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Atelier - I've Changed My Mind
Écrit par Alex   
Mercredi, 26 Août 2009 00:27
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11. Processor Upgrade (Conditioning and learning enhancement)

The first time we store a memory, it is a 'save'. Every consequent recall causes a 'refile' to occur after the event. We need to have this concept absolutely clear before messing about with the learning process, so I am going to explore it a little more here.

A recalled memory that you refile is not the same one you originally saved.R6 It will be an updated version, brought into line with your current beliefs and values. An experience that you are having for the first time and that you are going to keep is a save. It's very important to distinguish between the two events because they need to be treated differently. A new save is far easier to delete than a refile, for example, because an LTP refile has many associate memories that will get interfered with if we remove it. (And the longer it has been there, the more there are.) Tracing it through will be a long and tedious process and every time you think you have got rid of it another bit of it will surface, like those horrendous pop up adverts on some user-unfriendly websites. A new save can actually be prevented at source if you are fast enough. You have about an hour, after an average unpleasant experience, to chemically prevent its memory from going into LTP at all, and if you're prepared to jack up the chemicals and hit the biofeedback deck immediately you can do it in ten minutes. It's a bit like the morning after pill, only you can't wait that long because the gestation period of a pregnant imagination is horribly short.

The importance of neurotransmitters

Learning speed ultimately relies on fast movement of basic or detailed information into long term memory, and consistently fast recall of that information. Even during the copying and practice parts of the cycle we need this. The creation of a long-term memory depends on late LTP, which needs the formulation of new proteins. If you follow our LTP chain reaction backwards you will see that this relies on glutamate transmission, so if you want to remember anything quite acutely, glutamate is a useful drug for neurohacking that. Keep quantities small, however; too much glutamate literally burns out connections (this is the cause of the 'MSG headache'. Think twice before eating that stuff again, won't you?)

How well we save or refile a memory depends only on how strongly weighted by emotion, intellect and imagination the experience is and how efficient our LTP is, or rather, how efficient we can make it.

If you get to know your neurotransmitters well, you will have the most amazing tool with which to change your mind. Glutamate is a major neurotransmitter involved in learning and the formation of memories, but there are others, and playing with them will affect different aspects of memory. By decreasing serotonin and increasing dopamine, for example, we can remove our short-term (early LTP) function almost entirely, reducing our short-term memory span to mere seconds, (as anyone who smokes too much cannabis will unwittingly demonstrate). Hacking Dopamine channels is bad news if you want to remember facts, but useful for increasing creative associations and helpful for anxiety. But remember this...Every transmitter change will affect memory ability as well as mood.

Mood affects our ability to learn very strongly, and as we know, neurotransmitters are responsible for mood. Serotonin will tend to make you more fearless, but too much can get you feeling manic. Acetylcholine can give your awareness quite a boost, which is why so many people smoke tobacco. (If you want a nice alternative, try Huperzine A, but forget that if you smoke tobacco because of nicotinic acid, rather than because of acetylcholine deficiency).

Our memory quality and hence the quality of what we learn depends on conscious attention and awareness, but these rely on neurotransmitters like everything else. Serotonin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine and dopamine are some of the most important, especially dopamine. Dopamine performs two main important functions; it acts like a Dolby filter system on random noise; suppressing random spontaneous neural firing, but it also prepares neurons to fire by depolarising them. So ultimately, dopamine strengthens and lengthens chemical firing between neurons and keeps random noise out of the way. (Up to a point too much of it is an entirely different matter.) This clarity of communication is essential for the ability to form new concepts by building links between memories (the known) and new information and experience (the unknown). Dopamine is a chemical link in the network that runs the programs for our basic motivation and learning, between long term memory and pleasure (as excitement) as reward, because it rewards us for successful interaction and successful learning, stimulating our pleasure centers in real time and changing the emotional weighting of every incident. If something is unpleasant to the senses or the intellect, we tend to avoid it. By providing the pleasure/reward response to successful learning, intelligence should have a built-in, automatic behavioral value system, in the sense that it should know what is good or bad for it pretty fast without having to compute why until afterwards. The paths from the midbrain to sensory motor centers are faster than those from the prefrontal cortex. The network is designed so that anything deleterious to intelligence (i.e. bad) will make that intelligence feel unpleasant, and "unpleasant" gets in the way of learning and is to be avoided. If it's something that's good for intelligence, it should make us feel good and interested, so we'll want to do more of it. Dopamine is only half the hormonal story of the learning cycle, but it's a vitally important half.

This cycle, like all the others in our brains, is designed to work with the program COMP, networked into the whole brain in the bonding format of an open-ended intelligence and a flexible creative logic. It is a marvelously integrated system and it ensures that intelligence will never do anything harmful to itself or to another intelligence, because that makes it release signals (in the form of anxiety hormones) that harm itself. Harming any intelligence or potential intelligence is literally self-destructive. This ensures the evolution of intelligence, and I think it's absolutely marvelous.

Problems we may have to overcome in learning enhancement


To enhance your intelligence as a whole you need to know which particular aspects of it you personally need to augment. So it's quite important by now that you know if you are stuck in a matrix and you know which one. If you take your neurohacking seriously (and I hope you do, if you've been messing about with your brain already), you will also find out right about now that in order not to lose ground you need to know a little bit more about how to avoid the enemy within, whilst making new memories as well as when adjusting the old. Anxiety is always the enemy of intelligence and always must be dealt with immediately it arises. We cannot learn effectively in its presence. So all in all, we've got the basics now and this is filling in the details. Bit by bit you're going to reprogram yourself now how you'd like it to be. It's easier to do so at this stage because we have the confidence to know that we can wipe stuff if we make mistakes, it will just take us a little bit longer to get there.

So the first rule of adjusting processing speed is, once again, know thyself. Be aware of how much control you have over your attention and awareness already, the areas where you don't yet have it, your strengths and weaknesses and which weaknesses are within easy reach of repair first.

In humans, anxiety at anything that seems 'wrong' causes hormones to be released which harm the body and mind. It makes us feel nasty, slows down or even stops our learning ability, and we try to avoid it. Any intelligence would quite naturally avoid doing anything that damaged it's own hardware.

Humans however are not aware that they are doing just that, currently. We're not running the attention/reward system as intended because not all the links have been built, and we're not heeding the warning signs of anxiety for the very same reason. It's the same damage that prevents COMP from running successfully in the first place. Failure of the brain to grow sufficient dopamine receptors at relevant sites will create chronic problems with reward and attention. There is a genetic factor which affects this (an alternative allele on the D2R2 receptor gene)R32 but it is unclear (well to me, anyway) if the failure to produce sufficient receptors is influenced by failure of a gene transcription factor and/or exacerbated by 'minor' brain damage. As we have already seen, we can alter the behavior of a gene transcription factor with one chemical. More research on the influence of environmental factors on gene transcription is certainly called for. (It is certain however that sufficient receptors will not form in any network in a growing brain if there is no initial use of the network in which they should form.) R3


The alternative allele affects some 20% of the population of the western world. Those with both the genetic predisposition and the 'normal' amount of brain damage experience various outcomes. If they are stuck in a sensory motor based matrix (2) they will become the heroin addicts, the sex maniacs, the alcoholics, and the seriously obese. If they're stuck in matrix three or four they may be also stuck with ADHD, alcohol problems, long term drug use, compulsive gambling or buying, obesity or bingeing, libido dysfunction, smoking, or thrill seeking. These are all different ways of humans following up the physiological and psychological awareness that the brain is not getting enough dopamine.

Drug tolerance

From biology's point of view, drugs like chocolate, sugar, alcohol and tobacco increase the level of dopamine, and hormonal balance is restored -for a while. Excitement and thrills will increase dopamine production, as will sex and most recreational drugs. (The pleasure/pain networks in the brain are something we'll get to later, so I won't go there now, tempted though I may be.)


Another problem we may have to overcome is that a major part of the attention/alertness/vigilance network is the reticular formation. This, if you recall, is one of the main areas of damage due to birth anoxia (lack of oxygen). Since the area deals with input from four of the five senses, it is hardly surprising that it is involved in attention and vigilance. Perhaps we may now begin to see how a 'minor' bit of damage in a tiny bit of brain tissue can have such far-reaching and unexpected consequences... If perception is faulty, not only will other bits of brain dependent upon its accuracy be constructed faultily, but also, even if they did develop (or were replaced) the input is still faulty and they would still come to the wrong eventual computations, reactions and conclusions. Without sufficient dopamine, things which should grab our attention as relevant input will be missed, whilst distraction (random noise) will interfere with concentration constantly. Intelligence cannot coherently assess its goals or motivations in these conditions. When the system is not working properly and there is no inbuilt reward for doing the right thing, how do we know what is the right thing? Without the coherent drive of intelligence's own motivations and goals furnished by a correctly wired brain, biology's drives will predominate in our attention. We will be stuck in the backwater of sensory motor drives; food, sex, defense; and that is all we will have and all we will ever know. Essentially, uploading in such a state, we would become biological hedonists, living all our lives seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, which has been the subject matter of many pessimistic novels. Biology in that situation uses intellect towards these ends, and these ends alone. The degree of the tendency of an individual to biological hedonism will be directly related to their neurochemistry, whether damaged, maintained by drugs, or in good working order. The 'desire' (dopamine) circuit, designed to be run by intelligence to direct mind and body as intended, is operated in most people from the point of view of whatever matrix they are stuck in.

When the reward/attention networks are run from anywhere but the prefrontal cortex, they only have sensory motor and emotional input to access and relate to. If emotional input is wired for sentiment, we will judge as 'good' anything that causes merely a pleasurable physical or sentimental sensation, and 'bad' anything that hurts us physically or sentimentally. From an early age we will start to discover what makes biology feel good (screwing, winning fights, status, food, resources, showing off (to other groups and our own), conforming (to our own)). However, these things will not continue to feel quite as good the more we do them, because our attention/excitement/reward networks will be inadequate, so we will constantly need to renew them...we will need to perform.


A great many of our 'sensual' tastes are modeled from our society. We tend to assume something is safe if everybody is doing it because ordinarily this would logically be the case. Even our pride in reward for our intellectual achievements is based on concerns of status and reputation, society's criteria for success.

The good news...

One of the most incredible experiences you'll ever have the pleasure to indulge in as a neurohacker is the employment of your attention/reward system in the service of intelligence.

Once you can control your attention/reward cycle, if you spend enough time with people IRL, face to face, as it were, you'll start to copy their abilities very easily and this will be a very fast way to learn. This is not theft; it is biologically designed shareware. We are designed to learn by copying, both other people and their skills, by emulation leading to originality (which fact makes copyright legislation in truth a bit of a sick joke on education). Just as you found and used examples of genuine emotion to copy to start you off on your upgrade, you can use examples or models of any skill or ability you wish to acquire. If you can pay attention and maintain your motivation you will learn fast, regardless of previous experience. (Actually in neurohacking it is not easy to use previous experience as a guide to anything. Your new experiences are likely to overwrite anything less successful in the same way you quickly forget a long trudge through shitty weather when the door opens on a firelit scene, dry clothes and a hot dinner.)

So now we're going to look at ways of controlling that cycle and enhancing learning speed.

There are two vital factors, as we have seen, for the optimum operation of COMP, attention and association. Intelligence grows by successfully running COMP, by venturing into the unknown and incorporating it into the known through creative interaction. Before we can interact with something, however, we have to pay attention to it. The 'unknown' is a new or partly new experience or set of circumstances about which we can predict only a limited amount. Your interest, your motivation, and your level of anxiety determine the intensity with which you pay attention to it. The more you can pay attention, the faster you can learn things.

The ideal neurochemistry for a learning brain maintains us in interested attention, and attention depends on a great many things. If we can't 'pay attention', we can't copy; we can't make memories very well, and it's harder to learn. So it's relevant to know not only how we 'pay attention', select, attach importance to, and remember, experiences, but also why we do these things. That's where association comes in. Attention and association determine the quality of memory in both original saves and recall. Quality of memory is such an integral part of the learning program that it becomes inseparable with speed in learning. Emotion and imagination should be thought of as tools in the learning process; they give our experiences a weighting or 'importance' rating for maintaining our attention span and making the relevant associations for fast, clear recall. And we need to look at all these aspects of learning in ourselves, improve them and put them together to understand what is intelligence's optimum learning space and achieve that. Phew!

Learning enhancement is possible via two different paths; we can use conditioning to give stronger weighting to input, or we can use memory enhancement to facilitate faster learning. We can use both together, enhance these methods further with chemicals, and later with biofeedback and more sophisticated tech such as TMS, but let us not try to run before we have legs. The basics we've covered on synaptic plasticity explain some things about how we learn and remember, but we've now got to build on that in order to explore hacking wider systems of mental function. Memory is, as we can now see, a synaptic event, a chemical event, an electrical event, and a muscular event. It is highly susceptible to hacking at every level. The first section of changes happens whenever we encounter new input. Networks fire as we assess... interesting? Important? If we decide it's interesting or important enough to pay attention to, we inject our brains with neurotransmitters, so that we can. For this to happen, we have to have a sufficient supply of the required neurochemicals and sufficient receptors in the relevant areas for these chemicals.

