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Brain Cells Observed Summoning a Memory

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  • by ArsonSmith (13997) on Friday September 05, 2008 @01:37AM (#24884465) Journal

    Like the one where I rtfa'd.

  • I have doubts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday September 05, 2008 @01:39AM (#24884487)
    Past studies have shown how many neurons are involved in a single, simple memory. Researchers might be able to isolate a few single neurons "in the process of summoning a memory", but that is like saying that they have isolated a few water molecules in the runoff of a giant hydroelectric dam. The practical utility of this is highly questionable.
    • Re:I have doubts (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Friday September 05, 2008 @01:58AM (#24884593)
      Yes! It has no utility! Like that ultra expensive Hadron Colider! Or theoretical physics! Or the first electron microsope! Or playing around with lightning and carbon!

      In all seriousness, this is the first step on the road to a computer that can Feed Me Information Directly! yipeeeeee!
      • by Splab (574204)

        Or even better; help those who have lost their memory to regain it, I can't think of much worse things to happen than to lose all memory.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by blahplusplus (757119) *

      "The practical utility of this is highly questionable."

      Many things in science have little practical utility until well after the fact. We could name a lot from mathematics alone, someones little curiousity becomes some key concept for understanding some other problem somewhere down the line. While I agree not all of them turn out like that, the fact is we're going to have dead ends no matter which way you slice it, it's one long search for what is true and relevant.

    • by Frangible (881728)
      That isn't the point; the study isn't claiming to have deduced how memory works (I like the fun theories involving microtubules and quantum fields there, but hey). It simply shows that activation patterns during recall correlate with those during actual experience, much like is the case with memory encoding in REM sleep.

      This is significant because those correlations in experience and recall can profoundly effect our current mental state and environment. Imagery is a tool used very efficiently in sports
      • When I read the article, what stuck me the most was not that the specific pattern observed WAS the memory, but more like the control sequence needed to create it and then retrieve it.

        In computer terms, it seemed like putting a set of addresses out on the memory bus, controlling the storage in and then out of a block of RAM.

    • Past studies have shown how many neurons are involved in a single, simple memory.

      The article even says:

      Dr. Fried said in a phone interview that the single neurons recorded firing most furiously during the film clips were not acting on their own; they were, like all such cells, part of a circuit responding to the videos, including thousands, perhaps millions, of other cells.

      The practical utility of this is highly questionable

      Where in the article does it suggest this has practical utility? It seemed to me to

    • I don't know. If you isolate what a few drops of water do, you pretty much know what a giant body of water will do. It will flow downhill. You honestly have to start somewhere.
    • Understand TFA without RTFA. (my emphasis)
  • Careful! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suck_burners_rice (1258684) on Friday September 05, 2008 @01:45AM (#24884527)
    Knowing how a memory is stored and how the brain can recreate it might lead to some crazy new technologies in the future, such as being able to load gigabytes of data into your brain by using energy to manipulate the brain into "remembering" things that were never there. Of course, it could lead to some extremely scary scenarios, like messing with people's heads by putting things in there that aren't supposed to be. I hope the scientists are being really, really careful on this one!
    • by Barny (103770)

      Pfft, quit yappin' and hand me my memory doubler :P

    • "I had to dump a chunk of long-term memory - my childhood." -- Johnny Mnemonic
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by incognito84 (903401)
      Actually, it could serve as a way to punish criminals without burning through tax dollars with prison time. Just take all of their most beloved memories and replace them with a picture of Chuck Norris and the sensation of being kicked in the groin. For example, from their wedding day, all they'll remember is: "Honey, I d--Chuck Norris?! Ow, my groin!"
      • Re:Careful! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dintech (998802) on Friday September 05, 2008 @05:22AM (#24885655)
        Maybe you are onto something there. Perhaps it would be appropriate punishment to take the memories from the people affected by their crimes and cram them into the criminals head so that he personally experience the impact of what he's done. At the same time you would have to replace any positive aspects of personal gain or gratifaction that he received. The next time he considers commiting a crime, he'll have a lot more to think about...
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by houghi (78078)

      So what you are saying is things that have been seen can be unseen.

      Now is it a blessing that goatse can be unseen, or a curse that I now can see it for the first time several times?

  • I wonder what will happen if you stimulate the neurons instead of listening to them. Despite the impressive results obtained, we still know nothing about how the brain stores memories. Maybe stimulating the neurons in a patient will help understanding that a bit.

  • by Anik315 (585913) <anik@alphaco r . n et> on Friday September 05, 2008 @01:57AM (#24884587)
    To summarize the article, researchers have determined that the neurons which are fired when an event is experienced are the same neurons that are fired when it is remembered. That's all it says. It does not say that our experiences and memories don't independently exist, just that they correlate with neural activity.
  • Article Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 05, 2008 @02:01AM (#24884607)

    September 5, 2008
    For the Brain, Remembering Is Like Reliving
    By BENEDICT CAREY

    Scientists have for the first time recorded individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory, revealing not only where a remembered experience is registered but also, in part, how the brain is able to recreate it.

    The recordings, taken from the brains of epilepsy patients being prepared for surgery, demonstrate that these spontaneous memories reside in some of the same neurons that fired most furiously when the recalled event had been experienced. Researchers had long theorized as much but until now had only indirect evidence.

    Experts said the study had all but closed the case: For the brain, remembering is a lot like doing (at least in the short term, as the research says nothing about more distant memories).

    The experiment, being reported Friday in the journal Science, is likely to open a new avenue in the investigation of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, some experts said, as well as help explain how some memories seemingly come out of nowhere. The researchers were even able to identify specific memories in subjects a second or two before the people themselves reported having them.

    "This is what I would call a foundational finding," said Michael J. Kahana, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research. "I cannot think of any recent study that's comparable.

    "It's a really central piece of the memory puzzle and an important step in helping us fill in the detail of what exactly is happening when the brain performs this mental time travel" of summoning past experiences.

    The new study moved beyond most previous memory research in that it focused not on recognition or recollection of specific symbols but on free recall â" whatever popped into people's heads when, in this case, they were asked to remember short film clips they had just seen.

    This ability to richly reconstitute past experience often quickly deteriorates in people with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, and it is fundamental to so-called episodic memory â" the catalog of vignettes that together form our remembered past.

    In the study, a team of American and Israeli researchers threaded tiny electrodes into the brains of 13 people with severe epilepsy. The electrode implants are standard procedure in such cases, allowing doctors to pinpoint the location of the mini-storms of brain activity that cause epileptic seizures.

    The patients watched a series of 5- to 10-second film clips, some from popular television shows like "Seinfeld" and others depicting animals or landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. The researchers recorded the firing activity of about 100 neurons per person; the recorded neurons were concentrated in and around the hippocampus, a sliver of tissue deep in the brain known to be critical to forming memories.

    In each person, the researchers identified single cells that became highly active during some videos and quiet during others. More than half the recorded cells hummed with activity in response to at least one film clip; many of them also responded weakly to others.

    After briefly distracting the patients, the researchers then asked them to think about the clips for a minute and to report "what comes to mind." The patients remembered almost all of the clips. And when they recalled a specific one â" say, a clip of Homer Simpson â" the same cells that had been active during the Homer clip reignited. In fact, the cells became active a second or two before people were conscious of the memory, which signaled to researchers the memory to come.

    "It's astounding to see this in a single trial; the phenomenon is strong, and we were listening in the right place," said the senior author, Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Tel Aviv.

    His co-authors were Hagar Gelbard-Sagiv, Michal Harel and Rafael Malach of

    • by zobier (585066)

      Damnit, missed the dashes. Got the quotes and apostrophes though.
      It's the 00's /., can we please have Unicode now?

  • Get out of my head!
  • by iHal (1213402) on Friday September 05, 2008 @02:22AM (#24884719)
    This is interesting and I don't mean to be cynical, but neuroscience is at least 10 years behind cognitive science and psychology. I can't wait until they can use all their fancy technology to tell us something psychologists and psychophysicists don't already know :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_Embedded_Cognition [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_cognition [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situated_cognition [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by taylorcp (615045)
      It isn't the most elegant post but the mods definitely need to mod this up. The idea that neuroscience retreads the ground trod by cognitive scientists, psychologists and psyhcophysicists is essentially and profoundly true. Take the case of light detection where a study by Hecht, Schlaer & Pirenne done with psychophysical methods in the 40s estimated the minimum number of photons needed to detect a light. This result was only "measured directly" by neuroscientists in the late 1980s. Color vision is an
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yeah but eventually you have to pop it open and take a peek inside - making conclusions from observable behaviour only takes you so far. Unfortunately neuroscience was stuck in a rut for a long time and only in the early 90s did it begin to emerge and embrace some new ideas.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Luke_22 (1296823)
      psychologists aren't and won't be able to cure parkinson and other brain damages.
      neuroscience might (actually, already can for parkinson).

      please do not compare two kind of studies just because they have a link in common.
      neuroscience basically aim at understanding math and physics behind our brain, psychology works at higher levels.
  • Where is my mind now ?
  • by Nemus (639101) <astarchman@hotmail.com> on Friday September 05, 2008 @02:25AM (#24884735) Journal

    This is the kind of claim you make in the NY Times or another public media outlet: while it might happen, because sometimes people do stupid things, I doubt the actual research article will go so far as to say anything so far-fetched.

