The cellular and mnemonic basis of “aha” moments

June 27, 2022 | 16:00 CET | ZOOM ID: 7754910236

How do we come up with new ideas? Why are they sometimes accompanied by a strong feeling of “aha”? Rapid advances in understanding the cellular mechanisms of quick learning have brought us close to answering these questions. Also, although aha moments have been historically studied relatively independently of memory research, an argument can be made that aha moments arise from and have consequences for memory processes. Our central hypothesis is that insight at the cognitive level corresponds to specific effects of rapid plasticity at the cellular level. I will illustrate this conjecture by showing correspondences between the processes on cognitive and cellular levels. Furthermore, one curious feature of aha moments is that novel ideas often occur during relaxed states of quiet wakefulness. Intriguingly, this is also the state where sequences of place cell firing are generated and propagated to the rest of the brain. I will discuss how hippocampal sequences might contribute to the emergence of new ideas. I will also present and discuss a new dataset of images we have developed to study aha moments in humans.

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