Can we ever know anything

Memory: how our brain works

Thousands of experiences, books, numbers ... It's unbelievable what our brain can remember when it feels like it ...

"Mamma mia, are they all stupid?" Gianni Golfera was 14 when he first wondered about other people. Just imagine: there he meets friends with whom he played when he was three. And what do they say? That they couldn't remember it!

Did they want to kid him? Gianni sees the experiences as if they were yesterday. In general, the boy remembers everything: every TV show in his life and every conversation. Names, faces, and all the books he's ever read; even long numbers.

Sure, numbers are child's play: ten digits or 100 - Gianni takes a look and they stay in his head forever.

Moody like a diva

Gianni Golfera is 24 years old and famous in Italy for his phenomenal memory. Recently, doctors even examined him to find out why his memory device works like a computer. Because that is extremely rare.

Most people's memory is more moody, like a diva: some things like to remember. Others half. And when it doesn't feel like it, it kicks - uh! - just on strike! Surely you have already studied hard for a class test - and then you couldn't think of anything else at school.

What's going on in the brain?

How does our brain remember things? Scientists have found that it works in several steps. News from the eyes or ears are immediately sent to the "short-term memory". That's because it only stores information for a few seconds to minutes.

This is often enough: for example, to write down a sentence that your teacher has dictated to you. Or to remember the phone number of friends. Take a quick look at the number 3918137. 3-9-1-8-1-3-7. And now you repeat it with your eyes closed. That's not a problem, is it?

From short to long-term memory

After a few moments, words and numbers in short-term memory fade. But of course there are things that we have to remember for a longer time - just think of your name: If you forgot it every few minutes, it would be super embarrassing. Therefore, the information is now passed on to long-term memory.

Only the important things get stuck

Long-term memory can store words, pictures, smells or sounds for years. However, it has a very strict guardian: the limbic system in the center of our head. This area of ​​the brain scrutinizes every news. Is it important? Good or bad? Or at least funny? It then simply throws away a lot of messages. Others let it through, especially those you have strong feelings about.

"Liopleurodon" - It's really easy!

For example, if a tall student threatens you at school, you naturally tremble with fear. Your brain is concerned about fear. Therefore, it immediately sends the idiot's profile to long-term memory. Even with things that are fun, our upper room is ready for the Olympics: Dino fans can list dozens of ancient animals - even if they have complicated names like "Liopleurodon" or, groan: "Eustreptospondylus". They learned it without trying for a second!

That stays outside!

What doesn't interest us, however, is a tough chunk for our memory. The worst thing for many people is numbers. Do you remember the number you read three minutes ago? 3 ...? It's probably gone now, isn't it? Because she found your limbic system super barren.

And - STOP! You can not get in here! - has therefore refused to let them into long-term memory. This is why you find it so difficult to study at school when you find a subject boring.

We remember things for a long time

Researchers still do not know exactly how long-term memory works. One thing is certain: it is not just in one place in the brain. Rather, the limbic system sends the important messages to very different places in the cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex is the smartest part of our brain and is a bit like a jungle. It consists of billions of nerve cells that are interwoven. Thoughts rush through this jungle like electrical lightning: from one cell to the next. Time to the left, then to the right, in a sharp arc upwards ...

And every thought leaves its own trace in the brain - almost like an adventurer cutting his way through the jungle with a knife. The brain can find this trace again later. Then we remember names and pictures.

In top form through practice

With some geniuses like Gianni Golfera, this feat works perfectly. Most of us cannot remember everything that is on our mind. But - good to know - with a little practice you can at least make your memory fitter. Reading, writing or discussing, for example, is great training.

Exercise is also good because it increases blood flow to the brain. And research has shown that children who play musical instruments are better at remembering what others are saying.

Tired of watching TV

Certain things, on the other hand, make your memory as limp as pudding: Watching too much TV because you hardly have to think. Or some computer games. Because the memory is bombarded with thousands of pictures that it likes to take because they are fun. Fortunately, there are also computer games that even actively train the memory instead of making it tired.