Mistaking memory for imagination

The brain is said to be the most complex thing ever observed in the universe.  There are differeing ways in which to represent this complexity one is simply through pure math.  The number of synapses is somewhere in the range of 1 x 10 to the power of 13 and 1 x 10 to the power of 15 with the 100 billion neurons.  In comparison there are 200 to 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, more than the number of neurons in one brain, but quite a bit smaller than the number of synapses.  In a more abstract sense, the human brain is capable of such a wide array of abilities, from science to art to sex and to war.  One of the hallmarks of what is considered to be exceptional brain power is that of memory (though this is often considered only one of many aspects of intelligence.)   Memory itself is not a single mechanism but rather what are generally regarded to be three mechanisms -  sensory, short term and long term.  Sensory relates directly to the senses, in that information is stored almost as an immediate perception of what occurred.  Short term refers to information which is more recent  (and more recent than most people give it credit for - several seconds to a minute.)  Short term memory also involves a maximum capacity of 7 +/- 2 items.  It is only with long term memory that we get into what we consider real memory.  This is memory that has to be rehearsed in some way.  This rehearsal is what it takes for a person with potential to become something like a lawyer or engineer or doctor.  With this in mind it is interesting that in the past year two separate story arcs in Marvel have dealt with the removal of memory and its replacement.  In one case in the story arc "Stark Resilient" Tony has rebooted his brain from a backup he had stored.  In another Loki is reborn and communicated with the spirit of his old self his reveals clues of his former identity.  Both involve the restoration of memory through some method based in this case either on science fiction or on fantasy.  Is such a re-creation actually possible though.  John Stuart Mill is considered by some to be the smartest man that ever lived, seeing as he was able to conceive of and write abstract political essays at a young age, but this ability to perceive a different living condition for people within the state was not a factor of his memory, or at least not in itself.  Empathy and creativity were also important factors, as was analysis, each of which is an aspect of intelligence that falls ouside the realm of memory.  The same can be said for any child geniuses, especially so for Beethoven, who could compose before he was 6.  Thus rebooting a brain would require more than simply a recollection of all that was thought in a person's lifetime, because even if such thoughts could be reintroduced they wouldn't have any real meaning or context (similar in this case to Eisenberg's uncertainty principle where you can know the location of a particle or its momentum, but not both.)  The rebooting of a brain then would require not just downloading memories but rather an an entire replication of the brain's structure, including giving the proper emotional weight to all the events which had occurred in a person's life (that is to say that there is some worth in nurture over nature as well - Tony Stark may be the smartest person alive, but he had to have the conditions for intelligence to develop.)  In this case therefore even though it is more fantastical and based on a kind of magic, the reboot of Loki's brain is actually more realistic, because it is a representation of his spirit which is communicating with him, filling in not so much his memory gaps, but the more important stuff, like who he was because of what he had done.  This is a rare case of a fantasy concept being more believable than a science based one. 

7 Comments