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A materialist is a slow learner: Renewed pursuit of a physical basis for memory

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Bright Idea From Laura Sanders at ScienceNews:

Somewhere in the brain is a storage device for memories

What is the physical basis of memory? Somehow, memories get etched into cells, forming a physical trace that researchers call an “engram.” But the nature of these stable, specific imprints is a mystery.

Today, McConnell’s memory transfer episode has largely faded from scientific conversation. But developmental biologist Michael Levin of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and a handful of other researchers wonder if McConnell was onto something. They have begun revisiting those historical experiments in the ongoing hunt for the engram.

Applying powerful tools to the engram search, scientists are already challenging some widely held ideas about how memories are stored in the brain. New insights haven’t yet revealed the identity of the physical basis of memory, though. Scientists are chasing a wide range of possibilities. Some ideas are backed by strong evidence; others are still just hunches. In pursuit of the engram, some researchers have even searched for clues in memories that persist in brains that go through massive reorganization.

Memory clues may also come from other animals that undergo extreme brain modification over their lifetimes. As caterpillars transition to moths, their brains change dramatically. But a moth that had learned as a caterpillar to avoid a certain odor paired with a shock holds onto that information, despite having a radically different brain, researchers have found. More.

Why need memory have a physical basis? If memory is a form of information, storage media may be incidental and productive insights may lie elsewhere.

Robert Marks asks,

• When a paper document is shredded, is information being destroyed? Does it matter whether the shredded document is a copy of an un-shredded document and can be replaced?

• Likewise, when a digital picture is taken, is digital information being created or merely captured?

• The information on a DVD can be measured in bits. Does the amount of information differ if the DVD contains the movie Braveheart or a collection of randomly generated digital noise?

• When a human dies, is experiential information lost? If so, can birth and experience create information?

• If you are shown a document written in Japanese, does the document contain information whether or not you know Japanese? What if, instead, the document is written in an alien language unknowable to man?

These questions, even unanswered, help us understand life from the perspective of information theory, as opposed to materialist theory. As Norbert Weiner (1894–1964), the father of cybernetics, once said, “Information is information, neither matter nor energy.” More.

Return to product information Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics (Marks, Dembski, and Ewert) might be a useful resource. But its implications are not good for business, as the current science establishment understands it. It’s easier to just go on looking for the wrong things in the wrong places and publishing papers about it.

See also: Human brain: Human intelligence linked to shift toward round brain Would Neanderthal art be an argument against the theory? Or is it the sort of theory whose importance is its novelty among a host of competing speculations, whose sheer numbers count for progress?

At Scientific American: “Cocktail of Brain Chemicals” may be key to what makes us human Hmmm. If we fed these cocktails to a gorilla’s brain, what would happen?


Data basic: An introduction to information theory

10 Replies to “A materialist is a slow learner: Renewed pursuit of a physical basis for memory

  1. 1
    FourFaces says:

    As an AI researcher, I can assure you that memory resides in the 100 million or so cortical columns of the cerebral cortex. In addition, there is pattern memory stored in the thalamus and sensorimotor memory in the cerebellum.

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    “As an AI researcher, I can assure you that memory resides in the 100 million or so cortical columns of the cerebral cortex.”

    Really? Since when does a representation of a memory and/or a representation of information equate to the memory and/or information itself.

    There is a transcendent component to memory and/or information that will be forever beyond the scope of reductive materialistic explanations.

    As Dr. Egnor noted:

    Brains on Fire: Dr. Steven Novella Explains, “The Mind Is the Fire of the Brain” – Michael Egnor – December 18, 2014
    Excerpt: The difference between a memory and a representation of a memory is obvious. Right now I remember that I have an appointment at noon. I’m writing down “appointment at noon” on my calendar.
    My memory is my thought that I have an appointment at noon.
    The representation of my memory is the written note on my calendar.
    A thought differs from a note. A thought is something I experience; a note is something I write. My memory is a psychological thing. My note is a physical thing. My memory is represented in my note. My memory is not the same thing as my note. A memory is not the same thing as a representation of a memory.
    I hope that’s clear. I’m not sure how I can be clearer.
    – Michael Egnor is a professor and vice chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