    While it makes logical sense (memory, so far as it is located any single place, does seem to be strongly linked to the deeper, distinct organs within the brain, like the hippocampus), there is no actual way to "know" what exactly is going on: this is a quasi-experimental design, at best, and at most all they can reliably say is "Similiar structures in the brain responded in a similar way during recall of an event compared with how they behaved during the observation of the event itself." For example, it has been shown in some studies that areas in the occipital area of the brain (which has been strongly linked to vision) "light up" when a subject is asked to describe a previously viewed visual stimulus: however, researchers in these studies make no claims to such being evidence of an observed activation of a memory, which is essentially the claim being made here. Typically, the most they will offer in such studies is that the brain may be "spoofed" into thinking it is viewing the same stimulus again, thus activating certain, similiar function. Logically, both the visual research and this phenomena certainly sound like memory: but logic isn't science, nor is something true because it makes logical sense. Newtonian mechanics make logical sense, but good luck building a model of the universe as successful as one provided by quantum/relativistic physics, which often times make utterly no logical sense.

    This is one of the key problems in any kind of study concerning phenomena which are part and parcel of the conscious mind/brain: being that we do not experience the subject's perceptions ourselves, and since consciousness is so singular and personal, we might never be able to say with any clear confidence what we are observing in the brain. However, kudos to the researchers. At the very least they've examined a function (whatever it is) within the brain that is an utter pain in the ass to study.

  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Friday September 05, 2008 @02:54AM (#24884909)
    We're one step closer to a "Forget your first sexual encounter" pill.
  • Neo: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 05, 2008 @03:59AM (#24885219)

    Neo: I know Kung-Fu.
    Morpheus: Show me.
    Neo: It starts at 0x21b3a5da.

  • by clickety6 (141178) on Friday September 05, 2008 @04:19AM (#24885313)

    ..like a device that can stimulate the area of the brain that is supposed to remember where I left my ^%&$-ing car keys!!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hey! (33014)

      I'm kind of surprised that entrepreneurs haven't come up with a device to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain yet. Granted, it would probably take a bit of surgery to install, but if you weren't convinced it was the coolest toy ever, you would be after a few pushes of the button.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by VorpalRodent (964940)
        I seem to recall that they did it with mice. The mice kept pushing the button, and would have continued until they starved to death.

        All I could find was this article: http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=229 [damninteresting.com]

        It's related - it also discusses a man that they did the same thing to...he "vigorously protested" when they wanted to stop the experiment.

  • by vandan (151516) on Friday September 05, 2008 @05:49AM (#24885757) Homepage

    I've read a number of books which discuss in detail the fact that memory is stored non-locally, in a method similar to the way a hologram stores information non-locally. The book 'The Holographic Universe' is the most recent example that I've read. It's a fascinating book - well worth a read. In fact I've read it twice now. With respect to memory, it goes on to say that in experiments with mice, researchers said they were incapable of destroying a memory of how to complete a maze by surgically removing brain tissue. The more they removed, the more foggy the memory appeared, but it never disappeared. This strongly backs the holographic storage method that the book postulates.

    If these scientists think they've seen an individual brain cell recall a memory, then I think they're horribly mistaken.

  • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Friday September 05, 2008 @10:23PM (#24897133)

    The first thing that came to mind(no pun intended) was that if a memory resides in a certain cerebral location, and all one would have to do to locate it is elicit that memory in a person, while scanning them, then one can conclude that once this has occurred, one could then go in and physically REMOVE the memory by destroying that particular location in the brain.

    Maybe that was what Obi Wan was doing. He simply used telekinesis to destroy specific brain cells while rewriting in another location with verbal suggestion......"These are not the 'droids you are looking for......".

"Card readers? We don't need no stinking card readers." -- Peter da Silva (at the National Academy of Sciencies, 1965, in a particularly vivid fantasy)

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