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Thread: The Picture in your head, Memory's thoughts and Dreams what are they ?

  1. #1 The Picture in your head, Memory's thoughts and Dreams what are they ? 
    SEEKER Genesis's Avatar
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    Memory's thoughts and Dreams what are they ?
    do they have substance, how are they stored. do they need mass, and energy
    or are they nothing with no substance.?


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    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
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    Do memories have mass? What a mad question. I like it though.

    I suppose they do in a way, since long term memories appear to involve a fair bit of protein synthesis as new synaptic connections are made and strengthened; then too, you've got the increased electrochemical signalling going through those pathways which would add a little bit more mass.

    Plucking a number from absolutely nowhere let's say we could measure the memory of yesterday's lunch in the femto- to nanogram range (don't quote that number, because I just made it up based of the mass of a single cell).


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    Think of it as the productivity of your brain.

    If we look at an analogy like say, fertility and productivity of garden soil, then we can see that it doesn't involve mass. All the elements you need for soil fertility are already given, there'll never be any more. What makes for increased productivity is how often you can cycle those nutrients through the system. Do it badly and you'll get a few kilos of potatoes, tomatoes and peaches, a dozen lettuces, and a decent sized carrot patch. Do it well and you'll have bags of potatoes to see you through the whole year, neighbours grateful for your baskets of broccoli and root vegetables, and jars of jams, pickles and brandied fruit for winter as well as eggs galore from the chickens that turn all your waste food and paper into fertiliser.

    Same thing for brain work. No changes in substance or mass - unless you have disease of course. But good imagination and thinking gives you insight and images you can keep and use forever. Or you can let it go and never have anything worth hanging onto.
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    dear adelady. This has got to be the greatest post that i've had the pleasure of reading on Science Forum. Having posted that it is to be understood that clear thinking must remain unemotional, and like MeteorWayne, it behoves me to deliver more on the nitty gritty and main thrust of the thread, then to waffle on and strolling off into byways. Neverthe less, adelady, good imagination and thinking outside the square will get good science done. There are those that think science, have the brainpower to deliver practical answers, and then there are the rest of us who cannot interperet what they are on about, so all their research and discoveries fall upon deaf ears. It seems as though there is a strong connection between brain memory and brain thought and resultant brain ideas and thus brain solutions. There's no weight in this, How much does a bolt of lightening weigh? westwind.
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    Excuse me guys, but how can the synthesis of new proteins and new brain structures not involve changes in mass? There are physical structures involved in memory, so logically, they cannot be massless.

    Soil too changes in mass when plants grow. If a potato plant removes magnesium from the soil and uses it to make chlorophyll obviously the magnesium content of the soil, and therefore its mass, has changed. Nutrients can be replaced by various biological and chemical means to maintain soil fertility. Does that replace like atom for like atom? Soil mass changes all the time.

    For the plant analogy to hold we'd have to have plants that have no mass. Brain structures have mass and therefore so do memories.
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    Adelady is right insofar as we must keep our brains active if we wish to ward off dementia etc. However I agree with Zwirko that memories require material things (neurones and neurotransmitters, to be less cryptic about it) in order to exist. Part of the problem is arguably the transiency of the existence of memories i.e. they are the firing of very specific neuronal circuits (that can of course be re-fired again in future, that's the whole point of memories!) but - each of the neurones involved is probably involved also in many other neuronal networks. So it's not like we can say, 'this here neurone belongs to the formation and maintenance of this memory'. It would therefore be difficult to measure a change in mass, although the individual neurones will lose mass for example when releasing neurotransmitters (
    146.118103761 g per mol for acetlycholine).
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    Although the increased levels of protein synthesis (cytoskeleton (new synaptic junctions), neurotransmitter production, re-uptake pumps etc) would likely counter such a loss.

    Interestingly, there was a story that did the rounds in many magazines, papers and popular news sites recently about the brains of London cabbies. Apparently "the knowledge" has resulted in them having a hippocampus that is larger than that of the average non-cabbie.
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    Wiki article on neuroplasticity.
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    Excuse me guys, but how can the synthesis of new proteins and new brain structures not involve changes in mass? There are physical structures involved in memory, so logically, they cannot be massless.
    OK. Try another analogy. Weaving, knitting, lacemaking. Everyone starts with a certain quantity of thread. Probably neatly organised, maybe in a heap. Do your processing - weaving, knitting, tatting or lacemaking.

    At the end, you have no change in mass. Some people have woven or knitted a rug, maybe with coordinating cushion covers. Others have produced a whole set of team scarves. Some people have made fancy collars or whole evening gowns. A few have made a complete mess of their project and need help to sort things out.

