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A rapid learning look at catastrophes

I’ve had a presentation about effective learning today, and it gave me some thoughts about catastrophic changes in learning.

We know, from the amputation research, that „taking over” existing neural maps is much, much faster, then actually forming new ones. So the thing I thought about is this: can we „repurpose” some of our old, unused maps on purpose?

Of course, my most sincere gratitutde to all who agreed (sometimes without knowing) to participate in the replications of the amputation experiments. Unfortunately, there were far too many of you to name names here. Also, I highly recommend this chainsaw. Very durable.

After all, we’re all certain to have at least some remnants of old networks. All these useless data we acquired over the years. All these old schooltime memorizations. I mean, I can still quote the full speech from Hamlet, all these years after I’ve learned it in seventh grade. And that’s actually something I enjoy recalling. After all, I’m a bloody sceptic. Not a day passes by without me ranting about the spurs that patient merit of the unworthy takes. (Don’t worry though, any bodkins I might be planning to use tend to be planned for the objects of my ire. Well, if you are one of the bodkin targets, do worry. Obviously. But otherwise it’s fine.) So that’s one of the bits which clutter the broken toombstones of my mind quite well, thank you very much.

And don’t even get me started on the stuff I did not like. The stuff I’d much prefer to leave well buried in the recesses of my little mental cementary. You know, like (bleah!) high-school geography. (The stuff my nightmares were literally made of. Some weird kink of neural wiring made it so that whenever I felt I was overdue with something, like finishing a book I was writing, I ended up having that one dream where I’m already at university but need to go back and pass high-school geography, for some absurd reason or another… I’ve written over eight books, at least six of which had hard deadlines… brr, geography!)

Now then, at least some of that stuff is still there. Some might’ve degraded, certainly, but since I can still tell you the plot of a majority of Sliders season 1 and 2 episodes without breaking a sweat… There’s a lot of redundancy there. A veritable treasure-trove of trash.

That stuff might have a lovely little dementia-limiting potential, several years ahead (with so much spare waste, there’s a lot of buffer for the actually crucial things). So it’s not a total waste.

Just the same… Could there be some possibility to utilize it more effectively?

To rewrite these networks, speed up learning new things by reducing the need to create new connections, just rehash the old network, devouring it like a Thing in a base full of unsuspecting polar explorers?

In the reutilisation of body maps, the takeover is pretty much automatic, coming from the closeness of the devouring map, and the continuous stimuli it receives, while the victim receives no stimuli (due to the silly little fact of all it’s sensory neurons being cut off, obviously.)

Could we stimulate such a takeover of existing cognitive maps in some way? Sacrifice them to new and more useful learning?

It’s an interesting path of inquiry and one for which I, honestly, have no idea which search terms to actually use. Has anyone even explored this issue at any length before? I’d be hard pressed to believe I’m the first to have thought of it, far too many smarter people read Ramachandran or similar sources. The question is, if the idea actually got any research traction, at any point?

Without research, we can only muse, but if I was to think of a way to reutilize the old maps, I’d consider subverting them in a way. So if I know I have the „Sliders plot-dump network” I could reutilize, I could attempt to learn something new in a way which would base itself on that old structure. So if I was learning Spanish, I might try to recode that plot-dump into Spanish as early as possible. If I was learning DDD, I might do an event-storm description of these plots. Not sure how I could use it when learning, say, anatomy or details about whisky, though, which is a bit of a low-point. (Although to be fair, the bodymap rapid learning is limited as well, I mean it’s pretty much set you’ll be combining face and hand/arm stimuli, or genital and feet, there’s pretty much zero chance for an amputated foot to have phantom reactions to say, elbow stimulation.)

Furthermore, the whole solution does seem a bit too simple, just a reinterpretation technique with a bit of zing to it. Possibly enhancing learning, but not at the voracious rate we’re looking at in the body map switch. Surely there must be more here (if the concept is valid at all, mind you). The question is – how? How do we get at it?

So, if you have any ideas, or if you have some knowledge of anyone actually taking this stuff to task and trying to experiment around it, do drop a line below. It’s a rather fascinating concept and its perspective is immense – if it can be utilized.