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.

Micro, meso, and macro levels of human understanding

This post is concerned with the micro, meso, and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought, and how those levels affect human understanding.

  • Micro levels are very small units of thought or communication. These can be words, phrases, gestures, etc. and the “psychological morphemes” that accompany them. A psychological morpheme is the smallest unit of an emotional or psychological response.
  • Meso levels lie between macro and micro levels. Longer discourse, a sense that people have personalities or egos, and the basic ideas of any culture appear at this level.
  • Macro levels are the larger abstract levels that sort of stand above the other two levels. Macro levels might include religious or scientific beliefs, political ideologies, long-term personal goals or strategies.

Most people most of the time socialize on the meso level, often with support from shared macro level beliefs or aims. For most people, the broad outlines of most emotions are defined and conditioned at the meso level. This is the level where the nuts and bolts of convention are found. This is the level that tosses the beach balls of conversation back and forth across the dinner table and that defines those balls. The meso level defines our subculture and how well or badly we conform to it. The meso level is necessary for much of social life and sort of fun, though it is by definition not very detailed or profound. It is something most people can agree on and work with fairly easily for an hour or two at a time.

Many people define themselves mainly on the meso level and judge others by their understanding of this level. Many subcultures become stifling or cloying because meso definitions are crude and tend to leave out the rich subjectivity of individuals. Macro definitions are not all that different from meso ones except that they tend to define group feelings more than meso definitions. Groups band together based on macro level assumptions about ideologies, science, religion, art, style, location, ethnicity, etc.

Since most people are unable to fully access micro levels of communication the rich subjectivity of the individual mind is rarely, if ever, communicated at all and almost never communicated well.

In other fields, micro levels are all important. For example, the invention of the microscope completely changed the way humans see and understand their world. All that was added by the microscope was greater resolution and detail in the visual sphere. From that arose germ theory, material sciences, modern biology, modern medicine, and much more.

Micro levels of communication are basic to how we understand ourselves and others. Poor micro communication skills consign us to communication that occurs only at meso or macro levels. This is a problem because meso and macro levels do not have sufficient detail and also because meso and macro levels become the only tools we have to decide what is going on. When we are forced to account for micro details with the crude tools of meso thought, we will make many mistakes. Eventually we become like the long-term cigarette-smoker whose (micro) alveoli have collapsed, destroying full use of the lungs.

Without the details of the microscope, people for millennia happily drank germ infested water. Without a way to resolve micro levels of communication, people today, as in the past, happily ingest multitudes of micro error—errors that make them ill.

Micro communication errors make us sick because we make many serious mistakes on this level and also because our minds are fully capable of comprehending the sort of detail we can find at the micro level. We speak and listen on many interpersonal levels like crude beasts when we are capable of very delicate and refined understanding.

FIML or a technique similar to it provides a method for grasping micro details. Doing FIML for a long time is like spending a long time using a microscope or telescope. You will start to see everything differently. Detailed micro analyses of interpersonal communication changes our understanding of micro communication and also both the meso and macro levels of existential semiotics and communicative thought. Microscopes allowed us to see germs in water and also to understand that some of those germs can kill us.

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First posted 12/04/2014

 

Memory reconsolidation as key to psychological transformation

I’ll probably have more to say on this subject, but for now let me just say I am delighted to have found a psychotherapy that is highly compatible with FIML practice.

Indeed this psychotherapy is based on the same principles as FIML, though the approach is different.

In FIML unwanted psychological reactions are discovered in real-world, real-time situations with a partner.

In Coherence Therapy—the psychotherapy I just discovered—unwanted psychological reactions are called schemas. Schemas are transformed through memory reconsolidation in a way that is theoretically very similar to FIML practice.

Here is a video that explains the process of memory reconsolidation that is achieved through Coherence Therapy:

 

Coherence Therapy (CT) requires a therapist, while FIML does not.

In a nutshell, CT uses three steps (as described in the video) to achieve results. I will list them below in bold font and explain briefly how FIML differs and is also very similar.

1) CT: Reactivate the target schema as a conscious emotional experience. This is done with the help of a therapist.

FIML: In FIML, harmful or unwanted schemas are encountered in real-life with a participating partner. No therapist is needed, though prior training in the technique is helpful.

2) CT: Guide a contradictory experience. This juxtaposition unlocks (de-consolidates) the target schema’s memory circuits. (“Mismatch”/”prediction error” experience)

FIML: The “contradictory experience” is discovered in real-life through the FIML query. The partner’s answer to the FIML query provides the “juxtaposition” that unlocks or de-consolidates the encountered schema. In FIML, we have been calling this process the discovery and correction of a contretemps or mix-up.

3) CT: Repeat contradictory experience in juxtaposition with target schema. This rewrites and erases target schema.

