|Neurohacking Tutorial 16 -Working memory & Executive functions|
|Neurohacking - Tutorials|
|Written by NHA|
|Friday, 12 February 2016 11:00|
Tags NHAR2 - tutorials - neurohacking - executive functions - working memory - self control - strategy - planning
NHA Tutorial 16
Working memory & executive functions
[updated February 2016]
In Tutorial 15 we looked at the executive processes of judgment and decision making. In this tutorial we are going to learn more about network 6, working memory and some other executive functions; planning, strategizing, coordination and executive control. To explore these we will need to understand more about functional networks (as opposed to anatomical networks), so we're exploring those in greater depth in terms of how they function within executive processing. We're also going to take a closer look at Golden Rule 6; 'Always do things in the right order', which has emerged from a simple concrete concept to a rule underlying all development and all behavior on all levels.
By the end of this tutorial you should understand:
how network 6 operates to coordinate input and output
how working memory functions
what executive functions are and what can impair them
how to plan effectively and form successful strategies
why doing things in the right order is so essential
the nature of executive control
how directed attention and self programming can enhance executive functions
follow the right habit
Executive functions enable us to judge, decide, plan, organize, strategize and problem-solve.
There is as yet (2016) no consensus in the field of neuroscience on which specific mental functions are categorized as 'executive' and which are considered 'supportive but not executive', so if you go searching online you will find several contradictory lists of executive functions.
Those most often included are working memory, planning, strategy, decision making, coordination and executive direction (aka 'executive control' or self control). Some lists include network 4 and 5 skills, such as intellect and creativity. We have examined some of these abilities in previous tutorials, and will be looking at several more in this tutorial.
The important thing to remember from the start is that executive functions, like any other function, require good habits of use in order to develop and function well.
Neural pathways operate like muscles. They get stronger with use and weaker when neglected. Adopting good habits is nothing more than consistently using good input to strengthen pathways.
Feeling, knowing, doing
It's a delusion to believe that we can change habits overnight or in a short amount of time. Generally, it won’t work, and it should be clear by now why not. If it’s a bad habit we’ve strengthened over many years, we can’t just drop it; our brain has been well-trained to execute that habit when triggered by the environment or an internal thought. So when replacing it with a good habit we have to strengthen the new habit methodically over time just like muscles. Sometimes there will be snapback and we need tenacity and determination to maintain progress.
We also need self-direction to begin the new habits in the first place and remind us to practice them later. Executive functions include self direction.
Having the awareness of the necessity for change and the intent to change, understanding how habits work, and using self direction to change them – these are our tools in the potential for change. To upgrade habits permanently we must use all three together; emotion, cognition and interaction (feeling, knowing, doing).
The combination of input for medial networks, frontal networks and rear networks is what makes for powerful self suggestion techniques and rapid beneficial change.
This is what is to be expected during the process of change -we change the way we feel about something, we change our minds, and we change our behavior. If any one of these three is missing, change will not be so rapid.
When these three are employed together, the more times we do something, the less resistance we’ll have to doing it again. On top of that we need to maintain attention -without it, old habits will interrupt the smooth running of new.
Every major success can be traced back to initial small, minor moves; often just to one decision, which leads us into a transition or a turning point. Start small; don't dive into the deep end by immediately challenging the biggest, most annoying habit you have until you've had some practice. Remember that the details don't matter -what we are practicing is the method of change; the process itself. Let your brain get used to the process of change before changing anything major.
When choosing replacement habits, don't judge anything before actually doing it. Often, imagining what a load of hassle or how hard something is going to be puts us off even starting. If we remove anxiety's prophecy of doom and look at reality (ie, what it actually feels like to be really doing it, whatever it is,) we will learn that pre-judging a task in an anxious way or thinking about how awful it will be often creates more hassle and anxiety than actually doing the task.
A lot of people miss out on things such as mathematics, dancing, gardening, eating oysters or (most particularly) sufficient communicating, because they assume they will not enjoy these activities or that they will be too stressful; without giving themselves a chance to find out the truth. This leads to holding ourselves back, restricting our activities and development, due to anxiety.
If your imagination is pre-judging a task before it has experience of it, remind it that you are a rational being who would like to do the experiment and get the evidence and decide for yourself, rather than assuming any unproven conclusions.
Remember that developmental change happens naturally in stages. This is true of learning any new skill, including new habits. Development in stages means that progress is not linear -in other words improvement comes in 'waves' -we may experience sudden rapid improvements followed by periods of slow improvement. During 'slow' times, we'll be acutely aware of it, and when we go a while without apparently making much progress, we can get discouraged and practice slows, and the bad habits start to creep back.
When the bad habits raise their heads and snapback happens, that's just the time for energetic practice of the good habits! These are the times we need tenacity to maintain practice, determination that anxiety is not going to take us over and that we are going to carry on moving forward. If you feel bad during these times, do something good. Anything will do. Smile at somebody. Water a plant. Stretch and walk about. Look at some landscapes. Listen to some positive music. Watch comedy. Do somebody a favor, and you're helping yourself as well. The worst anxiety-raiser of all is sitting still and mulling over problems, wallowing in sentiment or prophesying doom. You can walk AND chew gum, right? Then walk. Use your body as a tool to support your mind and take it outside to look at the sky or trees.
If you tend to get caught up in wallowing in sentiment, or find yourself deliberately provoking rows or moaning, this is a warning that your mind is under-employed. It's looking for a way to get stimulation from good input, and probably feels emotionally deprived. If it's not given anything better to do, and has learned the habit of invoking fake emotional 'rushes' to make life seem more interesting, conflict will follow. A shouting match is 'better' than no interaction at all. You're probably in an impoverished environment if this happens, but the thing is it's up to YOU to do something about that. That's what self-direction is all about.
Habitual practices influencing plasticity is the framework that learning and development are built upon, and different habits take different amounts of time to change in the same way that different subjects take different amounts of time to learn about. Start out by introducing a new habit before giving anything up (such as, drinking just one glass of clean, additive-free water per day.) Experiment with this new habit -is it easier to remember if you do it at a regular time, or if you do it whenever you feel thirsty? How many days did it take for you to forget one? Is there a pattern to remembering and forgetting? Would it be easier if you had a strategy, such as ticking a date on the calendar when you've had your daily glass?
This sort of practice at directing the process is very useful because you learn a lot about yourself and become aware of what to watch out for personally when changing habits. It will also enable you to understand the process of change from the perspective of real life experience, and you only need to learn that process once. Don't focus on the details of individual habits; when you've got the process, you can apply it to any habits.
Mistakes are valuable in practice as they allow us to figure out why a particular approach did not work. When we learn why something failed, we can improve our strategy for next time. Even those who have no strategy can succeed with constant trial and error as long as they continue to try new ideas. Most of us are simply conditioned to be too scared about making mistakes to try anything different, and this too is a bad habit.
Changing habits is goal-directed behavior. Working memory (WM) refers to the temporary retention of information that was just experienced or just retrieved from long-term memory but no longer exists in the external environment. These internal representations are short-lived, but can be stored for longer periods of time through active maintenance or rehearsal strategies, and can be subjected to various operations that manipulate the information in such a way which makes it useful for goal-directed behavior.
WM is a process which works in synchrony with many other executive skills and is fairly ubiquitous in higher processing. It enables everything from the expression of our personality to our scientific endeavors. Awareness of the processes of working memory may also be the closest we get to consciously observing ourselves thinking; as it must respond in real time to input and direct output control. It may be analogized as the bridge of our 'starship mind', from which we can view the main screen (what's boldly going on out there) and all the databases relevant to our endeavors (information about what's boldly gone on before and what might boldly go on in the future).
Naturally we might expect such a place to hold all the essential information for us to coordinate in order to navigate successfully through reality. But we should not think it any more 'important' than, say, the engine room or defense systems. As Captain, we have directive control over all of it, including working memory.
Methods such as meditation can strongly affect working memory, and so can drugs; (in fact, as anyone who has ever gotten too drunk or stoned or anxious knows, it's fairly easy to turn off working memory entirely by accident.)
Since working memory serves coordination, self direction, output control, and a wealth of other executive functions, it's important to bear this in mind. WM relies on focused attention or mindfulness of events in the here and now. Attention is what holds awareness together. Paying attention is choosing one path of thought and deciding not to pay attention to anything that conflicts with it. The world outside of it becomes unfocused. If we can’t pay attention effectively, we don't have reliable working memory.
A focused mind knows the best interactions we can take right now. And that's all development ever requires.
planning & strategizing
Only by discovering our innate, personal skills and developing and executing them to optimal potential can we utilize our minds to get the greatest amount of satisfaction and enjoyment out of life in everything we do. Personal strategic planning can give us the highest rewards for our efforts and is the starting point in getting the best out of ourselves.
There is an amount of semantic overlap between these two terms. 'Plan' comes from the term for a smooth, flat place where everything is clear, distinct, laid out and easy to see. 'Strategy' literally means, 'stratos' ('that which is spread out') and usually refers to a specific long-term plan for success in stages.
One could argue that planning is about deciding what to do, while strategizing is about deciding exactly how to do it, but the terms are often interchanged because 'strategizing' could be looked upon as designing a plan. Does this remind you of the relationship between judgment and decision? In a similar way, our chosen strategy may both depend upon previous plans and cause us to make new ones.
Alternatively, we can imagine that a plan is the 'what & where' material/spatial map of a given territory, and our strategy is how we intend to interact with it and navigate through it in terms of energy and time.
For example, a shopping plan is a list of what we intend to get and where it may be acquired; whereas our shopping strategy is about which place to go in what order and when, for maximal time-saving/ hassle-avoiding and minimal energy wastage.
Personal strategic planning is based on the fact that the most essential and valuable thing that you have to bring to your life and to your work is your ability to think intelligently; to interact and to get results. And the way you develop your personal skills and use your energy and time will largely determine the quality and quantity of your rewards; material, emotional and psychological; concrete and abstract. We'll be going into more detail about this later on in this tutorial.
It has become clear from recent research that higher level cognitive abilities not only develop in an hierarchical manner, with more complex abilities relying on previous, simpler processing skills, and abstract processing networks recruiting concrete networks; but that they also function hierarchically in terms of processing. This makes sense in context of our overall development; everything is built from the bottom up. Once the structure of intelligence is established, however, it is able to effect control from the bottom up AND top down to direct its own development, and our frontal lobe wiring reflects this; showing a two-way flow of information via dedicated 'busses'; rear-to-front and front-to rear respectively.
To make the system easier to understand, it's best to think of them as the 'input route' and the 'output route'. Alternatively you can use the analogy of the 'producers cut' and the 'directors cut' to grasp the concept of what is going on.
The input route is laid out from rear to front, and we find frontal systems for processing complex abstract information (such as what to say), recruiting earlier sensorimotor, spatial and emotional network wiring for processing concrete sensorimotor information (such as how to speak).
The output route is laid out conversely from front to rear, and here rear networks receive direction from frontal nets and executive decisions modulate and coordinate (or they should) everything that we say, think, decide, remember and do. N6 must ultimately coordinate all input and output in a coherent manner while making sense of it all by performing operations on it in between. We'll take a closer look at this two-way processing flow later.
We are biologically designed to become ever more self-directing in our lives, and all of our executive skills develop with our biological goals in mind. By coordinating multiple skills in a directed way, the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts.
However, those 'parts' do have to be there in order to be used, and this is why the Golden Rule, 'Always do things in the right order' becomes most obvious to us here, when looking at the full spectrum of our development and learning how we integrate those parts in an hierarchical manner.
Hierarchical processing does not mean that the networks 'at the top/front' are 'in charge'. The whole brain functions in the service of the intelligence in charge of it; which should be you, as represented by your mind. Networks provide the potential for multiple skills, but our 'software' must direct how to combine and use those skills for the best results in ongoing dynamic circumstances. The captain of the ship is you; via your brain. It shouldn't be the other way round. Whether we like the responsibility or not, our brain is designed in order that we should be the navigators and directors of its interaction.
Direction does not mean 'control over'; it means modulation from within; control within the given realm of possibility; like embodiment. All control must go through the designated channels. Direction can only come from outside the system if the system is in the process of learning and seeking such direction, or if the system is being hacked (conditioned) by someone/something other than ourselves.
Programs have to respond to programs, and conditioning programs such as counterfeit games always cause problems for processing, because the mind is designed to compute based on the truth about reality. We cannot blame the machine for obeying dodgy commands if things go wrong; we need to take responsibility, overwrite conditioning, and sharpen our own self programming skills. We need to become what we are meant to be.
The important thing to grasp about coordination is that the brain is biologically designed for the mind to direct it, but directive control develops in stages through practice (exactly as it does when we are learning motor skills). Full development implies full directive control within the boundaries of physical possibility. These boundaries may not be so limited as we have previously assumed, and we will be exploring the details of psychology affecting biology in the next tutorial.
Like any other executive ability, self direction is (or should become) smooth and habitual, and if we are not in the habit of doing it, it can seem confusing (and even quite scary) at first. If you remember what it was like when you first learned to ride a bike, or swim, you'll recognize the sort of feeling we mean. With more practice comes competence, as with any other skill.
for you - doing things in the right order
Biology has an evolved genetic blueprint for the survival and thriving of every species. If it is honored, nurtured and respected, development takes place at an optimal rate.
Before we consider augmenting executive skills, we have to make sure they have the wiring necessary to support them; in fact developing these may be the fastest way to naturally augment N6.
Development is stage-specific; not age-specific; so this affects the time factor of our learning rather than the possibility of learning itself. Certainly there are optimal 'windows of opportunity' during which specifics (such as language) are most easily and quickly comprehended, but that doesn't mean we cannot work outside those windows; it simply means that doing so will take somewhat longer practice. For example, we can still learn a new language at any age, but it takes somewhat longer than it would have when we were three years old.
However, the correct order of stages must be honored, or learning will not succeed. We cannot learn to run before we have learned to walk and we cannot learn to walk until we have grown legs. It seems blindingly obvious in the concrete world that we cannot easily build a roof on a house with only one wall, yet we are often conditioned into ignoring this rule where brain networks are concerned. And with brain networks, structural failure = functional failure, as surely as it would with a one-walled house.
The fact is, anatomical networks provide the complex architectural foundation that promotes dynamic interactions between network nodes, which gives rise to functional networks (we'll be learning more about those below). The issue is that the connectivity patterns of structural (anatomical) networks forming in stages determines which functional networks CAN emerge.
against you - doing things in the wrong order
Hothousing networks is not an evil per se – it is perfectly acceptable to deliberately enhance any mature or maturing network with regular practice; to extend and stretch its limits in order to keep performance high. However, employing hothousing techniques to an immature network is dangerous and can be disastrous.
Cautious enhancement of naturally-developing networks requires a high degree of self awareness and clear evidence of current states of development (for example, brain scans, functional analyses, or tracking other indicators of brain growth-spurt timing); however, attempting to increase the density of a network not yet genetically primed for development and not yet having the supporting density of networks required for its performance always slows down our overall rate of development (while displaying a facile, short-term, counterfeit 'cleverness' in whatever network was targeted).
Most of us reading this have probably had intensive Network 5 hothousing in the past, due to our schooling or other conditioning, and there are, therefore, development-level as well as physical age considerations to be made before proceeding with any enhancement of frontal networks. It cannot, for example, be safely concluded that because we are a particular physical age, we must have comparable mental development. There are plenty of people out there with a mental maturity decades behind their physical maturity.
There are many methods in these tutorials to help ascertain current development levels in networks, so we will not repeat them here; what needs to be remembered is that as far as science is able to tell, nobody has optimal development.
What happens when we try to develop a network before it has sufficient supporting networks? Staying with the learning to walk analogy, imagine trying to use legs with insufficient supporting musculature. Instead of stretching and relaxing (which is what builds networks; muscular or otherwise) we are straining the limited resources currently available, and injury or breakdown usually follows (this is why a 'first class education' is so often followed by a first class nervous breakdown.)
The reality of wrong input conditioning is more complex than this. To analogize it, we would have to imagine an outside conditioning force determined to force us to use our legs not for walking (as intended) but for waving in the air in complicated movements while we lie on our backs. Constantly practicing these movements choreographed and taught by the conditioners takes up all of our time, so that walking is never learned. Eventually the behavior becomes habitual and nobody can walk. But nobody notices, because everyone else is doing it, as they were taught by their parents and teachers and so on infinitum. It has become 'just the way we do things round here'. This is how wrong input prevents development -it usurps the systems required for that development and uses them to serve the needs of the counterfeit game.
What happens when front nets are hothoused is that they develop one or two of their abilities (for example, repeating words parrot-fashion) as specialities in service of the game, at the expense of all the other abilities those nets would have been capable of if allowed to develop as intended.
This is why so many adults cannot reason, use formal operations and have sparse executive function. We are too busy doing all the stuff we were not designed by biology to be doing, thinking in the limited and inefficient ways that conditioning systems require. We are so busy trying to be fictional 'ideal selves' that we have no time left to practice being our real selves. This is why most abilities just don't develop in nets that are hothoused.
Added to that is the difficulty of hothoused networks recruiting (or trying to recruit) supporting nets which are not yet fully developed themselves. They too have no time to practice their skills and are left (sometimes permanently) inadequate to support higher processing. We wouldn't expect to be able to get up and run if we'd spent our lives on our backs waving our legs in the air, yet we regularly try to make our brains do this. Supporting networks remain only half-developed, yet are still expected to support complex processes.
Is it any wonder that we fall? In a very real sense, we abandon ourselves. We turn (blindly) away from our own development to serve the needs of our conditioners, ignoring our own feelings of growing unease and chronic unconscious anxiety. Until, one day, we wake up, struggle out from under the heap of conditioning control, break our strings, and become from that moment on no longer puppets, but real people.
At that point, we realize that we have to start honoring biology's intent and turn back to our own development, and doing things in the right order reveals that the fastest way to go forward is to go back and fill in the gaps in supporting nets' abilities, starting from the bottom up. Biology always drives us to do this, because it has absolute trust, born of millennia of hard-factual evolutionary experience, that if it proceeds along the developmental path in the right order, its own top down feedback will always come to meet it halfway.
DO IT NOW – test working memory
Count the number of letters A , B and C in the strings below without counting all the A's first then all the B's first etc. Start at the beginning of each string of letters and count them in a row without writing anything down. Working memory will have to keep three groups of numbers separate in your mind at the same time and add to those numbers as you continue counting all the way to the end.
Try not to use a system to help you in this. Just count one letter at a time and add the number to the appropriate group in your mind before you continue to the next letter. At the end of each row write down the answers.
Check your results by recounting in the traditional way (ie, all the 'a's first, and so on)
structure & function
Network 6 – more than the sum of its parts
As we might have expected, no single network controls executive functions, however, the greater part of executive processing takes place in network 6.
First let's locate the area we're referring to: Place the center of the palm of your hand over the centre of your forehead, resting the fingers naturally on top of your head. Network 6 is directly beneath your hand. Say Hi.
That's just the part of N6 that 'sits on top'. If you look at a brain from the top (or a picture of one, if you can’t find one lying about), you’ll notice a front-to-back crease between the hemispheres. It is called the Medial Longitudinal Fissure; the gap between hemispheres which is bridged by the Corpus Callosum; see diagram below. Down inside the frontal half of this division, and all around the frontal cortex, is network 6.
The medial longitudinal fissure (aka 'cerebral fissure', 'longitudinal fissure', or 'interhemispheric fissure'). Parts of three out of the four paired lobes of the brain border and extend down into the longitudinal fissure. These form the frontal cortex, which is located at the front of the brain, the parietal cortex at the top and upper sides of the brain, and the visual cortex, which is found at the back of the brain. Areas of cortex inside the fissure are known as 'medial' (eg ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC).
N6 is comprised of the Prefrontal cortex (PFC), Orbitofrontal cortex, Anterior cingulate gyrus, and a selection of internal areas which together form the structural core of our cerebral cortex and are found in the front half of our medial longitudinal fissure.
Regions of medial cortex. Those important for executive functions include frontal, orbitofrontal and cingulate; other regions house N3 components and supporting association areas (we'll talk about those soon).
Higher cognitive functions (aka executive functions) require the appropriate interactions of large scale functional networks modulated by monoaminergic neurotransmission systems. These structures participate in organizing flexible behaviors that can be readily adapted in volatile environments.
Executive functions (EF) is a broad term encompassing domains such as volition, planning and decision-making, purposeful interaction, self-regulation, and effective performance. Taken in total, a review of all recent studies with reliable sources presents a selection of interrelated executive function domains (categories), as follows:
functions serving interaction & learning
functions serving strategy & prediction
functions serving judgment & decision making
functions serving output control ('self direction')
functions serving working memory
functions serving flexible thinking
However, most executive functions serve multiple domains.
DO IT NOW – match functions to domains
Consider the list of functions below and work out how many of the six categories above they are serving. Some, like working memory, will be serving all categories, others may be more specialized.
mindfulness (as in, awareness of what's going on and where we are in relation to that)
insight (is to N6 what intuition is to N3)
prediction (from probability calculations)
recall (from any memory database)
self awareness & self monitoring
coding of intended behaviors & outcomes
After viewing this list it's obvious why a diverse set of brain regions is involved in executive functioning, however the frontal lobes have long been considered to 'probably' provide the principal neural substrate. Advances in neuroimaging have now provided the tools for assessing directly the neuronal basis of executive functions, and it's becoming more obvious that these complex processes are in fact subsumed by distributed circuitry rather than discrete structures; coordinated throughout by N6 and N3.
(BA = 'Brodmann Areas')
Within these frontal regions, the division between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex(dlPFC; yellow) and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC; green) is critical in understanding two distinct types of abilities subsumed under the term executive functioning: ‘‘metacognitive executive functions’’ and ‘‘emotional/motivational executive functions,’’ respectively.
Metacognitive executive functions are those which organize and monitor goal-directed behavior. These functions include abilities assessed by traditional clinical and laboratory measures of executive functioning (e.g., planning, response inhibition, working memory).
The dlPFC is involved with 'online' processing of information such as integrating and coordinating different dimensions of cognition and behavior. As such, this area has been found to be associated with verbal and design fluency, cognitive flexibility, planning, response inhibition, working memory, organisational skills, reasoning, problem solving and abstract thinking in general.
The Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) is involved in emotional control, experience, coordination and integration. Associated cognitive functions include inhibition of inappropriate responses, decision making and motivated behaviors.
The Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) plays a key role in impulse control and output control; monitoring ongoing behavior and appropriate behaviors. It also has roles in prediction and review; for example representing the value of rewards based on sensory stimuli and evaluating subjective emotional experiences.
Executive functions (EFs) enable us to plan, organize, strategize and problem-solve, but ultimately they are all dedicated to interaction; this being our best plan for ongoing successful progress. EFs are mainly concerned with the dynamic, "online" coordination of cognitive resources, and do not always fully engage outside of real-world situations.
There are three main cognitive strategies in higher processing as mentioned above —strategic attention, integrated reasoning and strategic innovation. Each strategy builds on previous strategies and we need to integrate all steps when tackling problems.
Strategic attention requires filtering out competing information that is irrelevant and focusing only on important information.
Integrated reasoning generates interpretations, themes or generalized statements from information we want or need to know.
Strategic innovation uses creativity and intellect to invent new ways of doing things and new ideas, and when using it we are able to temporarily disconnect information about past experience from decision-making circuits.
Research has revealed that we achieve this by manipulating the level of norepinephrine in the anterior cingulate cortex. Increasing norepinephrine in the region enables more random, innovative behavior and suppresses the cautious strategic mode. Inhibiting release of the hormone has the opposite effect. It has been proposed that ACh and NE signal 'expected uncertainty' and 'unexpected uncertainty', respectively, in the ACC to coordinate diverse sensory, motor, and cognitive processes important for sequential learning.
Higher cognitive functions emerge from, and are constrained by, core structural anatomical and functional networks of the brain. Current research suggests that a crucial organizing principle of the brain is its corticostriatal circuitry, intimately linking regions of the frontal cortex (N6) to striatal structures, via the thalamus and globus pallidus (N3). This model suggests a functional, as well as anatomical, connectivity between frontal cortex and striatum. Posterior cortical areas, as well as prefrontal and medial regions, are selectively recruited by increasing cognitive demands. This has led to the understanding that executive function depends not just on the prefrontal cortex in isolation, but on the intact functioning of corticostriatal circuitry mediated by dopaminergic neurotransmission.
This is the most important thing to remember about Network 6 - it never works alone; the frontal lobes have multiple anatomical connections to cortical, and (via network 3) to subcortical and brain stem sites. The basis of "higher-level" cognitive functions such as directed inhibition, flexibility of thinking, problem solving, planning, impulse control, concept formation, abstract thinking, etc., most often arise from and utilize the same networks as much simpler, "lower-level" forms of cognition and behavior. The thalamus for example adds contextual information to visual signals which is essential for visual perception prior to frontal processing (which needs that contextual information in order to assign meaning).
Thus the term 'Central Executive Network' (CEN) does not mean only Network 6, just as the term 'Core Processing Unit' (CPU) does not mean only one circuit or component on a motherboard.
Nor does it make sense when studying executive function to map individual structures to functions, as many 'brain mappers' are attempting to do; any more than it makes sense to ask, 'which part of the CPU does this software use?' or to MRI-scan a calculator in order to try to see 'where all the numbers live.'
Higher processing functions require the recruiting of sections of many (and sometimes all) networks; those recruited in a given moment depending on the specific tasks the CPU is called upon to do. It could be argued that N1&2 mostly support N3, and N4&5 mostly support N6, but biology isn't quite that tidy and in reality all networks could be equally viewed as 'nested' or ultimately supporting N6. Overall, N6 works mostly with N3 to set up 'functional networks'; which perform higher processing tasks using the rest of the recruited networks as supporting processors; thus it is functionally expedient to think of N6-N3 as a 'higher processing construct', located within the medial longitudinal fissure and adjacent subcortical areas, and this construct is what we mean by the brains CPU.
The CEN on the other hand is the 'Central Executive Network'; one of the functional (as opposed to anatomical) networks the CPU constructs.
Evidence of cross-modal neural interactions is causing a new paradigm to emerge in cognitive neuroscience that moves beyond the simplistic mapping of cognitive functions onto individual brain networks or areas, and emphasizes instead the coordinated function of brain areas working together dynamically as large-scale functional networks.
You will recall functional networks from tutorial 12, where we discussed the difference between small scale ('LAN') anatomical networks (such as N2, N3, N4 etc), and large scale functional networks. Here's a recap: Large-scale networks (or 'Functional networks') are not the same as anatomical networks; they are more like main routes on the internet; they unify local area networks so that they can function (and connect) together in a dynamic, essentially temporary, manner. They include the information highways between networks and parts of networks recruited for coordinated tasks; and it helps to think of them as circuits or pathways.
