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IMPLICATIONS OF THE ´OUTSIDE THE BOX` VERSION

 

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the ´third party` experience

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INPUT STAGE 

STORAGE STAGE RECALL STAGE 

SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL

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The problem with biochemical mechanisms is that the more they are understood, the more questions they raise. The same applies to the brain memory mechanism discussed here, since although an ´outside the box` version has been proposed, the way forward is littered with questions about the intricacies of the actual processes. The mechanism proposed here is one based on recognised psychological and biochemical theories, but it also includes a fair amount of conjecture and we have to accept that research is not far enough advanced to explain certain aspects of the brain memory mechanism that have to exist for the system to work properly. Discussion of the ´outside the box` version proposed here follows the objective that if the mechanism described is valid then it can be manipulated in certain ways in order to increase the efficacy of it. Since brain memory is responsible for individuality as well as being the supplier of information to fulfill basic survival and higher needs, any way in which the performance can be maintained or enhanced cannot be ignored.

This ´outside the box` version of brain memory begins with the premise that all brain memories are learnt (it must be said though not a view shared by all) and if this is the case then the store of brain memories that we end up with as individuals begins with the input of information into the system. Factors influencing this stage include here:

  • the external environment as a whole - what is experienced forms the basis of what is stored. Therefore the better the stimulus, the better the memory.

  • the nature of the stimulus and sensory system activation reacting to it - the nature of the stimuli is dictated by the laws of physics and the sensory systems reacting to them are determined by human evolution and physiology, both of which cannot be directly influenced by the individual. However, the individual can exert minor influence by making sure that the systems are working at their optimum level, e.g. using a hearing aid if necessary.

  • the level and nature of neuronal firing – sensory organs to cortical areas. Firing mechanisms, neurotransmitters and depolarisation for example - essentially dictated by evolution and physiology with cortical cellular columns and biochemical mechanisms, but alterations can be made to the neurotransmitter levels in the chemical synapses resulting in firing changes which may have subtle effects on the efficacy of the brain memory mechanism itself, e.g. drugs leading to effects on the prefrontal cortical dopamine and serotonin concentrations result in changes in firing within and from the area corresponding to behavioural effects. Therefore, although the individual has little control over the basic physiological mechanisms involved in brain memory, there is a little manoeuvrability relating to the neurotransmitter aspect at least. This means that any factor affecting any aspect of neurotransmitter function at the sensory organ level or within the brain can have an observable effect on brain memory and other cognitive functions: an important consideration in the case of medication for example.

  • the preference for certain features and ´chunking` - Content of the memories can be controlled not only by consciously choosing the external event to be remembered for example, but also by organising that information with reference to other previously stored data so that later usage is easier and extends beyond the ´real-time` experience. This ´outside the box` version of brain memory suggests that objects must be in the sensory field to be perceived and learnt and what is brought into this sensory field has shown that certain features of events are preferred through their biological make-up to others, e.g. moving images are preferred over stationary, coloured images over dark. ´Outside the box` thinking suggests that these features would form the backbone of the learnt event (rehearsal would strengthen the firing and connections of these cells, probably at lower level cortical areas) forming the ´core` features or reference points (´cues`) of the representation. Conscious seeking of the features in ´real-time` events would then promote recognition and provide the starting point for further analysis. ´Chunking` of certain features to form groups can also aid the brain memory mechanism by expanding the limitation of informational input load.

  • attentional system functioning - the attentional state applicable for the circumstance of deliberate learning is the normal, focused one with focusing either subconscious (e.g. LIP action), or conscious (e.g. guided by speech). Focusing allows selection of the event with the implication that if this occurs then the conditions of sustained activation is achieved and storage or recall stages will result. A shift to the fear attentional state means a change in quantity (increased) and quality of information (less detail, more gist with proposed lower level cortical activation in preference to higher levels representing for example, shape but not pattern) according to the ´outside the box` mechanism advocated here – a situation not ideal for ´school-type` learning for example. Therefore, this implies that by manipulating the attentional state from one where normally the fear attentional state would be in operation to the normal, focused one then an improvement in conscious learning performance of the brain memory mechanism will result. This can be brought about by, for example, relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing) or positive speech (inner or from others). These methods are also beneficial in bringing about focus, not only physically selecting the event in question, but also reducing distraction and divided attention, both factors that can cause decreased memory input efficiency.

  • emotional system functioning - the attentional state applicable for the circumstance of deliberate learning is the normal, focused one with focusing either subconscious (e.g. LIP action), or conscious (e.g. guided by speech). Focusing allows selection of the event with the implication that if this occurs then the conditions of sustained activation is achieved and storage or recall stages will result. A shift to the fear attentional state means a change in quantity (increased) and quality of information (less detail, more gist with proposed lower level cortical activation in preference to higher levels representing for example, shape but not pattern) according to the ´outside the box` mechanism advocated here – a situation not ideal for ´school-type` learning for example. Therefore, this implies that by manipulating the attentional state from one where normally the fear attentional state would be in operation to the normal, focused one then an improvement in conscious learning performance of the brain memory mechanism will result. This can be brought about by, for example, relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing) or positive speech (inner or from others). These methods are also beneficial in bringing about focus, not only physically selecting the event in question, but also reducing distraction and divided attention, both factors that can cause decreased memory input efficiency. Therefore, the state of the attentional system and its manipulation are important implications of the brain memory version advocated here. The emotional system exerts its influence on the brain memory system not just according to the ´real-time` functioning level in response to the external environment and the present stimulus, but also by recalling how it was in the past. This ´outside the box` version for the brain memory system introduces the emotional tag, a recording of the emotional state at the time of learning of sensory information, which is stored alongside the appropriate information in the sNCA. Accessing this tag on recall attaches to the ´real-time` information ´instructions` on how this information should be dealt with (processing and action).

  • the involvement of language - ´outside the box` thinking suggests that language is more than just information, it is also a ´tool` and improvement in this ´tool` can also lead to positive effects on input and storage. This ´tool` is responsible for adding extra information that can be used as ´cues` or more details for example, as well as acting as a communication device and guide, externally and internally. Therefore, the wide-ranging functions of language in this version of brain memory imply that improving language ability or maintaining language level can affect the overall brain memory efficacy to a certain point.

This means that if all these factors determine what ends up in the brain memories, then alterations in any or all of these factors could cause a permanent effect on the overall content, which could lead to improvements or deficits in brain memory, overall cognitive prowess, and/or behaviour. But, the structure of this ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism implies that influences on the system can stretch beyond the input stage of the informational and emotional components. Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) and Baddeley (1996) on whose theories this version was based both proposed that short-term memory required modification in order that the memories became more long-term. In this version, a storage stage provides the conditions under which permanency is attained and hence, stages where influences can be exerted on the process are introduced.

The first stage is at the level of the fulfillment of the sustained activation requirement, which is important since without it information cannot be stored long-term: information may be inputted, but the biochemical reactions involved in the short-term phosphorylation and longer-term gene modulation and cellular structural changes cannot occur and hence, conversion from this temporary iNCA form to a permanent one cannot be carried out. Sustained activation of firing cells can be achieved by rehearsal/repetition requiring a focus on the event or ´holding` by internal means depending on the circumstances. The ´outside the box` version of the mechanism proposed here implies that it is in this area, therefore, manipulation of an external nature is possible as indicated by the sayings, ´practice makes perfect` (rehearsal) and ´pay attention` (focus). The same cannot be said for the biological system, which remains pre-determined as long as storage conditions are met and necessary substrates and other biochemical components available. The role of sleep in the consolidation of the neuronal assemblies in the storage stage as suggested by recognised researchers and in this ´outside the box` version, may provide however room for manipulation. Individuals suffering from sleep deprivation have shown marked deficits in brain memory, particularly learning and other cognitive skills, thus regular and sufficient sleep may help indirectly in securing the content of the memories formed.

The second factor relating to the storage mechanism is the actual firing strengths of cells within the NCA and how this favours certain features above others and the level of detail recorded. The storage mechanism suggested here hypothesises that active cells form groupings representing the event (the NCA). These undergo conversion from temporary collectives to permanent ones under the correct biochemical conditions in the storage stage. The importance of features of events in the input stage has already been discussed with priority given biologically to certain characteristics and consciously to features within the focus. Features also play a role in the storage stage since here the features of the event are reflected in the strength of firing of the active cells within the groups. They can be separated theoretically according to firing into ´core` features (cells demonstrating the strongest activation, strongest connections and hence representing common features or frequently encountered ones) and ´wobble` features (less likely characteristics, perhaps expanding the details of an object or presenting conflicting features such as colour in a generic version). The biochemical mechanism itself is dictated by biology and therefore, not subject to external influence, but deliberate emphasis on certain features can be made by the individual, for example by focusing on them or constant repetition, so that these features will form the ´core` of the NCA representing the event overall. Since it is beneficial for recognition and other tasks to have a large number of ´core` features and fewer ´wobble` features because this demonstrates more specificity for the event, then by consciously manipulating which features are selected, one can determine the content of the NCA. This is important in the later use of the stored information since in conflict situations, ´strongest activation wins` meaning that these features will take priority over others. Repetition of the events can lead to consolidation of the core features with ´filling in` of more and more detail into the NCA, so that specificity of the NCA will increase with every pass.

