Mind Neuroscience

Memories don’t stay put in neurons, they drift a lot

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Textbooks did not tell most students that:

“Scientists are meant to know what’s going on, but in this particular case, we are deeply confused”, a recent article at The Atlantic begins.

It’s about the way nervous system cells don’t simply lay down memories and keep them. The memories drift from neuron to neuron, quite contrary to textbook claims and traditional neuroscience assumptions.

News, “Researchers can’t explain: Memories drift from neuron to neuron” at Mind Matters News

Not the textbooks’ fault. It’s a moving target. Only their fault if they keep insisting otherwise, dogmatically.

Takehome: The mobile memories are only one of many recent remarkable neuroscience finds that have been challenging textbook wisdom.

See also: Your mind vs. your brain: Ten things to know

10 Replies to “Memories don’t stay put in neurons, they drift a lot

  1. 1
    AaronS1978 says:

    That is preposterously amazing

    Could it be passing the memory genetically through RNA

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    The idea of memory as a super-complex resonant wave maintained and gradually shaped by the brain is not new, and it seems obvious.

    Before digital computers infested academic thought, the hologram or resonance was an active idea. The digital model requires each neuron to be a binary hardwired switch, which has never been an accurate description.

  3. 3
    Sandy says:

    Our bodies change completelly at the atomic level every few years so memories(immaterial) don’t reside in brain(matter). Brain is like a RAM , working with information stored …somewhere else. Nobody knows where . 🙂

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    As to this quote from the article:

    “The neurons that represented the smell of an apple in May and those that represented the same smell in June were as different from each other as those that represent the smells of apples and grass at any one time.”
    Ed Yong – Neuroscientists Have Discovered a Phenomenon That They Can’t Explain – June 9, 2021

    That they would say ‘neurons that represented the smell of an apple’ is interesting.

    A ‘representation’ of a smell of an apple is obviously not the actual smell of the apple itself.

    This burning question naturally arises, “but exactly what in the brain is subjectively experiencing the smell of the apple in the first place?”

    Which is to say, the term ‘represented the smell’ leaves the entire enigma of qualia on the cutting room floor.

    The smell of an apple, like beauty itself, must be subjectively experienced in order to be truly appreciated. Yet that necessarily makes the smell of the apple, like beauty itself, a property of “qualia”, which is defined as ‘individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.’

    Yet “qualia” is the central defining attribute of the immaterial mind that has been labeled as ‘the hard problem of consciousness’. Which is to say the subjective experience of ‘qualia’ is forever beyond the scope of any possible reductive materialistic explanation.

    David Chalmers is semi-famous for getting the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness across to lay people in a very easy to understand manner:

    Hard Problem of Consciousness — David Chalmers – 2016
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5DfnIjZPGw

    And as Frank Jackson made clear in his philosophical argument ‘Mary’s Room’, no amount of scientific and physical examination on Mary’s part will ever reveal to Mary exactly what the inner subjective conscious experience, i.e. qualia, of the color blue actually is until Mary actually experiences what the color blue is for herself.

    11.2.1 Qualia – Perception (“The Hard Problem” )
    Philosopher of the mind Frank Jackson imagined a thought experiment —Mary’s Room— to explain qualia and why it is such an intractable problem for science. The problem identified is referred to as the knowledge argument. Here is the description of the thought experiment:
    “Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal cords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’. (…) What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?”
    Jackson believed that Mary did learn something new: she learned what it was like to experience color.
    “It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism [materialism] is false.”
    https://www.urantia.org/study/seminar-presentations/is-there-design-in-nature#Emergence

    In short, it takes a immaterial mind to subjectively appreciate the smell of an apple, or to subjectively appreciate beauty in general, and yet, since Darwinian evolution denies the existence of the immaterial mind, then that renders it impossible for the materialistic explanations of Darwinian evolution to ever give us a coherent account for our subjective sense of the smell of an apple, or of our subjective sense of beauty in general.

    Moreover, that the authors would say ‘neurons that represented the smell of an apple’ is also interesting in that it runs straight into the ‘representation problem’ for materialistic philosophies of mind.

    As neurosurgeon Michael Egnor pointed out, ‘the central failure of materialism in philosophy of the mind is the representation problem”, of abstract, i.e. immaterial, thought.

    The Representation Problem and the Immateriality of the Mind – Michael Egnor – February 5, 2018
    Excerpt: The central failure of materialism in philosophy of the mind is the representation problem.,,,
    Succinctly, mental representation of abstract thought presupposes abstract thought, and cannot explain it. It is on abstract thought that materialism, as a theory of mind, flounders. Abstract thought, classically understood as intellect and will, are inherently immaterial. Any representation in the brain of abstract thought (while it may exist) necessarily presupposes abstract thought itself, which must, by its nature, be an immaterial power of the mind.,,,
    https://evolutionnews.org/2018/02/the-representation-problem-and-the-immateriality-of-the-mind/

    Thus in conclusion, the fact that the smell of an apple is being ‘represented’ in different parts of the brain over time, although it is certainly a very interesting thing to learn, it very much secondary to the primary question of how is it even remotely possible for the reductive materialistic explanations of Darwinists to explain qualia and abstract thought in the first place?

