Sunday, December 14, 2008

Human brain's information-retrieval system is imperfect (apparently)

This post is in continuation to my previous post (Human brain could be storing & retrieving information as 'related blocks').

About a year back, I was at home and me and my sister were watching a program on TV. A character appeared on TV, which I felt I've seen before. I started trying to recall his name, but couldn't. My sister knew the name, and after watching me trying to recollect the name for about 5 minutes, she finally spoke out the name, and I exclaimed "Yes! This is his name!".

Immediately I realized something. To be able to confidently say that "Yes, this is the name", I must have compared the name that my sister spoke out to the name that was already residing in my memory. After all, it's impossible for me to claim that the name which my sister spoke is his name, unless I already have a full copy of that name in my brain, to compare with.

This leads me to two things:-
  1. Although my brain's information storage system had successfully stored the name, the information retrieval system was unable to read it
  2. Our brains have much more information stored inside, than we know. The inability of information retrieval system to retrieve all that information doesn't mean that tons of information isn't present
Why didn't the information retrieval system of my brain retrieve the name by itself? Possible reasons:-
  1. Wear and tear over time, leading to partial damage to the information retrieval system
  2. Inherent shortcomings in the system's design
  3. My focus was on some other task, and so the retrieval system wasn't focused on the right block (to better understand this point, read this - Human brain could be storing & retrieving information as 'related blocks'
  4. Excessive amount of information had been stored in the brain, and the retrieval system either found it difficult to retrieve information (pointing to a design flaw in the retrieval system, or its inability to scale), or the retrieval process required more time (there's no flaw in the design of retrieval system, but the time needed to retrieve information is proportional to the amount to information stored)
Will we be able to solve this problem in future? Two obvious approaches may help:-
  1. Improving hardware and algorithms of brain using genetic engineering
  2. Connecting the brain to external equipment to copy information stored in it onto a computer, and retrieving it from there
The intent of this post was to prove that the information retrieval system of human brain has its share of flaws. It will be helpful to go through this post, to get a better idea of my views on information storage inside the brain.


  1. When this happens to me I always think; "if this was a multiple choice question, I would know the answer straight away"!