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False Memory

The Implication of Brain Function in the Memory of Human Individuals Introduction The human brain functions in such a way that it stores the memorable points of being remarkable in the process of recalling. A person’s memory is prodigious, containing untold millions of items of importance to the individual and many more things that are relatively unimportant. Therefore the ten thousand million cells in the cerebral cortex are not enough for storing this, if we view each cell as a little container holding one memory of a particular point or scene.

They would all be “full” in a week, considering the constant barrage of information that comes to the brain through the various senses, primarily the eyes. However, the brain contains one thousand billion protein molecules (one followed by twenty-one zeros). Each of these molecules can undergo many changes in its structure and afterward retain the changed shape. This changed structure may represent a new memory impression. As the molecules are replaced by wear, they duplicate themselves so that the replacement molecules are the same. But this is not all.

The increase of branches of the nerve cells as the memory grows makes millions of new combinations by their increased “contacts. ” By this the possible number of memories becomes indefinite, beyond comprehension. Additionally, other unknown factors seem to exist, to multiply the number even more. To illustrate how just the one factor, namely, the different combinations of the ten thousand million cells in the cerebral cortex can make an inconceivably high figure: In a deck of only fifty-two cards there are more than 635,000,000,000 different possible bridge hands of thirteen cards each.

But this is nothing compared to the multiplied billions of billions more combinations in the brain! Giving even added capacity to all of this is the way in which memories seem to be stored. When we look at something, say a mountain scene, it is not stored in our brain as an intact image. It is broken up into parts, electrically or chemically coded bits, forming a sort of coded “mosaic. ” Then, when we see another scene, certain bits of one scene compare with the other. Cross-comparisons help memory and allow the mind to “experiment” by making these comparisons and contrasts.

It might be a comparison of sizes, shapes, colors, of parts of conversations, of Bible passages, of ideas and principles. This greatly enlarges and strengthens memory. It also leads to imagination, reasoning, arriving at new ideas and conclusions. In this process the mind is not doing a mechanical work, or the “drudgery” of mere remembering, but something in which the person takes great pleasure. What is Memory? Memory is so valuable to the individual that to destroy it completely would be a disaster. It would wipe out a large portion of his personality.

But there is an unknown “safety factor” that usually prevents such a calamity. Most persons who lose their memory, due to an accident or injury, lose only the recent past. Nevertheless, the mind generally seems to register impressions, not merely for the purpose of being a large storehouse of facts, but primarily to be useful for future needs. John Pfeiffer, in his book The Human Brain, says: “The word ‘stored’ may be too tame. The brain is a dynamic system of cells. It never stops using and reusing its memory traces, adding new items, or trying new combinations.

The abstractions it makes are used, among other things, to help us predict. ” Forecasts of weather or business trends, our actions in everyday life, such as buying clothing, are based on our memory of what happened yesterday, or last month, or last year. An example of how memory serves your immediate, present purpose and is not merely a storage space of past events is this: You may be in a variety store looking for a certain item, say, a spool of red thread. In passing by the counters you pay no particular attention to other items, but look only for thread. However, days later you may need another item—a child’s schoolbook bag.

You remember that you saw one in the store. Or it may have been a sign “Book Bags,” which you really paid no attention to at the time. You may not remember exactly where the item is displayed, nor any of the other items nearby. But now you have a need, and memory of this specific item comes flashing to your aid. The memory was there, recalled when there was an “emergency. ” Had it not been for the need, it might never have been recalled from your memory “files. ” The Implications of False Memories Memory—“perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon in the natural world,” according to Professor Richard F.

Thompson—involves several different functions of the brain. Most students of the brain divide memory into two kinds, declarative and procedural. The procedural involves skills and habits. The declarative, on the other hand, involves storing facts. The Brain—A Neuroscience Primer itemizes memory processes according to the time they take: very short-term memory, which lasts about 100 milliseconds; short-term memory, which is of a few seconds’ duration; working memory, which stores recent experiences; and long-term memory, which houses verbal material that has been rehearsed and motor skills that have been practiced.

One possible explanation of long-term memory is that it starts with activity in the front part of the brain. The information chosen for long-term memory passes as an electrical impulse to a part of the brain known as the hippocampus. Here a process called long-term potentiation enhances the neurons’ ability to pass messages. —See the box “Bridging the Gap. ”A different theory of memory stems from the idea that brain waves play a key part.

Its proponents believe that regular oscillations of the brain’s electrical activity, rather like the beat of a drum, help bind memories together and control the moment at which different brain cells are activated. Researchers believe that the brain stores different aspects of memories in different places, each concept being linked to the area of the brain that specializes in perceiving it. Some parts of the brain certainly contribute to memory. The amygdala, a small almond-size clump of nerve cells close to the brain stem, processes memories of fear.

The basal ganglia region is focused on habits and physical skills, and the cerebellum, at the base of the brain, concentrates on conditioned learning and reflexes. Here, it is believed, we store the skills of balance—for example, those we need to ride a bicycle. Our brief glimpse of how the brain works has necessarily omitted details of other remarkable functions, such as its timekeeping, its propensity for acquiring language, its intricate motor skills, and its way of regulating the body’s nervous system and vital organs and of coping with pain.

Then, still being discovered are its chemical messengers that link with the immune system. “The complexity is so incredible,” observes neuroscientist David Felten, “that you wonder if there is ever any hope of working it out. ” Conclusion The eye gathers information for the brain, but it is the cortex that evidently processes the information that the brain receives. Take a picture with a camera, and the resulting photo reveals details of the whole scene. But when your eyes observe the same view, you consciously observe only that part of the scene on which you focus your attention.

How the brain does this remains a mystery. Some believe that it is the result of a stage-by-stage integration of visual information in so-called convergence zones, which help you compare what you see with what you already know. Others suggest that when you fail to see something in plain view, it is simply because the neurons controlling attentive vision are not firing. Whatever the case, the difficulties scientists have in explaining vision pale in comparison with the problems faced in determining just what “consciousness” and the “mind” really involve.

Scanning techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging and positron-emission tomography, have provided scientists with a new window on the human brain. And by observing the flow of blood to certain brain areas during thought processes, they have concluded with reasonable certainty that different regions of the cortex apparently help one to hear words, see words, and speak words. However, as one writer concludes, “the phenomenon of mind, of consciousness, is much more complex . . . than anyone suspected.

” Yes, much of the brain’s mystery has yet to be unraveled. Reference: Bartlett, F. , Remembering: a study in experimental and social psychology, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University, 1932 Reyna, V. F. & Brainerd, C. J. , Fuzzy trace theory: an interim synthesis. Learning and individual differences, 7, 1-75, 1995 Bransford, J. D. & Franks, J. , The abstraction of linguistic ideas. Cognitive Psychology, 2, 331-350. , 1971 Reyna, V. F. & Lloyd, F. , Theories of false memory in children and adults.

Learning individual differences, 9 (2), 95-123, 1997 Johnson, Hashtroudi & Lindsay, Source monitoring. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 3-28, 1993 Hirstein, William (2004). Brain Fiction: Self-Deception and the Riddle of Confabulation. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-58271-1. Kalat, J. W. , (2002). Biological Psychology (8th ed). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Thomson Wadsworth. Stedman, T. L. (2000, January 15). Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (27th ed. ). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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