was to be able to visualize her pain. In the beginning she had described it as “soggy, moldy, dark or perhaps ashy, like those alarming pictures of smokers’ lungs” but now since the development of the new fMRI technology, she could see the pain in action in her brain.

“As it turned out, I got a second-degree burn that later darkened into a square mark. Mackey was more than a little dismayed as we watched the reddening skin pucker, but I was thrilled. Naturally the protocol had been carefully designed not to injure anyone, yet in my case that protection had failed because of the very phenomenon it was designed to study: expectation — the effect of the mind on pain or placebo.”

This passage is important to me because I find it amazing how very real the mind and body connection is.


4. The emotions that the article envokes are a sense of exploration, and curiosity. There are still many questoins about pain and consciousness left unanswered by the article, and the article leaves off on a tone envoking these emotions.

5. “The suggested pain-reduction strategies, however, did little to quell the flames on the screen. I pictured suffocating the pain with banal positive imagery: flowing water or honey, something soft and gentle, but my mind kept slipping back to the progress of the auto-da-fé, and the rACC fire flared.”

In this passage Thernstrom doubts the pain reduction strategies that were taught to her before the excecise. They do nothing for her pain, and her pain increases.

6. “How does it work? I want to ask. Just as people were once puzzled by Freud’s talking cure (how does describing problems solve them?), the Stanford study makes us wonder: How can one part of our brain control another by looking at it? Who is the “me” controlling my brain, then? It seems to deepen the mind-body problem, widening the old Cartesian divide by splitting the self into subject and agent.”

This passage functions in the text by raising a deeper question about the mind-body conenction, which she will later explore by talking about consciousness.

“One big concern we had,” Mackey says, “is, Were we creating the world’s most expensive placebo?”

This passage functions in the text by introducing another study done by Mackey, which proves that the MRI technique was not just some extravagent placebo effect,

7. She uses martyrs in the text as paragons of the mind-body control over pain. She describes them as not feeling any pain because of how they can control their emotions and feelings.

8. Thernstrom asks us to ponder deeply about the brain, how it works, and how consciousness is involved. She attempts to convince the reader to do so by raising interesting questions about consciousness and how the brain functions.

9. The article is unfocused because it branches from one topic to the next without really delving deep into one idea. It starts out desribing and discussing pain, then how pain functions in the brain, then how the brain can be controlled by emotion, then back to other functions and anatomy, and ends with an open ended question about consciousness. However, the ending of the article somewhat brings it all together by relating cinsciousness and the brain both to pain, and how both parts interact and facilitate pain in the brain.


“I believe the technique may make lasting changes because the brain is a machine designed to learn,” deCharms says. The brain is soft-wired (plastic) rather than hard-wired: whenever you learn something new, new neural connections are believed to form and old, unused ones to wither away. (Researchers refer to this as activity-dependent neuroplasticity.) In other words, if you actively engage a certain brain region, you can alter it.

I like the idea that the brain is “soft wired” because it reminds me that the brain is capable of amazing things, and that you are in complete control of it.

11. The article ends with the quote because it opens up more questions for thought about the brain and how it relates to feeling. It also raises the question fo what we are actually seeing in MRI scans.

12. readers might overlook other remedies to pain such as physical therapy, or hollistic approaches to helping aid the pain. Although the hollistic approaches may just produce placebo effects, thet are worth looking into, especially when you are desperate for a cure.

13. The parts where Thernstrom discusses the placebo effect reminded me of a documentary I once watched on dietary supplements, titled “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”. The documentary helped me better understand the placebo effect and some of the ways that you can trick your brain and body. Due to this previous knowledge, when Thernstrom brought up these concepts I already understood them for the most part.




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