Causal Connections and Working Memory

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Jul 10, 2014, 10:18:37 PM7/10/14

I'm going to put two bits of signal together and see what people make of it.

"Confound it! Correlation is (usually) not causation! But why not?" by Gwern. He takes this mantra for granted and explores it.

He concludes that "causal networks' interconnections drive up possible correlations faster than causal connections."

Second: This little tidbit from some site somewhere.
The average human can store 5-9 objects in their working memory, pros with several years of training can work with around 13. At any given time, your ability to make connections between unconnected objects, say pieces of information on the price of oil, the price of wheat, and drought, you are limited to that number. These factors create interdependent relationships which do not add or subtract, but multiply in complexity. In other words, if your method of studying things involves just reading a lot and seeing what comes out, you aren't going to be able to make any serious connections. This means in any given situation you are managing hundreds if not thousands of potentials, whose data fits multiple mutually exclusive hypotheses. This means that if you have one of the best working memories in the world and you can hold 13 objects, you will only work out 1.5% or less of the total problem in your head. Your goal is to sift through them effectively and quickly. This is not humanly possible. Your problem needs to be solved anyway. To do this you must augment your working memory and awareness.

This is what makes Morphology and Analysis of Competing Hypothesis approaches effective, it is a method for managing working memory as much as anything else.

This is a fun thing to note. We might have a theoretical driver of why Working Memory, as measure in humans, is correlated with Fluid Intelligence. Furthermore, we possibly have *a unique, testable operational definition of intelligence*. Thirdly but not lastly, we would have given ourselves a whole new way of joining neuroscience to cognitive enhancement to analysis and problem solving in a mathematical manner - as we already do with OLAP cubes and other forms of dimension management.

In this way, we can draft external applications that can extend our problem solving ability in the same way that Google replaced our memories. We're getting new interfaces that can turn Roman Rooms from something inside your head, to something beaming down an Oculus Rift. (Starlight 3D in actual 3D! Except right now we're dicking around with glorified checklists and killing fake people or something.

(In other news Gwern is using more colloquial language and exclamation points lately. Did he move to the Bay Area? Is that why he's so happy? IS THERE A CAUSE HERE OR IS IT JUST A CORRELATION?)

Wolf Tivy

Jul 11, 2014, 2:40:52 AM7/11/14

I'll take my usual position of hard skepticism of general purpose software or practice-based intelligence enhancement techniques besides the hard ones (solve lots of hard problems, get stuff done, take responsibility, don't go off the rails philosophically). The analogy to lifting suggests it ought to be possible, but until someone writes Starting Intelligence and can convince a skeptic, I'll defy any given theory.

My model of the lifting/intelligence analogy is this:

The ability to modulate resources spent on strength depending on external conditions is actually a highly nontrivial affair. That doesn't just happen by accident. The mamalian muscular system has a 500 Ma heritage of constant refinement with relatively fixed requirements. Thus you would expect crazy tech like environment-responsive muscles.

Our intelligence, despite being based on 500 Myo basic hardware, is largely the product of a 1 Ma or even 10 ka intelligence arms race in which all stops were pulled and all corners were cut in pursuit of more general/social intelligence. Thus we would would not necessarily expect anything like stress-response hypertrophy to have been kept around, even if it had existed. All applicable knobs are already maxed out.

Still, we know that plasticity and learning exists, so if you practice X, you get better at X. I hypothesize that this has an opportunity cost in that in comes at the expense of Y. Unlike strength, which comes only at the expense of food. That said, Y might be entropy much of the time, which is why it's good to do something hard and useful rather than nothing. There is also natural overlap of knowledge between fields, of course, but what I'm saying is that I don't believe in general hardware hypertrophy *in humans*.

So why are some people smarter or more capable than others? This seems a good place to look for ways to increase cognitive performance.

Mutational load, is as usual the relevent concept to look at. Within a race, genotypes are basically a pure ideal prototype plus a bunch of harmful crud mutations peculiar to specific families. People vary in how much mutational load they have. People descended from nobility have lower mutational load, and thus higher phenotypical performance. (I can explain if necessary). The rest of us have more. For example I'm quite smart, but I have rather savage ADHD and some kind of possibly related social retardation and whatever else I've inherited from my disproportionately crazy family. These are my biggest limitations, and otherwise the cognitive machinery works about as well as you could reasonably expect.

