Big Question: Can My Brain Get Too Full
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You remember your first kiss. You remember your childhood phone number, where you parked your car, and the last time you got really drunk. You probably remember the digits of pi, or at least the first three of them .
Each day you accumulate fresh memories—kissing new people, acquiring different phone numbers and competing in pi-memorizing championships . With all those new adventures stacking up, you might start worrying that your brain is growing full. But, wait—is that how it works? Can your brain run out of space, like a hard drive? It depends on what kind of memory you’re talking about.
“It’s not like each memory takes a cell and then that cell is used up,” says Nelson Cowan, cognitive psychologist at the University of Missouri. Over the long term, memories are encoded in neural patterns—circuits of connected neurons. And your brain’s ability to knit together new patterns is limitless, so theoretically the number of memories stored in those patterns is limitless as well.
Forgetting is, counterintuitively, an important part of that learning process. “Our brains aren’t designed to store an infinite amount of information,” says Joe Tsien, a neurologist who runs the Brain Decoding Project at Georgia Regents University.
Alcohol And The Brain
Long-term alcoholism can lead to a number of health problems, including brain damage.
It is not, however, as simple as saying that drinking alcohol kills brain cells this is a myth. The reasons for this are complicated.
If a woman drinks too much alcohol while pregnant, it can affect the brain development of the fetus, and even cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
The brains of babies with this condition may be smaller and often contain fewer brain cells. This may lead to difficulties with learning and behavior.
How Are Memories Generated
The most common myth is to consider the brain a kind of memory store, or the most evolved version, which is to compare it to a computer where long-term memory and working memory coexist.
But this is not like that at all. The reality is more complex and perhaps to avoid this abstract exercise, we prefer to explain the functioning of our brain with more tangible models.
The truth is that storing memories is physically and biologically impossible. What the brain consolidates in memory are patterns of functioning, thats, the way in which specific groups of neurons fire each time we learn something new.
The generation of a new memory requires the adjustment between the connections of the neurons. Each new memory makes some changes in the way neurons in the brain communicate, across the synapse. Finally, to build memories that last for years, neurons must create new proteins.
What the brain stores is the particular frequency, amplitude, and sequence of the neural circuits involved in learning. Not a specific fact is stored, but the way the system works facing that specific fact.
When a memory comes back to memory its like starting the whole process from the beginning, creating new proteins.
Its important to note here that we dont retrieve the memory as it was stored we reconstruct it in our imagination from the reactivation of the corresponding functioning patterns.
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Can Your Brain Explode
No, your brain cannot explode by itself no matter how much chemical activity it performs.
In this article we answered the question Can your brain get full?, and defined the possible limits of human memory and how much information the brain can handle at the same time.
If you have any comments or questions, please let us know!
Can A Human Brain Hold Your Life Experience
- May 21, 2020 at 11:30 am
A human brain is an amazing instrument. It combines huge data storage with massive real-time processing. According to Scientific American , the memory capacity of the human brain was reported to have the equivalent of 2.5 petabytes of memory capacity. This number was obtained by estimating how much information can be stored by 125 trillion synapses in the cerebral cortex.
In fact, one can estimate on the back of envelope of how much information our brain receives during its lifetime. A human eye has about 576 megapixels . Assuming that a human can process about 24 frames per second , with 3 bytes per pixel, , this would give the following recording speed:
576 000 000 pixels x 24 fs x 3 bytes = 41472000000 bytes = 0.04 TB per second
Now, assuming 2500 TB of total storage, our brain can hold visual information for about 62500 seconds. This is about 17 hours of information. This totally ignores other recorded information, such as smell and hearing. Thus we stay on the conservative side in our estimate. 24 frames per seconds is also quite a conservative number. There are reports about humans who can detect information up to 100-1000 fs.
A human lives for 75 years on average, but spends about 25 years asleep. Therefore, the expected total time of visual recording by a human is 50x365x24=438000 hours. How can we reconcile this huge recording time with the tiny capability of our brain for storage?
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How Is The Brain Supplied With Blood
The brain needs a steady flow of enough oxygen, glucose, and other nutrients. For that reason, it has a particularly good blood supply. Each side of the brain receives blood through three arteries:
- In the front, the anterior cerebral artery supplies the tissue behind the forehead and under the crown .
- The middle cerebral artery is important for the sides and areas that are further inside the brain. The anterior and middle cerebral artery split off from the internal carotid artery, a major blood vessel in the neck.
