Human Memory Capacity

Massive Capacity Revealed - Recent findings of science point to a massive human memory capacity. A 2004 Nobel Prize winning discovery pointed directly to neurons as the vehicle of memory. The memory for thousands of smells for animals resides in the combinatorial codes of their olfactory neurons. Combinatorial codes can theoretically store a galactic memory. The brilliance of the mind can only be explained by the presence of a massive memory.

Just ordinary people were reported to be able to store, at a glance, billions of pixels of visual data. They could recognize, with 99.5% accuracy, any one of 10,000 images shown to them at one second intervals. Thousands of distinctive multi-million pixel classifications were swiftly absorbed and retained in the memories of their visual subsystems. Instinctual responses from millions of years of evolution have merged with new data of myriad images, sound bytes, tastes and smells into an incredibly detailed human memory. Pixel by pixel differences in these sensory images are recalled instantly.

  • A Nobel Prize for research on receptor neurons.
  • The olfactory system uses combinatorial codes.
  • Normal people can differentiate between 1 trillion smells.
  • The early "nosebrains" depended on combinatorial coding.
  • The discovery of a "Bill Clinton Neuron."
  • The arrival of neuronal communications.
  • The nervous system can store "cubic miles" of bytes!
  • Human memory exists all over the nervous system.
  • The mind does not compute. It recognizes patterns.

Human Memory Capacity - Mouse Receptor Neurons
In 2004, a Nobel Prize acknowledged the discovery of researchers, who used calcium imaging to identify individual mouse receptor neurons, which fired on recognition of specific odors. The investigators exposed the neurons to a range smells. They found that a single receptor could identify several odors. At the same time, each odor was identified by several receptors. Different combinations of receptors fired to identify different odors.

Human Memory Capacity - Combinatorial Codes
The olfactory subsystem recognized smells, when specific neuron receptor combinations fired. The olfactory circuit used an "alphabet" (A to Z) of receptors to identify a specific smell. Combinations of receptors (ABD, ABP, or XYZ), fired to indicate different smells. Subtle chemical differences caused distinct combinations to fire. This ability to recognize combinations reduced the number of receptor types (A to Z) required to identify a multitude of odors (the infinite vocabulary of A to Z combinations).

In the experiment, scientists reported that even slight changes in chemical structure activated different combinations of receptors. Thus, octanol smelled like oranges, while the similar compound octanoic acid smelled like sweat. 
Remembering sweat smell is memory. Leslie Vosshall reports that, in her lab, ordinary volunteers, (not wine tasters or perfumers), could clearly distinguish between different combinations of 128 odor molecules, indicating an average human ability to differentiate between 1 trillion smells. Combinatorial coding provides massive human memory capacity.

Human Memory Capacity - Early Nosebrains
Dogs can quickly sniff a few footprints of a person and determine accurately which way the person is walking. The animal's nose can detect the relative odor strength difference between footprints only a few feet apart, to determine the direction of a trail. It was the same combinatorial coding, which enabled nerve cells of early reptilian nosebrains to recognize smells as safe, or dangerous. Myriad such judgments of the environment in cubic miles of codes support human memory.

Human Memory Capacity - Remembering Patterns
Odorant molecules reach the receptors in your nose, hitch on to a group of receptors, which recognize the odor. Calcium channels in the membranes of those cells open and calcium ions poured inside, generating electrical charges down the axons of those cells. You recognize a smell. Similarly, chemoreceptors in the tongue report molecules with information on taste. Other receptors are massed together to form sensory subsystems such as your eyes and ears. Human memory stores combinatorial signals generated by millions of similar receptors. Even the four "letters" in the genetic code – A, C, G and T – are used in combinations for the creation of a nearly infinite number of genetic sequences.

Human Memory Capacity - A Nerve Cell Remembers Clinton
Researchers discovered the “Bill Clinton neuron,” which fired on recognition of just one special face. The cell fired on recognizing three very different images of the former President; a line drawing of a laughing Clinton; a formal painting depicting him; and a photograph of him in a crowd. The cell remained mute when the patient viewed images of other politicians and celebrities. Scientists found similar cells in other patients, which selectively recognized Jennifer Anniston, Brad Pitt, and Halle Berry. Human memory assists in identification of people and places by remembering combinations in myriad neural recognition subsystems.

