Neuroimaging is task-based (or resting state), not “mind-based” or “consciousness-based.” The focus on task is a big problem I argue because state of mind is more strongly (and directly) correlated with the brain signal than the task. In addition, there is great difficulty in isolating specific mental functions using psychological tasks (Poldrack & Yarkoni, 2016). The bottom line is the mind — perception, meaning, emotion, imagination, intention etc. — is a much better reflection of the brain signal than the task the mind is engaged in.

For example consider brain signal classification (or labeling) and BCI technology. A BCI device translates the brain signal of the user into external action. The signal — obtained via neuroimaging such as EEG — is analyzed, processed, decoded, and classified. This in turn triggers an external action such as an artificial limb movement.

What creates the user’s brain signal? I argue task is a secondary cause. The primary one is the mind. The brain signal is influenced heavily by task, to be sure. But brain activity is also affected by the environment, measurement situation (social, work, home, lab), recent success/failure at BCI control, and other context. These and many other variables (including the mind itself) affect the mind — and the brain signal which corresponds to if not mirrors the mind.

The user’s state of mind — perception, goals, inner speech, motivation, imagination, intention etc. — is affected by many things. The brain signal reflects the mind primarily, and only secondarily (and indirectly) the task the mind is engaged in.

Cognitive neuroscience, despite the best efforts of highly-skilled professionals with vast expertise, is very limiting when applied to BCI development and use. Working within the current conceptual framework yields vague and inaccurate brain signal targets. This is no one’s fault. The vast knowledge and skills regarding the brain are highly valuable. The problem is they are being understood and used within the wrong paradigm.

Current brain signal targets for BCI control are either ill-defined, or too task-focused. A target might be “move the cursor left” intention (not a bad start, but very incomplete), or “attend to, and do, whatever you did before to make that action happen” (vague and ill-defined). Or, the target might be 100% task-based, such as “whatever the brain does when the user performs movement X, under conditions Y and Z.”

Brain signal labeling based on the user’s state of mind is much more accurate than that based on task. And it’s even more accurate and precise when based on a set of general memories. For instance, the intention to “move the cursor left” will include the memories “cursor,” “a computer screen,” and “move left.” This intention — a general memory in its own right – is comprised of general memories. These are mainly visual and somatosensory. Among these are “seeing an object move left,” and “the feeling of my right hand & mouse as it moves left.”

The above memories have strong associations as well. These include visuosomatosensory attention (“focus on the cursor”), visual imaging (“imagine it will move left”), and emotion (“feeling calm and relaxed”). These too are general memories.

Labeling or classifying the brain signal based on task has been somewhat successful. But why settle for this, when it can be more accurately labeled based on the mind? Moreover, I argue it’s possible to define a memory set — its components and associations — for any (common) movement & its context. Movement context would include the person, occupation, lifestyle, movement situation (environmental, social, work/home/lab…), and stage of learning (beginner/intermediate/advanced).

Overall, neuroimaging and brain mapping based on the mind, not the task, has the potential to greatly enhance BCI projects. MIND-BASED neuroimaging is a potentially powerful tool for BCI development and performance — both in the lab and the real world.

References

Poldrack, R.A., Yarkoni, T. (2016). From brain maps to cognitive ontologies: informatics and the search for mental structure. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 587. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4701616/

Many neuroscientists think of the human mind as a vague and murky psuedo-phenomenon. The mind (whatever it is, there’s no clear definition) is “processed,” “computed” or “mediated” by the brain. Moment by moment, our perception, recognition, cognition and emotion, intention etc. is processed. Also the result of neural processing are meaning, arousal, executive control, goals, attention, motor control, and the rest of the mind.

The main flaw in this view is it basically ignores external experience. The brain is primary, the mind secondary, and experience (as it occurs in vivid detail, external to the brain) a insignificant afterthought.

The MA (Memory Activation) Theory represents an expansion of this highly constrained view of the mind. The conscious mind features experience. It encompasses all of it. In addition, the meaning of (common, everyday) experience is comprised of general memory — which is in turn built FROM experience. The mind inside the brain is dominated by experience.

What do we know about human experience? We know it occurs beyond the confines of the perceived skull. This is common knowledge. We also know that what we are aware of — the contents of our consciousness — unfolds through space and time within our (modal and amodal) visual field.