From the point of view of manipulation, the version of brain memory mechanism described here therefore suggests that deliberate learning should begin with the establishment of core features of the event followed by repetition of these core features with expansion of details on every pass. Essentially, this is what good learning programmes put forward, e.g. in the case of learning a poem, learn the first line, read through the second, repeat the first and second and so on. The problem lies in the time this process requires because of the number of repetitions and therefore, short cuts are attempted, such as increasing the information load on each pass. This is unlikely to be successful since a maximum of 5-9 chunks can be learnt at any one time due to perceptual load capacity theory. Therefore, it is important that individuals` determine their own optimal learning method, independent of advice from others or recommended methods.

The perception of specific features is especially important when the information to be stored is not totally dissimilar to material representing a previous encounter and already contained within the sNCA. Not all encounters are novel and so in these cases, this ´outside the box` version suggests that the incoming information can be compared and added to the material already stored without adjustment, adding extra detail for example (´outside the box`s` as is storage), or it can be processed before storage. Processing of the material is suggested as taking place in the working memory state and can include categorisation (the search of associations between features or events) and/or the formation of generic versions (general representations of events from different times and occasions). Subconscious associations in the former are formed through strength of firing, but it is possible to consciously form these links by searching out common features. Therefore, since processing strengthens cellular firing (repetition of core features carried out), then processing is beneficial for brain memory performance and should be encouraged, whatever the level, if the situation is applicable. Conscious manipulation of generic versions is less likely, although for example, noticing dissimilarities in features between different time frames would suffice to strengthen the firing of the participating cells.

The final two factors influencing the storage stage are the involvement of the attentional and emotional systems and are extensions of their activities in the input stage. The attentional system has been assigned in this ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism two functions in the storage stage. The first function is the same as for input and that is the maintenance of focus on selected material so that the biochemical conditions of storage are met, i.e. sustained activation of participating cells through rehearsal or ´holding`. As this implies, this function can be externally manipulated just like in the input stage by for example, seeking out the selected target. The second function is initially incapable of external intervention and that is the registration of conflict between the input and material already stored relating to the common core features of both. Conflict is dealt with subconsciously by giving priority to the features with the strongest activation, but it can also be consciously coped with by selecting alternative input through changing the focus, giving priority to previously stored material (i.e. the input is ignored and focus is changed) or by accepting that there are inconsistencies (for example, colour differences). As stated above, the aim of the attentional system is to remain in a normal and focused state, and therefore, attempts to eliminate conflict as soon as possible are made.

Just like in input, the emotional system mirrors the activity of attentional system in this matter and dominance of the dopamine-based brain system is the preferred state. The emotional tag reflects the OWL for the first time encounter and for repeated encounters the tag and the values stored within and the ´real-time` OWL are involved. It is possible for language to change emotional state, e.g. the use of inner speech, and therefore a certain level of control is given to the individual through this and other mood-influencing practices, e.g. relaxation exercises or listening to music.

Therefore, this ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism suggests that the input and storage stages are: in part biologically controlled with some parts capable of external manipulation (e.g. neurotransmitter levels in brain areas) and other parts incapable of individual intervention (e.g. depolarisation and brain area function); and in part subject to conscious control and capable of external manipulation (e.g. selection of characteristics through focus). The third stage of the mechanism, recall, follows the same pattern.

It is clear that recall and processing of material is fundamentally dependent on two factors: the stimulus and the level of stored knowledge acquired from previous encounters. According to recognised brain memory theory and the version proposed here, selection of the stimulus, just like for content, can be consciously controlled (e.g. by speech) and hence demonstrating a level of conscious participation of the individual himself, or subconsciously ´led` (e.g. by certain characteristics demonstrating preference over others). The existence of strong connections and strong firing between ´core` features of the sNCA stimulated as a result means that selection of these particular characteristics from the external event increase the certainty of recall success. The selection of common features first leading on to less common guide the recall process from ´core` to ´variable` feature recall so that specificity of the recall increases with each pass (encounter) until finally a definitive ´answer` (depicted here as by the formation of the ´electrical image`) is achieved. Although associations between NCAs mean that even if characteristics are chosen that are ´weaker` (less indicative of the event), recall will in the end be successful. Changing of focus, either deliberate or subconscious, will probably be more advantageous at this time. Aside from choosing features that are likely to bring about speedy recall, conscious selection of features can also stimulate creativity. Therefore, the choice of stimulus can affect how and which content is recalled and processed if applicable.

