Memory is a Central Feature of Minds
Memory is a central feature of minds. Memories are elements used in the
construction of maps and schemas, models of what is going on out there. These
schemas are incorporated into realtime processors that track events as they
happen. They allow us to recognize things and events, make decision such as safe
or not safe, and match needs with opportunities for gratification. Information
coming in from sense organs is encoded into patterns of electrochemical activity
in the brain. The brain monitors events in real-time and a selected sample of
events are stored briefly in a working or short-term memory. This memory
capability gives humans a flow of consciousness and provides a sense of
continuity between previous and current experiences. Some of the events
registered in short-term. working memory are transferred to intermediate storage
with the option of inclusion in long-term memory. If the record of an experience
is reinforced by repetition, a permanent or long-tem memory (LTM) may be
established. Even well-learned implicit memory will fade unless reinforced by
recall exercises and repeated practice. Advanced skills require daily practice
to maintain a high level of performance.
Innate patterns within the mind are the deepest form of memory that is
transmitted by DNA and built into the structure of the brain. Phylogenic memory
is procedural, the form of the mind. Individual experience is the content that
is added to and modifies the underlying form. A reasonable memory model would
distribute the long term storage of acquired memory in different regions of the
In the evaluation of intelligence, we have recognized that there are
underlying general functions that determine how smart a person is. Intelligence
is based on memory and, in a functional sense, intelligence can be appreciated
as a collection of abilities that lead to successful interactions with the
world. The term “cognition” can be roughly translated as thinking and knowing
and the neocortex can be considered the ultimate processor of cognition. Every
student of psychology knows that specialized regions of the neocortex handle
different sensory or input modalities. Phillips and Singer suggested: "Cognitive
sub-systems are distinguished from each other just in terms of the information
on which they operate, but it is also likely that some cognitive functions
require special information processing capabilities. These include: episodic
memory and working memory; intentional representation, i.e. processes that
distinguish between representation and referent; and the creative aspects of
language and long-range strategic planning…in contrast to skills, episodic
memories cannot be acquired in the absence of the hippocampus, and may require
special computational capabilities.”
The flow of information through a human brain is prodigious and memory is
selective. We could not possibly remember everything. Selective retention of the
most relevant information and frequent editing and pruning of LTM is the secret
to sanity and cognitive success. We rely on external devices that expand our
ability to store and access information. Increasingly, we store information in
photographic images, books, newspapers, journals, paper files, microfilm, tapes,
CDs computer hard drives and other storage devices. The most compact and
versatile information is stored digitally in random access format on hard drives
and CDs. This information can be accessed by humans with computers and other
devices and is distributed worldwide on the internet. Human memory storage in
the brain is limited so that access to externally stored and easily accessed
information is a powerful addition to our cognitive abilities.
Four levels of human memory function can be identified during the course of a
lifetime. Peak performance is reached early and may be preserved during
senescence by rare individuals. Most humans' suffer from memory decline and are
considered age-appropriate if their performance remains within the range of
same-age peers. In the USA, the average performance for 30-year-olds on the
Wechsler Memory Scale is 31; and the "normal" average performance for
70-year-olds is 15. Some aging humans decline more than their same-age peers
without experiencing a major disruption of daily living activities and can be
described as senescent with a mild cognitive impairment. Others deteriorate more
severely and memory impairment interferes with daily living activities.
Phillips, W.A. & Singer, W. (1997). In search of common foundations for
cortical computation. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20 (4): 657-722 .
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