General memory may be a foreign concept to a brain scientist. But most people understand it intuitively if not explicitly. It is essentially common knowledge.

A general memory is formed by, or built from, experience. Subsequent activations shape this memory, experience by experience. For example, the memory “apple” is formed by a set of past apple experiences. The memory “me eating AN apple” is formed from the person’s set of “I ate THAT apple” experiences.

A general memory represents a range of similar experience. For example, consider the memory “me eating an orange.” There are many ways to behave in relation to an orange that fall under this category. One can for example lift the slices to one’s mouth in almost infinite ways: perceptually, motivationally, behaviorally, emotionally etc. There are many ways to eat an orange, and this range is based on experience (and the later thought & reliving of).

General memories are formed not only from experience, but from its episodic memory. Mind and brain continually copy 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 woods, feeling relaxed, deep in thought.”

The contents of episodic memory = that of experience. Or at the very least, 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.

In other words, a set of similar experiences — if common and powerful enough — will form a general memory. Perceiving a car speeding by for the first time initiates the formation of a “that car speeding by” memory. This memory is formed initially by a (moment by moment) experience. Seeing many cars causes a more general “a car speeding by” 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) Theory, 95% of the mind/brain system runs on it. General memory I argue is the critical missing piece in understanding mind AND brain. Not from a personal growth perspective, but from an engineering, or how-do-the-mechanics-of-the-system-work, perspective.

The idea human memories have contents built from experience is common knowledge. The only group of people who may struggle with this concept, ironically, are brain scientists. Not because they aren’t smart, talented, hard-working, people doing valuable work. But because they are laboring under the wrong cognitive neuroscience paradigm. The brain’s fundamental mechanism is not a “processing” or “computing” of one’s (external & internal) world. What the brain does, mainly, is copy experience to episodic memory, and use the contents of both to form general memories. These, when active, in turn create thought, meaning, movement, and most of the mind.

I argue this is half right. Of course, the physical characteristics of the brain are essential to understand. And much valuable data and knowledge about the brain has, and continues, to accumulate.

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, executive control, goals, plans, intentions, attention and the rest of his or her mind?

If the mind is not well-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. Think about it: how could a group design an experiment for mapping the neural networks of “reach for a coffee cup” without a clear definition of the mind components involved. These would include “move arm forward,” “coffee,” “cup,” “coffee smell and taste,” “hot,” “liquid,” and “take a sip.”

If you don’t include these components in your neural network labeling, then what your network proports to represent will be incomplete! The network will be an incorrect representation of “reach for a coffee cup.”

Even though much is KNOWN about how the brain expresses the mind, an 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, and highly-skilled. 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 is totally unnecessary. The mind CAN be defined, accurately, and mapped to the brain.

The MA (Memory Activation) Method represents 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 method defines the mind as a set of (active) general memories, built from past experience. The neural correlate of these = 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 and exciting work is being done in the brain sciences. The missing piece of the puzzle, I argue, is an accurate conception of the mind. This would enable a more accurate mind-to-brain mapping. Right now the focus is 95% 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, BCI and neuroprosthetics to name a few – would benefit greatly!

New ideas can be difficult: foreign, hard to understand, and a challenge to one’s current beliefs.

When it comes to a new science paradigm, these difficulties 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, even 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. The physics community (with a couple of exceptions) 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 decade. Communicating ideas is different from thinking about, researching, and building them. Be patient with me — I’m working on it!

Patience is also required to learn a new paradigm. The MA Method 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, neuroimaging 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 inside the brain, so it’s 100% physical, right? Mental processes are about neurons, synapses, neural networks, and so on, correct? So why is he talking about subjective experience?! The brain processes information like a computer, doesn’t it? So why is he saying “memory activation” is the main processing mechanism?

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. There is intense interest in understanding the brain, by a highly-skilled and knowledgeable brain science community. Given this, most brain scientists would have already thought of an easily-understood view of the brain!

Put Ego & Emotion Aside: It’s natural for anyone – myself included – to become emotionally attached to one’s beliefs. Ideas which contradict them 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. Or, as I often say to myself, it’s just a temporary, meaningless emotion — let it go. As the song says, “don’t worry, be happy!”

I would argue one’s emotions and ego, especially in science, aren’t relevant anyway. What is important is the truth, and the pursuit of it.

Recognize the Opportunity: The MA Method in my opinion represents a very exciting opportunity! The mind can be understood, defined, and mapped to the brain. 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, cognitive computing 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!

The concept of a general memory is not only easy to understand, but common knowledge. It represents a range of (similar) experience. For example, consider the memory “apple.” This is an object often experienced by people (especially around lunch time). “Apple” contains a range of color/size/shape combinations, tactile feelings (on hand and mouth), tastes, thoughts (fruit, snack, grows on trees), etc. The contents of the memory “apple” are built from past experience.

The sequence of general memory formation is: experience → mind → episodic memory → general memory. The experience would need to be common enough, and powerful enough, to have formed a general memory.

The neural correlate of a general memory is proposed to be a functional neural network (FNN) range. That is, an active general memory (first person or subjective view) = an active FNN range (third person or objective view). General memories and FNN ranges, being one and the same, are built from experience.

I also argue a person’s ongoing state of mind throughout the day = (mostly) a set of active general memories. Or, from a neural perspective, sparse code FNN activity (a given brain signal) = (mostly) the activity of a set of FNN ranges.

Consider the mind during the activity of reaching for one’s phone. The memories “my arm,” “reach,” “my hand,” “grasp,” and “phone” will all activate. So might “my phone,” “my favorites list,” “my finger movements,” “the internet,” and “my favorites.” Each of these memories have specific — and definable — perceptual, cognitive, and emotional content.

The concept of a general memory is simple. However the content and function of a general memory is quite complex. The good new is this complexity CAN be understood! This leads to a greatly improved understanding of both mind and brain.

The MA Method is a new cognitive neuroscience framework. A key foundational concept is that memories are built from experience. Therefore memories have content — that of experience. The information a memory contains is the same as the experience that plays out in one’s “field of experience.” This field includes visual and auditory perception (visual field), somatosensation and emotion (body), as well as goals, intentions and other thoughts (head).

For example, the memory “the round of golf I played yesterday” might feature perception (white round thing, grass beneath, gripping a club…) objects (golf ball, my feet, my hands…) and intentions (backswing, ball strike, ball flight…). A memory of a thought (“what a terrible swing”) or an emotion (“That was really embarrassing”) is also a copy of the original.

As I sit in my office at my computer, I see, read, feel, and think. My conscious experience changes continually. Yet, much remains the same. Emotions, breathing, and other bodily sensations rise and fall. Thoughts occur. Life happens. This ongoing experience is encompassed by the mind. The mind in turn is continually converted to memory.

Mind and brain mirrors experience as it occurs. The brain copies the contents of the mind. Not all of it, but its most salient and attended-to parts. While I read a paper, I might comprehend an interesting idea. That idea will be recorded, and later remembered when needed. A sudden noise from the street – its tone, volume, and meaning — is immediately converted to memory. A dog’s bark is quickly forgotten. The sound of a human voice, such as a request for help, is attended to and sustained in memory for much longer.

The point is the information of experience – visual, auditory, somatosensory, emotional, cognitive, etc. — can be copied to memory. Anyone can do this, and later recall it at will.

Human memory has content. To understand what these contents are, do not look to the brain and its “processing” of experience. Look to experience itself.