    Darwinian materialists, (although they tell imaginary ‘just-so stories’ of the immaterial mind coming from the material brain with reckless abandon), have no real clue how such is possible, nor will they ever, since, clearly, that which is immaterial coming from something material is impossible. Whereas, vice versa is immensely reasonable.

    2 Corinthians 4:18
    “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

  5. 5
    William J Murray says:

    I agree completely with Sandy and BA77 here, but this represents an even bigger problem; if the qualia of the smell of an apple cannot be stored in the matter of the brain, then it cannot be stored in the matter of the apple, either.

    This is why the concept that our qualia is produced or caused by material world commodities is intrinsically flawed.

  6. 6
    awstar says:

    WJM at 5

    I agree completely with Sandy and BA77 here, but this represents an even bigger problem; if the qualia of the smell of an apple cannot be stored in the matter of the brain, then it cannot be stored in the matter of the apple, either.
    This is why the concept that our qualia is produced or caused by material world commodities is intrinsically flawed.

    The bigger problem pointed out by WJM is that it seems the chemical processes in the apple are sent to a receiver whereby the received chemical processes are determined to be something worthy of remembering; hence stored and then retrieved at a later time. This qualia can be generally described as Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Where might we find the origins (i.e. genesis) of this line of science (i.e. knowledge)? Therein lies the problem that can only be solved by an answer that must be ignored.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Sandy stated this nugget,

    Brain is like a RAM , working with information stored …somewhere else. Nobody knows where .

    First to further bolster Sandy’s claim that memories, although they may be ‘represented’ in the brain, must be stored somewhere other than the brain.

    Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor, who might know a thing or two about the brain, agrees completely with Sandy and states, “The fact is that the brain doesn’t store memories, and can’t store memories.,,, The assertion that the brain stores memories is logical nonsense that doesn’t even rise to the level of empirical testability.”

    Recalling Nana’s Face: Does Your Brain Store Memories? – Michael Egnor – December 8, 2014
    Excerpt: The fact is that the brain doesn’t store memories, and can’t store memories.,,, The assertion that the brain stores memories is logical nonsense that doesn’t even rise to the level of empirical testability.
    https://evolutionnews.org/2014/12/recalling_nanas/

    As to empirically testing to see where, or even if, memories are stored in the brain, Dr. Pim van Lommel states, “For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,”

    A Reply to Shermer Medical Evidence for NDEs (Near Death Experiences) – Pim van Lommel
    Excerpt: For decades, extensive research has been done to localize memories inside the brain, so far without success.,,,,
    https://www.nderf.org/NDERF/Research/vonlommel_skeptic_response.htm

    So, both philosophically and scientifically, Sandy’s claim that memories are not stored in the brain appears to hold up to scrutiny.

    Hence the question naturally arises, “if our memories are not stored in the brain, but are just artificially ‘represented’ in the brain, just where in blue blazes are our ‘true’ memories being stored?

    Might I suggest that a good case can be made that all the ‘true’ memories of our lives are being stored in the Mind of God?

    People, (in predominantly Judeo-Christian cultures, who have extremely deep Near Death Experiences (NDEs), and who report leaving their body, going through a tunnel towards a brilliantly bright light at an extremely high rate of speed, entering into a heavenly paradise once they reach the end of that tunnel, and seeing deceased relatives and friends who died before them, and then ‘eventually’ encountering God in that heavenly paradise),,, people who have had extremely deep NDEs in predominantly Judeo-Christian cultures will often report having a complete, ‘panoramic’, life review in presence of God.

    It is reported that every minute detail of a person’s life is going over. From before birth to the moment of death.

    Surprisingly for them, wikipedia, (at least for now), seems to have a fairly unbiased presentation of ‘life reviews’ during NDEs

    Life review
    A life review is a phenomenon widely reported as occurring during near-death experiences,[1] in which a person rapidly sees much or the totality of their life history. It is often referred to by people having experienced this phenomenon as having their life “flash before their eyes”. The life review is discussed in some detail by near-death experience scholars such as Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, and Barbara Rommer. A reformatory purpose seems commonly implicit in accounts, though not necessarily for earthly purpose, since return from a near-death experience may reportedly entail individual choice.
    Experiences number up to eight million in the United States.[2],,,,
    Subjects frequently describe their experience as panoramic, 3-D or holographic. During a life review, the subject’s perception is reported to include not only their own perspective in increased vividness, as if they were reliving a given episode itself, but that of all other parties they interact with at each point being reviewed.
    The term 3D is employed to approximate the inclusion of different physical perspectives onto a scene; the intensity of a life review was described by one individual as enabling him to count every nearby mosquito; but equally common is the description of feeling the emotional experience of the other parties, including in one case virtually everyone in a room. While some accounts appear to describe scenes as selected, others more commonly narrate the experience as including things they had, probably naturally, long ago entirely forgotten, with “nothing left out”. Experiencers commonly describe the intense vividness and detail as making them feel more alive than when normally conscious:,,,
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_review

    As well, around the 20 minute mark of the following Near Death Experience documentary, the Life Review portion of the Near Death Experience is highlighted, with several testimonies relating how every word, thought, deed, and action, of a person’s life is gone over in the presence of God:

    Near Death Experience Documentary – commonalities of the experience – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uDA4RgHolw

    Thus the enigma of just where are all our ‘true’ memories being stored if not in the brain, is resolved in that they are, apparently, (as is revealed in extremely deep NDE’s), being stored in the infinite Mind of God.