Remember though, any ability which we learn in any particular neurochemical state will be more easily recalled in the same state. (This is called, 'state dependent learning'.) You can use it to increase your learning potential because you learn how to recreate that state at will. Things become 'automatic' a lot sooner. But try to use chemicals etc. to enhance an experience, not to achieve it. The learning process, conditioning and programming must be looked into as well as the results of them.

There are four hacker's hotspots in the learning/memory systems for conditioning and they are the ACG, the septal area (just under the forward end of the CC), the amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens, a tiny little bit of the striatum tucked away close to the bottom of the forebrain. We're not going anywhere near the first two yet. To explore the possibilities of the other two, we are going to have a look at pleasure and pain conditioning, which they are involved in. (Whatever interesting associations your mind just made with this concept, we are talking science here; not Hot Helga's House of Discipline, in case you misunderstood.) The way in which the pain/pleasure systems work is usefully applicable to other systems too, which from a neurohacker's point of view is a bonus; we can learn about several systems by just looking at a few.

Let's walk briefly through usual, non-threatening input/output processing step by step. First, sensory input arrives from outside, mixing with whatever thoughts and memories and feelings inside are predominant at the time. Second, emotional responses occur (or, in the case of attachment, reactions.) These will include body changes in physiology and hormones. Third, the actual 'feeling' catches up with us and we notice that we are aroused. Together with this, or slightly before or after it depending on the stimulus, we make a conscious response. The point of response is determined first by the mid brain network's interpretation of the stimulus and secondly (later) by our PFC's concepts of 'appropriate' behavior. Emotions and feelings both prompt us to do things; intellect and creative ability (or lack of them) determine what sort of things we do.

Emotion prompts response. For efficient learning, the content out there (input) must be relevant to the intent in here (whatever we are ready to learn and are interested in). E-motion in the brain (electronic motion) always precedes p-motion (physical motion) in the body, and the body's physical micromovement or macromovement responses are a part of the e-motion coding for memory. The intent to do something must always come before the ability to do it, whether that intent is conscious or not. Emotional processing circuits give weighting to bits of information, which in turn alters which output circuits we activate or to suppress, which hormones we increase or decrease, in order to prompt an appropriate response. Any given circuit cannot be activated unless the input contains or is thought to contain information relevant to its function.

This weighting comes about because we consider an item worthy of attention, and regardless of how much logic we apply (telling ourselves we ought to learn this or should pay attention to the other), a logical reason to be interested is not anything like as strong as genuine interest (as anyone who has ever slogged through writing an essay on something really boring will confirm). We take an interest in things that seem to be important; things which attract us, and ordinarily people have very little control over what interests them, or even over what they are doing. What we can do with n-hacking is to make sure we really are interested in things that are beneficial to us, and not at all interested in dangerous stuff, by deliberately programming ourselves that way. A good analogy is to imagine if you could make all the foods which are the healthiest for you taste really fantastic, and all the foods which are bad for your body taste gross, (and you can actually do that with n-hacking as well.) This ensures that whatever we are learning will be easy, because we will have genuine interest in whatever we choose to have an interest in. If you think that is cheating, you are correct. Cheating is what n-hacking is all about. Of course it's easier to learn something when you feel interested in it. That's what we're taking advantage of.

I do not mean, though, that we should program ourselves to love a subject for any other reason than that it is good for us to learn at this time. If you choose something for reasons other than intelligence you are not basing your reality on the truth, and you'll get problems. The things that catch our attention the most are those that activate our own brain's pleasure and pain networks. This is what conditioning uses. It works with biology, not against it.

Scary things always catch our attention. The fear response is automatic and very difficult to learn to block. Our blood pressure goes up and we freeze; and are into fight/flight before we have time to think, literally. And like so many of our systems, of necessity the input values for it are open-ended; we are prepared to learn what to be afraid of, expecting experience to show us what we need to learn.R3 Our mind's expectation is that most of what it encounters in society will be normal, safe, and good to copy. (Without damage, there is no logical reason why large numbers of people should be demonstrating unsafe behavior, as this leads to extinction (in this case, the extinction of intelligence.)) We are designed to be able to learn that fire will burn, that falling down can hurt, that we should avoid things that bite us or that make us sick. Fear conditioning is fast, neat and clean; and once we have made up our minds, it's hard to change them.

