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No. 133: JAN-FEB 2001

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New Proteins Rewrite Memories

A presumptuous article in the New York Times relates how scientists are trying to explain why two people who have viewed the same event recall it very differently years later. One theory goes like this.

It seems that every time an old memory is pulled into consciousness, the brain takes it apart, updates it and then makes new proteins in the process of putting the memory back into long-term storage. The fact that new proteins are made means that the memory has been transformed permanently to reflect each person's life experiences---not the memory itself.

(Blakesley, Sandra; "Brain-Updating Machinery May Explain False Memories," New York Times, September 19, 2000. Cr. D. Phelps)

Ruminations. This all sounds reasonable, but it assumes that memory is stored in a protein medium of some sort. It is hard to imagine how, say, the multiplication table, can be recorded on a protein "hard drive." Are the bits representing the multiplication table encoded in a line of proteins of different types or in their sequence or, perhaps, their three-dimensional configurations? Does anyone really know what our brain's hard drive looks like? Maybe memory is hologrammic.

And when a memory is pulled off the mind's hard drive, how is the information conveyed to the central processing unit, assuming there is one? Is it all done through nervous impulses, or are proteins transferred bodily. This computer analogy is probably incorrect. Nature is probably cleverer than PC makers!

The demonstrable fact is that human memory is malleable, and this seems anomalous in terms of the evolution paradigm. Wouldn't the survival of an organism be better served by permanent, accurate memories of past events?

From Science Frontiers #133, JAN-FEB 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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