Where Are Memories Stored?
When I sit here wondering what to write about, my mind goes everywhere. Pondering topics, attempting to tie ideas together.
Forward then back, off to the side, then the other side. Up then down, over there and back again…
Where is it going?
How does it dream up these ideas?
Where is it getting these thoughts from?
What is my mind anyway?
I know my mind is not my brain. My brain is an organic structure, a bundle of chemicals and bioelectrical signals, neural pathways, proteins and other wonderful stuff.
I am me, a person, an identity in all its enormous complexity. My likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, memories and aspirations are unique in the world.
I walk, I talk, I build shit, I shine the sun and I create sound when a tree falls.
So where is all this thought, this elaborate structure we call life coming from?
I Don’t Remember Much
I don’t remember too much from my childhood. A few things here and there maybe that’s it. Most of it is in patches, chunks of incidents that stand out because they were exceptional for some reason or other.
Like the time I went up to Quinnsworth in Finglas village when I was about 9 or 10 to see Kevin Moran. He was doing this promo thing for Gaelic and Soccer skills.
If you were a young male from Dublin growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s then you most certainly do.
I was a big fan.
With my 1980 Shoot annual under my arm off I went for the biggest moment of my young life. But I didn’t get to meet my hero.
Me and my mates were quite eager to get at the head of the queue so be bailed over the shopping trolleys that were being used as barriers.
Needles to say I was caught, by a bollocks of a security guard who proceeded to unceremoniously dump me out of the queue.
The lads got in, I didn’t. So I had to wait for them to come back with my Shoot annual with the golden signature.
Poor kid. I feel sorry for him now.
Where Memories Are
As far as a structure of self identity goes, I don’t relate to the memory of me before I was about 14 or 15 or so. That’s when I became me as I now see myself to be.
It’s strange to me that I don’t identify that kid with me. In recalling memories from that time I sometimes wonder if that was me at all, if those memories are true.
I know from studying the science of memory that our memories are not true representations of what actually occurred in our previous experiences.
Just as Frederic Bartlett discovered in 1932, memories are rather an elaborate reconstruction of true remembrances coupled with filler pieces that we build up subconsciously over time.
According to psychologist and eye witness testimony expert Elizabeth Loftus, often times we fabricate pieces of an event, days, weeks, months and years after it actually took place.
But where are these kept?
When we recall a memory where are we accessing the pictures and the sound and the smells and the tastes?
It appears to me that this life thing we are living is all an elaborate hoax.
Maybe the Kevin Moran incident at Quinnsworth is a figment of my imagination!
Science Doesn’t Know Where Your Memories Are
You needn’t ask neuroscience or psychology where your memories are because they don’t know where your memories are stored.
The best they can do is drill down into the structure of a synapse and witness electrochemical effects.
Or maybe they’ll tell you that memories are stored within neurons, cells in the brain.
Science can observe brain activity, behaviour and outcomes and come to certain conclusions about memory function, but it can not say for certain what’s going on.
Sure, science has studied memory since the first acknowledged research by Philosopher Hermann Ebbinghaus in late 1800’s but relatively speaking memory is a very new field of study.
Science doesn’t know and that’s a good thing. Every day we are discovering new developments in things that we previously thought were concrete, permanent.
But science is built and grown on not knowing. If we ever truly know something then how could we ever advance as a species?
We wouldn’t and life would cease to exist.
So the basis for scientific study is not knowing, and therefore our minds will always stay one step ahead.
It’s like knowing and not knowing are in cahoots to keep us fooled.
The Brain Is Not A Storage Cabinet
The “storage cabinet” analogy is fine for computer science but it’s not a fit for the human brain. Despite what the textbooks teach, the human brain is not a storage cabinet for memories and information.
It is more helpful to think of it as a communication device allowing us access our memories from a multi server remote environment. But even this is not 100% right.
Data we access in every moment of our lives is intangible, unsubstantial in physical terms. It doesn’t have a location or physical attributes of any kind, except for those we assign it.
Some of us experience things that others don’t, even when we are standing in the same room. We are exposed to billions of bits of information every moment and process only a small amount of it.
What you see I sometimes don’t.
What’s true for me is not necessarily true for you.
For me, memories are nowhere, and everywhere and there is any number of infinite story possibilities.
Anyway, all there is, is now so don’t get too caught up in all that 🙂
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