The human brain is a marvel that we have not been able to completely understand. There are mysteries as to the complex workings of our minds that exceed our ability to comprehend. However, we know many things about some of the workings of the brain. The method that the brain stores and retrieves memories is one area of the brain in which we have some knowledge.
The memory of the human brain is astounding. The neurological processes that the brain goes through in order to store and retrieve memories is not a simple one-step process. “Long-term memory involves three processes: encoding, storage and retrieval.” (Holloday, 2007). What seems to happen is that memories are actually recreations of the events in the mind that use the same neuron paths as the original incident. In this way memory can be thought of as an “imaginative reconstruction” (Mastin, 2010). The brain actually recreates sensations, thoughts, and feelings, as associated with the original neural paths. The stronger the neural path, the stronger the memory. This is one reason the Alzheimer patients experience a loss of memory is that the neural paths break down and there is not the same interconnectivity in the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient as in a healthy person.
Long term memory involves three processes: encoding, storage, and retrieval. Encoding breaks down the composite parts of an experience to infer meaning and significance, storage is where we consolidate this memory with others in a similar category, and retrieval is the process that we trace various codes of meanings through neural networks, (MAstin, 2010). There are two types of routes that long term memories are accessed. These routes are recognition and recall. Recognition is the simpler form of memory because it has a more immediate relationship with the memory. Recognition is literally recognizing the same stimulus that one has experienced before as it reoccurs. However, recall is more involved than recognition. Recall involves associating a stimulus and matching it with a memory. There are three types of recall that the human brain goes through in retrieving long term memories: Free recall, cued recall, and serial recall. Free recall is when one is required to relate a series of events without any outside directions, cued recall is when one is to remember a series of events when given cues or hints, and the serial recall is how to remember events given a chronological mnemonic device.
Short term memory is immediate, but it gets translated into long term memory storage through the hippocampus, which is part of the limbic system: “We use the hippocampus, an ancient part of the cortex, to consolidate new memories. An event creates temporary links among cortex neurons…”(Holloday, 2007). This temporary link routes information into the deeper neural networks. When short term memory becomes long term memory, the process of recognition and recall will bring the short term memories to the surface. Short term memories are formed more often than long term memories. After the brain encodes a short term memory it distinguishes whether or not the significance and the meaning of the memory are needed in the long term memory bank. If the memory is significant, then the short term memory goes on to the stage of storage in the brain.
Memories are the brain’s actual déjà vu. The mind attempts to recreate the sensory experiences of the initial short term memory and accesses it through a complicated series of neural pathways in order to formulate long term memory. It is through encoding, storage and retrieval that the mind formulates recognition and recall.
- Holloday, A. (2007). “How does human memory work?”. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/aprilholladay/2007-03-12-memory-first_N.htm
- Mastin, L. (2010). “The human memory”. Retrieved from: http://www.human-memory.net/processes_recall.html