The title of this post might come off as controversial to a many. Please note that the post is not exactly about me, though it is my research and consolidation of various facts on the subject. I was reading a thought-provoking article written by Dr.Fawzy Masaoud (Accredited Senior Psychotherapist of a Private Mental Health Clinic in London, England) about the human brain and memories. Does anyone know what memories are? How do we manufacture, remember, and forget them? How does the brain process, store and retrieve memories for later use? Are memories truly accurate records of information? Are our personalities shaped around it? Well, I do not know the answers to these questions either so, let us explore together, shall we?
The research on Brain and its function is a fairly recent development. Back in the ’60s, it was hypothesized that all the cells of the human body were capable of storing memories, not only those in the brain. This idea was known as cell memory or cellular memory. Such theories never made it to the big-leagues aka, peer-reviewed science journals as they were considered pseudoscientific. More recent research in this area shines light on the fact that our Brain does not necessarily contain memories, it by itself are the memories.
“A typical memory is really just a reactivation of connections between different parts of your brain that were active at some previous time”Nikolay Kukushkin
In more physiological or neurological terms, memory is, at its simplest, a set of encoded neural connections in the brain. It is the re-creation or reconstruction of past experiences by the synchronous firing of neurons that were involved in the original experience. From the time we are born, our brain is bombarded with all kinds of information, both about us and the world around. This information is stored in our brain as memories, a collection of neuron firing that triggers emotions or feelings, similar to how computers store various kinds of information as 1’s and 0’s and when activated shows an image or an audio. However, our brain does not store information the same way as a computer does. The memory storing process is rather complicated in human beings.
In this section, we are going to explore facts based on an article on how memories are stored. I have included a basic overview of my observations for your viewing. For more details, please visit this page and support the author. Memories are stored as collective experiences of various senses in our body. We need to have seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and/or touched something to have some form of memory of it says, Researcher Lenka Otap. “When we give something attention, it is then temporarily saved into our short-term memory“. There are three types of sensory memories that are used to retain impressions of sensory information after the original stimulus has ceased: The iconic (visual), the echoic (hearing) and the haptic (tactile) memory. The sensory memory retains a short “snapshot” of the stimuli for a few seconds and is not a conscious choice. Most of our sensory experience is filtered without which, our brain would have been overstimulated with constant sounds, and visual and tactile impressions, the author says.
What comes into our short-term memory stays here for 15–30 seconds if we do not rehearse it. What we repeat or continue thinking about for a longer time will be saved in long-term memory. There are two types of long-term memory: Explicit (conscious) and implicit (unconscious). The explicit is what the memory that you are aware of and use or practice consciously. The implicit is the things that you or your body remembers unconsciously, such as how to walk (procedural memory). In the implicit memory, we also have priming, which combines related memories to remember something faster, such as priming the word yellow, would make you answer banana faster than strawberry.
All animals including single celled organisms, have some form of ability to learn from it is past. As amazing as this may sound, the human grey matter is uniquely flawed in its own ways, especially when it comes to accessing memories. When you remember something, the same neural network that was used for creating the memory gets activated again. At the same time, your brain tells you that it is only a memory, which is lucky because otherwise, it would be like hallucinating and being back in your memory.
In this previously mentioned post, Dr. Fawzy Masaoud claims that memories are not accurate record of events. When several people who witness the same event, they are likely to give their own versions of what they think happened. This phenomenon is called Memory Bias. When you retrieve a memory it gets influenced by newer thoughts, emotions, and knowledge which can interfere with the memory structure of the neuron connections, so when it is saved again in the long-term memory after being retrieved, it might no longer be the same as before. It becomes a memory of a memory. You will not be able to know the difference since it is not like you have “version control” of memories that allows one to compare and cross-check with a backup (unless you write it down each time, maybe?). So how do your memories affect who you are today? To read more on Memory Bias, click here.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.George Santayana
While we may often stumble across the above expression being used when discussing broad cultural considerations, like war, policy, and politics, it is fair to say that the less we are able to bring our past to light, the more likely it is to shape our lives in ways we don’t desire. Some of our memories of what happened to us as children are fuzzy, while others are altogether maybe unclear. In his book, The Developing Mind Daniel Siegel says that, “Implicit memory encodings shape the growing architecture of the self”. Even though the trigger of these memories is unconscious, their effect our personalities in various situations can be unwanted and unconscious even. We are basically primed to be reactive. Read this article to learn more and support the author.
In addition, our earliest memories are known to be implicit i.e., memories that rely on structures in our brain that are fully developed before we are born. Because of the nature of implicit memories, they are often triggered subconsciously and cause reactions we do not always understand. A bad example of an implicit memory is seeing certain wallpaper that can remind a person of a room in which they were abused as a child, leaving them feeling anxious without even knowing why. A good example of implicit memory is hopping on a bike and instinctively remembering how to ride. “Our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled,” wrote Siegel. “We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience”.
Our implicit memories can be like invisible forces in our lives, impacting us in powerful ways. The more we can learn about implicit memory, the better we can understand ourselves and not let our experiences and reactions in the present get hijacked by our past. Often, our strongest, most intense reactions in the present come from our implicit memories, because of the intense feelings attached to these memories. However, if we can make these implicit memories explicit, we can resolve unresolved trauma and feel more integrated within ourselves. Please click here to read more about the subject.
Based on your reading, what is your opinion on memories and its effect on our personalities? Leave your comments below.