I’m taking a class called “The Neurobiology of Stress” this semester, and yesterday we learned about feed-forward control (as opposed to feedback control). In systems that have feed-forward control, the controller anticipates the disturbance such that the control action is independent of the output.
In layman’s terms, it’s sort of like when you know you’re going to go into a cold room, and you decide to put on a jacket. Your action is anticipatory, and if your prediction is accurate, you don’t end up experiencing the cold— in other words, the effect of the disturbance (the temperature drop) is minimized, even eliminated. In this kind of control, instead of responding to the cold of the room, you are responding in a pre-defined way to the anticipation of going into the cold room.
Our bodies do this kind of preparation a lot; physiologically, we produce acid and saliva when we see food, or we adjust our posture just before someone drops a heavy book into our arms.
Psychologically, too, we “brace” ourselves for situations that we anticipate. I think a lot of it is learned, and some of it is so deeply embedded in our brains that we consider it merely reflexive, even adaptive (example: closing your eyes and turning your head when someone stretches a rubber band near your face).
Anyway, this was a big build up and now I’m kind of tired of writing, but it made me think about how I’m feeling going into my last year of college. I’ve pretty much got the school thing down pat— it only took sixteen years to figure out— and I know what to expect now: from myself, my peers, my teachers. I know for sure that I am going into a cold room and I already have my sweater and I know how to put it on.
But the same time, I’m overwhelmed and worried about this year because of all the new things I’m tackling. I’m taking more classes than ever (21 units, ack) and I’m taking on a research position at UCSF (dat commute and time commitment, ack) and I might be getting a microbiology lab job? (dat 8-hour shift on Saturdays and holidays, ack) and I’m trying to get my med school stuff together (MCAT scores out on September 9, ack). I’m scared that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, and yet I don’t want to sell myself short by turning down these opportunities that I’ve been given. Having just gotten the hang of balancing school and tutoring last semester, I feel like going into all of these new projects at once is overambitious and foolish of me.