Do you remember what you ate two days ago? What about your first day at school? The things you remember, as you know, are memories. Have you ever thought about how our memories work? I’ll first explain the general idea of a memory. So, memories are stored as a chemical change at connecting points between neurons. Neurons are the basic working unit of our brains. They transmit information to our muscles and nerves. Memory involves the ability to preserve and recover information that we have learned and experienced. However, the process of memory also has flaws. Sometimes we forget something or misremember them, this means that we even make up our own memories. To process a memory, there are three steps our brain takes. The three steps are encoding, storage, and retrieval.
First of all, let’s think about the process of encoding. Let’s look at an example. Imagine you met your idol. At that point, you are looking at them and remembering what they looked like, your ears remembered what they sounded like, and so on. These perceptions are analyzed by parts of your brain (hippocampus & frontal cortex) and they decide if these various sensory inputs are worth remembering. If they decide it is worth remembering, neurons help encode them. The information travels through our nervous system with the support of neurons. The nerve cells then create links between themselves and these links become memories. The typical brain can have around 100 trillion points of connections. Memories are sorted in a type of filter. As soon as we intercept information, it is filtered and sorted to either be shorter memory or long term memory. Long term memory has an unlimited capacity. The types of long term memory include unconscious memory, which includes the creation of memories that are used without us being aware of it. An example of it is how we tie our shoes. The other type is conscious memory. This type of memory contains mainly facts like dates and names and are usually lost swiftly. The third and last step is Memory Retrieval. When you want to retrieve a specific memory, you have to go to your memory storage, and with the connections between nerve cells, you remember them.
Think about memory as a money vault. The vault itself is your memory while the money you put in it is your memories. As you work, you gain money meaning that as more and more time passes by, you earn more and more memories. However, sometimes you might think that you have more money than you actually have. What this means is that you might have misremembered or forgotten something.