Where Are Memories Stored?

(Josh Cohen) #1

I came across these articles recently:

MIT discovers the location of memories: Individual neurons

MIT researchers have shown, for the first time ever, that memories are stored in specific brain cells. By triggering a small cluster of neurons, the researchers were able to force the subject to recall a specific memory. By removing these neurons, the subject would lose that memory.

Memories May Not Live in Neurons’ Synapses

As intangible as they may seem, memories have a firm biological basis. According to textbook neuroscience, they form when neighboring brain cells send chemical communications across the synapses, or junctions, that connect them. Each time a memory is recalled, the connection is reactivated and strengthened. The idea that synapses store memories has dominated neuroscience for more than a century, but a new study by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, may fundamentally upend it: instead memories may reside inside brain cells.

(Josh Cohen) #2

I’m curious what people think about this other article: Your brain is not a computer

Setting aside the formal language, the idea that humans must be information processors just because computers are information processors is just plain silly, and when, some day, the IP metaphor is finally abandoned, it will almost certainly be seen that way by historians, just as we now view the hydraulic and mechanical metaphors to be silly.

If the IP metaphor is so silly, why is it so sticky? What is stopping us from brushing it aside, just as we might brush aside a branch that was blocking our path?

…A wealth of brain studies tells us, in fact, that multiple and sometimes large areas of the brain are often involved in even the most mundane memory tasks. When strong emotions are involved, millions of neurons can become more active. In a 2016 study of survivors of a plane crash by the University of Toronto neuropsychologist Brian Levine and others, recalling the crash increased neural activity in ‘the amygdala, medial temporal lobe, anterior and posterior midline, and visual cortex’ of the passengers.

The idea, advanced by several scientists, that specific memories are somehow stored in individual neurons is preposterous; if anything, that assertion just pushes the problem of memory to an even more challenging level: how and where, after all, is the memory stored in the cell?


Misleading headlines notwithstanding, no one really has the slightest idea how the brain changes after we have learned to sing a song or recite a poem. But neither the song nor the poem has been ‘stored’ in it. The brain has simply changed in an orderly way that now allows us to sing the song or recite the poem under certain conditions. When called on to perform, neither the song nor the poem is in any sense ‘retrieved’ from anywhere in the brain, any more than my finger movements are ‘retrieved’ when I tap my finger on my desk. We simply sing or recite – no retrieval necessary.

On uploading brains into computers:

One prediction – made by the futurist Kurzweil, the physicist Stephen Hawking and the neuroscientist Randal Koene, among others – is that, because human consciousness is supposedly like computer software, it will soon be possible to download human minds to a computer, in the circuits of which we will become immensely powerful intellectually and, quite possibly, immortal...

Fortunately, because the IP metaphor is not even slightly valid, we will never have to worry about a human mind going amok in cyberspace; alas, we will also never achieve immortality through downloading.

It’s worth looking at the comments on that article too.


The first thing that came to my mind when reading the article was how shitty I would be as a research subject :stuck_out_tongue: after they’d delete one of my neurons I’d be all like, “give it back! cries

I did read about an earlier research a few months ago where researchers found that for memories of persons, there always was a single neuron that got activated all of the time. When remembering halle berry’s name, face or notable movie rlles, the neurons lighting up varied, but there always was a neuron that lit up all of the time. Perhaps this is a follow up research on that.

About the second article, I think that would rather be towards common people or perhaps the general scientific community, than towards the neuroscientific community, or at least I hope.
We use the object that is the most technologically advanced to describe the brain through metaphors. In history, there have been metaphors describing the brain as a book, as a movie, and currently as a computer. neither is accurate, but it is the closest we can get.

I read a similar thing about brain vs computer differences. Though that article said that if you do see the brain as a computer, it would be a computer where the cords inside it already changed the data on the way from the hard disc to the processor to make it easier for the processor to do its job. I will see if I can find something on the internet about it, as it was an article in a dutch magazine.

(Josh Cohen) #4

I just saw that Boris Konrad commented on the brain-computer article on Facebook:

with a link to: