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At Mind Matters News: Memory leans more on the brain’s electric field than on neurons


MIT researchers compare the electric field to an orchestra conducting the neurons as players:

The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT offers an interesting new model of how memories are processed in the brain. Using two macaques playing a game while their brain activities were recorded, the researchers suggest the orchestra as a model. The neurons are the players and the electric field is the conductor:

As the brain strives to hold information in mind, such as the list of groceries we need to buy on the way home, a new study suggests that the most consistent and reliable representation of that information is not the electrical activity of the individual neurons involved but an overall electric field they collectively produce.

Indeed, whenever neuroscientists have looked at how brains represent information in working memory, they’ve found that from one trial to the next, even when repeating the same task, the participation and activity of individual cells varies (a phenomenon called “representational drift”). In a new study in NeuroImage, scientists at The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT and the University of London found that regardless of which specific neurons were involved, the overall electric field that was generated, provided a stable and consistent signal of the information the animals were tasked to remember.


If the researchers’ model is verified in further research, memories are not “located” in any particular cells in the brain but in an electrical field generally. It will be interesting to see how this model meshes with a quantum approach to the brain.

News, “Memory leans more on the brain’s electric field than on neurons” at Mind Matters News

Takehome: The neurons associated with our memories may change; it’s the electric field that holds the memories together, the neuroscientists say. That’s a very different picture of memories than the idea that memories are “stored” in the brain. It’s not quite like that … It’s closer to the quantum world.

You may also wish to read:

What neuroscientists now know about how memories are born and die. Although we know more about memories than we used to, just manipulating them is not easy and may be unwise. Where, exactly are our memories? Are modern media destroying them? Could we erase them if we wanted to?


Researchers can’t explain: Memories drift from neuron to neuron Memories are supposed to stay put in the neurons that lay them down. A recent study, published at Nature, shows that they move a lot… The mobile memories are only one of many recent remarkable neuroscience finds that have been challenging textbook wisdom.

I can see how electric fields might work for short-term memory, like the shopping list mentioned. It takes continuing mental effort to keep such memories active; i.e. unforgotten. However, long-term memories seem to be different in that continuous mental effort is not required to maintain them. Moreover, if all long-term memories were encoded in electric fields, the fields of many thousands of distinct memories would overlap and affect each other rather badly. Thus, long-term memories must be stored by other means. Also, most of us, without training, can keep only a few things in short-term memory (a short shopping list, a single phone number, etc.), which would be true of the electric-field mechanism. How the electric field short-term gets mapped into the other (unknown?) mechanism for long-term would be an interesting study. Fasteddious
Actually I wouldn’t call quantum mechanics any form of reductive materialism given the fact that it seems that the smallest form of quantum mechanics circles back and effects the most complex part of the whole Quantum mechanics almost seems like the very definition of abstract, and often abstract and reductionism run every much against one another AaronS1978
This brain electrical field hypothesis for memory is interesting, but it looks very implausible based on the evidence that very strong magnetic fields such as produced by MRI machines don't appreciably affect consciousness or memory. This is demonstrated every day when patients come in for MRIs of the upper body and head. Secondly, memory is apparently retained by the disembodied center of consciousness when it detaches from the physical brain and body during deep NDEs. It is not understood from the physics of it how memory bearing electric fields could maintain themselves without a material substrate. doubter
The brain, like everything else physical, can be reduced to a quantum-level description, in principle at least; it's the ultimate form of reductive materialism. Seversky
Doesn't surprise me, and it wouldn't have surprised Charcot or Erb or Duchenne. polistra

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