The Intro:


There are different types of spatial memories, but of course, the common thread being that an aspect of space or a spatial location is the foundation unto which that memory or information is built upon. Examples of spatial memory could be remembering a path or route that you take and the strategies you use to navigate in your environment. A more holistic type of spatial memory are episodic memories.


Episodic memories are ones in which you remember the rich details surrounding an autobiographical event. It gives you information on the where and when. Due to the nature of episodic information, these memories are quite precious to us humans. They allow us to recall significant life events such as graduations, heartbreaks, and getting married. They are rich because they are associative. Episodic information is connected to different components involving the space within which the events occurred and the salience of those experiences.


The function and role of space nested within episodic information and its ability to link across our own experiences to space, may help explain why a certain spatial location can have significant meaning to us. Walking through a familiar park can offset a slew of memories past, especially if the memories have an associated emotional valence to them. Feelings of happiness, sadness, resolution; can all be felt, simply by re-contextualizing a memory (walking through the same park as the event you're recalling or rather, recalling an event by simply walking through said park).


The importance of space appears to be shared among both settler and Indigenous populations:


...he demonstrates how many traditional Apache stories are connected to particular places, allowing the land to continuously remind people of social and moral code even when storyteller is absent or deceased. Basso also explores the notion that what matters most to Apaches is where events occurred, not when (my emphasis).

-- Kim Anderson, Life Stages and Native Women


suggesting that place itself can be broadened out of a narrow, physical concept/understanding of space or place. We could envision space as being a core, fundamental component of humanness. The significance of space and understanding the space around us is further reinforced by the specific spatial functions our brain has to understand it as I've eluded to above.


Space in the Brain: How do our Brains do it?


Edward Tolman once theorized that experiences are organized and linked via episodes across multiple domains of information into a cognitive map (Tolman, 1948). Hence, space is fundamental to the theory and construction of the cognitive map. Afterall, how can you develop a map sans space?


The significance of this mental cognitive map is many-fold. Tolman believed that the map would help facilitate the planning of future trajectories, determine the most efficient routes, and manage expectations based on goals and outcomes (Moser, Moser, & McNaughton, 2017; Tolman, 1948) suggesting that space is linked not just with navigation but decision making and goal-fulfillment--important human cognition.


The discovery of place cells in the Hippocampus (HPC; a medial temporal lobe structure in the brain) provided first-level validation of Tolman’s theory (O'Keefe, Burgess, Donnett, Jeffery, & Maguire, 1998; O'Keefe & Dostrovsky, 1971; O'Keefe & Nadel, 1978). Cells located in CA1 regions of the dorsal HPC fired in relation to a specific spatial location.


Place Cell Characteristics:


A thing to note about these place cells is that they have shown to be quite dynamic and adaptive as they appear to re-map themselves based on changes in the environment. Meaning that if place cell A fires in a specific location of a room, if any configuration of said room changes, place cell A may fire but not in the same location or maybe even not at all (see Figure 1).



Figure 1. Colour-coded firing rate maps (yellow = 0 Hz, purple = maximum rate) for hippocampal place cells recorded in a cylinder containing either a white or a black intra-maze cue card. (a) An example place cell recorded across four sessions in a cylinder with either the white or black cue card (as indicated above). Note the difference in place field locations for white and black sessions. (b) Three additional cells recorded in the cylinder for white and black cue card sessions. In these examples, place fields changed location or disappeared in response to the cue card substitution. Modified, with permission, from Bostock et al. Source: , Colgin et al, 2008, Understanding memory through hippocampal remapping

There are different types of re-mapping. A place cell can rate re-map (meaning the way in which the place cell, itself, fires; its rate code) to global re-mapping (whole ensembles of place cells change their configurations based on changes in the external environment, including not firing at all).


What is of most relevance to this post, however, is the notion that re-mapping is thought to help differentiate between two similar (but slightly different) experiences (see Figure 2), suggesting that re-mapping might be connected to memory and therefore may have actual behavioural function.



