The brain is more like a TV receiver than video recorder — Rupert Sheldrake, Biologist
Archive for the ‘R is for Retrieval’ Category
Photo via flickr by Daniel Leininger
In a secret bunker known as the Swiss Fort Knox deep in the Swiss Alps, European researchers recently deposited a “digital genome” that will provide the blueprint for future generations to read data stored using defunct technology. Accompanied by burly security guards in black uniforms, scientists carried a time capsule through a labyrinth of tunnels and five security zones to a vault near the slopes of chic ski resort Gstaad.
The sealed box containing the key to unpick defunct digital formats will be locked away for the next quarter of a century behind a 3-1/2 ton door strong enough to resist nuclear attack at the data storage facility.
The capsule is the culmination of the four-year “Planets” project, an 15 million-euro ($18.49 million) project which draws on the expertise of 16 European libraries, archives and research institutions, to preserve the world’s digital assets as hardware and software. The capsule deposited contains the digital equivalent of the genetic code of different data formats, a ‘digital genome.’
Around 100 GB of data—equivalent to 24 tons of books—has already been created for every single individual on the planet, ranging from holiday snaps to health records, project organizers said, adding this amounted to over 1 trillion CDs worth of data across the globe.
But as technological breakthroughs help people to live longer, the lifespan of technology gets shorter, meaning the European Union alone loses digital information worth at least 3 billion euros every year, they said. Studies suggest common data storage formats like CDs and DVDs only last 20 years, while digital file formats have a life expectancy of just five to seven years. Hardware even less.
“Unlike hieroglyphics carved in stone or ink on parchment, digital data has a shelf life of years not millennia,” said Andreas Rauber, a professor at the University of Technology of Vienna, which is a partner in the project.
The project hopes to preserve “data DNA,” the information and tools to access and read historical digital material and prevent digital memory loss into the next century.
This could have uses for countless different organizations, from pharmaceutical companies trying to access test data decades from now or aerospace companies checking design details of planes built to fly for 30 or 40 years.
People will be puzzled at what they find when they open the time capsule, said Rauber. “In 25 years people will be astonished to see how little time must pass to render data carriers unusable because they break or because you don’t have the devices anymore,” he said. “The second shock will probably be what fraction of the objects we can’t use or access in 25 years and that’s hard to predict.”
via PC Mag
Photo via flickr by paintMonkey
Perhaps we remember more episodes than we realize. Computer programs have been able to predict which of three short films a person is thinking about, just by looking at their brain activity. The research, conducted by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London), provides further insight into how our memories are recorded.
An extension of work which showed how spatial memories are recorded in the hippocampus, this Wellcome Trust-funded study led by Professor Eleanor Maguire looked at episodic’ memories —the complex, everyday memories that include much more information on where we are, what we are doing and how we feel.
To explore how episodic memories are recorded, the researchers showed ten volunteers three short films and asked them to memorize what they saw. The films were very simple, sharing a number of similar features, which included a woman carrying out an everyday task in a typical urban street. For example, one film showed a woman drinking coffee from a paper cup in the street before discarding the cup in a litterbin; another film showed a (different) woman posting a letter.
The volunteers were then asked to recall each of the films in turn while inside an fMRI scanner, which records brain activity by measuring related changes in blood flow. A computer algorithm then studied the patterns and had to identify which film the volunteer was recalling purely by looking at the pattern of their brain activity.
“The algorithm was able to predict correctly which of the three films the volunteer was recalling significantly above what would be expected by chance,” explains Martin Chadwick, lead author of the study. “This suggests that our memories are recorded in a regular pattern.”
Although a whole network of brain areas support memory, the researchers focused their study on the medial temporal lobe, an area deep within the brain believed to be most heavily involved in episodic memory. It includes the hippocampus and its immediate neighbors. However, the computer algorithm performed best when analyzing activity in the hippocampus itself, suggesting that this is the most important region for recording episodic memories. In particular, three areas of the hippocampus —the rear right and the front left and front right areas—seemed to be involved consistently across all participants.
