Could the human mind ever run out of memory?

Thursday 7th March 2013
Submitted by Susan Blackmore
George McKenzie, by email

In one sense, yes. Memory depends on forming new neural connections, and the brain has a finite number of neurones and a limited space in which to add more connections between them. Yet in another sense a healthy brain can never stop learning.

There is really no such thing as ‘a memory’. When we remember a fact or an event that happened to us, many networks of interconnected cells are involved. Sometimes, if we can’t remember an event one way, we can bring it to mind another way using different connections.

As we age, and have more and more to remember, the connections get more complex. When our brains are overloaded the same neurones are used in multiple memories in very flexible ways. So we might become more likely to confuse events, or have other difficulties in remembering, but we can’t really say that we ‘run out of memory’.

Why can itching be contagious?
previous qanda Article
Are earphones really damaging to health?
next qanda Article
Q&A Tabs

Phlegm is the mucous secretion of the respiratory passages. The cilia cells that line these passages are continually driving the phlegm upward to the throat, where it triggers the swallow reflex...

Lobsters and other shellfish have harmful bacteria naturally present in their flesh. Once the lobster is dead, these bacteria can rapidly multiply and release toxins that may not be destroyed by...

According to Arnold Pompos of Purdue University, Santa would have to travel a total of 160,000,000km – further than the distance from the Earth to the Sun – to visit 200 million...

Surprisingly, it could be your genes that determine your feelings about these controversial little vegetables. A 2011 study by Cornwall College found that sprouts contain a chemical, similar to...

Astronomer Fred Hoyle was the first to point out that if you could drive a car upwards at 95km/h (60mph), it would only take about an hour to get into space. To get to the Moon would take a little...

All female mammals have a clitoris, the sole purpose of which is to react to sexual stimulation, and presumably this stimulation has evolved to be pleasurable for most species. But establishing...

To create a sound, we have to set matter - whether it's a gas like air, a liquid or even a solid material - in regular motion, creating a wave of specific frequencies, which we hear as a sound of...

Mirrors don’t reverse left and right either – that’s just our interpretation of what happens. Your reflection in the mirror is actually reversed front to back – if you have...

Discovered by an American student named Gary Flandro in the mid-1960s, the slingshot manoeuvre usually involves spacecraft briefly 'coat-tailing' a planet orbiting the Sun, extracting some of the...

The ice disappears because the wind blows away water molecules that have evaporated or 'sublimed' from the ice, so the ice slowly shrinks in size. The molecules that escape are those with the...

We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here