    Even for those who've successfully completed a garment or other item, we still need to make a further judgment about the level of skill demonstrated and the good taste or lack of it, the originality or lack of it.

    Which gets us back to brains and neuroplasticity. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes a difference. For knitting up yarn into a garment that's useful for a long time, you need to develop the necessary skills. For acquiring, retaining and using memories and imagination you need to do the same.

    In both instances, you need no change in mass or substance, only in the way the physical material is organised.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    Excuse me guys, but how can the synthesis of new proteins and new brain structures not involve changes in mass? There are physical structures involved in memory, so logically, they cannot be massless.
    OK. Try another analogy. Weaving, knitting, lacemaking. Everyone starts with a certain quantity of thread. Probably neatly organised, maybe in a heap. Do your processing - weaving, knitting, tatting or lacemaking.

    At the end, you have no change in mass. Some people have woven or knitted a rug, maybe with coordinating cushion covers. Others have produced a whole set of team scarves. Some people have made fancy collars or whole evening gowns. A few have made a complete mess of their project and need help to sort things out.

    Even for those who've successfully completed a garment or other item, we still need to make a further judgment about the level of skill demonstrated and the good taste or lack of it, the originality or lack of it.

    Which gets us back to brains and neuroplasticity. Practice may not make perfect, but it certainly makes a difference. For knitting up yarn into a garment that's useful for a long time, you need to develop the necessary skills. For acquiring, retaining and using memories and imagination you need to do the same.

    In both instances, you need no change in mass or substance, only in the way the physical material is organised.
    Adelady, you make a good case for the ability of memories to exist without necessarily involving a change in mass, your argument would be further strengthened if you supplemented it with empirical evidence indicating that the formation and maintenance of memories does not involve a change in the mass of brain structures. I highly doubt that such work has been conducted though, given the technical difficulties involved, and besides funding can be better applied to neuroscience studies with a promising clinical outcome.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zwirko View Post
    Although the increased levels of protein synthesis (cytoskeleton (new synaptic junctions), neurotransmitter production, re-uptake pumps etc) would likely counter such a loss.

    Interestingly, there was a story that did the rounds in many magazines, papers and popular news sites recently about the brains of London cabbies. Apparently "the knowledge" has resulted in them having a hippocampus that is larger than that of the average non-cabbie.
    How rigourous was the study underpinning the news story? Did they measure the size of the hippocampus in the cabbies prior to their taking up their career? They may have causation and effect mixed up i.e. people with larger hippocampi have better spatial awareness skills and therefore are more likely to become cabbies. I would expect the majority of the increased size to be due to increased cell number as well, rather than increased protein synthesis per se.
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  13. #12  
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    adelady.


    Imagine a thought experiment wherein we could somehow study two neurons (isolated from countless others) before and after their involvment in maintaining a memory. Before they become part of our experimental memory we may observe that they are connected to each other via 24 synapses. After, we may see that they have increased their levels of communication with each other by increasing the number of synapses to 54. This new cullular material must have mass; therefore, in some respects, stretching things, we could speak of the "weight of a memory". This is not merely reorganisation, but the creation of new cellular structures.

    Given that brain mass is never constant and varies with age, nutritional status, disease state etc we need to isolate those neural pathways involved in a specific memory and forget about the background mass of the brain itself. Such studies on long-term memory have been done and do see increased and strengthened connections between neurons. Are these connection made at the expense of destroying other connections in a "pound-for-pound" manner? Maybe the cells just change shape, I don't know?

    The point is, as far as the OP is concerned, is that memories are not phantom-spirit type things of no substance. They are physical in nature and so must weigh something - even though measuring such a thing would be impossible.


    Tridimity,

    the taxi driver study is also an example of neuroplasticity; there are many other examples besides this. One of the compelling findings is that
    the size of the hippocampus correlates with the length of the cabbies career.


    ps when I say "protein synthesis" I just meant "growth".


    Some of the papers:


    Woollett & Maguire. 2011. A
    Acquiring ‘‘the Knowledge’’ of London’s Layout Drives Structural Brain Changes.
    Current Biology, Volume 21, Issue 24, 2109-2114, 08 December 2011


    older ones:


    Eleanor A. Maguire, Katherine Woollett, Hugo J. Spiers (2006)
    "London taxi drivers and bus drivers: A structural MRI and neuropsychological analysis"
    Hippocampus Volume 16, Issue 12, pages 1091–1101, December 2006


    Eleanor A. Maguire*† et al (1999)
    "Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers"
    PNAS April 11, 2000 vol. 97 no. 8 4398-4403