Most neurologists' awareness of the neuroendocrinological basis of fear/pain has come through animal studies, for obvious reasons. Neurochemistry has been studied of humans in pain through illness, but this is not the same as LTP-inducing pain, as we will discover. I have the advantage of personal experience of fear conditioning and pain-assisted programming in a human person (and before anyone jumps to any really nasty conclusions, I mean me.) Awareness of how the fear response works is very valuable because it can also explain a lot to us about people's reactions in their everyday lives. (Understanding the causes of behavior enables us to interact more efficiently because we know the truth about a situation instead of falling for the simulation; the deception that is all most people can see.)

Fear conditioning is one of the easiest bits of neurohacking to do on purpose, but obviously not much fun. Basically all you need to do is link a target signal (the thing you want to create an aversion to,) with an unpleasant experience such as an electric shock. The reverse method is reward conditioning, is much more fun and the method is even easier; if you learn the task and get it right, you get a banana. This kind of method amplifies our natural like/dislike filing and association. So what you have to do next is find something you wish to learn, find the example you wish to learn from, and when you get it right, reward yourself. Have fun. I suggest starting with real emotion as the first learning target, because that will set us up for the next move.

Nobody up to any good would consider combining pleasure and pain, and/or polarizing them (using the threat of pain or the denial of pleasure to program a mind.) Unfortunately these methods are the most powerful programming methods I know of. The only way I will touch them is once removed; i.e. in VR role-play augmented by chemicals. You have to be good enough at 'suspending disbelief' to find this very useful, and it can have the unpleasant side effect of nasty dreams, although these are usually one-offs and don't recur.

You may find it a paradox that fear causes anxiety and yet still facilitates learning. (The anxiety still slows it down. Yes, they are two different things; fear without anxiety can actually feel exhilarating and exciting as well as scary). The trick of conditioning is, the memory of the combination of emotionally weighted input with any coincident input convinces the mind that the stimuli are related by association. We are programmed to remember anything dangerous very well, and the strength of LTP induced by even one such incident is often enough for the association to last a lifetime. (This is what puts the 'P' in PTSD). It is action-incentively and time-consumingly difficult to get rid of this sort of programming. And it's very easy to program in, because almost any intense stimulus will achieve it. Why? The answer lies in the way we use hormones for learning.

We automatically pay more attention to unknown or unfamiliar things, the new, the novel, and the different. Depending upon how our brain is wired, we may perceive such things as interesting or frightening. (This sort of discovery, made largely because of improved scanning techniques, put paid to the 1990's theory of one emotion = one response).

The process of 'weighting' given to any experience by emotion or feeling affects this strongly, as it affects our memories and thoughts. If we are depressed, everything seems less interesting and gloomier. People in love say the whole world is marvelous and everybody's groovy. The hormones we release when facing the unknown are thus interpreted via our mood; if we are confident, we tend to feel excitement, which is pure dopamine and a great attention-grabber. If we lack confidence though, we release too many androgens, and feel anxiety and fear. This difference changes the hormonal cascade and outcome, and that is important because COMP should synergize with these hormone releases for optimum performance.

I often find myself in the most fearsome arguments when discussing this aspect of neurology because I believe there to be two 'pleasure networks and I don't believe the 'dopamine circuit' is the reward network so much as the excitement/desire network. There are two aspects of pleasure in matrix theory, aligned with the stress/relaxation response and COMP, the cycle of learning. The 'stress' side of pleasure is excitement, anticipation, desire, and inspiration. The 'relaxation' side is fulfillment, satisfaction, peace of mind, serenity, and comfort.

The 'excitement' system is what people refer to as the 'dopamine system', working outwards from the VTA (Ventral Tegmentum Area) it connects to the amygdala, the nucleus accumbens, the hippocampus, the ventral palladium and the PFC. The 'relaxation' system overlaps it, and includes the orbitofrontal cortex, the ACG, the somatosensory cortex, thalamus, and parts of the brain stem. (The ACG seems to be the main 'crossover point' between the two networks, active during both experiences.) The chemicals of choice for the relaxation network are opioids, which nature so neatly mimics in morphine, making it an ideal painkiller. Anyone who's ever taken heroin or morphine will tell you something else it does...it makes you feel safe. Comfortable, confident, calm, serene. I would say, cherished. Exactly the way we're meant to learn how to feel, when we're born. Safe, after the storm.

Of course, the 'stress' side of fun is always tinged with the unknown; an edge of fear or daring, how much depends on what your neurology is like. That's why humans have always had the endearing habit of sitting in dark rooms listening to scary stories and frightening themselves for fun, all the way from Jack and the Beanstalk to Terminator. We like a thrill, a scare, and a rush of adrenaline...as long as we can relax and know we're safe when it's over.

