Are there living beings without memory

memory

The memory - library, computer or theater?

We owe every word, every thought, even the feeling for ourselves and others to our memory. Without its binding force, our consciousness would disintegrate into individual parts, lived moments. From the earliest times philosophers and scientists have puzzled over the nature of memory.

"What is it with which we remember, what power does it have and where does it get its essence from?" Cicero exclaimed in ancient Rome. The ideas were mostly based on the state of contemporary storage technology. Around 400 BC, Plato compared memory to a wax tablet on which our experiences are engraved.

After the invention of the printing press, the parallel to a book or a library was obvious. Later, a camera, tape or computer should illustrate how the brain records our memories. A proposal from the Renaissance is more creative and closer to the current state of research: memory than theater.

The brain has not always been considered a place of remembering and forgetting. Aristotle, for example, believed in the heart as the seat of the soul, in which the memory of spiritual images would also take place.

Anyone who smiles at this today should consider the most recent history of research: for example, the theory of memory molecules was still circulating in the 1960s. According to this, memories were stored in the brain in the form of various proteins.

In an experiment, representatives of this field of research taught flatworms to avoid light. Then they fed the animals to other members of their own species, who then allegedly escaped the light. The New York Times headlined: "Eat your professor!"

Kittens in the brain

The complicated language of our brain has still not been deciphered. What is certain is that the memory - of a cat, for example - is by no means stored in the brain as an image of a small kitten. A cat is likely to be stored in different networks of nerve cells. Together these mean "animal", "hunt mice", "velvet paw", "Garfield", "meow" and much more that we associate with a cat.

Our brain consists of around 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) that are connected to form a huge network. If a nerve cell is excited by an incoming stimulus, it transmits an electrical impulse to its neighboring cells with the help of messenger substances: it "fires".

If we now remember our neighbour's cat, for example, it corresponds to a very special combination of nerve cells that fire in a certain rhythm.

When we learn something new and our memory stores it, the connections between certain neurons strengthen. The more often the experience is repeated, the stronger the neural network is welded together, the more permanent the memory.

Our memory divides the work that arises: the properties of the things we remember are assigned to those regions that are also responsible for the perception of these properties.

If we remember a ball, for example, our memory retrieves information about the color, shape and function of this ball from different parts of the brain. All together, in a split second, the image of the ball emerges in our mind's eye.

A memory for facts, one for your own life

Our memory is made up of three main systems. The sensory memory stores incoming stimuli for a fraction of a second. What is important gets into the Short term memory. The information is retained here for a few seconds. Time enough to grasp a sentence without forgetting the beginning.

Ins Long-term memory what we keep for a long time or permanently. Long-term memory can be further subdivided: Stored information is available to us either consciously or unconsciously.

We are aware of the content of the episodic memory. It saves our own life story: memories of the first kiss, the honeymoon, of today's breakfast. The semantic memory however, is responsible for our factual knowledge. It takes on the name of the Japanese capital as well as the chemical formula for hydrogen.

Our brains remember a lot more than we are aware of. Movement sequences, for example: When walking or cycling, we unconsciously remember which muscles need to be activated and when. This is called this type of memory procedural memory.

Remembering and forgetting

Up until a few decades ago, scientists believed that our memories functioned as incorruptibly as a computer: it faithfully records everything we experience. Today it is clear that remembering is more like a puzzle. We fill in the gaps by guessing.

If we remember, for example, a Porsche that we saw at the traffic lights in the morning, the picture may be clear to us. But if we were to compare its details with the original again, there would certainly be significant differences.

Feelings play a major role in the process of remembering. Above all, we save what interests us in an experience. The stronger our emotional involvement, the more permanent the storage.

But what happens if we forget something? There are two theories about this. One assumes that the memory stored in our brain simply fades over time and eventually disappears entirely. Then, however, we would have to forget all the more, the more time has passed since the event to be remembered. This has not yet been proven.

The second theory is more plausible: it says that we forget certain things because they are overlaid or disturbed by new, more interesting impressions. We find it difficult to access old information.

Memory and culture

Our memory fascinates not only natural scientists, but also cultural scientists. In a sense, the phenomenon builds a bridge between the molecule and the mind, between the soberly considered network of nerve cells and our personal and shared experiences. In our language, memory therefore by no means always only means the factual existence of something biological.

This is how sociology coined the term collective or cultural memory. It often falls in connection with the memory of the Holocaust. Anyone using this term assumes that there is a mechanism on a social level analogous to individual memory. His job is to regulate our relationship to the past.