The main difference between functional networks and anatomical networks has a nice analogy in hardware design. A piece of tech such as a phone is internally consistent; all of the hardware parts are in contact with each other all the time, regardless of whether or not information is passing between them. As soon as we get a call, however, a functional network is created between ourselves, our phone, the nearest cellphone access towers, satellite links, somebody elses phone and (if they pick up) somebody else. This functional network remains connected until the end of the call, when it is disconnected and discarded. Now imagine attaching an external battery charger to the phone and plugging the charger into your house mains. You've just created a different functional network; between your phone and the power grid; one that's used only when the phone battery requires a charge.
Functional networks in the brain can be defined in the same way; based on 'temporary but consistent' structural connectivity, or functional interdependence. Functional interdependence refers to joint activity in different brain structures that is co-dependent under variation of a functional or behavioral parameter.
The emergence of large-scale functional brain networks provides a mappable structure or pattern of connected brain areas that facilitates signaling along preferred pathways in the service of specific cognitive functions. In other words, large-scale dynamic structural networks provide a temporary anatomical frame within which functional interactions can take place, and the patterning of structural network connectivity indicates which types of interaction are possible from each configuration.
(front of brain is at top)
Our CPU excels at creating, using and maintaining functional networks. Research suggests that brain networks have evolved to maximize the number and diversity of functional interaction patterns (functional motifs), while minimizing the number of structural connectivity patterns (structural motifs). Component brain areas of large-scale functional networks perform different roles, some acting as controllers that direct the engagement of other areas and others contributing specific sensory or conceptual content to network operations.
How executive functions emerge
Recent developments in the study of these large-scale dynamic networks are leading to a new understanding of the neural underpinnings of cognition; by revealing how complex cognitive functions emerge from these interactions within and between distributed brain systems.
The brain has evolved to provide survival value to our species by allowing (or rather, insisting on) adaptation and variation. This means individual species members are able to behave in ways that accommodate a wide variety of environmental contingencies, performing different interactional behaviors under different sets of conditions.
Every fragment of a second, a specific set of conditions must be analyzed by the perceptual apparatus of the brain and sets of percepts must be combined with learned concepts to create a ‘solution’ to the immediate problem of understanding the environment and interacting appropriately.
Collections of interconnected brain areas interact dynamically in concert to produce these coordinated solutions, as well as corresponding behaviors and emotions. A large-scale functional network can therefore be defined as a collection of interconnected brain areas which interact to perform circumscribed functions. Functional networks in the brain exert coordinated effects on effector organs, subcortical brain structures and distributed cortical areas during a host of different cognitive functions.
The form of functional networks (which bits are dynamically connected to which other bits) is unique to you; functional networks are epigenetically modified just like anatomical networks; that is to say they change throughout an individual’s lifespan and are uniquely shaped by maturational and learning processes within the large-scale neuroanatomical connectivity of each individual.
If you recall T12, you will remember that we studied three main functional networks (pictured above) in relation to their recruitment during the phases of creativity:
The Default Mode Network (DMN) (referred to sometimes as the Imagination Network - creativity open mode.)
The Task Positive Network (TPN) (sometimes called the Executive Attention Network - creativity closed mode.)
The Salience Network (SN) (constantly monitors both external events and the internal stream of consciousness and flexibly shifts our attention to whatever information is most salient to completing the current stage; important for dynamic switching between networks and modes.)
As we know, creativity and intellect support executive functions, so we should not be too surprised to find the same functional pathways involved in all high level processing. We review them here in context of their contribution to executive functions.
Default Mode Network (DMN)
The default mode network (enabling creativity 'open mode', memory defragmenting/consolidation, and 'relax' phases of the stretch/relax learning process) is most commonly shown to be active when we are not focused on the outside world and the brain is at wakeful rest; such as during daydreaming or mind-wandering, but also whenever we are thinking about others, thinking about ourselves, remembering the past, or planning for the future. In these states we are fully receptive to unconscious content.
Research shows that the DMN exhibits the highest overlap in its structural and functional connectivity, which suggests that the structural architecture of the brain may be built in such a way that this particular network is activated by default. Creativity 'open mode' is in fact the open mode for most executive processing, as the brain regards all input as requiring creative as well as intellectual operations.
Left & middle pics: Default mode network nodes. Right pic: Main regions of the default mode network (yellow) and connectivity between these regions color-coded by structural traversing direction (xyz -> rgb).
Contributions to executive functioning
information about ourselves:
Autobiographical information: Memories of collection of events and facts about one’s self.
Self-reference: Awareness of/referring to behaviors, attitudes and descriptions of ourselves
Emotional awareness of one’s self: Awareness of/reflecting about our own emotional state.
Thinking about others:
Theory of Mind: Thinking about the thoughts of others and what they might or might not know.
Emotions of other: Understanding the emotions of other people and empathizing with their feelings.
Moral reasoning: Determining just and unjust/helpful or harmful results of an action.
Cultural evaluations: Good-bad attitude judgments about cultural concepts.
Cultural assessment: Reflecting on important cultural characteristics and status of a group.
once and future focus:
Remembering the past: Recalling events that happened in the past.
Imagining the future: Envisioning events that might happen in the future.
Episodic memory: Detailed memories related to the specific unfolding of events through time.
Story comprehension: Understanding and remembering a narrative.
Studies have shown when people watch a movie, listen to a story, or read a story, that their DMNs are highly correlated with each other, suggesting that this functional network is highly involved in the comprehension and the subsequent memory formation of that story. The DMN is shown to even be correlated if the same story is presented to different people in different languages, further suggesting this network is truly involved in the comprehension aspect of the story and not just the auditory or language aspect.
The core DMN regions, including the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and WM regions are activated during preparation for tasks. During task execution, however, while WM regions are still activated, the DMN regions are deactivated and 'closed mode' may be employed along with the Central Executive network (see below). Research suggests that activation/deactiation of these network regions is affected by reallocation of attentional resources to the task relevant regions due to task demands.
The Central Executive network (which enables creativity 'closed mode', memory reconsolidation and the 'stretch' stages of the stretch/relax learning cycle) is routinely activated during any goal-directed task performance. It recruits the set of regions previously termed the “endogenous” or “dorsal attention system” (Inferior Parietal Sulcus, Frontal Eye Field), which are active during directed attention; and also dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal regions (dlPFC and vlPFC), the Insula, and the Supplementary Motor Area; activated by a variety of demanding cognitive tasks.
The Central Executive Network links N6 to N3 via the dorsolateral frontal and parietal neocortices, with subcortical coupling that is distinct from that of the salience network.
The CEN responds with activation increases to attention-demanding tasks. This functional network encompasses regions of the dorsal attention system, but in addition includes dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal regions, the insular cortex, and the Supplementary Motor area/pre-supplementary motor area.
Notably, the nodes of this network are also correlated during rest (i.e., in the absence of any conscious task). During rest the CEN has been claimed to subserve intermittent “external awareness”, defined as the conscious perception through different sensory modalities of one's surrounding environment. During sleep this may contribute to or initiate dreams.
contributions to executive functioning
The Insula is one of those specialized brain areas we do not appear to share with other mammals such as rats or monkeys. Much of the recent research of insula function has focused on its key role in the experience of emotion derived from feedback about bodily states, as the insula has been identified as a region involved in the executive control and modulation of natural unconscious intent.
The right Anterior Insula (AI) is active during a wide variety of tasks, including the subjective conscious awareness of both positive and negative feelings, judgments of trustworthiness, and sexual arousal. The AI has also been shown to be implicated in high-level cognitive defense processes such as deception. It is also implicated in empathy and the capacity to understand the emotions of others by sharing their affective states.
Recent research shows roles for the AI and Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) in complex cultural emotions including admiration for virtue, admiration for skill, and empathy for physical or psychological pain. The insula has also been implicated in emotional judgment, and a recent study shows that activity in bilateral AI underlies emotional weighting, decision-making related to risk or uncertainty, and resolution in working memory.
The insular cortex is purported to integrate external sensory and internal physiological signals with computations about their uncertainty. This integration is expressed as a dominant feeling state that modulates cultural and motivational behavior in conjunction with bodily homeostasis.
Salience Network (SN)
The salience network is a cingulate-frontal operculum network that includes core nodes in the anterior cingulate and anterior insula, and features extensive connectivity with subcortical structures involved in reward and motivation. This is a large-scale brain network involved in
detecting and orienting the most pertinent of the external stimuli and internal events being presented.
dACC = dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex; VLPFC = ventrolateral PFC; PAG = periaqueductal gray; HT = hypothalamus; TP = Temporal pole; DLPFC = dorsolateral PFC; AI = Anterior Insula; SLEA = sublenticular extended amygdala; dCN = dorsal caudate nucleus; antTHAL = Anterior Thalamus; dmTHAL = dorsomedial Thalamus; Put = Putamen; DMPFC = Dorsomedial PFC; pre-SMA = pre-supplementary motor area; SN/VTA = substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area.
Two independent control networks. The salience network (shown in red) is important for monitoring the saliency of external inputs and internal brain events, and the central executive network (shown in blue) is engaged in higher-order cognitive and attentional control.
Current theory postulates that the Insula is sensitive to salient events, and that its core function is to mark such events for additional processing and initiate appropriate control signals. The anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex form a “salience network” that functions to segregate the most relevant among internal and extrapersonal stimuli in order to guide behavior.
Contributions to executive functioning
The Salience Network plays an important role in attentional control. In context of the salience network, the insula plays a major role in detection of novel salient stimuli across multiple modalities. Both bottom–up and top–down interactions underlying attentional control are suggested by the relative timing of responses in the AI and ACC respectively, and it appears that the Anterior Insula plays a more prominent role in detection of salient stimuli, whereas the Anterior Cingulate Cortex plays a more prominent role in modulating responses in the sensory, motor, and association cortices. As part of a functionally coupled network, the AI and ACC help to integrate bottom–up attention switching with top–down control and filtering of sensory input.
The apparently disparate functions ascribed to the insula can thus be conceptualized by a few basic mechanisms:
(1) bottom–up detection of salient events
(2) switching between other large-scale networks to facilitate access to attention and working memory resources when a salient event is detected
(3) interaction of the anterior and posterior insula to modulate autonomic reactivity to salient stimuli
4) strong functional coupling with the anterior cingulate cortex that facilitates rapid access to the motor system. In this manner, with the insula as its integral hub, the salience network assists target brain regions in the generation of appropriate behavioral responses to salient stimuli. Research has shown that the right Anterior Insula plays a critical and causal role in switching between the two other major networks (the CEN and the DMN) known to demonstrate competitive interactions during cognitive information processing.
VMPFC = ventromedial Pre Frontal Cortex; PCC = Posterior Parietal Cortex; Al = Anterior Insula; ACC = Anterior Cingulate Cortex; DLPFC = dorsolateral Pre Frontal Cortex; PPC = Posterior Parietal Cortex;
Dynamic salience-mediated switching of large scale functional brain networks. The salience network (SN) plays a crucial role in dynamic switching between the Central Executive and Default Mode networks. The SN recruits the central executive and task control regions to maintain cognitive set and manipulate information in working memory while suppressing the Default Mode Network to keep attention focused on task-relevant goals.
Hierarchical cascades are complex and take time to fully understand. We have tried to present the basics here and will look further into executive processing in future tutorials.
We've looked at cascades before in the context of neurotransmission, and they proceed in the exactly the same way in a processing context; like a chain reaction of events, each stage initiated or triggered by the one before it.
Hierarchical processing imposes a specific order on cascade events through time and insists that we always do things in the right order. Hierarchical processing is an algorithm; a series of steps taken in a particular order that achieves a relevant output goal or solution.
Research suggests that both task-driven processes and behavior are reflections of the dynamic, ongoing organization of the brain into functional networks as described above.
However, large-scale functional network switching mechanisms can be thought of as the culmination of a cascade through an hierarchy of saliency filters in which each successive stage helps to attend to and modulate a stimulus in ways that support further processing within the CPU.
There is a clear shift of operational strategy where N3 merges with N6; noticeable in processing terms more easily than anatomical ones. Activity in premotor regions (middle frontal gyrus) is modulated by the 'density effect' (number of possible responses (N3)); whereas activity in the caudal PFC (inferior frontal gyrus) is modulated by the 'contextual effect' (number of tasks to be performed over a given period of time (N4/N5)); and activity in the rostral PFC (inferior/middle frontal gyrus) is instead modulated by the 'episodic' effect (amount of information provided by each successive instructional cue(N6)).
Several lines of evidence have led to the proposal that the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) is organized along its front-to-rear axis from representing more abstract, temporally broad information (frontal), to more concrete, immediate information (rear). This organization appears to be hierarchical, with higher-level frontal regions biasing or manipulating the information provided by lower-level rear regions, but not vice versa.
The lateral PFC and regions communicating with it appear to be arranged as a set of nested, interacting components, with concrete information being transformed into increasingly abstract representations at each subsequent processing stage, with high-level contextual and goal-driven information being used to manipulate the flow of this processing stream.
In short, the lateral frontal cortex (LFC) is organized to facilitate a cascade of executive processes involving three levels of cognitive control, implemented in distinct LFC areas from premotor to prefrontal regions.
This pattern of “temporal nesting” strongly implicates the cascade model of processing that is currently (2016) proposed as an organizing principle of prefrontal cortex function. The most recent research shows a sequential cascade of frontal brain regions involved in maintaining attentional sets in order to arrive at a goal. In sequence, the model assumes the involvement of the posterior dlPFC, the mid-DLPFC, and the posterior and anterior dorsal ACC.
Red = lateral frontopolar cortex; yellow = dorsolateral PFC; green = ventrolateral PFC; lilac = anterior premotor cortex; purple = premotor cortex.
Hierarchical 'cascade' models of processing. The rostro–caudal axis of the PFC supports a directional hierarchical cascade whereby posterior-to-anterior PFC regions mediate progressively abstract, higher-order control. Increasingly anterior regions of the N6-N3 axis tend to represent increasingly abstract or meta-level processing.
The first part of this cascade begins when the posterior dlPFC creates an appropriate attentional set, or rules for the brain to accomplish the current goal. Then the mid-dlPFC selects the representation that will fulfil the goal. To accomplish this, the information weighted as 'task-relevant' must be separated from other sources of information in the task. Spatial and contextual categorization separate data into associated patterns.
The posterior dorsal ACC is next in the cascade, and it is responsible for response selection -this is where a decision is made about which patterns are appropriate.
Following the response, the anterior dorsal ACC is involved in response evaluation, that is, deciding whether the decision was correct or incorrect. Activity in this region increases when the probability of an error is higher. It's keeping a lookout for errors by maintaining attention. The processing activity of any of the regions involved in this model depends on the efficiency of processing in the areas that came before them. For example if the dlPFC imposes a lot of control on the response, the ACC will require less activity.
Lateral premotor regions select motor actions in response to incoming stimuli, which is biased by “context” processing in the caudal lPFC, which is itself biased by goal-related “episodic” and temporal processing in the rostral lPFC. Specifically, posterior (premotor) regions of PFC maintain sensory information, while slightly more frontal regions (caudal PFC) maintain task information and the most frontal regions (rostral PFC) maintain episodic/temporal information.
Other prominent research reveals similar parallel interactions along the medial axis of the frontal cortex, suggesting that a cascade of processes between the anterior PFC, dorsolateral PFC, and Premotor Cortex guides behavior in accordance with past context (based on the temporal (episodic) order in which stimuli occur), the present perceptual context (contextual), and current stimuli (sensorimotor) associations, respectively.
The most frontal regions are responsive to information with the longest temporal impact (or requiring longer maintenance in working memory), whereas more posterior regions are also responsive to information with the most current impact (or requiring shorter maintenance).
Another way of interpreting this is that each PFC region is segregated on the basis of temporal structure, with more anterior regions representing information that spans temporal episodes of longer duration; with output processing becoming more and more specific to the current interaction as it travels from anterior to posterior PFC, and less specific to the broader context or 'big picture' in which the interaction is taking place.
To help us understand this in terms of signaling, we're going to zoom in and look at some of the details supporting this system.
Signaling & processing
Input and output in the brain consists of binary signals. Each sensory system uses parallel, hierarchical processing pathways. At the bottom end, six properties of sensory signals affect processing. Here's the menu:
Sensory modality is determined by the stimulus energy type. Various sensory receptors have different morphologies and organization, and each receptor type is most sensitive to a particular type of stimulus. Different receptors transduce specific types of energy into electrical signals (action potentials), with each receptor responding to a narrow range of stimulus energy. The brain thus associates a signal coming from a specific group of receptors with a specific modality. This direct association between a receptor and a sensation modality is called 'labeled line coding'.
The spatial distribution of sensory neurons activated by a stimulus conveys information about the stimulus location. Each sensory receptor is most sensitive to stimulation of a specific area, which defines the receptor’s 'receptive field' (RF).
A receptive field has a 'center +surround' architecture; for example, the receptive field of a single photoreceptor in the eye is a cone-shaped volume comprising all the visual directions in which light will alter the firing of that cell.
The size of neuronal receptive fields representing a given area determines our capacity to discriminate stimuli in this area. The RF is typically defined by mean firing rate, but sensory receptive fields vary in size and frequently overlap. Convergence of inputs onto a single sensory neuron enhances that neurons sensitivity, but reduces its spatial resolution. The signal processing properties of neurons are linked to their RF properties, and RF size usually increases in higher processing centers.
When action potentials are elicited from a sensory neuron, the neuron’s receptive field codes the stimulus location. Lateral inhibition enhances the contrast between the stimulus and its surroundings, facilitating its perception and localization (when a cell fires, those directly around it are suppressed). Sensory neuronal receptive fields are organized in cortical sensory areas to form topographical maps. The location of a stimulus is coded according to which group of neurons is active.
Receptive fields from somatosensory, visual and auditory modalities first converge in N2 to form a two-dimensional multisensory map of the external world. Here, objects straight ahead are represented caudally and objects on the periphery are represented rostrally. Similarly, locations in superior (higher) sensory space are represented medially, and inferior (lower) locations are represented laterally.
Specifically, the superior colliculus (SC) integrates information to create an output that differs from the sum of its inputs before passing the data to N3. Following a phenomenon labeled the ‘spatial rule’, neurons are excited if stimuli from multiple modalities fall on the same or adjacent receptive fields, but are inhibited if the stimuli fall on disparate fields. Excited neurons may then proceed to innervate various muscles and neural structures to orient an individual’s behavior and attention toward the stimulus.
Neurons in the SC also adhere to a 'temporal rule’, in which stimulation must occur within close temporal proximity to excite neurons. However, due to the varying processing time between modalities and the relatively slower speed of sound to light, it has been found the neurons may be optimally excited when stimulated some slight time apart.
Multisensory functional maps are transformed into 3D 'models' in network 3. The basic organization throughout the ascending pathway for tactile, taste and visual input is the topographical organization ("topographical map") initially established by peripheral receptors. Topographic maps maintain the continuity of our sensory space.
Auditory and olfactory information is not subject to the topographical localization rule. For these sensory modalities, the brain uses the timing difference in receptor activation to compute the source location of sounds or odors.
The number of receptors activated determines density calculations in N3 (this is 'population coding'). The density of sensory receptors and the size of receptive fields determine the resolution of sensory systems.
Density calculations modulate intensity calculations (see below)
timing(stimulus duration patterns )
Stimulus timing can be coded by the spike train duration, but not many sensory receptors can sustain their responses. The neural code best reflects changes in stimulation over time, rather than the monitoring of a steady state.
The number of action potentials per second determines frequency calculations. The relationship between increases in frequency of firing and (for example) pressure on the skin is linear. Frequency calculations modulate intensity calculations (see below), where frequency of firing indicates the energy of a sensory input.
Stimulus intensity is coded by: The number of receptors activated (density) + the frequency of action potentials, over time. (Population coding + frequency coding / time) (d+f/t). The neural coding of stimulus intensity is faithfully transmitted from the peripheral receptors to the cortical centers that mediate sensation.
Multisensory (aka multimodal) neurons, sensitive to input from various modalities, exist in a large number of locations, often integrated with unimodal neurons (which process only input of one modality). They have recently been discovered in areas previously thought to be modality specific, such as the somatosensory cortex; as well as in clusters at the borders between the major cerebral lobes, such as the occipito-parietal space and the occipito-temporal space.
Multisensory neurons integrate sensory input from different modalities ('multisensory integration'), enabling multimodal perception. Multimodal perception describes how we form congruous, accurate, and coherent ongoing perception by coordinating sensory stimuli from various modalities. Our brain must correctly assess whether to integrate or segregate certain groups of temporally coincident sensory signals; guided by the degree of spatial, structural and contextual congruity of those stimuli.
Connections & association areas
Higher-order integrative cortical areas, called association areas, are parts of the cortex that receive inputs from multiple areas. These intervene between the sensory inputs and motor outputs, and are sites of more intensive cognitive processing.
Association areas & information flow.
Numbers refer to Brodmann areas. S = sensory; M = motor; STS = superior temporal sulcus; CG = cingulate gyrus
Association areas integrate incoming sensory information, give meaning to sensations, and also form connections between sensory and motor areas. Each primary sensory area has an association area that it projects to. This is what draws upon stored memories to give meaning to sensations.
Because they are involved in organizing information that comes from various other areas of the brain, association areas are essential for complex functions.
unimodal association areas
As we discussed above, processing progresses in order along an hierarchy, moving from primary sensory areas to unimodal association areas and on to multimodal association areas.
'Unimodal' means an association area that primarily deals with information from one sense modality and integrates information related to a single sense. For example, the visual association cortex is a unimodal association area that is devoted to the integration of different types of visual information.
unimodal association areas are expediently located adjacent to their respective primary sensory cortical areas. Some examples of unimodal sensory association cortices are: somatosensory (sensorimotor), auditory & visual.
Multimodal Association Areas (aka 'polymodal' or 'heteromodal' association areas)
These are large areas of the cerebral cortex which receive and process sensory input from multiple different sensory modalities and various association areas; and help make associations between various kinds of sensory data. A multimodal association area may also integrate information from motor areas and relate sensory input to motor output; including performing the analysis function between sensory input and motor output (e.g., thinking about sensory input to decide motor output). We have three multimodal association areas: Posterior, Medial, and Anterior.
Posterior association area
Temporoparietal junction (TPJ) – posterior association area.
Medial (formerly known as 'limbic') association area
The emotion associated with (weighting) an event can determine whether or how long it is remembered, and this is what helps form memories, translate sensory to motor responses, and process and guide emotional responses. It’s also important for cultural interactions, communication and expressions of our personality.
Medial association area (brain is here viewed from underneath, showing parahippocampal gyrus)
Anterior association area
It is particularly important in memory, planning, behavioral control, making judgements, higher-order concept formation and output control (it decides what to do in response to sensory input).
signals transmitted, message received
Any population of neurons within primary or unimodal association cortices can exhibit persistent neuronal activity, which serves to actively maintain the representations coded by those neuronal populations. Areas of multimodal association, which are in a position to integrate representations through connectivity to unimodal association cortices, are also critically involved in the active maintenance of task-relevant information in working memory.
Sensory information is processed and sent from receptors along parallel pathways through primary sensory cortex and unimodal association cortex to the posterior multimodal association cortex of each hemisphere—the posterior parietal and temporal cortices.
The posterior multimodal association cortex is highly connected to the anterior association areas which in turn are responsible for conceptual cognitive functions and planning motor actions.
After planning motor actions in the anterior association area, the actual processing of the motor response output is the reverse of processing in the sensory (input) system.
In output control, abstract concepts must be represented in terms that physiology can understand; initially in terms of navigation through events within a spatial context (whether that is abstract mental space using speech or concrete sensorimotor space using behaviors to achieve information exchange).
Processing schematic showing direction of information flow for input/output processing.
the most important bits to remember
Distributed integration and functional networks
The research reviewed above suggests that a new approach may be needed to understand prefrontal mediation of executive function, and leads to an emerging view that executive processes are mediated by networks incorporating multiple cortical regions (posterior as well as prefrontal) with collaborative and overlapping functions. These combinations may depend not only on task requirements but also on individual skills and experience.
Understanding the dynamic and flexible modulation of neuronal interactions is the key to understanding how we exert executive control. If executive function is to be better understood by a flexible, collaborative and overlapping network model, this will involve a paradigm shift towards a functional integration approach.
N6 works mostly with N3 to perform higher processing tasks using the rest of the networks as supporting processors, thus it is functionally expedient to think of N6-N3 cortex, located within the medial longitudinal fissure, as the brains CPU.
executive functions notes
Executive functioning (EF) is a broad term encompassing domains such as volition, planning and decision-making, purposeful action, self-regulation, and effective performance.
Both frontal and non-frontal brain regions are necessary for intact executive functions.
Two distinct types of abilities are subsumed under the term executive functioning: metacognitive executive functions and emotional/motivational executive functions.
working memory notes
Working memory is essential for many of our distinctly human abilities, including reasoning, problem solving, and planning. In the neocortex, these processes are likely implemented by a distributed N6-N3 frontoparietal network, with more posterior regions serving to maintain volatile information, and more anterior regions subserving the manipulation of this information.
Summary of hierarchical processing
All cognitive behaviors exist on an hierarchy, starting with the most tangible sensorimotor behaviors such as finger tapping or pain, then to consciousness and extending to the most abstract thoughts and activities such as naming. This hierarchy of abstraction is related to the connectome structure of the whole brain.
stimulus modality = labeled line coding
stimulus location = receptive field, input convergence, topographical maps, lateral inhibition
stimulus density = number or receptors activated (population coding)
stimulus timing = best reflects changes in stimulation
stimulus frequency = frequency of action potentials (frequency coding)
stimulus intensity = population coding + frequency coding / time
flow of information from sensory input to motor output
Sensory receptors → Primary sensory cortex → Unimodal sensory association cortex →
The 'anatomy and physiology' level of studying the brain can often seem the most daunting. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the apparent complexity of all this, the most important part to remember is that overall, researchers conclude that prefrontal computations support both cognitive control and temporal organization of behavior, by way of nested, hierarchical processing structures. We'll have plenty of time to explore the processing in these structures further, in this and other tutorials.
DO IT NOW – engage functional networks
Write down the processes necessary to:
a) change a tire
b) change a baby
c) find out exactly where the island of Muck is located
During these exercises you recruited procedural memory, declarative memory and working memory, and initiated several temporary functional networks to process the concepts in your imagination.
Working memory is critically important in cognition and necessary for many cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, language comprehension, planning and spatial processing.
Working memory (WM) is a high-level cognitive function that maintains and manipulates transient representations of relevant information, and is critical for reasoning, problem solving, and executive control of action. WM can be broadly divided into two subcomponents: maintenance, in which volatile information is kept in mind without external reinforcement; and manipulation, in which bits of information are reorganized or otherwise modified.
Empirical studies of working memory using neuroscientific techniques, such as neuronal recordings or functional neuroimaging in humans, have advanced our knowledge of the underlying neural mechanisms. This data can also be correlated with behavioral findings derived from investigating the cognitive mechanisms underlying WM.
One conclusion that arises from this research is that working memory, like other executive functions, can be viewed as neither a unitary nor a dedicated system. A network of brain regions, including the prefrontal cortex (PFC), is critical for the active maintenance of internal representations that are necessary for goal-directed behavior. Thus, working memory is not localized to a single brain region but is an emergent property of the functional interactions between the PFC (N6), network 3, and the rest of the brain.