Figure 2: Schematic illustrating how remapping might help prevent interference between similar memories. Separate memory representations for similar experiences can be formed when patterns of neural activity from the entorhinal cortex (EC) are remapped onto largely nonoverlapping cell ensembles in the hippocampus (subfield CA3 in this example). Source: Colgin et al, 2008, Understanding memory through hippocampal remapping

Memory + Behavioural Consequences of Re-mapping on short-time scales:


Studies have demonstrated alteration in memory performance following displacement of environmental cues in an already previously coded hippocampal cognitive map (Colgin et al., 2008). Specifically, Lenck-Santini et al (2001) developed an experimental protocol that required the alternation of goal locations of a previously established paradigm (see Figure 3):



Source: Lenck-Stantini, 2001, Evidence for a Relationship Between Place-Cell Spatial Firing and Spatial Memory Performance

This alternation task is known to test memory, specifically, short-term memory. Basically, the rat has to alternate arms (between arm A and arm B) to get the goal (G; food reward). So for instance, a correct sequence would be ...G-A-G-B, etc. Researchers found that when re-mapping occurred in place cells due to changes in the room or the task itself, so to did differences in performance arise, and in this case, performance as a proxy to memory. Performance was measured in terms of correct and incorrect choices (i.e., the correct sequence of goal to arm alternations). Specifically, in this study, they found that when place cell firing did not adapt to the changes in goal location (i.e., did not re-map); memory performance suffered (though it is important to mention that this study and the subsequent behavioural result was correlative and not causal).


It is also important to point out here the temporal components to this study. Although the task itself tests short-term memory, the rats in the above study had several days, in addition to pre-training trials, to solidify the cognitive map for the standard configuration of this task (aka session 1). Although the alternation component of this task tests shorter-term memory, comparison of performance between alternation and the standard configuration (sessions 2-4 for the former and sessions 1 and 5 for the latter, respectively) also makes this an examination of longer-term memory.


The results of the study shows that changes in goal location on a short term scale (sessions 2-4) exhibit deteriorated performance and subsequently, poor memory while performance shot up at session 5 when the configuration went back to the standard configuration as it was in session 1 (possibly because it had more time to solidify).


Place Cells (+ re-mapping) are about more than just place:


The discovery of place cells in the dorsal CA1 region of the HPC provided a basis into how precisely these cells may be contributing to the formation and maintenance of episodic-like information with a spatial emphasis (O'Keefe, 1976; O'Keefe et al., 1998; O'Keefe & Dostrovsky, 1971). Place cells are thought to be a critical building block in the formation of the cognitive map Edward Tolman initially envisioned. This cognitive map is thought to facilitate the ongoing, mnemonic (associative) navigation and planning of trajectories in the rat and perhaps the human model (O'Keefe & Nadel, 1978; Tolman, 1948). Thus, place cells are a lot more dynamic and contribute much more to information than just spatial navigation. And naturally then, space is tied to more fundamental components of human life.


For our example study, the place cells and subsequent re-mapping (or lack of re-mapping) appear to have correlative consequences to memory as demonstrated by associated behaviour which happen to be the deterioration of memory leading to incorrect decision-making. An interesting property of place cells is that they show stability for the same environment for long periods of time after they form. This was demonstrated in the example study (sessions 1 and 5). The consequences of changing our environments too quickly (sessions 2-4 in the example study) results in decreased performance.


Essentially, if environments change too quickly, we may lose our ability to understand the space around us and lose out on developing the required associations of our space; putting us at risk of losing our ability to form autobiographical information.


When change happens too quickly:


The discussions above demonstrate the important link between time, space, experiences and our (brains') ability to consolidate important spatial (and episodic information).


That said, we also have to consider the possibility that since our brains are limited, we may not be able to process changes in our environment that happen too quickly as demonstrated in these studies. In response, you may tell me that the above discussions are only limited to the laboratory. This is a perfectly reasonable response, but I would like to offer a real-life example.


