The human brain is so complex that it is made up of several different areas, each having their own function. All of these areas can work together at one time, or separately. It is almost like a family tree, where there are main branches and offshoots of those branches. The offshoots have more subsections. For instance: somewhere in long-term memory musical memory is stored – although scientists are not certain whether it is part of the long-term memory or has it’s own individual subset.

As illustrated from the diagram, the brain is more than simply remembering. It is wired so that all the neuro-connectors run throughout the body – from head to toes. We may start out with millions of connectors, but as we grow older the weaker links are weeded out, and new connections are being made.

Connections that are damaged, from head injuries, illness, or “pruning” (where they are weeded out naturally) can often find a new way to make another connection. If these new connections are weak, or a connection cannot be made, memory will begin to fade.

The memory portions of our brain are divided into three main categories (again, musical memory may be another category, but that has not be ascertained yet).

  • Sensory memory
  • Short-term memory
  • Long-Term Memory

Sensory memory records what you have experienced through your senses – touch, taste, hearing, smell and sight. These memories are short-takes – where the brain acknowledges that you experience something through one or more of your senses, and then pass the sensation on to your short-term memory.  For example: you touch the doorknob and it is cold. This information is acknowledged and passed on to short-term memory.

Short-term memory receives a signal from your sensory memory and unscrambles it in order to decide whether it should be held on to and passed on to the long-term memory, or discarded. Memories in short-term holding can stay there anywhere from a few seconds to a day or two. Short-term memory is also referred to as “working memory, although it does perform a function other than processing information. Working memory is needed to perform complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning.

Long-term memory is what your short-term memory has deemed appropriate to keep for future reference. Your memories are stored in files within your memory so you can retrieve them when you want to. Long-term memory is divided into to main sections – conscious (or explicit) memory, and unconscious (implicit) memory. From there it is further broken down into sections. The implicit memory is where we store our normal and routine tasks. The explicit memory is broken down into subcategories: where we store facts and events (declarative memory), events and experiences (episodic memory), and facts and concepts (semantic memory). For example: recalling the name of your high school chemistry teacher uses episodic memory; the dates for the War of 1812 utilizes semantic memory; recalling how to ride a bike draws on procedural memory; and when you hear the musical score to Hair you are using your musical memory.

As a memory expert I am constantly amazed at the new information that is being found out about memory. Scientists may never be able to understand the workings completely as they continue to open new areas to explore.

From the desk of Ron White




Sources: – How Complex Is Memory?

The MIT Press – Lifespan Development of Human Memory: