Conscious and unconscious memory

Memory is fun to think about.
 
A new study from MIT that came out today shows that when we recall a memory our brain first makes a detour inside the hippocampus.
 
This shows that storage and retrieval systems inside the brain are separated.
 
There are two reasons for this proposed by the researchers.
 
That the subiculum-containing detour loop is dedicated to meet the requirements associated with recall such as rapid memory updating and retrieval-driven instinctive fear responses.
 
In more plain language, to update memories when we remember them, and secondly to change the overall brain state based on the content of the memory.
 
The second paper linked is also incredibly interesting. It is a paper that came out a few months ago that shows that memory formation is actually made in two different places, in the hippocampus and in long-term storage locations within the brains neocortex.
 
Over the next two weeks, the silent memory cells in the prefrontal cortex gradually matured, as reflected by changes in their anatomy and physiological activity, until the cells became necessary for the animals to naturally recall the event. By the end of the same period, the hippocampal engram cells became silent and were no longer needed for natural recall.
 
In the basolateral amygdala, once memories were formed, the engram cells remained unchanged throughout the course of the experiment. Those cells, which are necessary to evoke the emotions linked with particular memories, communicate with engram cells in both the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.
 
I would speculate that the fact that memories are formed within the neocortex simultaneously as storage within the hippocampus is proof that we have a strong ability to influence memory formation consciously since the neocortex is the most advanced brain region which is linked to conscious awareness.
 
At the same time the hippocampal retrieval system shows that there is a secondary pathway for memory retrieval that is more unconscious that is specially related to emotion.
 
Meaning, we have the ability to control memory formation fairly well but we are at the brains mercy when it comes to recall.
 
Once a memory is stored it is retrieved through emotion or conscious thought.
 
I think this makes intuitive sense. I experience something and can over time strengthen or weaken that memory through recall. However once the memory is formed it is more complicated to remove it especially the emotional part of the memory that is stored within the engram cells of the hippocampus.
 
http://news.mit.edu/2017/neuroscientists-discover-brain-circuit-retrieving-memories-0817
 
http://news.mit.edu/2017/neuroscientists-identify-brain-circuit-necessary-memory-formation-0406

Bridging gaps between paradigms

I think it’s a serious academic problem that people who work in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry seems to fail to grasp the limits of the scientific paradigm they work within.

Neuroscience has potential because it grows from other disciplines but seems to struggle to live up to its potential because researchers are focused on a tiny subset which makes it impossible to make up a larger picture. What the neuroscientists I have met seems to fail to grasp is the fact that everything about how the mind function is obvious. You will always keep searching and figure things out that we already know, because of course we know how it works. We use it all the time.

Neuroscientists seems to believe we will find some big secret that will suddenly reveal consciousness to us. That seems highly unlikely. Instead they are focusing on a tiny slice of a part of an onion failing to grasp that they are looking at an onion part on an onion that might have infinite layers.

Psychologists do understand that everything is obvious and seems to understand how people actually work really well. Most psychologist are skilled in intuitively understanding the mind but might lack the training to explain the same concepts with math, psychics and biology.

Psychiatry is a great tool to map out how things can go wrong. The problem is that it never asks the question why. It only says, if you are this amount of sad you are depressed, if you are this amount of afraid you are anxious, if you are this amount of delusional you are manic, if your perception is broken to this percentage you are psychotic.

We need to start asking why to figure out what is going on.

A good basis is to start from different perspectives on mental health that are true. Here is a good way to start.

All human traits exhibited in the population are traits that made us survive from being the first humans to present day in an unbroken line. So traits that seem dysfunctional might also serve a function both historically and in the present day. This can be explained in a couple of different ways.

1.

All our ancestors might have survived partly because the genetic traits that leads to mental health problems might have positive side effects for the individual or the group. The brother of a psychotic man might be extremely talented and its almost impossible to untangle these genes, otherwise they would have been untangled a long time ago. So we can’t have genius without madness and since one is incredibly useful for society the genes pass on.

2.

Madness is only relative to the society we live in. I have met hundreds of amazing artists in my life and I think most of them would have been diagnosed as either depressed or bipolar by a well meaning psychiatrist. Many of them live their life convinced that it’s the rest of society that is dysfunctional and that they are fine apart from fundamentally question why the hell most people are spending their entire life doing meaningless work and destroying the planet. I question that too.

