When we think of memory we’re typically thinking of having to recall something that we’ve consciously learned. But we depend on memory in our everyday lives. Sometimes it takes a little effort to recall information that’s been stored. But other times information just comes to us without conscious involvement. Cognitive psychologist Margaret W. Martin summed it up when she said, “We would not be able to function in the present or move forward without relying on our memory.”
That suggests several things. First, there are different types of memory. Second, that memory, which is the information we collect, is the essence of our cognitive existence. Third, that memories are the basis of our emotional system.
The brain is structured to process, store and use information. When we recall that information we call it memory.
The collection of information is intended to provide us with knowledge about our environment so that we can safely obtain water, food and shelter. Information is labeled according to its level of safety. That makes information and memory the primary element of our emotional system.
For information to be stored as a memory it must have some degree of emotional content. That’s why names of people not around us regularly, or subject matter not frequently used, are difficult to remember.
Only stored information can be recalled as memory. That makes the physical elements in the brain needed to store and recall information a critical component of memory.
The hormone dopamine and experience-dependent brain cells (neurons) come together in the hippocampus to form neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters move information from place to place and are essential for memory and learning.
Memory is dependent on receiving and absorbing new and supporting information. It’s the collection, interpretation, labeling and use of the information retained in memory that guides our behavior and helps ensure our survival and comfort.
Unless you want to be extremely technical, the most commonly referred to types of memory are sensory memory, working memory, short-term memory and long-term memory.
For information to be retained in long term memory it must first be received as a short-term memory. Sensory memory can be either short-term or long-term.
Regardless of type, all memory is dependent on absorbing, interpreting, relating, labeling and using information in either the present or the future.
Interpretation of the information received will determine if it belongs in working memory, short-term memory, or should be retained in long term memory.
The more a segment of information is recalled, and used as memory, the stronger it becomes and the more blood it draws.
The less a segment of information is recalled, and used as memory, the weaker it becomes and the less blood it draws.
Information that HAS BEEN used frequently, but is NO LONGER BEING USED, will become weaker, drawing less and less blood, making it harder to recall if needed.
Experience-dependent cells are needed to absorb and retain new information, make new memories and learn. Until the late 1990’s it was believed that we could only generate experience dependent brain cells into our early or mid-twenties. That gave rise to the myth that aging caused cognitive decline.
In the late 1990’s it was determined that we can produce experience-dependent brain cells (neurogenesis) throughout life as long as we continue to generate a brain derived neuronal growth factor (BDNGF). To generate BDNGF you must be physically active. Memory therefore is dependent on your being physically active.
The storage of information (memories) is internally controlled by the brain’s Law of Neuroplasticity (brain plasticity). The Law of Neuroplasticity stores information based on need and importance.
Information has different levels of importance. The most frequently used information is typically the most important and the most rapidly recalled. That means that the importance of information is established by what you do and don’t do.
All external information received by us comes from our five senses; vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and feel. To receive information we must be exposed to it. If the information is new and relevant it will be retained.
Learning requires exposure to new information. Practice strengthens information already learned. If the information supports or strengthens existing information it will be retained. If the information is neither new or supportive it will be deleted.
The retention and recall of information, memory, has a physical aspect that changes as we age. In fact, it’ the physical aspect of our memory that helps establish age role. We typically learn when we’re young. As we grow older we tend to rely more and more on long term memories. At the same time the breadth and intensity of our learning, the information we absorb, decreases.
Anyone past the age of 40 or 50 knows that memory does decline as they’ve gotten older. The memory slide continues as we age. Eventually, dementia becomes a concern. Dementia is the inability to use memories to control and guide behavior.
In the past aging was blamed. Now it’s known that a gradual decline in the functioning health of the brain is to blame for a decline in memory, not age. That decline in brain health can most likely be traced back to inflammation that begins early in life and continues as we age affecting the functioning ability of the brain.
Inflammation in the brain is primarily due to the consumption of fast sugars, simple carbs, and chronic stress. But the brain is resilient. With persistence and effort, a normal brain can be restored to good health at any age.
- 1) Absorbing new information = Experience-dependent brain cells are needed to absorb and retain information, make new memories and learn. In the late 1990’s it was finally determined that we can produce experience-dependent brain cells (neurogenesis) throughout life as long as we continue to generate a brain derived growth hormone (BDNGF). To generate BDNGF you must be physically active. Memory is, therefore, dependent on your being physically active.
- 2) Interpreting newly absorbed information – This phase of memory is referred to as “Working Memory” or “Short Term” memory. It is this phase of memory that establishes the use and relative importance of the information absorbed. Some information is received, used quickly and deleted. Other information is retained for storage according to its relative importance. All information must go through this phase. You can’t make long term memories without first going through short-term memory.
- 3) Storage of Information – Information that’s proceeded through Working Memory and is relative, needs to be stored somewhere in the brain where it can be retrieved efficiently. Efficiency in the brain is tied to the use of blood, the brain’s only resource.
The amount of blood used by the brain to retain information or initiate and action, such as retrieval of information, represents a cost. Information is therefore stored according to frequency of uses and importance so that the use of blood and cost are minimized.
You establish relative need and importance by your behavior and actions. The relative need and importance of information is continuously changing in your brain, along with the storage of information, in response to what you do and don’t do. What you do or don’t do is also changing the way the brain draws and uses blood. (Neuroplasticitty).
