The start of something old. More on memory.
Torc and Lorc finish off their meals. Its been a small respite from the discussion on sleep, but Torc is still very confused about sleep and memory, and Lorc seems all too willing to help him understand that there is more to life than closing your eyes and lying around the forest like a couple of lazy dwarves.
Torc: Well, that was tasty. Nothing like a few nicely cooked rorbats to make an orc feel satisfied.
Lorc: So does that mean you are going to take a nap? Holy nibelungen! All you think of is sleep.
Torc: I know, I know. You just told me that the real reason for sleeping is to clear out the mind so that we can put more in, but I just put more in! More rorbat! Tasty too!
Lorc: Very funny.
Torc: So what are you going to do?
Lorc: I think we should go for a hike and do a little research.
Torc: Research what? We aren’t scientists. We are orcs. We gooble up good guys.
Lorc: Yeah, yeah. Cut with the drama. Let’s get serious and go do some research. I suggest we head back to the dungeons and talk to our colleagues about what they remember and what they forget.
Torc: Is this related to the stuff you were telling me about sleep?
Lorc: Yup. In fact, you might find it interesting yourself. Lots of the stuff you are always telling me you have forgotten, is actually just a small reach away for you, and it would only take some discipline to find it.
Torc: Small reach? Do you mean I really can remember everything that you’ve been asking me and telling me all these boring months?
Lorc: Very funny, lardbut. But yes. Your memory is more impressive than you give it credit. Everything you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste has been stored away for safe keeping. It is the same for all of us.
Torc: Oh yeah, like you were saying about the person whose life flashes before their eyes….
Lorc: Yes. Our brain stores all of this input and we retrieve it as needed.
Torc: So how does it store this stuff? Little boxes?
Lorc: Sort of. Think of the brain as a set of billions of little highways and roads. Some are longer and wide than others, and some are quite small, but all of them intersect with each other some or many times. It’s a real spaghetti jumble in some ways.
Torc: Spaghetti? Are we eating again?
Lorc: No silly. I’m stuffed.
Torc: (disappointed) oh.
Lorc: Our mind is full of these pathways, these neurons.
Torc: Whose that? A relative of Storkon?
Lorc: No. Neurons are nerve cells. They look like large spiders with legs out in all directions, and a center section where important stuff happens. Their legs or arms are stretched out in many directions, basically touching other neurons. They communicate with each other by signaling across a very small gap using chemicals. Those chemicals are secreted by the neurons in some concentration designed for a particular result, and the other neuron’s arms detect those chemicals and react in a certain way.
Torc: So the chemicals do the signaling?
Lorc: Sort of. It’s a combination of chemicals and electricity. Our senses are involved in all of this too. They send signals to our brain from the interactions they have with the outside world. If I see something, it causes a reaction in my eyes, and my eyes send a signal to the brain, where that signal it stored for use later on. Perhaps as a short-term memory, and perhaps as a long-term memory associated with learning something or meeting someone.
Torc: So my tongue was sending lots of signals this afternoon during that rorbat lunch! Great taste, just less filling! Are you sure we can’t have some spaghetti?
Lorc: Jeesh! What a mind you have.
Torc: (drooping his head) Sorry.
Lorc: Your memory is very sophisticated, even though it might not seem so. Those neurons are storing your life’s experiences, and making it easy for you to retrieve them for emergencies, for story telling, for your growth, etc. Those neurons, functioning like a muscle which is remembering how to throw a spear, remember the signals they were asked to send and receive, and they can send and receive them again, in sequence, to recover information we store in the brain.
Torc: Hmmm. Sounds easy enough, but I still don’t get the way I can remember stuff, and I always remember it different from you. I thought our brains were alike.
Lorc: Well they are, and yet there are differences. We all have the neural construct, and we have the senses that feed them, but we all see a little differently, and we hear differently, and so our brains receive somewhat different signals of differing intensities, and they store an incident a little differently than our friends do. Some orcs see well, and some are as blind as goblins. What they store away goes through an identical process, but the qualitative information is different because the quantitative signal characteristics were different.
Torc: Huh? You’re losing me.
Lorc: Well, you and I look at the same tree over there, and our brains store it differently. Perhaps not too differently, but the details will be different. The tree will have many similar memory characteristics in your mind as it does in mine. Where it was, what day it was, the sunlight, the green leaves, the height. But it might be a different shade of green in your mind because your eyes see green differently. Its like being color blind, but not completely. You see the green color and the actually light frequency given off by the tree creates a signal in your eyes, on your retina, that is slightly different from the signal my eyes make when sending it to the brain.
Torc: That explains how you missed that rorbat when we were shooting earlier. You must be blind!
Lorc: Perhaps. Maybe just not as hungry as you!
Torc: That’s for sure!
Lorc: Anyway, once the signal is received in our senses, a reaction takes place, both chemical and electrical, that transfers it to the brain. Our brain stores it in short-term memory until a REM segment, and then the brain parcels it out into this massive associative matrix of neurons and makes sure it is indexed in multiple ways so that it can be retrieved quickly. Those indices are what make us experience the wild swings in our dreams, the non-sequiturs.
Torc: Non-sequitur. Is that Middle Earth language again?
Lorc: No, but it is Middle ages. The non-sequiturs are the unusual turns of activity that our dreams seem to make as the brain indexes each experience and ties it to others of like characteristics based on our brain’s learned filter mechanisms. Once everything is stored away, using long, complex neuronal signaling to establish a memory n-gram chain, our brain can then use this chain, and the indexing, to locate thoughts and ideas, and experiences we have had in the past to solve problems.
Torc: n-grams? What is with you and all this hocus-pocus language? If I didn’t know better I would have guessed you were sniffing ent-poop!
Lorc: Ha! We have been in the forest for a while, haven’t we?! Perhaps we need to get going.
Torc: But wait. Are you telling me that our brains use this spaghetti to store all the stuff we learn?
Lorc: Yes. Those neurons, (and we have billions of them) are the little memory pathways that we use to store and retrieve information. It is their unique multi-layer indexing and retrieval capabilities that make the storage of our sensory data so complex, and yet so powerful. It is kind of like a 3-D chess board, with many levels, and a small connector running from every square on each board to most of the other squares on the other boards. Very complex looking and very sophisticated in its ability to store very discreet and marginally different pieces of information in virtually the same space. Also, since our signaling tools (the eyes, the nose, the ears) are so unique, we are not at all compatible in how we store the data. For instance, I couldn’t just transplant your eyes into my head, or my head onto your shoulders. The signals and the voltages and chemical reactions would all be too different to be useful.
Torc: Well, that’s a relief. I was worried about that brain transplant Snorkon has been offering me!
Lorc: With smell being one of the most sophisticated senses, we use very long path lengths in the neural pathways to store a smell. This means it is indexed much more heavily than, say, a sound, or a touch. It also means that smelling something can put you in touch with more memory locations and you can access more information just from that one memory trigger, than from hearing a sound.
Torc: Just the smell of that rorbat got me thinking of only one thing! Eating and sleeping!
Lorc: You are impossible. I can’t teach you anything.
Torc: That’s not true, really. I remember everything you told, me. At least, you tell me I do! Haha! Seriously, I remember that this sleep thing is different than I thought, and perhaps I should think about experimenting with my sleep times so that I have more time to get into trouble!
Lorc: That’s you alright!