How our brain remembers?

Amal Chatterjee
10 min readJun 6, 2023

Source: Google photo of brain

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Synopsis: We all retain some memories in our brain that we can recall later but we do not understand how the brain works and how it embeds the memories in vivid colors and in detail. The blog looks at this ability in people but states that this ability to remember and recall varies from people to people.

It is interesting that some memories we have are so embedded in our brain that we can recall them instantly in 3 D and in color in great detail while other memories are shoved into the waste bin where they are either deleted or fade away into nothing. This selective memory of our brain is the subject of this blog today.

I have always wondered how our brain remembers anything. I am not a brain specialist, but I know that they too have not been able to sort out all the mysteries of the brain although I must admit that some progress has been made in the last century toward a better understanding of the human brain. They have dissected the brain of Einstein to understand how he was such a genius and how extraordinary his brain was. They should have studied the brains of Tesla or Leonardo da Vinci to learn why they were so extraordinary.

I am probably just an average person but even I could tell you what I was wearing on my first birthday and sitting on an Ekka which is a horse drawn carriage because I remembered. My Ma was bringing me to a Kali temple for the traditional temple blessing, so she was incredulous when I told her one day about it. She said that it is not possible for a one-year child to remember anything but this ability to remember varies from child to child. Ma even confirmed what I told her about my clothes and the scented flower garland I was wearing. Some children say that they remember who they were in their past life and give details, but I will not go so far so I will stick to the present issue of the power of our brain to remember.

We now live in the age of cell phones with camera, Internet and Skype but not too long ago it was just a dream to have such technology in our hands. Now everyone has a cell phone of some kind that can take very sharp photos in color and send it to anyone anywhere in the world, thanks to the Internet and free transmission.

Now you do not have to take a photo with your camera, wait until the reel in your camera is full, then take it out to a shop where they develop the film and make prints thanks to the new technology that is free and does not require printing although it can be sent by e mail and printed anywhere in the world. We have now arrived in the digital world but most people only have a very vague idea about it.

This digital technology in the hands of common people has led to the abuse of the technology when people take thousands of photos to paste them in their social media daily just because they can do it. It does not matter to people what they take photos of like what they are eating, what they wear, where they are at the moment, numerous selfies of their ugly faces and their ugly children because their focus is not on taking quality photos on subjects of great public interest or of relevant issues but on their own self-gratification. The kids learn it from the adults and imitate but do not develop their own ability of discernment.

The era of SLR cameras and the artistic photography it allowed you to master is over now and my fancy Nikon and long lenses are collecting dust because it is the age of digital photography that does not need any knowledge of light and f stops, the aperture and the focus. It has made photography so easy that even a child can press a button to take photos. The digital age has replaced the art of taking photos with something absurd that has become meaningless because the ease of taking photos has diminished the art of photography to a mere push button phenomenon that encourages visual pollution everywhere.

When I was young, very few people had a camera. There were the old-fashioned cameras like a box with a crank and two lenses and used a 3-inch wide black and white film that could take a reasonable photo depending on the skill of the cameraman. The negative was big so it could be easily enlarged into a bigger photo if you so desired. Our very few childhood photos were taken by someone who had such a camera and who gave us the prints later. We could not take our own photos like they can do now.

Then there were the professional photographers who had big cameras on tripod and came to take our graduation photos in college or on other occasions. They were the real artists who took very sharp photos on big negatives that could be enlarged at will to take a permanent and sharp record of our classmates in the graduation photos. They charged a minimal fee for their services but now they too use digital cameras that look like SLR but are in reality very complicated things.

In our time, the memories were kept alive through the black and white small photos of 4 inch by 4-inch size if we were lucky and if someone, we knew had a camera. Mostly we recorded what we saw in our brain and kept it languishing there because there was no way we could tell our brain to print it.

What is amazing is the fact that even after 70 years, some memories remain so sharp that we can close our eyes and remember the day, the subject and even the clothes we wore while other memories have faded and even disappeared altogether because the brain keeps what we wish to keep there and disregards the rest although the human brain has infinite capacity of storage of data for a long period. This ability to remember varies from one person to the next so some people with high IQ can develop photographic memory while others remain retards. Some become renowned scientists while others cannot add two plus two.

We all know that our brain is a very complicated part of our body that the scientists are still struggling to understand how it works, how it embeds photos and data, how it instantly recalls and why and how it deletes some memories that we do not wish to keep and want to forget. We also know that our brain slowly develops into what we as adults have so it is a long process of developing neuron connections that speed up as we grow from our childhood into adulthood and at a certain age may reach its peak.

But there is a caveat that says that the development of the brain depends upon the environment in which the child grows up and what kind of knowledge he or she gains while doing so from the people around him or her. The illiterate parents who are religious fanatics to boot only try to make copies of themselves so the child does not get the opportunity to learn other things that may help his thinking process and develop his brain.

