How can an expert doctor deduce a diagnosis even from the moment a patient enters the room?
Do you know that when you judge someone you barely know, you are actually judging someone else you already knew before?
In my last post, I have explained that memory is better stored when we use multiple circuits together. Today, I will explain about memory retrieval. How do we recall the memory we have stored, and what it has to do with intuition, wild guess, and even prejudice. First, here’s an experimental view. For long, scientist has thought of a specific cell in the brain which stores memory. Like when you remember a news article you read yesterday, it is stored in a cell in your brain, so that when we remove that area by operation, you’d lose the memory. They later discovered that memory doesn’t work that way by this experiment:
In the 1920s, a scientist by the name of Karl Lashley believed that there is a certain area of the brain which stores memory. So, he tried to destroy different parts of the brain of rats. Beforehand, the rats were trained to go through a maze with a cheese at the end. In other words, the rats were able to remember the route to the end of the maze without ever encountering blind ends. After destroying the parts of the brain, and the rats going through the maze, his hypothesis were accepted, all rats forgot how to get to the end of the maze, encountering more blind ends.
However, something puzzled him. He destroyed DIFFERENT parts of the brain in every rats in search of this ‘memory cell’, but the problem is, EVERY rat, no matter where their parts of brain destroyed is, forgot their way to the end of the maze! In other words, no matter where they destroy the area, they still forget. So, where is this memory cell? This experiment failed to locate a specific area or cell for memory storage, but what it discovered is much more intriguing: There is no such thing as a specific cell or area for memory storage and memory is actually a link of different brain circuits scattered throughout the brain. Memory is everywhere inside our brains. When we recall a fact, we don’t activate a single ‘memory cell’ located somewhere in our brains, we activate many cells scattered throughout our brains. That’s why destroying any parts of the brain affects memory. It is not the memory cell is destroyed; it’s the brain circuit that is destroyed
Confused? Let me explain further. Lashley’s student, Donald Hebb expended his teacher’s experiments and came out with a few findings. Hebb proposed that memory is an interconnection of brain circuits, and the activation of one circuit activates another. He also deduced, from the experiment done by his teacher, memories are stored in different parts of the brain depending on the senses used. For example, what we see is stored in the visual cortex, a part of the brain. What we hear is stored in the auditory cortex, a different part of the brain. Let’s take an example. Let’s say you’re in a lecture and your teacher gave you an important fact you would later remember. During memory recall the next day, you cannot ‘extract’ only hearing what your teacher has said. It is ‘linked’ with seeing the teacher, so the image of the teacher will also come out in your mind. Unless you didn’t look at the teacher when she explains, now that’s rude, isn’t it?
As I have explained in my previous post, memory is stored better when we combine different circuits, like seeing and hearing circuits. So we remember better if we see and hear at the same time, rather than just hearing, because those memories are linked, and activation of one activates another, creating a stronger memory and recall. Another example is the perfume your mother always wears. When you smell that perfume again somewhere across the globe, the image of your mother would come out, won’t it? That’s because one circuit activates another, so when the memory from ‘smelling circuit’ is activated, it automatically activates the ‘seeing circuit’, hence the image of your mother. The amazing thing about this is that even the SMALLEST stimulus that activates the SMALLEST circuit will activate other LARGER circuits, like a domino effect, allowing you to reassemble the whole picture in your mind.
Now what does this has to do with the great doctor and the stranger? Let’s start with the doctor. This link of one circuit towards another is called ‘engrams’. The linking of circuits doesn’t only apply to ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’. It also links between past memory circuits. As I said before, even the SMALLEST stimulus that activates the SMALLEST circuit will activate other LARGER circuits, like a domino effect, creating a large picture. An expert doctor is a doctor with years and years of training and experience. In his brains, memories circuits of different types of diseases he has seen are scattered throughout his brain. So, from the moment a patient enters his room, a single, even the smallest detail in the patient, could trigger a whole lot of memory. Like the drooping eyelid, the puffy face, the aching gait, the rapid breathing, anything! One symptom relates to another, so the doctor starts looking at the skin appearance, the color of the eyes, and so on, without even touching the patient. All this happens even without the doctor thinking. It just comes out like a torrent of water. That’s what I call thinking without thinking. So usually, the most expert of doctors already know the diagnosis beforehand. But of course, we need to be sure. We can’t confirm the diagnosis without properly examination of the patient. We’d get sued!
This linking of circuits can be very useful, but it’s like a double-bladed sword, where it has its disadvantages. Here comes the story of Big Bob:
Big Bob is a large, hulking figure. Like the one you see in wrestling shows. Everyday, Big Bob goes to work at a local factory by the same bus, with the same driver. This driver is the opposite of Bob. He’s small, skinny, frail, and a little bit judgmental. Everyday, the driver would pick up Big Bob, and every time he enters, he will say to the driver “BIG BOB DOESN’T PAY!”. The driver, small and skinny as he is, didn’t want trouble. He’s actually afraid of Big Bob, so he let him ride the bus for free. This went on for years, until one day, the driver had financial problems, and was so stressed that morning. Then, he picked up Big Bob, and, as usual, Big Bob will say: “BIG BOB DOESN’T PAY!” With the financial problem the driver was having, he couldn’t take it anymore and shouted to Big Bob: “Who do you think you are?! You think just because you’re big and all muscular, you’d get a ride for free?? Everyone pays, including you, BOB!” Confused why the driver got so angry at him, Big Bob says:
“Big Bob doesn’t pay because Big Bob got a monthly pass”, and showed the driver his pass, which he always wore on his belt.
So, the essence of this story is prejudice. Here’s how it is related to engrams. As I said before, a memory circuit will activate another. When we see a big, muscular man like Big Bob, we’d tend to remember the violent, bullying wrestlers we saw on TV. Big Bob ain’t a wrestler, but when we see one, the image of violence in the TV with someone big and muscular like Big Bob will appear. Because our memory circuits are interconnected automatically. We didn’t choose to be that way, but its biologically meant to be. Scientists even did an experiment where beforehand, the subjects, who were white people, were specifically told not to be judgmental or prejudice. They were shown many pictures of a white man and a black man for ONE SECOND, and push in a button labeled “GOOD” and “BAD” as fast as they could. These people were known not to be prejudice, they are highly educated scholars, and plus, specifically were told not to be prejudice. But when they started showing pictures of black people, they still, press the ‘BAD’ button most of the time, and this happens to everyone in the experiment. They only got one second to press the button, so they don’t really have the time to think. So when our conscious mind doesn’t work, the unconscious takes over, where memories of black people we see in Hollywood movies comes out, the articles about criminals by the black people. We consciously choose not to be prejudice, but our mind actually doesn’t. Our mind depends on our memories, which are interconnected to one another.
The same goes for judging someone you barely knew. Simply put, when you judge someone you don’t really know, you tend to link him or her to someone similar that you’ve already known before. Like a women who has relationship troubles with men in the past would associate other men with the one she knew before. It’s just like the case of Big Bob. That’s how first impressions lead us.
So, taking things back home, after reading all these crazy stuff I wrote, what do you think of me? Who do you link me to? Well, I’m sorry to say, you can’t judge me from my writings, cause you’ll soon realize that what you judge is really someone you already knew. When you meet me in person, you’ll see that I am a whole different person than you previously thought
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