“Now that we are developing a clearer picture of how our memories are stored, we hope to examine how they are affected by time, the aging process and by brain injury,” says Professor Maguire. The results are published in the journal “Current Biology”.
via Wellcome Trust
photo via flickr by Amy Loves Yah
Do you remember how your breakfast plate was arranged this morning? Even if you don’t, your hippocampus might—and growing evidence suggests that there is a way to retrieve this unconscious memory: through your eye movements.
In a study from the University of California, Davis, neuroscientist Deborah Hannula and her team showed participants photographs of faces superimposed on scenes. Later the volunteers saw the individual scenes again and had to pick the matching faces. By tracking their eye movements, Hannula and her co-workers saw that even when volunteers picked the wrong face, their eyes were drawn for a longer time to the correct one.
Previous studies yielded similar results, but the findings have been controversial because of difficulties replicating them, Hannula says. Her study also showed that the participants’ hippocampus was active during the process, indicating that, contrary to conventional thinking, the brain region is involved not only in conscious memory processing but in other memory tasks as well.
The findings suggest that eye movements can be a sensitive measure for both unconscious and conscious memories, Hannula says. This fact could open up new avenues for working with cognitively impaired patients, who may not be able to verbally or otherwise report what they remember.
The results also have implications for crime scene investigations, Hannula says. For example, eyewitnesses may unconsciously remember the face of a perpetrator. Even the eye movements of the person who committed the crime could betray important information.
Photo via flickr by heyjoewhereyougoingwiththatguninyourhand
Subatomic particles do it. Now the observation that groups of brain cells seem to have their own version of quantum entanglement, or “spooky action at a distance”, could help explain how our minds combine experiences from many different senses into one memory.
Previous experiments have shown that the electrical activity of neurons in separate parts of the brain can oscillate simultaneously at the same frequency – a process known as “phase locking.” The frequency seems to be a signature that marks out neurons working on the same task, allowing them to identify each other.
According to research by Dietmar Pienz and Tara Thiagarajan at the National Institute of Mental Health, unique patterns of electrical signals (“coherence potentials”) are “cloned” or spread to neurons in different areas of the brain.
The purpose of coherence potentials may be to trigger activity in the various parts of the brain that store aspects of the same experience. So a smell or taste, say, might trigger a coherence potential that then activates the same potential in neurons in the visual part of the brain.
As memory increasingly becomes externalized, the hunt for memory has become a cultural pastime. The idea that nature has a memory is not only evident with the fact that cells have a memory, like a computer has a memory that can be stored and accessed, or for that matter that stem cells have the capacity to memorize the form and function of all cells, allowing blood cells to become muscle cells and so on, but that memory may be an inherent property of all matter and space. Physicist John A. Wheeler mentioned to Sputnik that on his windowsill at his Maine cottage there was a rock that came from the garden of Academia in ancient Athens and that it was his wish that one day, there could be a mechanism that could unlock its sounds so that he could hear the discussions between Aristotle and Plato. The animistic capacity of nature to remember extends itself to the theory of morphic resonance in which biologist Rupert Sheldrake suggests that memories are no more stored in the brain then sitcoms are trapped inside our TVs, that the brain is a tuning system that taps into the collective memory of nature, located invisibly in and around all organisms. Then there’s the idea that memory could be stored as a hologram, one of the leading hypotheses of neuroscientist Karl Pribram, suggesting that memory is not stored in specific brain sites, but distributed throughout the brain, and considering that neurons are so packed together, these expanding ripples of electricity operate like a wavelike phenomenon, constantly crisscrossing one another to create interference patterns, giving the brain its holographic property and allowing memory to be stored and activated by wave frequencies. Thomas Goodwin’s research at NASA also signifies an important link between field phenomenon and memory, as studies show that human cells exposed to the electromagnetic field of microgravity grow in three dimensions, as if they are remembering their natural state inside the womb. Moreover, Goodwin’s research suggests that the genetic composition of all cells remember their evolutionary history and, in the future, science may be able to find the right signals to “turn on” specific genes to get a cell to express behaviors or forms it hasn’t shown in millions of years. Whether or not we’ll be able to grow dinosaurs in space or whether or not Proust was visiting the past or creating the past in the present when he dipped that Madeleine cookie into his tea is unknown, but if we are programmed to forget, as other theories suggest, well, we just may never know.