Human Memory Capacity - Neurons Laid The Foundations
Before the arrival of nerve cells, the earliest multicellular forms moved about and swallowed, or expelled food, by contracting their cells. The contraction was effected through chemical signals, the forerunners of hormones, which diffused quickly throughout the system. But the diffusion of chemicals was slow over longer distances and they could not be specifically targeted. Nature developed neurons to transmit specific information. Human memory comes from the ability of neurons to remember and recognize specific neuron firing combinations.

Human Memory Capacity - Cubic Miles Of Bytes
The memories of computers are measured in terms of their smallest addressable element, called a byte. A byte usually contains eight binary digits. Nerve cells also have an “all or nothing” binary response. If combinatorial codes are remembered by nerve cells, each combination of firing inputs received by a neuron with 100 dendrites could contain 100 binary digits. The possible number of unique combinations of inputs for a single neuron with just 100 incoming dendrites could be computed as 100 x 99 x 98 x 97 x .... x 2 x 1 possibilities. That represents more than 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 unique possible combinations! Multiply that number by 100 and divide by 8 to measure the number of bytes of possible memory. A single nerve cell with 100 dendrites can potentially remember that many bytes of singular combinations. Some nerve cells have upto 2,50,000 dendrites! Only the possible existence of such codes can explain the phenomenal capacity of human memory.

Human Memory Capacity - More Cubic Miles Of Code
To get a proportion on human memory capacity, consider the estimates by science of the store of DNA codes in the human body. At the moment of conception, a single fertilized human egg contains information equivalent to about six billion chemical letters, which can be recorded in a thousand 500 page books. In a grown human body, with the DNA in each cell containing a sequence of over 3 billion chemical nucleotide bases, the total of those codes in the body would fill the 277 mile long Grand Canyon fifty times over with 500 page manuals! The memories stored by nature for programming life exceeds known computer capacities on an exponential scale.

Human Memory Capacity - All Over The Nervous System
Karl Lashley reported that memory could not be isolated to any region of the cortex. He had taught rats to run complex mazes and then removed segments of the cortex to identify the locus of memory storage for the maze. He found that memory could not be completely obliterated by ablation of any specific region. Nerve cells were richly interlinked and code memories powered millions of interactive links. The memory of a location in a maze for a sought reward could still be remembered as an echo, or scent, even if the visual and taste regions were injured. Nerve cells in widespread neural circuits stored such coded memories.

Human Memory Capacity - Maths Not The Answer
Science continues to search for a mathematical basis for the functioning of nerve cells. The central mathematical foundations of science support this view. In 
Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russel held that all questions of logic could be expressed in mathematical terms. Great mathematical theories underpin every aspect of space and matter. Since scientists favor maths, neurons, the basic building blocks of human intelligence, are assumed to be computers. Nerve cells are presumed to compute, not recognize. So, memory research failed to note the significant combinatorial role of neurons in the Harvard discovery. That role mandates a massive memory capacity

This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013

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For my peace of mind, I earmarked 20 minutes for meditation on the terrace. With my eyes closed, I sense my hands on the chair and feel the numbness in my feet.

I feel my breath flowing through my nose, my throat, my chest and my stomach. I can hear the chirping of birds, the phut phut of auto rickshaws, the occasional roar of a truck and the insistent hooting of horns.

When I open my eyes, I see a pale moon over two hundred thousand miles away. I see the nuclear fires, blazing for millions of years in the pale globe of the setting sun. A star millions of miles away in space.

I can see green shoots coming up on a tree, watch the dives and swoops of birds, the great circles of the hawks and flocks of birds flying home for the night.

Diffused light from the sun reflects off a parrot on the tree and enters my eye through a pinhole opening. I sense the bustling mood of the bird, even though it is smaller than a drop of water in my eyes.

All these things are seen and felt by me in a few brief minutes. In the distance, is the head of a man seeming to be no bigger than a pea. Yet, that head too sees and feels such things. Ten million people in this great city see and feel in ten million ways.

My mind wanders to a misty view of postwar London; an exciting glimpse of Disneyland. An awed view of Tiananmen Square. The looming Himalayan ranges. My mind takes me to distant galaxies.

It carries me into the heart of millions of invisible neurons, where electrical charges flash thousands of times a second powering my contemplation. I see the campaigns of Julius Caesar and Alexander. I feel the longings of Jehangir.

Already my mind has taken me to palaces, battlefields and even the stars. And yet, the 20 minutes hang heavily on me. If I lost everything, but can just see and feel, in just a few brief minutes, my mind can travel the world, or imagine the cosmos.

Life has already blessed me with over twenty million waking minutes. I have an infinity of time on my hands. Have I a right to expect more from life?

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