n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Sunday, March 16, 2008

old news though it may be

A tentative answer to [the question as to where/how memories exist] suggests that these mental images are momentary constructions, attempts at replication of patterns that were once experienced, in which the probability of exact replication is low but the probability of substantial replication can be higher or lower, depending on the circumstances in which the images were learned and are being recalled. These recalled images tend to be held in consciousness only fleetingly, and although they may appear to be good replicas, they are often inaccurate or incomplete. I suspect that explicit recalled mental images arise from the transient synchronous activation of neural firing patterns largely in the same early sensory cortices where the firing patterns corresponding to perceptual representations once occurred. The activation results in a topographically organized representation.

Antonio Damasio, Descartes Error, 101.
it still blows my mind (heh).

Forwarded to me by nm, this book was sheepishly taken up to hold good on my not-upheld vow to read more nonfiction.

I started the book wishing I had read it before teaching the class I did on "Writing Around the Body," which by the way, had too many texts above the reading-level of my students... in retrospect, I think I designed the reading list at a grad-level. When I eventually pared away at the secondary sources, the students were able to keep up better and we were able to have more full discussions about less stuff... and in particular, my students became unexpectedly fixated on Descartes' Cartesian Duality, a concept that showed up within every 'reading' we did... including the film Being John Malkovich (which a student accused me of constructing the entire class around since it referenced just about every topic we discussed minus tattoos).

Anyhow, I never felt well-informed enough to lead the discussion of Cartesian Duality away from spiritual jibberjabber, more towards (or at least including) a scientific perspective on how the mind works, how it is interconnected to the body, and how these two terms might not be so easily divided as Western civ would have them (not to mention when our discussion branched out to include 'spirit' and 'soul', two terms I was willing to high-dive off intellectual cliffs in order to avoid). I.e. time to pick up a book.

Descartes Error is supposed to explore the connection between emotion and rationality, and so isn't, I think, focusing on the Descartes concept of duality, but more on the error of thinking that logical/objective processes of the mind form the exclusive basis of reason and rational behavior (I think therefore I am). I haven't yet read far enough into the book to see this argument fully developed although I think I'm seeing the pathway it's heading down. But right now, I'm excited about this earlier chapter on memory and brain layout. I don't know why I'm so excited as I have a feeling that I should have already known this stuff...

I heard some time ago, although I don't know when/where, that brain researchers weren't able to locate the precise location of memory... but maybe I read only the title to an article and not the article itself because I always imagined that this meant the researchers were as yet impeded or inept cartographers who would eventually stumble upon the memory repositories secreted about the brain and marked with a big boulder (hiding the X underneath). And in my particularly metaphoric way of seeing things, I guess I've always imagined the brain librarians shelving memories away in these secret hideaways, of course impeded by the brain pirates seeking to demolish the maps or tunnels, either that or releasing the termites. And likely the stodgy brain academics who pontificate on topics absolutely nobody cares about (repetitive research maybe, or hyper-arcane) are those responsible for keeping those memories in mind that long ago should have been 'let go'.

I mean, I know this is oversimplification but imagine the brain functionaries as chemicals and neurons, and you pretty much have what I thought happened.

But the chapter I'm now reading in DE - a bitty bit quoted above - is laying all that silliness to rest. Basically, if I'm reading him right, he's saying that there are no hideaways for memory, or specific definable locations that are responsible for memory. Instead, what he's suggesting is that when we experience things, the brain has many different portions that are processing this information, which he calls 'perceptual images' (images being a fluent term that also includes hearing, smelling, and feeling), by forming and shuttling reactions down neural pathways and then systems. The brain will then form some pathways that are more fixed, due to a certain degree of repetition or intensity, and others that are less so.

And what startles me is that these pathways themselves... or the act of them being triggered... are the memories. It's the motion through them, their use, that, as he states, 'replicates' the creation of an initial perceptual image. Or rather, tries to. Meaning that memories are flawed and blurred or sharp and detailed based on the fixity of the pathway, which he suggests is linked to initial "synchronous activation":

Damasio earlier claims that in no one place in the brain do the sensory processors come together to create a unified picture. It might seem to us that all our senses... say, as we walk down a street... flow in through our body up to the brain where they unite to give us an image that includes sight / sound / smell / feeling / taste all together. But actually vision is processed in one area, smell in another, and there isn't one region that collects all this processed data and puts it together (although some regions may overlap somewhat). Instead, it is simple timing (synchronicity) that creates the illusion of a comprehensive perception!

I mean, really: only because I am seeing and smelling at the same time, am I seeing and smelling a singular reality... from what I only experience as a singular point of view???

And so, the more processing centers being fired through, the more explicit the memory being re-created.

Okay, because Damasio wrote this book quite a while ago and points out where further research would be needed to support his hypotheses, I am going to assume that new information on this is probably available, and maybe even contradictory, but man, this seems really incredible.

Particularly as I interpret it to mean: [1] form is content, or rather, motion through form is content, at least in the brain (so nyah nyah anti-Formalists), and [2] our perception of mind/self is partially a result of time or timing, and [3] memory is supported and triggered by the very topography within which it winds its path.

I think. 'Course I'm still struggling to understand...

Other thoughts here too, but yah, today has been a good day.
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