I believe that we should spend all our lives in the stress/relaxation cycle, that it is tied in with sleep, learning, memory and the basic structure of personality. Because the two pleasure networks are at the core of our like/dislike choices and determine the wiring of our frontal cortex, which determines the weightings for experiencing enjoyment.

Regardless of this, whenever anything new and unknown occurs we will start to produce adrenal steroids, including ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) courtesy of a message from the pituitary gland. Ordinarily these hormones should accommodate to the situation through feedback, e.g. if there is sudden great danger, we need a lot more of them, but if we just need to pay attention a bit more, we only need a few.

ACTH immediately causes the production of large quantities of new proteins in the brain, which are active in learning and memory circuits. If you inject a living brain, via the carotid artery, with ACTH it will grow large numbers of connecting links between neurons. Links between neurons are what gives the brain better ability to process information. ACTH in short bursts grows synaptic connections like fertilizer grows tomatoes. If you have any doubt about this, stick a few rat brain cells on a microscope slide and add a drop of ACTH. Watch. You can actually see the connections grow. (You can get ACTH from any reputable drug company. Where you get your rat is not my problem.)

This is why pain and shock as well as excitement can increase learning ability. Both cause a release of ACTH. Fortunately, so do a number of other things, the things we find exciting.

ACTH assists arousal1, (but ACTH and dopamine are still only one half of the catalyst for the successful running of COMP).

Once something has gotten our attention, we move to complete our LO-RES SCAN by focusing our senses on the situation and getting as much information as possible. To do this we have to stop paying attention to various other things and this is the job of the parietal cortex. The basal ganglia and frontal parietal networks prompt us to move physically to pay better attention to the new thing. Then the thalamus jumps in and assists our focus by filtering out irrelevant data.

At this point, if we are unafraid, the 'reward' network kicks in, (reliant upon a sufficient number of receptors), pumping out endorphins. If we are in the mode of excitement, we will start to feel pleasure (and possibly more excitement for a while) at this point. Androgen production starts to shut down. All the time, we are adding emotional and imaginative weighting to the experience. If we are afraid, we may imagine far worse outcomes for a situation than actually occur. We may worry, become anxious, even panic, as reaction to these imagined fears are added to the brain's information for hormonal response as firmly as though they were reality and the brain keeps churning out steroids. We can, literally, frighten ourselves to death2.

If we remain relatively unafraid, the reward network produces ongoing sensations of pleasure, and that emotional weighting is logged down as a part of the ongoing stimulus. (We need the hormones associated with relaxation to prevail eventually in order not to overproduce the hormones of stress and excitement.) The whole system should be a marvelous ebb and flow...explore...assimilate...explore...assimilate... Biologically, stress/relaxation is the foundation of mental, as well as muscular, exercise. By stressing and relaxing our minds we improve the brain's capacity to learn. Stress is when we walk into the unknown, armed only with intelligence. Relaxation is when we return to the known and add the new learning to our database. The next time we find ourselves in a similar situation, our memory will furnish us with the same emotional weighting we experienced the first time, as these are a part of the memory stored. Our response to that memory will indicate our plan of action. This is the natural conditioning intelligence uses to make it in our interests to pursue things which are beneficial to it.

'Relaxation' neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and endorphins are vital to prevent the over-release of stress hormones, which cause a chain reaction ending with overproduction of cortisol. Persons whose stress/relaxation networks are inadequate therefore often seek that long-needed response by self-medicating. Most illegal 'recreational drugs' tweak the brain's stress/relaxation networks; as do chocolate, coffee, tobacco and sugar.

The Nucleus Accumbens

...Alcohol, narcotics and nicotine all dive in to the nucleus accumbens (a main network of dopamine receptors) and have a party there. At least half the people in our society are chronically dopamine deficient, and the nucleus accumbens is a major part of the brain's pleasure networks. Taking these drugs enables people to feel aroused or 'high', to forget about their worries and anxieties for a while and have a laugh and maybe play a little.

If we suffer from anxiety and we don't take drugs, we end up with an overdose of cortisol in the bloodstream. This binds to receptors in the hippocampus and eventually disrupts its activity, making memory inefficient and inaccurate. If high cortisol levels continue, hippocampal cells are destroyed. Cortisol enhances the amygdala's effect in fear processing but affects the ACG deleteriously. So 'tis a far, far better thing to be stoned, than to be running a personal full-body free-radical factory. The former may deleteriously affect memory; the latter deleteriously affects life.

