Our brains forget information at a rate of 1 bit per second per neuron
Activity pattern showing which neurons are active
The human brain is incredibly complex and something we are nowhere near close to simulating with nerual networks using the computing power on offer today. While we can’t simulate how the brain deals with information, we can continue to experiment and learn more about how it functions.
What we do know is that the brain stores information in neurons. Research being carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization at the University of Gottingen and the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience has discovered some surprising things about how we both activate those neurons and how quickly they, and therefore we, forget information.
Neurons are electrically excitable and in order for a neuron to be activated an electrical pulse has to enter a neuron. According to Fred Wolf, head of the Theoretical Neurophysics research group at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization:
The brain codes information in the form of electrical pulses, known as spikes. Each of the brain’s approximately 100 billion interconnected neurons acts as both a receiver and transmitter: these bundle all incoming electrical pulses and, under certain circumstances, forward a pulse of their own to their neighbours. In this way, each piece of information processed by the brain generates its own activity pattern.
But the researchers found in their latest realistic model of neurons that a second electrical potential forms on the membrane of the cell. Unless that potential increases past a certain point the neuron won’t become active.
Before now this electrical potential was not know about, making it difficult to understand how neurons functioned within the cerebral cortex. But now it is understood to exist the researchers were able to better track information across the brain as an activity pattern. This in turn led them to discover how quickly neurons forget information.
You’ll be surprised to discover it is incredibly fast. Our brains forget information at a rate of 1 bit per second per active neuron.
Even the researchers were caught off guard with Dr. Wolf commenting:
This extraordinarily high deletion rate came as a huge surprise to us.
Although there is still a lot of research to do, the high rate of data loss in the brain suggests we are wired to quickly process information and act on it before moving to the next batch of data to begin processing again.