Q: What evidence exists the Memory Activation Theory is correct?
A: First, the theory is easy to understand. The only requirements are an open mind and a desire to learn. If a brain science professional can temporarily set aside their emotions and opinions, the basics of the theory are easy to comprehend. For example, the idea that a memory (ex: “apple”) has subjective contents, and that these are built from past experience, is not a huge stretch. Or that meaning is created by general memory. Or, that a memory active in the brain has a neural correlate — a functional neural network. These are (on the surface at least) relatively simple concepts.
Second, the arguments underlying the theory are not only logical, but stand up to scrutiny. I have yet to encounter anyone with an effective counter-argument (though I welcome discussion and debate).
Third, although the brain science community has vast knowledge, it is almost completely in the dark when it comes to brain understanding. The most fundamental questions remain unanswered. What is the mind? What are its major components? How do these change across time, situations, measurement conditions, etc. How are these expressed within the brain? The neuroscience community does not have an understanding of the most fundamental aspects of the system.
To be clear, no one is at fault. The brain science community is doing the best it can, absent a solid theoretical framework.
The current lack of brain understanding doesn’t mean the MA Theory is correct. However the theory DOES address the most fundamental questions — beginning with “what is the mind, and how is it expressed within the brain?”
Fourth, whether the theory is correct doesn’t necessarily matter. A more relevant question might be “is the theory useful?” Enter the Mind Mapping Challenge: a way to demonstrate the theory’s utility in the real world. First, a brain science professional chooses an aspect of mind of interest. For example, “an optimal state of mind, and corresponding brain signal, for ‘reach for an object, outside the lab’.” Mind Brain Insights could then define this aspect of mind — as a (weighted, connected) set of memories — and show how to map these to the brain.
After this analysis, the challenger can then ask: is this useful? Does it generate new insights into the aspects of mind, or brain, I am interesting in? For example, does the analysis make movement intentions, motor imagery, motor signals, and the overall brain signal easier to classify? Is both signal and noise easier to define and account for? Would seeing brain activity in this way be more accurate? Precise? Comprehensive? Allow for the creation of a more desirable target state of mind for the user to “shoot for.” Easier to generalize across people, situations, and other variables?
In short, the MA Theory is easy to understand, makes logical if not 100% intuitive sense, and addresses central issues head-on. Most importantly, its utility is demonstrated by the Mind Mapping Challenge.
Q: But aren’t brain signals already being defined, decoded and classified successfully?
A: To some extent, yes. However without an accurate definition of the mind, current efforts will eventually face diminishing returns; often without achieving a practical goal. Goals are met in the lab quite often, but translating results to the real world, to compete successfully with other technologies and methods, is another challenge entirely.
Tasks are usually well-defined within a neuroimaging study. But real progress involves moving beyond task-based neuroimaging. What is needed is mind-based neuroimaging. The former can only take you so far without a clear and accurate understanding of the mind — as it operates within these tasks.
Q: You only have a B.A. in psychology and are self-taught in neuroscience. How can you have something to say about neural networks? Aren’t brain experts and Ph.D.’s much more qualified to speak to how the brain works?
A: The basis of Mind Brain Insights is a new understanding of mind and brain. It’s not about accumulating knowledge. Compared to a neuroscientist I know practically nothing about the brain. But, brain understanding doesn’t require vast knowledge. During the past 13 years, I’ve built a unique understanding of the brain based on the mind. First I constructed a mind model, and then applied it to the brain. It’s a mind-centered approach to understanding this (rather incredible!) electrochemical organ. It doesn’t require any deep training in neuroscience, beyond a basic understanding of biological neural networks.
Second, contrary to common opinion, amateurs are more likely to develop all-encompassing, paradigm-shifting theories than professional scientists with impressive resumes. This is detailed in a fascinating book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (Kuhn, 1962). It’s usually someone very young or new to a field — someone with “fresh eyes” — that develops such theories. For example, Newton and Einstein were both young men during the creation of their foundational ideas. The point is an amateur is more likely to develop an overarching new theory than a professional.
The idea “it takes an amateur” in science only applies to a paradigm shift — a new way of looking at a topic. When it comes to working within a theoretical framework to develop extensions and practical applications, science experts and their deep knowledge are much better positioned to tackle those challenges.
I definitely qualify as an amateur. When I started 13 years ago I knew nothing about the brain. This allowed me research the topic without any pre-conceived assumptions. Also I was lucky to have the freedom to pursue independent research at my own pace, on topics most relevant to the task at hand.
Q: Why not provide a complete explanation of the MA Theory so a scientist could judge it for herself?
A: First, the size and complexity of the mind/brain system is difficult to comprehend. Consider the mind. It encompasses all of a person’s knowledge and capabilities. This includes our ongoing perception (sight, sound, somatosensation, smell, taste…), recognition, identification, thought (understanding, planning, decision-making…), motivation, the self, goals & intentions, attention, language, short term memory, learning, and accompanying motor cortex signals. These — and many other — systems are continually active, to one degree or another, acting and interacting, competing, exciting and inhibiting, throughout every moment of the day. Even a 50 page summary would raise more questions than it answers.
Second, mainstream science is poorly-equipped to evaluate a paradigm-shifting theory. This is no one’s fault but rather a flaw inherent in the system. To obtain a fair and objective evaluation of a new idea has historically been nearly impossible. The difficulties involved are also described in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn shows that paradigm-shifting theories, when eventually proven correct (or more so than the previous conceptual framework), take years if not decades to become accepted. For example it took Einstein nearly 20 years to receive a Nobel Prize in physics after his foundational ideas were developed. The point is a dramatically new way of looking at a topic is not able to obtain a fair and objective hearing.
Why is a new theory so difficult to judge? One factor is the limits of current knowledge. A new theory extends well-beyond the current conceptual framework. They have little to do with one another. Therefore, logically speaking, how could an old framework be used to judge a new one? Also, to judge a new theory requires setting aside pre-conceived notions. The main idea is to learn, listen, and ask questions. You also need to organize your existing knowledge, facts and ideas in a new way, to begin to evaluate the new concepts. Only after you understand the theory do you have the basis to judge it. This might take weeks or even months.
Third, my IP needs to be protected. Developing the theory was an ordeal of sorts, and (a small percentage of) the core ideas I can’t give away at this time.
Q: Your theory has a kind of obvious or amateurish quality. Why?
A: First, I try to avoid jargon since I want to speak to a broad audience, and communicate my ideas as clearly as possible.
Second, the terminology of conventional cognitive neuroscience is based on a different mind/brain paradigm than mine. Therefore those terms — “semantic memory” for example — don’t reflect what I want to say. The basics of the system are best described using everyday language. For example, I argue the brain runs on “general memories,” which are essentially groups of (similar) life experience. It doesn’t run on “cognits” or “neurocognitive networks” or other similar, but inaccurate, concepts.
Third, the theory is based on a common knowledge view of the mind, which has a “of course — everyone knows that!” quality. Is it accurate to define “apple” as a “semantic memory.” Yes, it’s an accurate categorization. But I argue it’s much more accurate — and useful — to define it as a “red, round, crunchy, food & fruit, healthy snack, grows on trees” memory. The former is more impressive sounding. But which definition is more accurate? Precise? Comprehensive?
Because the human mind has definable contents, it’s vital to know exactly what those are, and use their meaning the way most people would.
I’m not arguing cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience don’t contain knowledge; rather that their knowledge is dramatically enhanced when viewed in light of common knowledge.
Q: The idea the mind = memory = FNNs sound very mechanical. Are you saying human consciousness — our experience of life — is no more than the sum of our memory, and corresponding functional neural network, activity?
A: No, I don’t think it’s that simple. Consciousness is a vast and complex topic. A person has many aspects of self, experience, mind, and behavior which extend beyond the triggering of memories. These include a deep sense of morals and ethics, one’s conscience, free will, faith, inspiration, creativity, passion, personality, energy, spirit, love, forgiveness, and religious or spiritual experience.
However, I do believe that the deeper aspects of our self must also be expressed within the brain. Otherwise, these aspects wouldn’t be able to affect one’s behavior, via the motor cortex. And, ANY change in one’s state of mind, including “higher” ones, can affect one’s movement.
How these deeper states of mind connect to brain signals I’m not sure. Even so, I think the mind/brain system proposed here, and the idea of a more meaningful self, are compatible.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A. I want to stress the brain sciences — neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging etc. — and the MA Method do not need to be in conflict. There is great potential for synergy and cooperation. At first a professional will have to (temporarily) set aside his assumptions in order to learn the basics of, and work within, the new paradigm. But the end result is a greatly enhanced view of mind, and brain. Seen in all its detail and complexity, it is truly an incredible system! And seeing it this way is very useful as well.
The MA Method is a tool for enhancing the brain sciences. At the same time, brain science can enhance the MA Method. As current knowledge is understood within a new conceptual framework, dramatic advances in bci technology, neuroprosthetics, CNS medicine and other applied neuroscience can be realized.
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd edition: The University of Chicago Press.