The Current Rate of Climate Change:


Such quick changes and the consequences of these quick changes can be observed outside the laboratory. Studies suggest that climate change is happening too fast for animals to be able to adapt to their new climate niche and that we are making our way into a mass extinction.


A study of more than 250 species found their ability to change their "climactic niche", the conditions under which they can survive, will be vastly outpaced by future changes in rainfall and temperature.

-- Source: Hayes et al., 2018


The ability to adapt to changes requires information retained from previous experiences that assisted in survival which can also include episodes/events that happened in a particular place. If we’re not being given sufficient time to consolidate said information because our environments are changing too quickly then we’re also losing our ability to survive.


The situation is even more dire for species that depend on land due to fundamental changes in habitat (see Polar Bears).



Wrapping it Up:


I will admit that this post is purely speculative as there are currently no scientific studies linking the notion that drastic climate change may affect our memories. I would however point you to something related to the topic.


There is substantial literature demonstrating that climate change negatively affects mental health. This is due to the deterioration of resources to sustain livelihoods and the destruction of precious ecosystems.


The expanding research on climate change and mental health includes increasing evidence that extreme weather events—which are more frequent, intense, and complex under a changing climate—can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety, depression, complicated grief, survivor guilt, vicarious trauma, recovery fatigue, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation.

--Source: https://ijmhs.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13033-018-0210-6.


It also just so happens that the listed illnesses above have an affect on memory.


Add that to the drastic changes that are occurring due to habitat destruction, changes in temperature, and the other associated problems that come with accelerated climate change


Plus you're new found (introductory) knowledge on how experiences of ourselves are so closely tied to our environment + space and that our brains not only track changes in our environment but that this information requires sufficient time to solidify


All suggests that perhaps the notion that we’re messing up our spatial memory systems because of human-made climate change doesn’t seem like too far of a leap anymore.


References:


Anderson, K. (2011). Life stages and Native women: Memory, teachings, and story medicine (Vol. 15). Univ. of Manitoba Press.


Colgin, L. L., Moser, E. I., & Moser, M. B. (2008). Understanding memory through hippocampal remapping. Trends in neurosciences, 31(9), 469-477.


England, C. (2016). Climate change happening "too fast" for people to adapt". Independent.


Hayes, K., Blashki, G., Wiseman, J., Burke, S., & Reifels, L. (2018). Climate change and mental health: Risks, impacts and priority actions. International journal of mental health systems, 12(1), 28.


Lenck‐Santini, P. P., Save, E., & Poucet, B. (2001). Evidence for a relationship between place‐cell spatial firing and spatial memory performance. Hippocampus, 11(4), 377-390.


Moser, E. I., Moser, M. B., & McNaughton, B. L. (2017). Spatial representation in the hippocampal formation: a history. Nat Neurosci, 20(11), 1448-1464. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29073644. doi:10.1038/nn.4653


O'Keefe. (1976). Place units in the hippocampus of the freely moving rat. Exp Neurol, 51(1), 78-109.


O'Keefe, Burgess, Donnett, Jeffery, & Maguire. (1998). Place cells, navigational accuracy, and the human hippocampus. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 353(1373), 1333-1340. doi:10.1098/rstb.1998.0287


O'Keefe, & Dostrovsky. (1971). The hippocampus as a spatial map. Preliminary evidence from unit activity in the freely-moving rat. Brain Res, 34(1), 171-175.


O'Keefe, & Nadel. (1978). The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map: Oxford: Clarendon Press.


Rosenzweig, E. S., & Barnes, C. A. (2003). Impact of aging on hippocampal function: plasticity, network dynamics, and cognition. Prog Neurobiol, 69(3), 143-179.


Tolman, E. C. (1948). Cognitive maps in rats and men. Psychol Rev, 55(4), 189-208. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18870876.






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Updated: Sep 8, 2019

Colonialism: Erasure of Diversity


A critical characteristic of colonialism is the erasure of identity and diversity. As a consequence, Indigenous people and people of colour become subject to the de-valuation of themselves, their thoughts and cognitions. This leads to the supremacy and homogeneity of thought as exemplified in current business, economic, and societal systems.


