March 8, 2013 – Mechanics of thought and memory

I’ve always been fascinated with psychology and neuroscience. I’ve nearly decided on a course of study to the end of my working in neuroscience from a research perspective. There are so many things I want to explore, I now think of things in terms of my lifetime, given that I will likely be involved in some rather lengthy pursuits if not only one. Unraveling the mysteries of the mind however is a challenge I readily welcome in any capacity. My future job duty being purely to learn and work on incredibly complex challenges in understanding doesn’t seem like work to me at all in the traditional sense of toiling for enough income to sustain a comfortable quality of life. I dare say, this is the experience of looking at the world through fresh eyes like that of a child where everything is new and exciting. I welcome this late-coming experience in my life and am eager to embark on starting the next chapter. All of that said, how memory and psychology intertwine has been on my mind today.

Conventional thought, at least until recently has been that the mind is like a constant infallible recorder of everything that we see, hear and experience. Once a memory is recorded, it remains unaltered essentially for the rest of our lives. With more recent advances and studies however, it has been proven that this isn’t the case at all. In fact, the fallibility and inaccuracy of human memory is astounding, even as it related to trauma. Even more fascinating is how memories are recalled and actually rewritten upon recall. I refer to this particular article that I read not so long ago (The Forgetting Pill – Erases Painful Memories Forever).

Memory has been a curiosity of mine over the last several years. I’ve alluded to to the fact that I experience memory in fragments. It’s extremely rare that I feel anything when recalling specific memories. More generalized concepts and the mix of memory fragments that surround that idea may illicit a faint feeling, but nothing more. This is at least in my waking hours, dreams and nightmares being a completely different experience. I find it odd the things that I seem to have some choice in keeping in the forefront of my mind as far as memories. There’s been a mix of experiences in my life. There’s likely as much good as there has been bad, though I tend to recall more readily the negative things. Accuracy of memories vary. So much so that because of all of the fragments it’s hard to discern what’s real or actual versus something I’ve seen or heard. I was told by one therapist that it doesn’t matter how accurate the actual memory is, only what I’m left feeling and believing as result. Is it possible to be haunted by memories of things that simply didn’t happen? I would guess so. Or maybe something happened and my recollection of it is very skewed.

If we are the sum of our life experiences leading to this moment, what if my beliefs and insights are based on a past that may be more fiction than fact? Is that a product of a self-fulfilling mantra about my life on a psychological level mixed with the fallibility of memory? Am I more a product of whom I believe I am versus who I think I should be? Am I a fraud, even to myself? Who am I really? This is an intellectual curiosity of mine, not a disruptive force in my life or a crisis of self. It’s merely exploring the possibility and asking the questions. Know thyself is a loaded proposition. Especially for someone like myself trying to figure out just how full of shit I really am. I do like myself, however. I like who I’ve become regardless of how I’ve manged to arrive where I am in my life. Many people that I’ve had any lengthy contact with tell me that they respect my thoughts and opinions greatly. They tell me that they hold me in high regard. They hold me in much higher regard than I hold myself, of that I am certain. I wonder sometimes if I’ve managed to hide my true nature from both myself and the one whom holds me in high regard. After all, I don’t have skeletons in my closet. No, my closet door merely leads to a cemetery of epic mistakes and failures. Certainly I’ve shined at times and made very real positive changes in the lives of some, but I’ve left some far worse off than before having met me and making me a part of their lives. Perhaps what I choose to remember of my past is a psychological manifestation of low self-esteem, though consciously I’m a very confident person. I question myself often, but not from the perspective of having a low level of self-worth. Perhaps I’m lying to myself and don’t realize it.

