A Practical Theory of Memory Reconsolidation

Me­mory Re­con­soli­da­tion is one can­di­date for a sci­en­tific of the­ory of “How to Ac­tu­ally Change Your Mind.” In this post, I’ll give a few fake frame­works about how mem­ory re­con­soli­da­tion works, in or­der to provide in­tu­ition pumps for the rest of the se­quence.

Schemas as Belief Clusters

For the pur­poses of this se­quence, we’ll de­scribe a schema as a par­tic­u­lar cluster of felt Aliefs that point to­wards a goal or set of goals.

I of­ten find it use­ful to think of be­liefs as ar­ranged in a hi­er­ar­chy of goals, as the­o­rized in Per­cep­tual Con­trol The­ory, Con­nec­tion The­ory, and Pre­dic­tive Pro­cess­ing The­ory.

Schemas, or Parts, then rep­re­sent clusters of these be­liefs try­ing to achieve some spe­cific need.

In this frame­work, schema’s don’t rep­re­sent any sort of nat­u­ral bound­ary, and we can ex­pand them and con­tract them at will based on what we’re work­ing on. Schemas them­selves can over­lap with­out nat­u­ral bound­aries, and can even con­tain their own in­ter­nal con­flicts.

3 Steps to Re­con­soli­date Schemas

In Un­lock­ing the Emo­tional Brain, the au­thors state three steps needed for mem­ory re-con­soli­da­tion:

1. Ac­ti­vate the Old Schema

2. Challenge the Old Schema

3. Learn a Re­place­ment Schema

All of the tech­niques cov­ered in this se­quence im­plic­itly or ex­plic­itly cover the three steps. How­ever, step #3 is also aug­mented later on in the De­bug­ging Pro­cess through the “In­te­gra­tion” step.

The Trade­off Between Ac­ti­va­tion and Challenge

There’s an in­her­ent trade­off be­tween ac­ti­vat­ing the old schema and challeng­ing it. The stronger and more per­cep­ti­ble the challenge is, the more likely it is to be strong enough to trig­ger the re­con­soli­da­tion. How­ever, this strength comes with two down­sides:

1. Challeng­ing your­self in a very strong way doesn’t feel good. It feels in­ter­nally vi­o­lent.

2. The stronger the challenge, the more likely you are to de­ac­ti­vate the schema you’re challeng­ing, cre­at­ing re­sis­tance and mak­ing re­con­soli­da­tion im­pos­si­ble.

For this rea­son, we start with the tech­niques that provide the weak­est challenges, and grad­u­ally work our way up to stronger and stronger challenge, wait­ing till we feel a shift to­wards a more nu­anced and ac­cu­rate schema.

4 Schema Ac­cess Points

In Kaj’s Post on Un­lock­ing the Emo­tional Brain, he points to a pa­per by Lane et al that give 3 ways to ac­cess a schema:

Be­cause I think the names for these 3 meth­ods to ac­cess a schema are overly long and tech­ni­cal, I’m go­ing to call them Felt Sense (Emo­tional Re­sponses), Belief (Se­man­tic Struc­tures) and Ev­i­dence (Epi­sodic Me­mories). Based on my own ex­pe­rience with change­work, I’ll also add a fourth cat­e­gory, Me­taphor (metaphor­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tions of a schema).

Felt Sense in­volves look­ing at the phys­iolog­i­cal or in­de­scrib­able “Feel­ings” evoked by a schema. An ex­am­ple is the tight­ness in your throat you get when try­ing to ex­press your­self.

Belief in­volves the se­man­tic con­tent of a schema as ex­pressed through lan­guage. An ex­am­ple is “If I ex­press my­self, then I will be ridiculed.”

Ev­i­dence rep­re­sents our in­ter­nal mem­o­ries of how we learned the schema. An ex­am­ple is blurt­ing some­thing out in 4th grade and be­ing laughed at.

Me­taphor rep­re­sents some novel/​new way of rep­re­sent­ing the schema, as an ob­ject, lo­ca­tion, situ­a­tion, or story. An ex­am­ple is imag­in­ing that you’re wear­ing a mask at all times, and if you take it off peo­ple will see the silly clown face un­der­neath and laugh at you.