If the mind controls the brain signal, how would a BCI user optimally control her mind, brain signal, and device? In my view the best path forward is to first gain a clear understanding of the mind. How can it be best understood, and defined?
For example, consider a “move the cursor” intention. Let’s say the cursor has 5 degrees of freedom: left, right, up, down, and stop. Potential mind/brain signatures would be a cursor’s size and shape, its movement (left, right…), and the perception of a computer screen. These are predominately signatures of visual perception. Goal or thought targets could be “attend to the cursor,” and “move the cursor left.” An emotional target state might be “calm and focused.” And so on.
The point is, any state of mind can be defined as a (general) memory set: “cursor visual characteristics & movement,” a “watch the cursor” goal, etc. The user would endeavor to strongly, selectively, and consistently hit these state of mind targets. These are some (of many possible) brain signal targets.
Brain signal noise would also mirror that of the mind. Noise would include emotions such as momentary success or failure, strong desire; the meaning of the task — i.e. why the user wants to move the cursor in a given context; environmental/social settings of lab, work, or home; and life context such as a job promotion, relocation, or loss of a loved one.
In short, any state of mind is most accurately defined as a set of general memories, which are (definable!) brain signal targets (to hit or avoid) for the user.
One way to look at the brain is that it continually expresses the mind. Mind and brain are two sides of the same coin. From a subjective view perception, thought, intention, attention etc. is felt and experienced. At the same time a corresponding (set of) functional neural networks activate.
A state of mind, such as “move my hand left – now,” will have a corresponding brain signal. Similar states of mind, as they are repeated, form a state of mind “signature,” and corresponding brain signal signature.
A given brain signal signature reflects a type of mind expression (ex: the intention “move my hand left”). Mind/brain signatures are also “targets” in that the user tries to repeat — i.e. hit — them with each movement.
The content of the mind = perception, recognition, thought, goals, imagery, intention, attention, and the rest of one’s strongest and most powerful experience. More precisely, the mind is made of the activation of a set of memories, based on past experience (ex: “reach,” “my right hand,” “coffee cup,” “coffee,” “desire,” “take a sip” etc.).
Overall the mind = a set of (active) general memories = the set of (active) functional neural network ranges.
To the extent the user’s state of mind is accurately defined, her brain signal signatures – and targets for designer/tester/trainer/user to shoot for — will be better-defined as well.
It’s common knowledge a general memory is formed and shaped experience by experience. For example, the memory “apple” is formed via a set of past apple experiences. “Me eating AN apple” is formed from a set of “I ate THAT apple” experiences.
A general memory represents a range of similar experience. For example, consider the general memory “me eating an apple.” There are many ways to behave in relation to an apple that fall under this category. In other words there are many ways to eat an apple.
General memories are formed not only from experience, but from its episodic memory. An episodic memory I see as the ability of mind and brain to re-activate (the information content of) a single experience as it occurred through space and time.
The brain continually copies experience to episodic memory. One’s experience during the last 5 seconds can be recalled at any time. At the very least the gist can be remembered. For example, one might remember that for the past 5 seconds, “I was standing at my desk, looking out the window toward the ocean, feeling relaxed, deep in thought.”
Where is human experience stored, and later recalled from? The most obvious location is the brain. Where else would the memory of it reside? The brain automatically converts experience to episodic memory — especially our most salient and attended to experience.
General memory is built from a set of similar episodic memories, and from the immediate experience itself. The INFORMATION of experience becomes that of general memory. The memory “I catch a baseball” is built from past baseball-catching experiences + the episodic memory of each. “I catch a baseball” is formed and shaped, experience by experience.
All general memories have contents which are definable. These are derived from the events which occur in one’s visual field, including one’s body at its center. General memory contents = that of one’s “field of experience.”
For example, “a cell phone” refers to a range of phone experiences (various types, shapes/sized/colors, actions etc.). “My phone” is built from a set of past perceptions, meaning, thoughts, feelings etc. — of that particular phone. “Write a text” refers to a set of similar hand & finger movements, plus thinking and word formation. “Rapidly” represents a set of fast and quick behavior. A general memory = a range of similar experience.
In other words, a set of similar experiences — if they are common and powerful enough — will form a general memory. Perceiving a car might invoke the formation of a “that car speeding by” memory. This memory is made from a repeated (second by second, etc.) experience of seeing it. Seeing many cars causes a more general “car” memory to form. The same goes for its sub-memories: “car shape,” “car motor sound,” “cost of a car,” “how I feel about cars,” etc.
Why is it important to understand general memory? Because, according to the MA (Memory Activation) Framework, 95% of the mind/brain system runs on it. General memory is I argue the critical missing piece with which to understand mind AND brain. Not from a personal growth perspective, but from an engineering/how-do-the-mechanics-of-the-system-work perspective.
That human memories have contents based on experience is common knowledge. The only group of people who might struggle with this concept, ironically, are brain scientists. Not because they aren’t smart, talented, hard-working, and doing excellent work. But because they are laboring under the wrong cognitive neuroscience paradigm. The brain’s fundamental mechanism is not the “processing” or “computing” of one’s (external & internal) world. What the brain does is copy experience to episodic memory, and use the contents of both to form general memories. These, when active, in turn create meaning, movement, and most of the mind.
I argue this is half right. The physical characteristics of the brain are essential to understand. And much valuable data and knowledge about the brain is accumulating.
