By David Anderson
What a four-legged unstressed mouse and a two-legged human on marijuana have to do with memory loss.
“The human brain has roughly 100 billion neurons (basic building blocks of the nervous system) and can store about 2.5 petabytes of information.”
So why can’t we remember where we put the car keys, kids, (fill in the blank)?
When the first of our three daughters was at the time recently born and I, the father was, supposedly, in charge, I paid for my purchase and had just about entered the main shopping mall thoroughfare when a voice behind me said “Sir? You forgot something.” Back on the counter at the cash register, still sleeping in the portion of the car seat that’s removable for carrying babies about while shopping with their recently acquired dads, was our newborn.
Not to be outdone, my wife had this same poor child in a baby buggy on another occasion – also wrapping up a shopping trip – and had just pushed the again sleeping infant into the unoccupied elevator of the several-floor parking garage and had turned to pick up our purchases when the door closed behind her. Frantic, she pushed buttons – how many she doesn’t recall – and finally the door opened but the baby was gone, buggy too.
Where I was at the time I don’t remember but upon rejoining my approaching-hysterical wife we considered our options finally deciding that what goes up must come down – unless of course our infant daughter decided to exit at one of the other several floors – so we took the elevator down to street level. Sure enough, as the doors opened, there was the little runaway, still sleeping, surrounded by a crowd of people.
Sheepishly, knowing any explanation probably wouldn’t suffice, I simply said, “Ours,” took hold of the buggy handle, retreating into the elevator hoping the doors would close sooner than later hiding the dumbfounded and wordless expressions of the ‘how-could-you-be-so-
So how can we be so forgetful when we’ve got 2.5 petabytes to work with?
For comparison purposes, “as of April 2009, Facebook users had uploaded over 15 billion photos. For each uploaded photo, Facebook generates and stores four images of different sizes, which translates to a total of 60 billion images.”
Total petabytes? Slightly more than half as many as our brain. Images of babies for example. Locatable and retrievable babies.
Or dinosaurs. One of my favorite pictures posted by someone on Facebook depicts two of the creatures standing atop what remains that can be seen of a mountain as Noah’s Ark floats by. Says one anthropomorphic dinosaur to the other, “Dang! Was that today?”
Dinosaurs can be forgiven for not keeping track of important dates on their calendars since according to something I read somewhere – I forget now – their small brains with fewer neurons would have accounted for their disappearance from the planet even if they’d not missed the boat. Cursed with a structurally underdeveloped nervous system, by the time their little brain in their big body registered that they were being eaten from their tail forward – it was too late.
But us? There’s hope.
“Researchers have known for decades that memories are unreliable,” writes Virginia Hughes in a recent edition of Popular Science. Studies of students at the University of Washington were conducted to prove that thesis.
Both my wife and I attended the UW, in fact we met there, but I don’t think it was us that precipitated these tests.
Besides, much more of the focus has been upon mice not men.
For example “researchers strapped mice to a wooden board for two hours—a stressful experience that later gave them a heightened sense of fear. But mice given SR-8993 (a chemical compound that acts upon brain receptors) before or after the stressful incident were less likely to end up this way.”
A four-legged unstressed mouse on drugs sounds like a two-legged human on marijuanawhere the latter’s experimentation has produced impaired motor skills, slowed reaction time, and mind-altered short-term memory loss.
Good news though in that last instance.
The Popular Science article suggests that thanks to the “handful of studies (that have been done on mice) we’re on the verge of erasing and even rewriting memories” for men.
Thus the 1.7 million in Washington who voted to legalize pot will be able to find what it was they were looking for.