Does memory have its headquarters and what are the mechanisms for adopting, storing and sending mental information? The ability to remember is one of the greatest achievements of human development, which separates it from animals and is the basis for acquiring all kinds of knowledge and mastering it. However, it is not yet possible to define memory and discover the principle on which it works, nor is it possible to fully explain why some people ‘phenomenally remember’ while others find it difficult, regardless of the fact that memory ability is not always and necessarily related to IQ .
It is estimated that a person, on average, uses about four percent of the total number of nerve cells. There are about 15 billion of them in the cerebral cortex, and the human brain itself has a huge capacity that no computer or electronic brain can reach. In fact, the capacity of the human brain is practically unlimited, bearing in mind that the unused reserve is 96%, and that those few estimates that are in function ‘process’ an almost immeasurably large amount of information, thoughts and observations. There is a big difference between what we are and what we could be. We use only a small number of our mental stores, and generally speaking, the human being lives below the average of his abilities.
According to scientists, good memory is only partially inherited, and it is largely acquired and built. A man without memory could neither learn, nor think, nor live, in a word, he would not be aware of himself, his personality and continuity. He would be an eternal newborn, because everything would look completely new, unknown and seen for the first time. Yet throughout history, real phenomena have been recorded when it comes to the ability to remember – far above that of the average ‘mortal’.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy not only in his musical talent but also in his fantastic memory. As a fourteen-year-old, in the church of St. Peter in Rome, he attended the performance of a great piece of music for two choirs, whose notes were kept secret and performed only twice a year. Young Mozart recorded memorized music at home, and when they compared his transcript with the original from memory, they could not find a single mistake!
Not only celebrities and high-minded people are destined to have a good memory. Thanks to their exceptional memory, slaves in ancient Rome also served as teachers or as ‘living libraries’. Tibetan lamas had such efficient methods of memory that they could memorize an entire book if they read it only once. The old Brahmins transmitted entire epics orally, from generation to generation.
Among those whose name did not remain written in ‘golden letters’ in the history of the human race was an Englishman who lived at the court of King Frederick of Prussia. At that time, the famous Voltaire was also a guest of the famous monarch. One day when Voltaire was preparing to read his most recent but very long poem to His Majesty, the King hid the Englishman behind a curtain. He remembered the whole song while Voltaire was reciting it! A few days later, when Voltaire was again summoned to Frederick the Great, the king, allegedly insulted, rebuked him for being a deceiver and for ‘adorning himself with other people’s feathers’. As proof, Frederick brought the Englishman to the confused Voltaire and ordered him to recite the same poem. He did it so easily and precisely, that Voltaire found himself in awe and began to stutter and justify himself. Only then did the Prussian king laugh and reveal to him what the secret was.
The ‘brain encyclopedia’ in the literal sense of the word was also owned by an American named Harry Cooper, known by the nickname ‘Jack the Railwayman’, who died in 1933. Harry was passionate about learning numbers and dates as a boy. When he grew up, he specialized in memorizing encyclopedias in Detroit libraries. His hobby later became his occupation, so he put his memory to the test in front of the audience for a bet.
Adolf Hitler also testified that phenomenal memory does not necessarily have to be associated with the sublime characteristics of the human person.
Memory scattered throughout the brain
Memory is not a warehouse filled with rows of neatly stacked shelves. Memories are in fact scattered throughout the brain, not concentrated in one particular region. This is, in short and simplified, the conclusion reached by memory researchers in the last few years. Scientists are now trying to discover the roots of memory that lie in the complex processes of biochemical and electrical activity of the brain. The importance of such research, however, goes beyond the mere interest of science, because there is a real possibility of effective treatment of neuro degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, but also the creation of means to ‘strengthen the mind’ – chemicals that increase the ability to learn and retain new information.
It is also impossible to ask where a certain memory is in the brain. Memory is the dynamic property of the brain as a whole, not of a specific region. At the same time, memory is nowhere to be found and is everywhere in the brain. Is memory material, and is it possible to ‘transplant’ it as a plant is transplanted from one pot to another.
The scientific basis for this hypothesis was laid about fifty years ago by the American physiologist Carl Leslie. To study learning and memory in mammals, Leslie taught rats to use complex labyrinths. He then removed them, piece by piece, of the cerebral cortex, trying to determine the place where the memory of that task is. But whichever part they removed, they were still successful in solving the tasks, only they performed it more slowly.
At the same time, two other American scientists, James McConnell and Robert Thompson, performed a sensational experiment. Some lower species of worms that live in wastewater and have blood vessels, but already have a simple nervous system, have ‘learned’, with the help of a light electric shock and a simultaneous light signal, that light also means pain. Then they cut each worm into two parts, and each of these halves regenerated into a completely new worm. Yet the reaction of each of them to the light, this time without an electric shock, showed that the ‘lesson learned’ was transferred to the new individuals!
