Number 16 FISCHER

Number 16 FISCHER - 9 August 1976 ROLAND FISCHER . I...

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Unformatted text preview: 9 August 1976 ROLAND FISCHER . I CAN’T REMEMBER WHAT I SAID LAST NIGHT, BUT IT MUST HAVE BEEN GOOD Rembrance of things past depends. on our re-entering the state of arousal in which the event took place. In the film City Lights, Charlie Chaplin saves a drunken millionaire from an attempted suicide and becomes his friend. When sober, the million- aire has no memory of Charlie. But he soon gets drunk and again spots Charlie, treats him like a long-lost friend, and takes him home to his mansion. Sober the next morning, the millionaire forgets Charlie is his invited guest and has the butler throw him out. , Charlie’s story illustrates an amnesia between states of mind that most of us may have experi- enced. Like the drunken millionaire, we may forget on a sober morning what we did or said at a party the night before. Or the memory of a relaxing vacation fades as we slide back into the frenetic pace of a working day. In both cases, our experience is state-bound, i.e., tied to a particular state of consciousness. The reality of the event is most vivid in the state it was first experienced, and less so in other states. States of consciousness depend on the level of arousal in both brain and body. The level fluctu- ates greatly during the day. When we are anxious or'excited, the brain speeds up its rate of informa- tion processing—that is, how it organizes and reacts to what it takes in through the senses. At the same time, the body quickens its autonomic activ- ity, speeding up heart rate, sweat levels, and other systems. When we relax, these rates slow down. The brain processes and stores infonnal-ion differently at each level of arousal. The same event is very different in our perception, depending on whether we are calm, in a panic, or in between. Our memory of events, I believe, is distributed over a variety of arousal states. Each bit of knowledge is bound to, and most easily retrieved at, a particular level of arousal. The greater the difference between these states, the more difficult it is to recall in one state specifics learned in another. Lost access The difficulty in remembering events that occurred in another state of arousal has long posed a problem in court cases. Witnesses to violent crimes, for example, often produce vague or incorrect testimony because of amnesia between states. Witnessing a robbery, rape, or murder can put a person into a state of extreme arousal. When the witness later tries to recall the crime in court, he is no longer aroused and so does not have free access to his memory of the crime. The closer the states of arousal are, the easier it is to remember from one to the other. I have developed a diagram of arousal states. It helps us see which states are near each other, and which deviate most from our normal waking state. 67 Beyond normal busy alertness, the person moves through more intense levels of sensitivity, creativity, and then anxiety. Then come conditions of hyperarousal, which include manic or acute schizophrenic epiSodes. Catatonia, oddly enough, is the height of schizophrenic brain arousal. The catatonic sits frozen because his brain is racing so fast he cannot keep up with his own thoughts enough to make a move. Going still further, there is the arousal peak of the mystic’ s ecstasy. The rebound phenomenon In the opposite di- rection, arousal sinks beyond simple, relaxation into the tranquility of Zen meditation, where the mind is in a quiet state of alertness. In deeper med- itation, body and mind become progressively more quiescent as concentration becomes more focused. At first, the person’s attention focuses on a single object. Later the mind seems to merge with the ob-_ ject; there are no other thoughts whatever. Finally, the mind, though alert, is without a single thought, not even the original point of focus. Para- doxically, low and high arousal states meet at this extreme, because of the phenomenon psychophys- iologists know as “rebound.” In rebound, a biological system pushed to the limits of stillness or of aroused excitation will snap back to the opposite pole of arousal. An infant breathless and red from tantrum, for example, suddenly drops off to sleep. Rebound seems to be a built-in safety mechanism that protects our bodies from the adverse effects of extreme arousal. At the height of increasing arousal, as in the mystic’s ecstasy, intense brain activity suddenly gives way to a quiet state of deep calm. Or, in the opposite case, low arousal of deep meditation surges into the eCstatic awakening of kundalini yoga. Either way, the extremes of high and low arousal connect through rebound. Conscious awareness seems to come from the combination of our state of arousal and the symbol or labels we connect with that state. In the normal arousal range, there is flexibility in the interpreta- tions we attach to arousal levels. Stanley Schachter, a psychologist at Columbia University, has shown that pe0ple experience the same - arousal state as either pleasure or anger, depend- ing on the cues provided by their surroundings' When volunteers Schachter injected with adrena» lin were with a happy, joking stooge, they re- ported feeling pleasantly aroused; when other volunteers given the same injection were with a hostile