3 Ways To Navigate Your Life Via Spaces: Temporal, Imaginary, Social, Physical

Uploaded 9/30/2023, approx. 23 minute read

The amazing fact is that our brain perceives life as a kind of space, yeah, physical space.

And our memories are like landmarks.

The same part of the brain, the hippocampus, deals with long-term memory, spatial perception, of space, physical space, and social space, how we function in society, in relationships with other people, positioning within society, etc., etc. Same organ, looks a bit like a seahorse.

Same tiny space in our brains tackles these three seemingly unrelated functions.

And yet, if we come to think of it, our life is like a territory.

Our mind is definitely a territory.

Memories are indeed like monuments or natural landmarks.

And we navigate using these landmarks, using these benchmarks, using these monuments, we navigate our lives the same way we navigate physical space.

So it makes a lot of sense.

It makes a lot of sense to have a single organ within the brain that tackles all three stores, long-term memories, which are navigational aids in somehow finding our way through life with a core identity that guides us, the equivalent of a compass or a nucleus.

And on the other hand, allows us to function in physical space, where life takes place.

Ultimately, we are all physical objects and our lives unfold and unfurl within physical space.

Any physicist would tell you this.

And I'm a physicist.

Okay, Bon Bon Nimes and Bon Bon Naut, Baud, and Trcha Nimes and everything else. Today we are going to discuss the hippocampus and how do we navigate our lives as if we were going on an overseas adventure, age of discovering the explorers of the 15th century, the guys who discovered continents, terrors, incognitas, and other unheard of territories. So this is today's topic. And who the heck am I? My name is Sam Wachnin and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I'm also a former visiting professor of psychology and I'm currently on the faculty of CEAPs. Commonwealth for

International Advanced Professional Studies with branches all over the universe and within this galaxy on this planet in Cambridge United Kingdom, Toronto, Canada, and with outreach campus in Lagos, Nigeria. That was a long introduction. I hope you have enough hippocampus to store this memory forever, may it help you navigate your life and find your destiny. Okay, enough nonsense, Wachnin. If you continue like that, I will have to find. Okay, the talk today is based on a book which I strongly recommend. It's called Wayfinding, Wayfinding, one word, by M.R. O'Connor. Don't ask me what the M.R. stands for. Wayfinding. Okay, there's a lot of information there. Now, I started by saying that the hippocampus stores long-term memories, allows us to navigate physical space, but recent discoveries have demonstrated that the hippocampus is crucial in navigating what might be called, for lack of a better metaphor, social space.

About a decade and a half ago, there were groups of researchers in New York and where else?

In Israel.

And they wanted to find out whether the hippocampus has anything to do with social functioning.

Does the hippocampus, for example, convert social spaces into real spaces in the mind's eye and then allows the individual to function there?

Relationships and interactions among individuals, roles, levels of power, hierarchies, they are all very, these metaphors, these similes are all very structural, very visual.


Why do we talk about networks?

Why do we talk about the corporate ladder? Why do we talk about hierarchies and nodes? Why do we use this highly graphic and highly visual language to describe what essentially are interpersonal relationships?

Because we need to visualize.

We need to visualize because for better and for worse, we are using specific part of the brain to navigate our social lives in conjunction with many other parts.

And this part is a hippocampus and it's not used to anything abstract.

The hippocampus is a warehouse, stores memories, and it copes or deals with physical space.

So these researchers in Israel and New York, they ask individuals to participate in a role-playing game.

In this role-playing game, the subjects of the study moved to another town and they had to find a place to live in that new town and to work there.

And so what the researchers have discovered is the hippocampus was activated during these role-playing tasks.

They were not real tasks, but the hippocampus was very active.

It seemed that the hippocampus was telling the individuals, instructing the individuals how to navigate these new tasks within an unknown territory.

And then there was another study about a decade ago, 2012, by Sandip Tecky and others. And the study was titled "Navigating the auditory scene." And these scholars, these scientists found, that professional piano tuners and London taxi drivers had a lot more hypo-couple gray matter.

The hypo-couple was hypertrophic, much bigger.

Again, piano tuners and cab drivers.

The longer the person spent, the more years the person spent tuning pianos, the larger was the hippocampus.

It seems that the hippocampus treated sound as a kind of space, actually.

The hippocampus was mapping the sounds, different pitches, different frequencies, different beats.

They all translated into landmarks, routes, paths, journeys.