- The posterior cerebral artery supplies the back of the head, the lower part of the brain, and the cerebellum. It is supplied with blood from the vertebral arteries, which are also major arteries of the neck.
Before the three arteries reach their brain region, where they split into smaller branches, they are close together below the brain. In this area, they are connected to each other by smaller blood vessels forming a structure similar to a traffic circle. The arteries are connected to each other in other areas as well. The advantage of these connections is that blood supply problems in the brain can be compensated for to some extent: For example, if a branch of an artery gradually becomes narrower, blood can still flow to the part of the brain it supplies through these alternative routes .
What Is The Limit Of Memory
If we measured the capacity of our brain, we could say that it is close to 2.5 petabytes . If we compare it, we could say that its equivalent to 300 years in television programs.
Its not likely that someone uses the full capacity of their brain, because while some memories take up little space, others take up more. Although we store some information, other information is inevitably erased, leaving room for new memories.
We cannot delete information at will, because its something that our brain does without us constantly analyzing it. Emotional memories are more likely to stick, while we have a hard time remembering little personal details.
In any case, its not possible for our brain to be completely filled with information, because theres no person who can experience so many things, or retain all the data for too long.
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The Energy Required To Drive All These Processes
A simple computer consumes a considerable amount of energy to store only a few gigabytes of information. But our brain is the most energy-efficient computer in the world. It operates on 20 watts of power while awake, as much as a dim light bulb.
This is millions of times less than the energy required by a computer if it had to store the same amount of information. It is thought to be due to the efficient transmission of information to the brain as well as the biochemical process which harvests most of the energy generated.
S Of Brain Involved In Memory Processes
Technically our brain has many different compartments and they work differently to do certain functions. Not all of the brain is involved in memory. Hippocampus is the main region of the brain involved in memory processes.
When it comes to storing or making a memory Hippocampus is involved. It is the primary regulator of the process of memory retention. It is a seahorse-shaped part of the temporal lobe. It acts as a bridge in engaging all the parts of the brain required to keep a memory. Although it is not involved in retrieving, formation and consolidation are highly dependent on Hippocampus. Consolidation is the fixing or storing a memory permanently.
Suppose due to a dire turn of event someone you know had most of the part of his Hippocampus removed. This person will not be able to remember anything new. Thus, memories will not be retained. However, the ability to recall older memories that happened before removing the Hippocampus will remain unaffected.
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We Can Remember Things That Didnt Even Happen
As time goes on, it can be difficult to know how accurate our memories of an event are indeed for many of our childhood memories, it can be hard to know for certain whether were remembering the firsthand event itself, or are simply recalling a story as told by our parents and from photos or home videos from the time. But this concept has a far scarier implication which has been studied by psychologists. In an experiment, interviewers were able to convince 70% of people they had committed a crime when in reality they had not.
In these sessions we had some participants recalling incredibly vivid details and re-enacting crimes they never committed Dr. Julia Shaw, University of Bedfordshire
This has huge implications for our legal system, and how eyewitness testimony is used in court and provides another fascinating insight into how our brain actually works.
Being Able To Access Information Quickly Makes You Less Likely To Remember It
Its great being able to access almost any piece of information in a few seconds, and resources such as Google, Wikipedia and YouTube have clearly been major parts of a revolution in how we find information. But studies suggest there is an interesting flip-side to being able to access information so conveniently: if the brain knows it can just access it again so easily, its less likely to bother remembering the information itself!
We dont attempt to store information in our own memory to the same degree that we used to, because we know that the internet knows everything One could speculate that this extends to personal memories, as constantly looking at the world through the lens of our smartphone camera may result in us trusting our smartphones to store our memories for us. This way, we pay less attention to life itself and become worse at remembering events from our own lives. Dr. Maria Wimber, University of Birmingham
The phenomenon has become known as The Google Effect, and has become part of an on-going debate as to whether the internet is making us stupid.
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Can Your Brain Overheat
Theoretically, the brain can overheat but not as a computer does. The reason is our brain harvests most of the energy produced with a relatively lesser amount being dissipated as heat. Our body has built-in cooling systems as well with continuous integration of all the processes, making the temperature control efficient.
Long Term Vs Short Term Memories
If we try to look into the depth of what memories are there can be two types. Based on the time limit, memories can be broadly classified into long and short-termed memories.
Short Term Memory
A short-term memory has the time span ranging from seconds to a few minutes. They are stored temporarily and then either get to the long-term memory storage, or they are discarded. Let us say someone gives us the mobile number. As the number is new so our memory will retain it for the short term. There are the possible chances that we are going to forget about this number after few moments.