Also, mutational load self-correllates because of assortive mating, so someone with high intelligence likely has high working memory, even if those things were conceptually and mechanically distinct.

So on one hand, you could identify and target your worst cognitive defects, but on the other hand, your phenotype is already relatively fixed.

So yeah, there's your daily dose of cognitive enhancement pessimism. Do hard stuff, etc. Work around your flaws. Cultivate good habits. Seek good environments. Don't look for silver bullets.

(The anti-software argument will have to wait until someone says something that prompts it)


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Jul 11, 2014, 4:25:50 AM7/11/14
> So why are some people smarter or more capable than others? This seems a good place to look for ways to increase cognitive performance.

The reason why I'm comparatively more optimistic than you is because I consider the phenotype to be screened off by my actual biochemical-metabolic state, which is relatively decoupled from the phenotype expression itself (otherwise drugs wouldn't work). Instead of looking at the optimization process that caused intelligence differences, which is what your argument hinges on, I would be looking at a mechanistic description of the intelligence process and intervene in it directly.

I would challenge your skepticism of cognitive enhancement in general, on the basis that despite the expectation, it's only recently that we've been able to directly observe where intelligence differences may come from at the level of cortex and below; with manipulation ability lagging behind but otherwise increasing as well.  Filtered through criteria like Nick Bostrom's Evolutionary Optimality Challenges, and we could find exploits that can at least normalize most humans towards that nobility archetype of yours while not costing much time or otherwise.

A concrete example of what I mean is methylation cycle deficiency treatment. The methylation cycle is a particularly well studied pathway that has a collection of genes encoding for the conversion rates of e.g. choline, TMG, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and so on, into methyl groups. Methyl groups are everywhere, so naturally if you have a SNP that does suboptimal conversion, you'll be affected in some way. Dr. Amy Yasko studied the link between methyl group deficiency, the methylation cycle and autism or depression. Out of such research came Deplin, a form of folic acid that is describable to such cases.
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Jul 11, 2014, 4:33:34 AM7/11/14
* prescribable, not describable; and * despite the expectation that evolution recovered all possible modifications

As for software and training based cognitive enhancement - I'll go into it later, but I think the reason why there's a lot of lag in software based cognitive enhancement is due to the opacity of cognition itself, and the relatively difficulty of description of cognitive strategies. In order to get better at math I believe that I needed to become more aware of my own cognition in order to understand what's expected of me when confronted with a mathematical task. Once you get rid of most hurdles to thinking, you're left with the strategy of how to think, which I believe should be considered a part of intelligence amplification.

In terms of formally studied psychobiological considerations, tDCS combined with training is showing promise greater than either tDCS alone or training alone.

Wolf Tivy

Jul 11, 2014, 10:14:41 AM7/11/14

Note that biomedical state is included in "phenotype", and that there's no way beyond nanosurgery or maybe really intense corrective training to correct a miswiring.

Drug-borne interventions to correct short-timescale chemical imbalance is totally plausible. Hence the effectiveness of things like ritalin. Note that these are neither general or complete. Can correct some of the worst abuses, can't correct all. Some are cast in from day 1, like damage to the genes controlling visual memory, for example.

At the point where we have a mechanistic theory of intelligence and intervention capability to the point where we can fix and upgrade live brains, we have other problems. That's not either now or soon, though.

Why is tdcs likely to work? What's the mechanism? Or is it purely empirical? Do we have any guesses? It seems to me a bruteforce intervention like that, unless guided by understanding, is very unlikely to improve the function of a complex and highly tuned machine like a brain. You can't do that to a modern internal combustion engine, for example, and it's substantially less complex.

Again, I'm somewhat open to possibility here, but skeptical until math coaches are teaching out of an intelligence enhancement textbook.

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Kenneth Bruskiewicz

Jul 11, 2014, 6:41:57 PM7/11/14
to Vancouver Rationalists
> nanosurgery miswirings

At the same time you don't necessarily have to be that specific in order to get some results; and even if you can't genetically ubermensch yourself, I still consider it possible to signal yourself into better state.