And so the tuning process was like a trip traveling among these landmarks in an imaginary, continent imaginary territory, imaginary turf of space.

It's amazing.

It seems that the hippocampus is converting every type of experience, every type of lived experience into a spatial representation.

In the same journal, two years later, in 2014, they found out that musical training induces plasticity in the hippocampus.

After just two semesters of training, the researchers saw in FMRI that music academy students, hippocampus were enhanced, but they were not enhanced structurally. They didn't only grow, they didn't only evolve, but their responses were enhanced.

Whenever the students heard sounds, the hippocampus reacted very powerfully.

It's as if the hippocampus became a music detection system and the cells of the hippocampus became musical notes, which is pretty amazing.

It seems that the hippocampus regards music as a form of space.

Do you remember my work on training?

I was not the first to suggest that verbal abuse is a form of music, but I was the first to suggest that verbal abuse generates and training the coordination or synchronization of brainwaves in the abuser and in his victim or target.

And so the hippocampus would explain this.

If everything drains into the hippocampus, the hippocampus is the hub, the transport or traffic hub of all these phenomena, it would seem that the hippocampus would take the verbal abuse, convert it to music, and then create an imaginary space within which the words of the verbal abuse would become landmarks or monuments or monoliths or signposts and then the victim would be captured or captivated within this imaginary space never to emerge.

It's terrifying on one hand, but it has very powerful, very strong explanatory power.

So we now know that there are three forms of navigation.

Clearly if you have a space, you need to navigate the space.

We navigate the space of our autobiography and the space of our identity using memories. We navigate the space of music, verbal abuse unfortunately, using words and notes and beats and frequencies and pitches.

And all these navigational tasks are focused and centered on this tiny organ, the hippocampus, and somehow intimately linked to the process of generating and storing long-term memories.

We know that there are three types of navigation.

There is vector navigation.

Vector navigation is moving along a constant bearing relative to some cue, some information, some sign.

Now in nature, the sign could be, information could be magnetic or celestial or environmental, birds navigate this way.

But vector navigation can be internalized.

Vector navigation could be totally abstract.

We can have an internal cue or a social cue or a sexual cue which would generate a cognitive map which would then become a space which would then be navigated via vector navigation.

Tormann came up with a concept of a cognitive map.

Those of you who want to learn more about it.

The second type of navigation is called piloting.

Piloting is navigating relative to familiar landmarks.

Now true navigation involves a distant unseen goal.

So it is the trading of the familiar for the unfamiliar.

The landmarks are familiar.

The immediate space is familiar.

But we are going forward. We are piloting towards an unfamiliar, unforeseen endpoint.

This is called piloting.

In here, when we set ourselves a goal, and the goal could be, for example, to avoid pain.

It doesn't have to be, I want to become the president of the United States and have orange hair. No serie. It could be, I just want to avoid pain because I'm a kid. I'm 18 months old and I'm hurting. I want to avoid pain.

The minute we set a goal, we establish, we create, we generate an unknown continent. An area, a place, a space that is strange, unseen, inaccessible, unfamiliar.

And how are we going to, how do we get there? How are we going to get there?

By sticking to the familiar, to the comfort zone, if you would.

We use familiar landmarks to navigate step by step, one toe in front of the other.

Until we reach the unseen, the unfamiliar, the terra incognita, the draddons be there.

And when we reach that place, it then becomes familiar, of course.

And so we link the past familiarity and previous erstwhile landmarks with new familiarity, new landmarks.

Discontinuity is what it is known as core identity.

So core identity, contrary to the representation in psychological literature, is not a fixed static entity. It's a process. It's in flux. It's dynamic. It's never ending. It has no end goal or end point. It's ever evolving. It's chimerol. It's transformative. It's change.

Our core identity, and that's the beauty of being human.

Core identity is change itself, transformation.

What happens when we have rigidity?

When we cannot transform? When we cannot set goals in unfamiliar, unseen territories, unexplored, black continents?

What happens then?

We have personality disorders.

What's the definition of a personality disorder?

A rigid pattern of dysfunction.

The third type of navigating, and remember you can navigate physical space and you can navigate social space and you can navigate your internal space.

So the third form of navigating, and you can navigate towards obtaining a goal, you can navigate your life plan or life goals.

So the third type is the most controversial and is known as dead reckoning.

It's known more seriously as path integration.

Dead reckoning or path integration is when you keep track of every stage of a journey in order to compute your location.