FIML: Repetition of the contradictory experience happens in real-life whenever it next happens if it happens again. Generally, most schema or unwanted reactions are corrected within 5-10 recurrences. Serious unwanted schemas may take more repetitions.

Since CT uses a therapist as a guide, it is better than FIML for very serious problems and for people who are unable to find a partner to do FIML with.

Since FIML does not use a therapist, it is better for dealing with a very broad range of many unwanted schemas, not just the most serious.

I am quite sure that CT will be very effective for many kinds of psychological agony. If a problem is acute, I would recommend CT based on my experience with FIML.

A shortcoming of FIML is it requires a caring partner and the transformations it induces are generally all induced in the presence of that partner. Much good comes of that and most transformations can be extrapolated to other people and other situations, but for serious problems like panic or deep anxiety, an CT therapist may be more helpful.

FIML is best for two people who want to optimize their psychologies. Partners will discover and correct many unwanted schemas and many bad communication habits.

If you can understand CT, you should be able to do FIML. If you have already done CT and had good results and now you want to go further and optimize your psychology, FIML will help you do that.

I believe the core theory of CT is sound. If that is so, it should be clear that bad schemas arise constantly in life. We start new ones all the time. Bad schemas are like trash that inevitable accumulates and must be cleaned away. FIML does this job very well.

Here is more on memory reconsolidation, which underlies CT: A Primer on Memory Reconsolidation and its psychotherapeutic use as a core process of profound change.

More on FIML can be found at the top of this page and in most posts on this site.

Fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy

The third wave of cognitive behavior therapy is a general term for a group of psychotherapies that arose in the 1980s, inspired by acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

To me, third wave therapies seem more realistic than older therapies because they accept emotions as they are and pay close attention to how they function in the moment.

The link above is well-worth reading. The frames of these therapies are also well-worth considering.

FIML, which I am calling a “fourth wave cognitive behavior therapy,” differs from third wave therapies in that FIML does not use a professional therapist. Instead, partners become their own therapists.

Moreover, how FIML partners frame their psychologies or generalize their behaviors is entirely up to them. Similarly, their psychological goals and definitions are entirely in their own hands.

At its most basic, FIML “removes wrong interpretations of interpersonal signs and symbols from the brain’s semiotic networks.”

This process of removal, in turn, shows partners how their minds function in real-time real-world situations. And this in turn provides the tools and perspectives to reorganize their psychologies in whichever ways they like.

FIML is based on semiotics because semiotics are specific and with practice can be clearly identified and understood. They give partners “solid ground” to stand on. Words, tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions are some of the major semiotics partners analyze.

Using real-world semiotics as an analytical basis frees FIML from predetermined frameworks about personality or what human psychology even is. With the FIML tool, partners are free to discover whatever they can about how their minds communicate interpersonally (and internally) and do whatever they like with that.

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First posted 12/21/17

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 the way we use it is not neutral. We assume too much and clarify too little.

There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought

Why, then, do we have the impression of direct access to our mind?

“The idea that minds are transparent to themselves (that everyone has direct awareness of their own thoughts) is built into the structure of our “mind reading” or “theory of mind” faculty, I suggest. The assumption is a useful heuristic when interpreting the statements of others. If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. It is far simpler to assume that he knows his own mind (as, generally, he does). The illusion of immediacy has the advantage of enabling us to understand others with much greater speed and probably with little or no loss of reliability. If I had to figure out to what extent others are reliable interpreters of themselves, then that would make things much more complicated and slow. It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.” (Source)

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Please be sure to read the whole article. I find in it a great deal of Buddhist thinking and FIML practice. See The five skandhas and modern science for more on the Buddhist aspect of Curruthers’ thoughts.

See this quote from the article for more on the FIML aspect:

…It would take a great deal more energy and interpretive work to understand the intentions and mental states of others. And then it is the same heuristic transparency-of-mind assumption that makes my own thoughts seem transparently available to me.

Curruthers maintains that we interpret ourselves with the same mechanism we use to interpret others. This is where FIML practice is especially useful: FIML asks us to spend the extra time and energy understanding others (as well as ourselves) while also providing the tools to do this.

The two biggest problems with FIML are finding a suitable partner and having enough time to do the practice.

Edit 12:30: Curruthers says:

If someone says to me, “I want to help you,” I have to interpret whether the person is sincere, whether he is speaking literally or ironically, and so on; that is hard enough. If I also had to interpret whether he is interpreting his own mental state correctly, then that would make my task impossible. (emphasis added)

No, the task is not impossible! It can be done with a suitable partner. This is exactly what FIML does. FIML helps both partners interpret all of their mental states more correctly.

This is how and why FIML practice optimizes individual psychology while also doing the same for communication and mutual understanding. They all upgrade together.