Cortisol is one of the main reasons why we deteriorate so quickly when we're stuck in a matrix.R33 In anything other than very small, short doses cortisol is toxic. Horribly toxic. It causes many nasty symptoms before it kills you, amongst them raised blood pressure, osteoporosis, skin damage, slowed physical growth/repair, and suppression of the immune system. Exacerbating any symptoms you already have, especially heart disease or cancer, it will cloud your capacity for reason, shorten your life, and help lead you to an untimely death. To add insult to injury it will cause brain cell death throughout, leading to learning problems and memory loss. (It also makes you cry, or feel nauseated, irritated, short tempered or annoyed, but they're minor symptoms which most people consider 'normal' human behavior.)

Whilst you're still alive, cortisol will damage your intelligence, producing escalating anxiety and neurochemical imbalance, assisting you to achieve chronic depression, immune deficiency, and of course stupidity, as vital neurotransmitter levels drop below safety levels or zoom above them. I don't want that level of toxicity in my body and mind, and I suspect you don't, either. What causes cortisol poisoning mostly, on a daily basis, is any perceived irrational and possibly dangerous action/reaction. A combination of something we don't understand or that doesn't make sense, and an indication that it may be harmful. Disagreement or sane argument does not cause cortisol production. Sulks, tantrums and flaming rows, irrational personal attacks, threats, and assertions of error without proof trigger cortisol production. You should never allow input if it contains obvious cortisol poisoning triggers, because it is unfair to spike yourself or other people with deadly hormones without their full knowledge and consent.

When all systems are functioning on optimal, intelligence should flow between a stress/relaxation cycle, that is to say, it should repeatedly be able to enter the unknown and return to the known. We stress and relax our muscles in a sensory motor way in order to exercise and keep them healthy. Mental stressing and relaxing is not sensory-motor; it is chemical, and the chemicals it needs are neurotransmitters. If the neurotransmitters that prompt the mind to stress itself are not present, there will be no incentive, no motivation for the individual to pay attention to anything very much. They will have poor concentration, short attention spans and will appear apathetic. If the relaxation-inducing chemicals are absent, the individual will get excited or panic easily, suffer from anxiety, and have a short attention span. Attention span is vital to memory. If we cannot keep our concentration on something it is difficult to learn. Quantity-surveying reward signals, is how we decide when we have had enough of anything. Dopamine is essential for both attention and reward.

So you must become aware of this cycle and recognize its stages in yourself to enhance your own learning and increase your processing speed, because only by being aware of it can you do so. You must start this cycle rolling and keep it rolling until it becomes automatic. Constantly you must face the unknown and make it known, by learning and by practice. And after relaxation and reward, you must seek again the next unknown. It never ends.

Knowing about the stress/relaxation response is why the effectiveness of Ritalin on ADHD makes perfect sense to me. The drugs that enhance the concentration and action of dopamine work so well because they allow the cycle to occur and paying attention becomes easier; despite their action as stimulants, they provide the correct balance in some people of excitement/relaxation. (ADHD patients have disrupted ACG function and aim for immediate gratification at the expense of retrospection and forward planning. It is an evolutionary road to extinction and I believe it is caused by an inadequate number of dopamine receptors in the nucleus accumbens.)3

The Amygdala

Most of the answer to why fear conditioning is so extremely easy to accomplish lies in the amygdala, a big part of the fear-processing network. The lateral amygdala is both an input port for information from the senses and a security screen for possible threats. The lateral nucleus is connected to the central nucleus, and the central nucleus is an output region controlling physiological and physical behavior.

If you recall the fight/flight response, the lateral amygdala can get its input in two ways: it gets a lo-res scan from the thalamus first, and this happens very fast; fast enough to get us up that proverbial tree. Later it gets a hi-res scan from cortical sensory networks, but this takes time. That's how emotion or feeling can happen faster than logical thought. All the inputs, however, arrive at the same network So when a big hairy thing jumps out at you, the initial lo-res scan may say to you 'Gorilla! Run!' But before you run, the hi-res scan tells you 'No, it's okay!'...And then working memory tells you, 'Ah, it's your mad flat mate, dressed as Chewbacca again'. (Fortunately the hi-res scan usually gets there just in time to stop us making a fool of ourselves.)