    As well, Near Death Experiences also testify that true memories and representation of memories are not one and the same thing:

    A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
    Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories (information) inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,So we need a functioning brain to receive our consciousness into our waking consciousness. And as soon as the function of brain has been lost, like in clinical death or in brain death, with iso-electricity on the EEG, memories and consciousness do still exist, but the reception ability is lost. People can experience their consciousness outside their body, with the possibility of perception out and above their body, with identity, and with heightened awareness, attention, well-structured thought processes, memories and emotions. And they also can experience their consciousness in a dimension where past, present and future exist at the same moment, without time and space, and can be experienced as soon as attention has been directed to it (life review and preview), and even sometimes they come in contact with the “fields of consciousness” of deceased relatives. And later they can experience their conscious return into their body.

    The Mystery of Perception During Near Death Experiences – Pim van Lommel – video

    Moreover, immaterial information is now experimentally shown to be its own distinct physical entity that is separate from matter and energy:

    Information is physical (but not how Rolf Landauer meant) – video

    Information engine operates with nearly perfect efficiency – Lisa Zyga – January 19, 2018
    Excerpt: Physicists have experimentally demonstrated an information engine—a device that converts information into work—with an efficiency that exceeds the conventional second law of thermodynamics. Instead, the engine’s efficiency is bounded by a recently proposed generalized second law of thermodynamics, and it is the first information engine to approach this new bound.,,,
    The generalized second law of thermodynamics states that the work extracted from an information engine is limited by the sum of two components: the first is the free energy difference between the final and initial states (this is the sole limit placed on conventional engines by the conventional second law), and the other is the amount of available information (this part sets an upper bound on the extra work that can be extracted from information).
    To achieve the maximum efficiency set by the generalized second law, the researchers in the new study designed and implemented an information engine made of a particle trapped by light at room temperature. Random thermal fluctuations cause the tiny particle to move slightly due to Brownian motion, and a photodiode tracks the particle’s changing position with a spatial accuracy of 1 nanometer. If the particle moves more than a certain distance away from its starting point in a certain direction, the light trap quickly shifts in the direction of the particle. This process repeats, so that over time the engine transports the particle in a desired direction simply by extracting work from the information it obtains from the system’s random thermal fluctuations (the free energy component here is zero, so it does not contribute to the work extracted).
    One of the most important features of this system is its nearly instantaneous feedback response: the trap shifts in just a fraction of a millisecond, giving the particle no time to move further and dissipate energy. As a result, almost none of the energy gained by the shift is lost to heat, but rather nearly all of it is converted into work. By avoiding practically any information loss, the information-to-energy conversion of this process reaches approximately 98.5% of the bound set by the generalized second law. The results lend support for this bound, and illustrate the possibility of extracting the maximum amount of work possible from information.

    Frankly, denying the reality of one’s own mind is insanity:

    Atheist Philosopher Thinks “We Never Have Direct Access To Our Thoughts” – Michael Egnor July 20, 2016
    Excerpt: Materialist theories of the mind border on the insane. If a man walks into a doctor’s office and says “I never have direct access to my thoughts and I have no first person point of view,” the man will be referred to a psychiatrist and may be involuntarily hospitalized until it is established that he is not a danger to himself or others.
    If the same guy walks into the philosophy department at Duke University, he gets tenure.

  3. 3
    FourFaces says:

    bornagain77 @2,

    In my opinion, there is physical memory and there is spirit. Consciousness (mind?) requires both. If the brain is not required for consciousness/mind, as you seem to suggest (correct me if I’m wrong), then why do we have a brain?

    PS. Quoting others is not an argument. Use your own arguments.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    FF, I will quote whomever I want whenever I want so as to drive a point home. Tough luck if you don’t like it!

    What part of “immaterial information is now experimentally shown to be its own distinct physical entity that is separate from matter and energy” did you not understand?

    It is a direct empirical falsification of your claim that memory, i.e., information, is reducible to a purely material explanation.

    There is an elephant in your theoretical room that you are ignoring.

    i.e. You are on the wrong theoretical basis.