A better example than methylation might be a strategy of enhancing mitochondria. We know that Creatine raises fluid intelligence scores in vegetarians. So this suggests that the Krebs Cycle composes a significant part of I.Q. Like the methylation cycle, we know the Krebs cycle really well (it's essential to all life, and it's taught out of biology textbooks). Assuming that the reason why creatine could drive I.Q. was due to taking out a bottleneck to the Krebs cycle, will doing other things to mitochondria also boost intelligence along the same lines?

Here we have options: There's mitochondria efficiency, power, and quantity. I know I get looks for wanting to fire my brain up with lasers, but like tDCS it's been a hidden gem of a treatment paradigm since the 1960s (see for some synthesis on what we know). Also like tDCS, we don't necessary have a complete understanding of how it works despite seeing results. Yet it can do wonders from people with traumatic brain injury while not dealing with the messiness of chemical implements. It even upregulates the presence of certain brain transcription factors, which can screen off short-length SNPs even if you're genetically unlucky.

Biomedical research is diseased in a lot of ways, and I would say to a greater degree than other parts of academia as we've come to know it. It's much more driven by financial incentives than other fields, while also having a sizable share of complexity and risk. You have weird idiosyncrasies like tDCS being a dead simple, forty year old technology that suddenly gains popularity now, for whatever reason.

So if even I'm a bit of a crackpot, I don't think it's beyond the realm of plausibility that the above plan would work raise IQ by five or so points (I'm trying to be conservative). But I wouldn't except research to follow the paradigm in step just because the facts have been laying around for awhile; it still takes someone to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

> tDCS

We have guesses but it's early days for understanding how it works; and it probably works at several levels that can be pinpointed, which isn't quite the same as saying "brute-force". My philosophy is that if your understanding can comprehensively encapsulate all levels of effects, then that's close enough to saying that you know what you're doing, as you can take responsibility for any collateral results and adjust accordingly. So I guess we're in some form of agreement.

I know that at least at the level of energy expenditure you can analogize a brain and body to a combustion engine, but that's seriously painting some broad strokes. If the brain is considered finely tuned, it isn't finely tuned in the same way that a combustion engine is finely tuned. A combustion engine is simple, and highly integrated between constituents, with its constituents also dependent on the other parts to function. So sharp changes break it.

A better metaphor for the brain might be a highly-optimized and purposeful ecology, as it's diverse and produces non-linear effects. Parts of the brain can interoperate with other parts while not being dependent on other parts. It's flexible to many changes in its operating parameters, even if it can catastrophically fail with others. Still painting broad strokes, but I think this is more correct.

> teaching out of an intelligence enhancement textbook

Yeah OK, that's going to take awhile if it does happen. George Polya's "How to Prove It" is a pretty good source of heuristics that I would consider a prototype for this; it helped me get math better. Likewise, Daniel Dennett philosophizes that the reason why we see the Flynn Effect occur is not necessarily due nutrition, but due to people being raise in an environment where acquiring many cognitive heuristics is necessary (this is the driving thesis of his book "Intuition Pumps"). I'm not sure if I would count DD as an expert in intelligence demographics, but it's an interesting take.
Kenneth (ˈke.nɪθ, n.): Honest guy drafting dishonest futures. Frameworks for thinking productively and getting creative. Scholarship at the edge of application and vice versa. Voting for a dangerous, kinder humanity. Lets the work speak.

Wolf Tivy

Jul 11, 2014, 7:50:00 PM7/11/14
>So this suggests that the Krebs Cycle composes a significant part of I.Q.

Correction: damage to the Krebs Cycle significantly depresses IQ. Not the same. Maybe there are places where most people are malnourished even when eating a healthy diet, but that would be weird. I don't expect it.

>raise IQ by five or so points

Maybe. With lots of research. None of us are going to find it if it does not already exist.

>Parts of the brain can interoperate with other parts while not being dependent on other parts. It's flexible to many changes in its operating parameters, even if it can catastrophically fail with others. 

Sure. It can route around damage, so effects of damage tend to be small rather than large.

Having just read the Wik article for TDCS, seems more plausible. Increases activity and loudness in one area of the brain relative to others, thus having predictable results. Wonder if you could correct brain imbalances.

>Flynn Effect

Flynn effect is quite confusing for me. I don't assume that it's even a thing.

Would be more surprised by a cognitive strategies flynn effect than by a nutrition flynn effect, though.

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