Information is stored when a neurotransmitter(s) carries it to a designated synaptic gap, or space. Once there it transmits the message along the tail (axon) of the cell and using chemicals or salts, shoots it across the gap where it’s received by another neurotransmitter. The subsequent neurotransmitter where it’s stored or continues moving from neurotransmitter to neurotransmitter until it reaches its point of storage.
- 4) Retrieval of Information – Stored information is only only useful if it can be retrieved. Technically, stored information is referred to as an “engram”. Information that’s been retrieved or recall, is a memory.
- 6) There are three types of recall; free, cued and serial.
Experience-dependent brain cells (neurons) are essential to the retention of information and memory. Experience-dependent brain cells can be generated throughout life. It’s the Hippocampus that produces experience-dependent brain cells. But their production is dependent on the availability of a hormone known as “Brain Derived Neuronal Growth Factor” (“BDNGF”). The production of “BDNGF” is dependent on an individual’s physical activity. Memory, therefore, is closely related to how physically active an individual is.
Information, formally and informally collected, is the essence of memory and learning. That information is collected by the brain’s sensors; vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and feel. With the exception of smell, all information received goes to the Thalmus for signs of danger and sorting. Information collected by smell goes to the olefactory bulb for review and distribution.
To begin with, it should be understood that the internal structure of your brain is governed by a set of laws, and functions according to a set of rules. The Laws and Rules work together as a team to guide the functioning ability of your brain.
Laws -1. Neurogenesis (nerve birth) We can generate new, experience-dependent brain cells (neurons) throughout life. To do so requires the hormone “BDNGF” (Brain Derived Neuronal Growth Factor). The generation of “BDNGF” is responsive to physical activity. To generate experience-dependent brain cells requires being physically active. 2. Neuroplasticity (nerve responsiveness) Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to the movement of cells and cell pathways in response to what you do or don’t do. Neuroplasticity operates to ensure effective communication between cells with the least cost in terms of blood use. Neuroplasticity arranges and rearranges cells and cell pathways according to need, importance and use.
The first 3 rules by which the brain functions directly affect memory. Rule 1 – Your Brain must survive. All living things strive to survive. Your Brain is a living structure. Your Brain must, therefore, survive. Rule 2– Your Brain only knows what it knows. It doesn’t know any more. Rule 3 – Your Brain uses what it knows to survive. Learning, both formal and informal is critical to your brain’s survival.
Your Brain is constantly receiving external information from its sensors, vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and feel. The information you’re receiving is the result of your experiences, both formal and informal. “Knowing” is experience-dependent. It’s experience and learning that builds memory.
The information received from the smell sensor, goes directly to the olfactory bulb in Your Brain where it’s processed for response and storage.
Most of the information received from vision, hearing, taste, touch and feel goes to the Thalmus for signs of danger and sorting. We think of information as words, but your Thalmus receives and transmits information as pictures and patterns. Your Thalmus sends Information, in the form of pictures and patterns, that need to be worked on or stored for later use, to your Hippocampus. The Hippocampus then has to decide what to do with it. There is a Hippocampus on each side of your brain in the area behind the ear. It’s your Hippocampus that generates experience-dependent brain cells and dopamine, the brain cell and hormone essential to memory and learning.
There is some information received by the Hippocampus that is worked on and disposed of. Some needs to be communicated to, and combined with other cells housing information. All information to be stored will first go into short term storage. Priority, importance, need and use will determine if it goes into long term storage. For information to go into long term storage it must have some type of emotional tie.
Information that needs to go into working memory may require recall from short term or long memory storage. The results of that effort will go into, at least, short term storage, possibly long term storage. Other types of information used in working memory will be discarded once it’s used. Hippocampus has to do something with the information that’s to be retained. All information to be retained has a stay in short term memory. Information that needs to be kept for longer than a short period will go into long term storage where it can be recalled.
All information received by Hippocampus is experience generated. To get it into either short term or long term storage Hippocampus produces experience-dependent brain cells (neurons) and generates dopamine, a hormone. The dopamine will ride atop the neuron to form the dopamine neurotransmitter. That neurotransmitter will ultimately take the intended information to its point of storage. Dopamine neurotransmitters are needed to build memory, but neurons functioning by themselves won’t draw blood. Without blood the neuron won’t won’t be functional. To draw blood and remain functional a neuron must belong to a network of neurons.
Producing experience-dependent brain cells requires a brain chemical referred to as “Brain Derived Neuronal Growth Factor” (BDNGF). But your brain produces BDNGF in response to your physical activity. To produce BDNGF you must be physically active. That means that memory, to some extent, is dependent on how active you are.
Hippocampus has deleted the information it didn’t need and generated delivery containers in the form of a hormone and a neuron. Those two combine (neurotransmitter) to deliver the message for storage.
Now that Hippocampus has the information it needs to do something with it. It might have to combine it with other information in working memory. Some of which it will keep in longer term memory expanding your brain’s base of knowledge. All information to be retained is kept for a short time, but there’s some information that should be kept for longer periods. Where to put it is not the job of Hippocampus. It’s the job of Plasticity, the warehouse manager. So Hippocampus uses the dopamine neurotransmitter and sends it to Plasticity. When the need arises Hippocampus will use that dopamine neurotransmitter to retrieve the stored information.
THE NEXT ASSISTANT IN LINE IS “PLASTICITY” … PLASTICITY’S JOB IS NOT AS PHYSICALLY DEMANDING AS THAT OF HIPPOCAMPUS … BUT IT’S MUCH MORE INTELLECTUALLY CHALLENGING …
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