Questions on memory storage...

Jerry Larson jlarson at usc.edu
Fri Aug 30 16:29:10 EST 1996


Zegun wrote:
> 
> Jerry Larson wrote:
> 
> > >  Not anywhere else outside the brain, as far as I know -- in
> > > humans, at least.


No, I didn't.  Somebody else wrote that, and someone else said there was
evidence for limited learning in spinal cord, and I said there was also
some evidence for learning in the enteric nervous system (gut).

Zegun continued:> WHAT!!!!!
> Does any where beside the brain harbor memories???
> Id say every cell within us has "memories"....if our genetic makeup had
> no memory, we would not mutate and evolve

Your equation of memory and learning with genetic makeup and evolution
is pretty questionable.  Learning in the usual sense is something an
individual does.  If your own individual DNA could learn something and
pass it on, that would be Lamarkian evolution.

Change and adaptation is not necessarily the same thing as learning.  A
cell doesn't "remember" the evolutionary history of its species; it only
"knows" how to do its job, at best.  You might as well say, because one
layer of rock stays under another one, that it "knows its place"!

If you're going to say, for example, that when the ancestors of whales
evolved into land dwellers, they "learned" how to live on land; then
when they returned to the sea they "learned" a new way of living in the
water, but "forgot" how to live on land.  If the ocean dries up, they
can't decide to go back to their old habits; they have to reinvent land
dwelling all over again, and they may do it differently this time, or
fail to do so.  If you learn something and forget, OK, you learned and
forgot; but if you "learn" and totally forget what you know before,
never demonstrate any recall of memory, that isn't learning, it's just
change.

The human species is putatively capable of learning _as_a_ species,
because we have a way of passing on what we learn to future generations,
but that isn't happening on a cellular level.  Even learning in the
usual sense _probably doesn't happen on a cellular level, but by means
of new connections being formed _between nerve cells.  I wouldn't swear
there isn't any chemical learning on the cellular level, but I don't
know of any evidence for it either.

Jerry



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