Wednesday, August 2, 2017


The July, 2017, issue of Scientific American cover featured an article on "Our Memories" by Alcino J. Silva about advances in learning and memory.  His lab "had shown that the CREB gene was needed to form long-term memories.  . . . . by encoding a protein that regulates expression of other genes needed for memory."  The assignment of emotional memories as well as linking of memories are among things discussed.

The July-August, 2017, issue of AARP BULLETIN has a news item about an "electrical brain stimulation" research team, led by Michael Kahana, of "Neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania" who "have shown for the first time that stimulating the brain when it's foggy can significantly boost memory function.  Conversely, stimulating the brain when it's sharp can impair thinking skills."

Panel discussions on TV news shows remind me of both stimulation and impairment when one persons comments stimulate another to interrupt and make it difficult for the first person to complete their statement clearly.


Linked memories are undoubtedly part of the difficulties some veterans with post traumatic stress disorder experience, such as terror-filled memories triggered by loud noises.  Emotionally charged memories may be linked with memories formed at the same time and may include visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile stimuli that can later have a role in recollection of the associated memory.

Such linkage may be a factor in the use of mnemonics for remembering sequential  or associated items. Since newly forming memories may be linked sequentially in a physical sequence in the brain, activation of one item in the list may aide recovery of others in the sequence.  It isn't just harried mothers that use the name of the wrong child and then sometimes go through the list of all their kids before getting the right name.  Anyone with an overloaded schedule is likely to do something similar without it being a mental defect.


The structure of the brain with memory and thinking intensive areas having several layers of neurons, with multiple fibers (dendrites and the axon with its branches) make it practically impossible to map or solve exact storage patterns.  The tangle of fibers is only one part of the complexity.  At the synapse, or gap at the junction of a fiber with the next neuron, the impulse (depolarization wave) results in the release of a neurotransmitter.  There are neurotransmitters with various functions, some that stimulate, some that inhibit, and others with a range of speed of action or persistence.

The neurotransmitter at the neuro-muscular junction is typically acetyl choline.  It causes the muscle cell membrane to send a depolarization wave along its length, causing contraction of the muscle.  Choline esterase is an enzyme in the gap that breaks down the acetyl choline allowing its constituents to be recycled into acetyl choline in the original fiber.  Because neuro-muscular junctions of other animals use the same process some of the most rapid acting insecticides are choline esterase inhibitors.  Our large size makes it more likely to kill insects before the concentration we are exposed to kills us.  I had a student who would come back for the Fall Semester, after working fogging for mosquito control in Northern Michigan resorts most of the summer, with obvious twitchiness.  He survived it and was an effective biology teacher for many years.


I have made the point in an earlier post that honesty is beneficial in developing creativity of a beneficial sort.  It may be that a liar has more linked memories on a topic, perhaps half of them untrue.  Does it then become impossible for them to distinguish truth from fiction?  An hour or so ago a panel on CNN was discussing our president's blend of fact and fiction had an early expression in his noting his marvelous home run to his classmate who reminded him it was just a single.  Apparently he was oblivious to the fact and repeated his recollection of his magnificent home run.

Scientists try to be honest and truthful in their work.  But complications due to complexity and sometimes relying on opinions of leading scientists, who have unintentionally given erroneous views credibility, can perpetuate and increase errors.  My early evolution blogs focused on one particular instance in the calculation of the ancestral tree of animals in which the pogonophora should be recognized as a remarkable link.


   for memory
Learn a bunch of connected things in uninterrupted fashion.
Multi-tasking is an interruption.
Its all important.
Repetition may help, especially if your mind wandered.

    for recall
Activate the appropriate regions of the brain by thinking about related things, locations, functions, people, times.
Be rested, fed, happy and comfortable or relaxed (don't be bothered if it doesn't come immediately)

   long-term preparation
Read, listen to music, play games, socialize, exercise, eat a balanced diet, sleep, meditate, appreciate nature and the world around you, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to pray, love God, your neighbors, and yourself.

Joe Engemann     Kalamazoo, Michigan  August 2, 2017

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