    Luke 12:7
    Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

    Of supplemental note: It is also very interesting to point out that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, reported in many extremely deep Near Death Experiences (NDEs), is also corroborated by Special Relativity when considering the optical effects for approaching the speed of light. Please compare the similarity of the optical effect, (noted at the 3:22 minute mark of the following video, when the 3-Dimensional world ‘folds and collapses’ into a tunnel shape around the direction of travel as a ‘hypothetical’ observer moves towards the ‘higher dimension’ of the speed of light), with the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ reported in very many Near Death Experiences:

    Approaching The Speed Of Light – Optical Effects of Special Relativity – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQnHTKZBTI4
    (Of note: This video was made by two Australian University Physics Professors by simulating Einstein’s Special Relativity on a computer.)

    “Very often as they’re moving through the tunnel, there’s a very bright mystical light … not like a light we’re used to in our earthly lives. People call this mystical light, brilliant like a million times a million suns…”
    – Jeffrey Long M.D. – has studied NDE’s extensively

    “I started to move toward the light. The way I moved, the physics, was completely different than it is here on Earth. It was something I had never felt before and never felt since. It was a whole different sensation of motion. I obviously wasn’t walking or skipping or crawling. I was not floating. I was flowing. I was flowing toward the light. I was accelerating and I knew I was accelerating, but then again, I didn’t really feel the acceleration. I just knew I was accelerating toward the light. Again, the physics was different – the physics of motion of time, space, travel. It was completely different in that tunnel, than it is here on Earth. I came out into the light and when I came out into the light, I realized that I was in heaven.”
    – Barbara Springer – Near Death Experience – The Tunnel – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv2jLeoAcMI

    For me it is simply uncanny that there would be such a strong correspondence between what we know to be true from special relativity and what is reported to be true from NDEers of going through a tunnel to a higher, ‘heavenly’, dimension during their NDEs.

    I would go so far as to say that such a strong correspondence between the two is proof, in and of itself, that their NDE testimonies of a heavenly paradise above this temporal dimension are trustworthy and true.

    2 Corinthians 12: 2-4
    I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or out of it I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to Paradise. The things he heard were too sacred for words, things that man is not permitted to tell.

    Matthew 6: 31-33
    Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

  8. 8
    Fasteddious says:

    This could be a simple matter of long-term vs. short-term memory, or possibly accommodation to a long-term stimulus (smell). When experiencing a novel smell, I imagine the brain works in a different way than when experiencing the same smell repeatedly. One tends to tune out a regular noise (or background smell) until it disappears or changes. I expect there is proper terminology for this phenomenon in the neurology literature. Also, depending on the details of the experiment, the mice in this report may have been associating other things with the repeated smell, rather than just the smell itself. E.g. being fed (or moved) before (or after) the test? Memories tend to be connected together and cannot be isolated as individual memes, apart from all other experiences, including repetition and the passage of time. Thus, a memory of the smell of apples would accumulate other memories or associations as the smell is repeated, thereby changing the way the memory is stored – whatever that mechanism actually is.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    Here is a corrected link to Barbara Springer’s NDE testimony: (7:40 minute mark)

    “I started to move toward the light. The way I moved, the physics, was completely different than it is here on Earth. It was something I had never felt before and never felt since. It was a whole different sensation of motion. I obviously wasn’t walking or skipping or crawling. I was not floating. I was flowing. I was flowing toward the light. I was accelerating and I knew I was accelerating, but then again, I didn’t really feel the acceleration. I just knew I was accelerating toward the light. Again, the physics was different – the physics of motion of time, space, travel. It was completely different in that tunnel, than it is here on Earth. I came out into the light and when I came out into the light, I realized that I was in heaven.”
    – Barbara Springer –
    Near-Death Experience Documentary: “Shadows: Perceptions of Near-Death Experiencers”
    https://youtu.be/HR0x57aMv-k?t=460

  10. 10
    Sandy says:

    Fasteddious
    This could be a simple matter of long-term vs. short-term memory, or possibly accommodation to a long-term stimulus (smell). When experiencing a novel smell…

    Smell for other animals is not necessary a memory is just an impulse or trigger of a mechanism or a cascade of automated responses. In human case smell (besides basic impulse )could be integrated in memories only when accessed by reason and included in an mental construct (of beauty,or disgust or…). We have to make a difference between instinctual, vegetative reaction to an impulse(smell in this case) and mental rational constructs that have “smell” concept as a compound. In first case smell is a trigger in second case is a part of a memory.

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