Tool Module: Human Memory versus Computer Memory

In some ways, human memory and computer memory are similar. For example, some general characteristics of human short-term memory resemble those of a computerís random access memory (RAM). As discussed elsewhere on this site, human short-term memory is volatile and has a limited capacity. Computer RAM has essentially the same characteristics. Your computer often does not have enough memory to run certain programs, and when you turn it off, bye-bye data!

Your long-term memory is something like a computerís hard drive. Both of them take longer to respond, but can store a considerable quantity of data.

But this latter analogy falls apart when you compare the ways that a computer and your own brain store information. Once pieces of information are recorded on a computerís hard drive, they will not change one bit over the years. But your own memories are totally different. Over the years, they will be continuously altered and reconstructed in response to changes in your moods or fleeting states of mind.

Another difference is that on a hard drive, each piece of information is saved in a specific location, even though some files may be fragmented into several parts when they are first stored. In contrast, although any one of your memories certainly involves the activity of specific neurons, you can retrieve it by activating just a portion of the network of neurons where it was encoded. Likewise, any given neuron can help to encode many different memories by participating in many different neural networks.

 Linked Module: The Brain vs. The ComputerLinked Module: BRAINS vs. COMPUTERSHistory Module: The History of Information Technologies


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