Closer investigation of these systems reveal the ailment homogeneity brings to these systems; a sickness that is currently harming all living organisms, including those who seemingly benefit from this system. In order to remove ourselves from the now, self-perpetuating nature of homogeneity as a result of colonialism, humans would do well to look to Nature systems to a) understand the pitfalls associated with perpetuating homogeneity, b) determine how Nature systems handle diversity c) begin to understand why diversity exists to begin with.


The role of Diversity in Nature


Nature is the most perfectly imperfect system we need to look towards to inspire our practices and thinking. One of the most prominent tools Nature uses is diversity where each and every organism and creature is made to address a specific function to ultimately contribute to the overall health of Earth, and subsequently, to us. Homogeneity is not a characteristic of nature, and in fact, leaves the system very vulnerable.


Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play.


For example,

  1. A larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops

  2. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms

  3. Healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters.


A healthy biodiversity provides a number of natural services for everyone:


Ecosystem services, such as:


  • Protection of water resources

  • Soils formation and protection

  • Nutrient storage and recycling

  • Pollution breakdown and absorption

  • Contribution to climate stability

  • Maintenance of ecosystems

  • Recovery from unpredictable events


Biological resources, such as:


  • Food

  • Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs

  • Wood products

  • Ornamental plants

  • Breeding stocks, population reservoirs

  • Future resources

  • Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems


Social benefits, such as:


  • Research, education and monitoring

  • Recreation and tourism

  • Cultural values

Source: http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares


The excessive removal of diversity and redundancies leaves the system in a weak state. This can be further explained through the Diversity-Stability Theory:


Theoretical models suggest that there could be multiple relationships between diversity and stability, depending on how we define stability (reviewed by Ives & Carpenter 2007). Stability can be defined at the ecosystem level — for example, a rancher might be interested in the ability of a grassland ecosystem to maintain primary production for cattle forage across several years that may vary in their average temperature and precipitation. Figure 1 shows how having multiple species present in a plant community can stabilize ecosystem processes if species vary in their responses to environmental fluctuations such that an increased abundance of one species can compensate for the decreased abundance of another. Biologically diverse communities are also more likely to contain species that confer resilience to that ecosystem because as a community accumulates species, there is a higher chance of any one of them having traits that enable them to adapt to a changing environment.



Figure 1: Conceptual diagram showing how increasing diversity can stabilize ecosystem functioning Each rectangle represents a plant community containing individuals of either blue or green species and the total number of individuals corresponds to the productivity of the ecosystem. Green species increase in abundance in warm years, whereas blue species increase in abundance in cold years such that a community containing only blue or green species will fluctuate in biomass when there is interannual climate variability. In contrast, in the community containing both green and blue individuals, the decrease in one species is compensated for by an increase in the other species, thus creating stability in ecosystem productivity between years. Note also that, on average, the diverse community exhibits higher productivity than either single-species community. This pattern could occur if blue or green species are active at slightly different times, such that competition between the two species is reduced. This difference in when species are active leads to complimentary resource utilization and can increase total productivity of the ecosystem. © 2011 Nature Education All rights reserved. 📷

Source: https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/biodiversity-and-ecosystem-stability-17059965/


The same idea can be applied to species-specific diversity, in that, the likelihood of successfully maintaining a homogeneous population decreases over time due to inherent changes in the larger (Earth) system. Maintaining diversity provides “insurance” in the system; as you nurture a group of species who have different skill sets, these skills sets can be shared to ensure the survival of the entire species.


Biologically diverse communities are also more likely to contain species that confer resilience to that ecosystem because as a community accumulates species, there is a higher chance of any one of them having traits that enable them to adapt to a changing environment. Such species could buffer the system against the loss of other species. Scientists have proposed the insurance hypothesis to explain this phenomenon (Yachi & Loreau 1999). In this situation, species identity — and particular species traits — are the driving force stabilizing the system rather than species richness per se (see Figure 2).



Figure 2: Conceptual model illustrating the insurance hypothesis Simple communities are represented by a box; in this case, these communities are so small that they can only contain 3 individuals. For example, this could be the case for a small pocket of soil on a rocky hillslope. There are 3 potential species that can colonize these communities — blue, dark green, and light green — and for the sake of this example let’s assume that the blue species has traits that allow it to survive prolonged drought. Looking at all possible combinations of communities containing 1, 2 or 3 species, we see that, as the number of species goes up, the probability of containing the blue species also goes up. Thus, if hillslopes in this region were to experience a prolonged drought, the more diverse communities would be more likely to maintain primary productivity, because of the increased probability of having the blue species present. © 2011 Nature Education All rights reserved. 📷

Source: https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/biodiversity-and-ecosystem-stability-17059965/


Because colonialism uses the erasure and removal of human diversity with the aim of ultimate supremacy, we have now left our human system and, the overarching Earth system in a dangerously vulnerable and weak state; the state that you see it as it is in now.


Since humans are organic matter and come from Earth, then engaging in practices that do not at least align with natural systems will prove to be detrimental. Consequences we are now facing. Thus, it would seem to be an appropriate time to re-evaluate our current systems and structures to re-integrate Indigenous people and thought as well as people of colour.


Actions Pushing Back Against Business-As-Usual (aka, fighting against Homogeneity)


The continued work of individuals, groups, and organizations who have been consistent and true in their fight against the current system are bringing to light the impact and sickness colonialism, and the resulting perpetuation of homogeneity, brings to our world. This has resulted in the up surge of social enterprises and start-ups who are actively working towards re-imagining the way we live and do business today. The emergence of new financial systems such as blockchain and bitcoin, the increasing call for climate-related ventures, the consistent evolution and de-evolution of our education curriculum, the re-imagining of economic systems (i.e., circular economics) and the growing need and development of think tanks aimed at re-evaluating government and government policies are all indications that we are waking up to the destructive reality that homogeneity, monopolies, and colonialism has brought to our daily life operations.


Challenge the Status Quo by Re-Claiming Yourself


In more concrete terms, it would appear to me that we are currently in a fascinating, delicate, vulnerable, dangerous, dynamic push and pull war between H1 (business-as-usual, perpetuation of homogeneity) and H2 (the possibility of truly opening the doors to divergent thinking and people, experimentation and stepping-stones to get to H3) systems. Thus, in the fight against current H1 systems, it is of fundamental importance that you, the person reading this, if you are among the divergent, contribute to and actively seek ways to engage in discussion and action in the way you uniquely see fit. It is critical that you work towards de-programming and re-claiming who you really are.


The issue, again, with colonialism, has been to promote and encourage only one thought, race, and system, therefore, it is of vital importance that you find your own voice, unique to you, and identify, uniquely, the work that you wish to contribute to, in your own way. Locating a group of like-minded people is important, but even within the local group, you will find your own unique lens in which you can contribute to discussions and subsequently push back against H1, business-as-usual systems and structures.


Bringing it Home


I am not going to tell you what industries or things you need to do. This would be counterproductive to the aim of this post. In fact, it's not something I would say I should even discuss about. I would, however, highly encourage you to re-program yourself out of previous colonialist mindsets and to actively find your voice and identify your own individual value. Work towards re-valuing yourself, re-discovering who you are, and practicing ways in which you can express yourself.


This work will be difficult and will feel extremely uncomfortable, which is why I refer you to figure 3 below.



Figure 3: Experiences and thought processes during change

Source: Business Innovation Book


It is because you think differently that you can conjure up and imagine different realities and different ways of living and conducting business. Your thoughts and ideas may not be best for everyone, but they may be best for a group of people who need your voice to be included in the larger conversation. It is also so important that we, as settlers (people of colour, immigrants), connect with Indigenous people. Indigenous people have developed an inherent understanding of the Nature systems here and will allow us to think more thoroughly about how we can think about H3 models—the world we want to live in.