The earliest coherent model of WM was proposed in 1974  and included several components: the phonological loop, which subserves processing of short-term linguistic information; the visuospatial sketchpad, which performs similar operations on visual and spatial information; the 'central executive', an attentional process which controls the flow of information to and from these components; and N3's episodic buffer ('RAM' in our model), which retains the temporal sequence of currently experienced events, and establishes links to long-term episodic memory.
A critical component of this early working memory model was the concept of verbal and spatial storage buffers. The cognitive concept of 'a buffer' translated into neural terms would propose that temporary retention of task-relevant information requires the transfer of that information to an area that is dedicated to the short term storage of information (in this case, N3). Consistent with this interpretation of a working memory 'buffer', though, if you research this you will find that older cognitive models of working memory refer to the information being 'in' or 'out' of working memory, which may not be the easiest way to frame the process.
Later cognitive models of working memory proposed that the 'contents' are not 'maintained' within dedicated storage buffers, but rather are simply held primed as the subset of information that is within the focus of attention at a given time. This describes an embedded-processes model where working memory comes from hierarchically arranged faculties comprising long-term memory, the subset of working long-term memory that is currently activated, and the subset of activated memory that is the focus of attention.
In our own cognitive model, this process is analogous to holding data in a computer's RAM, which serves as a cache for information transferred from memory and current input that is processed by the CPU. Thus, 'working memory' refers to working operations on those representations currently at a high level of activation. Thus, task-relevant representations are not 'IN' working memory, but they do have levels of activation that can be higher or lower. The temporary retention of task-relevant information is mediated by the activation of the neural structures that represent the information being maintained or stored.
After use, for example, representations may remain temporarily more active or 'primed'. In this model, working memory does not have its size, or 'maximum number of items', limited by structural features. Instead, performance on working memory tasks is determined by the level of activation of relevant representations, and awareness of the differences in activation levels between relevant and irrelevant representations.
'Representations' in the CPU are symbolic codes for information activated either transiently or permanently within neuronal networks. 'Operations' are processes or computations performed on representations.
Evidence currently (2016) implies that working memory functions are the result of computations performed between sensory-specific parietal and temporal association areas that mark the end points of N3's systems (devoted to the processing of sensory information), and N6 (areas of the PFC, with data flow in each direction using dedicated paths). This appears to be the same system used for all executive processing, and the assumption that perceptual processing and WM rely on similar brain systems is bolstered further by studies demonstrating a sensory-specific interaction between perceptual and memory processes.
Working memory emerges as a multi-component system that allows for both storage and processing of temporarily active representations; a 'mental workspace' that cannot only hold but is also able to manipulate activated representations and perform operations on them.
structure & function
Working memory is essential for many of our distinctly human abilities, including reasoning, problem solving, and planning. Research spanning many decades has helped to refine our understanding of this high-level function as comprising several hierarchically organized components, some which maintain information in the conscious mind, and others which manipulate and reorganize this information in useful ways.
In the neocortex, these processes are likely implemented by a distributed frontoparietal network, with more posterior regions serving to maintain volatile information, and more anterior regions subserving the manipulation of this information. Recent meta-analytic findings have identified the anterior lateral PFC in particular, as being generally engaged by working memory tasks, while the posterior lateral PFC is more strongly associated with the cognitive load required by these tasks. These findings suggest specific roles for these regions in the cognitive control processes underlying working memory.
WM is subserved by distinct, interacting modules, which are located primarily in the Lateral Prefrontal (LPFC) and Superior Parietal Cortices. Meta-analysis highlights a network of regions including the LPFC and Frontal Cortex, the PreMotor Cortex (PMC), the Anterior Insula, the Middle Cingulate Cortex (MCC), the Superior Parietal Lobule (SPL), and the IntraParietal Sulcus (IPS).
The Lateral PFC (LPFC) is a core part of our central executive module, and fMRI evidence suggests it plays a critical role in the coordination and selection of WM processes.
Meta-analytic findings also suggest a further differentiation of LPFC into anterior and posterior parts, with the aLPFC being associated with the setting and selection of WM tasks and pLPFC being associated with differences in task difficulty.
There is also a clear distinction in the neural correlates of WM for studies testing WM per se (task-set effects) and studies which assessed the neural correlates of increasing WM load or difficulty (task-load effects), showing stronger convergence among the former in the left anterior LPFC (aLPFC), Bilateral Anterior Insula, and right Superior Parietal Lobule/IntraParietal Sulcus (SPL/IPS), while the latter shows stronger convergence in the Bilateral Posterior LPFC (pLPFC) and Middle Cingulate Cortex (MCC).
This distinction of WM-related activation into task-set and task-load components supports the idea of the dynamic, hierarchical organization of all executive systems; where cognitive systems interact over developmental time, as supporting networks are required for the subsequent acquisition of other faculties in new areas.
Present results (2016) support the proposed role of the anterior LPFC as a ‘‘hub’’ region of N6 which coordinates WM processes; a role that is likely implemented through modulation of the activity of more posterior regions, including Posterior Parietal and Temporo-Occipital Cortices (N3). This organization also corresponds to the hypothesized frontal (overarching planning) to rear (lower-level execution) axis of the prefrontal cortex in executive control.
Studies suggest a functional subdivision of the visuospatial component of working memory with a ventral stream reaching from occipital to temporal cortex supporting object recognition; and a dorsal stream connecting the occipital with parietal cortex enabling spatial operations.
Studies also support the subdivision of the original articulatory loop in two subsystems, namely the phonological short-term store in inferior parietal cortex and an articulatory subvocal rehearsal process relying on brain areas necessary for speech production, i.e. Broca’s area, the supplementary motor association area and possibly the cerebellum, with a complex network of anterior prefrontal and inferior parietal brain regions subserving non-articulatory maintenance of phonological information.
Active rehearsal (such as, mentally repeating a phone number until we are able to write it down) is hypothesized to consist of the repetitive selection of relevant representations and/or recurrent direction of attention to those items; and this requires interactions between brain networks. Physiological and behavioral data suggest that each brain region, although forming part of a functional network, may contribute different 'supporting' elements to active maintenance of WM by the nature of the representations that are coded within each region. That is to say, the same regions which are involved in temporarily maintaining a representation of information in WM are also engaged during the encoding and retrieval of that information in the first place.
working memory as a process
With these cognitive models in mind, research has begun to provide some insight into the neural mechanisms by which relevant information is temporarily stored in the service of goal-directed behavior.
Evidence thus far (2016) implies the 'hierarchical cascade' view of executive functions in general is likely to offer the most accurate model for description of WM processes.
Firstly, this is because active maintenance or storage of task-relevant representations can be easily implemented with a neural system where memory storage occurs in the very same brain circuitry that supports the perceptual representation of information; whereas the older model runs into trouble trying to accommodate storage of all possible types of information into just a couple of 'dedicated' buffers.
Secondly, the necessity of the PFC for the active maintenance of task-relevant representations has already been amply demonstrated. There is now a critical mass of studies confirming lateral PFC activity in humans during delay tasks, observing frontal cortex activity during the retention interval; and also the magnitude of this activity correlates positively with the accuracy of the memory-guided saccade that follows later. These findings lend strong support for the hypothesis that such activity represents a neural mechanism for the active maintenance or storage of task-relevant representations.
Thirdly, the PFC is not the only region that is active during the temporary retention of task-relevant information. In fact, different brain regions are active depending on whether the task requires the temporary maintenance of retrospective (e.g. past sensory events) or prospective (e.g. representations of anticipated action and preparatory set) codes. Studies demonstrate that a unique selection of network regions are recruited depending on the type of information being actively maintained. fMRI data also support the concept that separable neural mechanisms are engaged for the active maintenance of 'motor' plans versus 'spatial' codes.
IPFC = Pre frontal cortex; FEF = frontal eye fields; LIP = Lateral Intraparietal area; MT = Medial Temporal area; V4 = Area V4 of visual cortex; IT = Inferior Temporal cortex
This image shows the recruitment and dynamic interplay of areas processing sensory, task, and decision information in the cortex, during five functions of the sensorimotor pathway (from sensory input to interaction): A: sensory information (left) flows from the V4 and MT to several other cortical regions; B: task information (center) starts in the V4 and IT, before signaling forward and backward; C: choice signals (right) build up in PFC and LIP, before sending data to cortical regions in the front and back of the brain. The strength and timing of signals varies between regions.
Fourthly, similar findings emerge when the 'visual' component of working memory is investigated with neuroscientific methods. Like spatial and motor codes, active maintenance of visual stimuli is mediated by the activation of cortical regions that also support processing of that information, perceptual in this case. Studies of verbal working memory provide a similar view regarding the neural mechanisms underlying WM. Consistently, performance on tasks that tap the 'phonological loop' engage a set of brain regions that are involved in phonological processing.
Finally, if abstract, high-level WM maintenance processes reflect the prolonged activation of the same brain regions that support concrete level processing, evidence for low-level processing should still be apparent in those regions when we are NOT engaged in WM tasks; and this is indeed the case; such effects have been observed in primary olfactory, visual, and auditory cortices.
Research results overall therefore appear more consistent with a WM system in which active maintenance involves the recruitment of the same circuitry that represents the information itself, with different networks recruited for different types of information. Data are consistent with most or all neural populations within networks being 'recruitable' to prime information for retention that can be accessed and kept active over several seconds, via persistent neural activity, in the service of goal-directed behavior.
The known division in the ventral and dorsal processing streams in the posterior cortex is thus postulated to extend into the PFC. This is the new paradigm for working memory, which supports more recent models suggesting that PFC neurons are actually able to adapt their behavior to the current task demands.
In summary; higher-order association cortices of network 6 interact with posterior sensory regions of network 3 to facilitate the active abstract maintenance of a sensory concrete percept in working memory. A plausible mechanism for this active maintenance is the coupling of abstracted, higher-order representations in the PFC and stimuli-specific, concrete sensory representations in the visual association cortex; via synaptic reverberations in recurrent circuits  or synchronous oscillations between neuronal populations,  or (knowing biology as we now do,) both. Rate, synchronization and oscillations are all key mechanisms by which the brain can reliably represent distributed information.
This is however the leading edge of research, and out here, just when things begin to seem vaguely understandable, something else usually happens. For example, recent research (Oct 2015) has not only included the Hippocampus in the executive control hierarchy; revealing that two brain states must alternate rhythmically in order for a piece of information to be successfully maintained in WM; but has also revealed that a wealth of signaling across all brainwave frequencies is going on during working memory maintenance.
Apparently, when we memorize sequences of faces or numbers, two activity states occur in the hippo which alternate twice per second: an excited and a less excited state; showing
evidence for load-dependent linear power decreases in the hippocampus which occur periodically and are phase-locked to endogenous delta oscillations. If this rhythmic pattern does not occur, we tend to make mistakes during the task.
It is likely therefore that different functional networks each use their own patterns of communication, or that different frequencies apply during different task types.
Q: how do we maintain a stable thought in WM (such as a goal) if network activity is constantly changing?
A: We don't have to. In order to carry out a task, there does not need to be constant brain activity related to the goal of that task. What we think of as 'stability' of pattern is repetition by functional networks occurring at intervals. For example, can you remember what happened on your last birthday? Or a really nice place you visited in the past? We can recall these images whenever we want to, but in the meantime there does not need to be a constant pattern of brain activity that is representing those memories. This may mean that working memory is closer to long-term memory in the way it functions.
Working memory capacity & fluid intelligence
In addition to recent sensory information, integrated representations of task contingencies and abstract rules (e.g. if/then thinking) are also maintained in WM.
Working memory capacity (WMC) refers to the effectiveness of the working memory system for a given individual. One of the most ubiquitous and important findings in the study of WMC is its strong relationship to fluid intelligence; the ability to solve reasoning problems.
We need to remember here that correlation is not cause and effect. The relationship between WMC and fluid intelligence is such that ordinarily, WMC reflects the ability to maintain easy accessibility of relevant information in memory, whereas fluid intelligence is related to the ability to disengage from irrelevant information in memory.
However, the interaction between fluid intelligence and WMC is shifted in favor of working memory for repeated-rule problems (the kind that are easier to solve if we have the solution of previous similar problems still activated in memory.)
Working memory capacity is not the same thing as attention-shifting capacity (which is how some people can be better than other people at focusing their attention on what they're supposed to). Directed attention of course implies direction of WM too, since it looks to whatever we pay attention to for input (put simply, directed attention is input control for WM).
Remember the first Do It Now exercise you did in this tutorial to test working memory? You used around equal amounts of WMC and fluid intelligence processing to do this single exercise. If, however, you had done twenty of such exercises, WMC would become ever-more involved as you progressed through them and repeatedly 'followed the rule'.
And the fact remains that people with higher levels of working memory capacity always outperform those with lower levels on tests of intellect, problem solving and task execution; even among individuals with extensive experience and knowledge of the task at hand, and working memory capacity can still predict performance in complex domains such as music, chess, and science. What's more, improving WM performance can augment several executive skills, and we'll look at some methods for doing that in the NHA Guide later on.
What happens if things go wrong
Well, at this stage you know our villains; wronguse and nonuse very well, so here we can consider how these apply in the context of executive functions.
Retarded or blocked development of supporting networks
This may be the biggest causative factor underlying executive function problems. Obviously if any
network is insufficiently developed for use in any area and continues to be unused, it cannot get sufficient exercise to effectively develop itself until a critical mass of connective density has been constructed. In the meantime, struggling to exercise front nets without sufficient supporting rear nets is more likely to cause straining rather than stretching, especially if there is insufficient relaxation; this is wrong input and will prevent effective progress. While nonuse is always followed by decline, wronguse usually leads to burnout or straining, as described above, which often slows down progress even more.
Not doing things in the right order
About a half of all those who practice NH begin it specifically in order to increase IQ; notably those who have an over-dominant N5. While that's a healthy goal in the right developmental context, the strategy of diving in and hothousing any network that's poorly supported and has a history of wrong use is a recipe for disaster. This issue recurs with regard to developing any network, but N6 relies more on its support networks than any other.
You, dear reader, having been sensible enough to go through these tutorials in order to understand why these supporting systems are so vital, are unlikely to make this mistake.
Too much theory & not enough practice
Paradoxically, the best approach to development of any network is practice at using its skills; therefore the best approach to developing N6; the network which enables strategy; is via strategy, and biologys key to resolving this paradox resides in play. We learn about things by playing at doing them; by playing with them in a safe space. With full supporting nets, we can use our intellectual and creative skills to design strategies (the abilities of every network provide some of the tools for the development of the next), and practicing/playing with those strategies is what builds more connective density in N6, enabling us to strategize better.
If you have difficulty grasping this 'feedback from practice leads to growth' concept, consider an analogy with swimming. You can use your intellect to learn about swimming, and imagine what it might be like to swim, but if you actually get into shallow water and practice 'playing at' swimming, even though early attempts will be splashy, uncoordinated and messy, the networks that will enable and eventually control swimming skills are immediately getting relevant exercise. You are building up the supporting networks (both the neuromusculature and the cerebral connectivity) necessary for successful swimming.
This works even though you have no experience of using this particular combination of networks at all, right from the first time you get into the water. Swimming has enough points of similarity with other previous activities for your brain to bridge the gap between known and unknown and 'fill in' the missing bits.
In the same way, you can use your intellect to work out how good strategies are formed and how they work, but if you also begin the practical task of carrying out a strategy or two in real life (select small targets at first) you are creating exactly the correct developmental space for N6 to blossom and executive functions to do their thing.
We discuss ways to improve strategy skills in the NHA guide below.
As we are now well aware, biology doesn't conceptualize the term 'environment' in just the ecological sense. Our 'environment' in biology is whatever we are surrounded by, on all levels. Since things can go wrong on various levels, let's take a quick multidimensional view of environments.
As well as the expected good physical input of nutrition, sleep and exercise, appropriate sensory inputs during development are necessary for the formation of cortical maps. Deprivation of the expected sensory inputs throughout early life results in both functional and anatomical changes in the brain and retarded development in several (if not all) networks, because this is vital input for a fully developed set of rear networks (which all other networks rely on).
We can provide this for ourselves at any age by furnishing multisensory inputs and exploring all of our senses, and we have already discussed methods and exercises for doing this in earlier tutorials.
The places we live, where we play and hang out, the people we live with and play with, the help or hindrance from attempted interactions with others, can all augment or retard our development.
The optimal environment for development of network 2 is in someone elses arms; where that someone is going about their daily activities while we watch or sleep or feed as required. That method is obviously not literally possible for adults seeking to reproduce optimal environments to reinitialize development, but our 'in arms' stage may be reproduced by providing biology's need for a safe space.
That means the place where you live; wherever you experience most of the domestic goings-on of everyday life. Having a pleasant and inspiring safe space as a base of operations provides the triggers for fully developing network 2
The places we hang out are optimal when they are complex and challenging without being harmful or distracting. Keeping a reasonably ordered workspace is less distracting than a chaotic mess for many, but knowing where things are is a priority.
There is a difference between 'messy' and 'dirty'. Messy is when a great many (usually inorganic) things are scattered about the workspace, often in piles. 'Dirty' is when rotting food, unwashed clothes, damp, mold, and mucky eating utensils are mixed in with the mess. Dirty is dangerous, unhygienic and encourages disease. Messy is just untidy, and if you know which particular pile everything is in, it's not even disorganized.
Spending more time in the real world is one of the fastest ways to augment development of network 3 (and in fact, the whole brain). Do everything you can to experience nature 'in the raw', both alone and with others if you can. Something as simple as putting your hands on the soil will help balance levels of several neurotransmitters and reduce free radical damage. Every moment you're out there under the sky with grass under your feet you're getting free vitamin D, charging up your immune system and improving your mood. Walking on natural surfaces is more beneficial than walking on concrete.
If you are ill or stuck indoors you can still open windows, use pictures, plants and flowers to get some natural input, and we have looked into this in previous tutorials.
Time spent surrounded by others who educate themselves and are reasonably well educated enables people to improve WM function.
This does not mean 'those whose parents went to college'. The emphasis is on those who educate themselves and share their skills; usually such people read a lot, online or off, and chances are they keep up to date with their important areas of interest. Whatever they choose to do, they tend to make sure they learn a lot about it. They are also happy to share knowledge and always eager to learn new stuff, regardless of age.
It seems obvious that growing up surrounded by people like this would encourage personal learning, but sometimes individuals are attracted to culture despite the disinterest of those around them, and, intelligence being unbiased with regard to its own origins, self-educators may emerge from anywhere. Inconveniently, this results in some people being quite a lot more intelligent than their own parents and/or peer group. If you are one of these people, you will not have failed to notice. Yes, it's embarrassing. No, it's not your fault. Let kindness be your watchword, and remember, the best way to avoid bullshit is energetic progress in the good, so follow your interests avidly and with all your determination.
Using our culture for good input via entertainment is a special privilege our species has. Don't abuse it by filling your mind with the trivial counterfeit crap that mainstream media excel at. There are multitudes of great books, works of art, fascinating discoveries, stunning landscapes and fantastic pieces of music out there which can all inspire positive productive moods and successful behavior. Use this treasure trove; it is part of your inheritance! And don't forget to add to it yourself via whatever media you choose. Doing so will make you feel very nice.
Becoming the source of our own input is the stage in development that we could legitimately look on as approaching maturity; although the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, full self awareness brings a perspective most noticeably different in quality than previous stages.
Interfering with the development of this autonomy or hothousing front networks are the main reasons for retardation of development in this stage, and people don't ordinarily do this to themselves; so coercion and conditioning causes most issues here. Long term wrong input to network 5 is therefore one of the prevailing cause of executive function disorder; the other being anxiety.
We are expected to direct our own lives and that includes all these environments. Input control is really about taking care of ourselves on all levels.
executive function disorder (EFD)
Executive dysfunction has been associated with a range of disorders, and is generally attributed to structural or functional frontal pathology.
The flexible coordination of sub-processes to achieve a specific goal is the responsibility of executive control systems. When these systems break down, behavior becomes poorly controlled, disjointed and uninhibited. People with executive function disorder (EFD) consequently have problems with impaired judgement, organisation, planning and decision-making, organizing and schedules.
EFD cannot be diagnosed in persons under the age of 19, because frontal lobes naturally develop later than other networks and this is the earliest age at which they would naturally (in optimal conditions) be completed and fully online. Since none of us grow up in optimal conditions, network 6 is going to take longer to complete its development (and in some persons may never complete development).
Tough biological rule, but anyone under the age of 15 should NOT be trying to augment network 6. This is not a prejudice on biologys part; it's part of the plan. It TAKES fifteen years under optimal conditions for a healthy human to develop the first five networks sufficiently to support the development of N6. Anyone who didn't develop under optimal conditions (ie, all of us) will have to wait longer. How much longer may be ascertained by doing a functional analysis to assess the development of supporting networks, and assessing how much practice we are prepared to do.
Because of these biological limitations, if you are in the younger age bracket of NHers (under 25), it's wise to do a functional analysis to work out whether or not N6 is likely to be sufficiently developed before attempting to address any problems, and most importantly, find out whether the supporting networks N6 needs are functioning healthily. If they are not doing so yet, there is no point trying to develop or augment N6. The mind cannot 'reach for the stars' before we have built the starship.
Healthily used, the brain continues to mature and develop connections throughout our lives. A person's executive function abilities are shaped by both physical changes in the brain and by their own life experiences. Executive functioning development corresponds to the neurophysiological developments of the growing brain; as the processing capacity of the frontal lobes and other interconnected regions increases, the core executive functions emerge.
Executive functions themselves mature at different rates over time. Inhibitory control and working memory are among the earliest executive functions to appear, followed by cognitive flexibility, goal-directed behavior and planning. However, all functions need a practice period and like any other, executive functions take a while to establish and for a while we will continue to make errors related to these emerging abilities.
This is not because of any fault in the abilities -it is simply lack of experience about when and how to use specific mental tools in particular contexts. For full maturity we must regularly apply executive functions across multiple contexts as a result of ongoing interaction and development. The major change that marks the maturity of executive functions is the constant myelination of neurons in the PFC.
If you are over 25 and think you may have EFD, you may notice problems with any or all of the following:
Planning and organizing
Avoiding saying or doing the wrong thing
Doing things based on your experience
When executive function isn’t working as it should, our behavior is also less controlled. This can affect our ability to:
Complete projects and tasks
Study and learn effectively
Do things independently
Use appropriate cultural skills
Maintain healthy relationships
Warning signs of weak executive function include problems with:
Estimating how much time something will take to complete
Telling stories (verbally or in writing)
Doing tasks regularly at appropriate times (eg, putting out the garbage, taking medication, cleaning teeth)
Starting activities, projects or tasks
Confidence (too much OR too little)
There is no single test to identify problems with executive function. Instead, neuroscientists rely on different tests to measure specific skills, such as functional analysis. For a quick test, inability to learn (with practice) how to perform the Stroop task (see tutorial 11) is indicative of problems with executive function.
Executive functions are compromised in an array of clinical disorders; persons with various neurological and psychiatric complaints, as well as those with trauma to the frontal lobes, exhibit executive deficits. Infection, poisoning, injury, anxiety, strokes or disease can disable executive function temporarily or permanently, depending on the specifics.
Sudden losses of executive functions with no previous problems should always be addressed urgently unless the cause is clear (for example, too much Tequila).
Unless obvious causal conditions are present, and as long as supporting nets are sufficiently developed, current weaknesses in executive skills can be much improved by regular healthy use, so for example if working memory or planning ability is weak now, it may be significantly improved with exercise. We discuss some ways to improve executive function in the NHA guide section below.
coordination and incongruity
Executive dysfunction is often mediated by impaired connectivity. For example, Striatal dysfunction affects the expression of frontal lobe functions by disrupting transmission through frontostriatal circuitry. Consequently the obstacle that most gets in the way of smooth coordination is incongruity.
If we want an adequate understanding of human meaning, thought and value, we must learn to perceive ourselves and the universe from a congruous perspective, and we must grasp the implications of this for all experience, understanding and reasoning. However, to understand congruity we have to (a) get out of the habit of viewing one set of networks (front or rear) as 'all there is'; and (b) get out of the habit of looking at ourselves as UN-coordinated beings.
This is not deliberate; we all strive to pursue a meaningful existence as a 'whole' person in the real world, but if incongruity prevents front and rear networks from adequately connecting, this psychologically creates the illusion of the conceptual separation of conscious mind from unconscious knowledge.
This erroneous concept arises in our underlying ontology in various forms. Some people construct (and so perceive) themselves as machine minds and mechanical bodies; somehow linked together like a computer running a robot. Here, our biological nature gets written out altogether. Others see themselves as a 'Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde' stereotype of 'mind versus animal', where the mind is regarded as 'the sensible bit' with self control and sociability, and the 'animal' as a 'savage' stereotype with an implied lack of any morality whatsoever and all the social graces of an deranged monkey on steroids. The noble 'mind' is the only thing that keeps us civilized, and only schooling can prevent wholesale slaughter (which is odd, because 'civilized', literate humans don't have a great record for peacekeeping, compared with most animal species).
This is not a view we consciously construct from rational deduction; this sort of anxiety-based positioning is what we are conditioned to take up, whilst being programmed to believe that 'without society/ money /god /government etc' we'd all be slobbering, homicidal, cannibal rapists.
These points of view create the delusion of 'ourselves' as somehow disembodied bundles of software that vaguely exist somehow without concrete representation but which are supposed to have some sort of magical 'power over' our animal or mechanical parts. These stereotypes deny the reality of embodiment and create a dichotomy between knowledge as experience and knowledge as information; between the cognitive and the humanistic; between reason and emotion; between the conscious and the unconscious; as we end up thinking of ourselves as only the conscious, ghostly, 'magically disembodied' part. We have even called it 'the Ghost' in the machine.
Our best defense against these types of delusion is energetic pursuit of the truth. There are no ghosts. Our 'soul' IS our mind. Without embodiment, there can be no meaning. Unconscious knowledge and conscious awareness are (or should be) unified between N6 and N3 as their information is coordinated. There is only one of us, and it is not a vague ethereal spirit; it is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, intelligent being.
A good simple example of how conscious awareness/unconscious knowledge unification should function can be seen in our awareness of forces; we can consciously learn all the facts and rules about physical forces intellectually, but to truly understand what that MEANS in terms of real life experience, we have to HAVE real life experience, which informs unconscious knowledge. To truly attribute meaning to events we have to understand both, and both must 'agree', or make sense in context of each other. That's what congruity is.
We are continually reinforcing our unconscious knowledge of reality by just going about our everyday lives experiencing interacting with it. These are the patterns of interactions we represent as images in N3 that relate to stories, but sensorimotor experience remains the basis of all thought and all allocation of meaning.
