My Body, the Avatar
July 18, 2012 5 Comments
Have you ever wondered how much information the human brain can store? A little analysis reveals some interesting data points…
The human brain contains an estimated 100 trillion synapses. There doesn’t appear to be a finer level of structure to the neural cells, so this represents the maximum number of memory elements that a brain can hold. Assume for a moment that each synapse can hold a single bit; then the brain’s capacity would be 100 trillion bits, or about 12.5 terabytes. There may be some argument that there is actually a distribution of brain function, or redundancy of data storage, which would reduce the memory capacity of the brain. On the other hand, one might argue that synapses may not be binary and hence could hold somewhat more information. So it seems that 12.5 TB is a fairly good and conservative estimate.
It has also been estimated (see “On the Information Processing Capabilities of the Brain: Shifting the Paradigm” by Simon Berkovich) that, in a human lifetime, the brain processes 3 million times that much data. This all makes sense if we assume that most (99.99997%) of our memory data is discarded over time, due to lack of need.
But then, how would we explain the exceptional capabilities of autistic savants, or people with hyperthymesia, or eidetic memory (total recall). It would have to be such that the memories that these individuals retrieve can not all be stored in the brain at the same time. In other words, memories, or the record of our experiences, are not solely stored in the brain. Some may be, such as those most recently used, or frequently needed.
Those who are trained in Computer Science will recognize the similarities between these characteristics and the idea of a cache memory, a high speed storage device that stores the most recently used, or frequently needed, data for quick access.
As cardiologist and science researcher Pim van Lommel said, “the computer does not produce the Internet any more than the brain produces consciousness.”
Why is this so hard to believe?
After all, there is no real proof that all memories are stored in the brain. There is only research that shows that some memories are stored in the brain and can be triggered by electrically stimulating certain portions of the cerebral cortex. By the argument above, I would say that experimental evidence and logic is on the side of non-local memory storage.
In a similar manner, while there is zero evidence that consciousness is an artifact of brain function, Dr. van Lommel has shown that there is extremely strong evidence that consciousness is not a result of brain activity. It is enabled by the brain, but not seated there.
These two arguments – the non-local seat of consciousness and the non-local seat of memories are congruent and therefore all the more compelling for the case that our bodies are simply avatars.