I do wonder though, if one part of the circular thinking is more oval in nature weighing more heavily than others in my case. I suppose everyone would be more weighted one way or another. Even with having what seems to be confirmation of a long-held belief that I have a rather severe chemical imbalance, I tend to be someone who has a melancholy about me. That’s my natural state. I seem unable to focus purely on the good or joy of a situation without seeing the downside of things. When someone complains about their coffee being made in a way that displeases them and seems to be in genuine distress or anger over it, I can’t help but think of people starving within a mile of this person who just spent $5 on a cup of coffee. Or in the larger scale of things, that there’s active genocide happening in the DRC and has been for years. And that as a country we do little to nothing to put an end to it because they aren’t sitting atop a large amount of a natural resource that we want. I do laugh genuinely and often, but not without thoughts like these being at the back of my mind. Perhaps I’m still depressed and the medication has done nothing for me other than allowing me to experience the placebo effect.

There’s so, so much more to this train of thought. If what I’ve written here about it were quantifiable mathematically it would likely be around 1-2%. My brain doesn’t process things in a linear stream of words – it’s beyond words and spiders out in so many directions.. I’ve cherry-picked a tiny snippet of one of many, many complex and intertwined threads. One of my brothers nailed it when he described it as nebulous thinking. We both experience the same way of processing things. Our two other brothers don’t experience anything like this. The other odd thing about this type of thinking is that it forms in detail and complexity like this without conscious verbal thoughts in the matter of seconds to a couple of minutes. The structure will hold for minutes to hours before collapsing. Then another thought will explode. This will go on like this for several days up to a month, then smaller expansive thoughts will be present. It never shuts off. I’m lucky though, since being medicated. I’m able to shut it off enough to sleep at night.

Perhaps I think too much. As I mentioned before, I may be more full of shit than I know.

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Random inclusion of a photo from a photo outing last Sunday deep into the woods of a property in our town. There were no trails leading to this waterfall and we were amazed to find it without any trace of people visiting it. We walked for nearly an hour through thick brush and briar bushes to find it. This is a crap shot, but at least it shows the waterfall. I’ve some better ones that I’ll post to my portfolio website. I’ve been on a black and white kick lately, which is kind of redundant, given that it’s winter and there’s hardly any color anyway. Nature is one of the few places that my mind slows down a little. I center there. Before moving out on my own I always took refuge in the 20 acres of wooded land that was behind the house. There was peace and safety in the woods. To this day, the sound of breeze through the leaves and wood flexing making that sort of cracking sound comforts me greatly.

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10 thoughts on “March 8, 2013 – Mechanics of thought and memory”

  1. What a beautiful mind you have.

    You aren’t full of shit. You are full of potential.

    I think you are probably profoundly gifted, if you didn’t already know. How lucky you are.

    There are experts trying to teach people to mind-map as a way to increase creativity.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map

    I’ve always been fascinated with the other ways people think. Probably because I kind of felt I had some social deficits I attributed to the (false) belief that something was wrong with me and my brain. I really became curious about how my thinking was ‘abnormal’ (I come to find out I wasn’t abnormal, just an outlier. I am quite normal around other outliers).

    It started when I picked up Douglas Hofstatder’s Metamagical Themas years and years ago.

    Nikola Tesla had a fantastic mind. People nowadays would probably consider him schizophrenic. However, we can credit alternating current thanks to him. But he often gets forgotten about in lieu of Edison.

    Temple Grandin wrote Thinking In Pictures, not just about autism and Asperger’s, but covering the different ways of thinking:

    Visual thinkers, like her, think in photographically specific images.
    Music and math thinkers think in patterns.
    Verbal logic thinkers think in word details.

    I used to think in linear streams of thought…but just a LOT of them.

    Sometimes it calls up fragments of songs that seem to ‘fit’ a particular circumstance.

    I’m not really good at thinking about or seeing patterns in my mind’s i, but I crave them, so I love looking for patterns in nature, and I enjoy hearing patterns in music.

    Now, I am able to see more in images, probably because of the playing around in art that I do, and because my brain is evolving new ways of looking at the world.

    Imagine a world where your brain is fine the way it is? A little overwhelmed perhaps, but maybe because you haven’t been trained in how to prioritize the information it generates.

