It seems that I have a severe misunderstanding of the brain, and how memory works.

Coming from a background in computer science, I want the brain to work simimlar to that of a computer where maybe there is a hash table and a corresponding address that can be looked up for a specific file or in this case memory. To me this would make sense on the surface, and would lead to being able to back ourselves up (our memories at least I don't want a discussion on conciousness :'-D) as we do our hard drives.

Computers have a physical limit to how much information can be stored on them, and it seems that the current literature states that the human brain can store somewhere in the realm of 2.5 petabytes worth of information.

This doesn't sit well with me, though as the brain's capacity seems limitless. Maybe this is a silly example/test (i'm actually sure it is) I can think of an absurdly large number we'll say 100000^1000 and now I've taken up that many slots of "storage" in my brain (assuming a single number requires exactly 1 slot) I can then continue to "fill slots" by adding 1 to that number, but I didn't forget any of my memories, nor did I forget about any other numbers like 1 or 2 or 3 ...

So my question is, it is clear that we cannot assume the brain stores memories the same way a computer does, how exactly is information or memories stored?

As well as what happens if we reach this theoretical limit?

  • Do we just stop remembering things?

  • Do we start forgetting old things? if so how is what we forget chosen?

  • Is the behaviour undefined?

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    Welcome. Does this answer your question?. If not, please edit the question to specify your issue. – AliceD Dec 5 at 20:50
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  • In addition to the great suggestions by AliceD and ArnonWeinberg for related questions, the logical premise in your question is very flawed. Just like in a computer representation, when you think of 100000^1000 you don't need to store that many numbers, that's just one representation (or at least, a string of concepts linked together; in text, you've represented it with 11 characters). You haven't taken up any more space thinking of that number than the number 12393238430. Additionally, one of the truly amazing things about our brains is just how much we actually forget without realizing. – Bryan Krause Dec 5 at 21:43

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