Author Archives: Micheal Anthony Calderon

Language

Language

I will discuss language and how it can affect our representation of external stimuli and how we perceive the world around us. The history of language is an amazing subject; and many researchers still debate about when organized language actually came into existence. Nevertheless, language is a tool consisting of syntactic and semantic rules which enable us to communicate clearly and express our deepest emotions, feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Furthermore, from the excess of communication that takes place as a result of social media and the common accessibility of cell-phones, it is very apparent that human beings are addicted to social communication through the various forms in which we express our language.

            Yet, how does language affect our perception of the world? This link http://www.boreme.com/posting.php?id=30670#.U1Na7_ldWSo to a BBC documentary describes how a tribe in Africa only uses approximately 5 words to categorize color, opposed to 11 words used in the English language. For example, they will use one word to describe dark colors like green, blue, red, and purples; and another for colors like white and yellow. This tribe also uses words that describe different shades of greens, blues, and reds depending on the shade of the color. They see differences in the colors they are observing based on their use of language. When shown a circle of green dots, they are asked to point-out the one dot that is a different color. To most westerners this would be very hard because the dots all look green to us; however, due the tribe having separate words for different shades of green, they have a relative easy time pin-pointing the correct dot. On the other hand, when they are asked to pick out the blue dot amongst the green dots they show difficulty choosing the right dot. In contrast, a westerner can clearly see what dot is blue and what dots are green. This experiment shows that we perceive environmental stimuli faster when we have words for the object we are observing.

            Julian Jaynes, a renowned author and psychologist even argued in his acclaimed book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” that language and consciousness are linked together. In fact, Jaynes states that the origin of consciousness was only able to evolve after the development of language. He describes how many of the original meanings of Greek words had different meanings in a time he suggest humans were not conscious (Jaynes, 1976). These words took on different meanings as time progressed and writers, poets, and storytellers began to re-write or tell these stories in a time when the conscious awareness in humans was becoming stronger. In his book, he gives examples of how an unconscious person and a conscious person would use the same word in a different context.

Jaynes, J. (1976). The Origin of Consciounsness in the Break-Down of the Bicameral Mind. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, MA.

The Bandwidth of Consciousness

 

The Bandwidth of Consciousness

I know we have not discussed consciousness per se, however, we were briefly introduced to memory capacity regarding the amount of information our brains are capable of storing. I am intrigued with information capacity and the ability, or inability to hold large amounts of information. Memory capacity has different ranges according to our lectures. These range differences depend on the type of memories such as sensory, working, or long-term. There are also differences in explicit (conscious retrieval) and implicit (unconscious retrieval). There is evidence that information bandwidth is greatly influenced by variations in conscious processing and unconscious processing. I feel that these relationships are related to the lessons we have learned.

Scientists are convinced that the amount of information we consciously perceive is extremely small compared to the amount of information received by the sense organs. Dr. Zimmerman suggest that we only perceive around forty bits of information per second (Zimmerman, 1986); while according to Zimmerman, our sensory systems are picking up information flow at a rate of eleven million bits per second. This implies that much information is getting processed every second, but, only a tiny portion of that information is processed at a conscious level. We experience this when we tried to perform the memory test based on Millers theory of the magical number seven, plus or minus two (Miller, 1956).

When we attempted Millers memory span task we were exposed to many other stimuli besides the digits; yet, I bet very few of us could recall anything else at that moment other than the digits we were trying to remember. Nevertheless, there was probably sound coming from somewhere in the house, the temperature of the room, the smell of the room, the taste you were experiencing, and the sensation of sight, all of which were receiving massive amounts of information. Despite all the other stimuli in the room, we probably only remember performing that task, and we probably cannot recall any of the digits we stored in STM that night. We were experiencing consciousness via whatever system of attention were currently experiencing.

These theories based on information processing would also have relevance regarding the ability to form new implicit memories for patients that have suffered LTM damage. We read about the case of H.M. H.M could not form new explicit memories, however, he did form new implicit memories (procedural memories). The fact that H.M cannot consciously recall or retrieve memories from his LTM does not negate the fact that the information received during the performance of a new task was still processed. There is also evidence of this unconscious processing in the lecture explaining the cocktail party effect. We may not have been aware of a conversation a few feet away until we are cued by a familiar word, then our attention shifts and we become consciously aware of a different conversation.

We also discussed how we make errors when attempting to recall memories. When trying to recall memories, our brain is reconstructing a re-presentation of what we perceived occurred. Richard Gregory (1989) explains a representation of external stimuli as a hypothesis or a prediction by our brain of what is actually being perceived. Information is sensed, relayed, and processed. During this process most of the information is discarded to provide you with a representation of reality based on our focused attention. What we are focused on will result in our conscious experience. Norretranders (1998) refers to the discarding of information as exformation.

In summary, we evaluated the term information as it pertains to perception, consciousness, and psychology in general. Information in this context is the measure of energy flowing into our senses. This information is the base of all our experiences and memories. How we perceive reality and encode memories is based on the amount of information we can process per second.