    Two easier to read pieces:
    2011 piece by Ed Yong:
    How acquiring The Knowledge changes the brains of London cab drivers


    2011 Scientific American article :
    Cache Cab: Taxi Drivers' Brains Grow to Navigate London's Streets: Scientific American
    Last edited by Zwirko; February 23rd, 2012 at 05:31 AM.
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    Are these connection made at the expense of destroying other connections in a "pound-for-pound" manner? Maybe the cells just change shape, I don't know?
    Maybe, probably. Doubt very much it would be an exact 'pound for pound' process. It may be the classic case for use it or lose it. As we acquire new skills and knowledge, we know we use a lot more brain power than we do once skills are learned and incorporated into 'long-term' memory. And we no longer need the processes or functions used in learning in the first place. Whether long term memory equates to physical bulk or structure I don't rightly know. My initial thought would be that it's a bit like packing/ unpacking a cupboard or a suitcase. The neatly folded, stacked and organised items take up a great deal less space than the mountain of dirty laundry they represent. So a well-organised brain with properly maintained long term memories and disciplined thinking habits may need a lot less bulk and many, many fewer neuron connections than the developing or untrained brain.

    Sounds very logical and attractive expressed like that. But I have no idea how close it is to the realities of neuroscience. We do know that the alterations to brain activity in adolescence are basically 'pruning' a lot of the connections made during childhood.

    As for the London cabbies, that study relied on imaging brain regions. An enlarged hippocampus need not necessarily result in any significant change in the size or weight of the total brain though if my neat, tidy, organised picture of structure has even the remotest connection to the reality.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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    I'm not sure why the total brain mass is of central importance here. One of the questions posed by the OP was simply: what is the weight of a memory? As I said at the time it was a "mad question", but an interesting question nevertheless. Since memories are physical in nature (mass and energy) they must weigh something - I hope we could all agree on that. The idea that they have no material basis is obviously not tenable.

    Somehow we've ended up discussing changes in total brain mass as memories are acquired. On that theme I would maintain that a brain deprived of all external stimuli would weigh less than one exposed to the flood of data coming from our surroundings.

    A larger hippocampus clearly weighs more than a smaller one. The magnitude of the numbers is not too important here, since we're just trying to establish that learning and memory result in changes in brain structure and realise that perhaps the brain is not so passive and static as is sometimes assumed.

    Remember the sorts of masses we are talking about here are very small. For example, my wild-assed estimate for a memory of yesterdays lunch included numbers measured in femtograms. It would take trillions of such memories to amount to anything we could appreciate on a human scale.
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    Remember the sorts of masses we are talking about here are very small. For example, my wild-assed estimate for a memory of yesterdays lunch included numbers measured in femtograms. It would take trillions of such memories to amount to anything we could appreciate on a human scale.
    Penny for [a femtogram of] your thoughts...

    So a well-organised brain with properly maintained long term memories and disciplined thinking habits may need a lot less bulk and many, many fewer neuron connections than the developing or untrained brain.
    Absolutely, cells in the developing mammalian brain undergo shed loads of apoptotis... any neurones that do not innervate target cells die. This process helps to establish correctly functioning neuronal networks.
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    http://www.thescienceforum.com/trash...ory-notes.html

    I'm under the assumption that memories are reproducable trigger recognition patterns in your brain... Sort of like a save file on your computer with the "trigger" being the file extension.

    Are these connection made at the expense of destroying other connections in a "pound-for-pound" manner? Maybe the cells just change shape, I don't know?
    That would be inefficient wouldn't it? It's better to think that the connections can be dual purposed as they're probably made up of certain chemicals produced by the brain. (sec. 2.A. of the Theory Notes)
    I've never met a man who was more intelligent then I was. Then again, I've never met one who was as ignorant as me either.
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    After many years thoughts and visions can reappear, with cell decay how do we store this information for so long, why and how do we never forget. most things.
    As it only takes a trigger to reset memory.
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    Genesis, be aware that we DO forget most things. The visual system for example: the scenes we see will only stay for a couple of seconds in our visual loop. During those few seconds the information is extremely labile and WILL be forgotten if we don't store them properly. Image how it would be if one would remember most of the (possibly) thousands of visual scenes we experience every day, most of them being useless ofcourse. My point is, not only in visual experiences but also in other short term perceptions, we forget most things and by most I mean those memories we probably won't need anymore.

    We can store information for long periods of time because some memories are extremely stable. Emotional memory for example is terribly stable, reappearing even when we actually don't want to. I think that's because it can be retrieved by different pathways and lots of different brain centers play a major role in this type of memory. Note that not the NEURONS form the memories, the connections, induced ofcourse by neuronal activity, do.
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