There is no way to avoid this fact; the nature of our biology in relation to the possibilities for experiences and interactions within contexts simply 'makes it so'. We are in no way divided beings, for if we cannot even agree with ourselves, how can we expect to make decisions, plan or strategize?
problems with executive control (aka self control/ output control)
failure to overwrite conditioning
Nonuse due to incongruity can block output control, but so can wrong use in the sense of bad habits of behavior repeated over time. The degree of wronguse automaticity (habit) may be critical in the functional organization of the PFC, because when behaviors become automatic, the unconscious tends to assume we have deliberately practiced these behaviors because they are beneficial.
Our propensity to follow plots and strategies can be hacked, and conditioning can subvert our natural tendencies for following a strategy and paying attention to archetypal roles, into following bad habits and non-workable strategies, and copying stereotypical roles. Those who have strong sensitivity to suggestion should by this stage know their vulnerability and be taking steps to protect against conditioning, because while sensitivity to suggestion works great if you are directing the suggestion, it is a clear and present danger if you are not. Those most at risk have high sensitivity, high anxiety, a strong N3 and weak self control. Rearloaders in general are also at higher risk.
Conditioning grabs attention by using keywords we associate with benefits; such as, 'successful', 'intelligent', 'smart', 'new', 'ideal'; and threats we associate with harm; such as 'punishment', 'detention', 'grounding', deprivation', 'embarrassment'; but its most powerful weapon is conditional regard or conditional approval, which is a kind of emotional blackmail. -Conditional regard sends the unconscious message: 'Do as you're told or your needs will be taken away. Nobody really cares about you; the only way you can win love (or even safety) is by doing what we say.' To an anxious person, this is a fate worse than death.
We should have learned enough at this stage to avoid conditioning and overwrite previous harmful behaviors; it is mentioned here for those still in the process of repair, to remind us that without overwriting such conditioning we will not manage to develop healthy executive control.
Wronguse due to other dominant networks
It IS possible to develop some N6 skills and recruit them to serve other dominant networks, which is why some mad dictators are good at strategy.
Depending on the rogue network, different symptoms occur:
For example, if N4 is dominant, the result is an obsession with attempting to control others, the environment, or events. This makes sense if we think about it -if an organism cannot control itself, its best bet for survival is to try to control everything else around it in an attempt to keep itself safe. Obviously, this is a delusion in which the unconscious need for self control and anxiety over the lack of it is subverted, projected and externalized. It may manifest as megalomania, treating people as objects, possessiveness, authoritarianism, lack of empathy, arrogance or sociopathy, or alternately as religious or political fanaticism/fundamentalism.
If N5 is dominant, status, fame, appearances, 'showing off' and material resources become the key obsessions, often using the appearance or 'fascia' of success to mask the lack of real success (ie, those who flaunt lots of money, expensive cars/homes, affluent lifestyles, and 'bling', while underneath the gold-leaf wrapping is either a mountain of debt, or chronic dependence and insecurity). Alternately, obsessive-compulsive symptoms such as obsessive hoarding, or paranoia and phobias may result.
This is not to say that we should develop an anti-wealth bias. Wealth in itself is not a sign of either dysfunction or intelligence, as nobody can help inheriting wealth or accruing it via genuine success. It is obsessive hoarding of wealth, insecure flaunting of wealth, compulsive seeking of wealth, phobic fear of loss, dependence, valuing money or objects more than people, paranoia in private and arrogance in public, that are the signs of N5-related dysfunction.
These are very dangerous mind sets to be stuck in, because they block further development of N6, leaving frontal networks sparse and prone to early decline (senility). The only way out of this mess is to (a) recognize that you have been doing it, (b) turn attention away from other people (leave them alone; you have no business interfering with them, nor is it your responsibility to impress them), and turn towards developing your own self control, including all the networks that will support it. Since this is difficult when arrogance is present, anxiety reduction and relaxation is a usual first step, followed by cognitive behavioral therapy. Some have found discourse therapy useful (see NHA guide below).
wronguse due to sentiment
There are two related issues here. Firstly, when anxiety strikes we may be subjected to sudden 'rushes' of sentiment, and often this is the time when executive control fails. In extreme cases this manifests as 'Sudden Explosive Disorder', which is counterfeit game speak for behaving like a dysfunctional two year old.
Secondly, never be fooled by what sounds like a workable behavioral strategy if it's presented in a form that deliberately invokes sentiment. This is your warning sign or 'loony alert' that coercion and dysfunction are inherent in the situation.
Improving self esteem plus practice in the noble art of ignoring things can very quickly improve directional control in such situations, such as with anti-distraction training.
We include information about this in the 'hacks & exercises' section of this tutorial.
The two main reasons plans and strategies fail
There are two big issues affecting our ability to form successful strategies; and they are both related to need:
1...Is due to people not knowing what they want.
It's not possible to strategize in order to reach a goal nobody has.
...But that sounds daft, right? I mean surely everybody knows what they want and they're busy seeking or doing it; that's what ordinary life is all about, no?
Sadly, no it isn't; most folks are busy slaving away at stuff somebody else wants them to do, meeting a whole selection of other people's desires; not their own.
Usually this is due to superstition. A superstition is an irrational belief held despite all evidence to the contrary, and we'll be looking into this in a lot more detail in Tutorial 17. For now, just bear it in mind that a lot of people do what they do either because they believe there is no other option, and/or because they believe it is the most sensible way to behave. Usually they're averse to and will ignore any proof negative of that assumption.
Without knowing what you, personally, would genuinely like to do, how can you possibly strategize to achieve it? Certainly you can keep a brain vaguely exercised by working toward someone else's goals, but unless you think those goals are the best for you too, it is valuable time wasted in terms of your own development. Lack of direction tends to cause lack of motivation, and if a project isn't sufficiently strategized there are no clear 'first steps' towards changing anything. If you don't have a coherent direction, you will end up wasting time.
Basing your wants on what somebody else wants is not a workable life strategy or recipe for success; its a fast track to decline. 'Wants' only work when they're based on genuine needs; which leads us to the second reason most strategies fail:
2...Is due to people not knowing what they need in order to feel good
Misframing or misinterpreting the reality of our genuine needs leads to incongruous constructs and incoherent strategies.
To avoid this problem we need to remember the difference between biological law and synthetic rules; the difference between real life need and synthetic 'imposed requirements'.
For example, in order to drive a standard issue car, you need arms. It doesn't matter whether they are prosthetic arms or biological arms, but you need those arms. You also need legs and a brain. You do NOT 'need' a driving license in order to be able to drive a car; this is an imposed requirement; and if you only ever drove on your own land, or don't mind risking being arrested by those enforcing the imposition, you may never bother to get one. Likewise, you do not need to pass any exams in order to acquire knowledge, but they are an imposed requirement for doing some jobs in society.
This difference sounds very simple and straightforward in terms of logic, but mentally mixing up needs with imposed requirements or synthetic constructs is a main reason most strategies fail.
The dominant networks prevalent in a counterfeit game determines what is valued in that game, and synthetic rules and imposed requirements will differ accordingly. So for example whereas in an N3-dominant society, one will not be taken seriously without demonstrating a strong religious belief, and flaunting greater wealth or knowledge than ones neighbors may be thought of as greedy, sinful or 'impious'; in an N5-dominant society, religious belief might be looked upon with derision as 'dumb', while qualifications in N5 subjects may be highly valued. In an N2-dominant society, specific behavioral taboos may be the imposed requirements, and in an N4-dominant society, synthetic rules and imposed requirements may value cooperation and the communal cause -the society itself- higher than the individuals.
Some imposed requirements are reasonably practical (like expecting someone to pay money for goods in shops) while some are completely nonsensical (like expecting everybody to wear a particular type of hat because it's a particular day or they're in a particular location). Many of them have nothing to do with reality whatsoever, and more than a few are based on shared superstitions or meaningless dogma.
Most of us reading this probably live in an N5-dominant society, so mathematics, numbers, assessment, measurement, resources, computation and most of all, appearances and words, will dominate 'imposed requirements'. However, we also know that ALL counterfeit games are anxiety-based regardless of the details, so we may expect imposed requirements to be anxiety-based as well; and indeed they are – the underlying concept behind the drive for N5 dominance is the fear that anyone who isn't N5 dominant (and in some extreme cases, who also isn't white and middle class) is dangerous; because they might change things and what is most feared of all is change, because it brings in the unknown and that means even more anxiety.
N5 societies consequently try at all costs to avoid actually doing anything different, and base their construct on claiming this can somehow (usually financially) insure life against anxiety-raising, unexpected change. Sadly, this is a delusion; it just shifts the nature of the change. Biology cannot stop changing, and adherents to such counterfeit games will discover (often too late) that 'the change' has sneaked in anyway, because the mind-shatteringly boring way of life imposed on their brain for so many years to 'keep them safe' has resulted in nonuse, boredom, apathy, depression and ongoing mental decline. But then again, that's nothing new around here.
Biological need, as we explored above, is not just about food, sleep and sex, or even Maslow's hierarchy. But even on those levels, needs are often not being met because people accept synthetic realities instead of real life. Here are the main examples:
Biology needs our physical bodies to feel comfortable. Of course, sensible eating and sleeping and sufficient exercise are important to maintain that, but our current choice of clothing and furniture are often to blame for physical discomfort too. Humans have been desiging furniture for thousands of years, but we have only known about postural effects on health for a comparatively short period of time and (with the exception of beds made by NASA) thus far, western furniture design has not caught up with science. We are still sitting and sleeping in unhealthy ways and often on unhealthy materials. Synthetic clothing is a risk factor in many physical problems; not just of the skin.
Toxins, carcinogens and even neuroactive compounds can be found in many 'hygiene products', makeup, soft furnishings, food, drinks, packaging and clothing. For example, most flame retardants are harmful to humans and most bedding is currently doused with them. All of this gets in the way of health and 'ease' (as opposed to dis-ease).
Biology needs a home territory. We need a safe space that we think of as 'home'. The unconscious doesn't mind whether this is static (such as a house) or dynamic (such as an annual migration route, or a mobile vehicle), but it does mind if somebody else thinks they 'own' that safe space, -because that makes it unsafe. If we don't have security of tenure and may be forced to move, or know that we will lose our home unless we maintain dependence on others (such as landlords or 'bosses'), we do not have security of territory. Without it, biology will not be satisfied. It feels most comfortable in the places where its own most recent ancestors lived, but it has no problem with our 'seeking pastures new' and settling there. The key word is settling, as in, knowing you will not be forced to leave but still can if you want to.
Taxes, which have a bad enough rap in the conscious arena, have an even worse time in the unconscious. Happy to donate everything including the shirt off its back for a cause it believes in, the unconscious nevertheless frowns upon irresponsible distribution of resources, especially to those who may well do harm with them.
It's a resulting fact that the biology of a person who owns outright a tiny apartment and doesn't earn enough to pay taxes will be sending them messages of goodwill, saying, 'you're doing really well!' Meanwhile, the person with an enormous mortgage on a mansion who dutifully pays their taxes will be getting the anxious message, 'You're not doing well enough right now!'
When you put this together with our unconscious urgent need to keep biology happy, you can see some of the dilemmas which may emerge. Not knowing about our biological imperative has caused many people to waste their lives away chasing what they are conditioned to believe will bring them safety and happiness, all the while wondering why they still feel anxious and insecure.
Biology needs us to feel 'in tune' with our environment and those close to us. We need to understand from experience (as well as knowledge) how the natural environment can always provide for us if we interact with it in the right ways. In impoverished environments, we are prevented from getting that vital experience by being isolated from it and distracted by N5 hothousing.
We also need cooperation, love, respect, and strong bonds with our allies. In enriched environments, we learn from those we love and respect, in impoverished environments we are expected to respect those unknown total strangers we are incarcerated with to be 'taught by'.
Biology needs deep, interesting, meaningful relationships; but in impoverished environments we get shallow sentimental melodrama and depressingly repetitive short-term ties.
Humans need to feel we are a part of and contributing to overall human culture, instead of being shunted off into meaningless (and often morally dubious) 'jobs' in society. We need to both learn from and contribute to our culture; this amazing real life construct that we have built to complement our own ongoing development as a species. We need to feel that we have left worthwhile information from our own personal experience for future generations and current allies.
We need to feel autonomous and in control of whatever we are doing, we have to know that it makes good sense and is morally beneficial. This is very difficult to achieve if you're currently stuck in a counterfeit game doing an 'ordinary' job.
DO IT NOW – what are you doing?
Here's the self-test: stop anytime throughout your working day and ask yourself these questions:
Is what I am doing here honestly beneficial to me? (clue: does it increase ability or does it increase dependence?)
Is it genuinely beneficial to humanity?
Is it morally good from biology's pov?
Could I prove this in logical argument? What evidence would I use?
If you can honestly answer 'yes' to the first four, and can also cite evidence for your assumptions, you probably already work in a cultural context. If you can't, you must understand that your unconscious already knows the answer to those questions, and all we are doing here is making them available to conscious awareness. That means if you have to answer 'no' to any of them you must face up to the fact that your choice of occupation is negatively impacting your own (and maybe others') wellbeing, and that effects both your self esteem and unconscious anxiety levels bigtime; because it prevents further development. It's time to strategize for change.
If you are caught up in an ongoing 'safe but boring' routine and feel you just can't cope with the hassle of change, consider this:
There is a place where you can reliably get food and shelter if you follow a simple routine of getting up in the morning and going to work for somebody else, then watching TV in the evenings or maybe going down the gym or chatting to your mates or playing ball for a bit before bed. As long as you stick to the rules, you don't get much hassle, all your amenities will be paid for, and you won't be forced to do anything different. This place is called a prison.
When the lifestyle in prison is difficult to distinguish from the lifestyle of so-called 'freedom' within the same society, something is going very wrong somewhere. We have allowed ourselves to be coerced into behaving like caged lab rats, and are paying the price in anxiety levels, just like they do.
Biology has an inherent need to strive for the full potential of our own development; to learn, to make the best of ourselves, and to constantly improve ourselves, our surroundings, our chances of success, and our culture. We need to feel that we belong, that our world makes sense and that what we are doing makes sense in all roles in all contexts. We need to feel that we are morally good people worthy of respect because of genuine competence. In order to develop optimally, we need to feel congruous, competent, autonomous, inquisitive, playful, confident and happy. In short, we need to feel welcome, fulfilled and meaningful in the universe.
Besides all this, we also have individual personal needs, which cannot feature in any 'one-model-fits-all' system. We all develop different interests, have different strengths and weaknesses, and find certain skills easier to grasp than others; we choose to pursue different studies and to express ourselves via different media; and our personal needs emerge according to our personal interests.
Biology will never allow us to feel fulfilled unless its needs are met, and it will raise anxiety whenever we try focus on anything else. It may seem, when reading through the text above, that biology has an inordinate number of demands, but in fact it's a lot more simple: all that biology needs to keep it happy is to be in the relevant matrix.
Matrix theory is a biopsychological model for intelligence development which explains the biological processes of psychological growth in terms of their reliance on epigenetic triggers to initiate consecutive stages of emergence. Meeting our biological needs via the 'expected' input at every stage is necessary to provide those triggers.
Our 'basics' (regardless of all the details above) are invariably the same three needs expressed on different levels in different ways; and they are: platform (a safe space to interact from), input (the stage-relevant stuff to interact with/perform operations on), and power (energy and ability to interact). These three things; platform, input and power form each new context (each matrix) for each stage of intelligence development.
A Matrix enables each stage of development in turn, and the system focuses on each network in turn, to enable its development. All biology NEEDS to continue to develop (and to keep the unconscious satisfied) are the relevant matrices, because they're the only way to grow the relevant networks. Intelligence, being a dynamic system, develops by moving from one matrix to another with ever-increasing abilities to interact. It cannot continue to develop in a static situation, and that's why the unconscious sends us warning signals of anxiety whenever development gets stuck.
This reality goes on regardless of whether or not we are conscious of it or pay attention to it, and consequently strategizing in order to meet our conscious desires will never result in success unless our conscious desires are congruous with our unconscious biological needs. Without fulfilling these needs, the growth of intelligence cannot continue, development cannot continue, and some wonderful states of mind and their accompanying emotions will eternally elude us (indeed, even basic contentment may well be impossible).
Believing that large quantities of qualifications, money, religious observances or material goods will 'make us happy' or even 'keep us safe' is a sad superstition that pervades anxiety-based societies and traps most counterfeit game players into dull repetitive mediocre lives of glorified slavery. We'll be looking into unquestioning beliefs and superstition more closely in Tutorial 17, for now its wise to remember that we cannot ever thrive via counterfeit games; we can only thrive despite them, and we can only thrive in context of the relevant matrix.
There is a very simple rule for successful strategizing and it is this: regardless of what you feel consciously, if your unconscious mind is happy, you are going in the right direction. When it feels the need for change, it will clearly let you know. But no amount of stereotypical behavior, money, material goods, casual sex or social popularity will cheer up an unhappy unconscious. It will continue to be unhappy and anxious until its needs are met, because that is what it is designed to do: make us feel crappy, irritated and bored until we start making the right choices, and make us feel great when we do.
happiness via chemistry - psychological procrastination, or developmental aid?
We share the same biology -we have all inherited the same basic biological systems, and we all do a lot of things to try to feel better; such as drinking, medication, buying things or gambling but too often all we really do is entertain the unconscious for long enough to get through the days.
Biology is expecting a healthy life, and knows that should be mirrored in our neurochemistry by regular releases of anandamide (our endogenous cannabinoid); endorphins (our endogenous opioids); oxytocin and phenylalanine (our endogenous answer to 'MDMA') noreepinephrine (our endogenous amphetamine) and serotonin (our natural calmative). It's no coincidence that we try to replace these with their nearest plant-derived analogues in an attempt to get a similar high. Similar, that is, to the way in which our unconscious knows we ought to feel in the first place.
Hedonists would argue that this is the best way to progress; just rewire the system warning lights so that the system believes there is no problem, however the big piece missing from all theories of hedonistic imperatives so far is the question of ongoing development. Since without it, the unconscious will never truly be satisfied, all we can succeed in doing by faking the 'emotions of success' is making a mediocre everyday life more tolerable; like lab rats going for the cocaine.
Alternately, some have argued that the purpose of using a drug is in order to get a 'sample healthy state' that we can then attempt to copy without the drug or by safer means. For example, once we can recognize what peace of mind or loving empathy or total security feels like, it becomes a lot easier to learn to achieve it autonomously.
Whether or not drug-induced states permit further development is a crucial question here, because without ongoing development, at some point, due to lack of use or wronguse, decline begins anyway. So a hardly incidental issue is the question of whether plant derived or synthetic substitutes for human neurochemicals can provide sufficient epigenetic triggers for ongoing development.
For example, brain-derived, endogenous Anandamide appears to be involved in increasing Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and GABA; and endogenous Opioids give rise to increases in gray matter volume in areas related to learning, memory and executive function. On the other hand, plant derived morphine also appears to improve executive functions, but possibly at the expense of other functions.
Regardless of whether drugs may buy us time to focus on development by hacking our neurochemistry into believing 'everything is okay' and keeping anxiety down, the importance of breaking out of any state of docile repetitive apathy cannot be overstressed, not least because we are missing out on a lifetime of positive emotional/ neurochemical experience (the stuff we are trying to 'replace' with drugs etc), but also because remaining 'behind bars' without a matrix denies us the only thing which is absolutely ours -our own development as intelligent beings. We are retarding that development by playing, quite frankly, bloody silly lab rat games, buoyed up by cloud-cuckoo-land promises of 'escape someday', and taking happy pills when hope founders or common sense raises its head. For those in this position, it's time to take a mature perspective and face reality.
Because we have been conditioned to think of 'ourselves' as only the conscious mind, and have relegated the unconscious either to non-existence or to the role of some mad unrestrained animal, we fail to pay attention to its prompts. And this is what perpetuates the 'alarm signal' of chronic underlying anxiety: failure to notice the need to fulfil a biological imperative.
Note it's the failure to notice the imperative; not the failure to fulfil the imperative, that causes the anxiety. If for example there is a perfectly sensible reason why we can't fulfil our needs (such as, we're stuck in a POW camp at the moment), the unconscious understands that there is a problem, that we are aware of the problem, and trusts us to sort the problem out as best we can at which point development will continue. It's only if there is a problem blocking development which we don't seem to be consciously aware of, that anxiety rises (in order that we might become aware there is a problem). Meanwhile we hunt around for all sorts of things outside ourselves to blame the anxiety on, missing the point that the problem lies within, in terms of our own restricted development.
We can now see why mistaking imposed requirements (especially anxiety-based imposed requirements) or expecting synthetic constructs to satisfy real life biological need can cause the best laid plans to go awry. Forming strategies that mix up these two is always a mistake, because real life continues to happen even when nobody believes in it. We can prevent this sort of planning mistake by analyzing our strategies to determine whether their drivers are anxiety-based or healthy-development based. We'll show you how to do this in the NHA guide below.
A method for examining our wants and needs is included in the Hacks & exercises section of this tutorial, but understanding wants and needs alone will not create winning strategies; we have to figure out how to best move towards fulfilling these needs and then we must implement the steps of our plan by actually doing things in real life.
While early NH is often more about repairing damage and preventing further damage, the strategy of advanced NH is more about setting up matrices for further development and augmentation. But all strategy is pointless without the interaction and behaviors required to actualize it. It is our behavior (and ultimately, beliefs) which communicate beneficial (or deleterious) contexts to the unconscious mind; and we'll be looking more closely into this in the next tutorial.
the most important bits to remember
Until recently it was thought that working memory was underpinned by stable brain patterns and hard wired network pathways. Instead, the areas of the brain responsible for working memory are dynamically changing all the time.
Retarded or blocked development may be the biggest causative factor underlying executive function problems.
The strategy of diving in and hothousing any network that's poorly supported and has a history of wrong use is a recipe for disaster.
Always do things in the right order - N6 relies more on its support networks than any other.
Time spent surrounded by others who educate themselves and are reasonably well educated enables people to improve WM function.
Inability to learn with practice how to perform the Stroop task (see tutorial 11) is indicative of problems with executive function.
As long as supporting nets are sufficiently developed, current weaknesses in executive skills can be improved by regular healthy use, so for example if working memory or planning ability is weak now, it may be improved with exercise.
Nonuse due to incongruity can block output control, but so can wrong use in the sense of bad habits of behavior repeated over time.
It is possible to develop some N6 skills and recruit them to serve other dominant networks. Depending on the rogue network, different symptoms occur.
The main reason plans and strategies fail is due to misframing or misinterpreting the reality of needs, which leads to incongruous constructs. To avoid this problem we need to remember the difference between biological law and synthetic rules; the difference between real life need and 'imposed requirement'.
Because we have been conditioned to think of 'ourselves' as only the conscious mind, and have relegated the unconscious either to non-existence or to the role of some unrestrained animal, we fail to pay attention to its prompts. And this is what perpetuates the 'alarm signal' of chronic underlying anxiety: failure to notice the need to fulfil a biological imperative.
No amount of stereotypical behavior, money, material goods, casual sex or social popularity will cheer up an unhappy unconscious. It will continue to be unhappy and anxious until its needs are met, because that is what it is designed to do: make us feel crappy, irritated and bored until we start making the right choices, and make us feel great when we do.
DO IT NOW – exercise your working memory
Which item from the grid below is missing from the collection of items above it?
This task gives you immediate awareness of working memory interacting with input in real time. If you think about it, you are doing quite a bit more than just maintaining the representations of items in mind while attempting to solve this puzzle. Remember -working memory is correlated with fluid intelligence.
Answer at end of tutorial
planning, strategy, coordination and executive control
Planning & strategy
Do you regularly underestimate how long tasks will take, fail to prepare for things in time, realize
you have been too optimistic, or feel paralysed by indecision over what matters most or which project to tackle first? Planning is a skill, and most of us don't get enough practice.
The smoothest output control relies on some degree of planning, but the effectiveness of plans depends upon the skill of the planner; in fact our planning and strategy skills determine the effectiveness of all interactional plans and implementation intent. Plans are indeed only as good as the people who make them. Poor planners' plans do not help to achieve goals. However, the good news is that understanding planning techniques can compensate for a lack of planning skill until enough practice may be had.
Both planning and strategy assume previous experience with a supporting set of sub-skills, such as understanding the big picture, knowing clearly what we need, aligning priorities with broader goals, measuring outcomes, seeing connections within complex issues, using feedback to execute change as needed, evaluating and judging alternatives, seeking alternatives, making decisions, and using input/output control.
The most useful activities in context of planning have been estimated as preparing notes, organizing meetings for communication, making clear explanations to others, cooperative interaction, seeking/collecting relevant information, analyzing information, strategizing to get plans underway, developing alternative ideas, and reading & preparing models or mind maps.
These are the sorts of skills that are designed to be passed on via culture; learned during our youth through example, experience, modeling and practice. Usually, we are not given enough good examples to model. Wannabe effective planners must therefore first master many of these preliminary skills.
Here is a list of six major skill areas that effective strategists need:
1 Analyzing and interpreting information and situations
2 Diagnosing problems and identifying relevant causal or affecting factors
3 Predicting and forecasting
4 Goal setting, Evaluating and comparing possible courses of interaction
5 Implementing interactions and monitoring them.
6 Coordinating and Communicating
These in their turn of course depend on other (hopefully previously acquired) abilities such as: identifying missing, erroneous, inaccurate or irrelevant information; coping with partial information; recognizing and assessing contradictory evidence; identifying unreliable data; making realistic assumptions; developing arguments or complicated reasoning chains supported by assumptions and evidence; and using intuition to reach defensible assessments and interpretations. These are all enabled by intellect and creativity, and these two key skills themselves rely on the foundations of imagination, memory and learning.
1 Analyzing means separating the situation into parts and examining the parts to better understand what is occurring. Interpreting means explaining and providing our own view of the situation. Assessing means estimating the importance, plausibility, or value of elements of the situation.
2 Diagnosing is the process of determining the cause and nature of problems. Usually we will need to separate symptoms and causes from problems, collect relevant diagnostic information, draw inferences and make judgments to reach a diagnosis. Inferring means reaching conclusions based upon what is known and assumed. Judging is the process of our forming opinions and estimates relevant to a situation or problem. Understanding the nature of problems themselves can be of great help here, and we include a section on this below.
3 Forecasting and predicting the future involves probabilities and determining what we believe is 'most probably' likely to happen. Sometimes information from the past or present can be a useful aid in forecasting. Strategizing is the process of designing a consistent integrated program of interactions that when carried out will accomplish specific goals. Goal-setting is the process of identifying desired accomplishments and targets. Planners should be especially skilled at identifying long-range strategic interactions. A good strategist should be able to construct plans that achieve long-term goals without consuming excessive resources or violating constraints.
4 If long-term goals are in conflict, then planners must be able to establish priorities. Skilled strategic thinkers are flexible and opportunistic in situations that are not fully known or that change with time. They can work with predictions and develop flexible plans that are responsive to the uncertainty and contingencies associated with them.
In a planning situation, alternative plans or courses of actions need to be evaluated against normative criteria to ensure their appropriateness. When one compares alternative plans to accomplish the same mission and long-term objectives, a list of specific criteria related to effectiveness and efficiency need to be developed. The specific criteria should then be used to make comparisons among the alternatives. The major criteria that must be met by a strategic course of action include acceptability, adequacy, completeness, distinguishability, feasibility, suitability and variety.