Studying the brain exclusively however neglects the other half of the problem — the mind. How does the brain represent it? This is unknown. There’s no clear conceptual framework of what the mind is, or how it’s manifest in the brain. How does the brain create or express a person’s perception, recognition, meaning, emotion, goals, plans, intentions, attention and the rest of his or her mind?
If the mind is not understood, neither can the brain be. If you don’t know what the mind is you can’t map it to the brain. This I argue is a simple truth. How could a group design an experiment for mapping the neural networks of say “reach for a coffee cup” without a clear definition of the mind components involved: “coffee,” “coffee cup,” “coffee smell and taste,” “hot,” “liquid,” and “take a sip”?
Even though much is known about how the brain expresses the mind, a general understanding remains elusive. This becomes clear if you ask a cognitive neuroscientist to model a specific aspect of mind – for example, “how does the brain function when grasping a cup of coffee, in an office.” In response you will receive a vague and somewhat inaccurate description of roughly 30% of the process.
The inability to map mind phenomena to brain phenomena is totally understandable given the lack of a theoretical framework. Cognitive scientists are smart, talented, hardworking people. If they had a correct paradigm they wouldn’t be confused. But the lack of mind/brain understanding on a theoretical level inevitably leads to sub-par analysis.
This confusion I believe is unnecessary. The mind can in fact be defined, accurately, and mapped to the brain.
The MA (Memory Activation) Framework is a mind-first conceptual framework. The human mind mirrors experience as it occurs in everyday awareness. It features the events which occur in our visual field, with our body at its center. This includes perception, recognition, meaning, thought, emotion, arousal, goals, plans, attention, intention and the rest of (conscious and unconscious) awareness.
More specifically, The MA Framework defines the mind as a set of (active) general memories, built from past experience. The neural correlate of these, I argue, is a set of (active) functional neural network ranges. Once listed, a memory/FNN set can be connected, weighted, and labeled excitatory/inhibitory.
A lot of great work is being done in the brain sciences. The missing piece of the puzzle right now, IMO, is an accurate conception of the mind. This would enable a more accurate mind-to-brain mapping. Right now the focus is 98% brain study, then extrapolating from the brain back to the mind. IMO this is backwards… I suggest we look to the mind; THEN the brain. Many fields in applied neuroscience – CNS medicine, AGI, and neuroprosthetics to name a few – would benefit greatly!
New ideas are challenging Then are often confusing, difficult to understand, and contradict one’s current beliefs.
When it comes to a set of ideas which form a new science paradigm, the challenges are magnified. A paradigm shift is an entirely new way of looking at a topic. A new paradigm has nothing to do with the current one. It will seem strange and alien. Einstein’s relativity for example was an entirely new way of looking at how the universe works, on a large scale. It was fundamentally different from Newton’s conception. Almost all his physics colleagues had no interest in it.
Given this backdrop, I thought I’d offer a few tips for those interested in my new cognitive science paradigm – the MA (Memory Activation) Method.
Exercise Patience: I am not perfect. My communication skills are not always the best. In my defense I am a mind/brain philosopher and engineer not a writer. I define the mind — as a set of (connected, weighted) memory networks — and show how to map these to the brain. This has been my focus for the last few years. Writing is different from thinking and building a (functional and structural) model of the mind/brain system. Be patient with me — I’m working on it!
Patience is also required to learn a new paradigm. The MA Framework won’t make sense, at first, to anyone who believes the brain processes or computes information similar to a computer. Or who believes that once “processed,” experience has nothing to do with the brain. Those with a background in brain science — neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience etc. — will (consciously or unconsciously) believe this. It’s a struggle to see past this underlying conceptual framework. It takes repeated exposure to a new way of seeing the brain (as a memory-forming, memory-activating, mind-expressing entity) for it to “sink in.”
Tolerate Confusion: What happens when old ideas meet contradictory new ones? A lot of confusion is created. The mind is in the brain, so its physical right? Its about neurons, neural networks, etc. So why is he talking about subjective experience?! The brain processes or computes information, doesn’t it? So why is he talking so much about “memory activation?”
The good news is confusion is a sure sign the paradigm might be right. If it were easily understood, it would HAVE to be wrong. Given the intense interest in understanding the brain, most brain scientists would have already thought of an easy-to-understand view of the brain!
Put Ego & Emotion Aside: It’s natural for anyone – myself included – to become emotionally invested in one’s beliefs. Ideas which contradict these can seem like an “attack.” One’s ego is invested in being right, not wrong..
As I try to remind myself, relax, breathe… it’s just an idea. If you find it potentially useful or interesting pursue it. If not don’t worry about it. As the song goes, “don’t worry, be happy!”
I would argue momentary passions and emotions, especially in science, aren’t important anyway. What is important is the truth, and the pursuit of it.
The good news is recognizing one might be wrong is the first step toward truth, humility, and being right!
Recognize the Opportunity: The MA Framework in my opinion represents an exciting opportunity! Both mind and brain can be better understood — given the correct cognitive neuroscience framework. It’s true new ideas can be difficult. But think of the payoff – what an improved understanding would mean. Neuroscience data and knowledge more clearly understood, and applied more readily to real-world problems. Specific projects in CNS medicine, brain computer interface, neuroprosthetics, and other fields enhanced (in both the short and long term). Tolerating a certain amount of confusion, challenge to one’s ego, and imperfect communication will be well worth the effort!