    If your memory is fragmentary, well, okay, it’s fragmentary. That’s what you have to work with. It’s what is, right now. Take plenty of notes if you want to remember things. Or not.

    The only thing that matters is right now. It’s the only thing we really have to work with.

    Mark Twain was an incredibly prolific writer. I relate to him quite a bit.

    http://thesprightlywriter.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/the-compulsion-to-write/

    Anyway, my kids are bugging me to go to the library.

    Go easy on yourself.

    Casey

    1. Thank you for the vote of confidence. I do see a lot of potential in myself. I’m at a point where seeing needs to translate into doing. Nearly half of my life is gone, so I need to make the second half count.

      As for dissimilar ways of thinking and comprehending things different than others… My brother and I had a lengthy discussion about trying to express an idea the way that it’s actually structured in our minds. It’s terribly hard to do as it’s not 2D, but 3D. We see connections and patterns on such a deep level as it relates to implications of concepts. I rarely think of things centered around a particular idea or theme as that would imply there there is a centralized topic that things revolve around. There is no center to how I think. It’s all visual and deeper concept base, many facets interlocking and interjoining (made up word?). The closest visualization of it would be a molecular diagram or illustration that moves and grows depending on the area of focus. I cherry-pick areas to articulate. If there’s any structure at all, it would be in decision-making. It starts with the problem, then the possible options which range from obvious to subtle ones that others wouldn’t consider (so I’ve been told when seeing one of these options and mentioning them). Each option has potential outcomes. Each potential outcome is analyzed within the context of the problem in the form of immediate consequences, and over a long period of time as it relates to me or the individual involved. Each consequence then is related to overall life impact as far as probable outcomes and impact on finances, life, relationships, self-perception, guilt, or any other number of positive or negative emotional outcomes for all parties involved. The pro’s and con’s branch out in subsets which analyze everything on an equally complex level, then cross-links are made showing relational items large and small. Options are weighed and reorganized from least impact to greatest impact, then removing emotion from the equation and organizing by pure logic. Then emotion is analyzed separately and again the possible choices are reorganized. Emotional and logical are them weighed with each implication again in a more complex intertwined framework. All things now having been linked, analyzed and possible outcomes weighed, the logical decisions are organized again altering the entire structure of thought and a decision is made taking all things into account. At this point I make the major life decision, give advice to the issue someone is having trouble weighing on their options from being to involved in the center of, programming code can be written, purchasing choices can be made, a gift can be selected, scheduling can be made, a driving route can be selected or dinner can be ordered on behalf of someone else. It doesn’t matter how large or small the decision is or idea explored. The same seemingly rigorous process happens with nearly everything. This happens in less than a second in my mind. Incredibly complex issues may take up to five minutes to gain a deep understanding of. Because of the speed at which this happens, sometimes it may seem that I’ve made a poorly thought out snap decision. It’s anything but. It would take hours to explain a decision made in a split second on a level that would be difficult for me to fully articulate in words and for the other to make sense of as most people think in a linear fashion or in 2D mind maps. My gift if you will, is perception. Some would call it insight. To some degree that’s true – I take into account my life experiences and observations. As I age, the size and scope of each model grows. I’m not well-read. I’ve attended one year of college before crippling depression set in and I couldn’t continue the coursework. I performed terribly at academics and was told by nearly everyone around me that they were disappointing that I simply hadn’t applied myself. They saw potential. I didn’t – my mind doesn’t operate within the context of linear teaching. I grew up in the country on farm land isolated from others aside from my family of origin. I’d be best served to explore and understand things on my own terms, not regurgitate something that I’ve just read. I prefer to think, not simply execute orders, especially when I see deeply flawed logic or understanding. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I’ve missed something and make poor judgement. I’m not so arrogant as to never admit being wrong. I do, often. I apologize when I’ve made choices that are difficult for others to understand, or on their behalf as it may seem as though I didn’t listen. Sometimes when I’m approached with a problem or situation it’s not about finding a solution – it’s about bearing witness and listening. It’s about having empathy. If I were to wager, this was developed from living in an abusive home where decisions had to be made at a blinding speed which had deep consequences for myself and others. Right now I’m experiencing a train of thought surrounding my life from the time of becoming aware that I don’t think like others in the larger context.