3.

Every human is so unique that the distinction of what is healthy and what is diseased has to be made on the individual level. What might be functional for one person might be dysfunctional for another one. This agrees well with what we see in neuroscience, that every brain is unique. Your mind and your perception of the world is so unique that you live in a universe of your own making and there will never exists another human that views the world exactly the same way you do. So we need to look at each individual and ask ourselves, what is the best way for that person to move forward? instead of arbitrary assigning people to groups. Because your weakness is also your strength and your sensitivity to the world is what makes you see truths that are invisible to other people.

4.

Every human is capable of experiencing all emotions. By changing the makeup of neurotransmitters in a certain way you can make anyone experience any form of state within their mind including states that we currently define as mental health problems. By experiencing more a human will understand more of the world and will over time experience most things including things that might be seen by some as mental health problems. Most mental health professionals have a limited view of the mind because they have only studied it academically without spending time in introspection. But if you speak to people who are experts in their fields the truth seems to be that they have used unconventional avenues to find knowledge. I’ve met people who are well respected in their field who admitted that drugs (most likely psychedelic) has helped them understand things about the human consciousness.

Over time what we perceive to be a mental health problem also changes. It seems that we are constantly pushing the envelope, 10 years ago mindfulness was considered strange, now it’s normal. If we keep exploring the mind it will be interesting to see what will be considered normal in 10 years.

That being said, don’t do drugs kids!

5.

Moving theories of psychiatric disorders into the paradigm of neuroscience has a tremendous potential for explaining how we function in a way that is both accurate and without stigma.

So for instance instead of talking about ADHD we can say the following.

The human brain consists of two anti-correlated-networks, the default mode network that is active during rest, and the task positive network that is active when we are engaging in a task.

The default mode network is an incredible vast brain structure where our ideas of our self, our ideas of the world and our mental models of other people live. Here we think about the past, the future and other people. It is also the place in our mind where most of our free thinking takes place.

Struggle to attain attention during a task is caused by activation of the default mode network. This is always caused by the default mode network believing that the task we are doing is unimportant (and thus not assigning enough dopamine for us to be able to focus on the task). To overcome this you need to either give yourself more dopamine or convince yourself that the task is important.

There is an evolutionary advantage of the world consisting of people who are both good and bad at doing menial tasks. People who are good at doing menial tasks hopefully save the people who suck at it from starving to death and in turn the people who are bad at doing menial tasks have a chance of figuring out new ways of doing things that will improve the efficiency of the entire tribe.

We can keep describing disorders in psychiatry through this lens.

The default mode networks primary function is to decide how to move forward in the world by computing the values of the mental representation of you, the world and people inside the default mode network of your brain.

A strong belief in your self, the world or people will lead to more actions (because your own computations of the likelihood of positive externalities increase). A lack of belief in your self, the world of people will lead to less actions (because your own computations of the likelihood of positive externalities decrease).

Believing that you have a limited ability to influence the world is technically true but is not a very beneficial way to view things. Lack of belief in yourself leads to disillusion and depression and complete apathy. The opposite complete belief in yourself might be an illusion but is seemingly a life strategy that is sometimes surprisingly effective and can make you become the president of the most powerful country of the world.

It’s important to view mental health by asking the following question, is the individual moving towards goals that they find important? This is a really complex question, because who decides our goals? Do we decide them ourself or do we need society to arbitrary tell us what is right and wrong?

In my view it seems that we as a society seem to struggle to understand how much of what we view every single day is just people feeding us delusions and us blindly accepting it. Every commercial you ever viewed is a lie and it’s bringing you further away from the truth, so technically almost every human being alive is very delusions about the world.

But there are some forms of delusions we accept (blindly following the laws of society without questioning them because we believe that society has our best interest at heart) but others that we perceive as crazy (thinking that society isn’t a living force and thus is in a way incapable of having neither your best or worst interest at heart or believing that society is a negative force that is actively destroying the life of its citizens).

The reason that we think these people are crazy is partly because they threaten the foundational values that society is founded on and that makes everyone living a life that close to the norms of society extremely uncomfortable. Because if it is really true that I can do whatever I want, why am I not doing that instead of what I’m doing right now?

