According to this answer humans have enough memory to store 300 years of TV shows. However, of course, it is disputable, as storage system would be completely different from storing TV shows (videos) on von Neumann-like computer. Probably, the resolution of human brain is higher as well. Therefore it's really hard to put an actual duration, but we know it's finite.

But is it known what would happen after running out of this memory? Does it just rewrites the old information? Does the brain really needs to be completely filled with information in order for this mechanism come into effect or is it happening constantly?

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    $\begingroup$ Also see: The computer model of the brain $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Jul 17, 2018 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ That the human brain’s memory capacity is finite is debatable. We don’t know definitely yet how the memory is stored in the human brain, but it seems to involve not only the spatial patterns but also the temporal patterns (try searching for rate coding) of signals circulating through trillions of synapses. The permutation of patterns involving both the spatial and temporal components can be infinite, especially if there is no limitation on the length of the permutation – the permutation of 0 and 1, without limitation on the permutation length, can represent infinite numbers from 0 to infinity! $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Jul 17, 2018 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting answer @user287279. In case you could just have some canonical reference (or even Wikipedia) to back that up it would make a great answer! $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Jul 17, 2018 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ @user287279, finite amount of matter can store only finite amount of information. Well, otherwise humans could solve halting problem, but even chess is extremely hard for humans. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Jul 17, 2018 at 8:50
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    $\begingroup$ This question is forgetting that we forget. Perhaps a better question would be if the "slots" freed by forgetting get reused. $\endgroup$ Jul 17, 2018 at 9:01

1 Answer 1


I’m not sure that there is an answer to this question in the literature, and I doubt that we’ve ever studied cases of “running out of memory”. But it’s an interesting question, so I’ll venture to answer it. However, my answer, at best, will be just an assumption based on current knowledge and based on similar situations in other cognitive functions. Yet, I hope that it will give some ideas regarding this question. Or, better yet, other people will provide more comments and ideas that improve this answer.

We may never have seen cases of “running out of memory”, but we all certainly have encountered situations that we run out of our abilities to do something, such as to break our own sport records, to learn to speak a foreign language, and to memorize as many digits as we can in a single glance. What does the brain do when it encounters situations that it runs out of its abilities? The answer is it adapts itself by the process called neuroplasticity (ref 1, ref 2). Although, generally, our abilities will improve to some degree, this neuroplastic adaptation takes time and does not guarantee that it will be successful (e.g., we may never be able to break the Olympic running records ourselves or to remember 1,000 digits in a single glance) because we all have biological limits. What does the brain do when it reaches those limits? From observations, I think it just accepts the limits and does nothing more.

From this, it is logical to think that if anyone really runs out of memory, the first thing that the brain does will probably be not rewriting the old memory but modifying its memory synapses because it has the ability to form new memory form modifying its memory synapses (ref 3, ref 4, ref 5). But after some time, it may reach its ability to further modify its synapses for new memory, what happens then? Does it rewrite the old memory? I have no references to answer this question, but I doubt that it does. To rewrite the old memory means to destroy the previous structure of synapses that hold the old memory and build the new structure of synapses to hold the new memory. The brain will end up having the same amount of memory but wasting its resource to do that. Is it worth it? Also, there are technical issues such as which old memory to be erased, how to locate the scattered synapses that hold the to-be-erased memory, and how to dismantle those synapses. Perhaps it’s best to just accept its limits and do nothing more as in the other situations above.


  1. Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research

Today it is generally accepted that the adult brain is far from being fixed. A number of factors such as stress, adrenal and gonadal hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors, certain drugs, environmental stimulation, learning, and aging change neuronal structures and functions. The processes that these factors may induce are morphological alterations in brain areas, changes in neuron morphology, network alterations including changes in neuronal connectivity, the generation of new neurons (neurogenesis), and neurobiochemical changes. Here we review several aspects of neuroplasticity and discuss the functional implications of the neuroplastic capacities of the adult and differentiated brain with reference to the history of their discovery.”

