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

It depends on the temperature of the water. In cold water, the bacterial action that causes a body to bloat with gas may be so slowed that the body stays on the seabed. The skin will absorb water...

Astronomers are pretty certain there are no moons orbiting moons in our Solar System. Although possible, it is likely that the gravitational tug of the parent planet would quickly destabilise the...

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...

You might think it would just be a question of learning to live without honey, but bees play an incredibly important role in agriculture as pollinators. Cereal crops are wind-pollinated but...

It depends on how high (or low) you set the bar of fluency. Ziad Fazah, born in Liberia, brought up in Beirut and now living in Brazil, claims to be the world's greatest living polyglot, with...

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...