Isn’t it weird that we can remember milestones that happened in our lives years ago yet we cannot remember what we had for breakfast just a week ago! Memory is actually amongst the most complex process of the brain. While most people refer to memory as something that we ordinarily possess the reality is that memory is not something that is physically present rather just a concept that refers to the process involved in storage and subsequent retrieval of information simply known as remembering. The ability of the human brain to store and retrieve information is extremely important for individuals to function. Imagine how we would function as humans if we were unable to remember the past, how can we even operate in the present? Without the memory, we would not only be unable to learn but also fail in processing vast amounts of information. Indeed memories underlie so much of our lives, including the ability to recognize each other.
In recent years, researchers have been able to establish that memories are stored in multiple brain structures through neurons and molecules. Probably, the brain has billions of neurons that each typically connects to thousands of other neurons. Nonetheless, the memory process has a series of steps that is initialized by the encoding of information. Encoding starts with a perception which travels to the part of the brain known as the hippocampus. Generally, information flows through networks of the brain and neural circuits that result in strong or weak responses (synapses). The strengthening and weakening of the synapses is how the brain stores information. The mechanism behind memory storage is known as the “long-term potentiation” or “LTP”. Neuroscientists highlight that the frontal cortex along with the hippocampus is responsible for analyzing sensory inputs and deciding whether such information should be stored in the short or the long-term memory. However, most scientists believe that memories are held temporarily in the hippocampus after which they are recorded and disseminated throughout the brain through a process known as memory consolidation that typically occurs during sleep. Generally, short-term memory has a limited capacity only capable of holding information for just 20 to 30 seconds at a specific time. After processing the information can either be dispersed or transferred into the long-term memory.
The precise manner in which long-term memories are represented and structured across multiple synapses is still mysterious. Long-term memories such as behavioral skills are evenly stored throughout the brain using a distributed representation that is highly efficient and redundant. Behavioral skill memories, as well as factual knowledge, are stored in the unconscious and conscious memory. The unconscious memory is responsible for forming the memory that we are unaware such as how to ride a bike. Unconscious memory is often had to acquire and more resistant to change. On the other hand, the conscious memory stores factual information such as names and dates. Such information is acquired swiftly and also swiftly lost. So then how do we retrieve these memories? Most often when we fail to retrieve the information it is because the information was not encoded in the short and long-term memory. Nevertheless, if we are able to first the memory has to be transferred from the unconscious level of memory storage, then to the conscious level. For instance, if you have been given a list of numbers to remember, then you are asked to retrieve the second on the list, your memory would go through the list as it perceived it then retrieve it. In essence, Studies on the memory are still in infancy, little is known about how the memory works at the molecular level, for example, how do the neurons go about coding these messages?