Having briefly noted something about how memory works, we also know that we possess basic memory types. We have for example a sensory and a motor memory. Not infrequently, we are reminded of an event by a smell or a sound or by touch, just in the same way as we learn motor movements, as when we drive a car or estimate the speed and velocity of a projectile, or play the piano. (The latter does also provide a splendid example of how sensory, i.e. touch and sound and motor i.e. finger/wrist, pedal movement contribute and combine).
Yet another type of memory accounts for our ability to manage, articulate and transpose languages, i.e. verbal memory. Devoid of verbal communication, many key aspects of relationship, of managing our affairs and indeed our lives in general, would be quite impossible. Indeed, it is via our ability to use and manipulate language that we best witness the circular process that in reality exists between learning and memory. Learning from various sources – be they verbal, oral, symbolic etc. and once having attained a certain level of perception and understanding – is stored and continues thereafter to influence and effect future learning.
This means whereby memories are encoded, entails a process referred to as Long Term Potentiation (LTP). Briefly, every detail that we experience of daily life is accounted for by a process of neuronal firing across a synapse.* This means whereby some firing patterns are strengthened and others weakened, is what accounts for the initial memory being experienced. Such patterns will either disappear or be strengthened and made more permanent by LTP. Repeated firing not only strengthens one neuron’s bond with another but actively recruits others to join the cause. As by this means the chain of neuron’s is strengthened by interest, motivation and bonded, it becomes increasingly stronger until, at length, an entire network encodes the account – be it verbal, visual or combinations of these and more – into memory.
Of course, all of the above provides us with no more than a cursory glance at what memory and remembering entails. Indeed, this brief review of memory function and of memory types will have barely skimmed the surface for any wishing to explore memory and the process of remembering in depth. Nor has any such task been the purpose here. Rather is it – together with what we shall consider in my next letter concerning our ability to communicate in a variety of ways, but especially verbally and beyond that, on human perception – a laying of the foundations of what is actually entailed in any acceptable definition of mind. (C) SB.
*The minute gap across which nerve impulses pass from one neurone to the next at the end of a nerve fibre.