Our memories are what make us who we are

Written on: June 5, 2010

Or is it? I don’t even know yet. But let’s say someone with complete amnesia is no longer able to communicate with you the way they used to, simply because they can no longer remember who they even are. In that case, how is one able to be someone that they don’t even know?

But let’s say you are able to obtain the memory of another person – completely, and then make that part of you… would that really make you them in that case? I think the way our brain is constructed make us who we are. That is, the (seemingly) infinite possible number of ways these neural networks are connected enables us to respond to the stimuli from the environment in an infinite amount of ways – that is, the way we think, how we behave, the way we respond to others, etc. So let’s say if you are able to replicate this connection onto another brain, at least at the very baseline level, would this replication make you and someone with that other brain the same person?

Of course, there’s the whole plasticity part of the brain and that’s how learning takes place. But if we consider memory as the fixed entity (since remote memories are still intact years and decades after they’re consolidated), and learning as the non-fixed entity that allows for the modification and addition of new memories, then memories are like the final product and that learning is like the process to create this final product.

Through fMRI scans and other scans out there, we are able to tell that certain areas of the brain are activated during certain activities (e.g. somewhere up in the left frontal lobe for language) or that certain activities are impaired with the lack of certain areas (e.g. anterograde amnesia with the loss of the hippocampus). Basically, there is a consensus as to what brain areas and their connections are responsible for what. It seems as though the whole point of going to school to learn is to replicate these connections in children, with the ultimate goal of forming memories of past knowledge into the children’s brains. In that case, with the end result as having the same knowledge, wouldn’t it be much more efficient to find out what this connection is, and then somehow transfer all of it, in full, into the children’s brains, so that even more knowledge can be built from that point on, rather than wasting so many years to learn what others have already learned? Analogy would be like having two brand new computers. Rather than installing the OS and any further customizations in both, a much more efficient way is to do it in one, then backup the entire system, and then restore all of it to the other computer. So even with different physical components (e.g. HDD space, RAM, etc), both computers will now be identical in the sense that they are storing the exact same thing. They will still function differently from that point on, just as how the brain is plastic, but at least now they have the same foundation to start building upon, and so much time is sparred to try to make the computers the same. This is exactly what I did for two of my drives for duel booting – same foundation, but both are used for completely different things now.

So if the same is able to be done to humans, just imagine how much more time can be saved!! Humans already spend around 10 months in the uterus to ensure that we have the same functioning organs to live. Spending another couple of years that is less than 20 (because so much time is wasted to learn bs within the 14 years of education) to ensure the same basic functioning of the brain (including basic knowledge, and not bs) shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Environment will change, yes, but who ever said that environments do not change even in the uterus? Of course, that’s a looooong way from now if it were ever to happen. But if it really does work, then why not?

Anyway, I wasn’t even planning to write about this when I started writing, but rather, whether we are able to become someone else if we have all their memories and then make it our own. How we’ve learned to think, and then the way we think (the product) should be part of the memory. In that case, shouldn’t it make sense to say that two people with identical memories are actually the same person? And of course, I am referring to the replication of memories in full and in the broad sense, including motor memories, episodic, semantic, and other classifications of memories.

Sure plasticity still happens, but it also doesn’t seem likely that the neural connections would change too drastically from that point on if the environment is kept the same. But if they were to be different people, any deviations from that point on would make them different people. And if that is the case, wouldn’t that mean that the “self” is actually non-existent, and that everything thing about us, what we think we are, is actually just an illusion created by the neural connections, solely to ensure the survival of the physical entity, and nothing else? After all, through the course of evolution, everything is about survival. Evolution is bound to occur beyond homo sapiens, so I’m sure we are not special and unique in any way. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if that was the case.

Even with the same foundation in two individuals, all the memories collected from that point on should distinguish one individual from another. And if we still refer to each individual as each “self”, then I do think that our memories are the source component that makes us who we are. And learning is still the process that allows for the formation of our memories.

1. Cyborg She (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjjQFj0bdck)
2. Work – from our crazy philosophical talks when we slack off and from presentations by the scientists
3. Course – Neurobiological Basis of Learning and Memory
4. A dream I had back in grade 9 and my fail attempts to write a story from it

Published: August 13, 2011

One Response to Our memories are what make us who we are

  1. Pingback: Some old articles to start the site with | Mysteries of the Mind

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