Memory Lane; How Science is Planning to Make a Few More

I love learning about the brain.

290315braindrain (490x800)

I’m continually unearthing new research revealing fresh discoveries that must make the neuroscientists who discovered them leap up and down like seven-year-olds when you tell them you’re taking them to the local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Some of the studies are astonishing.

Most of the studies are encouraging.

All of the studies are in a version that is appropriate for a twelve-year-old to interpret. That’s pretty much the only way I will be able to absorb all of the astonishing and encouraging data. A neuroscientist I am not. But I do have a brain. And that’s about as much as we share in common—apart from the fact that I will leap up and down for a double scoop when offered as well.

The latest brain study I stumbled upon was all about memory creation. I can’t remember who authored the paper, or which university the research took place at—but that likely points toward exactly why I was out hunting for memory studies in the first place.

The study discussed two particular regions of the brain that need to speak with one another in order to create successful learning:

the hippocampus,

and the prefrontal cortex.

290315hippo (800x623)

Apparently, if we are working on a task of learning to connect two objects to one anotherlike shoe and foot, or chair and tableour brain’s neurons are busily firing off. And, as a result, generate brain waves.

And also apparently, these two chunks of gray matter—the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex—use two different frequencies to communicate whether or not we guessed correctly, in which case we’ll get a blue ribbon to sport, or whether we guessed wrongly, and are then seated in the corner of the room with a pointy shaped hat on our heads.

It all comes down to the oscillation of the waves.

Answering correctly—a thumbs up—makes the waves oscillate at a high rate referred to as the beta frequency (9-16 hertz), and a thumbs down results in a lower oscillation called theta frequency (2-6 hertz).

I’m pretty sure we should add a two thumbs down result in here for the general faction of teenage boys which typically operate at the lowest frequency setting of thunka (-3-0 hertz) just to be on the safe side of science.

290315thunka (800x499)

If I can remember where I placed the study, I will petition the authors to include my data into their research.

The scientists documented brainwave frequencies while studying test subject animals. These critters were tasked to learn which two images should be connected to one another and which two images should not be coupled. This was done through trial and error. A reward was given to indicate a correct choice. It’s like when you try to teach your cat how to drive. The only way they will receive the reward of finally making it to their favorite acupuncturist on time is if they learn that they must insert a key into the car’s ignition and not a spatula.

Simple, right?

Choosing the “right” answers showed that the pathways between neurons were strengthening. And choosing the “wrong” answers weakened pathways. It was as if the brain was trying to communicate through the oscillation of waves which neural pathway should have a giant WELCOME sign at its entrance, and which should be choking with weeds, overrun with poison ivy and displaying a placard with a skull and crossbones.

And the hope is that now scientists will be able to utilize low voltage electrical stimulation to the brain to “speed up” the process of learning. And who wouldn’t go for that, right?

Soon we’ll all be able to put on a special hat, attach ourselves to the nearest electrical outlet, and begin the once arduous process of learning a language, conquering physics, or watching something like Seth MacFarlane’s film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. With a few tweaks of current control, you’ll be conversing in Chinese, building the next Mars rover, and hacking into production facilities with the intent to destroy wretched films in the nick of time just before they’re widely released for public consumption.

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If nothing more, I’m incredibly encouraged by the research taking place and wholly support any studies that will not only retain the vital neurological pathways I’ve worked so hard to establish already, but potentially make it possible for me to go on learning new information that can only enrich and deepen my intellectual experience.

As a reward to myself for having made it through reading this particularly challenging study on cognitive function and its future, I’m heading out to the nearest, local ice cream parlor for a double scoop.

Now if I could only find where I put my spatula …




Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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74 thoughts on “Memory Lane; How Science is Planning to Make a Few More

  1. Ha ha. Intellectual and funny. Nice job! It makes me scared though, the thought that a magic hat or pill will make us smarter. Will it help us evolve as a compassionate species? That’s the hat I think everyone needs to put on!

    • Uh oh, your ‘post it note’ part of the brain still on the fritz, Susannah? Poor girl. I bet that’s making school a massive challenge.
      And, if the studies I’ve read are accurate, I think short term memory is controlled by the … wait a second, I swear I knew this a minute a go.
      (go ahead and groan – I know it was lame)

  2. hoo-wee am i early or am i early. i can’t believe this, now what am i going to tell mr. osgood tomorrow morning.

    still you took on a pretty heady area this week shelley and excelled at it (not sure if that was groan worthy). it’s really quite interesting how all creatures, from humans to lab animals, learn in so similar ways – that’s simply remarkable. when it comes to memories of the personal experience kind, i like to write – remember what you want but don’t forget what was.

