Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Memory storage apparently occurs generally throughout the brain substance, and not in a specific part of the brain, as does movement, sensory reception, visual interpretation, etc. Memory is damaged if a portion of the brain from any area is removed, even the "silent areas." The total quantity of brain substance removed appears to be the important thing that damages the function of memory, rather than the actual location of the removed brain tissue, with some exceptions.
Memory is of three different types: immediate recall, short-term memory, and long-term memory. The first two appear to be entirely electrical in nature, whereas, the third form, long-term memory, appears to be both electrical and chemical. Immediate recall is that function of the mind that allows one to remember a series of numbers just long enough to dial it on the telephone. Short-term memory assists one to remember which mailbox is his, which house he lives in, or what class he is taking at a certain period of the day. After 20 years, one may not even remember that the class was taken, much less the period of the day in which it was taken, the instructor, the building, and room number. Long-term memory, on the other hand, is the prolonged storage of important concepts, attitudes, and events. While one may not remember taking a history course, one can very well remember that Napoleon met his "Waterloo" under certain circumstances having to do with the British armed forces.
Apparently, long-term memory is stored permanently in a chemical fashion in the brain during dream time. Sleep is of various types, from "light" through "rapid-eye movement" (REM) to "deep" sleep. When one is in the type of sleep that we recognize as dream time, sleep researchers believe that memory is being chemically manufactured, events are being related to things already in the mind, and matters are being collated, sorted, arranged chronologically in the memory, and settled into permanent positions in the brain.
There are many things that can interfere with the settling of new material into the brain. Anything that shortens or reduces the quality of dream time can interfere with the formation of memory. Several drugs alter the quality of dreaming. Examples are caffeine and sedatives; those classified pharmacologically as either stimulants or depressants; and any drug that alters the biochemistry of the forebrain, such as tranquilizers or aspirin.
A bedtime snack may interfere with dream time because of the large drain on electrical energy made by digestion, whereas, at the same time, a large outlay of electrical energy is needed by the brain to accomplish housecleaning, sorting, collating, and programming in the brain. A heavy evening meal can do the same thing. Long periods of noise, distractions, television, worry, or intense feeling can interfere with the quality of dream time.
Shocks of any kind including electrical, chemical, emotional, or physical can either prevent the settling in of new material or unseat old material that one thought was securely fastened in the brain. Electrical shocks include electro-shock therapy used in psychiatry, and lesser electrical shocks in the household. Chemical shocks include daily swings in blood sugar, licit and illicit drug use, the level of various blood hormones, the presence of end-products from intestinal fermentation, and other injurious chemical conditions of the blood. Examples of emotional shock are death of a loved one, divorce, disgrace, etc. Poor health that alters the quality of dreaming will interfere with memory storage, and can include fevers or infections, prolonged loss of sleep, accidents, and pain.
Remember that, as important as natural endowment is, the quality of careful application of detail in the structuring of a good memory is even more important.
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