5 Strategists must be skilled at implementing and monitoring plans. Once a plan has been communicated to those who will execute it, planners must carry out their own assigned tasks in executing the plan and assist those involved if help is required. Also, strategists must correctly interpret signals and feedback from others who are executing the plan. Effectively implementing and monitoring a plan that has been skillfully crafted will greatly increase the likelihood of its success.
6 Plans and strategies involving more than one person are accordingly complex; and one must possess well-developed communication, interactional and cultural skills. Effective communication includes having both the focus to explain to and inform others, and the openness to listen to and be informed by others.
understanding problems, and the process of effective strategy
Effective strategizing is a highly skilled activity. Central to any successful strategy is a clear understanding of the objective of planning; the clear understanding and definition of the situation to be dealt with. It is the ability to successfully navigate a 'source-path-goal' story formula that brings strategic success, and in learning about this it is important to understand the nature of 'source' problems before establishing the goals and designing the path.
Our need for planning and strategies is subjective and humanistic. We plan in order to achieve something we regard as beneficial, or to avoid something we regard as harmful. When we are seeking new benefits, when we plan and what we plan for are matters of our own choice. However, quite a lot of planning occurs in response to what we perceive as 'problems'. So the first task of planning is always to understand the problem; that is to say, review how a problem has been defined and consider what alternative definitions there might be.
Alice has a problem. Bob won't leave her alone. He constantly hassles her to do things and lend him things and talk to him and get involved in things she really isn't interested in. Alice has temporarily 'solved' her problem by avoiding Bob and pretending to be out, but she feels uncomfortable and somehow guilty about this.
Bob has a problem. He gets a lot of headaches. They happen at work and also at home in the evenings and weekends. Bob has temporarily 'solved' his problem by regular use of painkillers, but he is now getting regular indigestion.
Neither of these people have defined 'the real problem'. Alice's real problem is that she finds it almost impossible to say 'no' to people due to anxiety, but she's not aware of that yet; and Bob's real problem is eye strain, but he doesn't know that yet (and they may never know, because they haven't defined the real problem; they are just defining symptoms of the real problem). Finding out what the REAL problem is can simplify a lot of problems.
On the other hand it can make them more complicated. For example, in analyzing some problems, you may hit the 'Mozart dilemma':
I do X (drink/ smoke/ eat junk/ work for an asshole/ take these pills) because I can't cope mentally in life without doing it, but doing it makes me physically sick, which makes me miserable too.
In such situations, or those in which the real problem is known but will take a long time to address, the question becomes, 'is it better to try to deal with the 'real' problem immediately, knowing we are unlikely to be able to solve it for some time? Or are we wiser to tackle only the symptoms we are confident of solving, knowing that the 'real' problem still remains, but 'buying time' to deal with it?'
The REAL problem with such dilemmas is failure to see any way out by making either choice. The secret is to choose both -tackle the long-term aspects of the problem over time (make a schedule and strategy) and deal with the symptoms sufficiently to allow ongoing function with minimal harm.
When there is no such dilemma, four distinct types of problems can be identified: simple problems, compound problems, complex problems and meta-problems. The kind of problem determines the kind of strategic approach.
Simple problems are problems we regard as fully rational; for example, Alice wants a cup of tea with milk, but has run out of milk. We can identify all of the relevant factors and we can analyse them thoroughly enough to be able to predict how the problem will respond to any strategy Alice may decide to undertake.
Strategy for simple problems:
We follow the 'rational' procedure: analyze all possible courses of action, evaluate the consequences of each one and decide on the best. As long as problems are simple problems, this strategy works fine.
A compound problem can be thought of as a collection of simple problems, loosely connected and possibly open-ended. Compound problems frequently appear as 'multiple objective' problems: that is, problems which require a number of different objectives to be achieved simultaneously. The nature of each objective and how to achieve it may be perfectly clear in itself. But the challenge for the planner is to trade off achievement of one objective against achievement of another.
For example, Alice wants a cup of tea with milk, but has run out of milk, and a friend is due to call round soon, and there is nowhere local to get milk, and Alice has no transport and a hangover, and cannot find her purse. That's a compound problem.
Strategy for compound problems
Compound problems are problems whose individual parts are understood in detail but where the relationships among them and the potential impact of additional factors cannot be anticipated. For compound problems, we assume we can identify some of the relevant factors and investigate them thoroughly enough to be able to predict how they will respond to intervention. But we no longer assume we can identify all of the relevant factors, at least not immediately. Instead, we recognize that we may have to contend with 'new developments' or 'extraneous factors' in the course of our planning, i.e. parts of the problem whose relevance emerges only as we proceed with planning. Moreover, because of this uncertainty, we no longer assume we can fully predict all the interrelationships that may occur among the elements of a compound problem. Breaking the problem down into individual 'problemettes' and deciding what order to solve them in should be the basis of our strategy. In the example above, Alice's best move is to phone the friend and request s/he bring milk, after which she can call her own cellphone to locate the purse.
Complex problems are problems whose full scope is understood but whose detailed nature is not. For complex problems, we assume that we can identify all of the relevant factors but not that they can all be thoroughly investigated, at least not thoroughly enough for us to be able to predict how each will respond to intervention. This means that, while the emergence of wholly unanticipated elements ('new developments' or 'extraneous factors') is ruled out, there remains something essentially incalculable about complex problems. Complex problems frequently appear as 'multiple interest' problems: that is, problems involving the values of different interests and/or different time-horizons.
Complexity often stems from the fact that the given problems in a situation involve values. Sometimes values conflict. This may be because they are held by people with different interests (eg, in a situation of starting a project, Alice believes that quantity is more valuable than quality and making quick returns from a project is better than long term investment, but Bob believes the opposite), or it may be because, even for the same person or group, future values are different from present ones (eg, in a situation of setting up home, Alice doesn't have to consider kids NOW, but may well decide to have a family in future).
Strategy for complex problems
Strategizing for complex problems has to incorporate some sort of process to be able to arbitrate or compromise among differing values. It must also consider future values that may be affected by the results of the planning derived from current values.
To deal with complex problems, there is little point in looking for optimal or sub-optimal outcomes, since these are inherently subjective in nature and different for everybody. Thus, the strategy for dealing with simple problems (analyze all the options, evaluate them, and decide on the best) is inappropriate for complex problems. Instead, we need a procedure that puts less emphasis on analyzing and evaluating the problem and more emphasis on securing consensus among those involved that the strategy serves everyone's interests in at least some beneficial way.
We do NOT have to share each others' values in order to make this work. For example: Alice wants to visit a particular place because of the fascinating undersea coral life she films when scuba diving, but traveling alone is both expensive and difficult due to transporting heavy equipment. Bob hates scuba diving, but he would like to visit the same place to see all the hot girls and lie on the beach smoking and drinking Sangria. Bob drives a jeep, and lifts weights regularly for fun. So Alice and Bob can both share travel costs, help each other out and have a great time.
Don't make the mistake of trying to 'convert' a complex problem back to a simple one by creating a standard 'formula' (for example by calculating the 'importance' of what Alice wants to do, versus the 'importance' of what Bob wants to do.) This just avoids recognizing the very feature of the problem that defined it as complex: i.e. that different people have different values and priorities, which matter just as much to them as yours do to you. If we try to 'standardize' values, then we ignore these differences and neglect the reality of individuality. There are NO standard values in complex problems.
Meta- problems are problems where neither their full scope nor their detailed nature is understood. Meta-problems have the characteristics of both compound and complex problems. Like the first, new factors may emerge to be taken into account as planning proceeds. Like the second, even the factors we know about are not all fully understood.
Strategy for meta-problems
The only assumption in a meta-problem is that connections do exist among the various factors and that it is useful to focus on them collectively. In systems terms, meta-problems are defined by a focus rather than a boundary.
One of the most perplexing features of meta-problems is that their nature can even be affected by the planning process itself. To deal with meta-problems, we therefore need a strategy that is adaptive; one that can keep pace dynamically with changing perceptions and events in real time, including changes which may result from implementation of the strategy itself. Meta-problems have no single solution as such; all you can do is keep trying to 'stay on course'. Static strategies that proceed in linear fashion towards some final choice cannot possibly succeed for meta-problems, where conditions are constantly changing.
It is possible for the 'same' problem to be defined in several different ways. In the example below, all four problem types are illustrated:
Imagine that Alice and friends want to travel on foot through a forest, filming wildlife from one end to the other. How might this look from the perspective of each different kind of problem?
As a simple problem, getting from one point to another with filming equipment on foot is typically a problem of determining the shortest-distance route or the 'flattest' (route with fewest contour-crossings or easiest terrain). To do this, we need to identify all the relevant factors (such as size and weight of equipment to be carried, distances and conditions along all the alternative routes, and any other constraints). Then we work out the appropriate distances or gradients for each possible route and we choose the optimum: i.e. the shortest-distance or most expedient energy-saving route. The basic strategy for the problem remains the same: we analyse all the options, evaluate them and decide on the best one.
The 'same' problem typically becomes a compound problem through the addition of a more complicated set of objectives. For example, suppose that they do want to minimize distances and gradients but also to film as many species as possible along the way. This may mean following a more scenic route, not progressing too fast, making sure there are convenient places to stop for refreshments, etc.
To deal with a compound problem like this, we can (up to a point) use the same strategy as before. After all, the revised problem is just a 'compounded' version of the simple problem. So we can use the same procedure for finding the optimum way of achieving each individual objective: analyse all the relevant factors,evaluate each alternative route and decide which one best meets each objective. The difficult part comes when we have to reconcile all these different 'sub-optima' (one for each objective) into the choice of one overall 'optimum'.
For each individual set of conditions, those involved will need to trade off number of potential species against possible camping sites along the route, and how they do this will depend on their individual values.
The 'same' problem typically becomes a complex problem through the addition of more interests. For example, suppose once again that their sole objective is to find the shortest-distance or most consistent gradient route; but this time they have a larger film crew with them whose views must also be considered. Even if Alice and her friends agree on the objective of the journey, they may not agree on how to achieve it. For example, they may agree on the objective of minimizing walking time but disagree on how to do it (e.g. would more time be saved by splitting up and filming individually or by working together?) Some of the group think it will take too long to include the smaller insects, which don't really matter so much as the big species. Others disagree. What makes a problem complex is not the need to reconcile different objectives; complexity usually arises from subjective differences about tactics.
Meta-problems are dynamic; the issues that arise change all the time. What makes a problem into a meta-problem is typically a combination of both multiple objectives and multiple interests. For example, suppose that Alice and her friends share little more than a willingness to work together. That leaves unresolved both the objectives of the trip and the means for achieving them. In particular, what makes meta-problems so difficult to deal with is the fact that values (what actually makes the trip 'worthwhile' for each member of the group) may be influenced by the experience of the trip itself (what happens as events unfold). For example, at the beginning of the project, Alice may have placed a low value on number of species along the route; she then finds there are many more than she imagined; consequently, she decides to spend more time at each location. As time goes by, equipment problems begin to surface. The sound crew gets a tummy bug. The weather is too wet for filming. Bob is sick to death of being bitten by insects and just wants to go home.
Source-path-goal (SPG) strategies
Understanding problems is only part of the formula for constructing successful strategies. We are essentially goal-directed creatures; everything we do contributes directly or indirectly to the goals we want to achieve. Goals, and developing strategies how to achieve them, thus dominate our thoughts, emotions, and interactions, and we need ways to conceptualize abstract as well as concrete goals. As we have learned in previous tutorials, our minds have adapted to conceptualize abstract and complex phenomena by understanding and representing them metaphorically in terms of physical, concrete phenomena.
'Source-path-goal' strategies succeed because they follow the archetypal story of a journey; the path that our unconscious expects to take through anything. Journey stories allow for rich mappings of the conceptual metaphor, 'purposeful interaction = motion towards a desired destination' ('Life is a journey'). This metaphor is particularly productive in strategizing, as it allows for a rich mapping structure from 'movement towards a desired destination' to 'purposeful activity'.
'Progressing forward' is the optimal path through a story or a game, but we are well aware that there may be obstacles along the way, and these are represented as properties of forces or forms of energy in context of human experience; for example, attraction/repulsion; restriction/propulsion; obstruction/shortcut.
Using the source-path-goal story model to frame a situation or problem gives a realistic perspective on strategic possibilities. Purposeful activity IS movement towards a destination, and we can in principle deploy anything that either helps self-propelled movement toward a destination, or hampers it, as a semantic domain for metaphorically structuring any purposeful activity.
That is, framing a problem or situation in terms of undertaking a physical journey from starting point A to destination B is easily mapped onto the metaphorical “journey” to resolve a problem, a lack, or a need “toward” a solution. The relatively simple analogy between 'Movement toward' and 'purposeful activity', or 'quest', are based on an underlying, shared source-path-goal (SPG) schema the unconscious knows very well. If you give the system a map in terms of its own format, it knows where it's going.
The SPG schema for encountering a problem might thus be: an obstacle (= problem/source) appears, exertion of energy is needed to deal with it, perhaps involving enabling tools (= strategy/path), which results in neutralizing the obstacle (= solution/goal).
A strategy is a story, with one chapter leading to the next, that tells you where you are going, how you will get there, and what you should do next. A strategy story, however, is best written in reverse. You already know the source of the story -that's your problem or issue; the story has already begun, so you start with where you want the story to end or how you think it is most likely to end. So you begin by working out how ideally this issue would resolve – what would be the best outcome of all? Then you look at other possible outcomes and consider which are the 'most likely' to actualize and which of these is best. That's your goal.
Next you focus on the middle part; working from the 'next chapter' and defining clear 'chapters' in the story, which may be short (containing a turning point) or long (containing a transition). Define what you will need to achieve during each chapter in order to progress satisfactorily and define how you will measure progress. Choose key events that should mark the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. Choose what strategic priorities should be covered within each chapter.
Knowing how your next chapter will unfold, you will see clearly what you must do right now to get things prepared for each one. But this is just a taster: we'll explore the use of archetypal stories in strategic contexts further in the 'NHA Guide' section of this tutorial.
Research shows that strategic thinking strengthens intellectual capacity, and this is precisely because it stretches intellectual capacity. The ability to recognize, synthesize and create models of complex ideas and problems to solve are fundamental skills for learning, behavior, interaction, and real-life success.
With practice in abstracting, reasoning, and innovating, strategy skills will inevitably improve. Cognitive improvements will also occur in areas such as memory for facts, planning and problem solving, which themselves augment strategy skills, so with regular practice we can set up a loop of constant self improvement in these functions.
We include some exercises to assist planning & strategy skills in the Hacks & Exercises section of this tutorial.
Executive functions are those involved in complex cognition; such as solving novel problems, modifying behavior in the light of new information, generating strategies or sequencing complex actions. Such functions are ‘a product of the co-ordinated operation of various processes to accomplish a particular goal in a flexible manner’.
'Coordination' is the ability to synchonize thoughts, strategies, feelings and/or behaviors in relation with current interactions, overall wellbeing, and individual goals; and Network 6 plays an important role in our ability to orchestrate thoughts and actions in accordance with the environment.
Our behavior is modulated by environmental information plus internally represented information of past events and future goals. Hence, in order to decide how to interact in a specific situation, we have to mentally integrate the external information with the internally represented information.
Recruitment of supporting processors in order to achieve this is far from random. As we have seen above, there is an hierarchy of interactions between networks based on the integration and coordination of information, which begins with concrete signals and ends with abstract comprehension.
On top of this the CPU must deal with dynamically shifting priorities; some tasks cannot be processed together (such as conscious calculation and memory consolidation), some must be processed in specific order (such as the learning cycle COMPVC), and many 'modes' or subjective experiences are dynamically complementary (such as creativity open and closed modes, or comfort and disgust). Coordination is therefore a key process for N6 on all levels from locomotional to emotional to conceptual.
Conceptual coordination, like working memory, is also a main 'program' behind all executive functions, so it's important to understand it if we are to direct and augment our development.
Development proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, and biology attempts to get our main skills sufficiently practiced to be largely automatic; in order to free up networks for higher processing tasks. We still have autonomous directive control over sensorimotor and spatial skills, but we no longer need to concentrate hard in order to walk or use tools. Little by little, more and more complex processing becomes smooth and practiced over time, including all of our habits of thought and behavior.
Conceptual coordination takes place in the CPU, and is a process that relates multiple perceptual-motor modalities (verbal, visual, spatial, gestural, etc.) in space and time. It must go on throughout our lives; taking into account concepts becoming more abstract and constructs more complex as we develop. Networks, although subject to plasticity, remain of necessity concrete, so the same networks can be used for abstract concept coordination that are used for sensorimotor, spatial and emotional coordination; as focus shifts from the mechanical to the theoretical; bridging the gap via changes of format for each network, for example analogization and metaphorization. N3 accomplishes much of this reformatting.
Once network 6 and its connections to other nets are sufficiently developed, information processing treats thinking, learning, and behavior contextually (in terms of data in various formats and the processes operating on them.) Processes are expressed as programs, in which the symbol structures have characteristics very similar to those we use to communicate with each other and encode knowledge in external media: language, graphic images, formulae, and so on. Indeed, N6 treats all forms of communication (both input and output, external or internal,) as data to be coordinated.
The nature of conceptual coordination has been misunderstood in most mainstream research due to viewing formulae and verbal conceptualizations (words) as the 'final format' and controllers of all thought (probably because of our society's N5-dominant context). "Symbolic reasoning" has been equated with abstract cognition to the point that all knowledge is equated with verbal or textual descriptions and all symbols with words. Hence abstract thinking has been misconstrued as being fundamentally verbal, and other modalities of abstraction, on which verbal thinking often depends or into which verbal thinking is translated, are inadequately understood.
Rarely has neuroscience research thus far (2016) considered the concept that N6 might just have its own format just like every other network, or that it has every format at its disposal, or that no single format on its own can ever embody or reproduce the big picture of real life in all its complexity (and that's precisely why biology bothered evolving so many different formats.)
Somewhat amusingly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) research has ventured further in this direction than has neuroscience so far; perhaps because it's more obvious that computers can compute without using words. If we take 'thinking' to be 'running processes' (performing operations on data over time), then N6's method of abstracting IS conceptual coordination. The mind doesn't need verbal instructions (from the outside or the inner voice) for running its own executive programs.
situated cognition theory
Situated cognition is the theory that people’s knowledge and ability to understand meaning is contextual; that is to say embedded in the activity, context, and conditions in which it is learned. It is also referred to as “situated learning.” This is a coordination-based way of looking at cognition, where much behavior can be controlled 'on the fly' rather than by pre planning or resorting to automatics.
Perception emerges only from perceptually guided interaction; and cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor patterns that enable interactions to be perceptually guided. Perception, conception (forming concepts), and interaction can be coordinated expertly without any internal dialogue, as anyone watching primates or other intelligent mammals who lack speech will be aware.
The dual-processor relationship of N6 and N3 is (biologically) designed to be a complementary one. In a fully developed healthy mind in any situation outside immediate emergency, N6 has the directors chair and ultimate modulation of responses, emotion, thought and behavior. (Being realistic, we do not see many good examples of fully developed healthy minds, so we must view this degree of coordinated control as unusual but possible, and remember that striving for full development is in our nature.)
Because of its 'coupled' nature, the relation of sensation, perception, and motor processes within the CPU is dynamic, as part of an hierarchical circuit, such that the momentary interactions within the system are sustained and directed through various formats from the concrete to the abstract and back again; and each level of processing; including conceptual processing; is literally coopting the components that have worked together in the past.
Conceptualization of anything inevitably involves aspects of perceiving and, by virtue of how analogization works; is inherently integrated with physiological, emotional (neurochemical) and sensorimotor activity.
This presents the multimodal, coordination view of cognition known as 'situated cognition theory'; which fits the neurophysiological evidence so far. Reasoning, perceiving, motion and emotion are all occurring within our own conceptualization of what we are doing. That is, what is seen, how it is understood, and what we think and do are all constructed within the conceptual context of an interaction.
Conceptualizations include categorical relations between roles, stuff in the world, story plots and moral behavior; they develop within our minds and sustain a coordinated output of behavioral interactions. The similarity between individuals; the features which are universally shared, is interactive compatibility; the ability to interact. Interactive conceptualizations are adaptively, dynamically initiated by individuals in different physical, psychological and cultural contexts.
From this perspective, 'knowledge' does not consist of theories and models (the maps), but comprises our conceptualizations and our perceptual categorizations that coordinate what we personally see and do in the real world (the territory); and we cannot attribute meaning of any reliable kind without events embodying their real life context.
In contrast to cells in posterior networks, many PFC neurons are sensitive to a conjunction of, and able to integrate, a stimulus and a context; and the optimal deployment of executive functions is invariably context-dependent. For meaning to emerge in cognition, we need contextual coordination; and this structures 'situated cognition' – processing within a congruous context.
What this means in terms of processing is that N3 must coordinate sensorimotor and spatial input (in their own terms, as 'things', 'stuff' and 'events' plus 'objects', 'containers' and 'conduits') in order to perceive 'characters', 'sets' and 'stories'. Its resulting conclusions are sent to frontal networks as a series of individual stills which has undergone sensorimotor and spatial categorization based on similarities and differences.
'Spatial categorization' means that the same event in two different locations, or two different events in the same location, will be linked by association or similarity. Frontal networks add 'temporal categorization' (order of events) and this is what turns a series of stills into a 'movie' for ongoing perception. (We'll discuss this further in 'putting it all together', below).
In context of N6, its 'self' is a system called intelligence, and 'life' is biology; the physical platform or 'safe space' that system can operate from. The universe (in short, the whole of reality as it knows it) provides the input that the system needs to process. And the power to interact is the system's means of processing that input. These are the same three things; platform, input and power; which form a Matrix for the development of intelligence.
Executive control (self direction)
Executive control (EC) can be understood as the employment of coordination of external and internal information in working memory effectively for output control.
Whenever our behavior is not completely automatic, we need to employ either the memory-based internal generation of task sets, or autonomous conscious control of our own behavior, or both. Executive control supports flexible behavior (or should) by selecting congruous interactions that are both consistent with our goals and appropriate for our environment, and modulating input and output accordingly.
Executive control is widely misunderstood, so we must first establish what it is NOT -it is not 'control over' (which blocks particular behaviors from happening). Executive control directs behaviors, indeed, 'executive direction' is a more accurate term.
For example, we walk and speak via unconscious control, but executive control directs where we walk and why; decides what we say and how. It is the 'fine-tuning' of information and behavior to include extra (conscious) factors; not some kind of restrictive mechanism to 'curb instincts'. Good self-direction confirms and supports our instincts; because it works WITH biology; it works WITH the unconscious and not against it.
That's the most important thing to remember. During routine behavior, there is not much need for executive control as automatic responses will suffice. Executive control is necessary when anything unexpected occurs, whenever facing new learning, new experience, new ideas or new circumstances; for example if you have to operate a vehicle or machine that you are not familiar with, you will employ executive control to 'remind' you which movements need to be moderated. Using stick shift versus automatic gears is a great example, as is riding a horse for the first time. Some of the procedures are similar enough for automatic programs to cope with, but some require fine tuning.
So, executive control, or 'self control' is NOT about 'controlling', say, a 'bad temper', and although we can employ it to defuse sentiment as an emergency measure, this is not something we should have to do in everyday life (if we do, there is a mental health problem). In fact, the term 'anger management' is a misnomer; 'anger management', like 'cancer management' -is something we should only have to consider when we are already seriously ill.
Executive control is for augmenting and enhancing beneficial behaviors, it is not for 'controlling' dysfunction or malfunction.
Self control includes attentional control (our capacity to choose what we pay attention to and what we ignore), perceptual control (resolving conflicts in input), sensorimotor control (such as locomotive control), behavioral control, emotional control, psychological control and cognitive control (our ability to choose what we think about and in what terms).
Together, these skills provide appropriate self-direction. Three different functions have been observed in executive control research: inhibition (eg., Woops; don't tread in that doggy poop!); 'shifting' (eg., Don't watch me; watch that monitor); and 'updating' (eg., Wait; we know more about that now).
The inhibition function prevents stimuli unrelated to a task and responses from disrupting our performance and is responsible for our ability to ignore irrelevant things. The shifting function is used to allocate attention to the stimuli that are most relevant to the task. The updating function is used to update and monitor information in working memory.
The effects of anxiety on executive control are key to understanding the relationship between anxiety and performance. In general, anxiety inhibits executive control on a specific task by impairing processing efficiency. The efficiency of the central executive is impaired by anxiety cutting blood flow to frontal lobes. This impairs all three functions.
Research suggests that comprehension (understanding what is really going on), and thus control, is contextual. Executive control (and possibly, all executive function) is context dependent; that is to say context is vital in the allocation of meaning. With clear contextual comprehension, behavioral control is congruous. And that's very important, because a great many bad habits and more than a few tragic circumstances arise due to lack of adequate conscious self control. In humans, qualitative data includes emotion, and often the time executive control fails is during sudden anxious surges of sentiment (see 'If Things Go Wrong' section).
Self control does get stronger from regular exercise. Engaging in ANY self-control activities produces improvement in self-control, even on tasks that have no relation to the habits we wish to change. The exercises can be concrete, such as using your left hand instead of your right hand for familiar tasks, or they can be abstract, such as meditation or the Stroop task. The important thing is to practice overriding habitual ways of doing things and directing deliberate control over your behavior. Over time, that practice improves all aspects of self-control.
With so much going on day to day, it’s totally understandable if setting aside time to plan for the future feels like one thing too many. Yet the truth is that planning, alone or with others, is a healthy habit that makes us happier, because as we plan for the future, we are creating things to look forward to. We all have things we'd like to do, but if we don’t strategize and create a way to make them happen in real life, they will just remain inside our heads.
One thing that successful relationships all have in common is that the people in them make plans for the future, both short and long term. Making plans together helps us bond, we feel more confident when plans are made and we feel a stronger sense of self esteem when they are carried out.
These are not necessarily mutual plans, btw. For example, Alice may plan to lose weight and Bob may plan to build a model railway, but sitting down together and applying the basic tenets of good planning still counts as 'planning together'. They can also review each others' plans and help with any possible dilemmas. They can both create a progress chart by breaking each project into ten sections and marking off the stages of their plan as they succeed; it may even be fun to have a playful race to reach their goals. People often feel more motivated or inspired when working together, even when doing totally unrelated things.
If you plan to be sharing your life with anyone long term, communicating about what you want and need is important. One benefit of this process is that when something in life unexpectedly changes the way you live, you can get back on track much more easily.
