Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Human brain could be storing & retrieving information as 'related blocks'


Update (14-12-08):- A sequel to this post can be read here (Human brain's information retrieval system is imperfect (apparently))

The purpose of this post is to merely document my observation, without drawing any concrete conclusion, because I believe I'm way too amateur in the field of neuroscience to be able to draw one. An expert or a researcher, however, should be able to gain useful insights from this observation.

I watched Face/Off sometime in late 2006. A few days back, I was trying to recall the name of the institute shown in the movie, where the act was performed. Although, I remembered the feel of that name (i.e. that its length was small- something like 4-7 letters, and that it had a single syllable), I wasn't able to recollect the exact word. Finally, I fired up the movie and jumped to the scene where the institute was about to be shown. Below is the screenshot of that scene

This is when the interesting thing happened. Although it's clearly visible in the above screenshot that the name of the institute has not been shown yet, it immediately struck me that the name was "Walsh Institute".

Is this merely a coincidence? I don't think so.

This is not the first time that such a thing has happened to me. Safely assuming that the brain lurking inside my head is a normally functioning standard human brain, this event allows me to suggest that it's possible that human brain stores information in the form of blocks or groups (or compartments), with each block/group storing information that is connected/related in some way to rest of the information in that particular block/group, but not to information held in a different block/group. For those familiar with computer science, this means that the data structure possibly in use is something like a block/group, wherein each block/group holds all (or at least most of) information related to a particular entity (where an entity could be an event or an object), so that some kind of transfer of control (of the information retrieval system of human brain) to a particular block/group (which holds information about an entity) is essential to be able to recall information about that entity.

What could possibly have happened in my case is that when I saw the above scene of the movie, control got transferred to that block of my brain where information related to Face/Off was stored (something which we refer to in our daily life as "my concentration/focus shifted from the work I was doing to the movie"). This caused my brain's information-retrieval system to be able to retrieve this information immediately, something it wasn't able to do earlier because earlier (and normally as well) the control would focus on that block/group of information that was related to the task I would be doing at any particular moment. Control would transfer only momentarily to the block/group related to Face/Off (because my core focus would be on the work that I would be doing at that time), and in that short duration, the information retrieval system wouldn't be able to dig deep into the Face/Off block/group to be able to extract intricate data. Firing up the movie possibly caused a forced shift of control (i.e. the control now shifted continuously to the block/group related to Face/Off, so that now any other block/group would be given momentary attention, while this Face/Off block would be given continuous attention), and hence easy & immediate retrieval of intricate information happened.

I had paused the movie at the above screenshot, and when later I played it back further, the name indeed was Walsh Institute, as visible in the screenshot below.

This post not only introduces the idea of storage of information inside human brain in form of blocks/groups, but also introduces the concepts of control and control transfer.

Update (12-4-08):- It seems to me that the title of this post is slightly inconsistent with the ideas presented herein. The title seems to suggest that information retrieval too takes place in units of blocks/groups. I do not intend to suggest this, but I'm not correcting this post's title because this post's URL is tightly tied to its title.

Update (14-12-08)
:- A sequel to this post can be read here (Human brain's information retrieval system is imperfect (apparently))


  1. Hi,
    Very interesting. I discussed the same problem in my class of cognition. I would add to your block theory. May be there is a network connecting these blocks and one has to excite the right link to retrieve the exact information. If you want to discuss the idea we can chat on my yahoo id some time i.e

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  4. And the same thing happened today [24-Jul-14] again.