If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this post or simply feel compelled to touch base, I would encourage you to reach out through this page. Alternatively, if you feel like your network would benefit from anything that you have read here, I would encourage you to share.


Yours in grind and hustle,

Z


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Updated: Sep 3, 2019

We are headed into a new school year (if you are a student) and a new season of hiring (if you are a professional); filled with fresh possibilities! The only "problem" is that you still cannot decide on your major or your career. No stress. I have just the thing for you!


The "Problem":


As you move into a new season, you might be wondering what steps you can take to elevate both your educational and professional experiences. The trouble with that, however, may be that you do not quite know what your focus should be on. If you are having difficulty deciding how to plan your educational and/or professional pathway, you may want to consider the possibility that perhaps choosing "the one" is not the answer for you.


The Profile: Is this you?


While you may run into individuals who know exactly what they want to pursue and how exactly to get there, or, you may run into people who decide to pivot into another career, you still do not quite know where to even start. You have attempted to stick to one pathway but that feels wrong to you, or you have changed careers so much you may be coming off as someone who cannot commit. What you do know, however, is that you enjoy the freedom and possibility of pursuing more than one topic, different professional roles and/or enrolling yourself in a diverse range of classes.


Any conventional options?


Academia may seem attractive to you as you will have the opportunity to research several facets of your research question, but you are researching one topic; one question. Not to mention the studies that show the higher up you go in the academic ladder; the greater damage to your mental well-being. Though, it still may be a good fit should all other things align.


Embracing the unconventional:


But what if academia is not an option? After all, graduate education is still nested within the higher-ed sector, which is based on a linear model; meant to somehow train people for a non-linear world (whole other topic but I hope I got your attention *wink wink*). Okay so, yes. What happens if graduate education is not for you? Well, then you have a tricky path to walk down. But I also suspect that you have a wild card in your pocket: YOU. You most likely possess within you the necessary creativity to figure out how you want to connect the different topics and ideas together to create the life and/or career you want; not around specialization, but rather, of generalization. So here are some actionable steps I have for you to help you figure out what that pathway may be and how it may look like:


1. Stick to who you are

Your perspective and the lens you bring to conversations are unique to you. That is your gift; that is your value. Take part in group discussions and/or write about things and topics that matter to you. Try to receive and/or listen for feedback from other people. This will be critical to you in helping you understand, precisely, the unique perspective you are bringing to conversations and will allow you to nurture your uniqueness


2. Don’t quit learning about all the things

If both microfluidics and illustration interest you, do not force yourself to choose between the two because I can guarantee you that you can find connections between the two which may help you down the road. In fact, there is a connection between the two examples I just gave. Do you what know what they are?


3. Run your own research program

Half the battle is getting a sense of the nature of the topics you are interested in and breaking that down with your unique lens. Developing and directing the trajectory of your own research will provide to you insight and clarity. Follow your intuition and learn about topics and people even when you are not sure how they will connect


4. Find your people

I know. So annoying. Because every post tells you to do this. But when I tell you to "find your people", I am not necessarily telling you to find like-minded people per se. I am telling you to find people who accept and value your thirst for different types of knowledge and information and who will not be thrown off by having conversations about the food chain one day and evolutionary psychology the next


Your role in the world:


Nurturing your ability to create links and connections between ideas will prove to be an invaluable and critical tool. Western society, as it stands right now, is not made for people like you but that does not mean that what you bring to the table is not needed because I cannot tell you enough how far from the truth that is. In fact, with the way work and discussions on the future of work are going, people like you are exactly what the world will need; you are the worlds' wild card.


If you need help organizing your interests and/or connecting your ideas, feel free to reach to out through this page of the site.


Wishing you luck and prosperity in your journey!

Z


P.S: A polymath is a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.


P.P.S: Famous Polymaths:

  • Aristotle

  • Michaelangelo

  • Leonardo da Vinci


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