As this three-dimensional field changes, or not, mind and brain make copies of it. This field, and the episodic memory thereof (ex: that phone), continually activate (matching) general memory (ex: a phone). In turn, active-state general memory creates most of the mind: recognition, meaning, thought, goals, state of arousal, etc.

The current understanding of the (conscious and unconscious) mind is fundamentally flawed. This is no one’s fault. However a new paradigm will need to feature human experience as the centerpiece of memory and the mind. This will enable a new and more accurate understanding of the mind, AND its neural correlate in the brain.

What is consciousness? What are mental processes? What is the (conscious and unconscious) mind? And how does it connect to the brain? The mind/brain problem underlies all of the brain sciences. Solving it is of intense interest within the brain science community, because it would enhance neurotechnology, applied neuroscience and the brain sciences generally.

However, there is a major hurdle to overcome. It’s not a shortage of technological prowess, engineering capability, or data. Rather the problem lies in a faulty understanding of the mind. No one agrees on its contents, nor are these defined accurately: either generally, or during a specific task in real time. Yet, the mind is critical. Most of what the brain does relates to it. The brain cannot be understood without understanding the mind within.

Comprehending the mind and its neural correlate has great practical value. The ability to clearly and accurately define the mind, and its connection to neural activity, would enhance the already-promising field of applied neuroscience: including CNS biomarker development, neuroprosthetics, brain computer interface, cognitive computing, and bio-inspired robotics.

The good news is a proposed answer already exists! A conceptual framework is explained below. Granted, it will not make 100% sense at first because a) it is a new paradigm, and b) the subject matter (human consciousness inside the brain) is difficult to conceptualize. However this paradigm I argue is not only logical and fits the facts, but its value is easily demonstrated.

A summary of the method:

1. First, conscious experience exists! Subjectivity is real. The mind and all mental processes exist. This includes any and all experience of sight, sound, somatosensation (hot/cold, pain/pleasure, hunger…) recognition, identification, meaning, thought, language, executive control, goals, emotion, intention, imagination and the rest of the mind.

The mind may not be physical like the brain, but it is very real. One’s awareness is filled with something (actually multiple things) every moment of the day. If the conscious mind is an illusion or a hallucination, it’s a very real one!

2. If the mind exists, where is it located? By far the most likely candidate is inside the brain. For example, let’s look at voluntary motor control. The basal ganglia & motor cortex receives inputs not only from the premotor cortex but (directly or indirectly) most of the brain. The efferent motor control signal is relayed from the basal ganglia/motor cortex to the spine, and from there to the limbs and rest of the body.

Subjectively, one’s mind controls movement. “You” (the self) decide or choose how to move. Therefore you (as part of the mind) control the afferent signal sent to the spine. For example, you might think “I need to reach my left arm forward, quickly” and that signal is sent. The fastest and most reliable way the mind could possibly do this is to act from WITHIN the brain.

3. If mind operates from inside the brain, it has to have a neural correlate. I argue the correlate is the large scale, function neural network (FNN) activity that coincides with it. (More on this below).

4. The mind/brain system is neither 100% brain, nor 100% mind. It’s both. Mind and brain are 2 sides of the same coin. The conscious mind is the first person subjective view. FNN activity is the third person objective view. Mind = the brain’s set of FNNs.

5. Because the mind is expressed moment-by-moment inside the brain, defining these mental processes is the first step in mapping them to the brain. What components of mind are active through a given period of time, in a given situation, environment, task, and other context? To map the mind to the brain, you have to first define what you’re mapping!

6. It’s quite possible to define the mind. One can list the mental processes at play within any common situation and during any common task. One can weigh their strength, and connect them into networks. And this can be done accurately. This set of networks becomes a roadmap for labeling the neural activity corresponding to it. For example, the FNN activity during a “move the cursor to the left” task would include “perception of my arm & hand,” and “imagine arm, hand, and mouse moving to the left.” It might also include “a calm & focused emotional state.”

7. Why is this simple idea – that the mind (not a particular task, or resting state) can be used to map the brain’s function – all but ignored by the brain science community? Mainly, it is because the mind remains resistant to comprehension. Many researchers know a lot about, and have keen insight into, various aspects of the mind. Their hard-won knowledge is of great value. At the same time, no one can DEFINE the mind in a way more than a handful of people agree with. And these definitions are usually quite vague. Specific examples of the mind during daily living are avoided. In this “mind vacuum” what IS understood to some degree — the brain — has filled the void. The brain has become the focal point of study, to the point where many believe the mind is irrelevant to the brain!

