Read the passage | Vision and Human Memories

The memory is then chopped up and scattered among the various cortices
Representational Image
Representational ImageFile

The formation of memories is quite complex, but the approach we have been discussing takes a shortcut by eavesdropping on the signals moving through the hippocampus, where the sensory impulses have already been processed. In The Matrix, however, an electrode is placed in the back of the head to upload memories directly into the brain. This assumes that one can decode the raw, unprocessed impulses coming in from the eyes, ears, skin, etc., that are moving up the spinal cord and brain stem and into the thalamus. This is much more elaborate and difficult than analyzing the processed messages circulating in the hippocampus.

To give you a sense of the sheer volume of unprocessed information that comes up the spinal cord into the thalamus, let’s consider just one aspect: vision, since many of our memories are encoded this way. There are roughly 130 million cells in the eye’s retina, called cones and rods; they process

and record 100 million bits of information from the landscape at any time.

This vast amount of data is then collected and sent down the optic nerve, which transports 9 million bits of information per second, and on to the thalamus. From there, the information reaches the occipital lobe, at the very back of the brain. This visual cortex, in turn, begins the arduous process of analyzing this mountain of data. The visual cortex consists of several patches at the back of the brain, each of which is designed for a specific task. They are labeled V1 to V8.

Remarkably, the area called V1 is like a screen; it actually creates a pattern on the back of your brain very similar in shape and form to the original image. This image bears a striking resemblance to the original, except that the very center of your eye, the fovea, occupies a much larger area in V1 (since the fovea has the highest concentration of neurons). The image cast on V1 is therefore not a perfect replica of the landscape but is distorted, with the central region of the image taking up most of the space.

Besides V1, other areas of the occipital lobe process different aspects of the image, including:

•  Stereo vision. These neurons compare the images coming in from each eye. This is done in area V2.

• Distance. These neurons calculate the distance to an object, using shadows and other information from both eyes. This is done in area V3.

• Colors are processed in area V4.

• Motion. Different circuits can pick out different classes of motion, including straight-line, spiral, and expanding motion. This is done in area V5.

More than thirty different neural circuits involved with vision have been identified, but there are probably many more.

From the occipital lobe, the information is sent to the prefrontal cortex, where you finally “see” the image and form your short-term memory. The information is then sent to the hippocampus, which processes it and stores it for up to twenty-four hours. The memory is then chopped up and scattered among the various cortices.

The point here is that vision, which we think happens effortlessly, requires billions of neurons firing in sequence, transmitting millions of bits of information per second.

And remember that we have signals from five sense organs, plus emotions associated with each image. All this information is processed by the hippocampus to create a simple memory of an image.

At present, no machine can match the sophistication of this process, so replicating it presents an enormous challenge for scientists who want to create an artificial hippocampus for the human brain.

Excerpt From: Michio Kaku. “The Future of the Mind.”

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