Remember the morons of McNamara in Vietnam? They were so retarded that they often shot each other because they were so scared of the Charlie and thought that there was a fellow called Charlie who was the source of their troubles. These boys of very limited ability to understand anything in life were recruited by the US army to fight a war in Vietnam but they did not understand why they were fighting. I have seen them myself when I was a volunteer agronomist in Vietnam.

Our brain is capable of great thinking, new ideas, new ways of doing things and great scientific ideas to bring about great changes in our societies. The great scientists, great mathematicians, great social reformers and great artists and writers have one thing in common. Their try to use their brain power to its maximum ability. They do it by increasing their capacity to remember what they learn that allows them to take it to the next level.

So far, I have written about the ability of our brain to remember things in a positive way but now I want to share with you what some people use their brain for to create trouble for others. They are called the evil people who are smart enough to think of new ways to cheat people, to empty their bank accounts, to dupe simple folks into signing up for fraudulent schemes and think of new ways to harm the country and its economy. They use their brains not for doing good for the society but are bad people who thrive in their criminal world. Eventually they get caught and end up paying for their criminality but the threat of the punishment if caught does not deter them while they are free.

I cannot continue to dwell on the negative part of the paragraph above so I will come back to the positive part our brain can help us in life by remembering good things we saw and experienced while growing up. I know that I gained a lot of knowledge and experience by remembering good things and especially good people who became my mentors and helped me in numerous ways.

It started in my grade school where our teacher wrote on the blackboard the multiplication table that we as children of grade one had to memorize. We could recall instantly the multiplication table up to 20 meaning we knew what was 17 times 3 or 9 times 6. It developed our ability to do mental math later although rote is discouraged in some countries that I will not write about here. This memory has stayed with me even in my present age that still comes in handy.

Another thing we as children learned is the weight, volume and distance so we learned how much was one liter, how much was one kilo and what was one centimeter or one inch. Later we learned how many kilos made a quintal or a ton, how many yards made a mile and how many meters made a kilometer. Later we learned how many square meters made a hectare and how much was a meter.

In our 6 th grade we learned how to calculate interest on a given sum and numerous other things that our growing brain tried to remember. We remembered the colored or black and white photos of our national heroes and memorized the patriotic songs we were required to sing during the assembly before the start of our class every day. I still remember some of them if not all.

But what I still cherish in my memory is the time when I as a small child listened to my mother telling me bedtime stories before the sleep came or the scene when I sat next to my mother making balls of colored threads for her that she used to make beautiful and very colorful cross stitch carpets or something. I helped her in grinding salt or turmeric in our heavy stone grinder as a child. Together we rotated the grinder handle while she poured broken pieces of salt or turmeric into the hole because the stone was heavy for me alone.

I remember grating the green mangoes for her to make pickles and I still remember the pain when the sharp grater took a part of my skin as well, but I continued until the job she had given me was completed.

These are recorded in my memory in a vivid way that time has been unable to delete. I think my brain retained these pictures because I wanted it to retain. These were pleasant memories. I also had some unpleasant memories that thankfully has been nearly forgotten and some have disappeared completely.

I have forgotten the name of my counterpart in Sudan because he was not my friend and in fact was a very unpleasant person who was incompetent in his job. I have forgotten the name of the arrogant American woman who used to work as UN volunteer in Khartoum. But the sweet memories are still there. ( Read my blog called Forgetting is a blessing here )

I remember the statue of Venus with a broken arm in Louvre and I remember the painting of Mona Lisa there that I looked at for some time but I have forgotten the exhibits in the Air and Space museum in Washington, D. C. So, the memory is selective in choosing what to remember and what to discard.

I remember the beautiful face of my French teacher in Washington, D. C. but now I may not recognize her if we ever meet because she is as old as I and probably looks very different now. The brain remembers good and beautiful people, art and paintings but mostly it remembers good people who had helped me in many ways although they are probably dead. (Read my blog here called Selective memory )

Your good memories will die with you unless you share it with someone who might appreciate such memories. We all have memories embedded in our brain, some good and others not so good so be cheerful with good memories and forget the bad ones. The brain will get the message you send to it and will act accordingly. Just do not try to understand how the brain works to retain the memory because it will make you crazy.

Note: My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese languages at the following links as well as my biography. My blogs can be shared by anyone anytime in any social media.

Mes blogs en français. Mis blogs en espagnol Blogs von Anil in Deutsch Blogs in Japanese My blogs at Wix site tumblr posts Blogger.com Medium.com Anil’s biography in English. Biographie d’Anil en français La biografía de anil en español. Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch Anil’s biography in Japanese Биография Анила по-русскиu

Originally published at http://aumolc.wordpress.com on June 6, 2023.

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Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.