The Physical Nature of Memory
One of Salvador Dali’s greatest paintings is called “The Persistence of Memory”. Last week the results of a new study were published in Science magazine that conclusively prove the physical nature of that persistence. In what other scientists have called a â€˜foundational study’ a team of researchers from America and Israel have discovered and documented the physical nature of memory.
In the study, the researchers threaded tiny electrodes into the brains of 13 people with severe epilepsy. Evidently this implanting of electrodes is standard procedure as it allows doctors to pinpoint the brain activity that cause epileptic seizures. These patients watched 5 to 10 second film clips. The researchers recorded the firing activity of about 100 neurons per person, all of which were concentrated in and around the hippocampus, a part of the brain know to be critical for memory.
The researchers identified single cells that became highly active during some videos and quiet during others. More than half the recorded cells hummed with activity in response to at least one of the videos shown. Then after distracting the patients, the researchers then asked them to recall the video clips and asked them to comment on “what comes to mind”. Most of the patients remembered the clips and most importantly the same cells that had been active during the viewing again became active. Additionally these cells became active a second or two before the patients were conscious of the memory.
What this means is that the cells that participated in the experience became the physical repository of the memory of the experience, and in fact fired up at the request to recall the experience. In addition, it was clear that the physical recollection of the memory started at the cellular level before that memory became conscious. In other words, memory has been physically located for the first time.
Now, this experiment focused on the short term memory of the patients. However it does indicate that it might be similar for long term memory. When a distant memory is provoked and comes to mind it is now probable to predict that those neurons that were most active when the event happened are the ones that fire up during the recollection.
Now, I am not a brain scientist so I cannot comprehend much more than the significance of the study. The long term significance is transformational.. Combining it with all the innovation and breakthroughs going on in neuroscience, micro chip manufacture and nanotechnology there are some predictable breakthroughs ahead in the coming decades. If we know that a human has a high probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease or that someone is entering an age triggered time of senility, we might well be able to extract the memories, back them up if you will, on an external – or internal – device, to keep all that person’s memories alive.
Expand that vision to a family, nation or global level and we can begin to capture the collective memory of humanity. No longer will experienced events of the past become ruled by interpretive historians, they can be relived through the memories of those that actually lived through the experiences. By 2025 well should be able to catalogue human memories so that, in centuries in the future, people will be able to experientially understand and relive the times of our children and grandchildren.
It is breakthrough research projects like this that truly point the way to the human transformation that lies ahead in this new Shift Age.