Can the Brain Really Store Experiences?
Marcelo Magnasco is the Head of the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at Rockefeller University, where he leads a group of physicists who use living beings as a source of inspiration for creating new mathematical descriptions of nature. His work often looks at many aspects of sensory processing, including auditory, visual and olfactory. Dr. Magnasco graduated from the National University of La Plata in Argentina with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1987. He received his Ph.D. in physics from The University of Chicago in 1992.
Question: What are some of the difficulties in understanding memory?\r\n
Marcelo Magnasco: So if you think of memory, you know, memory is an all-encompassing term going from just being able to integrate the last few hundred milliseconds of your sensory experience together, that requires memory, right, because that few hundred milliseconds a second is longer than the direct memory of most neurons, it requires integrating everything in an intermediate structure, which is, you know, shorter memory. There’s many different forms of memory and it’s...I stalled there, right, it's, it really is an all-encompassing word in that we call memory very, very different things. My interest at the theoretical level in memory has to do with the lack of theoretical models for what we call normal memory, namely we have fairly good artificial neuro-models for in place of associations, or for, you know, increased recognition of categories and the like, so if we show a number of examples of a category or a number of examples of currencies, we can build artificial neuro-networks, these are part of the computation structures, okay, which we run on the computer that look at these categorizations and eventually learn from the presentation of examples how to, you know, how to categorize certain things. So that we know how to do, but in common language memory is a very different thing, and in common language basically everything I remember happened to me exactly once. It wasn’t like you get this many different examples and you categorize from them and you recall very vividly instances that happen to you like I said precisely once. So I remember vividly the birth of each one of my children. I do not have the same category called birth of children; I recall each one of them. I recall my first day of school, it happened to me just once. Well, I recalled my first day of elementary school and I recall my first day of high school, okay, and I recall them as two different instances, not as two examples of first days of different schools, all right. So we do not have much by way of a theoretical understanding of how the brain could do this, okay, we don’t have very well developed models of sort of a neuro-network taking all of these data from the world and assembling them I mean to some into some coherent thing we called the memory, whereby if we recall it we remember things that happened on one specific occasion that we saw precisely once, right. So that’s an interest I have about that. I have to say that, you know, we don’t have currently a lot of results in the subject.
Life’s events happen once and only once, meaning that we do not have defined categories for storing our experiences.
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