Q: How do I know the Memory Activation Method is correct? Where’s the evidence?
A: Hard evidence would come from experiments. For example, one could test the idea that a “reach arm forward perception/intention/emotion/attention” is a much better brain signal target than “reach arm forward” intention. The user could activate it more strongly and consistently, and with less noise. It would be easier to measure, and classify. And the user could control a BCI device more effectively. Data could be collected on these enhanced capabilities, via simple experiments.
And, though this isn’t evidence, I see the method as very logical. That is, the mind is comprised (mostly) of memories of past experience. Memory is stored within, and activated from, the brain. Thus the brain runs (mostly) on memory, the neural correlate of which is (obviously) neural networks. This is a simple yet compelling argument I would argue.
The demand for hard evidence is also beside the point, to a large extent. One does not need to believe in the method’s theoretical assumptions to reap the benefits of it. The method when used skillfully defines the mind accurately, and maps it to the brain signal with greater accuracy. The usefulness of these mind/brain “maps” becomes crystal clear when applied to a specific project.
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 are sub-optimal. And they will eventually face diminishing returns. The goals of a research group or company will be difficult to reach. Goals are met in the lab quite often, but translating them to the real world is another challenge entirely.
The good news is dramatic progress IS possible, immediately and in the long term. What is required? Simply, move beyond task-based neuroimaging, to mind-based neuroimaging. Task is roughly 20% of the mind. Task-based neuroimaging can only take you so far. A better way to define what one wants to neuroimage, and what IS subsequently neuroimaged, is to define the mind (clearly and accurately) as it operates WITHIN THE CONTEXT of a given task.
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: It would seem so. Most brain scientists are highly skilled. Their knowledge about the brain dwarfs mine.
However the MA Method is not about accumulating brain knowledge. Being able to map mind to brain doesn’t require it. It does though requires a new UNDERSTANDING of the mind. First I constructed a mind model, and then mapped it to the brain. It’s a mind-centered approach to mapping the mental functions of the brain. It doesn’t require deep training in neuroscience, beyond a solid understanding of biological neural networks.
Second, its a little known fact that “amateurs” are more likely to develop all-encompassing, paradigm-shifting theories than professional scientists with impressive credentials. This is detailed in a fascinating book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn (Kuhn, 1962). It’s usually someone young or otherwise 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.
To be clear, “it takes an amateur” only applies to a paradigm shift — a new way of looking at a topic. When it comes to working within a theoretical framework, experts are well-positioned to apply their vast knowledge to solve practical problems.
Though an expert in understanding the brain, I am an amateur in brain knowledge. When I started 14 years ago I knew next to nothing about the brain. This helped me research the mind/brain connection absent pre-conceived ideas. Also I was lucky to have the freedom to pursue independent research at my own pace, on topics relevant to the task at hand.
Q: Why not provide a complete explanation of the underlying MA Theory so a scientist could judge it for herself?
A: First, the complexity of the brain is staggering. Consider the mind within. It encompasses all of a person’s knowledge and capabilities — everything one can understand, think, and do. This includes one’s perception (sight, sound, somatosensation, smell, taste), recognition, identification, meaning, thought (understanding, planning, decision-making, problem-solving…), motivation, executive control, the self, goals, intentions, attention, language, short term memory, learning, and accompanying motor control.
These mental processes — and many others — 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 historically is 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 new paradigm in science is usually 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, by definition, extends well-beyond the boundaries of the current one. The two conceptual frameworks have little to do with one another. Therefore, how could an old framework be used to judge a new one?
To judge a new framework one first has to learn it. Existing conceptual frameworks and ideas need to be set to the side. One can then come to view their existing knowledge in a new light way. This might take weeks or months.
Third, describing the theory in detail would conflict with IP protection. Developing the theory was an ordeal, and a small percentage of the core ideas I can’t give away at this time.
Q: The MA Method has an obvious and amateurish tone. This is especially true compared to other brain models, theories and the brain science literature. It doesn’t sound as sophisticated. Why is that?
A: Because the method is based on everyday concepts and terminology. The brain runs on memories, based on past experience. Everyone knows what a memory is, and what experience is. Special terms are not only unnecessary, they would distort the method’s meaning.
The terminology or jargon of cognitive neuroscience is based on a different mind/brain paradigm. Terms such as “semantic memory” or “executive control,” though useful, do not fit within the MA Method. The brain does not run on “cognits” or “neurocognitive networks.” Those concepts are inaccurate, I argue, because they are built from an inaccurate paradigm.
The MA Method 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 accurate within the existing paradigm. But I argue it’s much more accurate to define it as a general memory with specific content: such as “red, round, crunchy, food, fruit, healthy snack, grows on trees” etc. The former is more impressive sounding. But which definition is more accurate? Precise? Comprehensive? And useful?
Because the human mind DOES have definable contents, it’s critical to know exactly what those are, and use their meaning the way most people would.
I’m not arguing brain science terms are without value; rather they paint only a small part of the overall picture of the human mind. The complete picture is painted by categories based on common knowledge.
Q: The idea the mind = memory = FNN activity sound very mechanical. Are you saying human consciousness — our experience of life — is no more than the sum of memory 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 activation of memory. These include a sense of morals and ethics, integrity, conscience, free will, faith, inspiration, creativity, passion, personality, humor, energy, spirit, love, beauty, 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. 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 do think the mind/brain system proposed here IS compatible with a more meaningful self.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A. I want to stress the brain sciences — neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging etc. — and the MA Method are not inherently at odds. 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 an incredible system! And seeing it this way is extremely useful.
As current knowledge of mind and brain is understood within a new conceptual framework, dramatic advances in BCI technology, neuroprosthetics, CNS medicine and other applied neuroscience projects can be realized.
Kuhn, Thomas S. 1996. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd edition: The University of Chicago Press.