Memory Traces have been implicated under psychoanalytic theories, and are designated as the root cause of psychopathology, and behavioral issues.
I have been thinking about about memory traces over the last few days, trying to conceptualise them, define them, and understand what the term entails. Finally, after several hours of thinking thru, and reading, I decided to define and conceptualise them.
“A memory trace is the neural change that accompanies a mental experience at one time (time 1) whose retention, modification or otherwise, allows the individual later (at time t2) to have mental experiences of the kind that would not have been possible in the absence of the trace.” (Endel Tulving)
Even though it may be an impoverished record of the past and an unreliable guide into the future, the memory trace isn’t a mere residue in the brain, for it carried within itself a recipe, or a prescription for the future (Tulving)
What this means, is that when we define memory trace as a change process, it is no longer an entity but a relationship that defines the differences between two physical entities – the brain states at time t1 and at time t2, separated in time. The difference does not exist anywhere other than in our minds.
Being an electrical engineer thru education, I am tempted to define the term memory trace in terms of an electrical circuit. Imagine two electrical voltages standing side by side, at d1 and d2, separated by distance d. When the circuit is closed, there exists a voltage difference between this plates, represented by V2-V1 (where V2 > V1). Th emagnitude of this voltage differnece determines the intensity and magnitude of the current that flows thru the circuit between teh plates. The space between the plates represents a resistance. The greater teh resistance, the more intense would be the flow of electricity. If the space between the electrodes is connected by a low resistance wire, the electricity will flow easily.
The scenario can now be transferred to psychic reality. Imagine the brain – with all its neural conectivity, and brain state, at time T1. Now imagine the same brain after a passage of time, at time T2. The difference between brain state at time T1, and at time T2 is analogous to the electrodes. Except in teh case of brain, the electrodes (brain states actually) are separated not in distance, but in time.
Just like voltage difference exists between the plates separated by a distance D, the memory trace exists in time between two mental states separated in time by time T.
Just like its electrical counterpoint, where the magnitude of voltage difference is dependent on the difference between the individual voltage of each plate separated from each other in space d1 and d2, the strength of the memory trace is contingent on the differences between the mental states separated by time t1 and t2.
The voltage difference is not a physical entity – but simply a number that designates difference in voltage. In the same way memory trace is not a physical entity. It can be simply envisioned as a psychic relationship between the two brain states that designates their physical states across time.
The higher the voltage difference, the greater the flow of electrons (current) between the plates. Similarly, the magnitude of the difference in the mental states at time t1, and t2, also must dictate the intensity of the memory traces. If the brain states at t2 is not very different from the brain state at time t1, then the memory traces would be weak, plastic and easily modifiable. However, if there exists some trauma that makes the mental state at time t2 to be very dissimilar to mental state at time t1, then the memory traces of such a change would be etched in the psyche, and would guide all future action.
Heisenberg’s Uncertainity principle applies to the electrons carrying information across the plates, and it must apply to the electrons making up the neural transmission that creates specific brain states across time.
What is most interesting, and I will not dwell on it for too long, is that if past present and future actually co-exist, and it is only our humanity that prevents us from “seeing” them co-exist, then the memory traces are the link between the past and the present, and possibly into the future, and are therefore much much much more like the paths created by voltage differences. Imagining such a path brings a whole new meaning and context to developmental psychology !
Nature doesn’t have a lot of cards to play, does it ? It has a few melodies that it repeats, leading to such an array of enchanting melodies, which leads us into an illusion of a vast variety.
Perhaps I will touch on the mediating role played by trauma across time, which causes the memory traces to increase in intensity, much like the high voltage transformers we use at transmission towers, which transmit energy from the turbines thru the grid. The trauma or mental pain as it may be called – is like the flow of current thru the plates of the brain states at time t2 and t2. The intensity and magnitude of trauma determines the severity of memory traits, and may become the cause of all psychopathology.