The Fascinating Process of How Your Brain Stores Memories
The storage of memory is a complex but crucial process. Without memories, humans would be close to non-functional. We need our memories in almost all aspects of our lives, be it driving, remembering important dates, trying our shoelaces, identifying your loved ones, identifying your home and the place around you.
Without our memories, every day and every moment would be a fresh, clean slate and we would be lost in this world with no identity or personality.
In fact, if human beings never possessed the ability to form detailed memory, we would have never evolved or progressed to where we are at present as we simply wouldn’t have had the brain capacity to accomplish anything.
We would be at a different level in the animal kingdom hierarchy altogether.
Memory is an Action Not an Object
It may come as a surprise to some that our brain does not store memories like a hard drive or segregate different memories like one would do to piles of books in a library.
In reality, memories are formed on a molecular level and it is not a physical thing. In fact, they are more like complex signals that are formed by the brain neurons.
Credit: public domain vectors Caption/alt tag : Chain reaction of memory formation
For example, when you smell chocolate, the olfactory nerve will relay sensory data to the brain. As a result, the sensory neurons in a particular part of the brain will trigger an electrical signal in the form of electric potential created by ions that flow in and out of the neuron.
The ions then eventually get physically transferred from one end of the neuron to the other and thus creates a chain reaction.
Now this particular smell of chocolate will form a particular pattern of signal. This means that for each memory, there will be a specific sequence of chain reactions across a specific number of neurons.
Just to get a clearer understanding, if neurons A, B, C are responsible for smell, then the electrical signal for chocolate would flow from A to C to B whereas the electrical signal for coffee would flow from C to A to B.
Credits: pixabay Caption: Remembering the smell of chocolate
What’s even more interesting is that the brain has about 100 million neurons and thus mathematically, it could potentially store an infinite number of memories.
How a memory is actually stored is that when one would go back to recall the smell of chocolate, your neurons are technically just recreating those patterns of electrical impulse again.
To strengthen this memory, one would have to eat more chocolate in order to create and strengthen this impulse pattern. This is why we have to continuously revise before a test or practice an instrument to perfect it.
Speaking of recollection, there are two types of memories:
⦁ Short-term memory: It is the initial process where the chain reaction of a particular pattern occurs and takes place in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. Short-term memories either eventually fade away due to a decrease in the pattern flow or get converted into long term memories.
⦁ Long-term memory: When we continuously recall a memory, the neurons get closer to each other and the pattern becomes strong.
Overtime, it becomes ingrained and gets stored in the hippocampus. As a result, a person will be able to recall a memory of events that occurred years ago and this is known as long-term memory.
Credit: Pixabay Caption : example of important long-term memory
The Importance of Forgetting
As insanely odd or bizarre as it sounds, forgetting certain information is just as important as remembering for the sanity, emotional and recollection power of the mind.
Scientists still don’t quite understand the phenomenon of forgetting; it is quite possible that the human brain doesn’t really forget anything but instead the connection is lost as memory storage happens on a molecular level. This means that the carbon based molecule you possibly breakdown and corrupt the pattern.
Others believe that the brain eliminates unnecessary information as it has to continuously adapt and process new information on a daily and momentarily basis. Our brains have various ways to discard or forget some information.
As mentioned above, one can forget something when the connection between the neurons gets weakened due to less recollection. In a way, a memory is like a muscle that constantly needs to be exercised in order to remain functional and healthy. Another way of possibly forgetting, is when the brain actively tries to forget information in your sleep.
Sometimes, a memory can also be forgotten when a person tries to intentionally suppress a particular memory. This is important and useful especially when someone tries to focus or control their emotions.
forgetting Credit: pexels
Imagine you’re in a business meeting and suddenly the memory of your deceased pet comes to mind. At that moment, it is very useful when your brain is able to push that memory aside and suppress it and focus on the present. During this time, some part of the brain is able to block the pattern signals from forming.
Most importantly, forgetting keeps us sane. If a person was able to recall every second of their lives for countless number of years- every face, every sight, every smell, every word, every problem, every mistake, every trauma – the person is bound to go mad.
The human brain is fascinating. The complex process of pattern formation, recollection and elimination enables humans to remember, feel, comprehend, understand and evolve.
Moreover, it is almost impossible to imagine the speed and efficiency of this mechanism as it takes place almost every second ast we are constantly processing information and it still manages to function perfectly.