Working memory improved with electrical stimulation, study shows

Scientists have used a noninvasive form of electrostimulation to boost working memory in older people, effectively giving 70-year-olds the thinking abilities of their 20-year-old selves, at least temporarily. (Scientists Fixed People’s Working Memory With Simple Electrical ‘Zaps’ to The Brain)

The study (paywall) is here: Working memory revived in older adults by synchronizing rhythmic brain circuits.

From the abstract:

…After 25 min of stimulation, frequency-tuned to individual brain network dynamics, we observed a preferential increase in neural synchronization patterns and the return of sender–receiver relationships of information flow within and between frontotemporal regions. The end result was rapid improvement in working-memory performance that outlasted a 50 min post-stimulation period.

This study further demonstrates the importance of electrical waves in brain functioning. It targets working memory decline in older adults but similar improvements were found in young adults already experiencing memory deficits.

“We showed that the poor performers who were much younger, in their 20s, could also benefit from the same exact kind of stimulation,” Reinhart says in a statement.

“We could boost their working memory even though they weren’t in their 60s or 70s.” (Scientists Fixed People’s Working Memory With Simple Electrical ‘Zaps’ to The Brain)

News stories on working memory tend to trivialize it as merely a brain function that helps us remember phone numbers or where we put stuff. When in fact…

…working memory is the part of you that organizes and executes action in real-time. All real-time actions—save stupor or deep sleep—require working memory.

Working memory is where your life meets the world, where your existential rubber meets the real-time road.

Working memory is the spear point of the mind as it does life. For this reason, it is the single best key to understanding human psychology. And through this understanding to change it for the better. (Working memory is key to deep psychological transformation)

Other news articles:

As Memories Fade, Can We Supercharge Them Back to Life?

Scientists reverse memory decline using electrical pulses

Weak Electrical Currents Can Restore Working Memory In Older Adults

Incidentally, Buddhist mindfulness practice can greatly enhance working memory while also adding a metacognitive component to it in circumstances that would not otherwise normally call on metacognition.

FIML practice does something similar in that it adds a layer of psychological and linguistic mindfulness to working memory during acts of interpersonal communication.

Abstract reasoning and mental illness

Listening to the ranting of a friend who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I am struck by two things:

  • he gives reasons for his anger
  • his reasoning or abstract understanding of his predicament is ridiculous

(His rant was recorded and sent to me by a third party who is trying to help.)

With that as a starting point, consider the various ways abstract reasoning or solid abstract paradigms can compensate for or mask mental illness. Not all of it is pretty.

For example, serial killers often mask their illnesses for decades by holding fast to the appearance of normalcy while secretly indulging their madness.

Less bad are career criminals who act with savagery in less direct ways, through hit men, poisons, theft, fraud, and so on.

There is a wide spectrum between serial killers and normally inoffensive people.

It is reasonable to see all cultures as fundamentally abstract paradigms that mask and allow for madness among large groups of people.

A culture, after all, is nothing more than a Lowest-Common-Denominator system of communication; an LCD semiology. Consider how many cultures are grotesquely narcissistic.

Personality is much the same whether it conforms well or not to whichever cultural semiology it inhabits.

From this point of view, enshrining diversity only ensures a wider array of mad people. Identity politics is the same; just more ways for mad people to function, more room for them to run free; more abstract paradigms to mask their underlying chaos.

That is a decent modern restatement of the First and Second Noble Truths: life is suffering because we are crazy.

The Third and Fourth Noble Truths tell us that the way out of being crazy is to use our reason better; to understand why we are crazy; that clinging to LCD semiologies can’t ever work.

A philosophical psychologist might rightly say that a mad mind open to reason will gradually become well.

My friend with BPD can reason, but his reasoning is really bad. It’s selfish, marinated in anger, and not open to contrary views. But even he can do it if he clings to reason and evidence.

Abstract reasoning and paradigms such as Buddhism, science, other religions, atheism, psychology, or philosophy can lead us out of madness if we use them diligently.

Diligence or perseverance is one of the most important virtues in Buddhist practice. Wisdom is the most important. Compassion is probably the most famous Buddhist virtue but compassion without wisdom or diligence is not good and can even be dangerous.

Indeed, my BPD friend frequently and loudly demands unreasonable compassion from others. And that is one of the most obvious flaws in the way he thinks about himself, the way he reasons.

Speech and emotion

Good speech can and sometimes should be emotional.

Adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones can and should stimulate our bodies and brains when we discuss subjects that matter.

I love it when my SO stands up to emphasize her words with gestures. Her voice rises with the conviction that her point is relevant and important.

Usually it is. If it isn’t, she almost always easily moves on. Even if she doesn’t, I still love it.

I know she talks with feeling because the subject matters, not because her ego or “identity” is emotionally invested (though even that can be good).

When people care about what they are saying, their bodies resonate with feeling.

IMO, it’s a mistake to try too hard to control that or hide that. Emotions like that stimulate the mind/brain and make us smarter.

Technology and human transformation

Most fundamental changes in human societies happen due to technological advances.

