Thursday, February 4, 2010


Thinking of origami, is improving your memory a blessing or a curse?

More specifically, and less dramatically, is memory loss really connected with neurodegeneration? Is it just our best indicator of neurodegeneration?


Is improved memory a sign of a healthy, able to process, mind (correlation)? How does memory affect an otherwise healthy mind (causal)?

Three points come to mind for me at the moment: that it depends on the kinds of memories, whether you can make them voluntarily, and once made, how do they effect your judgement /actions, or could they be causal in their own right.

To address the last point first, obviously memories will lead to certain actions (ie. That chick was crazy; I'm avoiding her at all costs). But, it's also pretty obvious that certain memories will lead to no action whatsoever (ie. hmmm.. I really should try to get more sleep). And thirdly, some memories will only lead to temporary actions (ie. I'm so hungover.. I'm never drinking again.)

So, does it matter if the memory is connected to a physical cost / benefit? Does this influence how we interpret the memory? Of course. Here we go with perception again... Let's move on.

Back to the three points, the first one (does possessing a good memory causally influence neurodegeneration? And does it depend on the kind, or type of memory?) This seems like a giveme. I mean, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) seems to be caused (at least partially by) the repetition of a negative memory put into action. I say negative because OCD is rarely diagnosed for people that put positive memories to use (or, at least their interpretation /perception of said memory). So, yes, neurodegeneration /neurohealth is dependent on the type of memory, and moreover, how it is interpreted.

So, for me, the middle point is the kicker here. How is one's neurohealth connected with the measured ability to make voluntary memories. I think the distinction between explicit and implicit memory needs to be made here first.

Implicit learning/memories are things like riding a bike, swimming, whistling, typing. They are typically things that you find difficult to explain, but can do and repeat even after long bouts of neglect. They can be taught, improved and practiced, but the slope is normally slow and involves a high amount of trial and error (because it is so hard to define). However, a benefit is that the 'unlearning' slope is also slow. (I say benefit because they may be negative implicit memories or associations, like biting your nails or picking your nose).

Explicit learning/memories are things like where your mother went to school, what you wore yesterday, or what the capital of Poland is. These are easily taught, usually through repetition, and easily forgot without proper reference or repetition.

Ok, that was a bit complicated, and really not well written. hmmm... I sometimes equate implicit vs. explicit learning to a piece of paper. I equate origami to implicit learning, and writing to explicit learning, with a pencil on a piece of paper.

It's gonna be hard to get those folds out of the paper. It is possible though, and new shapes can be made out of that piece of paper, but it's gonna take time and effort presumably.

Explicitly, I can write anything on a piece of paper and have it erased minutes later...

So, where does that leave us.

This kind of memory system reminds me of the Jim Carrey movie "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". Some things you want erased, some things you don't, some things need to be?

Is it voluntary? Which one of implicit/explicit is voluntary? Can they be (I mean voluntarily)? Does the state of your mental health (going back to the original thought here... ) depend on learning and relearning? Is it affected by your neurohealth? Do new experiences help you learn, relearn, and change?


But only if you want them/it to. Which, in its own right, is another thought.

Now, how it can be a curse? That's pretty self explanatory... ;)

Did I get that right?

So yeah, how do you connect your neurohealth with the ability to make voluntary, explicit memories? I'm not sure that you do. I mean, it's always important to remember where you left your keys, BUT, is it important enough to diagnose your brain?

I'm not sold. Memory is not, I think, a diagnosis of processing ability. At least, not connected to.

In saying that, yes, I've been on a perception kick of late, which I still believe is the most influential factor while forming experience, BUT, I don't think it is connected with you losing yourself, or your mind.

I hope that makes some sense.

AN ASIDE* (see bottom of post for more on explicit vs. implicit learning)


*The aside: Decades later the difference between implicit versus explicit learning was highlighted for me by the unexpected success of the Ball-Stick-Bird reading system. The system demonstrates how the reading and language game is played without ever requiring the memorization of rules. Instead of being asked to learn phonics by rules and rote, the student is merely shown a phonic pattern and a list of similar words. These similar words are then immediately used in goofy science fiction adventures.

This process is repeated for each phonic pattern in subsequent books, allowing the brain to draw implicit conclusions about reading and spelling. The unexpected success of this method in teaching not just reading, but writing and even spelling to dyslexic and even very low IQ students demonstrated the possibilities and effectiveness of implicit teaching and learning.


In many ways the concept of implicit learning seems like a contradiction. How can you learn something when you don't know the rules of what you are learning? The answer is that the human brain is a most extraordinary pattern detector.

When presented with a scenario, the brain doesn't have to be given all the components (ie. the rules) in order to figure out what to do. In fact, if given all the components, the brain often has great difficulty in combining these parts to make a whole. It's like being given all the pieces of a puzzle without knowing the picture the pieces are supposed to make.

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