Does the brain have a finite capacity?

The human brain is complex. Along with performing millions of mundane acts, it composes concertos, issues manifestos, and elaborates elegant solutions to equations. It’s the source of all human feelings, behaviors, experiences, as well as the repository of memory and self-awareness. So it’s no surprise that the brain remains a mystery in itself.

In this brief guide, we’ll answer the question ‘’Does the brain have a finite capacity?’’ We will delve into the mysteries of human memory, we will discover how the memorization process occurs and the maximum capacity of information that we can store.

Does the brain have a finite capacity?

Yes, memory depends on forming new neural connections, and the brain has an infinite number of neurons 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 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 neurons 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 say that we ‘‘run out of memory’’.

What is the brain?

The brain is an amazing three-pound organ that controls all functions of the body, interprets information from the outside world, and embodies the essence of the mind and soul. Intelligence, creativity, emotion, and memory are a few of the many things governed by the brain. Protected within the skull, the brain is composed of the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem.

The brain receives information through our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing – often many at one time. It assembles the messages in a way that has meaning for us and can store that information in our memory. The brain controls our thoughts, memory and speech, movement of the arms and legs, and the function of many organs within our body. 

How much storage can the human brain hold?

Storage refers to the information retained in the brain, in one of three possible memories: sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory. In this way, the brain handles the information we receive, without feeling too overloaded with it.

If we see something repeated several times, for a long time, it may remain in our long-term memory, while other things are just passing through our brain.

Long-term memory isn’t found in any particular area of the brain but is distributed in the cerebral cortex. After it’s consolidated, it’s stored as a group of neurons in the same area of the brain that generated it. For example, it will be in the visual cortex if it’s memory-related to sight.

In this way, the memories are reconstructed and take new elements from different parts of the brain, and they’re not kept static. Even if we don’t remember some data for the moment, the information is still there. Besides, it’s not possible to erase information at will, something that would be useful if we suffered some traumatic event.

Can my brain get too full?

Each day you accumulate fresh memories kissing new people, acquiring different phone numbers, and competing in pi-memorizing championships 

With all those new adventures stacking up, you might start worrying that your brain is growing full. But, is that how it works? Can your brain run out of space, like a hard drive? It depends on what kind of memory you’re talking about.

“It’s not like each memory takes a cell and then that cell is used up,” says Nelson Cowan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Missouri.

Over the long term, memories are encoded in neural patterns circuits of connected neurons. And your brain’s ability to knit together new patterns is limitless, so theoretically the number of memories stored in those patterns is limitless as well.

Memories don’t always keep to themselves, though. They can crossbreed, like similar but distinct species, creating the recollection equivalent of a mule.

If you can’t remember it, a memory is pretty much worthless, and similar memories can interfere with each other, getting in the way of surfacing the right one. Though memory interference is well documented, researchers like Cowan are still guessing at the phenomenon’s neural mechanics.

What part of the brain is memory stored?

In the case of short-term memory, our most recent memories will remain in the prefrontal cortex.

In contrast, to store memories that belong to the long-term memory the hippocampus will work with them.

The hippocampus is located within the temporal lobes and detects and memorizes new information. Here we will find memories such as what we had for breakfast this morning or what we learned in class an hour ago. This part of the brain will not store our first memories.

Semantic memory, or the memory of meanings, stays in our temporal lobe.

The temporal lobes are located behind the eyes, under the temples, and will store our short and long-term memory. These lobes will also work on our thinking, language learning, and mood stability. This part of the brain is important because injury to the temporal lobes can cause memory difficulties.

Also, to memorize objects or word lists we will need to take advantage of functions in different parts of our brain, such as visual or auditory identification.

The basal ganglia decide which memories we want to retain and which we should discard. This decision has an objective, to avoid overloading the temporary memory so that it can function better. Our memory is selective, and forgetting the memories that have no importance will allow us to retain the information we consider relevant.

What are the phases of memory?

To remember what we did yesterday, which is probably what anyone would say if we asked them to tell us what memory is, our brain has had to carry out a series of complex cognitive processes.