American pharmacologist George Ungar went even further in the experiments, proving that there is a ‘memory molecule’ in the brain. In short, rats tend to stay in the dark, electric shocks forced into the illuminated part of the cage. He injected ribonucleic acid extracted from their brains as an extract to untrained rats. They also learned to be afraid of the dark, and in a much shorter time than their predecessors!
Cells talk at a distance
Scientists have long concluded that human memory is based on the understanding of neurons, as signals pass from one transistor to another. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that Irene Schumann and Daniel Madison of Stanford University showed that, unlike transistors that must be connected by a wire, signals in the brain can be transmitted between neurons and when they don’t touch! That is, when there is no synapse between them that connects them. In other words, cells ‘talk’ remotely. In such cases, the neuron sends signals to all neighbors, similar to a radio or television station.
With the mentioned broadcasting, the information is distributed in the hippocampus so that it becomes available for further use to a larger number of neurons that are connected to the cortex. If some information needs to be extracted from the brain, then it will be easier to do it with one broadcast than with numerous phone calls.
Only a few years earlier, a scientific team led by Nobel Prize winner Susum Tonegav believed that people learn by strengthening the connections between individual brain cells and creating more passable pathways for nerve signals. These paths are perceived as memories – that is what they concluded then. However, the aforementioned Daniel Madison believes that understanding direct connections between neurons as the only way to communicate could not explain how those who are not opposite each other manage to manage complicated ‘maneuvers’ during brain development and later in life.
Stuart Hameroff, a leading researcher on biomolecular information processes, author of The Most Perfect Computer, contributed to the discovery of brain function and memory by assuming the existence of consciousness at the level of each cell!
The secret of motor memory
The human body also remembers, and its ‘memory’ arises in the competition of long-term and short-term memory – one scientific research has revealed. Unraveling the mystery of motor memory can significantly help in the rehabilitation of patients after deprivation (stroke). What memory competition means, the researchers explained with the following example. If you concentrate on sequential learning of motor skills, for example, throwing the ball into the basket, you will achieve a relatively good result quickly (a series of hits), but your body will quickly forget it – you will have to start the next day.
However, if you alternately shoot the basket in two different ways, you will learn to guess more slowly, but your skill will remain the next day. Scientists have called this phenomenon the ‘contextual mixing effect’ and it is a consequence of the conflict between long-term and short-term memory. It is now clear that the effect occurs because by constantly ‘erasing’ short-term memory (switching to another type of movement) the body is forced to move on to creating long-term memory. In other words, if you keep repeating one movement, your brain will be satisfied with engaging only short-term memory. If, on the other hand, you take away that ‘lazy’ option from the brain by practicing two tasks at a time, the brain will have to turn on long-term memory to keep one while performing the other task.
What is it really about
The winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2000, the Swede Arvid Carlson and the Americans Paul Gringard and Eric Kandel, are believed to have removed the veil of mystery from the nervous system and thus laid the foundation for understanding the processes responsible for our motor actions, motivation, mood, learning. , memory, but also for the development of neurological and psychiatric diseases.
Their greatest contribution consists in deciphering the communication of neurons both with each other and with their own structure.
Gringard, who dealt with the biochemical problems of the whole thing, explained what changes a certain signal causes in the cell that receives it. He proved that the moment a substance released from one cell, known as a ‘transmitter’, acts on another, it can cause a whole series of reactions that can change the function of that cell.
Eric Kendall examined the molecular processes in the communication of neurons during learning and memory, while the third winner of high recognition, Arvid Carlson, was one of those who identified dopamine as a neurotransmitter. Carlson made a key contribution to elucidating the role of the dopamine system in the regulation of motor and mental behavior in humans, which was crucial for understanding two very serious diseases – Parkinson’s and schizophrenia.
If the hypothesis of the aforementioned Stuart Hameroff is correct that each cell actually has some kind of its own autonomous consciousness, such a complication not only raises the question – where is the memory of such consciousness ‘stored’, but interferes with their mutual communication, in essence, as we have seen, very similar to telepathic! And if telepathy is possible in a simple, basic system, why wouldn’t it be understandable and realistic even at the level of complex individuals like humans?
Russian scientists at the Novosibirsk Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine performed an astonishing experiment. In two providers, hermetically sealed quartz jars placed the same single-cell monocultures. They put a deadly virus in the first one and the monoculture died, but the one in the second jar, which was not infected, also got sick and died! They set up, then, the third, the fourth, and so on until fifty, and they all succumbed to death in a chain reaction! Apart from the ‘visual’ contact between monocultures, all other known and possible ways of transmitting the virus were excluded.
Since the cells do not have eyes, the scientists could only conclude that information was somehow transmitted between them, and that the information itself was capable of killing. And what is memory other than the information arranged in the hippocampus so that it is available for further use.
Isn’t, in fact, the key to the whole secret of the human brain in these relations? It seems that it will take more time to figure out all this on our simple explanation.