    Perhaps this following video will help you understand a little more clearly where your ‘materialistic’ presuppositions for purely ‘material’ information are ‘not even wrong’ (Pauli):

    Darwinian Materialism vs. Quantum Biology – video

    The following may also give you a little insight for where you are missing the boat as far as information is concerned:

    Darwinian Evolution vs Mathematics – video

  5. 5
    FourFaces says:

    See ya.

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    A few more notes that call into question FF’s claim that

    “I can assure you that memory resides in the 100 million or so cortical columns of the cerebral cortex. In addition, there is pattern memory stored in the thalamus and sensorimotor memory in the cerebellum.”

    If memory is stored solely ‘in the brain’ as FF was claiming in response to NEWS’s observation of,,,

    “Why need memory have a physical basis? If memory is a form of information, storage media may be incidental and productive insights may lie elsewhere.”

    ,,, if memory is stored solely in the brain as FF holds,, then the following results should be impossible according to FF’s presupposition:

    Removing Half of Brain Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives: – 1997
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of memory and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor,” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining,,
    Dr. John Freeman, the director of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Epilepsy Center, said he was dumbfounded at the ability of children to regain speech after losing the half of the brain that is supposedly central to language processing.
    ”It’s fascinating,” Dr. Freeman said. ”The classic lore is that you can’t change language after the age of 2 or 3.”
    But Dr. Freeman’s group has now removed diseased left hemispheres in more than 20 patients, including three 13-year-olds whose ability to speak transferred to the right side of the brain in much the way that Alex’s did.,,,

    In further comment from the neuro-surgeons in the John Hopkins study:

    “Despite removal of one hemisphere, the intellect of all but one of the children seems either unchanged or improved. Intellect was only affected in the one child who had remained in a coma, vigil-like state, attributable to peri-operative complications.”

    A few more notes along the same line

    Strange but True: When Half a Brain Is Better than a Whole One – May 2007
    Excerpt: Most Hopkins hemispherectomy patients are five to 10 years old. Neurosurgeons have performed the operation on children as young as three months old. Astonishingly, memory and personality develop normally. ,,,
    Another study found that children that underwent hemispherectomies often improved academically once their seizures stopped. “One was champion bowler of her class, one was chess champion of his state, and others are in college doing very nicely,” Freeman says.
    Of course, the operation has its downside: “You can walk, run—some dance or skip—but you lose use of the hand opposite of the hemisphere that was removed. You have little function in that arm and vision on that side is lost,” Freeman says. Remarkably, few other impacts are seen. ,,,

    How Removing Half of Someone’s Brain Can Improve Their Life – Oct. 2015
    Excerpt: Next spring, del Peral (who has only half a brain) will graduate from Curry College, where she has made the dean’s list every semester since freshman year.

