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Harrison Brown

Robin Lowe
English 404
16 December 2015
Neurons and the Concept of Thought
A conscious mind offers many questions on the nature of human existence. One such
question is why we are able to form thoughts and control muscles, and this can be answered with
neurons and neurotransmitters. Neurons are the circuitry of the brain, and allow us to control
our bodies in a way that is unparalleled anywhere in modern technology. Neurons act through
electrical and chemical exchanges; these processes can be manipulated in a laboratory to control
muscle movement, as seen in Shelleys Frankenstein.
Thoughts and emotions appear superficially to be unfathomable and unquantifiable, but
in reality, these romantic concepts are completely controlled by the neurons and
neurotransmitters in our brain. Dopamine is one such example of a strong neurotransmitter that
overwhelms our subconscious minds. It is responsible for the reward-based behavior, such as
addictions, romance, and even simple tasks such as sleep. Dopamine can be mimicked by other
chemicals, though, as many narcotics are chemically similar to dopamine. Drug addictions are
often caused by an increased resistance to these artificial neurotransmitters, which explains the
need for a drug user to continually increase their intake of a substance to dangerous levels. While
substance abuse is a major use of artificially inducing communication between neurons, it is not
the only means, as scientists are also able to create strong chemical signals.
In Shelleys Frankenstein, a debate is made on whether or not it is ethical to create life
from death. 19th century sciences were not yet advanced enough to understand the processes

behind neurons and brain chemistry, but in the modern era, it is known that thoughts and
emotions are fundamentally controlled by neurotransmitters, as stated earlier. The moral resolve
of imbuing a creature with unique consciousness dissolves once the concept of neurons is
introduced. Without these cells, a brain cannot function, so one must assume that Victor
Frankenstein controlled the forces of neural behavior. Neurons operate on electrical impulses, so
it is logical that a burst of electricity, which can be inferred from the novel, could be able to
reinvigorate neural cells, bringing life back from death. Once these cells have been restarted,
they would be able to control the heart and lungs, allowing the body to once again sustain itself
independently. However, if a body has sufficiently decayed, the neurons and the brain itself
would have atrophied so far as to become unsalvageable.
Neurons themselves are also easily mimicked by science and technology, as recent
technological advances have allowed computers to operate at speeds previously unheard of. An
artificial neural network is such an example; an artificial neural network, or ANN for short, is
software that allows the simulation of many digital neurons, allowing a computer to recognize
patterns and repetition. In one of these networks, there are three types of digital neurons, the
input, the output, and the hidden neurons. An input neuron takes a value and sends it to a
corresponding hidden neuron; if more than one input variable is necessary, then the system
creates additional neurons for each variable. Hidden neurons are the main power behind the
network; they map known output values to each input, so that the network can learn and predict
outputs for previously unseen values. Output neurons are less interesting, as they simply compile
values given to them by the hidden neurons and display them on a screen or in a data table. Such
a device can be used in a variety of ways, but most interestingly, this software has the ability to
learn, making it unique in the field of technology.

The story of Victor Frankenstein gives us an insight into the ethics of creating life ex
nihilo. While not rooted in modern science, this novel contains some scientific merit, as it is
possible to stimulate neurons through electrical impulses. It then is conceivable to reanimate a
sample of brain tissue through electricity, provided that the cells have not deteriorated.

Mandal, Ananya. "Dopamine Functions." News-Medical.net. 10 Jan. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Blatchford, Ian. "Who Am I?" How Do Nerves Connect with Each Other? Wellcome Trust, n.d.
Web. 16 Dec. 2015.