stooge they felt angry. In both situations the physiological arousal was the same, but the person's interpretations of the physical effects of the drug varied with the situation. Tea-soaked cake As a person approaches the extremes of high or low arousal, he has fewer labels available for interpreting his state. At the most extreme levels, there is a virtual loss of freedom in interpretation, since meaning is only meaningful at that level of arousal at which it is experienced. The enraptured mystic and en- tranced meditator have few words with which to label their altered state. Only the creative mystic has no difficulty describing his transcendental experience. Creativity is the ability to recollect thoughts or images experienced at a variety of arousal levels. For this reason mystics have always had difficulty describing transcendental experi- ences. # People experience the same arousal state as either pleasure or anger, depending on their surroundings. fl Since experience is the product of both arousal and the symbol or label for that level of arousal, the full memory of an experience can be triggered either by duplicating the original level or by evoking some symbol of it. A famous example is Proust in Swann’s Way, when he tastes a tea- soaked cake like those of his childhood and is instantly flooded with a stream of early memories. One of the oldest descriptions of the symbolic triggering of a state—bound memory comes from the Spaniard Juan Luis Vives, who wrote in 1538, "When I was a boy in Valencia, I was ill of a fever; _ ' while my taste was deranged I ate cherries; for many years afterwards, whenever] tasted the fruit I not only recalled the fever, but also seemed to experienCe it again." T. S. Eliot consciously used symbols to evoke arousal states. In his theory of the "objective correlative,” he preposed that the poet elicits specific emotions in his audience by his use of symbols. In a set of objects, a situation, or a chain of events, the poet creates a formula for evoking a particular emotion. I extend Eliot’ s idea to all the arts. Specific emotions can be evoked by a melody . or images well as by a- flow of words. We feel very different about the calm placidity of a Constable landscape, the sensual richness of Rousseau’s plush jungles, and the tortured faces of Munch’s portraits. Each of these visual images triggers a specific emotional state. Partial amnesia The other route to reexperienc- ing the state-bound past is thrOugh duplicating the arousal level of the previous experience. One ..__m._..l.n‘...m‘u...'-._.." -“.I"A>.N. tin. ..|-G'- me EMEOFIENTA-ITS—TATES therapist says that when he uses sodium amytal (“truth serum") as part of psychotherapy, his patient picks up his narrative each time exactly where he left off at the close of the previous sessron. Alcohol is the most common route to an altered state, and provides the best documentation of state-bound memory. Research headed by Herbert Weingartner at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda may explain the erratic actions of Charlie Chaplin's drunken millionaire. Wein- gartner’s team wondered if we don’t remember things in different ways when we are drunk or sober, so that a partial amnesia exists between these states. They had volunteers learn a list of 10 words, then asked them to recite the words when they were either in the same state as when they learned them or in the opposite state. Recall was best when a volunteer was in the same state as when he learned the wOrds, whether drunk or sober. This amnesia between states means that people do not necessarily remember events better when they are sober than when they are drunk. They remember best when they are in the same state as when the original event occurred. Other studies have shown that this rule of thumb also holds for altered states induced by amphet- amines, barbiturates and marijuana. _ Weingartner’s study of state-bound memory suggests a general principle for increasing our memory of things. We should reenter the state we were in during the original moment. This principle may explain why psychoanalysts since Freud have had their patients lie on a couch and free-associate as they search back to Childhood's traumas and triumphs. The reverie of the free-associating pa- tient produces a slow brainwave rhythm, typical of that of children when they are awake and alert. By slowing their brain waves to the rate of a child’s, the patients in analysis may have increased their chances of recalling events from childhood. I carry the samestate, better-memory rule a step farther. Since some degree of amnesia exists between our normal everyday state and other states of increased or deceased arousal, it may be that what is called the "subconscious" is but another name for this amnesia. instead of there being just one subconscious, therefore, there are as many layers as there are arOusal levels. These many layers remind me of a captain with girl friends in several ports, each unaware of the existence of the others, and each existing for him from visit to visit—that is, from state to state. ' 3+1". It may be the “subconscious” is but another name for this amnesia. Some of us can travel on the continuum of increasing and decreasing arousal more easily than others. I have identified the kind of person who moves most freely between arousal levels. I used a simple test in which a person