Each process is necessary to access memories. A failure in any of these processes would prevent us from being able to remember the information. The phases our brain has to go through to create a new memory are

  • Codification: In this phase, we incorporate into our memory system, through perception, the information that we’ll later be able to remember. For example, when we’re introduced to someone and we’re told their name. We’ll need to pay attention to perform the codification.
  • Storage: For the information to be durable, we store it in our memory system. In the previous example, we would say that we’ve learned the name, and we’ll be able to associate it to the face of the individual or other data.
  • Retrieval: When we need past information, what we do is access the stored memory and retrieve it. Following the example, we would retrieve this person’s name when we see them again the next day.

How and where memories are generated?

When you learn there is a physical change in the brain. At that time, the distribution of connections between neurons changes. Therefore, to have a good memory, these conductors must be in good condition, the connections between the neurons (called synapses) must also be unharmed so that the memory can be stored in its corresponding place, according to its semantic content and to which another process it can be related.

For example, if it has to do with a procedure (remembering how to fasten a button) it will finally be stored near the temporoparietal occipital crossroads where the so-called praxis (learned motor acts) are. If it has emotional content it will be stored in the frontal or anterior area of the brain, etc.

To generate memories, we need first of all that “the entrance door of the same ones” is well conserved. That door is called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is in charge of carrying the information found in the short-term memory to the cerebral cortex, where the memories are finally stored. The hippocampus is one of the main structures of the brain and is the area that is altered in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

So, have we reached the limit of knowledge?

The amount of information the brain can store in its many trillions of synapses isn’t infinite, but it’s large enough that the amount we can learn isn’t limited by the brain’s storage capacity. However, other factors do limit how much we can learn.

The brain doesn’t have a limit, but it has regulatory mechanisms based on impulse variables for the neural networks that handle memory data. 

The human brain is a marvel, with more capabilities than most of us can imagine. As more studies emerge, it’s only a matter of time until we actually discover how much the human brain can store. The human brain and nervous system are prone to the same kinds of problems as any other part of our body

FAQSs: Does the brain have a finite capacity?

Can your brain get full?

The answer is a resounding no, because, well, brains are more sophisticated than that. A study published in Nature Neuroscience earlier this year shows that, instead of simply piling up, old information is sometimes expelled from the brain to form new memories

What is the storage capacity of the brain?

The memory storage capacity of the brain is something closer to about 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). By way of comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder on a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to store three million hours of television programs.

Can the human brain run out of memory?

No, your brain will almost certainly not run out of memory. Although there must be a physical limit to how many memories we can store, it is extremely large. We don’t have to worry about running out of space in our lifetime. The human brain consists of about one billion neurons.

Which side of the brain controls memory?

Temporal Lobe: The side of the head above the ears that is immediately behind and below the frontal lobes; the temporal lobe controls memory, speech, and understanding.

How can I improve my brain capacity?

Avoid eating a lot of sugars, try fish oil supplements, do meditation exercises, maintain a healthy weight, get enough sleep, practice full attention, train your brain with games and exercises, reduce refined carbohydrates, and do exercise routines. 

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In this brief guide, we answered the question ‘’Does the brain have a finite capacity?’’ and delved into the mysteries of human memory, discovering how the memorization process occurs and the maximum capacity of information that we can store.

So, are these topics interesting?

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know.

References

Ask the Brains. (2010). Scientific American Mind, 21(2), 70–70. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanmind0510-7

Blackmore, S. (2018). Could the human mind ever run out of memory? Retrieved October 9, 2020, from BBC Science Focus Magazine website: https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/could-the-human-mind-ever-run-out-of-memory/

Moskowitz, C. (2008, April 28). Mind’s Limit Found: 4 Things at Once. Retrieved October 9, 2020, from livescience.com website: https://www.livescience.com/2493-mind-limit-4.html

 Kumfor,Sicong, F. (2015, June 2). Can Your Brain Really Be “Full”? Retrieved October 9, 2020, from Scientific American website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-your-brain-really-be-full/

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