Why Less Processing By the Hippocampus is Harmful to a Healthy Memory


Processing by the caudate nucleus is faster due to the processing of less information than the spatial information processing that occurs in the hippocampus. So there is a cost benefit trade here, speed and ease at the expense of much richer spatial information.

This is a good place to relate this information to Kahnehan’s System 1 versus System 2 Processing. It is the thesis of this blog that it is System 2 processing that builds cognitive reserve that greatly decreases, if not eliminates, the cognitive decline found in dementia and Alzheimer’s. The defining characteristics needed for the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is the formation of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. But many autopsies have found these defining characteristics in the brains of people who never exhibited any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The explanation provided for these individuals is that they had built up a cognitive reserve as a result of the mental activity they had pursued during their lifetimes. The position of this blog is that mental activity was System 2 processing.

Remember this distinction: System 1 is fast and makes minimal use of cognitive resources.
System 2 is much slower, is what is commonly referred to as thinking (pardon me while I stop to think), and makes demands on cognitive resources.

To simplify regarding navigation.
Caudate processing is a System 1 process
Spatial processing is much richer and primarily involves System 2 processing.

Remember the previous post titled “Wayfinding.”

It discussed the remarkable navigation feats that enabled, what in popular parlance might be regarded as primitive people, to navigate thousands of miles of ocean to discover and populate islands.

It also discussed aborigines in Australia. Here there are vast landscapes, which are barren to the uninitiated, but which provide information to those who know how to read it. They have developed what the authors names dreamtime cartography. They form stories, dreams if you will, that describe the paths on voyages to different locations.

It discussed people in the Arctic and on how natives are able to read the subtle cues in the ice to navigate. Even today with GPSs being able to read these cues can reveal signs that there may be trouble ahead regarding, for example unsafe ice, which are not available from the GPS.

This so-called “primitive” people were using deep System 2 processing heavily involving the hippocampus. They were not just identifying visual cues, they were integrating this information with other information. This processing was quite sophisticated and involved processing beyond System 2 (See the healthy memory blog posts “Stanovich and the Rational Quotient, and “The Two Causal Reasoners Inside”) that involved large amounts of critical thinking.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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