The next big change in human psychology will come from inexpensive, very sensitive brain scans.

These scans will show millions people in real-time how their brains are actually behaving and reacting. Presently unnoticed or concealed twinges of emotion will become conspicuously visible on a screen or within a hologram that surrounds our heads.

People will be able to use this technology in the company of a computer program or with a human partner. A good AI program will use brain-scan information to reveal much about us. We will learn stuff about how we actually function that very few are aware of today.

Having this knowledge will change the way we understand ourselves and our interactions with others. Rather than work almost exclusively with the vague stories we tell ourselves, we will be able to see how our brains (and bodies) actually function in real time.

The difference between our stories and how we actually function is very great. Great enough to completely change the landscape of what we now think of as human psychology.

There already exist inexpensive EEG rigs that are sort of good at measuring moods and honesty. There are also expensive ones with more capacity. Within a decade or two, these devices will be much better. An accurate lie-detector will surely be included in the consumer package.

This technology will rewrite our understanding of human psychology and remake the ways we think of human society today. If you want to get a head start on the future, learn how to do FIML now.


First posted 4/30/18

Is there a universal morality or basis for morality?

Anthropologists from the University of Oxford believe there are seven components or rules of human morality that can be found in all societies.

…help you family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others’ property, were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

An article about this study can be found here: Seven moral rules found all around the world.

The study itself can be found here: Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies.

The study concludes that the universal basis of human morality is cooperation.

Among the seven rules, bravery is defined as a moral virtue in defense of one’s group, an ultimate form of cooperation that may result in death.

Deference to superiors seems to be a virtue that supports group hierarchy.

Both bravery and deference to superiors indicate that fighting within and between groups is common.

In today’s world, obviously, many people and most Americans do not live in tribes or stable neighborhoods, so our groups have become nebulous, abstract, bound more by belief and imagination than tribal and clan and familial bonds.

In this respect, the study shows why politics—and other subjects touching on group identity—can become so polarized and so difficult to discuss rationally.

Psychology as a feature (and bug) of language

Since almost all uses of language are ambiguous and since this ambiguity can only be resolved sometimes, it follows that whatever is not resolved is interpreted subjectively.

Since such subjective interpretations happen many time per day, it follows that individuals will tend to deal with unresolved ambiguity in idiosyncratic ways that tend toward becoming patterns in time.

This results in what we call “personality.” Extroverts seek to define the moment by asserting meaning while introverts tend to wonder about that or just accept the meaning asserted by the extrovert.

A paranoid person sees danger in unresolved ambiguity while a neurotic person worries and reacts to it.

Having experienced early trauma associated with unresolved ambiguity, borderline personalities are acutely aware that something is wrong and often mad about it.

Besides these rough categorizations, all people are molded by their habitual responses to unresolved ambiguity. Personality is little more than a name for our groping attempts to find or manufacture assurance and consistency in a world where little is certain.

Instead of talking about our feelings or pasts, we would all do much better if we talked about how we talk and how we deal with the ambiguity inherent in virtually all significant communication.

Language itself is neutral as a thing in itself, but they way we use it is not neutral. We assume too much and clarify too little.

Context drives electrical excitement in brain

A new study has shown that:

…after mice formed a memory in a context, the engram cells encoding that memory in a brain region called the hippocampus would temporarily become much more electrically excitable if the mice were placed back in the same context again. ( How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall)

The study is here: Engram Cell Excitability State Determines the Efficacy of Memory Retrieval

I do not believe it is much of a stretch to suppose that something similar happens with humans in virtually any significant context.

Since humans are social animals that respond to signals from other humans and since we often base our understanding of our social contexts on signals from other humans, it follows that strongly-perceived signals coming from others will cause “engram cells…in the hippocampus…to become electrically excitable.”

An “electrically excitable” hippocampus probably corresponds to what we have called a “jangle” in FIML practice. A jangle is the sensation that a psychological response may be or is initiating. It is the subjectively-felt onset in the mind of a “psychological morpheme.”

An instance of FIML practice is properly begun as soon as a significant “electrically excitable” response is first perceived. But before we “get reminded of details of some specific events” (Ibid) that originally produced that response.

Professor Tonegawa’s full statement on this is:

This initial recall could be a general recall of the vacation. But moments later, you may get reminded of details of some specific events or situations that took place during the vacation which you had not been thinking about.

By beginning a FIML query as soon after a jangle is perceived, any unwanted “context” that lies deeper in the brain is not recalled. Instead, the immediate basis of that context (the percepta that initiated the jangle) is isolated and analyzed.

See this for more: Disruption of neurotic response in FIML practice.

In Buddhist practice, a jangle is the second skandha. The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. In modern terms, form might be better called “percepta.” In this context, a form/percepta is anything that enters working memory or consciousness.

For Buddhists, FIML can be understood as a mindfulness partnership where partners help each other with the five skandhas. By disrupting the normal or habitual unfolding of the five skandhas at the second skandha, FIML partners learn how to eliminate mistaken or unwanted responses when they first arise as jangles but before they become full blown psychological contexts.