8. Cognitive neuroscience is populated by intelligent, talented professionals doing excellent work. Their knowledge and skills are invaluable. However, none of these experts can define any mental process — either generally, or within a specific (task) context – with accuracy. Nor are changes to these processes well-defined: across time, people, learning, environments, situations, and other context.

9. This shortcoming is no one’s fault. The cause is a faulty conceptual framework. The mind is compressed into the brain, and experience is ignored. Mind and brain are said to “process” or “compute” (external and internal) experience. Yet, the structure and function of both mind and brain have little in common with a computer. More importantly, memory and experience are all but ignored in most brain theories. Yet it’s obvious memory plays a key role. Memories are made, stored, shaped, and activated every moment of the day. And it’s also obvious the content of memory is built from (the information of) experience.

10. What the mind/brain system (primarily) does is activate memories. This activity takes the form of recognition (ex; my coffee cup), meaning (hot coffee), thought (I want to be more alert), goals (read this article, take a sip of coffee), intentions (reach my right hand toward the cup), emotion (desire — for coffee & more knowledge about what I’m reading), state of arousal (tired, interested) and most of the mind.

11. A closer look at any mental process (during daily activities) reveals it is, at its core, memory. For example, a voluntary movement “reach for coffee” is comprised of a set of memories: “my right arm and hand,” “grasp,” “my fingers,” “liquid,” “caffeine,” and “drink,” These are perceptual, cognitive, and emotional memories.

12. Other than immediate, low-level perception, the mind = (mostly) a set of general memories, the formation of which is based on past experience. For example, seeing a dog includes the memories “dog,” “dogs are fun,” “dogs can bite,” “fear,” “attend to his body language” etc. The content of these thoughts, goals, and intentions are all memories of those past events.

13. A general memory is not only built from, but comes to represent, a group (or more precisely, range) of similar past experience. This is common knowledge. For example the memory “dog collar” is built from a person’s past dog collar experiences. This memory has perceptual content: a typical size, shape, texture, color, weight, sound when dropped on the floor, etc. It has higher meaning and other associations: dog, leash, walking, exercise, health etc. This memory is general because it represents not a single collar, but a range of experiences and meanings. In other words, it represents all the ways in which “dog collar” can be expressed, when activated. “Dog collar” = a range of “dog collar” experience.

14. A person’s state of mind is continually converted to memory. Conscious and unconscious perception, recognition, meaning, thoughts, state of arousal, goals, sense of self, executive functions, attention, intention, and motor control are all mental processes active during most tasks and behaviors. These expressions are continually converted to episodic memory, and work to shape general memory.

15. In short, a general memory = the INFORMATION of (past, similar) experience; and general memory — in an active state — creates most of present experience, and all of its meaning.

16. If memories are comprised of experience, what does this mean? It means the brain runs on experience! This seems counterintuitive – isn’t an active memory manifest as the activity of neurons, synapses, neurochemicals etc.? However, this is the third person objective view of memory. A first person subjective view of an active memory is present simultaneously — the experience of, and subjective information expressed, during that memory’s activation.

17. The brain is a biological and electrochemical organ. Its wetware is very different from that of a computer’s hardware and software. The brain does not process like a computer either. Rather the brain’s function — in relation to the mind — is to store, activate, express, and shape, memory.

18. The ongoing brain signal interacts with itself, and with the sensory signal, simultaneously. This triggers a continuous, coordinated, semi-connected set of (excitatory/inhibitory) general memory activation.

19. If mind and memory are manifest within the brain, does this make the mind 100% physical, and mechanical? I argue no. I believe higher aspects of mind – creativity, inspiration, love, beauty, passion, selflessness etc. – can play a large role in mind, and brain. I think these higher states of mind have a strong element of mystery. They are neither 100% predictable nor comprehensible. The mind can be powerful in ways that are not easily understood, and are far from having an obvious “mechanism.”

20. My personal view is the “higher self” — creativity, inspiration, compassion, love, spontaneity, humor, wholeheartedness, integrity, insight, genius, spiritual or religious experience etc. — is a key part of the mind. It provides crucial context in which the mind during daily living plays out. Part of the mind therefore is connected to the brain in a non-predictable way. Some of what the mind/brain system is, and does, is a mystery!

