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.
Most brain scientists view a viable brain theory as a long term goal, to be reached in the distant future. The reason for this pessimism I argue is not a lack of KNOWLEDGE. Brain scientists have created a vast reservoir of brain data and knowledge. Rather it is a lack of brain UNDERSTANDING.
This starts with the mind. No one knows what the mind is. Therefore, how can it be connected to the brain? To connect the mind to the brain you have to first define the former, and do so accurately.
But, what if the mind COULD be defined with accuracy and precision? It could then be used to create accurate and precise functional (and eventually, structural) maps of the brain.
This is where the great news comes in. The basics of the mind – conscious & unconscious awareness and action – aren’t difficult to understand! I argue its contents and function CAN defined. However a thick smokescreen is cast over it by the brain sciences. Though completely unintentional and unavoidable, it has obscured the basics of the mind.
According to the conventional view, the brain “processes” or “computes” ongoing experience. Once inside the brain, experience disappears entirely. It’s all about neurons, synapses, dendrites, neurochemicals and the physical substrate. Where is the mind? Subjective experience? Nowhere to be found. After all, how could it possibly exist within the physical brain!?
The conventional view minimizes the mind, and eliminates experience altogether.
If experience is external to the brain, so the argument goes, it is unimportant. What IS important is how it is “processed.” Experience has nothing to do with the brain, in any direct way.
I argue the direct opposite. Experience in my view is central to the brain. The brain is filled with experience.
The argument is simple. The mind is located inside the brain. And, the mind encompasses all of experience. Therefore the brain encompasses all of experience as well — via the mind.
The contents of the conscious mind are not a mystery. They are everything we are aware of, moment by moment. Everyone knows this! Close your eyes and try to recall the last 5 seconds of your experience. Maybe it was “me sitting at my desk, reading this strange but mildly interesting essay.” Add whatever perceptions, thoughts, feelings etc. you had while reading. THIS was your mind during the last 5 seconds. And now, it’s inside your brain! It got there because your mind — inside your brain — mirrors your experience.
Whatever “processing” the brain does, does not change the facts. The contents of the mind = that of experience. Memory is also made of experience. And where are mind and memory located? Inside the brain. Therefore experience is also inside the brain. Or, at least, the INFORMATION of experience is inside the brain.
Once one understands the mind, it becomes easy to see what its neural correlate would be — something that mirrors the mind’s contents and activity through time.
Why would it take years to understand the mind, and corresponding brain? The good news is it can be done, right now!
As a life event is experienced — seen, heard, recognized, understood, etc. — what happens next? However the event might be “processed,” it is first and foremost stored as a memory.
Let’s do an experiment. Lift an object and drop it on a surface. Maybe it’s a pen you let fall onto a desk or the floor. Do you remember the feel of the pen? How fast it fell? The sound it made upon striking the surface? This little experiment proves that experience itself — in this case tactile, visual, and auditory — is stored instantly as memory.
The memory of an experience is not a vague or fuzzy representation of the original. Nor is it an abstract processing of that event. The memory of it – what it felt, looked, and sounded like – is the same as the original. Granted its contents may not be as vivid — but they are of the same kind. The INFORMATION of that experience is stored, as memory.
An episodic memory is, essentially, a copy of the mind, which in turn mirrors one’s experience.
In fact all aspects of the mind — emotions, thoughts, pain, pleasure, states of attention, goals, intentions, etc. — is also copied to memory. Our life experiences are converted to memory, continually and automatically. This is how we can understand words such as “I felt tired and irritable,” ” yet I paid close attention to learning the argument,” or “I decided to think of a counter-argument.”
Can the reader think of any experience — any thought, feeling, perception etc. — that is not converted to memory? I have looked for a decade and have found almost none. Essentially any experience can be stored as a memory.
The brain copies experience to memory automatically yet selectively. The experience copied is based on salience and attention. Seeing a hundred dollar bill on the ground is more memorable than a maple leaf. Non-salient experience can also be stored — and for a long time if that’s the person’s intention.
Overall, the brain continually converts the contents of the mind — i.e. experience — to memory. The contents of human memory are not a neural processing of experience; the contents of memory are experience itself!
What are mental processes? Or more generally, what is the (conscious and unconscious) mind? I define it as perception, recognition, meaning, thought, emotion, arousal, the self, executive control, goals, attention, intention, language, learning and the rest of a person’s experience and capabilities.
The (conscious) mind encompasses the most salient and attended-to events which occur within one’s audio-visual field — including that which occurs within one’s body at its center. The contents of the mind = that of one’s “field of experience.”
The mind can be conscious or unconscious. Either way, its contents are the same. For example, when tying a pair of shoes one can be very conscious of this activity. Via attention, one can be keenly aware of each finger and its movement. Fingers can also be seen and felt in relation to the shoelace, other fingers, and the hand. Each movement can be attended to and experienced, moment by moment.
Or, this activity can be mostly unconscious. One can tie one’s shoes with little to no awareness of that same sensation and movement.
The mind’s contents can not only be listed, but weighted — in terms of their power and influence. For example, one might take a sip of coffee while reading a fascinating book. The perception of word sequences, and their meaning, would be the primary feature of the mind. The coffee — its smell, touch, and taste — a secondary feature. The desire for coffee might be a weak feature of the mind.
A person’s mind has many components, these encompass experience and action, can be unconscious or conscious, and can be listed and weighted.
I’m an independent researcher who’s developed a new cognitive neuroscience framework called the MA (Memory Activation) Method. It’s a new way to define the mind, and map it to the brain. The method is a potentially powerful applied neuroscience tool. I argue it enhances CNS medicine — biomarker and therapeutic target development, placebo effect, etc. — AGI, cognitive computing, bio-inspired robotics, natural language processing, BCI technology and neuroprosthetics.
My essays have two main goals. One is to explain the MA Method and explore its implications. How might mind and brain be seen as two sides of the same coin, both sides operating (mostly) via the mechanism of memory activation? Why do I so strongly believe that not only can the brain be understood, but its function mapped with much greater accuracy than is currently thought possible?
The second goal is to expose the many brain myths which have arisen over the past few decades. Underlying almost every paper or article in cognitive neuroscience is one or more erroneous ideas. Exploring these will allow a more accurate view of mind, and brain, to emerge.
To be clear, the myths are no one’s fault. Brain scientists are knowledgeable and highly skilled. Their work is invaluable. But misguided ideas will inevitably arise from a field of study (brain science) which lacks a solid theoretical basis (what is the mind, and how does it connect to the brain).
How the mind/brain system works is not only central to the brain sciences, including applied neuroscience, but is a fascinating topic. Enjoy!