  1. Changes in plasticity across the lifespan: Cause of disease and target for intervention

We conceptualize brain plasticity as an intrinsic property of the nervous system enabling rapid adaptation in response to changes in an organism's internal and external environment. In prenatal and early postnatal development, plasticity allows for the formation of organized nervous system circuitry and the establishment of functional networks. As the individual is exposed to various sensory stimuli in the environment, brain plasticity allows for functional and structural adaptation and underlies learning and memory. We argue that the mechanisms of plasticity change over the lifespan with different slopes of change in different individuals.”

  1. Synapses and Memory Storage

We now understand in considerable molecular detail the mechanisms underlying long-term synaptic plasticity and the importance that such plastic changes play in memory storage, across a broad range of species and forms of memory. One surprising finding is the remarkable degree of conservation of memory mechanisms in different brain regions within a species and across species widely separated by evolution. However, although it is now clear that long-term synaptic plasticity is a key step in memory storage, it is important to note that a simple enhancement in the efficacy of a synapse is not sufficient to store a complex memory. Rather, changes in synaptic function must occur within the context of an ensemble of neurons to produce a specific alteration in information flow through a neural circuit.”

  1. The Corticohippocampal Circuit, Synaptic Plasticity, and Memory

    Synaptic plasticity serves as a cellular substrate for information storage in the central nervous system. The entorhinal cortex (EC) and hippocampus are interconnected brain areas supporting basic cognitive functions important for the formation and retrieval of declarative memories. Here, we discuss how information flow in the EC–hippocampal loop is organized through circuit design. We highlight recently identified corticohippocampal and intrahippocampal connections and how these long-range and local microcircuits contribute to learning. This review also describes various forms of activity-dependent mechanisms that change the strength of corticohippocampal synaptic transmission. A key point to emerge from these studies is that patterned activity and interaction of coincident inputs gives rise to associational plasticity and long-term regulation of information flow. Finally, we offer insights about how learning-related synaptic plasticity within the corticohippocampal circuit during sensory experiences may enable adaptive behaviors for encoding spatial, episodic, social, and contextual memories.”

  2. Learning to learn – intrinsic plasticity as a metaplasticity mechanism for memory formation

“Use it or lose it” is a popular adage often associated with use-dependent enhancement of cognitive abilities. Much research has focused on understanding exactly how the brain changes as a function of experience. Such experience-dependent plasticity involves both structural and functional alterations that contribute to adaptive behaviors, such as learning and memory, as well as maladaptive behaviors, including anxiety disorders, phobias, and posttraumatic stress disorder.”

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    $\begingroup$ Although you provide some references, this doesn't really answer the question and provides a hypothesis that is not supported by the references you give. Unfortunately I think the presence of those references suggests that your assertions are more supported than they are. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 17, 2018 at 19:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ Bryan Krause. Thank you for the comment. I think that the assertion that “It (the brain) adapts itself by the process called neuroplasticity” is clearly supported by ref 1, ref 2. and that “it (the brain) has the ability to form new memory form modifying its memory synapses” is supported by ref 3, ref 4, ref 5. So, I’ve edited the reference part to make it clearer how the ideas came from those references. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Jul 18, 2018 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ Also, to prevent a possible misunderstanding that I’ve provided an answer that is well backed up by references and to remind the true state and the purpose of my answer, I’ve edited the opening paragraph by highlighting some sentences. $\endgroup$
    – user287279
    Jul 18, 2018 at 4:17
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is that the entire brain is memory synapses. They might not be the memory you are thinking of, but it isn't as simple to have the capability to have more memory capacity just by needing it. The forms of plasticity you are referring to are not the same type. It's a bit like showing evidence that your car can accelerate when you press the gas pedal down as supporting your car being able to fly because flying is just acceleration in a different direction. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 18, 2018 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Also your arguments in the comments about infinite permutations etc is missing major constraints on decoding, speed of processing, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 18, 2018 at 15:04

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