Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is it truly dark at the center of it all?

In 1943, the chairman of IBM famously said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Back then, computers weighed many thousands of pounds and filled entire rooms. With the advent of microprocessors in the 1970s, the size of the computers dramatically decreased along with an increase in computational power. In the 1980s, Bill Gates was quoted as saying “640 kilobytes ought to be enough for anybody.” The average smart phone these days is more powerful than the Apollo mission’s computers that put the first man on the moon. However sophisticated or diverse the applications of computers these days, the smallest and most basic increment of data is measured in units called bits, which are either 1s or 0s. In current day computer chips, data travels through semiconductor pathways and in the not to distant future, this will be obsolete and data will be sent over light pulses instead making these chips even smaller in size.

Despite these technological advances in computers, we have yet to fully understand the basic mechanisms of how human memory works. For instance, how does the brain process and store tangible sensory input from the skin, eyes, and ears into intangible thought forms that may be recalled later? We experience thought forms both in the conscious waking state and also subconsciously during sleep in the form of dreams. Like modern day computers, could there be basic increments of data that are common to all thought forms? In other words, looking at memory from a data storage perspective, the building blocks of memory could be simple units such as 1s and 0s and looking at it from the vantage point of recalling some of life’s pleasant or unpleasant memories, the corresponding thoughts become more vivid and colorful.