When people learn of the MA (Memory Activation) Theory of Mind/Brain, they are often surprised by the terminology. That is, I don’t have any! Of course I use neuroscience terms such as “neurons,” “functional neural networks,” “large scale neural activity,” etc. But in describing the mind I simply use everyday words: memory, experience, thought, emotion, intention etc. I seldom use cognitive science terms such as “phenomenology,” “neurocognitive networks,” “semantic memory,” or “executive control.”
Why not? Because, like any paradigm-shifting theory, the MA Theory is based on an entirely new set of philosophical assumptions. These are the foundation of an original model of brain mechanics.
For example, the MA Theory assumes 1) the mind is the key to brain understanding, (2) the mind is most accurately understood as the contents of experience i.e. daily awareness; (3) the mind = (mostly) a set of general memories, based on past experience (ex: “I recognize that as an apple, it is a nutritious snack, I want to reach for it…”). These assumptions lead to the formula mind = a set of (connected, weighted) general memories = a set of functional neural network ranges.
If a brain theory is based on an entirely new view of the mind, then old terminology won’t work. New terms — in this case, everyday language — is required to paint the new picture of how brains work.
This depends on the topic. If the conceptual framework of a topic is settled or understood, professionals are much more competent. For example if the question is “what is the neuroimaging data on the human reward system?” then a cognitive neuroscientist is the one to turn to for an answer.
If however the topic is an unanswered question, it can be anyone’s ball game. This is particularly true for topics that require less specialized knowledge. In this case amateurs can play a role.
For example, consider the question “what exactly is the mind (or consciousness) and how does it connect to the brain?” This is a very basic question at the heart of cognitive neuroscience. Can any cognitive neuroscientist answer this question? No. These folks do great work and know a lot about their subject matter. But they are no closer to answering this question – with clarity and precision — than Donald Hebb was 70 years ago.
Of course this question does require knowledge of the subject matter (in this case, mind and brain). But because the question is so broad, and of a philosophical nature, amateurs can have a say. And in this case one could argue knowledge is an impediment because of the associated philosophical assumptions. For example, a common assumption is the mind isn’t as important as the brain, and therefore the brain can be understood apart from the mind. This may or may not be true. But what IS certain is one needs to SET ASIDE this assumption in order to take a clear and objective look at the question.
The bottom line is there are certain topics in brain science that are accessible to not only professionals, but amateurs as well.
The mind — perception, thought, emotion, goals, attention, intention, motor control etc. – is the whole point of the brain. Without a mind what use would a brain be? The main function of the brain is to enable the mind’s expression.
Brain models which ignore the mind make no sense IMO because they leave out that which makes the brain interesting and useful in the first place. It makes little sense to model “voluntary movement” without modeling “movement perception (of one’s body & what it is acting on), movement intention, related emotions and intentional states while moving,” etc.
Further, if you want to model the brain in a practical way – to enhance an applied neuroscience project for example — you’ll need to get more specific. The details of the mind are critical. For example, to model “movement intention” for a motor neuroprosthetic, you’ll need to model “reach for a cup,” “fearful feelings during reaching,” and thoughts such as “careful” and “don’t knock the cup over.”
The mind is currently the invisible elephant in the room in applied neuroscience. But the good news is we can not only recognize it, but learn to harness its power! It all starts with the idea that the mind is the key to understanding the brain.
An improved definition of the human mind empowers the user. Improved mind/brain definitions, and signatures, are also “targets.” The user can define them with full and clear consciousness. She can control what states of mind she wishes to strive toward, and express, during BCI operation. She can research and arrive at a personalized, ideal target state of mind. This may include her lifestyle, occupation, social habits, and personal goals. She could define her most desired, realistic and easily-to-attain states of mind.
These personalized, self-chosen states of mind would be the targets for her to try to “hit.” For example, if she meditates regularly, “practicing mindfulness during BCI movement” might be a target.
Mind/brain targets could be defined with the aid of the user’s own research. For example, the user might learn it’s difficult to maintain a constant level of excitement/dopamine brain signal, when one is both failing and succeeding at artificial movement. Social situations would magnify this effect. In this case, the user could define a state of mind that allows for emotional variability.
On the other hand, the user might be a devoted Buddhist who is (or strives to be) unattached to results. In this case, she could define her target as “an even level of excitement while moving.”
Overall, personalized mind/brain targets can be researched, considered, and defined by the user and her clinical and professional team. The user can activate these flexibly, according to the demands of the situation, the physical environment, etc.. These targets would be hit more regularly because (1) the user is motivated to achieve these states of mind, and (2) has a clear idea of what those states are in the first place.
In my last 2 posts I argue (1) the mind controls the brain signal, and (2) brain signal targets are an expression of corresponding state of mind targets. In this post I will argue that mind/brain targets are more accurately conceptualized as general memory targets.
For example, a “cursor moves left” intention would be comprised of a memory set featuring “cursor,” “left,” and “cursor moves left.” These are general memories comprised of a range of cursor sizes and shapes, left directions (straight left, left but a little up, left and down 1 inch, etc.), and cursor movements.
Whenever the user attempts to move a cursor, a specific memory set will activate each time. These memories have definable perceptual, cognitive, emotional and other content. (Can the reader think of a memory that does not have definable content?). Once listed, the memory set can be connected, weighted, and labeled excitatory or inhibitory.
Once a memory set is defined, a corresponding set of functional neural network (FNN) ranges can be defined as well. And, a corresponding set of brain signal ranges. A general memory set = a set of FNN ranges = a set of brain signal ranges.
Why might the idea a state of mind = a general memory set be so useful? Because, it leads to mind/brain signatures of specific movements that are more accurate, comprehensive, and precise than current cognitive neuroscience conceptualizations. These signatures can also be fit to the person, situation, task, and other context. The basic idea is to recognize “state of mind” is a thing, it exists in the brain, it can be defined as a set of general memories (based on past experience), are represented physically by a corresponding set of brain signal ranges, and these memory/brain signal ranges make ideal BCI targets for the designer, trainer, learner, and user to strive to “hit.”