A great habit worth developing is a short weekly planning & strategy session – half an hour might be enough – when we can relax and take an ‘aerial view’ of situations, projects, problems and issues, from the Directors chair, so to speak. Otherwise, we’ll only tend to make a plan when we HAVE to, and that's not a comfortable, safe space to practice. When we’re overwhelmed by sudden events is the time when we are most vulnerable to anxiety, emotional overweighting, or over-optimistic 'wishful thinking'.
golden rule 6 - always do things in the right order
“Begin at the beginning," the King said, very gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
(Lewis Carroll; Alice in Wonderland)
There can be little doubt of the importance of this rule, at this stage in our studies. We have seen multiple examples of how development proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, and we now know that both cognitive control and processing in general have an hierarchical organization: higher control processes involving more anterior prefrontal regions relying on the integrity of lower control processes in more posterior regions.
A simple way of looking at this is to consider that an episodic task in N3 requires sensorimotor (N1), contextual (N2) and episodic (N3) levels of cognitive control; a contextual task in N2 requires sensorimotor (N1) and contextual (N2) levels of cognitive control; and a sensorimotor task in N1 only requires the sensorimotor (N1) level of control.
Thus, higher control processes involving more anterior prefrontal regions in later-developing networks rely constantly on the integrity of lower control processes in more posterior regions in earlier-developing networks.
Processes themselves must also execute in the right order, or failure will result. This is true of all major processes including perception, making memories, learning, creativity, prediction and strategy. We have looked at many of these processes and their stages throughout these tutorials, from the concrete to the abstract; and can see clearly the same recurrent stretch/relax processing patterns behind both. Intent to interact must precede interaction in order to direct interaction; this, put simply, is how biology works.
Trying to force things in the wrong order is responsible for many problems in all areas on all levels, and diligently proceeding in the right order can advance development substantially by providing optimal conditions.
It is clear, then, that this rule cannot be broken if success is expected, in either development or augmentation. But there is more to applying this rule than its application on the physiological dimension or to a single process such as learning. It applies equally in processing, behavioral and self programming domains. We cannot expect good results from an advanced hypnosis hack, for example, if we have no previous experience of hypnosis before jumping in at the deep end. There is a learning cycle, an imagination cycle, a creative cycle, a memory cycle and a sleep/wake cycle for good reason; we perform as biology intended only when things occur in recognized patterns. In summary, algorithms only work as intended if executed in the right order and applied to the correct input.
This is also true of programming computers, and indeed any complex process in most walks of life including life itself, and we can use this rule universally for practical guidance in planning and strategy to very good effect. For example, after deciding on a strategy, consider whether the steps you plan would work better in any different order. Are there any steps missing? Does your strategy follow an already-successful archetypal plot?(see NHA guide below). Does it conform to the cycle of competence; COMPVC?
Research chemists, bomb disposal teams and heart surgeons have “Always Do Things in the Right Order!” pushed under their noses every day with dire consequences should they ignore it. The rest of us don't get such regular reminders and its usually up to experience, and sometimes hindsight, to reveal our wrong-order-based misdemeanors. In the case of mind development, though, we cannot observe the results so easily, and it can take longer to notice that something is wrong. Regular functional assessment is one good diagnostic measure, as are mood changes, but ultimately prevention is always preferable to cure. This rule (and the Golden Rules in general) can become a reliable guiding strategy that, if consistently attended to and followed, virtually guarantees doing really well and not fucking up.
Now you can see the true value of these rules and how ubiquitously they can be used for our improvement. But the 'magic' lies not in the rules themselves; it is in you; in your choice to follow biology's intent or anxiety's dictates; your choice of directing or being directed, being independent or dependent; ultimately your choice of development or decline.
NHA guide to methods & tech
Improving working memory performance
Improving working memory also improves fluid intelligence. Fluid Intelligence refers to the ability to reason and to solve new problems independently of previously acquired knowledge, and is considered one of the most important factors in learning. And those who show the biggest improvements in working memory performance also show greater reductions in self-reported anxiety symptoms post-training.
The following approaches have shown the best results for WM improvement:
behavioral – outdoor physical activities
Activities such as rock climbing, climbing trees, or balancing on a beam can dramatically improve cognitive skills.
The trick is to find proprioceptively dynamic activities, which challenge our balancing skills, body perception and orientation; such as walking and crawling on a beam (approximately 3 inches wide), moving while paying attention to posture, running barefoot, navigating over, under and around obstacles, and lifting and carrying awkwardly weighted objects.
The results of this research suggest that working memory improvements can be made in just a couple of hours of these types of physical exercises. Effective exercises have to include lots of motion (so static forms such as yoga won't do, although martial arts will). Proprioceptively dynamic training may place a greater demand on working memory than other types of exercise because when posture and balance rapidly changes, we recruit working memory to update information to adapt appropriately. Nothing builds new connections as fast as intended use.
neurochemical – medication/drugs
The popularity of different nootropics waxes and wanes, and the drugs most commonly used for cognitive enhancement at present are stimulants; namely Ritalin (methyphenidate) and Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts), and are prescribed mainly for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other forms of amphetamine and of course cocaine are available in most places only as street drugs, which always carry higher risk of not being what they claim to be (a notable cause of accidental overdose, permanent damage and poisoning).
Because of their effects on the catecholamine system, these drugs increase executive functions in most healthy normal people, improving their abilities to focus their attention, manipulate information in working memory and flexibly control their responses. Some have nasty side effects, many are addictive, and most don't feel so great when they're wearing off.
Modafinil (Provigil), has shown some short-term enhancement potential. It is currently prescribed off label for a wide range of neuropsychiatric and other medical conditions involving fatigue as well as for healthy people who need to stay alert and awake when sleep deprived, such as physicians on night call. In addition, laboratory studies have shown that modafinil enhances aspects of executive function in rested healthy adults, particularly inhibitory control.
Acetylcholine (ACh) has been suggested to regulate learning by enhancing the responses of sensory cortical neurons to behaviorally relevant stimuli.
Synaptic levels of ACh in the brains of healthy human subjects can be enhanced with the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil (trade name: Aricept). Cholinergic enhancement augments perceptual learning for stimuli having the same direction of motion and visual field location used during training. In addition, perceptual learning with donepezil is more selective to the trained direction of motion and visual field location. These results, combined with previous studies demonstrating an increase in neuronal selectivity following cholinergic enhancement, suggest a possible mechanism by which ACh augments neural plasticity by directing activity to populations of neurons that encode behaviorally relevant stimulus features.
HuperzineA ('chinese moss') is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor of herbal origin which has similar if gentler effects.
A mixture of nicotine and low-CBD marijuana (in a joint, vaporizer or pipe) can help maintain acetylcholine levels (and ability to focus) in those who are deficient. (The marijuana is there mainly to offset the deleterious affects of tobacco, so a minimal amount is needed). Tobacco on its own can produce this effect, but then you get all the nasty side effects.
A modest degree of (often temporary) memory enhancement is possible with these medications.
Cognitive - brain training
Although brain training studies have shown poor results over time, some appear to be more effective than others. Core training has produced the best results so far (2016).
Core training typically involves repetition of demanding WM tasks that are designed to target domain-general WM mechanisms rather than individual domains (for example: speed, visual attention, accuracy). Training games can be as simple as practice at ignoring distractions, or as complicated as keeping track of multiple pieces of information in your head. When designing your own games, minimize automatic responses, and be sure to include examples for all sensory modalities as well as multiple modalities. As you improve, push yourself by making the tasks slightly more difficult.
Because WM relies so heavily on directed attention, improving attention skills will also improve WM.
technological – brain stimulation
There is current confusion about Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and its ability to help/harm cognitive abilities.
tDCS is a simple system wherein a low current is passed between two electrodes on the scalp, inducing a current between them intracerebrally. Rather than setting up or inducing an exemplary brainwave frequency, tDCS targets specific brain structures or particular regions of the cortex.
While past research showed that tDCS in the dlPFC may enhance WM speed,  other researchers found that the IQ scores of people who underwent tDCS brain stimulation improved markedly less than did the IQ scores of people in a placebo group, and in scores for perceptual reasoning, people who underwent tDCS were much lower than those who didn't (perceptual reasoning tests fluid intelligence).
Perhaps most intriguing of all, another study has found evidence that people show less racial prejudice after receiving tDCS administered to the PFC, leading to the conclusion that the medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) may be a critical component in counteracting stereotypes activation.
Methods for modulation of DMN functional networks (creativity open mode)
The default mode network (DMN) may be modulated by the following interventions and processes:
Meditation - has been found to activate the DMN in some persons,  but in others, reduced activation and reduced functional connectivity of the DMN has occurred in long-term practitioners.
Resting wakefulness – Functional connectivity between nodes of the DMN is strong.
REM sleep – Possible increase in connectivity between nodes of the DMN.
Acupuncture - has for some persons resulted in deactivation of the medial brain areas and the DMN.
Onset of sleep – Decrease in connectivity between the DMN and the CEN.
Stage N2 of NREM sleep – Decrease in connectivity between the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and medial PFC.
Stage N3 of NREM sleep – Further decrease in connectivity between the PCC and medial PFC.
Sleep deprivation– Functional connectivity between nodes of the DMN in their resting-state is usually strong, but sleep deprivation results in a decrease in connectivity within the DMN. Recent studies suggest a decrease in connectivity between the DMN and the task-positive network as a result of sleep loss.
psilocybin– Reduced blood flow to the PCC and mPFC has been observed in some persons under the administration of psilocybin.
Ways to improve strategy skills
Analyzing our strategy to determine its origins
Reminder: the hallmarks of a successful strategy:
1 Analyzing and interpreting information and situations
2 Diagnosing problems and identifying relevant causal or affecting factors
3 Predicting and forecasting
4 Goal setting, Evaluating and comparing possible courses of interaction
5 Implementing interactions and monitoring them.
6 Coordinating and Communicating
Anxiety-based strategies don't work, and often it's not our own anxiety but somebody elses which creates them. Most problematic strategies are furnished by whatever anxiety-based constructs or counterfeit games we find ourselves in. Usually, non-workable strategies put up barriers, borders or boundaries which restrict us, and anything that restricts us from outside ourselves is also restricting our development.
Sometimes, especially in situations of high moral or emotional relevance, it can be difficult to tell what a strategy is really based on. Analyzing our strategy to determine whether the drivers are anxiety-based or healthy-development based can be done in three easy steps as follows:
1 First lay out your plan in simple terms. Here's an example:
Alice's strategy for losing weight:
measure my weight, make chart to record progress
start doing exercises every morning before shower
give up cookies and sweet snacks
(first day back at work)
stop snacking at work
walk home instead of driving
shopping: buy diet products instead of full fat products, replace butter with margarine
count calories for each meal and restrict daily allowance
start vitamin pills
join a gym or aerobics class
record weight each week, fill in progress chart.
2 Next, check each point and find a VALID reason why it is included in the plan, and what evidence exists for its valid inclusion; like this:
...If you're up to date with nutritional science, or you do your checking thoroughly and use accurate sources, you'll be able to predict that Alice's strategy is unlikely to succeed. If you're up to date with research you'll also predict that Alice might actually gain weight by following this plan, and you'll also predict that she's unlikely to stick to the plan.
For those who don't know why: Alice NEEDS nutrition and exercise. The above plan adopts exercise, removes some nutrition, removes some products which result in fat storage (processed cookies & sweets), but adds others that result in even more fat storage and a higher toxicity level (processed sweeteners, margarine and 'diet' products). Alice is following the advice of anxiety-based advertizing or others who have been fooled by it.
Exercise builds muscle, which weighs more than fat, so weight is not a good indicator of fat storage. Counting calories is largely irrelevant to weight loss; the quality of fuel we get from food matters much more in weight control than the quantity.
There is no 'need' for Alice to join any exercise classes; indeed if she is seriously overweight and dives straight in to heavy exercise she may overstrain her cardiovascular system and serious consequences may result.
Alice plans to give up a lot of things and has mentioned no replacements for them. It's very difficult to remove a bad habit without replacing it with something healthier.
Finally, vitamins in pills are almost universally impossible for us to digest unless they're in chelated (gel) form.
Alice has formed her plan on anxiety-based conditioning instead of on science; she has consulted websites where 'experts' told her she needs to get lots of exercise, needs to join a gym, needs vitamin pills, the adverts on TV tell her she needs to give up butter, needs to count calories, needs to weigh herself every week; and so on. The main problem with this strategy is, absolutely all of Alice's background information is false; these are not real needs; they are 'imposed requirements'.
Some of the background information has been sourced from others' anxiety-based desire to make money by conning overweight people, and some of it has have been sourced from others who have been fooled themselves, passing on false information. All Alice really needs to do to lose weight is to lower anxiety, replace processed junk with real food, only eat when genuinely hungry, and walk about a bit more.
3 After doing your analysis, ask 'The Final Question', which is, 'who am I really doing this for?' If your strategy is not designed from your own free choice, scrap the strategy.
It is not our task in life to construct strategies to pacify others' anxieties. In the case of Alice, if she can truthfully answer that she's planning this for herself, all is well in the realm of motives. If she is secretly doing it 'to keep a boyfriend' or 'because her mum said so', or for any other reason, all is not well, quite apart from whether her sources of information are false or not. Here's another example which highlights the necessity of this final question:
1 Bobs strategy for success:
now: study hard at school and get good grades
2017-2023: aim for 'A' grades at college
2023: get a good job, pay off college fees, save house deposit
2025: get mortgage on nice house
get good insurance & pension for retirement
2028: aim for promotion due to good work
2026-2030 marry someone nice
2033- ? have a family
...apart from a sad but delightful naivety ('marry someone nice'), and a few cases of blind optimism, this all sounds very ergonomic and organized, until we discover the fact that Bob hasn't written down or mentioned in his strategy -the fact that he doesn't actually want or need to do any of this. He doesn't have a clue about what he really wants to do, because he's never been given enough time to think about it or any genuine education to support his mental development. His real desire is stuck back in network 2 trying to get his parents' approval, and then society's (his surrogate parents') approval; and he's also desperate to avoid any punishment that's likely if he fails.
This is consequently a recipe for disaster, where Bob's first class honors may well be followed by a first class nervous breakdown (and in some cases, suicide). Bob has grown up receiving only 'conditional' approval ('we'll only love you if you do what we want'). If Bob doesn't grow out of this dependence, he could waste his whole life stuck in network 2 trying to achieve approval. This strategy is based on Bobs own anxiety, his parents' anxiety and his society's anxiety, and pretty much everything in it is an imposed requirement.
3 If Bob honestly asks himself the question, 'who am I really doing this for?', this flaw will be revealed.
Both Alice and Bob probably believe (despite all real life evidence) that their strategies are workable -ie, that one CAN actually succeed by following them, which sadly is a type of superstition many of us fall for. Neither of the above examples are workable strategies in real life, even though thousands of people may believe in them. The trouble is when they fail, both Alice and Bob are likely to blame themselves for 'not being good enough'; never realizing that what they were trying to do is about as possible as licking your own elbow.
Finally, when answering the final question, 'who am I really doing this for?' beware of the sentimental loophole that tells you, 'well, I'm doing it for myself really, because if I don't do it my self will get a load of hassle from so-and-so'. This is still dependence. Start forming a strategy that prevents you getting any more hassle from 'so-and-so', such as stopping hanging out with people who give you a load of hassle unless you do what they say. It's not a healthy relationship for either party.
DO IT NOW – assess a strategy
Carls strategy for finding a successful partnership:
Pay close attention to Alice (potential choice 1) and what she says.
Talk to Alice whenever appropriate.
If Alice still seems interesting, then ask her to go out for drinks/movies/meals/activities
If Alice isn't interested or in some way turns out to be boring, then get to know Donna (potential choice 2) better instead.
If Alice still seems interesting, then shift schedule around in order to spend more time with Alice.
Try to find out more about Alice's likes and dislikes and sense of humor.
Help Alice out with things she dislikes or finds difficult.
Provide things Alice enjoys.
If all goes well, then practice things we both like to do more often.
Make some mutual plans.
...Is Carls strategy likely to succeed? Why? Does it show any hallmarks of a successful strategy?
Game cheats: aligning strategy with archetypal plots
If you think about what you want in a good strategy, you ideally want an algorithm that will result in optimal outcomes, agreed? Now if you think about what an archetypal plot IS, it's an algorithm that has, evolutionarily, resulted in optimal outcomes a lot of times. In other words, it's a game cheat; a strategy which has an already-established high probability of success.
The strategy of basing strategies on archetypal plots is therefore a good one for humans, (and wise to consider if programming machines to interact with humans), because although the details of what we strategize about may differ wildly, the basics of strategizing for our needs as biological organisms does not.
“We share the same biology, regardless of ideology”is a quote that may be viewed from a temporal as well as a spatial perspective; that is to say, just as we share the same biology as current-day hunter gatherers, we also share the same biology as stone-age hunter gatherers; regardless of the details of whatever we in this generation of humans happen to be doing with our lives, or whatever fancy fictional titles or false constructs people have made up for themselves this decade.
So, designing our strategy to conform to an archetypal plot can be a real winner and gives us an advantage -and a conscious knowledge of archetypes and how they work can be a powerful directing factor in life. But bear in mind: often people fall into stereotypical rather than archetypal patterns without knowing they are doing it. Don't confuse the two. It's great to plan to be the best young seeker or wisest master or greatest benefactor in order to get where you want to go, but nobody should get caught up in deliberately strategizing to be the world's best bimbo or the ideal village idiot.
Our unconscious 'stories' are meaningful to us because they embody real life spatial or sensorimotor logics that both support and contain real inferences about reality. Our stories are compositions, and individual scenes combine to give a variety of embodied meanings and patterns. Recognition of core archetypes is hard wired in, and we acquire all new imagery from sensorimotor input plus memory and imagination (also input-based). All stories are assumed to have a plot, and our unconscious image of a plot has a source-path-goal format; that is to say, we expect a source from which the story begins, a path through the story from beginning to end, and a goal -the end of that path.
To biology, the goal is always development. The source is the current state, and the path is the journey towards an improved state.
turning points & transitions
'Following the story' enables us to see clearly the difference between turning points and transitions, an important distinction which many find difficult to fathom.
All stories include both. If you mentally review the past year, for example, can you identify any times of real change? A turning point, or was it a transition?
Transitions involve a change over time in circumstances, something you and others can easily point to at the time. Transitions go on for an extended period rather than being just a single event. Turning points, on the other hand, are single events; such as meeting a new partner, deciding to go on an adventure or take up a new study. Because it can be a purely internal decision or change of emotion or attitude, a turning point may not be immediately obvious to others, or even to ourselves at the time. A turning point may lead to a transition, or vice versa.
Turning points define 'new chapters' of our story in episodic memory, providing a narrative thread to tie our past into a coherent whole; while transitions inform the plot and provide a context for organizing other events; a backdrop against which related memories may be organized in terms of time as well as space.
In terms of strategy, when considering the past or future, the best assessments of our life and progress are made by reviewing transitions, but if we are trying to make sense of issues or problems in the here and now, reflecting on the turning points where we chose our own direction is the best way to go about things.
role-based goal-setting method
Organizing strategies around archetypal plots may be done by considering their similarity and planning for alignment:
Analyze the situation and observe who is playing what roles, including yourself. Are they playing archetypes or stereotypes? If you cast yourself as the prince looking for the princess, but observe the princess is actually playing the child looking for a substitute parent, you don't have an archetypal plot unless the princess grows up a bit and starts hanging around hopefully kissing frogs. Likewise, don't go looking for a princess if what you really seek is a substitute parent; you're much more likely to succeed if you get back into the faithful servant role and nurture your own development. When you are ready, there will still be princesses out there (and when you meet a real intelligent princess, it doesn't really matter if you think you look like a frog).
When you're creating your life plan, you define and prioritize the different roles you fill: partner, parent, sibling, friend, student, roommate, lover, etc. Every week you create a goal that you want to accomplish within each role, or for improvement in each of the roles.
Once you have sussed out the roles, look for the story. What stories do those around you appear to be in? What story do you have in common? Is it a shallow soap opera or an in-depth classic? Which roles are unfilled? Which roles do you fill?
If you have the archetypes for a classic success story, follow the archetypal plot. If a group of people is able to do this consciously and cooperatively, some amazing results may be obtained. Looking at archetypal plots also enables us to see what may be missing from a strategy, not just in terms of roles but items, scenes, scripts and contexts also. It's no good trying to be Batman without Alfred, the costume, the batcave, the acrobatic abilities, OR any supervillains.
Often when we first analyze a situation, either most persons are playing 'competitors' in the same counterfeit game, or multiple counterfeit games became apparent whose plots (and players) are in conflict with each other. This should not be surprising when we consider that people stuck in such games are not pursuing personal development; they are distracted by the requirements of the game. In the game of real life, however, these are ineffective, non-player characters (NPCs); like robots with certain automatic roles to fulfil, and limited preset things to say. Real characters are others whose lives and roles exist outside of any interface with counterfeit games in real life, and in some cases have virtually no interface with counterfeit games at all.
Considering all characters involved is still important, because often counterfeit game players simply get in the way of those trying to achieve anything. Successful strategies take into account the machinations of NPCs and often include ways to avoid obstacles which may be caused by them. Likewise good strategies are flexible and include IF = THEN concepts and 'plan Bs'.
There are what might be called 'proverbial archetypal strategies' in their own right, which are usually simple ideas such as, 'IF you fear getting lost, THEN leave a trail of breadcrumbs'; or 'too much or not enough? -Try all the options until you find the one that's 'just right''. Some of them are proverbs for specific situations; for example, 'a stitch in time saves nine' (as in, if you fix little problems right away, they never turn into bigger ones).
Use our cultures rich collection of faery tales to enrich strategic success. If you never listen to archetypal stories, you won't get a good grounding in archetypes or real life interactive strategy. Whatever N3 gets as faery tales is the supporting material N6 is using to turn into strategies for real life. Don't feed N3 fictional examples of soap-opera failures, stereotypes or non-workable strategies, or that's all N6 can give you back.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
We looked at some basic methods of CBT in previous tutorials (see 'translating the code' and 'talking the talk' in T9; and 'cognitive reappraisal' in T11). CBT aims to solve current problems and change unhelpful thinking and behaviors which have occurred due to prior conditioning from coercive or other wrong input.
CBT relies on the proven ability of conscious thought and words to influence our patterns or habits of thoughts, feelings and behaviors; moving from harmful habits and poorly-directed behaviors to helpful habits and a more adaptive, healthy direction of behavior.
Q: Isn't that exactly what Core Counseling does?
A: Yes, but the main difference between CBT and Core Counseling (CC), is that while CC focuses on the causes of our distress or symptoms in the past and reweights them, CBT looks for ways to improve our state of mind right now. This makes it a great anxiety-reducer in those not yet ready to face reweighting traumatic memories, and CBT can be used as a preliminary to CC or alternating with it. CBT is also a much easier technique for frontloaders to learn, while rearloaders may find CC easier.
CBT techniques help us challenge our current patterns and beliefs and replace unrealistic, anxious, irrational, extreme or incongruous thinking, feeling and behaviors (such as overgeneralizing, magnifying negatives, minimizing positives, panicking, aggression, apathy, denial, sentimental melodrama or catastrophizing), with more realistic and effective thoughts, feelings and behaviors; thus decreasing anxiety and self-defeating behaviors (these are known in CBT as 'cognitive distortions'.
CBT techniques may also be used to help individuals take a more open, mindful, and aware posture toward dodgy input so as to diminish its impact.
Often, techniques affect change by challenging an individual's way of thinking and the way that they react via certain habits or behaviors.
There is a multitude of CBT techniques and not enough room for all of them here, so we will explore the most generally useful ones.
The basic steps in a Cognitive-Behavioral Assessment include:
1 Identify critical issues ('issues' are beliefs, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings/symptoms, and behaviors. In identifying critical issues, we begin by breaking down our problems into these separate areas, such as our beliefs, thoughts, physical feelings, attitudes and behaviors. We then analyze these areas to work out if they are unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on ourselves.
We start with a given problem or difficult situation, and assess each four of these areas.
Example: When strangers suddenly start asking Alice questions, she has the following experience:
Beliefs: It's rude to ask strangers questions. This is a rude person. I mean, it's okay if you say, 'excuse me' and then ask for directions, or if you need help, but just walking up and talking to strangers without good reason or prior introduction is rude.
Thoughts: Why are they trying to find out about me? Why are they being so nosey and rude? I bet they're just looking for sex/money/customers!
Emotions: offense, defense, antipathy, disgust.
Physical feelings: almost like 'freezing', tight stomach, tense.
Behaviors: lack of motion, blocking body language, lack of eye contact, offended expression, leaves situation as fast as possible.
Example: Alice's beliefs seem somewhat antiquated or parochial, but what is considered 'the norm' in her society/school/family may have influenced this. They might however be challenged, to see if they are justified. Her thoughts may be excessively paranoid or they may be justified; depending on the context. Notice how she mentally asks the questions, then answers them herself by automatically framing the situation as probable harassment (for sex/money/custom). Likewise Alice's emotions seem a little extreme unless every stranger she meets really is a psychopath. Her physical feelings and behavior are both indicative of anxiety, which is almost certainly disabling her clarity of thought and making the situation seem a lot more scary than it really is. So there seems some excess of suspicion or offense here, but there is some deficit too, in that Alice does not make a response from personal integrity (such as relaxing and telling the stranger that she doesn't really think their question is appropriate, or making a joke of the matter). Instead, she runs away; distancing herself from the problem firstly in body language and expression, and then literally physically. Confidence/certainty are a deficit here, while suspicion and alarm are excessive (this is a familiar pattern of dysfunction).
3: Evaluate critical issues for their current frequency, duration, or intensity (obtain a baseline of how often you do it, whatever it is.)
Example: How often does Alice get offended and how long does the feeling continue? How often does Alice experience the 'tight stomach/freezing' symptoms? How long do they go on? (And so on).
4: If issues are excesses/wrong output, then you attempt to decrease the frequency, duration, or intensity of issues; if issues are deficits, then you attempt to increase issues. We can increase or decrease issues by practicing the healthy behaviors that should be taking place in such situations. We plan out what the healthy behaviors are that we intend to replace old habits with, and we begin to practice these changes in our everyday lives.
harmful behaviors replacement helpful behaviors
Note that Alice's beliefs are the foundation for all that follows, so challenging and changing those beliefs may well enable healthy behaviors to emerge without further intervention.
We assess how we got on during the next session, before considering changes or updates to our plan. The eventual aim is to learn to habitually apply all the new required strategies to our daily life.
Standard CBT has 6 phases:
1 Assessment or functional analysis
2 Reconceptualization (cognitive reappraisal)
3 Skills acquisition
4 Skills consolidation and application practice
5 Generalization and maintenance;
6 Assessment follow-up.
We have already covered the first two steps in these tutorials. Skills acquisition may refer to interventions, including self-instructions (e.g. distraction, imagery, motivational self-talk), relaxation and/or biofeedback, development of adaptive coping strategies (e.g. minimizing negative or self-defeating thoughts), changing maladaptive beliefs, and goal-setting or strategic planning. Generalization and maintenance refers to expanding the techniques to cover other, similar issues and maintaining practice over time (tenacity).
