Is Space In The Brain Limited?
Is space in the brain limited? As we get older, must we forget some things in order to "make space" for new memories and connections between memories? A study published in Nature suggests that this might be the case.
Working with mice, [Cornelius Gross, who led the work at European Molecular Biology Laboratory] and colleagues studied the hippocampus, a region of the brain known to help form memories. Information enters this part of the brain through three different routes. As memories are formed, connections between neurons along the “main” route become stronger...
Gross proposes that one explanation: “There is limited space in the brain, so when you’re learning, you have to weaken some connections to make room for others,” says Gross.
Interestingly, this active push for forgetting only happens in learning situations. When the scientists blocked the main route into the hippocampus under other circumstances, the strength of its connections remained unaltered.
The findings were made using genetically engineered mice, but the scientists demonstrated that it is possible to produce a drug that activates this “forgetting” route in the brain without the need for genetic engineering. This approach, they say, might help people forget traumatic experiences.
The first time I encountered this idea was in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet:
“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
Another reference to this problem, with some ideas about how it happens, is found in Robert Heinlein's 1941 story Methuselah's Children. In the story, Lazarus Long was worried about whether or not an effectively immortal human being would start to run out of memory space:
...Lazarus frowned slightly. "Funny thing, Andy... I recall that vividly, I've always had a good memory-yet it seems to be getting harder for me to keep things straight. Especially this last century."
"Inescapable mathematical necessity," said Libby.
"Life experience is linearly additive, but the correlation of memory impressions is an unlimited expansion. If mankind lived as long as a thousand years, it would be necessary to invent some totally different method of memory association in order to be eclectively time-binding. A man would otherwise flounder helplessly in the wealth of his own knowledge, unable to evaluate. Insanity, or feeble-mindedness."
"That so?" Lazarus suddenly looked worried. "Then we'd better get busy on it."
"Oh, it's quite possible of solution."
(Read more about improve memory
Human beings may need to have some sort of additional storage to make sure memories are available. Heinlein had some ideas on this, too, in Time Enough For Love, which continues the story of Lazarus Long, a very long-lived character indeed.
"I can use it to write the sort of commentary you want, and take time to miniaturize and stabilize a message. The problems of a time-tripping historiogapher are odd and awkward. One Welton fine-grain memory cube would record all I could say over the next ten years--except that I would have no use for one even if I had it; the technology to use it is lacking.
"By to way--Ishtar, did you plant a recorder in my belly? You are a darling, dear, but sometimes a devious darling--and there is something there.
... But I suspect that it is a Welton cube with an ear hooked to it and a ten-year power supply; it is about the right size."
(Read more about Welton cube
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/25/2016)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )
Related News Stories -
Save Your Brain's Connectome, Upload Yourself Elsewhere
'You've got remote storage. How regular is the update?' - Richard Morgan, 2003.
TMS Decreases Belief In God, Increases Belief In Immigrants
'... Setting up the same currents, the same basic ideas, in them all.' - Edmond Hamilton, 1938.
Blockchain Used To Verify Election Results
'Any adult could punch into the phone his or her code, followed by a yes or no.' - John Brunner, 1975.
We Could Downgrade Puerto Rico - And Thereby Save It
'It was cheaper to pay the refugees to go without up-to-the-minute equipment.' - John Brunner, 1976.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Las Vegas Humans Ready To Strike Over Robots
'A worker replaced by a nubot... had to be compensated.'
You'll Regrow That Limb, One Day
'... forcing the energy transfer which allowed him to regrow his lost fingers.'
Elon Musk Seeks To Create 1941 Heinlein Speedster
'The car surged and lifted, clearing its top by a negligible margin.'
Somnox Sleep Robot - Your Sleepytime Cuddlebot
Science fiction authors are serious about sleep, too.
Real-Life Macau or Ghost In The Shell
Art imitates life imitates art.
Has Climate Change Already Been Solved By Aliens?
'I had explained," said Nessus, "that our civilisation was dying in its own waste heat.'
First 3D Printed Human Corneas From Stem Cells
Just what we need! Lots of spare parts.
VirtualHome: Teaching Robots To Do Chores Around The House
'Just what did I want Flexible Frank to do? - any work a human being does around a house.'
Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI) Workshop
SF writers have thought about this since the 19th century.
Nanorobots Roam Your Bloodstream, Cleaning It
Too bad they won't have lasers, though...
Galini 3D Printed Sleeping Pod Tiny Houses
'The houses are prefabricated units...'
MIT Boffins Create Psychopath AI On Purpose
There's a lesson in this for neural net AI engineers everywhere.
Skin Electronics 3D Printed
'June's body is a tracery of lambent lines, like some arcane capillary circuitry...'
Artificial Sensory Neurons For Prosthetics, Robots
Great for humans and robots!
China Uses Artificial Intelligence To Grade Student Papers
Looks like the City Fathers are starting to take over China's education system.
Electronic Tongues Will Rule The Kitchen
'Install taste buds in the end of one tentacle...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories