Understanding Brain and Memory and How Memory Works

Our brain weighs about 1.5 kg (3 lb) and looks like a hard-boiled egg. Our brain has different parts including cerebellum, thalamus, hypothalamus, and cerebrum. The cerebellum controls movements while thalamus and hypothalamus relay sensory information and regulate body systems. The human memory is controlled by cerebrum.

In the human brain, neurons are the building blocks of the memory, along with performing many other different tasks. Each neuron contains one axon and thousands of dendrites. The connections between axon and dendrites are called synapses. In order to send signals across, brain uses a chemical called neurotransmitter.

The passage of electrochemical signals across the brain creates memories.  This passage of signals create a pattern, known as trace, which defines a unique memory. These patterns are formed through the connections between neurons. The strength of this pattern determines the strength of the memory. These patterns can be formed at a very high speed and therefore the memories can be imprinted with the high speed as well.

Human memory is of two types: short term and long term. The short term memory only retains the information about the current task at hand and it only retains a very small amount of memory. This means that the short term memory do not even contain all the information of the task at hand, but only a particular step of the task. As you move forward with your task, the short term memory loads information related to that step and this process continues. On the other hand, long term memory retains information for longer periods of time. In fact, once something is imprinted in the brain as memory, it is retained forever.

The long term memory can be recalled at any stage in life. Some memories are linked to certain sounds, smells, events or places etc. Whenever, we find such sound, smell, or place in life, the long term memory about similar experience is recalled and we can link the current situation with the older one. This has many advantages and disadvantages.

For example, if your memory is about good thing, then you’ll feel happier. However, if it is about a bad event like and accident etc. then you’ll feel bad and this memory will bother you. In our other articles, we’ll discuss how to handle such scenarios effectively so that memories of bad experiences do not bother you.

Some experiences are so powerful that their imprint or pattern made in the brain is very strong. However, usual day to day events do not make that strong pattern. That’s why we can recall events like birth of a child or a graduation ceremony etc. very easily while we forget smaller day to day things. If you want to make sure that you make a strong memory of something, you need to repeat that thing again and again.

This way the brain makes the pattern stronger and stronger, with each iteration, up to a level where it is strong enough like the memory of a big event or situation. This strength of the pattern or memory can also be increased if we associate the memory with other memories. This is the reason the long term habits become so strong in our memory that we’re unable to unlearn those habits. However, those can be unlearned, and we’ll talk about that in separate articles.

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