References

Gregory, R. (1989). Interview, Bristol, Eng with Tor Norretranders. The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. Penguin Group: New York, NY.

Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two. Psychological Review, 63, 81-87.

Zimmerman, M. (1986). Neurophysiology of Sensory Systems, Robert F. Schmidt Ed., Fundamentals of Sensory Physiology. Springer-Verlag: Berlin.

Norretranders, T. (1998). The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size. Penguin Group: New York, NY.

 

Localization of Function, Methods, and Meditation

Localization of Function, Methods, and Meditation

 

I have found myself falling into a routine involving meditation. The most likely time for me to engage in meditation is during the evening after finishing my homework and running my training sessions for my club soccer teams. This simple act which can seem so difficult and uncomfortable in the beginning eventually brings relaxation, peace, and enjoyment; not to mention a much needed break from busy weekly schedules. Meditation increases my concentration and allows me to see situations more clearly. I compare it to an overdue computer reboot needed when a computer begins to slow down from information overload.

Localization of function deals with determining specific regions of the brain associated with the practice; and the increase or decrease of neurochemical activity. Investigations examining transcendental meditation which focuses on mantra repetition, recorded noticeable changes in the anterior cingulated cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal area using electroencephalographic (EEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and positron emission tomography devices (PET) (Cahn & Polich, 2006). Further examinations showed a direct correlation between increased alpha power and decreased blood flow in the inferior frontal, cingulated, superior temporal and occipital cortices. Zhang, Li, and He (1988) measured results from Qigong meditators who have the ability to deliberately create an inverse correlation between greater alpha power in the frontal cortex, while decreasing alpha power in occipital cortex (Cahn et al., 2006). Decreasing blood flow and alpha power in the occipital lobe suggest less activity in the visual processing area of the brain; thus, decreasing visual stimuli triggering thoughts and emotions. Greater activation of alpha activity is associated with pleasant thoughts or feelings (Brown, B, 1970).

The function that meditation serves is still not fully understood from a science perspective. The purpose of meditation is usually defined by diverse spiritual or religious groups such Yogis and Buddhist. Mindfulness-based practices tend to encourage a nonjudgmental state of continuous thought; whereas concentration techniques focus on bringing attention back to a specific object, mantra, or breathing exercises (Cahn et al., 2006). Researchers suggest that meditation may be a tool to increase focus and attention. Long term meditators showed increases in theta and alpha-1 power; further, oscillations of theta and alpha activity are associated with attention, memory, and cognitive processing (Aftanas & Golocheikine, 2001). Ishihari and Yoshii reported an increase in frontal theta rhythm as a task required more focused attention (Aftanas et al., 2001: Gevins, Smith, McEvoy, & Yu, 1997). These findings suggest that meditative states increase theta power and contribute to stronger memory, focused attention, and positive emotional experience.

A separate experiment performed by Aftanas and Golocheikine (2002) studied the changes in neural activity while participants performed Sahaja Yoga meditation. These types of studies are hard to control scientifically due to the nature of meditation, which is an internal, unobservable change in perception and consciousness. EEG recordings targeted the state referred to as “thoughtless awareness” or “mental silence”. Results showed increased activity of theta waves over the anterior midline regions; similarly, an increase in alpha (increased relaxation) was recorded in the posterior-occipital region. In addition, neurochemical evidence exist that mindfulness based meditation decreased cortisol levels in patients with high cortisol levels initially; and increased cortisol in those with initial low levels (Carlson, Speca, Patel, & Goodey, 2004).

In summary, when psychologists study the cognitive benefits of meditation, they also use many different methods in which they measure the localization of function, and physiological and behavioral effects. Pet scans, MRI’s, and EEG’s are used to collect different forms of data to accurately make observable measurements. These measurements help determine any changes in brain function; and how these changes in brain function contribute to cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and emotions. Despite the evidence that localization of function does exist when it comes to meditation, it is also evident that many regions of the brain are all working together simultaneously.

 

References

Aftanas, I.L., & Golocheikine, A.S. (2001). Human anterior and frontal midline theta and lower alpha reflect emotionally positive state and internalized attention: high-resolution EEG investigation of meditation. Neuroscience Letters, 310(1), 57-60.

Aftanas, I.L., & Golocheikine, A.S. (2002). Non-linear dyamic complexity o f the human EEG during meditation. Neuroscience Letters, 330, 143-146.

Brown, B. (1970). Recognition of aspects of consciousness through association with EEG alpha activity represented by a light signal. Psychophysiology, Vol. 6(4); 442-452.

Cahn, R.B., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 132(2); 180-211.

Carlson, E.L., Speca, M., Patel, D.K., & Goodey, E. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress and levels of cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and melatonin in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29(4); 448-474.

Gevins, A., Smith, E.M., McEvoy, L., & Yu, D. (1997). High-resolution EEG mapping of cortical activation related t working memory: effects to task difficulty, type of processing, and practice. Cerebral Cortex, 7(4), 374-385.