Dreaming About Thoughts… Where Did Yesterday Go?

I know. I talk a lot about thinking and thoughts and how thinking works. I have a vested interest in this area. I’m fascinated by robotics and AI and how the human brain preoccupies a lot of us in one way or another.

  • How can we make it more efficient?
  • How can we give it a boost as needed?
  • How can we become champion chess players without all that practice?
  • How can we improve human intelligence?
  • How can we plug into the matrix at will?
  • How can we transfer the mind to a mechanical body, or at least one no longer in use and not worn out yet?

Forget the ethical questions invoked by such questions, imagine the knowledge instead. These questions and more need answers. If we can make the body function to 125 years or more we’ll need the brain to make it that long too. If we can train a human brain to do complex surgery in a few minutes or weeks, the world will be very different. This is not science fiction, it’s not even fiction. We are (holding thumb close to forefinger) that close to working these problems out. Ethics is changing so fast that the arguments we saw for stem cell research will look like child’s play. Technology has a way of doubling quickly… by the time we are answering these questions the concern that governments can regulate such activity will be an old joke told by board members to get a laugh before their speeches.

Okay, what is this all about?

Lately there has been a bit of noise that mice can inherit memories genetically despite any hype, the conclusions are not firm. The idea is that in some manner experience is mapped to the brain. One might think of this as learning not to pick up a red hot pan more than once, or figuring out that spiders are nasty creatures that cause a lot of harm if they bite you. This experience is mapped to the subconscious mind and therein causes a chemical state which is translated genetically and passed on to offspring.

Theories suggest this might be why most people have a fear of spiders etc. The researchers have been somewhat careful to state that their research does not show that you can remember a past life this way etc. What is suggested is that survival actions might be passed on genetically. Hang on Joey, yes I just said that and buckle your belt, we’re headed straight to Gattica-land. That would imply that you can pass on stupid to your progeny. Now, come on, who didn’t see that coming? Nature drives us to select for the best attributes in a mate… coincidence? It doesn’t seem likely. That’s the boring part – yeah, put your ethics manuals and bleeding hearts back where you normally keep them for a minute or two.

 

The good news?

 

The good news?

The Good News?

If it is possible to pass on information genetically that help a species survive it would bring up some interesting thoughts. We know that the advance of technology followed a hyperbolic path and continues to do so. This is not simply a matter of availability of technology to experience but changes in thinking. There are countless examples of technology being used by those not really in a place to understand it well. People tinkering with devices that have a trillion transistors in them like they were an old heater pressure valve or something. The general knowledge of technology as a material has become common place. I don’t think that this is a result of genetics but I do think that the propensity to understand technology ‘intuitively’ may be.

The concept of abstract thinking takes real brain function. If a strengthened brain function can be mapped genetically, it ‘could’ be passed on. The technology that we use today might be thought magic or demonic by those who brought us so much knowledge – Newton, Galileo and so on yet we do not think of it so. This has much to do with familiarity but similarly it takes no special training for each generation to catch up, they learn and surpass. This has largely been explained as learning skills of the young differ from the elder but is it really just that? Is it possible that each generation passes on genetic material altered by experiences? Does this possibly explain some types of human behaviors? Is it all nurture? These remain interesting questions.

Ermm, what about the dreaming thing?

Science Daily has a post about how memory is formed and in some way or other this all links together in my head. How would one encode experience genetically? The article goes into some effort to explain how phobia might be genetically mapped. This all has to happen without a large frontal cortex, so how would experience get mapped to another part of the brain where it might possibly be mapped genetically and passed on?

Well, if you managed to communicate experience to hippocampus this might happen and that is where the second article fits… research showing that the neocortex is managing communication during sleep/dreams to/from the hippocampus – the new brain telling the old brain what is or is not. That old brain is totally wired into our bodies. Now we have a method of mapping experience into the body-general. It is still left to know what is being mapped and how memory is stored and I have a theory on that too. The point here is that there is a method discovered to imprint experience onto the old brain and body during sleep… at least.

What happens when we sleep? Dreams

Wait, here’s a PSA: if you have a tin foil hat, please take this pause in our regular program to put that puppy on yer heed.

There are lots of explanations for what dreams are, too many in fact. None of them seem to be efficacious under test but I’ve seen some that seem to work. I’m not saying they are fool proof but the ‘seems to work’ thing is indicative of something. Dreams have a pattern and it seems to follow what has been experienced in the day or two before the dream is experienced. I’ve come to think of this as the brain running experience memory data back through the simulator to encode it in a more primal language – that of pictures. Dream interpretation systems which rely on the dreams being a pictograph/ideogram language seem to have a higher rate of success. Well, if you call making some sense of the dream success.

Such a language is easier to encode in a data system with strong design toward vision. [I'd like to find more about how blind from birth people dream] Now, with 24-48 hours of experience encoded in this image based language, it can be compressed in the native processing systems and stored for later use. This is what I think of dreams… compression and storage of recently acquired data. If this data has the right emphasis, the encoding/storage process may do more than store it. It may well use it to reinforce the learned lesson/action from the day. This tracks with many studies about learning (no reference provided at this time). That reinforcement may well take the form of chemical reinforcement of the memory/data in other parts of the brain so that it does not get overwritten. … now, to go full circle … and that reinforcement could then be picked up for genetic transferal to the next generation. Yes, that reinforcement does happen… Have you heard the phrase “sleep on it” to get a clear head? Only the reinforced bits remain after sleep. When trying to solve a tough problem, stepping away from it helps to clear the head to think better… hmmmm see a pattern here? Athletes train hard and their brains store the patterns and motion functions required for their activities. These are reinforced over time. There are traits that run in a family but not over many generations. There aren’t any current composers named Bach, right? so they might be reinforced for several generations and then lost in the process of reinforcing other things more important at the time.

This model allows a great amount of adaptability in species without fixing the trait permanently.

No, that explanation is just a thought, not a thesis but I will accept grant monies under the most generous of conditions ;)

These two ideas (give or take) tied together manage to map on to other problems not considered by the researchers… yet. Consider that one of the things which makes human brains more capable than other animals might not simply be its size, but its ability to adapt in different ways.

It seems plausible to me. What do you think?

Do you know of any research that directly or in some other way contradicts this theory? I’d love to hear about it.

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  1. I like this post but I don’t have anything to add at the moment. Am fascinated by the human mind/brain as it is. I will come back for more here

    • I appreciate that makagutu… I look forward to it

  2. It would be greatly helpful if every new generation didn’t have to relearn EVERYTHING every preceding generation had learnt.

    Survival mechanisms, though, are not memories. They are operating programs. A human child has a built-in mechanism which stops it drawing its first earthly breath if born underwater. How and why this was deemed necessary for our survival is a complete mystery, but there it is. A chimp doesn’t have this skill. If born underwater it will draw its first breath regardless and, subsequently, drown.

    • I agree. The trouble with having to relearn everything every generation is that is how the brain is trained/configured – through learning.

      When we get that process more efficient etc. the jump will be exponential – I predict. The kind of change that shows if you are not learning this way you can’t keep up with everyone who is.

      This way of thinking then becomes a survival skill, and that should be something we can pass on or at least the rudimentary building blocks that make it possible. By that I mean improved adaption to that kind of thinking rather than simple attrition for those that can’t adapt as needed.

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