Is This the Most Interesting Idea in All of Science?

Source: Substack.

The word engram refers to “a presumed encoding in neural tissue that provides a physical basis for the persistence of memory.”

Neuroscientists presume that engrams exist in the same way that biologists once presumed that a feature of living cells contained the mechanism of inheritance. Since we know that memories are persistent, there must be a molecule or substance that records and stores them. That would be the engram, but we haven’t found it yet.

Current theories about the engram assume that all the information the brain stores is input by the senses. Thus, the memory of an apple is a collection of sight, smell, taste, touch and sound data that becomes recorded in the tissue of the brain somehow. Some experiments, however, have shown that the mysterious engram stores simple data that the senses do not transmit — specifically, time intervals (such as the interval between a stimulus and a response). This implies that the engram has a numerical functionality. It can store and process numbers in some raw form we don’t understand and cannot explain.

This simple observation, however, may be useful in our effort to discover the engram itself. Given the biological material that exists in the cell, how could a numerical storage device be constructed? If we can imagine the design, we can begin to look for the thing.

8 thoughts on “Is This the Most Interesting Idea in All of Science?

  1. Interesting article. Thanks.

    The author points out that “Most [scientists] would think it’s about the craziest, stupidest, and most implausible idea they ever heard suggested.” The only way to change that is with evidence not to mention a testable theory of how these data storing molecules are encoded and decoded.

    Still interesting and the article focuses attention on the fact that nobody actually knows much about how the brain actually works in lots of areas such as memory or, for that matter, consciousness.

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    1. RE: “The author points out that ‘Most [scientists] would think it’s about the craziest, stupidest, and most implausible idea they ever heard suggested.'”

      What “it” are you referring to? The engram postulate is widely accepted. There’s even a Wikipedia page about it.

      The issue the article raises is that contemporary neuroscientists ignore the ferret test, plus 50 years of other evidence that challenges their assumptions.

      Most interesting is the convergence between information theory and neuroscience that the ferret test makes unavoidable. That same convergence became apparent with DNA only after the structure of the DNA molecule was established.

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      1. Misc.
        It may be a mistake to think of memory as one ability. Possibly it was evolved several times; compare the way people say that the gut is another brain. Similarly, memory might now exist as several interconnected components.

        Seems to me that any organism, no matter how primitive, would benefit from memory so I immediately wonder, well, what was the first organism to have memory? Does paramecium have memory? And then you could figure that its memory must be an extremely simple biochemical mechanism that very well might be easy to find and study.

        Also I wonder about the faculty that creates dreams. Is it different from the faculty that creates memory? Can that faculty be located? And if you have a dream and remember it the next day, is that two things or one thing?

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