    • Obviously, you’re firing away on all cylinders today, Mac. And it’s great to see your words–whether first in line or at the back of the bus. They will always be read and hugely appreciated.
      I love your thoughtful quote. I think they’re sage words to live by. Sadly, I know way too many people who tend to remember details that never existed in the first place–and THAT is a whole ‘nother blog post I will someday write about because it’s incredibly fascinating how the brain can create false memories. Love that topic.

  3. Hmmm, was going to say something brilliant, but the hippocampus is miffed at the prefrontal cortex and I’m drawing a blank. Have an extra scoop for me, will you? xx

    • David, I’m thoroughly enjoying this visual. Nothing like a good belly laugh to start off the day.
      Perhaps you can use that spatula to swirl the fellas out of their hiding places in the fish tank??
      A million hugs to you too! xox

    • Oh, me too! I blame science for nearly everything that isn’t quite up to snuff in my life. (I think Obama gets more than his fair share). Everyone needs a scapegoat now and again, right? Mine just happens to be wearing a lab coat. 😛

  4. I had an erudite, witty and pithy comment all ready to go; but I forgot it. Can’t wait for the helmet invention. Love the hippopotami cartoon. Thanks for some great brain food Mrs P. A highlight of my Sunday.

  5. Another post that got me chuckling as well as thinking – the mental picture of you putting the cat in the driver’s seat, complete with spatula, will keep me grinning all day. Helped along by Rob’s Acatapuncture cartoon. 🙂
    Memory is a funny thing, I often marvel at how many mixed up or false memories I have, and wonder how they got there. Or just plain forgetting things you think you never would. I’m glad someone is looking into it anyway. It all made me wonder – have you read ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ by Oliver Sacks? I read it years ago and then much, much later found out that the author himself couldn’t remember faces.
    Anyway, thanks once again for making me chuckle. It’s a blustery rainy day here in SE England so the humour is helping. 🙂

    • Good heavens, Laura, I shouted, “YES!” so many times while reading your comment, I felt like I was at a Sunday tent revival.
      I too adored the bonus cartoon. I’m going to paste it on the wall above the litter box, so the cat has some bathroom reading material.
      And yes, I love everything written by Oliver Sacks. He’s absolutely brilliant–in particular, Musicophilia. Terribly sad news about him though last month.
      And sorry about the weather. I do believe it was pushed your way from our side of the pond.
      Cheers, Laura!

      • Yes, very sad news about his health, I did wonder if you were already a fan of his.
        I shall forgive you the weather, it looks like it’s brightening up. For the time being. 🙂

  6. Amusing and informative as ever Shelley! I too find the memory fascinating, I seem to remember things primarily in pictures whereas I’m sure for other people word association is the key. I wonder if that will change as society becomes more and more bombarded with visual stimuli and whether that in itself will weaken parts of the brain’s functioning. Goodness, this is very intellectual for a Sunday morning, your posts are as good as a stimulating cold shower with a delightful helping of bubbles for the neurons!! Have a relaxing rest of the day 🙂 😉

    • Oh, Yikes! I’ve given you the equivalent of a winter Swedish dunk, eh? Oops.
      And I’m not surprised you’d have a memory reel all in photos, Jane. Makes perfect sense. Oddly enough, my memories all sit beside meals as markers. I tend to remember things based upon what I was eating at the moment. Open a jar of peanut butter and nearly half my life spills out. 😀

  7. So funny, and that’s probably why I understood it!
    As to whether my hippocampus and and pre-frontal cortex are on speaking terms sometimes could explain why my foot goes on the table and I’m trying to put a sock on the chair. 😛

    • You’ve got me thinking about just how many arguments between the two are likely responsible for many of my past blunders. I’m thinking those two areas of the brain are probably sabotaging me regularly just for the sheer fun of it. Which only reinforces the sage idea of staying home and out of the public eye.

  8. Oh, thank you for this! Thank you, thank you! This little set of keys is going to be SO MUCH EASIER to carry around than all these spatulas! 🙂

  9. Very interesting stuff. So our memory creation is controlled by oscillating waves? If our Hippocampus is on speaking terms with our Prefrontal Cortex then we remember correctly. Hat on head not on foot. So if I walk around one morning with my hat on my foot it’s because the two are not on speaking terms. Right? So what caused the falling out. Failure to leave the seat down? Forgetting an Anniversary? What? And how can it be fixed? I really need some answers here. I just noticed my favorite Stetson on my left foot. I need to know where to send the flowers.