So you're kind of played by ear. This kind of heuristic play.

Take one step forward and you recalibrate yourself. You reorient yourself. You re-triangulate yourself. And you know your place. Trigonometry.

So dead reckoning or path integration.

But there's a problem with this third type.

And the problem is that mammals, especially humans, rats, they're not very good at path integration.

And yet psychological theories, especially cognitive map theories, they say that, "I think the hippocampus is best equipped to do path integration, dead reckoning."

Experiments in laboratories show that humans suck in path integration and dead reckoning. They don't do it well. They don't know how to do it.

Same goes for rats and many others. They don't know how to do it.

So what's wrong with the cognitive map theories? Why do they say that the hippocampus should be best, should be at its best, doing exactly this kind of third navigation?

So it's a serious problem which is hitherto unresolved.

Dead reckoning is also, how to put it gently, very limited, a very disabled kind of strategy. Very disempowering kind of navigation.

It's dead reckoning and path integration are very good in short distances, local scales. But they are not strategic. They're tactical.

In real world navigation, you would never engage in dead reckoning and you would never do path integration because you would end up hundreds of miles away from your target.

There's cumulative error rates, there's cumulative errors. Errors mistakes accumulate as you dead reckon, as you integrate your path.

So while we have outliers, we have examples, for example, the denizens or inhabitants of the Arctic tundra or the Australian desert of origin, the Australian desert.

When they use path integration and dead reckoning in cahoots coupled with a form of singing, which is singing itself creates verbal musical landmarks, which are then correlated very closely with physical landmarks.

So navigational capacities of humans cannot be explained, it seems to me, by any cognitive map theory.

Never mind how grounded cognitive map theories are in our current knowledge of the hippocampus.

In reality, that's not how humans navigate.

A scholar by the name of Eichenbaum, who is an expert on navigation, one of the world's leading experts on navigation, he said, "I think navigation is not about Cartesian maps. It's a story, it's a memory problem."

And this links closely with the interview that I've granted to Michelle Paradise. It's all sorry to Elisa.

An interview about storytelling. It's all about storytelling.

We are all storytellers, we live off narratives.

As far as we are concerned, narratives are reality.

So navigation is about narratives, about the stories that we create, because stories generate memories, make sense of memories, organize memories, imbue memories with an organization and an interpretation.

We navigate along storylines, we navigate within narratives, even when we are walking the streets of New York. Even when we are flying or driving, we're still flying and driving within a story.

Our mind is a story generator.

The greatest author of fiction.

The hippocampus, says Eichenbaum, is not so much about spatial memory, it's about memory space.

This is a very crucial thing. It would seem that all the concept of reality testing is wishful thinking.

We are not embedded in reality. We are embedded in our stories about reality. We are embedded in the narratives that we create to make sense of reality. We are embedded in our sensor, our sensory inputs from reality, which are then filtered and fitted into cerebral neural models, mathematical models.

We never interact with reality, not even indirectly. We interact with our internal presence or reality.

This sense we are highly solipsistic.

Imagine the condition of the narcissist who is even more divorced than normal healthy people from reality.

He and the psychotic live entirely within their own minds.

So navigation, says Eichenbaum, is what happens when we travel to an unseen place.

It requires planning a future, envisioning the place we want to go, calculating or remembering the route to get there, a sequence or a narrative, and then orienting to ensure that we are on the right track, often by comparing our memory, or perhaps a description we've been told, to our real-time perception of movement through space.

There are huge memory demands to solving the problem of navigation, said Eichenbaum.

Memory steps in at every moment. Space and its role in hippocampal function has been oversold, says Eichenbaum.

Space is just one of many fabrics that we hold memory in.

I like to compare it to a vault.

That's not Eichenbaum, that's me.

I like to compare it to a vault, a safe.

Space is one of the vaults.

We have many vaults, many safes, safe deposit boxes.

Safe deposit boxes, one of them is space, physical space.

Another one is social space.

Another one is internal space.

Another one is imaginary space.

They're all spaces.

And we have this huge wall of safe deposit boxes, like in a bank, you know, in the basement.

And this basement is known as the unconscious.

Eichenbaum believes that hippocampal cells, they're also known as place cells, are much more flexible and capable of adapting to different dimensions, real and abstract.

So Eichenbaum and others differentiate between temporal dimensions and spatial dimensions.

