Friday, January 12, 2007

Memory

The other day I was reading all my news blogs when all of a sudden I came upon this story about a woman who doesn't forget things. You can read it here.

Stories like this always catch my attention because of how often anomalies like this occur with autism (if you are a new reader welcome! I have a son with autism, I play poker and hate housework!). Many people with autism also struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, bi-polar disorder and anxiety. As you may have read, there are some amazing autistic savants who can tell you what day of the week July 3, 2035 will fall on (without Google) or tell you what the Times headline was for any day for the last 100 years. Savants make up a tiny minority of the autistic population, and are usually very debilitated by their condition.

So this lady knows that Elvis died on August 16, 1977. But she also knows that the next day the stock market dipped 10 points. She can rattle off trivia that you didn't even know was trivial! The difference in this woman is that, besides a mild case of OCD, she is a well ajusted member of society. She is married with kids and has a steady job. She can drive and cook and do all the things any other mom does - except forget.

So

I told fhwrdh about this lady and we had an "isn't that amazing" moment, when I suddenly realized something about the article that stuck in my head. The neurologist who was stumped by her condition explained that she was "wired differently". I wondered aloud to my husband if the doctor really thought that the brain was that much like a computer. He replied that yes the brain is a lot like a computer with storage and data retrieval and electricity. So I got to wondering: do memories take up space? Do they have mass and weight and a size?

I put forth the theory that memories don't take up space - that maybe they are chemical mixtures and each subtle change changes what you remember. Fh countered that the formula would take up space. You guys are smart, what do you think?

4 comments:

B said...

As your official scientist friend, I must inform you that your vowel-deprived husband is correct.

About 5 years ago, there was an MRI study of NY cabby's brains vs average brains. The cab drivers were found to have, on average, larger brains in the area were memory was stored (the hippocampus). Why? Because in order to survive, a NY cabby has to know the streets of NYC like a monkey knows his way to the banana tree. If you haven't been to NYC lately, they have a lot of streets.

There are other explanations for this result. Perhaps listening to Howard Stern while sitting in exhaust fumes all day makes your brain swell.

I'll let you decide.

Biggestron (http://biggestron.com)

Bill Rini said...

If you really thought us smart you would know that we would never disagree with you. :-)

Deborah said...

Thinking is fun.

Karol said...

Douglas Coupland said that, after a certain point, memory is like water into an overflowing cup. Some will make, some just won't. I believe it.

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