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The Sleep Elaboration-Awake Pruning (SEAP) theory of memory: Long term memories grow in complexity during sleep and undergo selection while awake. Clinical, psychopharmacological and creative implications

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Bruce Charlton, Dr Peter Andras


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Long term memory (LTM) systems need to be adaptive such that they enhance an organism's reproductive fitness and self-reproducing in order to maintain their complexity of communications over time in the face of entropic loss of information. Traditional 'representation-consolidation' accounts conceptualize memory adaptiveness as due to memories being 'representations' of the environment, and the longevity of memories as due to 'consolidation' processes. The assumption is that memory representations are formed while an animal is awake and interacting with the environment, and these memories are consolidated mainly while the animal is asleep. So the traditional view of memory is 'instructionist' and assumes that information is transferred from the environment into the brain. By contrast, we see memories as arising endogenously within the brain's LTM system mainly during sleep, to create complex but probably maladaptive memories which are then simplified ('pruned') and selected during the awake period. When awake the LTM system is brought into a more intense interaction with past and present experience. Ours is therefore a 'selectionist' account of memory, and could be termed the Sleep Elaboration-Awake Pruning (or SEAP) theory. The SEAP theory explains the longevity of memories in the face of entropy by the tendency for memories to grow in complexity during sleep; and explains the adaptiveness of memory by selection for consistency with perceptions and previous memories during the awake state. Sleep is therefore that behavioural state during which most of the internal processing of the system of LTM occurs; and the reason sleep remains poorly understood is that its primary activity is the expansion of long term memories. By re-conceptualizing the relationship between memory, sleep and the environment; SEAP provides a radically new framework for memory research, with implications for the measurement of memory and the design of empirical investigations in clinical, psychopharmacological and creative domains. For example, it would be predicted that states of insufficient alertness such as delirium would produce errors of commission (memory distortion and false memories, as with psychotic delusions), while sleep deprivation would produce errors of memory omission (memory loss). Ultimately, the main argument in favour of SEAP is that long term memory must be a complex adaptive system, and complex systems arise, are selected and sustained according to the principles of systems theory; and therefore LTM cannot be functioning in the way assumed by 'representation-consolidation' theories. (C) 2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Charlton BG, Andras P

Publication type: Editorial

Publication status: Published

Journal: Medical Hypotheses

Year: 2009

Volume: 73

Issue: 1

Pages: 1-4

ISSN (print): 0306-9877

ISSN (electronic): 1532-2777


DOI: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.03.005


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