CBT is usually done once a week or once a fortnight, beginning with assessment/follow-up and then a new session, with each session lasting 30-60 minutes. If there has been no change after 20 sessions, either CBT is not for you or you haven't been putting theory into practice often enough.
discourse therapy (aka therapeutic discourse)
Discourse is the communicative interaction that represents the exchange between people in relationships. To use therapeutic discourse, we rely on our knowledge of discourse analysis and power relations and we learn to spot asymmetry in communications. This can help us avoid operating from habitual 'dominant network' modes by exercising healthier pathways of communication.
In any conversation, discourse emerges from interaction between participants, with each taking a turn and responding to what the other has said. This is done naturally, without preplanning precisely what will or will not be said. If some planning has occurred, participants still will not be able to anticipate precisely what they will say, or how exactly events will unfold. Speakers also have to deal with the unpredictability influenced by contextual events: the participants’ attentiveness and motivation, what has been said, and how that has been heard and interpreted. During the interaction, participants are aware of what is going on, and they use a variety of resources from the cultural and linguistic practices of their community to decide how to participate: when to speak; when not; and what to talk about with whom, when, where, and in what manner.
Ordinarily this is a part of coordinated output control, but where N6 us deficient or is being recruited by a dominant network, asymmetries in power relations always become apparent in discourse, and we can learn a lot by spotting them and altering our discourse habits, thus diverting ourselves away from stuck patterns of counterfeit communications by direct intervention and control. This can seem difficult at first as old habits persistently cause snapback unless we pay careful attention. However, good control habits become just as automatic with sufficient practice.
Our communication should confirm the cooperative nature of interaction and the equality of participants.
Here is an example of what to look out for:
Terms such as, “right,” “well,” “good,” “ok,” “now,” “so,” are fine when we use them to indicate compliance, completion, or comprehension, but watch out for them being used in an authoritative or aggressive manner (for example, in classrooms or healthcare contexts), where often they indicate asymmetry of power relations. Use of your first name often accompanies them
fine: Alice says, 'Ok, now that these test results are back we can find out more.'
dodgy: Alice says, 'Ok, now Bob, your test results are back and I can find out more.'
fine: Bob says, 'Right, now that we've got the test results, let's see how things look'
dodgy: Bob says, 'Right, now Alice, you have my test results. How do things look?'
...Can you detect the differences in implied authority in the dodgy versions? In the 'fine' versions, it is difficult to tell who, if anyone, is supposed to be 'the expert'. Alice and Bob could be two researchers working together. In the dodgy versions however, it sounds as though one person is 'speaking down' to another from a position of assumed authority and implying that they are 'in charge'. This reveals an asymmetry of power relations.
use of pronouns
In the above examples, note the different usage of 'we', 'I' and 'you'. In the dodgy versions, one person is 'left out'; as though (in the first case) they are dependent on the other person or (in the second case) they are somehow solely responsible for what happens next. Both indicate asymmetry of power relations.
The term 'we' is a particularly difficult case for discourse analysis, as it is sometimes difficult to tell how it is being used.
Alice says, 'I think we should run some tests'
Alice says, 'I think we should opt for surgery'
In the fine case the term 'we' is accurate; Alice cannot run tests without Bobs assistance and both are involved.
In the dodgy case Alice is speaking/deciding 'for' Bob; if it is not she who will be having the surgery or doing the surgery. If Alice IS the surgeon, however, this phrase is still okay (it would still be dodgy for surgeon Alice to say, 'We're going to opt for surgery', since this is making a decision FOR Bob). So context matters here.
Put simply, spotting discourse asymmetry relies on being able to perceive the truth of what is going on in the real world. Once we have spotted it, we can take steps to change these habits.
To save time, the ways in which discourse asymmetry occurs align with (and reveal) the subject position they are communicating from (see Tutorial 12 for details, but here's a recap with some fun mnemonics):
1. I'm Not OK, You're OK (the 'emo position')
2. I'm Not OK, You're Not OK (the 'punk position')
3. I'm OK, You're Not OK (the 'goth position')
4. I'm OK, You're OK (for those about to rock, we salute you)
How to use fundamental hypnotic techniques to achieve goals
Achieving the best (or any) results with hypnosis is a subtle blend of solution-focused psychology and carefully crafted communication. Here are some of the things we might want to improve using self suggestion, using the techniques we already know (if you don't remember them, review tutorial 13):
Using hypnosis, you can decrease anxiety by using rehearsal, and improve confidence at the same time. You can use association anchoring to powerfully remind yourself how it feels to be confident, and to remember times when you did feel confident.
These feelings can be 'applied' to the new situation using rehearsal.
There are varying degrees of anxiety from general unease through mild worry to panic attacks.
However, the enemy of anxiety is relaxation and calmness, and there is no better way to get seriously calm and relaxed than hypnosis. Relaxing every day will increase your resilience, allowing you to be calmer generally. You can also use association anchoring to remind yourself of a time you felt really relaxed.
Rehearsal can be used to help prepare for an event that is making you anxious, and if you tend to worry in a repetitive way, pattern interruption will help a lot.
You can also think more constructively by relaxing yourself in hypnosis first, then thinking calmly and slowly about whatever it is that is unsettling you.
Self presentation/communication with others
This is an incredibly common problem, especially when sharing creative endeavors; people become too nervous to express themselves properly.
There are two main things you can do to help yourself be more relaxed when communicating. Firstly, take care of any conditioning effects of previous unpleasant experiences. For that, you can use the dissociation technique outlined in the section on rehearsal: For any previous experiences that were unpleasant, relax yourself nice and deeply, then watch the old experiences on a screen in your mind until you can do it and remain calm.
Then, rehearse the way you want things to happen - how you want to feel, how you will look and sound, the way others will be responding. Although simple, if done properly, this can make a huge difference.
Ways to improve strategy skills
Everyone has goals that they strive towards, but many are failing at these goals. Decades of research on goal pursuit have shown that we are most likely to attain goals that are specific, measureable, and realistic. We are also more likely to attain goals that are autonomous. These are goals that we pursue because we genuinely enjoy them, or because they are personally important and meaningful - they are things that we truly want to do.
When things do go awry, the most common thing people blame is lack of 'willpower', often used synonymously with 'self control' or 'discipline'. In reality what they mean is determination; tenacity, or staying power.
If you have problems with tenacity, there is a way to strategize whilst minimizing the control required. This involves creating good habits, 
and also setting autonomous (want-to) goals. When we set such goals, we do not need to closely control ourselves to maintain schedules. Goal pursuit can indeed be effortless – we just need to set the right goals!
Practice at maintaining a schedule during tasks we genuinely enjoy will give us skills and good habits that are transferable to other sorts of tasks we may not enjoy so much.
Here's a step by step guide to strategy formation:
1 Clarify your values in the big picture perspective. What REALLY matters to you above all else? What values and virtues do you most admire and wish to practice in your life?” Often, individuals will choose desired values such as integrity, quality, respect for others, competence, calmness, rationality, innovation, confidence, maintaining core conditions, and so on. But on what do all these depend? On the integrity and health of your brain and mind.
We can use those values to define our position with regard to whatever we do. In personal strategic planning, we could decide to plan our whole life around the values of quality, excellence, core conditions, and innovation. There are dozens of 'favorite' values that we could choose from, but whichever we choose, whatever order of priority we place on our choices, all of them rely on having a healthy intelligence.
2 Assess current status.
Once you have defined your values, the next step of personal strategic planning is assessment -you can use situational analysis, Functional assessment or whatever you choose, depending on the context. This is the process of analyzing ourselves and the situation thoroughly before we begin setting specific goals and planning certain activities.
We can then ask ourselves some key questions.
One of those questions should be, “What are my known skills?” Think about it. What can you do competently already? What can you do particularly well? What can you usually do better than others? What have you done particularly well in the past?
Another key question should assess current weaknesses. Choose just one of these to work on improving at a time.
We each already have our own unique special combination of talents, abilities, and personal skills that make us different from anyone else. But whatever we’re doing today, it’s probably nowhere near what we’re really capable of doing. The key to a happy and successful life is to regularly evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, to become very good in the areas we most enjoy, and then to throw our whole selves into what we’re doing.
3 Create a mission statement.
The next step is to create our personal mission statement. This is a clear, written description of the ways you would like to behave in your various roles. This includes the kind of person you intend to become.
Remember: Your goal is to identify your personal skills and strengths so that you can deploy yourself in such a way as to increase your personal return on energy. In personal strategic planning, one of the best mental techniques that you can use to develop your personal skills is to see yourself as a “bundle of resources” that can be applied in a variety of directions to achieve a variety of objectives. As a bundle of resources, the amount of time and energy that you have is limited; therefore, your time and energy must be put to their highest and best use.
When composing your mission statement use an objective perspective, as if through the eyes of another person studying 'Alice', and you’re thinking about how Alice could apply herself to bring about the best results. See yourself as your own director, benefactor and friend.
4 Design the strategy. Forming a personal strategy is about working out what we could do and where we could go to maximize the progress of which we’re capable, and how and when we could do it.
Working memory - useful tips
reduce the externalization of data
Externalizing data does have a dark side: we forget about it. If we write something down or type it in, it no longer has to be held in working memory and may or may not make it into long term memory at all. Externalization is great in some circumstances; for example when there is a lot of information and we only have a short time to access it, when there is too much information to be dealt with in the short term and we need a copy for reference later, or when we are trying to train up working memory. In the latter case, actual practice at improving memory without externalization should be going on regularly.
Convince your unconscious to pay more attention
There are two sides to this issue: resilience against distraction (during consideration), and directed concentration (which increases the weighting of whatever is under consideration).
Often, once anxiety is reduced many distractions (worries, etc) disappear; which enables immediate improvements in attention.
Exposure therapy can increase resilience against distractions, especially if you know yourself well enough to be aware of what sort of things distract you the most. Setting up exercises where you plan something out whilst deliberately exposing yourself to distractions is very effective for this.
If someone is into helping you, they can subject you to sudden unexpected distractions, which also (if you can learn to ignore them) improve performance. Don't work on important strategies this way; practice with small tasks.
In around 2.5% of 'the general (industrial society raised) public', attention is able to multitask when dealing with parallel tasks of equal importance. These individuals have better control over attention and are more likely to notice unexpected events or details without having to be explicitly told to watch for them. This is because they are better able to shift their attention when needed.
To pay attention to something and concentrate on it, or to ignore it and thus deny it meaning, is a power that few master, but when attention is directed wisely, it is one of the greatest assets to an intelligent mind. Paying attention to something weights it with deeper meaning, and the best reason to pay attention to something is because we are interested or inspired by it; however for the purpose of practice we can choose any beneficial input because paying attention to it will actually make it more interesting.
Attention training also addresses the problem of distraction because the best way to avoid being affected by distraction is to concentrate more deeply on what we are doing.
An important thing to remember in attention training is to use multimodal distractions (involving more than one of the senses) as well as unimodal distractions (involving only one sensory modality, such as sound, vision, motion or smell). If we train with only unimodal distractions, this can reduce multi-sensory integration – something we do NOT want to do.
Improving working memory augments strategy skills. Poor working memory capacity is responsible for many cases of inattentional blindness (the phenomenon that makes users of cell phones prone to traffic accidents, and makes an unexpected event invisible to viewers of a famous video).
Improving WM tends to improve attention, and improving attention skills improves WM...this sort of reciprocal improvement is popular in biology and should be familiar to us by now.
Focus on the dynamic, not the static, features of a situation
Strategy should reflect the dynamic nature of reality. Every situation is dynamic, not fixed. Practice seeing things not just as they 'are' but in terms of states that they are 'going towards' and consequently going away from some other state. For example, this cup of tea is going towards being empty and going away from being full; it is also going towards being cooler and away from being hot. We can look at all manner of things this way including aspects of relationships, plans, ideas, places, things, constructs.
DO IT NOW – how are things going?
Particularly look at what is 'moving towards' growth and what is moving towards decline. -What is the ratio of one to the other in your surroundings? In your input? In your output? In your relationships? In your plans?
Creating a life plan & goals
Are you living a life you enjoy, where strategies and plans give good results, or is your motto “Would have, could have, should have, ...didn't”?
It is apparent by mere observation that most people do not have autonomy, and that their strategy is static; a matter of simply going through the motions as unconsciously they try anxiously to maintain the approval of those they are dependent on. However, being a mature intelligence means knowing what you want to do and where you’re going in life, and using your skills to direct events in order to achieve whatever you want to achieve.
Most of us have tried (or been pushed into) times of aimless drifting or mindless automation and wage slavery at some point in our lives, and the lesson we learn from going there is that if we do not use our own minds and direct our own lives, the more anxious folks among us will sooner or later assume it's their duty (or 'right') to control us, and we'll be caught in the 'apathy/decline trap' (the state of mind of caged domestic animals who have lost all hope for change).
Planning and strategy are the very abilities that have evolved to help us direct our own lives, and we must start using them as intended if we want to avoid such scenarios.
Rules to keep perspective:
The first 'guide rule' for strategy is that there is only one of you.
The second guide rule is that this one of you has only one life.
Remember these at all times.
You can use your captains log to draft your plan, proceeding as follows:
Define and list your current roles in life, in terms of archetypes.
Look at the things you spend most of your time doing and decide which archetypal role they fit best. If you cannot categorize a particular activity, break it down to the actual physical behaviors and assess which archetype would be most likely to be doing those types of things (a good king, for example, probably wouldn't be serving breakfast, but may well be deciding how best to allocate resources.) To help you, some basic reminders are below:
'faithful servant' activities are usually 'maintenance or engineering' based:
maintenance, repair, mechanical engineering, hardware DIY, domestic tasks, self care, volunteering, mending things, hospitality, support work.
'young seeker' activities are usually 'tactical or logistics' based:
studying, learning, exploring, experimenting, travel, hunting, dancing, logistics, tactical, security, detection, mapping, defense, search & rescue.
'guide/shaman' activities are usually 'environmental or medical' based:
gardening, ecology, environmental, counseling, guiding, navigation, translation, botany, chemistry, medicine, pharmacology, altered states, entertainment.
'wizard/wise dude' activities are usually 'research or development' based:
measurement, categorization, scientific synthesis, creative ventures, parenting, invention, research & development, cultural, diplomatic, artistic, musical, mathematical, poetic, nurturing, skill-sharing, building, designing, brain surgery, software coding.
'good king/benefactor' activities are usually 'assessment & administration' based:
analysis, intellectual ventures, innovation, linguistics, accounting, surveying, distribution of resources (including online), secretarial work, administration, most managerial tasks.
'superbeing' activities are usually 'coordination or communication' based:
interaction, communication (including online), spiritual pursuits, strategic, planning (exactly what you're doing now), creative play.
If you find you are doing tasks that fall into several categories, write all the categories down.
prioritize and prune
Most problems with strategy occur because we don’t spend enough time nurturing and growing in the roles that are most important to us, instead getting caught up in a plethora of unimportant little distractions.
To help guide our long term goals and even daily choices, we need to clearly know which roles are most important to us. When you stop to consider it, it's likely that roles such as taking care of yourself, your mental health, and parenting will be more important than other roles such as gardening or decorating or answering emails.
Look at your list and start prioritizing your roles in order of most important to least important. Rate their importance according to (a) how fulfilled doing each task makes you feel, (b) whether it is good for your biology, (c) whether it is good for others' wellbeing as well as your own, and (d) whether it is helpful or harmful to life in general.
While you are assessing your usual daily roles, consider: are there some roles that are causing you a lot of unneeded hassle? Perhaps you have taken on (or been coerced into) a few roles that don’t provide any fulfilment and take away time from the roles that are truly important to you. You might find you have become bogged down and stressed out by what are, essentially, other people's problems. Consider dropping those roles.
Also, you might find some priorities seem to conflict. For example, if one of your priorities is maintaining your health but another is enjoying lots of drinking sessions with friends, you may have to compromise and recalculate all potential benefits and harms.
You might now consider pruning any “dead-end” roles away to strengthen your core strategy. This can involve difficult decisions, especially if what you’re eliminating seems like a beneficial thing, but remember the first 'guide rule' for strategy is that there is only one of you.
Establish and note down the relationship between your current roles and goals.
Alice's current roles Alice's goals
parent (faithful servant/wise dude) raising intelligent healthy children
maintaining self care & home (faithful servant) staying healthy & comfortable
gardener (guide/shaman) more self sufficiency
artist (wise dude) 4 art projects to finish
assistant to lonely aging neighbor (faithful servant)
part time cleaning job (faithful servant)
owning some land
building my own place
learning more about geology
We can see how Alice's roles relate to her goals; some roles are clearly supportive, some roles don't have any related goals, and some of Alice's goals have no accompanying roles to support them.
Roles with clearly defined purposes enable us to make decisions that will benefit rather than harm us or waste our time. Look at each of the roles in your list, and for each define what you're trying to achieve via that role. For example, you might define the goal of self care as optimal wellbeing; or the goal of parenting as optimal development for children; or the goal of nurturing as assisting someone you care about to recover from an illness; or the goal of socializing as a way to find a sexual partner. How would you ideally like to relate to others in roles that involve relationships? Define goals for all your current roles in this way.
Also establish which are long term roles and which are short term roles.
Consider: do you have any goals for which you currently play no roles (for example, if your goal is to meet others, but you are not taking any steps to do so; or if you wish to learn about something but have not yet started to study it; these are goals without roles.)
Be as clear as you can about your goals: vague goals produce vague results and mediocre progress.
Add the goals you wish to accomplish to your list of goals, and consider how to include roles in your life right now that will move you towards achieving them. Re-establish priorities including these roles.
Do you play any roles which are unrelated to goals? Are you certain there are no goals associated with these roles? If so, why are you performing roles which serve no useful (or even a possible harmful) purpose
Start long term scheduling
Next, narrow your goals down by prioritization to the four most important ones you would most like to focus on over the next five years. These are likely to be big goals, like paying off debts, improving health, starting new relationships, learning a new subject, moving to a new area, successful parenting, creative projects, losing weight or writing a book.
Long term goals need to be rendered measurable and have a deadline for completion. If you want to lose weight, state how much you want to lose and the date you want to lose it by. If you want to pay off debts, state the exact amount you have to pay off and the date you’ll pay it by. If you want to start new relationships, be clear about where and when you intend to go and what activities you intend to pursue in order to achieve this
This is not your final schedule; this is a first rough draft, but try to make your estimates realistic and understand how they are possible.
Take a look at each one of your roles and the associated personal goals. Write down your current reality in regards to each one. For example:
Self care role: goal = losing weight, current reality: have been slowly gaining weight for many months and now intend to reverse that process.
Student role: goal = to understand geology, current reality: have a good grasp of basics but progress is slow.
Parental role: goal = helping development of intelligent healthy children, current reality: not enough time free to be constantly available.
Establish specific stepped paths
Here we must make a series of decisions that will set a cascade of specific interactions rolling which enable us to accomplish our goals.
For each role, starting with your highest priorities, consider what you will be doing during the next week to further your goals. What can be done today, however small, that will move things in the correct direction?
Here are some possible examples:
Go and get some decent fresh fruit, cream and honey, and throw out all the sugar and processed cakes in the house. This single behavior starts a cascade of better eating habits for the next few days.
Do some key research today that answers at least one question for you about something you want to learn.
List all the stupid little tasks you've been forgetting about (you know, like dusting, tidying up, laundry, washing up, sending emails, mending things, starting projects, finishing projects,) and either have a 'stupid little tasks day' or do one stupid little task per day. Reward yourself! Good habits deserve rewarding.
Look at the long term projects in your life and reassess. How many of these were you really into at the time, but have sat around unfinished for months or years because you lost interest or because it got too difficult or complicated. Remember, as a part of natural developmemt our roles will change throughout our lives; we’ll achieve goals and will need to establish new ones; stuff that was important two years ago may well have stopped being so important anymore, other stuff has increased in importance. Realistically, what would it take to finish all your unfinished projects? Which ones could be dropped with no great loss to anyones wellbeing?
Your life strategy is not static; it is dynamic. Different priorities, opportunities and problems will arise over time and your roles will change over the weeks and months. So it's good to have a 'plan review day' at least once a fortnight.
Without a plan, we're 'hoping' things turn out ok, that we won't forget anything ever, and that whatever works today in one set of circumstances will always work forever in all circumstances. Real life isn't like that. Our strategy is like our 'star map' which helps us to navigate and adapt through change.
These basic steps should give you all the information you need to make a life plan with clear goals and to form a strategy to constantly move towards those goals until they are achieved. Of course, you will need to change your strategy and priorities as circumstances change.
Before making any changes to your planning and strategic habits, check through the following items and categorize each as follows:
6 = 'in good condition/ no current attention necessary'
5 = 'some attention necessary, next scheduled for …........(firm dates are set)
4 = 'currently needs work, but am still on schedule'
3 = 'needs work, but I have no schedule'
2 = 'completely being ignored/ forgotten about'
1 my body
2 my diet
3 my sleeping pattern
4 my bathing schedule
6 pollution control
8 anxiety control/ resilience
9 physical health
10 keeping my home/ my space clean & tidy
11 the tech I use
12 my clothes
13 my bedding
14 my laundry
15 my washing up
16 my local area
18 relationships (acquaintances, colleagues, friends, partners, children, relatives, loved ones)
19 consistent exposure to the natural world
20 maintenance of enriched environment & input control
21 entertainment choices & cultural habits
22 avoiding sentiment
23 learning new stuff/educating myself
24 sharing what I know/ do/ make
25 creative projects
26 doing things with others
28 keeping my promises
29 maintaining core conditions in communication
30 sense of humor
31 patience and tenacity
33 mental health
35 self esteem
36 reasoning skills
37 judgment & decision making
38 self knowledge & self assessment
39 autonomy & self direction
40 planning & strategy
41 coordination/ scheduling
Add your scores for final score and see end of tutorial for interpretation
Assignment - scheduling
You should now have enough background information to make a personalized schedule.
Scheduling does not mean you are tied to time-controlled behavior; rather it lays out when would be the optimal time to do what, where; allowing plans to be ergonomic through time. As far as possible 'deadlines' should be guides; not absolutes, except in those cases where events are strictly time-related.
Week sheets are a useful strategy for scheduling, especially for beginners. They complement your priorities list and help with discipline, tenacity, integrity and actualizing your plans.
A week sheet can be crafted entirely electronically but the best kind is made from a literal sheet of hard copy A4 paper. This is because it can be accessed anytime anywhere, has no-click instant access by your brain in less than a second, needs no batteries or wireless connection, isn't banned in hospitals, weighs bugger all, works outdoors, is safe on airplanes, can't be hacked, is very unlikely to be stolen, can be easily seen in bright sunlight, and is still possible to copy if dropped in water.
You can prepare a week sheet anytime, but you should always prepare it for NEXT week; so that you are starting with a whole weeks worth of data. It doesn't matter what day you choose to 'start' your week on however, so for example if today is wednesday you can still prepare a weeksheet from thursday (tomorrow) until the following thursday (a week from now), but most people prefer to begin their 'week' on mondays so we have used that in the example below.
A week sheet is folded and labeled thusly:
Underneath 'su' you write 'renew schedule'. You can design sheets online and print them out as you please, or just write them by hand. Accurate folding is good practice for spatial skills too! I've seen an awesome origami weeksheet that unfolds like a flower through the week.
Beside each day you fill in the dates for next week. You can use a new sheet each week, or the same one with dates crossed out & replaced until you run out of room. Most week sheets become rather messy after two weeks, so a new one is useful fortnightly.
You first fill in any things which are time-related during the next week (ie, the things which must be done on certain dates), such as dental appointments, parties, birthdays, regular appointments, special events, shopping trips, and so on. This gives a broad picture of what is taking up time and when.
At this point consider, are all these obligations necessary? Are you doing any of them to pacify others, or from a genuine personal desire. Here's where the director can step in and say, 'CUT!' Think about the benefits and harmful consequences of doing or not doing each of these things. Make a decision about what to withdraw from or cancel, and what to keep through your own choice.
Many people fill up their schedules with too many little tasks, leaving no room for the big important things to get sufficient attention. Look at your scheduling priorities list. If there are any vital issues such as physical/mental health, these should be addressed daily until there is improvement. Write in one step per day on your week sheet that you could take to improve in these areas. This is the most important thing in your life. Treat it as such.
Now look at your next-highest priorities and decide how much of the remaining time you wish to dedicate to each. Maybe four or five sessions per week? When will they best fit in?
Finally, look at what remains, and look at what's already on your week sheet. Ask yourself a difficult question: Do you really have time to do all this?
Some days will obviously be busier than others. What would be the most sensible day to do things like shopping or traveling? Think ergonomically -when is it easiest to get transport/ access to places/ avoid the crowds?
Plan what you need and what you will soon need, in order to maintain your schedule. Instead of going out to local shops three times a week, plan what you need for a whole week and go just once. What other tasks might also be done while out shopping? What other resources are you likely to run out of soon? What else is available in the place you will be?
Remember, your week sheet is a flexible guide for optimal function in response to what is really going on NOW -not a set of solid rules to be applied unthinkingly every week like a dogma. Your week sheet should include 'spare time' here and there, during which you can do whatever is available or whatever you feel like. You can't guarantee when you will be 'in the mood' for specific things, so leave time available and options open.
You may be surprised how much time you can save by this sort of scheduling, but always remember to factor in realities such as when you are going to prepare food and what you are going to eat, when you are likely to sleep, and so on.
Changes don't have to be enormous; scheduling relies on many small changes influencing one area; for example for many, something as simple as scheduling to get one hours' extra sleep per day is improving their physical and mental health daily. Eating six fresh nuts (yeh just six) per day is doing the same thing. So is one good relaxation response session or other anxiety reduction.
Being the director
Taking responsibility for directing your own life is not a part-time role; it is a permanent position and builds permanent personal security and self esteem. Whatever other roles we play, we are always director as well as interactor; participator as well as observer.
Improvement and progress in the good are (or should be) natural parts of life, so expect constant change and avoid stale static habits that are outdated by new circumstances.
Excuses, justifications and apologies are not progress. Replacing crappy behavior with crappy behavior plus apologies is no use.
In relationships, don't get caught in the static repetition of anxiety-based crappy behavior followed by apologies for that behavior as though this solves the problem. It doesn't. Repetitively behaving like an asshole and then saying you're sorry is NOT anxiety reduction and will not stop the asshole behavior recurring. When it does, all previous 'sorries' blatantly mean nothing; you're just being an asshole AND lying. If you really WERE sorry, if you really DID care, you'd find a strategy to stop anxiety from taking you over in the first place.
Expecting others (or books, or drugs) to do it all for you is not an option either. If we want to genuinely improve our lives we have to be determined, alert, and in the Captains chair, directing 'directly' (ie, from the perspective of our real selves). We have to face reality about what we honestly enjoy and dread, and have the courage to seek what we need. It's not for wimps, but then you already knew that, didn't you?
“Those who seek the approval of dysfunctional people will never approve of themselves”
"The future is usually like the past right up to the moment when it isn't."
(George F. Will)
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through.
Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.”
"I am Grey. I stand between the candle and the star."
