My effort to sort out what’s happening is developing on two fronts. One is to keep researching how brains/bodies work, which has so deeply changed our understanding of what a human being “IS” in remarkable and unexpected ways. The other is addressing the ideas of culture and theories of social change. Both, of course, are influenced by “Deep History” and Unlimited Time that challenge what we’ve taken for granted as complete but now see across borders of disciplines, mixing everything from geology to grammar. What was once steely logic is now revealed as self-serving blank spots and what we once thought was reliable turns out to have no guard rails.

One of my strategies is to call up a YouTube by someone known and accepted, like Lakoff, and then take notes on the phrases he identifies in order to talk about cutting edge research. Then go to other search resources on the Internet to find articles I can download and use to highlight in hopes of understanding what they talk about.

For instance, Lakoff, in a “pop” talk about how we think, referred to “canonical firing”, “neural binding”, and “metaphorical thought.” These led me to this article:

http://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 3538094
“The Neural binding problem (s)” by Jerome Feldman

and

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZewNjP410g This is a YouTube of a lecture on the same topic. I couldn’t understand it. This is not a fool-proof strategy.

But I’ve got some basic concepts from the print version. First. the Neural Binding Problem is so famous that they use initials: NDP. Second, there are four sub-problems:

General Coordination

Visual Feature-Binding

Variable Binding

Subjective Unity of Perception.

Second, I can go back to Lakoff to get clues. What we’re talking bout here is how the perception of the world, which comes to our senses as electrochemical code through our nerves, is then converted into the “picture” we get in our minds. This is what is called “binding.” Not just that we can perceive it, but how we make perception into decision and action.

In Lakoff’s terms this uses the formation of the brain during gestation and then the next three years or so of experience — from which we form a kind of grammar of thought. This is related to the much larger cultural shared understanding of the world.

Lakoff spends a lot of thought on the major “frames” of thought and how knowledge is fitted into it. To begin with a metaphor, Feldman goes to the map — that is, moving over the six directions in search of food and to evade enemies. Even one-celled beings do that. He says, “The brain’s organizing principle is topographic feature maps . . .and in the visual system these maps are primarily spatial.” So organizing one’s brain is like making one’s way through territory.

The cells form “circuits” that overlap, parallel, and sometimes fantasize, but new information must be either fitted into a pre-existing circuit or a new circuit must form — otherwise, the information is discarded. This explains a lot about how much difficulty we’re having politically when so much “doesn’t compute.”

“Variable Binding” in computer terms was borrowed by a man named Malsburg from math and computers:

“In mathematics, and in other disciplines involving formal languages, including mathematical logic and computer science, a free variable is a notation (symbol) that specifies places in an expression where substitution may take place and is not a parameter of this or any container expression. Some older books use the terms real variable and apparent variable for free variable and bound variable, respectively. The idea is related to a placeholder (a symbol that will later be replaced by some value), or a wildcard character that stands for an unspecified symbol.

In computer programming, the term free variable refers to variables used in a function that are neither local variables nor parameters of that function. The term non-local variable is often a synonym in this context.

A bound variable is a variable that was previously free, but has been bound to a specific value or set of values called domain of discourse or universe.” (Wikipeda)

If you can understand that, I’m glad for you, but I can’t — so far.

The phrases “temporal synchrony” and “phase coherence” come up and the idea seems to be that “attention” to them and their relationship over time are what make us able to remember them. Now oscillations in neural signals are mentioning timing and rhythms.

Leaving this heavy-duty stuff and returning to Lakoff’s stories, there are two very interesting surprises in the way our senses operate. One is about a scientist who came into the space where monkeys were being conditioned by giving them bananas to eat which was monitored with electrodes in their brains that recorded what the cells of the brain were doing. The scientist absent-mindedly picked up a banana and the monitoring machinery signaled that the MONKEY was eating the banana, but he wasn’t. He was only watching. He was “mirroring” by watching. This is the beginning of empathy — we think.

The other story is also about conditioning but this time a rodent was being taught to associate the smell of almonds with something or other. The surprise was that the rodent’s children and grandchildren also associated the smell of almonds with whatever it was. They were not raised in the same space, so it couldn’t have been passed on by learning or culture. Somehow it had to be encoded in the little mammal’s nervous system.

The cells of the brain operate in subtle and persistent ways. Mrs. Othus, my library teacher at Vernon Grade School in 1949, was a bit eccentric but she had very definite ideas. She insisted that we learn poems by heart and poems in those days had rhyme and rhythm. So we just repeated them until it was like singing a song. (“Neural oscillations”?)

She said that every time you were taught something, a little messenger ran down a path in your brain to deliver the message and every time the messenger repeated his run down the path, he wore it a little deeper until it was indelible. She may have been onto something. We just don’t know what or how to use the information.

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.