December 25, 2009

Memories, at the cellular level.

When something is in your memory it exists in the cellular structure of your brain. I'll never get over how weird that is. If you have the most casual encounter with another person, they become part of your body. How dare they! How intimately invasive!

I get distracted at that level, and I suppose that means I'm restructuring the cells of my brain, since I'm thinking about it. But right now, I want to think about exactly what is going on:
"When something comes into your brain -- a thought, some sort of stimulus, you see something interesting, you hear some music -- synapses get activated," said [Kenneth S. Kosik, co-director and Harriman Chair in Neuroscience Research, at UCSB's Neuroscience Research Institute]. "What happens next is really interesting, but to follow the pathway our experiments moved to cultured neurons. When synapses got activated, one of the proteins wrapped around that silencing complex gets degraded."
When the signal comes in, the wrapping protein degrades or gets fragmented. Then the RNA is suddenly free to synthesize a new protein.
"One reason why this is interesting is that scientists have been perplexed for some time as to why, when synapses are strengthened, you need to have proteins degrade and also make new proteins," said Kosik. "You have the degradation of proteins going on side by side with the synthesis of new proteins. So we have now resolved this paradox. We show that protein degradation and synthesis go hand in hand. The degradation permits the synthesis to occur. That's the elegant scientific finding that comes out of this."
See? Something elegant just happened.


Anonymous said...

Elegant, indeed!

The notion of memories and interaction becoming a physical part of oneself is striking and powerful. It undercuts the idea that we can be unbiased observers of the world that exists "out there", beyond us.

It is our world-- we are part of it and it is part of us. I think we lose part of our humanity when we limit ourselves to studying the world with passiveness and detachment, like some (or most) academics do.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Good reason to think only good and kind thoughts.

Good reason to doubt that any trait or characteristic is purely innate.

rhhardin said...

Coleridge covers it all in Biographia Literaria, chapters 4-9 I think.

But search the link for "matter has no inward" and read the paragraph.

A line Coleridge apparantly got from Schilling.

The BL has the definitive refutation of Artificial Intelligence also in those chapters.

MeTooThenMail said...

My late boss (a world-renowned neuroscientist) used to explain it this way:

All behavior, all experience involves learning.

All learning relies on synaptogenesis.

So whether you are speaking French, or throwing a curveball, or driving home, or becoming nostalgic at Christmas for your Grandmother's house, all of that resides, is structurally subtended, exists in some physical (and then physiochemical) way within our nervous systems.

The strength of memory or experience is likely based on the number or density of synaptic connections associated with that memory, the strength of those connections, and their dispersion across a wide-network.

Or so goes the thinking.

Our brain is everything, it is who we are: even the parts of "us" that are beyond our conscious reach (read about so-called "mirror neurons" as one example.)

Human consciousness is the most complex (dynamical) system in the known universe (see: Gerald Edelman about this.)

FWIW, the Earth's climate is probably the second most complex.

Just sayin'.


NotWhoIUsedtoBe said...

Everything has to happen in physical space, somehow. Some matter and energy, somewhere, motivate everything we do.

What's an individual? The outcome of the brain's process (our thoughts) or the cells that produce them? Are decisions made by committee? Are we just an output?

bagoh20 said...

Isn't a shame that while enjoying the killing of brain cells, you don't get to choose which ones die first.

MeTooThenMail said...

John Lynch:


There is no one or correct answer for this.

It is one of the greatest questions yet to be answered by mankind.

Consciousness is an "emergent" process.

Our "Self" is "entailed" by our brains, within it, and by this emergent process.

Gerald Edelman is, I believe, the best at explaining this, and his theories, may yet one day be proven.

There are several of his lectures on You Tube, and his books are challenging, but accessible to the layperson.

kjbe said...

It's not just exitential, but tangible - we are truly connected. Cool.

Mark V Wilson said...

Heidegger had something to say about this.

john said...

Something way down on my cellular level caused me to nod my head and mutter "hmm" when I read that the plane's destination was Michigan.

vbspurs said...

Merry Christmas all!!