(Grey Council greeting  )
Putting it all together
In Tutorial 11 we presented a table summarizing how networks extract meaning from basic concepts, which you copied into your Captains log. We didn't explain the last two categories back then, because a critical amount of background knowledge had to be built up first in order to understand these concepts. We now have sufficient background knowledge to incorporate the two final networks into this model and so we reproduce it here with discussion of them below:
If you wish to review the details on the first four networks in context of this model, consult the second 'brain' section of tutorial 11. For the rest of us, here's a quick recap:
Imagination and association achieve the step from processing concrete sensorimotor and spatial representation to abstract graphic representation in N3 via analogization. This plus the next processing step in N4 -metaphorization- creates a 'bridge' between concrete concepts in eidetic memory and abstract concepts in procedural memory, enabling conscious awareness of unconscious knowledge via interpretation of input in terms of semi-conscious symbology.
N5 – agents, contexts, and information transfers
N5 achieves 'digitization' of data, which is no longer held in analog formats with direct one-to-one representation of concepts. We move fully into abstract representation using letters and numbers for digital representation.
Conscious symbology fully emerges with the development of this network, which uses formulae (such as words or equations) to represent conceptual contexts. For example, we use the word formula 'c-a-t' to represent a cat concept, and we use the letter/number/operator formula 'x+4 = 6' to represent a mathematical procedure that may be followed to discover the value of 'x'.
Digitization (aka digitalization ) is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal (usually an analog input) by generating a series of numbers/symbols that describe a discrete set of its points or samples (a 'sample' is a value or set of values at a point in time and/or space.) This allows information of all kinds in all formats to be carried with the same efficiency and also intermingled.
Obviously, digitization must encompass the ability to represent emotional weighting, associations, stories, aesthetic awareness, personal values and other non-physical information, and although our representational formats are accordingly complex; we use the same relative pattern of representation on different processing levels. For example within the context of language, we use nouns to indicate agents and contexts, verbs to indicate events, and adjectives to indicate emotional weighting. We also use indicators of intensity such as upper case FOR SHOUTING and (most recently) collections of symbols representing expressions like smiling and laughter : )
Represent really does mean 're-present' to the brain. 'Agents' on this level of representation are bits of data whose context is the formula, for example the letters, numbers, and mathematical signs for operators are all agents; the 'things' we are using to represent ideas. The contexts in which information transfers (processes; operations) take place are the formulae we select as relevant to process given input; for example sentences of text, or lists of chemical formulae or equations. A sentence is the context for these words. This paragraph is the context for these sentences. Now you've got it. Agents are being re-presented in the context of formulae in N5, because formulae are the network's own format. Agents in their contexts allow information transfers (in this case, words in sentences allow the conveyance of meaning).
Information transfers are the operational processes we mentally perform on agents in their contexts. These are fully abstract procedures, yet early networks can still translate them in their own terms (for example N1 still sees letters and numbers as 'things'; formulae and equations as 'stuff'; and information transfers as 'events'.) Thus, every network has its own representation of what is going on at all times, in terms of its own personal format.
With full development of self awareness, life is no longer like a virtual reality interactive game; it is a real, ongoing dynamic program, and we have the personal potential to make a big difference, for good or ill, depending on how well we can interact with that program.
The input we require in order to interact with the program (and not incidentally, to develop it) comes (or should) from the internal network that is the natural context for the growth and development of N5 -our own minds.
Like almost everything we learn, we are not born with programming abilities hard wired in. We don't need to be; as far as biology's concerned our ongoing activities and development thus far should be all that is necessary for the inevitable emergence of higher level mental abilities.
Feedback from existing networks provides much of the input for developing networks at all stages, and for frontal nets; having no direct physical connection to external senses, it is essential. The operations of creativity and intellect on input data constitute our higher processing skills thus far, and learning programming skills takes place in the usual way; through interaction as creative play with the relevant input. But the input relevant for the mind to practice and learn its coding skills is knowledge of the operations of the mind itself -awareness of the system, furnished by the system via feedback. This is what we experience as self awareness, and it is awareness of the mind, of how your particular set of software functions individually, that we call full self knowledge.
N6 -life, the universe, and interactions
As N6 develops, we become able to conceptualize ourselves as an embodied mind, contained within the universe, capable of interacting with everything including itself. No longer just the director of ourselves, our characters, or our roles in the game, we are becoming able to direct the game itself; to rewrite the story to include the roles, plots and events we desire instead of just settling for those already in situ. We can create, innovate, design, invent and imagine; we can solve complex, abstract puzzles. As well as experiencing subjective participation in the world, mentally we can stand outside of our current physical context and 'look back' at it objectively, and once we can do that mentally we inevitably set about finding ways to do it physically as well. This has led to some interesting results.
Whenever we step outside a context for development, we are able to view it in new and interesting ways, another layer of perception has been added, and another stage of development has begun. This is equally true in concrete or abstract terms. Each developmental stage reveals a new way of looking at reality, and it is the task of N6 to coordinate these perspectives into an overall or big picture perspective to perform operations from.
N6's context for operations is currently the universe. We say 'currently' because N6 sets dynamic parameters on things it doesn't yet know about, and one of the things it knows very well is that it doesn't know everything and keeps getting pleasantly surprised. Consequently a few hundred years ago the largest perspective available to N6 was 'the earth', and a flat earth at that; because nobody knew there was anything beyond the horizons (horizons are the limits of our awareness). N6 parameters are also modulated by the boundaries of our own beliefs -if someone believes there are multiple universes out there, that will be their N6 perspective or context for operations. If someone believes there is no real universe out there because we're all living in a computer simulation, that will be their N6 perspective for operations.
Needless to say, it is our big picture perspective that informs our ontology, so for successful programming purposes it is most useful if our big picture perspective for operations both aligns with known reality and remains receptive to ongoing change.
Operations (processes) themselves are interactions; between bits of life in the universe. That's what interactions are; they're processes we run; applications or sets of operations we find (or construct to be) appropriate for different input in different contexts. Some apps are consistently optimal for certain sets of conditions and change little over millennia (eg, how to recognize antelopes), some have adapted over time incorporating new opportunities, tech and procedures (eg, how to paint antelopes), others are developed only out of more recent innovation (eg, how to clone antelopes). All are shared through culture.
The mind comes bundled with already-existing useful software, and we also construct many new programs ourselves by adapting previous programs (for example, your specific combination of influences, technical media and particular artistic style in painting antelopes is unique to you). But we also construct absolutely new programs; which are effectively new ways of thinking and behaving. This is the cutting edge of human intelligence; our ability to boldly think in ways that no one has thought before. This is how we are able to construct ever more accurate models of reality in all dimensions and also improvise when faced with the unknown.
While N5 views 'mind' as our context for operations, N6 takes a more holistic perspective, as might be expected for our network of greatest abstraction. It simply aims to develop intelligence; consequently it structures its game plan, directs its roles, and writes its programs in order to develop intelligence, and there appears to be no way to deviate N6 from its prime directive without causing it to fail on some level. N6 values intelligence as the ever-increasing ability to interact above all else, and its main goal is to develop intelligence through interaction. Interactions are the 'events' for N6 and it judges itself and everything else according to its power rating (ie, its ability to interact, or its potential for interaction over time.) N6 believes that intelligence is the most important thing in the universe, and that interactions are, well...everything; you know?
Depending on which network we currently operate from, we impose that network's perspective of 'things, stuff and events' onto the reality we experience. These basic concepts are our resources for making sense of things, and they have a recurrent structure as we can see from the table above.
Attribution of meaning to abstract concepts in N6 comes about via recruiting the mirror neuron system. In lower level processing we use this system to differentiate between 'self' and 'other' in modeling or empathy (for example, the neurons that fire when we grasp an object also fire when someone else grasps an object, but in the latter incidence the signals are weaker. As we mature we are able to use the same system for differentiating fact from fiction (eg, a real smile from a fake smile, or a tiger in a video from a real tiger). Later still we can use it to distinguish between concrete or abstract representation (eg, the neurons needed for grasping still fire when we hear the word 'grasp', but they are not 'mirrored' so strongly. Eventually the same system can be coopted by N6 to determine context (eg, whether the word 'grasp' means 'grab' or 'understand').
Neuronal cascades arise from the balance between two fundamental electrochemical forces mediated on the level of neural networks—the force that excites the propagation of electrical activity through the brain, and the force that inhibits it. Spatial and temporal features manifesting as neuronal cascade size and duration capture specific features of individual brain dynamics, and stimulus-evoked cascades—the neural patterns evoked when we perform a specific perceptual task—share a high degree of similarity in terms of temporal and spatial distribution. Mirror neurons knowing the differences between these patterns is the mechanism by which all these processing decisions are achieved, and every individual has a unique pattern of cascade dynamics.
Formats translate clearly at every level of the processing hierarchy (things/objects/characters become data and stuff/containers/sets become concepts) and are translatable across each level (categories represent containers). Mental structures such as 'characters' 'sets' and 'stories' are set in terms of weighted connections in our brains, but they are also available to conscious awareness and they have an internal logic that can be used in self programming. We can choose the stories that biology is programmed to pay attention to, and direct ourselves to follow them.
We'll be learning a lot more about processing in N6 in the next two tutorials; in the meantime this summary should give you plenty to think about.
At the beginning of this tutorial we said:
By the end of this tutorial you should understand:
how network 6 operates to coordinate input and output
how working memory functions
what executive functions are and what can impair them
how to plan effectively and form successful strategies
why doing things in the right order is so essential
the nature of executive control
how directed attention and self programming can enhance executive functions
...can you? If not, review this tutorial and any previous ones necessary.
hacks & exercises
Hacking executive functions
It has been shown that behavioral cognitive training leads to enhanced performance in task switching, memory updating, and dual tasks. Similarly, direct neurocognitive modulation of brain regions that are crucially involved in specific executive functions, via neurofeedback, also leads to behavioral benefits in response inhibition, task switching, and memory updating. Response inhibition performance has been shown to be improved by neurostimulation of the right inferior frontal cortex, whereas neurostimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex exerts effects on task switching and memory updating. Current data suggest that training gains may indeed generalize to untrained tasks aiming at the same cognitive process, as well as across cognitive domains within executive control.
to augment EF:
1 learn another language
A growing body of research demonstrates that bilinguals show advantages in executive function, specifically inhibitory control and task switching.
Bilingual individuals also seem to have an advantage in an area known as conflict processing, which occurs when there are multiple representations of one particular response (for example, a word in one language and its translation in the individual’s other language). Specifically, the lateral PFC has been shown to be involved with conflict processing.
2 start playing an instrument or singing
Musicians (compared with non-musicians) show enhanced performance on measures of cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency. Musically trained people show enhanced performance on measures of verbal fluency and processing speed, and significantly greater activation in pre-SMA/SMA and right VLPFC during rule representation and task-switching compared to musically untrained people. Overall, musicians show enhanced performance on several constructs of EF, and musically trained children further show heightened brain activation in traditional EF regions during task-switching. Musical practice appears to promote the development and maintenance of certain EF skills, and there have been many previously reports of links between musical training, enhanced cognitive skills and intellectual achievement.
3 move your ass
There is one surprising but well-supported way to improve executive function in both children and adults: aerobic exercise. Research concludes that “ample evidence indicates that regular engagement in aerobic exercise can provide a simple means for healthy people to optimize a range of executive functions.”
Here are some of the benefits of exercise for executive function:
Regular aerobic exercise can expand working memory, the capacity that allows us to mentally manipulate facts and ideas to solve problems, as well as improving selective attention and our ability to inhibit disruptive impulses. Regular exercise and overall physical fitness have been linked to intellectual achievement, as well as more success in multitasking.
Those who exercise regularly display quicker reaction times, give more accurate responses, and are more effective at detecting errors when they engage in fast-paced tasks.
High Intensity Training, fast swimming, energetic dancing and strenuous climbing have shown the best results.
strategy hack: 'LEAD' mnemonic
Have to make judgments or take a decision in a short period of time? Strategize by applying 'LEAD': Logic / Emotions / Analysis / Decision This is, in effect, all you have to do to make the best decision possible in a limited time.
Managing Strategy Problems
Here are some tips:
Take a step-by-step approach to tasks & projects.
Rely on visual organizational aids while training up memory, but don't become dependent on them.
Use tools like time organizers, computers, or watches with alarms in a similar manner.
Make schedules and look at them several times a day.
If problems arise recalling procedures, ask for written and oral instructions whenever possible, or get someone to talk you through it and take notes.
Plan ahead for transition times and shifts in activities.
To improve time management:
Create checklists and estimate how long each task will take.
Break long assignments into chunks, and assign time frames for completing each one.
Use calendars to keep track of long-term assignments, due dates, tasks and activities.
Write the due date on the top of each task in your schedule.
To better manage space and keep things from getting lost:
Have separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
Organize your work space so that everything you use there has a regular 'home' to go to and train yourself to return it there automatically after use.
Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize work and leisure space.
To improve 'getting things done' habits:
Make a checklist for getting through projects.
Interact with others who have good EF skills. Observe how they exercise control and what strategies they use to keep things together.
Use a week sheet and update it weekly.
Tips to enable projects to run smoothly
This comes down to defining what “success” means — in quantifiable terms — before work begins on a project.
1 Write down the projects goals in a clear way and define 'success' in terms of a measurable goal. measurable goals eliminate ambiguity.
2 Make sure everyone involved understands what it will take on their part for the project to succeed. This eliminates the need for management.
3 create well defined intermediary targets to aim for.
4 Make a 'to do' list for all goals. This adds an obvious indication of progress.
5 Treat planning as essential; not optional.
hacks for improving working memory
One method for improving working memory is ambient association. To do this we deliberately concentrate on the sensorimotor and spatial aspects of an experience associated with the item we want to remember; for example, where we are, what we can see/hear/smell etc., If working memory 'times out', going back to the same location may help give it a boost.
To more clearly recall recent information, close your eyes. Research has shown this technique works by helping us to create the original context in our mind's eye.
Variety is the spice of life, and the oil for a smooth working memory. What improves a working memory most is its working as intended. It is designed to serve the whole brain; not just N5! That means variety; not the same type of input all the time (such as most brain training offers). Creativity, design, construction, cooking, dancing, games and gardening all provide plenty of exercise for WM.
Responsive memory comes with practice. At root, we remember when we pay attention; when we are deeply interested or engaged. When things make sense in context and are congruous with the rest of what we know. When information has personal meaning to us, is significant and coherent.
snacks for improving working memory:
oily fish, organic nuts, berry fruits, green tea, sweet peppers, soft cheeses, organic white meats.
Begin with a staircase induction, and select a friendly archetype to meet when you reach the bottom. Write the following into your script as spoken advice from this entity (you will need to record your script, including this part, ahead of time or get an assistant to read it out):
“It's important for you to see how confidence is relative; how you are confident that you can do some things perfectly easily like lift up a cup without spilling the water. But the only reason it's so easy, is practice.
The truth is, the key to realistic self confidence is more a case of taking things away than adding things in. You don't need to think about what you are confident about. You just need to relax, and let your mind free of anxiety to think clearly.
You may not think of yourself as a self-confident person because you haven't been that way in the past. But relaxing into self-confidence is more about reclaiming of how you would have been and letting go of anxious self-doubt, letting go of self-criticism, and letting go of fear of mistakes. Self-confidence is your natural state, and you can let go of any conditioned anxiety about what others 'might think of you' and realize that change is a challenge, but not the 'end of the world'.
We learn habits of doubting ourselves, but where it matters in life I want you to relax and let go of old habits and start trusting in your own intelligence.”
(conclude your script by returning up the stairs)
This is surprisingly easy to do, and relies for its effectiveness on the fact that we use the same networks for concrete and abstract tasks. Hacking distractions when concentrating attention also enables stronger emotional control; as both basically require improvement of our ability to ignore irrelevant information. This can result in reduced sentimental reactions to emotional events, and overwrite brain connections associated with this habit; strengthening neural connections between brain regions involved in response control.
Anti-distracting training is pretty easy to set up and even makes for a fun game with others. If you are working alone simply training yourself to do the Stroop task (see Tutorial 11) will suffice. Any activity where you have to deliberately ignore some information and select other information is adequate. If you want a bit of variety in your training, you can set up things to deliberately attempt to distract you, which you must then attempt to resist. A couple of examples are music, videos, pictures of sexy people or alarm noises you can set up to begin at unexpected times. Your task, of course, is simply to pay more attention to what you are actually doing and ignore all interruptions. Your only limit is imagination.
This is the beauty of networks having multiple functions: you DON'T NEED to practice ignoring nasty things; because practice at ignoring ANYTHING will teach you the process, and you can then apply the process whenever and wherever you choose, including during sentiment attacks.
Incidentally, unless you really are a masochist, DO NOT use biological imperatives for distractions (such as hunger, a real live partner trying to seduce you, or a friend who thinks it might be a laugh to set your pants on fire or pour cold water over your head). There are some things we are not supposed to ignore.
exercises to assist planning skills
1 restrict focus to quality rather than quantity
List all projects, make a schedule assigning specific times to tasks. Then add at least 25 per cent to your estimates of time required. Don’t try to convince yourself that this once, you’ll do more in less time – that’s the planning fallacy. And don’t worry that scheduling life will drain it of fun; on the contrary, giving your days more structure will free you from constantly having to decide what to do next.
Free-up some memory space and get your brain running on all six cylinders again by performing a mind dump. A mind dump is exactly what it sounds like: you get everything currently on your mind out of your head and onto paper (or a computer screen).
Simply start writing or typing all the tasks, ideas, thoughts, subjects and commitments that are currently on your mind. You can schedule items from the list later.
How do you know which tasks on your Mind Dump list to tackle first? You can use a system where your go through and rate them by importance with “A, B, C” or something like that, and then schedule the A’s to be completed first. But usually whatever is most important 'jumps out' at you as you look over the list.
On a good schedule you should have every one of your waking hours of every day of the week blocked out with something. This does NOT mean that we are constantly doing something every minute of the day — we schedule time for doing absolutely nothing too. You now have a 'rough draft' outline of how you're going to use your time during the week.
3 Review Your Life Plan & Goals
Now that you’ve freed up some mental space, it’s time to review your life plan and long-term goals. This step will help you keep “first things first” in mind as you plan your week out and ensure you’re staying on track with your goals.
Many people find that they're quite good at completing short-term goals, but that those short-term goals get them off track with future aims. If this describes you, reevaluate your short-term to-do list in light of your long-term goals. You might need to amend your life plan and goals as well, as new experiences and insights change your vision of where you want to be and what you want to do.
Don’t have a life plan or goals? Well, now’s the time to create them. See the NHA guide section for how to do this.
Reflect on the previous week and how you performed in your various roles. How did it go? Did you achieve the goals you set for yourself? What were your successes and failures? How could have you done things differently? Are there any tasks or items you need to follow-up on? By writing down your observations about the previous week, you create a record that you can look back on to see how you’re improving, which speeds progress.
After you’ve reviewed your previous week, start setting goals for the coming one.
Exercises to improve working & short term memory
internalizing data 1
When improving memory we can test and assess ourselves in small safe ways; for example making a shopping list, attempting to memorize the list, shopping without it, and seeing what items we forgot.
Now here's the trick: the more actual real life inconvenience this causes, the faster memory will get its act together, especially if a lot of energy is involved. For example, if you have just walked to the shop in bad weather to do this exercise and now realize you forgot something important and have to go back, we bet you won't forget so much next time. Your brain values energy, and whenever it seems like energy is being wasted that creates a need to solve the problem.
Nothing transcribes genes, synthesizes proteins and forges new connections as fast as giving the genome a clear signal of real life biological need. The results will soon prevent extra journeys by upgrading your memory to ensure ergonomic energy use.
This is a no-lose exercise because physical exercise is good for the brain too, but do not practice the method when going on long-haul holidays, or out to get something really important. Choose a safe context to test yourself, where there may be slight inconvenience but no anxiety, and progress will be rapid.
internalizing data 2
Somewhere you have a list of contacts. It may be on your phone, in an address book, scattered about on separate bits of paper and post-it notes, or on your computer. Assemble/find it and consider the following:
Which are the six most important contacts in this list? To help you make this shortlist, consider which ones you would be most likely to use if you needed help or were in trouble, which ones would you think of as closest allies, and which ones you care about most.
When you have made your shortlist, write down just the names/nicknames in your Captains log or on a separate piece of paper and put away all other references to them. Without looking at your source material (phone, address book etc), for how many of these six individuals can you remember a home address, contact number, and email?
For any that you cannot remember, go back and make an effort to memorize the details for those six people. Test yourself until you know them off by heart. Not only does this exercise improve your memory, it could also increase your chances of survival in an emergency.
Exercise to practice strategy
Assessing different strategies
Try out different strategies in the same situation. For example, here is Alice's plan for what needs to be done tomorrow:
have a shower
go to local shop for milk
do 2 diagrams for project
make backup of music files
mend back gate
continue writing text for project
water indoor plants
Get your Captains log, and make a similar list of tasks you aim to do each day for the next three days (you can update your lists as you go along). For the next three days, try out these different strategies:
Day 1: start at the top of your list and, no matter how off-putting it seems, work through it in the order you listed. At the end of the day, make a note of what happened (did you get everything done? What got missed out? How far did you get?)
Day 2: look at your list and rearrange it into different task areas; for example: things to do online/things to do outdoors/domestic tasks/tasks best done in daylight/etc. Proceed with one type of task at a time. At the end of the day, rate your progress as you did on day 1.
Day 3: Look at your list and assess task types as you did yesterday. Now decide on the most sensible order you think it's best to do things, and proceed. To help you do this, practice with Alices list. For example, fixing the gate is a messy job, which Alice would be foolish to tackle right after having a shower, nor would going outdoors to the shop be pleasant with wet hair. Backups tend to do themselves once set into motion, as do laundry and to some extent cooking, so multitasking may be employed here.
Exercise to examine our wants and needs
Sit comfortably and consider what you currently feel most interested in and attracted to. This can be anything, for examples: foods you would quite fancy, a particular place you feel you would like to live, an activity you think would be great to do, a subject or area of study that you feel attracted to or inspired by, a place you would like to visit, a role you would like to fill, or a subject or person you would like to know more about, a creative project you'd like to do. List these desires in your captain's log. Next, try & figure out which animal behaviors are associated with the ideas (for examples: seeking food, assessing territory, seeking experience, seeking information, exploring, seeking a mate, making allies, cooperation, playing, creativity).
Next, ask yourself WHY you feel you want to do each of these (your animal behavior assessment should give you clues). Look at your 'wants' in terms of fulfilling genuine, honest biological needs.
If anything is left 'homeless' (ie, one or more on your list of things you want do not have any correlates in either animal behavior or biological needs, your unconscious won't take them seriously as options to strategize for. You have to understand the biological need behind the behavior before the mind can view the concept as a congruous one, because whatever it is that you are doing, regardless of the degree of abstraction, the unconscious mind can only see the concept in terms of biological needs being met.
It doesn't understand anything else. If its needs are not met, it will maintain an unhappy, unhealthy state; if they are, it will be happy and healthy, and so will you.
Ignoring the hard fact that we are living creatures has caused humanity a great deal of distress and dysfunction. We'll be looking more closely into this in future tutorials, but for now consider the concept in terms of your strategy. The closer your life plan gets to directly representing and fulfilling biological needs, the faster development proceeds and the more often joy is a daily experience. When you do what you want and it aligns with what biology needs, your brain feeds you endogenous opiates, absolutely free.
If it seems impossible to you that a person could begin a day's hard work with a feeling of absolute delight and excitement, your needs are not being met. Joyous emotion and love are as much a part of our birthright as walking upright and speaking words.
2 Lezak, Howieson, Bigler, & Tranel, 2012
3 -see tutorial 12 “When it comes for a brief moment we call it, 'creative insight'. If it's maintained over a period of time this state is known as being in 'The Zone' or 'In The Flow'”.
4 Stuss, 2011; Stuss & Knight, 2002
5 Ardila, 2008; Stuss, 2011.
6 Ardila, 2008.
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32 Craig 2009
35 Craig 2002 for review
37 Singer 2006
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49 Badre et al., 2009; Koechlin et al. 2003
50 Badre 2008; Christoff and Gabrieli 2013; Koechlin and Summerfield 2007
52 If you look up 'cascade model of PFC function', however, you will find several different 'cascade models' developed between 2003 and 2016, so we indicate references accordingly.
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60 Adapted from Fuster, J.M. The Prefrontal Cortex: Anatomy, Physiology, and Neuropsychology of the Frontal Lobe, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven, 1997
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62 Fletcher and Henson 2001
63 Mark D'Esposito; “From cognitive to neural models of working memory”; Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology, University of California; Published online 30 March 2007
64 Baddeley 2000, 2003; Baddeley and Hitch 1974
67 Mishkin and Appenzeller, 1987; Petrides, 1994
68 Tresch et al. 1993
69 Logie 1995
71 Baddeley 2000,2003; Baddeley and Hitch 1974
72 Barch et al. 1997; Braver et al. 2001
73 Rottschy et al. 2012
74 Badre 2008; Koechlin and Summerfield 2007
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81 Miller, 2000; Miller and Cohen, 2001
89 Shipstead, Harrison, & Engle, 2014
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91 Society for Research in Child Development; "Working memory differs by parents' education; effects persist into adolescence." April 30th, 2014. http://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-04-memory-differs-parents-effects-persist.html
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99 http://painmedicine.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2015/12/25/pm.pnv047 ; However, reduction of gray matter volume in the amygdala could be legitimately interpreted as the Amy returning to 'normal' as development recommences and anxiety falls, so further research is necessary -ed.
102 The Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), Lakoff and Johnson (1980); AND Gibbs 2008, Kövecses 2010
103 see also Katz &Taylor 2008, Ritchie 2008
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106 Miller & Cohen, 2001
107 Newell & Simon, 1972
109 inspired by Varela; pp11-16; 1995
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142 sadly cannot find instructions, but this is quite cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOChC58kF2o
143 The Grey Council is the administrative body of the Minbari Federation
144 McQuail, D (2000) McQuail's Mass Communication Theory (4th edition), Sage, London, pp. 16-34
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151 “Benefits of Regular Aerobic Exercise for Executive Functioning in Healthy Populations”
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Answer to DO IT NOW – exercise working memory
The horizontal dark rectangle at bottom left.
interpreting scores for Assessment - evaluate your current strategies
If you scored between 84 and 135:
You don't have well-developed strategy & planning skills yet, but you're obviously able to assess the areas which need attention from the list above. Expand on this knowledge by getting some scheduling practice to finish all those unfinished things that keep piling up, and taking some time to consider future directions, what sort of things you want to achieve, and how it may be possible to achieve them. Often, uncertainty about what we really want to do restricts strategic abilities more than any lack of formal practice.
If you scored between 136 and 195:
You have good awareness of what's necessary but may lack skills or experience in putting plans into practice and maintaining a schedule during a strategy for achieving set goals. The areas which need working on will be different for all of us, so sharpen up your self assessment, self awareness and mindfulness to detect what they are.
If you scored between 196 and 252: You undoubtedly have some good planning and strategic skills already, so begin work on augmenting these abilities and fill in any areas where you assess there are weaknesses.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 08:56|