Long Term Memory
These are the memories stored in the brain over a more extended period. They are several short-term memories organized to form a long memory that is stored permanently. Depending upon the importance and number of recalls, it can fade or be remembered forever. For example, you can recall your 18th birthday but not what you ate on Monday three weeks ago.
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Forgetting Something Makes You More Likely To Remember It
It turns out that partially forgetting something, and then struggling to remember it is a necessary part of the memory formation process. When we try to remember things, were exercising our brain and telling it that this piece of information is important, store it somewhere safe and easily accessible!. This is a key concept behind the spaced repetition technique. Spaced repetition is a study technique whereby pieces of information are re-visited at set intervals in order to strengthen the memory of it. The idea is that you re-visit a piece of information when youve *almost* forgotten it, thereby bringing it back to the front of your mind. The process is used in a number of systems including Anki, SuperMemo and Synap.
The forgetting curve shows just how quickly we forget information after weve learnt it. Regularly reviewing the information through Spaced Repetition can dramatically improve the amount of information we remember
For a more in-depth overview of Spaced Repetition, check out our blog post, What is spaced repetition and why should you use it?.
Memories Start Forming In The Womb As Early As 4 Months Into A Pregnancy
Known as prenatal or foetal memory, experiments have shown that foetuses can in fact remember sounds that are played to them, supporting many anecdotal claims by mothers that their newly-born children are calmed by certain sounds playing in their environment. In fact, scientists now believe that prenatal memory is crucial in the development of attachment for an infant to its mother.
Its Not That Simple: Its Also A Question Of Search
Back to Professor Reber, who I got in touch with via email, who explained that the advances in technology help clarify some challenges embedded in human memory.
He said that you might have huge storage on your iPod or DVR, but the problem isnt storing everything you want to listen to, its finding it again later.
Once the hard drive is big enough, the challenge is coming up with an indexing system, or a really good search function.
The academic, who is head of the Brain, Behaviour and Cognition Progam at his university, added: Those are actually somewhat harder problems to solve neurocognitively compared with having a lot of storage space.
How Do We Reach This Estimate
It has been found that one neuron participates in many impulses at the same time by making many simultaneous connections. Scientists estimate that one neuron has an average of one thousand connections at a time. The total number of neurons is estimated to be one billion. Multiplying one billion with a thousand, we get the estimate as a million gigabytes.
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Structure Of The Brain
The cerebrum has a right half and a left half, known as the right and left hemispheres. The two hemispheres are connected via a thick bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. Each hemisphere is made up of six areas that have different functions. The cerebrum controls movement and processes sensory information. Conscious and unconscious actions and feelings are produced here. It is also responsible for speech, hearing, intelligence and memory.
The functions of the two hemispheres are to a great extent different: whereas the left hemisphere is responsible for speech and abstract thinking in most people, the right hemisphere is usually responsible for spatial thinking or imagery. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. This means that damage to the left hemisphere due to a stroke, for example, can lead to paralysis on the right side of the body.
The left cerebral cortex is responsible for speech and language. The right cerebral cortex supplies spatial information, such as where your foot is at the moment. The thalamus provides the cerebrum with sensory information from the skin, eyes and ears, as well as other information. The hypothalamus regulates things like hunger, thirst and sleep. Together with the pituitary gland, it also regulates the hormones in your body.
The cerebellum coordinates movements and is responsible for balance.
There Is No Single Place Where A Given Memory Lives In The Brain Its Scattered Across Many Different Regions
Living in The Internet Age, its easy to think of our brains as a kind of digital recorder for information which we can turn on and off when were reading, listening or watching something. The implied conclusion of this analogy is that the information is stored and packaged neatly in a file somewhere in our mind which can then be accessed in the future. Unfortunately, human memory doesnt work like that. Our brains are not like a video camera information comes in from the world and is processed in parallel by a variety of different structures which converge and diverge from each other in a myriad of different ways. Our memory of something is not a discrete file which can be identified, but a complex mosaic produced by different parts of our brain working in tandem.
The brain is an interconnected series of pathways which converge and diverge from each other at many different pointsThis is especially true for new memories, where different types of information related to the memory are stored in the area of the brain they first arose in so visual information resides in one area, auditory in another, familiar names go to another and so on. There is a process of consolidation which is crucial in forming long term memories where a memory is condensed and packaged into a more dedicated set of neurones in the brain, though this takes time to develop.
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