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Brain's Cache Memory Found 531

Shipud writes "Electrical activity in a single section of the brain has been linked to very short-term working memory, as is reported at Nature. Very short-term working memory capacity is thought to be related to intelligence. In the same way that a larger cache speeds processing time, people with a greater capacity for holding images in their heads are expected to have better reasoning and problem-solving skills. The localization of this ability is a surprising finding, as until now it was believed that STWM was diffused throughout the cortex, rather than localized."
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Brain's Cache Memory Found

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  • Re:Nature /.ed? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Buck2 ( 50253 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:54AM (#8879106) Homepage

    This seems to be quite questionable as far as any sorts of broad conclusions are concerned.

    When people talk about "intelligence" they usually mean something like "being able to grasp two deep concepts and put them together" ... not remember 4 spots of light.

    Granted, I have seen a correlation between people who are capable of remembering 10 digit codes and intelligence ... but I've also seen many of those same types fail when tasked with the above sorts of questions.

    Maybe this is a red herring.
  • by Dejitaru Neko ( 771563 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:55AM (#8879109)
    Any true geek knows that you can overclock the brain with a little help from our friend caffeine.
  • Re:Great (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FS1 ( 636716 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @05:02AM (#8879147)
    Now im going to use a somewhat tried and true comparison here just try and follow me.
    Everyone knows that both the P4 and the Celeron share the same architecture ( Intelligence ? ), but vary only in their cache size. Now run a comparison using any application have you and see which one can do the task faster.
    It is the size of the cache that determines intelligence in this case. The cache size just inhibited the ability of the intelligence to work as quick as it could.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @05:25AM (#8879225)
    Well, there's the obvious. Use it. A lot. The human machine is built around building up what gets "stressed." That goes for the brain too. For short term working memory exercise make references. Read a book, history or something like that, where you're bit over your head. Keep Google going while you do it and every time you hit something you don't understand do a search, follow the search to whatever else interesting it might lead to, bounce back and forth from the book to search materials.

    Now do it with two books, maybe even on different but related subjects, while you keep an eye on /. on the side.

    This is pure "cache" work. Don't try to memorize any of it. That's a different "brain muscle." Isolate what you're exercising. You're just trying to keep the different threads of thought all going without losing them.

    Now, remember what I said about getting stressed? Don't. Really, the biggest killer of working short term memory is any sort of tension. Tension is an attention grabber, and you only have a limited amount of attention at any one time. Learn to relax. Let it flow of its own accord. If you pick it it will never heal.

    It's one of those zen things, where you hit the target by not being aware that the target is even there. The arrow releases itself.

    Oh, and here's the nasty part. Just like stressing muscles to build strength, it's a use it or lose it deal. Yes, you can improve your short term working memory, but when you stop using it, the improvment will fade.

    I really hate that part.

  • by DigiShaman ( 671371 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @08:27AM (#8879788) Homepage
    By overclocking your neurons, you might be changing your perception of time relative to everything around you. So while you may think faster to everyone around you, you may not notice anything different in terms of perceived intelligence.

    Actually, time might slow down around you. Imagine being able to see a humming bird flap it's wings in very slow motion (assuming the human eye can refresh at a high enough rate) with ease. Also, imagine everyone talking in slow motion. Basically, time is in total slow motion relative to your speed of thought.

    Remember, your speed of thought doesn't = increase in complexity of intelligence.

  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @09:21AM (#8880077)
    It seems that some of the brain's activity is devoted to INHIBITING functions. Sometimes people with limited brain functions display extraordinary capabilities, i.e. called idiot-savants- because regular inhibition is missing. A second example is that people with intentional or accidental lobotemies (e.g. press secretary James Brady) have trouble controling their emotions. Photographic memory may not be due to improved memory, but defective *forgetting*. So my hypothesis is that this memory cache could be improved by removing the appropriate inhibitory cells.
  • by BobRooney ( 602821 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @11:05AM (#8881099) Homepage
    The article, and the researchers in the article are making an assumption about intelligence: they're assuming raw information processing power IS intelligence. I would argue that a more substantial defining factor is recall of previously processed information and the clarity of that recall. In school, the Cram -->Take Test --> Brain Dump method works but doesn't foster leaning in the way that creates "intelligence" by my definition. If everyone were to re-take their final exams from their senior year of high school/college TODAY I would argue that those doing the best overall were the most intelligent, particularly if their school-age years were long ago.
  • Re:Great (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bobbabemagnet ( 247383 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @11:08AM (#8881130)
    You can't say that speed determines intelligence. That's like putting a 3GHz processor in a wristwatch and calling it intelligent. It's not intelligent if it can only count time. No, intelligence is measured in capabilities. A P4 is more intelligent than an 8086 because it can do more. It seems to me that people vary in intelligence and speed, so while some can solve very complicated problems in a long time, others can't solve them at all, and some can solve them in a short time.

    A true measure would include both the capabilities of the brain AND the speed of it. Increased cache size only increases speed.
  • Re:Already Here. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MisterSquid ( 231834 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @11:57AM (#8881644)

    suposedly people with higher scores on these are somehow smarter,

    Not smarter, just better able to navigate the rote kinds of query and response that measure success in academic environments.

  • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:23PM (#8883097) Homepage Journal
    To use the computer analogy, it's like they took a computer and tried looking for where the cache is. After performing a bunch of graphics tests, they found that the cache is on the graphics card.

    I suppose there is one thing here that people are not generally aware of: working memory (and long-term memory) is not distributed evenly throughout the brain, but is, rather, in the areas where the things you're remembering are processed.
  • by duck_prime ( 585628 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:26PM (#8883141)
    You ain't seen nothing till you see a child lugging around a briefcase everywhere and when asked to explain he says "its an upgrade for my brain cache"
    Your modern child already carries around a brain-cache upgrade. He calls it a notebook.