In conditioning, both the amygdala and the hippocampus take note of coincidental input. If every time you hear the word 'elephant', someone electrocutes you, your brain will associate the two, even if you know it's irrational. Years later, someone says 'elephant' and you freeze, your blood pressure goes up, and you produce adrenal steroids. It's a kind of whole-body learning and it's vital to survival. We remember danger so vividly because we may not get many opportunities to experience it, without getting eaten. We are here today because our ancestors absolutely did not fail to remember what was dangerous. In modern life, the things our intellect or society tells us are dangerous are still not taken as seriously as these primal instincts. But the system itself is, as I have said, open to suggestions...that's how we can condition ourselves (or be brainwashed) so easily, despite our thinking of ourselves as 'civilized'. One day, we will finally realize subconsciously that we are actually unlikely to be eaten. Until then, prisoners of biological conditioning we remain.

More tools to play with

On an ongoing basis we can reward ourselves for paying attention to things which are good for us. (And the reward we get naturally from being less stupid is quite pleasant, too). Once the optimum neurotransmitter balance for stress/relaxation is achieved and maintained as an ambient, we can further enhance learning and memory by enhancing glutamate transmission, by increasing the concentration of molecules causing the induction of the gene-transcription factor known as CREB, by stimulation of NMDA receptors; because all are a part of the same networks for learning and memory.

There are other tools for learning/memory enhancement. One is biofeedback. We can record our EEG and other signals when in optimum learning mode, then feed that input back to ourselves in another session. An easier way is to plot the desired state for an experience on computer, record yours now, stack 'em, and write the bit in the middle to gradually affect the difference. (A simple example that illustrates this is: record your heartbeat whilst in a state of high excitement. Record your normal heartbeat. Write a slowly increasing heartbeat audio in the middle to join the two together smoothly. Play it back to yourself through headphones and watch your heart speed up to keep pace. That's biofeedback. If you're really creative you can write it into a piece of music. For use only with informed consent, obviously.)

Most people use biofeedback in a very limited way, for something simple like learning how to lower their blood pressure. In neurohacking you will get really personal about biofeedback. You'll find it matters not so much to you that your pulse is 125 at the peak of an experience, but by how much it increased and at what speed. It matters not what quantities of hormones are released but what amount in relation to blood volume and body weight. We are all unique, and the more we learn about ourselves the more we can fine tune n-hacking to suit us personally. We'll be looking at biofeedback some more in chapter 13.

A further technique you can try uses the brain's own hormonal cycle for strong LTP. When we are running COMP as intended, there is a timed cycle for learning a new skill, whose phases can be worked with for learning enhancement. The cycle will be slightly different for each person, but with biofeedback you can learn to watch your brain in action and see these changes take place.

The process of the making of a living memory, reflected in changes of light, sound, and graphs on a screen, is one of the most awesome things I have had the privilege to witness. The first group of changes takes six hours or so, after which you have to sleep, to allow the next phase to happen, the permanent shift into the prefrontal cortex.

The timed repetition sequence for most people's learning a new skill within six months most effectively is:

1. Finish first session when you start to lose interest or get confused.

2. Return to the material after ten minutes, until you lose interest once more.

3. Next session 24 hours later.

4. Next session one week later.

5. Penultimate session one month later

6. Review/end session six months later.

Note: Don't try to learn two brand new things within the same six hours. It takes just about this long for your brain to complete the transfer of a new skill or bit of knowledge into long term memory. If you leave it alone to do this, it will be far easier to move on to your next subject afterwards. If you think about learning from a memory-timing point of view, it becomes easier to understand why it takes so long to learn things in school, where not only is input presented in the wrong order, but also at the wrong intervals for memory to make the most of it.

We'll be looking at other learning-enhancement techniques later on, using other bits of tech we haven't played with yet, heretic short-cuts to 'spiritual' enlightenment, binaural beat multiple-input processing, and mood-changing by selection from a library...for now, get into the swing of conditioning yourself and enjoying your rewards.

1. Alertness as arousal is master-mixed by the reticular formation (RF), which should connect all the vital bits; frontal lobes, limbic system, brainstem and sensory input from sense organs. Add in its interaction with the hippocampus and you can see why the RF is one of the most vital pieces in the wiring of the brain, from intelligence's point of view. (That it is also one of the main sites of anoxia damage and development failure due to lack of input needs being met, is a tragedy we currently have no way to prevent, and for which we can only take steps to reverse the damage.)

2. A lack of knowledge of the English language once prompted an associate of mine to say of a patient: "He was so frightened, his heart attacked him". Amusing though that may sound, it is unfortunately true. Fear is a real killer. Anxiety-induced suicides are pretty deadly, for a start.

3. If asked how many personality/psychological disorders are the result of our brain being incompletely developed as intended, I would say all of them aside from those caused by physical injury.

Mise à jour le Mercredi, 26 Août 2009 00:29