    Discrepancy Between Cerebral Structure and Cognitive Functioning: A Review – 2017
    Excerpt: The aforementioned student of mathematics had a global IQ of 130 and a verbal IQ of 140 at the age of 25 (Lorber, 1983), but had “virtually no brain” (Lewin 1980, p. 1232).,,,
    This student belonged to the group of patients that Lorber classified as having “extreme
    hydrocephalus,” meaning that more than 90% of their cranium appeared to be filled with cerebrospinal fluid (Lorber, 1983).,,,
    Apart from the above-mentioned student of mathematics, he described a woman with an extreme degree of hydrocephalus showing “virtually no cerebral mantle” who had an IQ of 118, a girl aged 5 who had an IQ of 123 despite extreme hydrocephalus, a 7-year-old boy with gross hydrocephalus and an IQ of 128, another young adult with gross hydrocephalus and a verbal IQ of 144, and a nurse and an English teacher who both led normal lives despite gross hydrocephalus.,,,
    Another interesting case is that of a 44-year-old woman with very gross hydrocephalus described by Masdeu (2008) and Masdeu et al. (2009). She had a global IQ of 98, worked as an administrator for a government agency, and spoke seven languages.,,,
    ,,, , people who grew up with only one hemisphere developed all the neuronal foundations needed for ordinary cognitive and most motor skills. Even so, it seems additionally surprising that one hemisphere can accomplish this after the other has been removed or was isolated anatomically and functionally from the rest of the brain, as it is the case of surgical hemispherectomy.,,,
    It is astonishing that many patients can lead an ordinary life after this drastic procedure, having only minor motor disabilities that result from mild hemiplegia.,,,
    McFie (1961) was astonished that “not only does it (one hemishere) perform motor and sensory functions for both sides of the body, it performs the associative and intellectual functions normally allocated to two hemispheres” (p. 248).,,,
    ,,, most patients, even adults, do not seem to lose their long-term memory such as episodic
    (autobiographic) memories.,,,
    Finally, we will present additional considerations about memory processing, especially in savants. In this respect, Kim Peek (1951–2009) was most remarkable in that he seemed to possess a perfect memory: he forgot nothing he ever read and remembered complete melodies, even if he heard them only once. Most remarkably, his brain showed considerable malformations that included a deformed cerebellum, abnormalities of the left hemisphere, and the complete lack of the corpus callosum, as well as the anterior and posterior commissures. In addition, much of the skull interior comprised empty areas that were filled with cerebrospinal fluid, as in hydrocephalic subjects (Treffert and Christensen, 2005). Nevertheless, he memorized more than 12,000 books, apparently verbatim, the contents of which amounted to an encyclopedic knowledge in multiple areas of interest.
    Typically, he would read a page in eight to ten seconds, and then turn to the next page. He even read two pages of smaller books such as paperbacks simultaneously, using one eye each for each page. Moreover, he had impressive calendar calculating abilities (Treffert, 2010).

  7. 7
    polistra says:

    The simplest argument against “memory resides” is the fact that most of the protoplasm in the neurons is constantly renewed. Some parts are “turned over” in 48 hours. If the memory is stored as binary states just like cells in a RAM, how is it preserved across the material turnover?

    Also, glial cells are constantly wandering the hallways, checking for unused or static neurons and gobbling up the slackers. How is memory stored statically in a system that ruthlessly devours static cells?

  8. 8
    News says:

    FourFaces at 1, can you clarify what you mean by “resides”? As polistra notes at 7, there is often nothing fixed to “reside” in (like a street address).

    Where does the number 7 reside? Where does “free trade vs. protectionism” reside?

    Our brains mediate between our ideas of the world and the world but it is unclear that the ideas, including memories, reside anywhere as such. They are not corporeal.

    That certainly doesn’t mean that ideas don’t matter, only that they are instantiated in the media that work with and express them, as opposed to residing in them.

  9. 9
    FourFaces says:

    News @8,

    FourFaces at 1, can you clarify what you mean by “resides”? As polistra notes at 7, there is often nothing fixed to “reside” in (like a street address).

    There are definitely addresses. There is a reason that the brain has close to 100 billion neurons. They are not there just for grins and giggles.

    Where does the number 7 reside? Where does “free trade vs. protectionism” reside?

    A word like “seven” has multiple addresses since it is a sequence of many short sounds. There are cause/effect and temporal correlations between concepts that are manifested and recorded physically in the connections between neurons.

    Our brains mediate between our ideas of the world and the world but it is unclear that the ideas, including memories, reside anywhere as such. They are not corporeal.

    I agree that conscious ideas are not corporeal. Some call them qualia. But I disagree with the concept of mediation, which I take to mean that the brain is just an organ for outputting ideas from the soul/spirit. It is the firing of certain types of neurons that evoke the qualia/ideas. I do agree that the spirit does control what we think about and the behavioral choices we make.

    That certainly doesn’t mean that ideas don’t matter, only that they are instantiated in the media that work with and express them, as opposed to residing in them.

    I have to disagree. Ideas are dual entities: they are both material and spiritual. As the master once said, the eye is the window of the soul. Signals coming from the retina arrive at the visual cortex where they evoke or activate the color qualia of the soul. The latter give us our various color sensations but there is no question that the sensations were triggered by the activation of the neurons.

  10. 10
    bornagain77 says:

    FF claims:

    “The latter give us our various color sensations but there is no question that the sensations were triggered by the activation of the neurons.”