So Eichenbaum says that actually the hippocampal cells, the cells in the hippocampals, are not only space-oriented, but they're also time-oriented, which ties in nicely with my work in physics, where I say actually that space is just a form of time.

It's a manifestation of time.

It's a variant of time.

Eichenbaum expands on this.

He says, "Time is a philosophically interesting question. Do we make it up?

As you navigate, you are moving in space and time together, and the hippocampus is mapping both of them.

Eichenbaum believes that the organization of episodic memories is supported by these time cells of the hippocampus.

Mapping sequences of memories in time is critical to navigation as mapping geographic space.

So this is totally new approach to what the brain does.

The brain seems to be transitioning not only through reality in its physical sense, measurable sense, observable sense, but it seems to be equally transitioning, and perhaps more transitioning.

Journeying, traveling through imaginary internalized space, generating all the time internal landmarks, such as memories, very reminiscent of virtual reality or augmented reality.

So the hippocampus is encoding, according to recent studies, both time and distance simultaneously.

And then the same neurons start to fire when they encode space.

It seems that distance plus time equals space.

It could be an internal distance, the distance you've got in your mind plus the time you've perceived or you've spent on this becomes your internal space or your imaginary space.

The cells of the real hippocampus, the physical hippocampus, physiological organ, they map multiple dimensions.

Spatial and temporal, Einstein would be very pleased.

The hippocampus is organizing physical space, but also what Eichenbaum calls "temporarily structured experiences" into representations of moments in time.

He says, "After years of studying rats and mazes, I came to understand the hippocampus as a grand organizer of the brain.

It's organizing and integrating all these bits and pieces of information in a contextual framework.

It does create a map.

I'm all for the cognitive map in the original sense.

But it's a map where you put stuff to remember where they are in relationship to each other.

There is a specific, limited, concrete sense of moving in geographic space and how I, how did I get from here to there.

The other sense is this abstract term.

How did I navigate graduate school?

What's the path to the presidency?

In human language, these are both legitimate.

But which one is the hippocampus?

Is it the specific one or the generic one?

I think the hippocampus could mean to map things in time.

And there are other spaces in addition to geometric space.

It doesn't have to be Euclidean or linear.

This is just a really good example of what the hippocampus does, but it has other functions.

He thinks that the original idea of the cognitive map, which I remind you was described by Tormund, T-O-L-M-A-R in 1948.

It's a very old concept.

The original idea was really like this.

It had to do with space and time. And it was not limited to a specific type of navigation, like path integration. These are later developments.

Eigenbaum thinks the original idea is far superior to our current perceptions and conceptions of cognitive maps.

If you read the paper, and I did prior to this video, you see that the cognitive map in Tormund's work is multidimensional.

It resembles very much space-time in Einstein's relativity theories.

It's a tool capable of mapping multitudes of life experiences. You can position them everywhere, the same way we position an observer in the space-time of Einstein.

So how do we navigate our lives? How do we navigate time, social space, music, verbal words, including verbal abuse? It's complex. And it's in the brain.

It's not a Cartesian map, very easy to decipher, two-dimensional. It's unfolding memory within an organizing principle, which is a narrative, which is then embedded in human relationships and derived from them. It's relational, sensory experiences, personal history, and imaginary spaces such as the future.

I will close with a quotation, quote, "Eichenbaum."

The Hippocampal System, said Eichenbaum, is encoding events as a relational mapping of objects and actions within spatial contexts, representing roots as epizomes defined by sequences of places traversed. That is, of course, the massive failure in narcissism, pathological narcissism, and in other mental health disorders.

When the ability to generate these internal maps, these spaces, which are imaginary, this ability has been disrupted.

One of the major internal spaces is known as the self or ego or whatever you want to call it.

This process requires the formation of this space. It's mapping, the generation of landmarks within it require separation and divisuation.

You need to feel that you are an individual in order to have your own memories and then own them and then use them within a map of your own territory and only your own territory.

In general, the concept of the individual does not imply a static entity, immutable.

It's simply a way to describe our ownership of constant generation of internal imaginary spaces and their correlation with other spaces which are less imaginary.

This is what the Hippocampal System does.

So the mind does.

The narcissist is not allowed to generate the primordial most important internal spaces such as the self or the ego.

It's therefore incompetent at generating spaces. It doesn't have the experience.

This is the key and the core of the narcissistic pathology. It's a lost, disoriented person. It's a person who has no maps, cognitive or otherwise, has no spaces to roam and to explore and has no landmarks to guide him.

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