  10. Oh god im off for a triple scoop now, its sunday afternoon and we have changed the clocks an hour forward to british summer time, mix that up with a night on the tiles and i think i should come back later in the week!! A great read though Shelley, even if i do have brain freeze lol :))

    • That is a brilliant expression, Janice. It’s one of the things I adore most about having international dialogue. ‘A night on the tiles.’
      Now, if I can only remember the phrase when I’m in need of it!

  11. Rob, that hippo drawing is fantastic!

    Shelley, the opportunity to destroy horrible films before release has sold me on the idea of wearing that special hat. Maybe I can even put a feather in it as decoration…wait, what is a spatula doing there??

    Thanks for the learning and the laughs, Shelley. 🙂

    • Ha! And yes, Sue, when I think of all the favors that could be bestowed upon the world by pressing delete on a slew of movie titles or books, or songs, or–uh oh, I’m starting to sound really old and censorious–but I really want all those minutes back!!
      (And it’s nice to have the opportunity to throw a learning moment your way, Sue. I owe you A LOT)

  12. Even though I’m not one for science, I’ve been more or less forced into knowing more about my brain. However, the technical terms slip my brain all the time. You see, although my disability is physical, it all starts at the brain. Not only do I have the obvious physical challenges, but I have the cognitive ones too. And the cognitive one are due to things physically wrong in my brain. Technology has been a blessing for me. So much of what I have problems with is helped by this science.

    • I’m so encouraged by what is happening in the fields of neuroscience and the advancement of unpacking The Brain. It’s nearly impossible to keep up with, but that, in and of itself, is also a marker of excitement. So many folks out there working to unravel mysteries and make advancements for debilitating diseases. It must be terribly frustrating to face the day with any kind of cognitive impairment, but from what I’ve read, Glynis, you are one tough cookie. And I look forward to the day when no one should have to suffer the harsh and unfair maladies that currently trouble the human head.
      Stay in the game, Glynis. Cheers

  13. Yikes – I think I’ll pass on the quick route to further knowledge – no fluent Chinese for me this lifetime! Reminds of that story No Flowers for Algernon which if I remember right, didn’t have the best ending for poor Charlie.

    • Oh, Jan. That is probably a perfect example–and one of my favorite stories. Good heavens, I certainly hope that wouldn’t be the results of any human advancement, although I’ve heard so many people debating the possibilities lately of humans becoming part cyborg. I’m not so sure how I feel about uploading info into my brain the same way my computer does. It’s a slow as molasses when infected with a virus–can you imagine what could happen to us if we were “hacked?”

  14. I’m all for learning new things more efficiently, as long as that information isn’t going to be curated by anyone but myself. 🙂 I mean, we could all turn into Voldemort with that sort of insatiability, and there’s something to be said for trying and failing for a person’s self-esteem.

    That said, SCIENCE! I once had a teacher who talked about abusing the functions of the brain to create fake memories in people. Like, if you tell a child enough times “Do you remember that ostrich on your 5th birthday?” eventually, the brain builds the memory to corroborate with what others are telling it is true. Sometimes, we even do it to ourselves with our natural embellishments in telling a story. Crazy stuff!

    • The topic of false memories is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve had a great deal of firsthand experience with it–long story, but suffice it to say, it’s a subject matter I’m drawn to whenever science uncovers new and interesting data to add to the body of research already present.
      But you’ve given me a really good idea, Alex. For my next birthday, I’m going to ask my family to–in place of gifts–repeatedly remind me of how wonderful it was to win the secret division of the National Book Award last year, and to remember not to discuss it with anyone outside the family, but boy, what an honor. 🙄

  15. you are commendable in the (seemingly somewhat never-ending) interest in matters scientiffick, be it wooskey or the the brain or the weather or most your posts where … you share the PONDER. and swivel your readers (all of whom you and Robb have deposited into swivel-chairs) for views of some of the possibilities ~
    (it really doesn’t ever really end)

  16. Dear Ms. Brain wave, Can you tell us why our children recall different facts about an event, than what we parents remember? Anyone who can wade through that much info about hippocampomi deserves to be listened to. The idea of brain waves communicating is very enticing, by the way. Cheers.