Obviously, the better the level of previously stored knowledge then the better the chance of recall and appropriate action. Any improvement to the knowledge base, not just pure episodic and procedural storage, but also processed material in categories with associations, brings about beneficial changes to the brain memory process.  The approach of the individual to recall and processing has already been mentioned in terms of the selection of the stimulus and it plays an indirect role here, too. Individuals keen to experience new situations, willing to learn or absorb novel information and develop their knowledge base will gain in regards to the brain memory mechanism and other cognitive skills and therefore, activities of this nature should be encouraged.

The influence that individuals can consciously exert on the brain memory mechanism is also seen in the quality and quantity of the processing of the recalled information. Although it has been shown that given the same tools, many creatures come up with the same answers to problems thus indicating that processing follows ´set` paths rather than indicating individuality, learning and processing determines how an individual behaves in his own mental and external environment. The environments are too changeable and too diverse for information to be totally shared by all. In the discussion on decision-making, non-active situations were described, where the individual has little direct influence on the decision made, e.g. action decided by the toss of the coin. In this case, the brain memory mechanism has little effect on the result. This can be contrasted to the situations, where processing of the input and available stored information is highly prized and brings forth a number of possible solutions that have to be assessed before the action is made. Here, individual characteristics as well as factors such as available time and level of stored knowledge all play a role. Therefore, this part of the brain memory mechanism has the capacity for externally-induced improvement. For example, the establishment of a number of processing techniques is advantageous. Certain tactics are inherent, e.g. survival, but more advanced processing techniques are learnt either deliberately or subconsciously. Ultimately, the use of a range of tactics increases efficacy, so that the chance of optimised action or behaviour is increased. Language improves or is the mainstay of some of the techniques (e.g. best ideal solution), whereas others can be based on assessment of emotional values (e.g. other peoples` views). Usually, individuals have their own ´favourite` processing techniques and learning new ones can introduce an element of creativity or ´out-of-character` decisions that may or may not be advantageous.

The third and fourth factors influencing the recall stage of the proposed ´outside the box` brain memory mechanism are important parts of the mechanism itself and they are the ´real-time` attentional and emotional states. Three roles for the ´real-time` attentional state have been identified in this version in recall and processing stages: maintaining focus;  measurement of conflict between input and stored information during the whole recall stage independent of level of processing; and conforming a time constraint on the operation. Maintaining focus on the relevant information is necessary for the sustained activation of those cells, firing of matching stored cells and the formation of tNCA in the working memory state. The second and third roles can be assumed to have levels set by the individual at which point conflict or timing is not acceptable and a shift to a heightened status occurs leading to a change in tactic or selection of an option. The ´outside the box` mechanism described here leads to the suggestion that the mechanism can be manipulated by increasing the level of stored knowledge (quality and quantity) so that conflict is reduced between incoming and previously acquired information because of better matching opportunities. The presence of more ´core` features and less ´variable` ones give better specificity of the NCA and therefore, recall will occur more efficiently. Just like in the input and storage stages, the optimal attentional state is that of normal, focused with of course, conflict leading to the heightened fear status and the change of tactics and memory usage. In recall with further processing, the level of conflict is actually part of the mechanism itself, e.g. decision-making and choice of options are assessed according to the level of conflict they induce, therefore, it should be regarded as a component of the brain memory system, just like neuronal firing. Therefore, the attentional system affects how content is recalled and processed through its three functions. The implications of such usage are that by maintaining the system in its most optimal state, the normal focused, then the mechanism can proceed based on ideal memory content (fear attentional state brings about a change in quality and quantity of informational input and hence, NCA recall) to its logical conclusion (´strongest activation wins`). Therefore, just like in the input and storage stages, individual control of attentional state through breathing exercises or inner speech can optimise recall and further processing of the brain memory content.

´Real-time` emotional state, just like in the input and storage stages, mirrors in recall the action of the attentional system. The importance of the emotional system in recall and processing in this version of the brain memory mechanism lies more in the use of the emotional tag. Emotional tag reactivation of sNCA with input can affect the ´real-time` attentional state shifting it to the fear state if appropriate. This is ably demonstrated by a fear of spiders for example. Activation of the emotional tag will dictate how the ´real-time` information will be dealt with. Another example is its role played in processing as an individual`s values dictate how and what content of NCA is reactivated (`strongest activation wins`). In recall with further processing, options can actually be chosen on the basis of the strength of the emotional tags. For example, in decision-making techniques options favouring the ´heart` (i.e. those where the emotional status from values is elicited through the prefrontal cortex sliding switch mechanism) can override those based on NCA firing strengths of particular features (´head`). Therefore, in this ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism a relaxed mental state is important for the correct recall conditions and optimal usage of the stored information.