      It never shuts off. Pre-medication it was overwhelming.. At least now it’s manageable. Imagine – I was on adderall for about 5 years having been given the diagnosis of being ADD. It wasn’t ADD, it was concurrent unrelated thoughts that links were made between. I see patterns everywhere. Leaders of organized religion and public policy infuriate me. Brazen uninformed or biased decisions are unacceptable to me. It may not be what I’d choose, but if a decision affecting many people, in some case millions should require deep thought and consideration, as much as time will allow at least.

      I don’t see my brain as not being ok. I think it works just fine in many ways. PTSD so long after things have taken place does confound me however. That’s an ever-evolving model of thought. It’s not a static thing, so I don’t expect that swirl of thought structures to ever slow down at all. I’m told this is odd. I see linear thought as odd. I’m good with that though. The mix of people I know and regard as friends range from mathematicians, doctors, PhD’s, inventors, project managers, financial traders and artists.. Many, many artists. With artists I understand the need to create and get thoughts out of their head. I see it as a need, not a desire. It’s that nagging thing that keeps you up at night until you get it out. We’re ok with how we think, even if it confounds others as much as how they see the world confounds us.

      You mention patterns.. That’s another thing I see *everywhere* in *everything*. The gift of perception. Sometimes it’s a gift. Sometimes it’s a curse. I think it’s neutral, I just fond myself playing out deeply disturbing thoughts at times. It gives me perspective though into why people do certain things at times. It may not be something I see myself ever doing, but rarely is anything ever as simple as it seems. Maybe it is and I can’t accept that. Introspectiveness is something I should work on turning off. 🙂

      I wholeheartedly agree with working with what you have and not griping about what led to where we are or living in paralyzing fear. We are who we are. If we don’t like some part, change it. The battle of self is more that of a war for some.

      I will read the texts you’ve referred to. I love seeing things from other perspectives. I crave interactions with other people that think on my level.. My, how arrogant that may come across.. I hope it’s not taken that way. It’s just that when I delve into something on a deeper level I’m used to looking across the table and seeing a look of near-shock. It’s rare that I get to fully engage in exploring a topic. So, thank you for that. My morning is off to a good start. 🙂 Time to wake my wife and go get something to eat. I look forward to reading your blog. What little I glanced over yesterday has me very intrigued.

      1. You have an absolutely fascinating mind, I think.

        My mental processes are rather something I can’t really even “see”. I have deficits – definitely have an inability to hold numbers in my head long enough to do mental calculations. I used to think I wasn’t very smart, until I think about all the connections and essays I’ve written about the connections I’ve made between dissimilar sources of input. I was very astute with many of the insights I’ve been able to have, but I could never say I could see the whole logical process of the things. I just “knew” some stuff, and I just took educated guesses at other stuff. I’d say for the most part way back when, now supported by what I’m researching.

        I know a lot comes out of me, but I can’t visualize how or where. I’m not good at SEEING 3-D objects in my brain – but like when my husband (the mechanical engineer) was building an L-shaped bunk bed in my daughters room, I just “knew” he was doing it backwards. It wrong. There was only one way the thing would fit in the room (because of the placement of the windows and the vent and the doors and such). We argued for 10 minutes until i drew him a picture and said, “see?” my way is the ONLY way it will work. And I had NO idea how I got to the right way…just a ‘niggling’ feeling that something about the way he was going to do it was not going to work.

        I definitely have been increasing the creative and intuitive parts of me, and my thoughts, until recent years, have been manageable. The downside of all my creativity is a relaxing of the sentries of my inner emotional experience. In order to write out what I was experiencing, I had to allow my feelings and sensations to come to the surface. Scary, difficult, and exciting all at the same time.

        I think you would probably do well to learn about Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities which are a part of his positive disintegration theory of personality development. I won’t send you on a chase down that rabbit hole, but look up Bill Tillier’s site on Dabrowski’s TPD if you are interested.

        Intellectual overexcitability can look like ADD.

        I wrote an essay about it.

        http://raisingsmartgirls.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/hyperfocused-yet-scatterbrained/

        But, I’ve seen a lot of ADD kids and ADHD kids in school (those actually having IEPs). The ADDers are totally daydreaming and unable to stay on task. The ADHD kids are so distracted and attention getting they are unable to stay on task. I was never like that in school. School focused my attention like nothing else did.

        I also think I’ve lived and experienced life so intensely that my brain was firing on all cylinders. I had an intense course of study, a full social and lots of physical intimacy, a career I really felt I was competent at and the continuing drama of my family that I I didn’t turn inward so much.

        Hallowell and Ratey wrote this excerpt:

        “Children may try to change their inner state by getting into fights or arguments. That is not their conscious motivation, but they may be drawn to conflict, as moths to a flame, out of a biological drive. Conflict changes their inner state. It is riveting. Let’s face it: an argument is far more engrossing than peace and harmony. In seeking conflict, the child is unwittingly self-medicating with a powerful drug: adrenaline. Adrenaline is nature’s own stimulant medication. When a person (of any age) feel excited, fearful, combative or stressed, he or she naturally pumps out adrenaline and cortisol.

        Children – and adults – who have ADD learn early on that with the aid of adrenaline they can tune in and enjoy life more easily. Therefore, when they feel bored or logy or vaguely out of sorts they learn that they can feel better by seeking excitement, danger, conflict, or even a fight. It’s not that they are “bad”, but they are bored, and they instinctively look to change their inner state. For someone who has ADD, being bored is like being asphyxiated. It cannot be endured for more than a minute or so. When bored, the person with ADD feels compelled to do something immediately to bring the world back up to speed. Adrenaline can do this in a heartbeat.”

        But I know, children who have been through trauma will do the same thing to feel good. They have high novelty and thrill/conflict seeking.

        Though I might just have the Neanderthal gene. 🙂

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/garret-loporto/surprising-way-your-neand_b_568455.html

        Argh…daughter wants the computer.

        I’ll let you have a break from me. 🙂

      2. Thank you for sharing that fascinating information about how children try to change their inner state.. One of those analytic threads has fired off looking back at my own early life, at least what I can recall of it and I see where that may well have been that case on many occasions. As for thrill seeking.. I’ve another entry to write on that…

        I don’t think I would go so far as to say you have deficits. Do your own perceived limitations go beyond that of the average? Significantly so? You process information differently it would seem. Have you ever had an idea that you simply couldn’t express in a way that others seemed unable to, yet seemed so fundamental and obvious to you? It’s not even a question of articulation, but rather seeing things in such a different light from most that it’s difficult to communicate it on the same level. I find myself struggling to either adapt what I’m trying to say or by taking a complete detour from the topic to explain the place that I’m coming from to hopefully see that light in their eye brighten as they see the same thing that I do. There are other things that simply confound me that seems to be a part of everyday life for the majority.. Like watching sports on TV. I’ve had it explained to me and I still don’t get it.