21. Once general memory is understood subjectively, an obvious candidate for its neural correlate becomes apparent: a functional neural network (FNN) range. A FNN is a local or global, population-level neural firing event. Groups of neurons in distributed regions of the brain act in concert, via neural synchrony, to produce coordinated firing activity.

Both memories and FNNs are highly associative — in dormant or active state. Both function, simultaneously, as signal transmitters (of their own signal) and receivers (of associated signals). And each dominates their respective (mind/brain) systems.

22. In summary: active mind = (mostly) a set of active general memories, based on past experience = a corresponding set of FNN range activity.

The MA Method of mind-to-brain mapping enables a brain scientist or research group to define the mind, and map it to the brain, with significantly greater accuracy and precision than is currently possible. This can be done across people, tasks or movements, environments, measurement situations, disorders, external devices, and other variables. The mind can be envisioned quite clearly as it operates through space and time in the brain.

Being able to generate accurate mind/brain maps is a valuable asset for most applied neuroscience companies and research groups. One example is brain computer interface (BCI) technology. Here the user’s state of mind, via the corresponding brain signal, controls the external device. If you can define the user state of mind accurately, you can then use it as a (well-defined) target for the user to “hit.” The user and her research team can construct optimal mind/brain “targets” for BCI control.

More accurate and better-understood mind/brain targets benefit the BCI designer. A device’s capabilities can be designed to incorporate the targets more effectively — if the targets are accurate representations of the user’s mental state.

Better mind/brain targets also empower the BCI user. Optimal states of mind can be researched, considered, and selected by the user. The criteria for optimal targets might be states of mind that are easy to achieve consistently (across tasks, situations…), natural to attain, and most desirable. State of mind targets intelligently and deliberately selected by the user & her team will be much more effective than targets where user input is minimal, or targets poorly understood.

The MA Method takes most of the mystery and guesswork out of cognitive neuroscience. Estimated improvement is from 30% to 80% accuracy. Mind-to-brain mapping done the “right way” is fun, exciting, and illuminating! More importantly, it’s an effective tool for bringing actionable insight to most applied neuroscience projects.

When people first encounter the MA (Memory Activation) Theory of Mind/Brain, they are often surprised by the terminology. That is, I don’t use any special terms to describe the mind. 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, feeling, goals, attention, intention etc. I seldom use brain 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. This new paradigm is the foundation of an original model of brain mechanics: the MA Method.

The MA Theory and cognitive neuroscience are two separate paradigms. Using cognitive neuroscience terms distorts the meaning of the MA Theory.

For example, the MA Theory asserts the mind = (mostly) a set of general memories, based on past experience. For example, the thoughts “I recognize that object as an apple, it’s a nutritious snack, I want to reach for it are all memories (comprised of sub-memories).

Therefore, if the MA Theory were to use “neurocognitive networks” this would not fit the MA Theory. The proper terms are “general memories” or “memories based on past experience.”

Since my brain theory is based on an entirely new view of the mind, old terminology won’t work. New terms — in this case, everyday language — are required to paint a new picture of how the mind/brain system works.

This may or may not be true. One factor it depends upon is the topic under investigation. If the topic’s conceptual framework is settled or understood, go with a professional or mainstream science analysis. For example if the topic is “the neuroimaging data on the human reward system” then a cognitive neuroscientist is the one to turn to for analysis and info.

However if the topic is an unsettled one — such as a new paradigm — it is anyone’s ball game. This is particularly true if the topic doesn’t require specialized knowledge.

For example, consider the question “what IS the (conscious and unconscious) mind, and how does it connect to the brain?” This is a very basic question. It is arguably the main conceptual pillar underlying cognitive neuroscience. Can any cognitive neuroscientist answer this question? No. These highly-skilled folks do valuable work and know a lot about their subject matter. But they are not much closer to answering this question than Donald Hebb was 70 years ago.

Of course answering this question DOES require knowledge of the subject (the mind and its connection to the brain). But because the question is so broad and philosophical, amateurs can also have a say. And in this case one could argue knowledge is an impediment because of current underlying philosophical assumptions. For example, it is often assumed 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 be able to SET ASIDE this assumption, in order to take an objective look at the (mind/brain) system.

In short, some topics in brain science ARE accessible to not only professionals, but amateurs as well.