As we age, it’s common to worry about losing our memories (That’s partly because a certain amount of age-related memory loss is perfectly normal). In order to preserve your memory as you age, it’s important to understand how memory functions. So, what is memory? Where in the brain are memories stored, and how does the brain retrieve them?
Quite simply, memory is our ability to recall information. Scientists talk about different types of memories based either on their content or on how we use the information. For example, remembering the layout of your grandmother’s kitchen is different in both content and purpose than remembering the middle three digits of a plumber’s phone number while looking at his business card as you dial the phone. The main two categories for memories are short-term and long-term.
Short-term memories involve information that you only need to recall for a few seconds or minutes. If you’re turning at an intersection, the fact that there were no cars coming when you looked to the left is important, but once you’ve made your turn you will quickly discard the information because it is no longer relevant. Keeping it around would unnecessarily clutter your brain.
Long-term memories contain the information that makes you you—not just facts (like the capital of Kansas) or events (like your senior prom) but also skills and processes (like typing or dancing the Macarena). Long-term memory is durable yet changeable; a memory can evolve based on retelling a story or on new information learned after the event.
Memories are not stored in a single location in the brain. Instead, the sensory components of a memory—sight, smell, sound, etc.—are distributed to different areas of the brain, and the act of remembering occurs as the brain pieces those bits back together. Each time a memory is created, its constituent parts are cataloged in the deep-brain structure known as the hippocampus. Next to the hippocampus sits the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center. It flags certain memories as being important or emotionally powerful. The different components of the memory are then distributed mostly to sections of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain.
When it’s time to retrieve a memory, you rely on the part of the brain known as the frontal lobes, which are involved in attention and focus. The pieces of the memory are then pulled from the areas of the cerebral cortex where they’re stored. For example, to remember a scene from your favorite movie might involve pulling in data from the brain’s visual region to recall the backdrop and the actors’ faces, but also information from the language region to remember the dialogue—and perhaps even the auditory region to remember the soundtrack or sound effects. Together, these components form a unique neuronal pattern that lies dormant until you set about remembering it, at which point it is reactivated.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? (Genesis 18:24) And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” (Genesis 18:26)
And be sure to say, ‘Look, your servant Jacob is right behind us.’” Jacob thought, “I will try to appease him by sending gifts ahead of me. When I see him in person, perhaps he will be friendly to me.” (Genesis 32:20)
to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. (Genesis 50:17)
“Forgive my sin, just this once, and plead with the Lord your God to take away this death from me.” (Exodus 10:17)
Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. (Exodus 23:21)
Moses Intercedes for Israel The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin, but I will go back up to the Lord on the mountain. Perhaps I will be able to obtain forgiveness for your sin.” (Exodus 32:30) So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a terrible sin these people have committed. They have made gods of gold for themselves. (Exodus 32:31) But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, erase my name from the record you have written!” (Exodus 32:32)
The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6) I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)
And he said, “O Lord, if it is true that I have found favor with you, then please travel with us. Yes, this is a stubborn and rebellious people, but please forgive our iniquity and our sins. Claim us as your own special possession.” (Exodus 34:9)
just as he does with the bull offered as a sin offering for the high priest. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20) Then he must burn all the goat’s fat on the altar, just as he does with the peace offering. Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the Lord, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)
Then he must remove all the goat’s fat, just as he does with the fat of the peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar, and it will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31) Then he must remove all the sheep’s fat, just as he does with the fat of a sheep presented as a peace offering. He will burn the fat on the altar on top of the special gifts presented to the Lord. Through this process, the priest will purify the people from their sin, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35)
The priest will then prepare the second bird as a burnt offering, following all the procedures that have been prescribed. Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the Lord, and you will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:10) Through this process, the priest will purify those who are guilty of any of these sins, making them right with the Lord, and they will be forgiven. The rest of the flour will belong to the priest, just as with the grain offering.” (Leviticus 5:13)
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