    The more advanced (creepy alphas, we don't hang around with them) carry PDAs.

    Of course, an aid can become a crutch. I recall a story told me by a friend of mine. Her grandmother, an unlettered immigrant from Lithuania, has, perforce, a phenomenal memory, never needs shopping lists, etc. She rails against this new generation that has to write everything down.

    Similarly, during classical times, there were widely practiced memory techniques that we modern barbarians have largely forgotten. See here [].
  • by snkline ( 542610 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @01:42PM (#8883372)
    I don't think you would see any difference. The primary "bottleneck" in nerve signal propagation is the chemical signals. neurons are not hardwired to other neurons, there are gaps where the electical signal is converted to a chemical signal, gap is crossed, where the other side converts the chemical signal back to an electrical one (this is off the top of my head, I'm not sure how accurate it is, but that is the just of it) And you don't want to get rid of the gap for direct electical wiring because these chemical interactions are complex and probably contribute alot to brain functionality. Alot of drugs work by messing with chemical receptors.
  • by mr. squishie ( 726877 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @05:47PM (#8886696)
    Let me say first that though I'm not an expert, I am studying for a degree in psychology and neuroscience with a specific emphasis on connectionist modelling of the brain, so this research is very relevant to what I have some experience/interest in...

    Anyways, before everyone gets excited about the brain's "cache", it's important to remember that computer processors and neural networks like our brain process information in entirely different ways. You get similar results some of the time, but for different reasons. The key difference is that our brain processes information in parallel, on a massive scale.

    People talk about the computer-brain analogy being useful on a general level, but it's actually entirely wrong on any level. When it comes to memory, this is especially important. Our brains work by sloshing around activity through enormous numbers of neurons across interconnected layers; basically, this leads to two types of memory: active memory (patterns of activity that are actively maintained across time) and weight-based memory (adjusting the connections between neurons to influence the future processing of activity.) Usually such "short term" memory as that is being discussed in the article is referring to active memory.

    Anyhow, the important bit to take away from all of this is that active memory in the brain is something that requires a lot of upkeep. It's not like computer memory that holds specific information that can be erased or retrieved--rather, it biases current processing based on a pattern of activity that resulted from past processing. Without going into too much detail, in the case of remembering dots positioned on a screen, you can imagine that seeing the dots spreads activity through the cortex, including both the spatial processing areas and some "active maintainer" area that is able to lock in patterns of activity. In the context of the test, the representation of the dots in the spatial layer activates another pattern of activity in the "active maintainer," which sort of "locks on" to the activity in the maintainer that corresponds to the the represenation of the dots in the spatial layer. When recall time comes, the active maintainer sends activation to the dots representation in the spatial layer--you can then visualize what you just saw a moment ago (literally activating the same neurons). This depends on the quality of the represenation in the active maintainer, of course, and is really oversimplified, but you can sort of get an idea of the complexity involved.

    Anyways, there's already a lot of evidence that the prefrontal cortex is heavily involved in actively maintaining a set pattern of activity in the face of distraction, but since prettymuch all distinctions in the brain are gradual and not absolute anyways, it wouldn't be too surprising to find that another part of cortex could be more specifically involved in maintaing representations in the spatial processing part of the brain.

    As for cognition and intelligence, there's no question that active memory is important for intelligence--if you don't have it (if you are lobotomized, removing the entire prefrontal cortex), you can't direct your thoughts to reflect anything that came before, and you become a vegetable. But as to the contribution of this specific brain area, that's clearly going to be speculation at this point.

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday April 16, 2004 @05:58PM (#8886852)
    Please keep in mind that your average Slashdotter couldn't bike more than a few miles without being close to a heart attack.

    Nonesense, possibly on two scores. The first, reading other peoples's posts suggests to me that there are quite a number of Slashdotters who ride bikes and could keep up with me just fine.

    But the second is the important one. If they can't bike more than a few miles without having a heart attack it's due to ignorance, not lack of fitness. I could teach nearly all of them how to do it within a week. An 11 year old girl, with no previous athtletic accomplishments, bicycled across America. It's really not that great a feat, if you still have the capacity to make it to the fridge for that last slice of last night's pizza you can bicycle a few miles just fine, but as in all things you have to properly understand what you are doing. Being able to balance a bicycle is not the same as knowing how to ride one properly.

    It's true about the computer nerd thingy though, and I'm not a computer nerd, as I've written before. I'm an old style geek, which is rather a different beasty. Cycling, martial arts, squash, cross country skiing, mountaineering, all traditional pursuits of the traditional Anglo-American geek. The jocks went for football and rugby, the so called "contact" sports, whereas the geek was perhaps more inclined to make his contact with the point of an epee.

    I really don't understand shunning exercise any more than I understand anti-intellectualism. Mind and body are inseperable. You can worry yourself sick, and exercise yourself unworried. And what are you doing to occupy your time while out on an eight hour bike ride?

    You think a lot.

    When properly done exercise is complimentary with thinking, nor does it take any time away from thinking. You don them both at the same time.

    Gymnasium just means "Place to hang out, like, naked and shit." You might wrestle in the gym, or you might just argue natural philosophy for hours. . . and then settle the issue with three falls or a submission.

    As per your last sentence, which is apropos to the other poster's comments, athletic accomplishment is a relative feat, not an absolute one. See the guys at the back of the marathon field? The one's who take six hours to finish instead of two and change? They're slower than the winner, but they're working just as hard as the winner did, for that entire six hours.

    Some of the guys who win couldn't do that without having a heart attack.

    Hawking is a great athlete, it's just that his athletic skills and accomplishments aren't readily visible to those without the right means of percieving them.


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