    • what J B W has said is becoming moreNmore a “problem” (and point where we (parents) try to AVOID contention). we’ll have to go to the Ætherial lie?brary and check out the Akashic (w)record …

    • Ooh, I could happily get used to that new moniker. (and this is actually kinda funny because I have a middle-grade novel coming out in August called Dear Opl, where Opl plays a blogger who dishes out advice. Ha!)
      Okay, yes I can, JB. According to Professor Carole Peterson, PhD, and her colleagues from Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland, it’s not until around age 10 that kids’ memories begin to crystallize. Before that, they have plenty of memories, but many of their earliest ones get replaced with the more current of their earliest memories.
      As far as their remembering events differently to their parents–children are notoriously unreliable narrators of events (which makes them delicious individuals for us writers to take advantage of when using them as narrators for that writing technique). Sometimes it’s simply the way a subject matter (a family vacation) is framed that can dramatically alter actual events. There is a slew of interesting studies on this as well. One common denominator in most of the studies on children and memories? Parents. They’re called in by the experts to verify the accuracy of the data provided by the children.
      Quick example of one study: kids age 4-7 are asked about their earliest memory and the answers are recorded. Two years later, they’re asked the same question. The majority of them will not only NOT remember the memory, but swear it never happened. This is repeated with age groups until around age 10 where the earliest memories begin to match each visit with the prior two years ago answer.
      Fascinating stuff, JB. (Hope you’re not sorry you asked. 🙂 )

      • what’s sorta scary (and duzzn’t abide by the boundary-condishunz yoove presented) is that our 30+ year-old-son’s and our recollexions of semi-current events don’t jive. maybe part of his brain (and/or ours?) is still in that 4-7 year-old range …

        • Okay, so maybe I add the well-known caveat regarding science and illuminate the fact that research can occasionally appear mercurial. Studies can’t conclusively determine whether eggs are good or bad for us. The brain is a box of surprises. It could end up being that in the future, scientists will discover that if you want to remember something correctly, you need to first eat an egg.

  17. My two favorite sentences in this post occurred back to back. “A reward was given to indicate a correct choice. It’s like when you try to teach your cat how to drive.” I got hung up wondering what the reward was and whether the critter test subjects were cats. Because they are not as good candidates for operant conditioning as one might think. My cat Jerome is probably already better driver than I am even without any lessons, but the usual “rewards” leave him cold. I think he is holding out for a shrimp cocktail with squid garnish.
    Love the amorous Hippocampus! I wonder how it got named?

    • If memory serves (and we all know now that it mostly doesn’t), I believe the research critters were monkeys who watched video slides on a monitor. Then, seeing the images altogether, identified which two were related. What was the reward? Probably an extra half hour of reality TV. Or free access to the salad bar at Applebees.
      And I wholly agree, Linnet. Speaking from the perspective of an individual who once tried to “show” her cat at the county 4H fair in front of a group of judges who could not stop shaking their heads as I took “Smokey” for draggies, I am fully aware of just how belligerent a feline can be. There were no ribbons for stupidity.

        • Yes. And I can’t believe I had the nerve to reveal that moment of my dorkish youth.
          I was also in the “horseless horse” showing league.
          Don’t ask, Linnet. Just let your mind take you there.

            • Well, we’re testing out the literary waters on the small fry critics first. If I can get two Twizzler sticks up from a ten-year-old, it may be safe to move into a bigger pond. Problem is, according to my agent, I have to do something really newsworthy to find success with a memoir–like poison someone accidentally, and then rescue them unknowingly, and then nearly die myself, but come out of it the other end with a missing kidney, a robotic arm and two engagement proposals from foreign princes.
              I’ve not told her about my 4H adventures though. That might qualify.

  18. This is one of those posts where the comments section is just as witty and entertaining as the original post 🙂
    I’ll just sit here chuckling to myself imagining my hippo and pre-cort sending random waves to each other hoping they eventually get the oscillation right.

  19. Hilarious and so witty…. I’d say that here is a reasonable reason explaining why we speak or better said called objects with a certain specific name> Brain waves!… As Prefrontal Cortez would say
    Apparently, if we are working on a task of learning to connect two objects to one another—like shoe and foot, or chair and table—our brain’s neurons are busily firing off. And, as a result, generate brain waves.
    I oscillate with short term memory… But I equally can remember old stuff easily… Is there an explanation for that.
    Oh and that the hippocampus, my brain relates it to a seahorse… ⭐
    Thanks for sharing! I much enjoyed it. All the best to you and happy Easter if you celebrate it. Aquileana 😀

    • So, Aquileana, you’re saying that you can remember things that happened fifteen minutes ago as easily as those that took place fifteen years ago? The explanation? I’m guessing, just like the many half human/half gods you write about in your blog, you too must have descended from some extraordinary stock. Is there something you’ve been holding out on the rest of us? Maybe you’ve got some exceptional brain food in your diet? Now you’ve got me thinking.
      And envious.

      • You crack me up… Well it is quite a random thing… But I can remember details of things that took place many years ago, including what the feelings involved and forget more recent episodes… Overall, I am just an ordinary gal… so as to say… But my memory abilities might be odd!! 🙂 best wishes. Aquileana 😀

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