The brain’s capability for focused thought

Little progress would have occurred in human civilization or in the travails of great thinkers if thought could not have been focused on given tasks, if all human thought would ramble on in often routine or random linkages or in response to any interrupting perception. How can focusing of thought sequences occur? A sequence of focused thought starts with the awareness of a task or problem. Focusing implies the retention of a task- or problem-defining thought phase, at least in short-term memory. Neurophysiologically, there is some indication that this is accomplished by means of some ongoing activation of such thought phases by means of neural loop connections involving the hippocampal structure of the brain (12). Long-term memory fixation can occur by means of subsequent formation of permanent synaptic connections.

Third premise or hypothesis: "Focusing of thought sequences is accomplished either through re-appearance of the focus thought in awareness or through back-referencing of later thought phases and newly occurring perceptions to earlier focus thoughts. It is stipulated that the signal intensity (nerval firing rate) of such later thought phases or newly occurring perceptions is enhanced proportionally to the synaptic match with the focus and its valuation with the original focus. This simple mechanism can keep thought sequencing related to the focus (“on track”) through focus-related selection of associations. More importantly, later thought phases, possibly also from focus-unrelated sequences, or later perceptions that strongly relate to a focus thought can now enter into associative linkage with the focus thought. This new linkage can possibly establish a new or more complex concept in the mind or new system of thought, which then is possibly valued as an innovation."

The memorization (suspended activation) of focus thoughts should allow their reappearance in awareness and, thereby, the refocusing of thought when the thought intensity of other thought sequences fades to a low level as in the subconscious. This is discussed in more detail in the next chapter.

The stipulated “back-referencing” of later thought phases or perceptions to focus thought can be proven by experiments in terms of cognitive psychology; but this has not been proven yet in terms of neurophysiology. What is implied is the following: As indicated in the discussion of the sequencing of thought phases, the synaptic match and its strength determine the activation level of subsequent synaptically linked associations. It is stipulated that the focus thought acts in that manner on phases of later thought sequences, enhancing their activation proportionally to possible synaptic match and strength. Several neural models can be thought of as producing this effect. Thus, focus-matching associations can prevail in the selection process of thought sequencing over unrelated associations. This can keep thought sequencing “on track” relative to the focus.

More importantly, it is stipulated that later thought phases - possibly also from focus-unrelated sequences, or later perceptions which strongly relate to a focus thought - can form firm synaptic linkages with the visualization that constitutes the focus thought and, thereby, enter into associative linkage with the focus thought. This new linkage has the potential to establish a more complex (and possibly new) concept in the mind, then possibly valued as an innovation. Since thought sequences are sequences of associatively linked memory elements (visualizations), innovation must be seen as a combinatorial process combining already existing memory elements (including the focus) and, possibly, new perceptions in a novel way to form new visualizations of unique or more complex nature.

In this sense, the back-referencing effect of focused thought is the key element of mental creativity. Given the importance of this effect, further research and experiments in the fields of neurophysiology and cognitive psychology are suggested in this area.

With personal “valuation” and perceived consequences being so important in synaptic coupling and the consequent activation of associated visualizations, psychological factors - such as personal temperament, thought habits, or the psychological environment - significantly influence back-referencing and, consequently, creativity.