   Although the physiology of the emotional system is already determined by evolution and development, individuality arises biologically from neuronal status (firing levels and neurotransmitter levels for example) and psychologically from past experiences, since values are assigned for each representation in the NCA using the prefrontal cortex sliding switch mechanism. Therefore, this version of the brain memory mechanism implies that how the brain memory content is recalled and processed can be ´manipulated` by externally influencing both of these components. For example, the dopamine neurotransmitter based brain system dominating in pleasure can be altered by changing the dopamine cellular concentration and activity in participating brain areas (e.g. in the prefrontal cortex as a result of amphetamine use). Therefore, actions leading to imbalanced neurotransmitter activities should be avoided. Relating to emotional tags, for example, the continual expression of fear, leads to ´skewed` stored values, so that decision-making is difficult. Therefore, it would be advisable to ensure that values are ranged through widened experiences and are logical in grading. This is probably achieved through stimulation with the more comparisons being made the better the use of the value system for processing. Empathy, based on the feeling of what will happen, allows third party experiences (e.g. those obtained from the use of computers) to contribute.

   Therefore, the ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism advocated here demonstrates opportunities where the process can be manipulated in a variety of different ways and changes in the efficacy result. The implications of the proposed mechanism are that in some aspects, the individual is only subservient to nature and pre-disposed biological systems and therefore, has little chance of affecting the performance in these areas. However, in other aspects, the individual can influence directly and consciously the process and is therefore, capable of dictating his own level of cognitive prowess. In a society where so much rests on an individual`s ability to function then it is comforting to know that not every area of the brain memory mechanism is biologically pre-determined and out of our hands.

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SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL

The third party experience

 In today`s society with the increasing use of the computer, internet, television and other activities based on observance and screen-based rather than physical ´real-time` participation the question of how third party experiences affect brain memory has to be addressed in this context. ´Outside the box` thinking on the matter points to the increased availability of screen-based information in a visual and auditory form being beneficial (all memories are episodic), but brain memories formed would be restricted to this type of information only. The individual would be exposed to topics and given information not normally available in the sphere of his external environment or through the resources at his disposal (e.g. library or relatives). Therefore, the use of screen-based sources of information would be beneficial to his knowledge base. However, it is likely that the sheer quantity of information (not taking into account the quality and validity of it) would probably lead to certain topics benefiting (this information is recognised as being ´valuable` and is absorbed into the internal knowledge store) and the rest processed in ´real-time` and forgotten or dismissed. Discussion or processing of the information may help to retain it (fulfils essentially the rehearsal or repetition requirement) leading to storage ´as is` or variable (e.g. categorisation by linking the new information with previously stored information and pre-conceived ideas), hence it becomes more than just ´fleeting` visual and auditory images.

The other problem leading to the likelihood that information experienced in such a format is not learnt is the ´24 hours a day/7 days a week` availability of it. ´Real-time` experiences are limited to the current time-frame and for that information to be available at a later date then storage has to take place within that time-frame. If storage does not occur, then the information is lost as described in Section 2). In the case of screen-based information, most never vanishes (it may change format, be present on different websites or channels etc.), but is essentially still there for the individual to use. This ´24/7` availability removes the physical need for the information to be learnt by the individual, since he feels that he can always rely on the external data store and therefore, a diminished internal knowledge base results. As discussed on the uses of brain memory, this reduced knowledge base, equivalent to lack of stimulation, can have repercussions in problem-solving and decision-making if this ´outside the box` version of the brain memory mechanism is correct because the individual will have less information available in which to construct options, for example.

Advantages in volume and availability of information may also be outweighed by the fact that input from the screen-based data sources may lack the emotional system aspect deemed necessary to the brain memory mechanism advocated here. Third party experiences have no need of emotional system involvement since the experience is not ´real`, e.g. there is a reduced ´fight or flight` response on observing violence because of a lack of actual physical danger. Therefore, according to this ´outside the box` theory, recall mechanisms relying on the emotional system for problem-solving and decision-making (e.g. other peoples` views method) may be more difficult since the memories formed from third party experiences have ´skewed` values associated with them and empathy used in the process may lead to other results not consistent with the results obtained using first hand experiences. 

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