Memory is like a “blender left running with the lid off.”
August 10, 2009
Most people believe that the brain is a lot like a recording device—that learning is something akin to pushing the “record” button (and remembering is simply pushing “playback”). Wrong. In the real world of the brain. . .nothing could be further from the truth. The moment of learning, of encoding, is so mysterious and complex that we have no metaphor to describe what happens to our brains in those first fleeting seconds.
The little we do know suggests it is like a blender left running with the lid off. The information is literally sliced into discrete pieces as it enters the brain and is splattered all over the insides of our mind. Stated formally, signals from different sensory sources are registered in separate brain areas. The information is fragmented and redistributed the instant the information is encountered. If you look at a complex picture, for example, your brain immediately extracts the diagonal lines from the vertical lines and stores them in separate areas. Same with color. If the picture is moving, the fact of its motion will be extracted and stored in a place separate than if the picture were static.