        The majority of what you’ve presented me with over the last few days is all new to me. My early life was mostly isolated. I lived in the countryside of southeast Michigan in a very small farming community. Neighbors were few and far between. There was only one other child my age nearby for my early years and he was always under a close and watchful eye when I was around. Given that, I wasn’t around much. I rarely ever felt welcome there. There wasn’t ready access to books at my house aside from a few of the classics and the bible. I did have a deep interest in computers and art though, two things my father encouraged. I did terribly in school. Most of that was a direct result of my home life. The only other people my age that I fit in with were the other children from abusive homes and a few that loved to drink and smoke pot. I didn’t finish a year of college before a crippling depression hit and I could no longer focus. Dee died shortly after that. The only things that I did read about in my adult life were related to sexual trauma (ex wife #2 had a significant history of sexual trauma) and programming. I stopped reading about trauma recovery about 8 or so years ago now. I hadn’t considered my own intellect in relation to others until about 3 years ago when I sought out a neuropsychologist to help me find the root of my deep depressions. The testing and analysis was incredibly detailed. It took several weeks of 3-4 visits per week for an average of 2-3 hours per visit. If anyone has a true grasp of anything and everything about what makes me who I am, it’s him. I was rather taken back at my test scores in nearly every area. One of the people that had assisted in the testing kept repeating that I didn’t suffer from any cognitive or intelligence deficits. More recently a number of people including family members have been encouraging me to write. The thing I’m still trying to figure out is what I’d have to say that anyone would want to hear.

        Have you read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell? I’m going to read it again.. It seems relevant within the context of my own journey.

      3. I’ll reply to this longer another time. I have had Blink and some of other Gladwell’s books and it’s on my to-read list. I’ve known about it a while, I bumped it up to start reading it today. I will have something to say about it soon.

  2. I have to chuckle. I wrote, my mind’s “i”, not “eye”. yeah, in a way, it’s a typo, but Hofstedter wrote another book called The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Recollections on Self and Soul. I must have been thinking about that when I wrote it.

    I make me laff.

    🙂

  3. We all tend to remember negative things more. It’s called negativity bias. And it’s an evolutionary tool intended to ensure survival. Even when our lives aren’t in real danger.

    I’m still learning to confront mine:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rick-hanson-phd/be-mindful-not-intimidate_b_753646.html

    In effect, as I wrote in my last post, the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones. That’s why researchers have found that animals, including humans, generally learn faster from pain (alas) than pleasure.

    check out Hanson’s website for more info

    http://www.rickhanson.net/media/slide-sets

    1. I will have to reply to your comments when I’m able to dedicate some time to give thoughtful responses. My wife and I celebrated her birthday by going into Boston and watching a production of the Boston Ballet, a first for either of us. We then had dinner and shared many laughs as we drove home. We were both very exhausted when we finally arrived here. My wife is fast asleep next to me and I’m about to join her, my eyes heavy and my heart light. This was a very good day on nearly every level. I cherish days like this. 🙂 Anyway.. Thank you for your thoughtful and wonderful replies. I’m honored that you took the time to read my ramblings here. There are few people I can talk about these kinds of things with. I’m so very fortunate to know the people that I do in my life, and am always glad to meet others like myself in some ways, but very rich in their own knowledge and experiences. I know I’m odd in a traditional sense, but a good odd. I’m pleased to meet you, Casey.

      1. I’m pleased to meet you as well.

        Your night sounds like it was wonderful. I’ve never seen a ballet in real life and while it’s been a rare event to see any live theater of any kind, it’s always a remarkable experience.

        I just wanted to express that I do understand. I tend towards melancholia too. I think intelligent/sensitive types can get lost there. I don’t want to.

        And my responding to your thoughts also help me as well. I don’t have close friends anymore. My college friends moved away and the other set of friends I had were mostly work colleagues, so when I became a stay at home mother, I lost touch with most of them, though I do see some at least once a year. Some friends I had to let go of because they were just trouble for me.

        It’s hard for me to make new friends because, partly because they complain about everything, but won’t take responsibility for their role in it, nor will they seek solutions. It makes me uncomfortable, because, like you, I can think of many things worse than their superficial disappointments. So, yes, I do understand what you think about.

        I just wanted you to know that I wrote a post from my comments here, because what I told you is important for me to remember. So, thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

        That waterfall had to have been amazing to stumble across.

        I’m a Nature lover too, since I was a child. I go out into the woods as much as I can to slow down the thoughts – there’s so much LIFE there to take in. I am so overdue for another visit.

        Hope you had a great sleep. No worries on getting back to me. Just, whenever you feel up to it.

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