Human Storage - The Brain

  Mysticnas 08:15 09 Jan 2006

Hi all,

hope you are all well and enjoying a good start to the new year.

I'm sat work and just remembered a conversation I was having with my brother last night about hard-drive capacities, with them now going into the terabytes region...

Does anyone have any idea of how much storage space the average adult human brain has?

I mean with all the things stored in our brains over time, over our lives, they're never erased, just archived and after a while we forget they're there and how to access them, some links/pointers may have been corrupted etc... but at the end of the day all the memories are still there. All that input we've captured from birth using all our senses, sight, sound, touch etc...

And what with 70% of the average brain laying dormant? our storage capacities must be immense!

Johnny Nemonic springs to mind.

  SANTOS7 10:07 09 Jan 2006

"The human brain contains about 50 billion to 200 billion neurons
(nobody knows how many for sure), each of which interfaces with 1,000
to 100,000 other neurons through 100 trillion (10 14) to 10
quadrillion (10 16) synaptic junctions. Each synapse possesses a
variable firing threshold which is reduced as the neuron is repeatedly
activated. If we assume that the firing threshold at each synapse can
assume 256 distinguishable levels, and if we suppose that there are
20,000 shared synapses per neuron (10,000 per neuron), then the total
information storage capacity of the synapses in the cortex would be of
the order of 500 to 1,000 terabytes. (Of course, if the brain's
storage of information takes place at a molecular level, then I would
be afraid to hazard a guess regarding how many bytes can be stored in
the brain. One estimate has placed it at about 3.6 X 10 19 bytes.)"

  Chegs ®™ 10:08 09 Jan 2006

click here

Google provides. ;-))

  Forum Editor 12:43 09 Jan 2006

that's the problem - we have plenty of that. The problem is accessing the data that's stored. We have several levels of storage; some we can access at will, and others that seem only to be accessible in response to triggers.

I'm sure we're all familiar with that sensation of smelling something and suddenly being transported to a different place and/or time. We're often not sure of the details, but we know that the smell has dredged something up from deep inside one of the levels in our hard drive. Sounds do it too - particularly music. We hear a melody and it reminds us instantly of a person, a place, or an event - sometimes all three at the same time. These memories are all filed away in our brains, and although we may not be able (or want) to retrieve them at will, they're there, ready to be recalled when triggered.

This form of memory storage must be vast, and the brain seems to have a sophisticated system for tagging memories according to their relevance and importance. Some are discarded very rapidly as not at all important, which is why we don't remember the colours of the cars we saw on the way to work this morning. Pile into the back of one of those cars at a traffic light however, and you'll recall a lot more detail, and for longer. You'll eventually forget the fine detail, like the colours of cars involved, and you certainly wouldn't be able to recall the face of the other driver after a few months, but if you met that driver again six months or even a year later you would get that "I know that face" feeling.

It's all very fascinating, and the one thing we are sure of is that we aren't sure how our brains work. Probably we never will.

  Chegs ®™ 13:34 09 Jan 2006

"The problem is accessing the data that's stored."

I can't frequently remember my age but can remember facts and figures from magazines I read as a teenager 20+ yrs ago.I can't recognise a face from my time as a cabbie(even regular customers)yet went to a school reunion recently and recognised folks I hadn't seen since 79. ;-))

  DieSse 14:24 09 Jan 2006

The brain is far more than just storage. It's also a computer that controls many sophisticated peripherals, and has a kind of *fuzzy associative database retrieval* characteristics.

Of more philosophical interest perhaps is a more interesting question - *what is consciousness?* - or *what is mind?* if you prefer.

Unlike FE I'm confident that we will be able to understand the brain (one day) and even replicate (we may not want to precisely replicate it - maybe mimic would be a better term) and improve on it.

My personal feeling is that consciousness is an inevitable property of any sufficiently advanced computing/storage/retrieval mechanism. Only a feeling though - I could be wrong!

  DieSse 14:27 09 Jan 2006

*fuzzy associative database retrieval*

*fuzzy pattern recogition* is perhaps one of the top brain capabilities, and one that computers are not particularly good at yet.

  Forum Editor 14:39 09 Jan 2006

are very good at fuzzy pattern recognition (fuzzy logic), and there are already many research projects underway that utilize this ability.

Perhaps one of the better applications is 'smart cameras' which watch underground train platforms and can recognise a potentially dangerous situation developing - such as a person who walks too close to the edge as a train enters the station. The cameras can be linked to an alarm which warns the passenger/platform staff and the train driver at the same time.

  amonra 16:20 09 Jan 2006

What was the question again ? Both my brain cells were resting.

  DrScott 16:47 09 Jan 2006

... of a psychological debate me thinks! There's actually some controversy over whether the brain or mind is purely a processing and storage machine. One camp of experimental psychologists would argue that the brain is little more than a rather sophisticated machine, and have developed experiments to try and show this. However, another body of psychologists will argue that the brain is much more than a clever connection of neurones and point to some features of child development that seem to defy any obvious learning or programming. Language acquisition is one such area.

What is interesting about the brain is that it is prone to so many errors, particularly with respect to data retrieval, but spectacularly accurate when it comes to 'automatic functions' like breathing, something that is much more complicated than it looks.

Will a computer ever mimic this? I think we are more than some way off that currently!

  Pidder 18:38 09 Jan 2006

Does this come into it, I'm thinking of the suggestion that some "knowledge" or "thought" may come from one's ancestors (not sure of the technical term).

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