    And yet there is reason to question: In fact, it is fair to say that the material brain gets in the way of the ‘spiritual’ mind

    Near-Death Experiences: 30 Years of Research – 2014
    Excerpt: Improved Mental Functions With an Impaired Brain,,,
    Greyson believes that NDEs are an indication that the mind is independent of the brain because impaired brain functions would be expected during the clinical situation that the NDErs underwent, but his research found no corresponding impairment of mental functions in NDErs.
    “In most cases, people’s mental functioning is better in the NDE than [it] is during our normal waking life,” Greyson said during an interview with The Epoch Times.
    “Their thinking is faster, is clearer, is more logical, they have more control over their chain of thought, their senses are more acute, their memories are more vivid.
    “If you ask somebody about their near-death experience that happened 15 years ago, they tell it as if it happened yesterday. If you ask them [about] other experiences from their life at the same time, they are very fuzzy memories, if they have any at all.
    “[…] When you think that these experiences, which are characterized by enhanced thought processes [that] takes place when the brain is not functioning well or sometimes not functioning at all since it is in cardiac arrest or deep anesthesia—times when brain science would tell us that you shouldn’t be able to think or perceive or form memories—it becomes quite clear that we can’t explain this thing on the basis of brain physiology.”
    Eben Alexander, M.D., a neurosurgeon who also spoke at the conference, had an NDE that’s a case in point. He contracted acute bacterial meningitis, which damages the neocortex, in 2008 and went into a coma, spending six days on a ventilator.
    The glucose level of his cerebrospinal fluid was 1 mg/dl (milligram per one-tenth of a liter), while normal levels are between 60 and 80 mg/dl. When the level drops to 20 mg/dl, the meningitis infection is considered severe. For days after the coma, Alexander struggled to speak and recall memories before the coma. No one with this kind of severe brain damage is expected to fully recover.
    However, during his NDE, Alexander had such vivid experiences involving multiple senses, such as vision, hearing, and smell, that he said he couldn’t describe how amazing it was.
    “My brain right now—I think it recovered pretty well—could not do anything close to what my brain was doing,” Alexander said. “How does a dying brain end up getting far, far more powerful and able to handle these tremendous loads of information instantaneously and put it altogether?”

    Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper (1997) conducted a study of 31 blind people, many of who reported vision during their Near Death Experiences (NDEs). 21 of these people had had an NDE while the remaining 10 had had an out-of-body experience (OBE), but no NDE. It was found that in the NDE sample, about half had been blind from birth. (of note: This ‘anomaly’ is also found for deaf people who can hear sound during their Near Death Experiences(NDEs).)

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience (NDE) – Pim von Lommel – video

    NDE-LIKE ACCOUNTS – UNEARTHLY COLORS – Saturday, 23 July 2016
    Excerpt: what I experienced (during my Near Death Experience) was so incredibly beautiful, words fail to describe it. I saw colors that are not existent on Earth, colors that had so many different shades and hues that I had never seen before.
    I have tried describing the colors to my friends and family, and the closest I can come to it is by saying that a particular color looked like a mix between blue, green, pink and purple, but it was nothing I had ever seen before in my waking state. This is a huge affirmation to me, because I know I did not make up or imagine what I saw, because you can’t imagine something that your eyes have no way of seeing. I couldn’t have imagined these magnificent colors in my awake state; it would have been impossible. There is absolutely nothing to compare these colors to. It would be like telling a blind person to imagine what the inside of a watermelon looks like. They wouldn’t be able to if they had never seen one before. There were so many of these amazing colors that were floating across my vision…

    ‘Afterlife’ feels ‘even more real than real,’ researcher says – Wed April 10, 2013
    Excerpt: “If you use this questionnaire … if the memory is real, it’s richer, and if the memory is recent, it’s richer,” he said.
    The coma scientists weren’t expecting what the tests revealed.
    “To our surprise, NDEs were much richer than any imagined event or any real event of these coma survivors,” Laureys reported.
    The memories of these experiences beat all other memories, hands down, for their vivid sense of reality. “The difference was so vast,” he said with a sense of astonishment.
    Even if the patient had the experience a long time ago, its memory was as rich “as though it was yesterday,” Laureys said.

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