...two big stories today: the Pope was knocked down to the floor by a crazed Swiss woman who tried the same stunt last year (a BAD year for security services, 2009), and most worryingly of all, I was listening to Fox News radio an hour ago, and heard that a man tried to explode an airliner bound to Detroit from Amsterdam, having landed at noon CST. They didn't mention the name, nor did they identify him in any way. Odd, I thought. But actually -- it's not. The guy is Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, and media (even Fox News) always tread very carefully in revealing any Muslim name if they are involved.

And yes, it's been defined as a terror incident. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) of the Homeland Security Committee said just now, it didn't surprise him that the terrorist targeted Detroit, nor that he chose Christmas Day to an attack.

I know they can't reveal their cards that much, but Jesus, how about elevating threat levels to certain cities? Is that too much to ask?


john said...

Merry Christmas, Victoria!


1. I am a male
2. I am 23
3. My name is Abdul
4. I buy a 1-way ticket to Detroit
5. From Nigeria for God sakes!
6. Through Amsterdam (what, Frankfurt's security too tough?)

Jees Louise. As IP would/will say, we are in the best of hands.

dbp said...

This brings new meaning to the idea, when you see something troubling, like this, that you can't "unsee" it.

On a more serious plane, I imagine that even the act of imagining a scenario will cause synapse activation. To take it even further, if one were to fixate on an idea, then this could transform your brain into one adapted to think about whatever it is you are fixated upon.


Fred4Pres said...

Interesting. In a way interesting like the thought that smell is really just tiny particles of the substance hitting some receptors in your nose. So when you smell dog pooh, for examples, you are really getting tiny pieces of it in your nose (microscopic small, but they are there).

But back to memories. You control them. You get to decide what to remember and what to forget. Truly accomplished people can do so in a way that they are not disabled by bad events. They may not forget the negative memory, but it is greatly diminished in importance, used as a learning tool rather than something to mope on, while possitive things are given more importance.

Now I have to go. My wife just made fresh egg nog (with eggs out of the chickens yesterday) with about a fifth of brandy and it cannot be saved. The company left and we still have half a pitcher to go.

Christy said...

"I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

Christy said...

OMG! Crack Emcee, does this mean New Age philosophy has a foundation in science?!!??

Roost on the Moon said...

"My ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors and they help me to see /
that everything in this room right now /
is a part of me"


vbspurs said...

Merry Christmas, John! :)

AST said...

And here I sit so patiently,
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice

I think there is more to reality than what the biochemists can decipher. I think the brain is a marvelous instrument, but the mind is a hyperdimensional quantum phenomenon.

I think the LHC is about to make physicists realize that there is more to know than what the universe was like at the instant of the Big Bang. And that there's a long way to go before we can see things at the level of Planck units, or see the seething mass of virtual particles that make up empty space.

As T. S. Eliot formed in his synapses:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

wv: derthe, as in "We have a derthe of humility."

MeTooThenMail said...


The quantum theories of mind (Stuart Hameroff) are a competing popular field of study as compared to the Theory of Neuronal Group Selection as per Edelman (for which there is evidence.)

There are those who believe that the time coordinates for neuronal decoherance is not at the right scale for quantum phenomena. There is evidence to support this, e.g.


And here:

traditionalguy said...

The next question would be what is a spirit. What starts a degradation and creation process in the physical structure called matter that makes up our bodies of highly organised dirt (called cells) that will one day remain as a rotting dead clump when that spirit leaves us? Also what comes from the intimacies between people that seems truly to bond two souls together at some celluler level? And how many such relationships can a Tiger Woods type person have and remain able to successfully possess them all without the reaction we call insanity occurring?

Ron said...

I'd like to think that everyone's memory cells of me are fat...and wearing shorts.

chuck b. said...

We're bags of chemicals, and most of the cells in and on our bodies are actually bacteria, not "us". I have no problem with that. And I can still treat other people with respect and dignity.

Penny said...

"Memories at the cellular level"?

I remember it like it was yesterday...

My mom forged on into KMart!

Wince said...

Sounds like a check in the plus column of having your head frozen for eternity upon death, no?

I suppose, provided the freezing process itself doesn't immediately harm the cellular structure.

Lance Burri said...

So does that mean this post is now a part of my body? And if you're reading this comment about the post, that it's a part of your body?