How much can I hold? I was studying massive amounts of material before an exam a while back and I was thinking to myself, “Is it possible for me to hold all of this in my brain in a few nights?” Then I got to thinking that not only do I remember text and equations, I can memorize pictures (which take up a lot of space on computers), drawings, diagrams, movies, audio, and whatever other media I have left out. So with all this in my brain in a matter of a week or so, how much can my brain hold in a lifetime? Is it constantly increasing as more and more stuff gets packed in there? At some point it must deteriorate due to age I suppose, but what is the maximum RAM my brain can have?
According to Marvin Minsky, author of The Society of Mind it doesn’t work this way.
Ram doesn’t represent a good analogy for the way memory works in your brain.
To get an idea why this is true, think of a DVD. A DVD doesn’t store the whole movie, it stores one frame of a scene, and that’s it. From there, it records only the changes, to that frame, not the subsequent frames themselves.
Your brain is much much more efficient. It records very little actual information. Rather it links associations to recreate an approximation of the information.
Once you start compressing information this way, there’s really not a limit, just as you can cut an MP# file, and make it 5 mb, 10 mb, or 3mb depending on how faithfully you want to reproduce the sound. Your brain prioritizes and stores based on what it thinks is important. Short term memory gets dumped quite often.
To give you an example. What did you do yesterday? If you think about it you can probably faithfully remember pretty much everything. Go back another day. and another. Unless there were special events, you probably can’t go two weeks.
What did you do 39 days ago? Don’t look at a calender, just think. Chances are you can’t do it.
If you start counting days, and think “well 39 days ago was a Tuesday, which means I went to work. It was also right after Thanksgiving and I went shopping at the mall that day,” You are not actually remembering, you are recreating. For each of those events that you assign to that day your brain on the spot comes up with images from whole cloth that correspond to those events. It doesn’t actually store and remember them.
The bottom line is that it isn’t a hardware question. It’s a software one.
Read this thread from a couple o’ days ago:
RAM in a computer represents how much a computer can “think” about at once, or how much information is ready for use. You must be thinking of hard disk space, which is frequently confused with memory.
Well, as for estimates of how much the mind can (consciously, which is an important distinction) process at once, I’ve seen anywhere from 16 to 40 bits. That’s right, bits.
Subconsciously, the number is much larger, although I don’t recall it off the top of my head.
These numbers are recalled from a relatively recent reading of The User Illusion by some Dutch guy whose name I can’t recall just now.
[sub] And doesn’t that admission just lend great weight to my statement?[/sub]
I guess that makes sense… Can you picture an entire sentence at once (one with more than 40 letters)?
But it’s hard to tell, because our brains will automatically retrieve new memory without us knowing.
But a letter is technically either 7 or 8 bits, depending on whether one uses ASCII or extended ASCII…I don’t think you can make a direct comparison here. Of course, I can’t really think of a better one either.
That’s why I added the “consciously” qualifier. If we don’t know, we’re not conscious of it
I’ll check this book sometime, but I’m kinda busy for most of this weekend.