Neuroscience and the glass onion

Neuroscience is tricky because just as the glass onion it consists of many interconnected layers.
 
Math
Physics
Chemistry
Biology
Psychology
 
A working theory of the brain has to connect all these layers in a satisfactory way and explain all human behaviour from the beginning of time to the present day.
 
The signal processing theories of the brain are actually really good so we already have theories to explain how information gets processed within the brain. We know how information enters the brain, the big question is, what happens once the information enters the conscious parts of our brain?
 
If you want to learn about signal processing theory of the mind and entropy you should read the best paper I have ever read in my entire life, The entropic brain, one of the best papers ever written (in my opinion).
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020/full
 
I’m currently doing some writing trying to connect the layers. My focus is on answering the question, what happens once information is conscious in the mind? How is perception, thought and actions shaped by stimuli in the conscious mind?
 
A simple explanation is, the information interacts with cognitive models in the default mode network.
 
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Default_mode_network
 
The cognitive model holds the mental representation of you and the world and are represented in biology through biological neural networks.
 
Based on the values of these models you get an output, that is either additional thoughts or actions in the world.
 
However this explanation lacks mathematical modelling of the neural networks and explanation for how neurotransmitters affect cognition.
 
If you want to help me out with this you are more than welcome.
 
I believe that every single human knows exactly how the brain function because we use the brain all the time! We just don’t know that we know, which is confusing. So all feedback is welcome.
 
To seek comfort in this hard task I always think of a quote regarding Richard Feynman.
 
Surprisingly, Richard Feynman wasn’t the type of physicists who liked to speculate. Instead he liked to work within the things that was understood and just understand it better than everyone else.
 
PM me and I’ll send you a link to the document.

Translation to machine language inside the mind

Translation to “machine language” inside the human brain is really interesting when you think about how you are interacting with other people in the world.

I would argue that my social skills are good.

To explain why is a fairly complicated process.

First.

I think that I’m good at understanding the underlying meaning of language when someone speech. Meaning I both understand the actual words but more importantly I understand the motivation behind the words. So when people speak with me the communication is fairly lossless. I try my best to absorb all the data.

The next step is translating that data into something meaningful to act on.

This is incredibly complex and is related to theory of mind, the idea that inside your mind you have a mental representation of another person, as well as default models of behaviour. You need that representation of the other person to make sense of the words they speak, because you need to understand how their words relate to your view of the world.

You then need to translate their words using your mental representation of them into your own machine language, the language that your mind speaks.

Once that is done the computations are run inside your mind, their language is processed and you are working on a response.

To make a good response is also incredibly complicated because your response should both be accurate, kind and sincere and take into account the other persons knowledge of the world (not your own) to form a coherent response.

Then you need to speech in an articulate manner with enough information to keep the other person interested while remembering to keep all your atoms and molecules working.

Pretty hard stuff.

Overfitting biological neural networks

I think it could be good if we spent a minute talking about overfitting.
 
Because overfitting is the biggest problems with artificial neural networks it is likely true that they are also a huge problem in biological neural networks (your brain)
 
Your brain often works with the map of an object instead of the territory. This means that the bran often spends much more time thinking about the state of the world than acting in it.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map%E2%80%93territory_relation
 
This can lead to interesting errors. Because we are seldom checking our models in the real world.
 
To quote some math
 
“The error on the training set (your inner representation of the world) is driven to a very small value, but when new data is presented to the network the error is large. The network has memorized the training examples, but it has not learned to generalize to new situations (act in the real world).
 
Here are some example:
 
You meet a new person, who you think is fantastic in every way. After the meeting you reflect about how amazing and wonderful they are, they seem to be perfect. When you meet again it turns out they are just a normal person (aren’t we all?).
 
You meet a new person, who you think is terrible. After the meeting you reflect about how awful they are, they seem to be dreadful. When you meet again it turns out they are just a normal person (aren’t we all?).
 
You are sure that people in the category group X has attribute Y that makes them better than people in the category group Z who has attribute Q.
 
Of course I make the same mistakes too. Because you can never get rid of your own bias. All you can hope for is to become more aware of it. If you believe that you don’t have any bias you are wrong. Plain and simple.