Eli5: If memory works by having our brains recall the last time we remembered the event, why are we able to recall music with such accuracy/virtually flawlessly


I guess I’m addition why does music work in our brains so differently from other forms of information?

In: Biology

Is it virtually flawless? I disagree with your assumption there. My memory of music is just as fuzzy as any other kind of memory.

That’s not to say music doesn’t interact differently in our brain. It activates different areas when compared to visual stimuli, or even spoken words.

Neural networks of any kind, including the brain, are pattern machines. Our memories are so fuzzy, for events, because we just went through it once, and we fill a lot of gaps with assumptions we make after the fact. A song, however, is repeated over and over again and every time you do that, you strengthen the pathways that “store” that song. Or perhaps “reference the parts that make up the storage of that song” would be more accurate. It’s messy and complicated 😐

It doesn’t really work differently from other information, it’s the same thing with your credit card number, your phone number and such. Remembering those is really difficult for a pattern machine, because it’s not built for precision, but rather the ability to tackle just about any problem in existence. Perfect recall just isn’t one of them, so you need to drill it in over and over again. Whereas a hard drive can store individual bits, and therefor recall perfectly, neural networks store things in fuzzy patterns that are very much not precise, but can be used for different problems. Which sometimes becomes a problem. When you see a face in a cloud, say. That’s those patterns applying to stuff that they aren’t really supposed to apply to.

As per usual, my recommendation: If you want to know more about how the brain works, nevermind biology. Look into computer science. We are building brains over here, and it’s much easier to understand the concepts this way, because we just deal with good old transistors and not weird synapses and all the other squishy stuff. It’s not _exactly_ the same, but a lot of the concepts translate perfectly. And it’s much easier to wrap your head around a 100, or so, linearly laid out (artificial) neurons, than it is to wrap your head around dozens of billions of chaotically connected brain matter. Yet, for the most part, they do the same thing. Which is exactly how your average image recognition software might think your dog is a chair, just like you might think a cloud is a face – same process.

Music and the brain appear to have a special relationship. While there doesn’t seem to be a specific reading center in the brain, for example, we do definitely see certain brain structures develop differently in musicians versus other people:


This may not relate 1:1 with your question but I think it gives us enough reason to question that maybe the way the brain handles music isn’t really comparable to the way the brain handles other things. eg: why can’t I remember my wife’s phone number when I can remember every lyric to an entire album from 40 years ago, etc.