Grid Cells and Physical Memory


            A husband and wife team of neuroscientists, May Britt and Edvard Moser, have discovered "Grid cells" in the brains of rats, and these cells undoubtedly exist in all animals. As a rat moves, these cells track its movement and create a grid like pattern as a record of their travels. It tracks where they are, where they've been and where they're going. Grid cells are not sensitive to external landmarks, but rather to where the body is within the grid. If I'm reading it right, the grid pattern is superimposed so to speak onto the surroundings. So if they go 50 paces to the left and reach the edge of the grid, that particular grid cell lights up because that's where they are in the grid, it doesn't matter whether or not they are at a specific landmark, although I'm assuming that they can then form associations with landmarks in terms of a specific grid coordinate. But these associations would be based on the grid, not a mental apprehension of where they are relative to other places. In other words they're not constructing a mental map so that for example a water source is recorded as being fifty yards to the west of the nesting site, which is then 30 feet south of a prime food source and so on.

We see this kind of "grid projection" in dogs all the time. If a dog grows up in a fenced yard (such as the dogs I used to import as adults from Germany) then it stays in its yard even when there is no fence. I once had an import shepherd "Dixi" escape from my truck parked at my boarding kennel while I was out to lunch, and then for the next three hours it paced back and forth from the front door of my kennel to the back door. This was in a commercial district in Connecticut alongside a busy highway but when she looked to the horizon, she didn't feel a pull to go beyond the horizon. She saw the edge of her grid. You can also see this kind of grid imprint in dogs that have been trained to an invisible fence when young. Even free ranging dogs are exhibiting a grid pattern, it's just that the boundaries aren't so small and hence so noticeable. Interestingly, the more drive a dog has, the less limited by this imprint it acts as it can see each moment anew rather than completely being limited by a superimposition of the past.

I say the past because Britt's and Moser's theory is that grid cells constitute the basis of all memory. This means that movement is the basis of all memory (which is also consistent with Wolpert's theory that motion is the basis of cognition) and then this necessarily means that the resistance experienced to movement would be the emotional basis of memory, since flow and resistance is the substrate of sensory experience. I suspect that this grid pattern becomes a mental representation of the body, (Dimasio postulates something similar when he says a "feeling is an idea of the body.") The body corresponds to the grid, and the physical memory of unresolved emotion carried in the body/mind is formatted according to this grid. (I will later discuss how this is especially concordant with the Constructal Law.) Where an individual has been is the hind end, where they're going is the front end, and then where they are in the present is the heart region.

In my view, if this research establishes that motion is the basis of all memory, then I believe it becomes inarguable that physical memory, or unresolved emotion, an emotional record of the resistance experienced to said movement, is the basis of the entire animal mind.
Published May 3, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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2 responses to “Grid Cells and Physical Memory”

  1. I saw this the other day too. It’s very interesting. Added to the new studies showing that movement through space is a key feature of “adaptive” intelligence & evolution, we’re starting to see some real, solid evidence for the NDT philosophy.

    Grid Cells

  2. […] Natural Dog Training: Grid Cells and Physical Memory […]

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.