copies a 28-word text four times on separate sheets of paper, and then computes the differences among the four sheets in the area covered by his handwriting. If the handwriting area varies greatly from sheet to sheet, the writer is likely to vary his behavior and perception often. This simple index of variability, we formd, predicts the intensity of changes the person will experience on a psychedelic drug like psilocybin; the more variation his writing shows, the more intense his trip will be. ' About one third of the population falls into the variable category, but only about one third of these can be easily hypnotized. The variability of this one ninth of the population seems to indicate fluidity within mental states that allows them to flashback, that is, reexperience an altered state rather than simply remember it. For these peeple, movies, novels, and the like may be especially gripping, and the moods they evoke particularly real. - The richness of our daily experience is not limited to what we see and hear. Our lives are enriched also by the range of internal states from which we witness the seen and heard. In the words of Octavio Paz, “Memory is not that which we remember, but that which remem- bers us. Memory is a present that never stops passing.” W A Second Look at the State of Learning . . . One well-established principle of learning is that we are more likely to recall what we learned if the situation during recall resembles the situation during learning. In other words, if you learn to dissect a flower in a laboratory, you shouldn’t be too surprised it you have some difficulty remembering flower parts on a test taken in a classroom. Research on state-dependent memOry shows that for Optimum recall the environment inside the organism during recall must also resemble that during learning. The drunk who can’t recall his own phone number ‘may be the best known example of this phenomenon, but Roland Fischer, who now lives in retirement in Spain, provides lots of others. Some recent research suggests that even normal variations in mood may affect recall. In one study, Gordon Bower hypnotized college students and induced them to feel either happy or sad. Then, while the students were in this induced mood, Bower had them memorize lists of words. Later he tested their recall and discovered state-dependent effects. In other words, if the students were happy when they learned the words, they later remembered more words when happy than when sad. Not all studies of mood states have cor- roborated these findings, but it is clear that the internal state of an organism plays an important role in learning and memory. It is easy to see how this might contribute to survival. Suppose the proverbial cave man is attacked by a dangerous predator. The adrenaline flows, the victim is terrified, and he desperately seeks an escape, perhaps by crawling into a crevice in the rocks. Once the danger is past, recalling how he survived is not particularly important. But in the face of a second attack, recalling the previous escape may be essential to survival. An understanding of state-dependent memory can also contribute to academic survival. The student who takes stimulants to study through the night may find that much of what was learned has worn off with the stimulant in the morning. SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT . . . I. Fischer says state-bound memories are "tied to a particular state of consciousness." From a scientific standpoint, what problems do you see with this statement? 2. Fischer hypothesizes that “each bit of knowl- edge is bound to, and most easily retrieved at, a particular level of arousal." How could you test this hypothesis without using drugs (in- cluding nicotine, caffeine, etc.)? 3. What does research on state-bound knowl— edge suggest to you about the physiology of memory? 4. One question that arises from Fischer’ 5 article - is whether knowledge is bound to a state of consciousness or to physiological conditions. Describe a study that would resolve this question. 5. Students often complain about anxiety experi- enced during tests. Given what you now know about state-dependent knowledge, is such anxiety necessarily harmful to performance? - 6. How does research on state-dependent knowl—. edge fit with Gazzaniga’s (see article, this volume) theory of the brain? 7. What do you think of Fischer's suggestion that what people call the subconscious is really the amnesia of state-bound knowledge? 8. If Fischer is right about the subconscious, does it follow that there is not one subconscious, but many? ' 9. What are the implications of state-dependent memory for the training of astronauts? 10. What problem does state-dependent memOry pose f0r criminal investigation? How might police officers use an understanding of state- - bound knowledge to advantage in their inves- tigations? TO LEARN MORE ABOUT IT . . . aspect of the role that biology playsinleaming, see Biologicai Boundaries of Learning: The Sauce-Misc For more on state-dependent memory, see Gordon syndrome by Martin Seljgman and Joanne L. Hagar Bower's article in the American Psychologist (1981, in the August 1972 issue of PT. vol. 36, pp. 129—148). For a look at a different ...
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Number 16 FISCHER - 9 August 1976 ROLAND FISCHER . I...

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