Eli5: Are memories something physical inside my brain, like something written on a Hard Drive or ink on a piece of paper?


Eli5: Are memories something physical inside my brain, like something written on a Hard Drive or ink on a piece of paper?

In: 13

Yes, they are physical.

No, they are not like written on a hard drive or a piece of paper. Rather, they are connections between neurons, sorta like reorganizing the strands of the paper so the dots on a sheet looks like a different message (Massive oversimplification = not really how it works).

So far, I think people are getting close to base with their explanations, but no one is hitting the mark yet.
As others said, memories aren’t stored data that can be recalled and analyzed. It’s better to think of memory as a log book of your brain’s past states, thoughts, sensory inputs, and surroundings. The log of this info is done through neuroplasticity, physical and chemical change, and neuronal networks working together.
The brain is a calorically demanding nutrient-expensive thing to maintain, We have evolved to be as efficient as possible and achieve our efficiency by organizing and forming memories in 3 different degrees. The steps to these degrees begins with having a working memory and reinforcing what was is relevant with short term potentiation, and saving it for the long run with long term potentiation. Potentiation is the reinforcement of neural paths and we cant really read or decipher these paths because these paths are a result memories being built, but rather, they are individual neural networks that have adapted to trigger at lower thresholds of excitation at each contact point.
I could explain the mechanics of Long Term Potiention and Short Term Potentiations here, but this is already not a ELI5 answer. Just know: Theres working memory -that is pretty much what you would remember right then at any moment. That can move onto short term memory- by the lowering the threshhold for recollection with the benefit of efficiency. Finally theres long term- The brain undergoes a chemical process to permanently solidify and optimize points within your recollection. These points are irreversiblee (they can be modified though, thats how long term potiention works). Those memories can also decay if never reactivated.
I can go on and on about this, Theres a reason theres thousands and thousands of pages of textbooks on stuff like this.

It’s both physical and non-physical. If you were to arrange stones into the shape of the letter “A”, the letter “A” is both physical and not physical. The arrangement of stones is physical, but the subjective feeling and perception of understanding the letter “A” is not physical.

The same applies to memories.

We don’t know.

Memories in the brain do have a physical component which exists as electrical impulses between neurons and pathways in the brain, and there are some cells in the immune system called “Memory Cells” which can remember pathogens for many years to fight them if they show up again.

But what these electrical impulses are, how they interact with the brain, and whether there is some type of physical transcript of memories in organic compounds, nobody knows yet.

This is a particularly interesting field of study in biomechanics because it would pioneer nanotechnology and potentially allow us to interface the human mind with computers. Sounds like Sci-Fi right?