I awoke to the unpleasant surprise that I would have to spend my entire holiday working, so I'm a bit behind on the stuff I planned for today.
Rather than an article of my own, today, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to the following article:
Entitled "Brains Aflame", it's a great article on some of the same stuff I've been talking about here. It also triggered a brief discussion on Baen's Bar about the tendency of brains to operate on *symbols* rather than raw data. A perfect memory would be one in which every single detail is preserved - a so-called "photographic memory" is an example. However, storing raw data is inefficient, storing symbols and association is much more efficient.
I have spoken before about the fact that memory storage is (A) distributed across many brain areas and hundreds if not thousands of synapses between neurons, and (B) associative - linked to other concepts and memories. If each synapse stored a tiny detail, it would not be possible to retrieve the entire memory using the "addresses" of just a few synapses. Instead, memory is stored as symbols that are linked to each other. In one of my studies I found neurons that responded to *categories* of images - such as color vs. black and white, line art vs. photographs, etc., thus minor details could change, and the neurons would still respond to the various feature categories in the image(s) to be remembered. By linking categories or features, and associating them with other mnemonic details, it is possible to store a lot of information, make it highly redundant, and retrieve it using only a few associated details.
The process of learning and using symbols is developed as the brain transitions from infancy to adulthood. Likewise, the dependence on raw data lessens, and "photographic memory" capability diminishes. If, in the case of savants, the ability to process and store all of the raw data is retained throughout development, there is a corresponding impairment in the ability to process symbols, leading to many of the autism-like characteristics of the savant.
Back to the subject of the linked article - it features a discussion of networks in the brain and how they can be studied. I think this audience would enjoy the diversion, and I thank Baen Books and Publisher Toni Weisskopf for featuring science on the website.
Next week we dig into the section of the Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain that I have entitled "From Brain to Mind" featuring a discussion of brain function including:
- · "You think you've got chemistry"
- · "What's the Code?"
- · "The Five Senses"
- · "Controlling the body"
- · "…and Everything in Between"
o Sense of Identity
o Thought vs. Intelligence