How exactly does the brain store information?


And how do memories work in general? How can one memory fire up all other related memories?

Unlike a computer, there are no bits, or switches, to save the state of something. There is no metadata, no encoding etc. Of course, our brain is much more complex than a computer, but how does it store information when there is no physical way to actually “store” data anywhere.

In: Biology

The cells in your brains create “pathways” between each other through connections between neurons, and memories create and reinforce pathways. You remember things by “walking back down” those pathways. As a practical and (I think) universal example, think of the alphabet. If someone just randomly asked you out of nowhere “What comes after G?”, you’d have no idea, because the way you memorized the alphabet was the string of ABCDEF**G**HIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ. In other words, there is a single “alphabet pathway” that was created as a string of letters in a certain order, not 26 individual “letter pathways”. In order to remember G or any letters it relates to, you need to pass ABCDEF first, since you won’t get to G unless you go down those first steps in the pathway first.

See also movie names. If someone said, “Quick, name every movie you’ve seen.” you could never name them all, but if someone said, “Have you seen *The Shining*?”, you would immediately be able to answer a yes or no. They could repeat this for every movie ever, and you would have a clear answer for each and every one.

This is because nobody creates a “movies I’ve seen” pathway with all the hundreds of things they’ve seen. Instead, when you saw a given movie, your brain created pathways for what you experienced (the rudeness of the other theatregoers, the shocking ending, the bond you felt with your favorite character) and associates that with the movie’s name. Thus, when you hear “Have you seen *The Shining.*”, your brain “walks back down” the memory pathways you formed when you saw it. If not, you know you haven’t seen it.