Is the brain the only place that stores our memories?
Do you ever think about your childhood or replay an event in your head that happened 15 years ago but its so vivid that it seems like it happened yesterday? Do you ever hear something and think it sounds like your favorite song and then start singing that song? These are memories that were formed in your brain that are replayed as a result of a specific stimulus. For a long time scientists believed that memories were formed, processed, and sent to different destinations in the brain. Dr. Wilder Penfield was one of the first to accidentally discover this. In the 40s he electrically stimulated different areas of his patients’ brains while they were under local anesthesia and found that the region he stimulated would elicit specific memories in the patient’s life (see video below). For example, in one of his patients he stimulated her temporal lobe (auditory cortex) and she started to hum her favorite song out loud. This suggested that the memory of this song was stored in the place where it was processed or originated (i.e. the auditory cortex processed the first time she listened to the song). Penfield concluded that the cortex (the outer layers of the brain) stored the “complete record of the stream of consciousness; all those things in which a man was aware at any time…” Until recently, scientists have believed this phenomenon.
The theory of cellular memories states that memories, as well as personality traits, are not only stored in the brain but may also be stored in organs such as the heart. In 2009 Harvard Medical School defined cellular memories as “a sustained cellular response to a transient stimulus.” Basically, when a cell is introduced to a specific stimulus it will react in a certain way and every time it is given this stimulus it will have the same response. The best way to understand cellular memories is studying cases of organ transplants. One of the more famous cases includes a woman named Claire Sylvia. In the 70s this woman received a heart and lung transplant from an 18-year- old boy who died in a motorcycle accident. After her surgery Sylvia had cravings she never had before like beer and burgers. After some time, she contacted the family of her donor and was in shock that he enjoyed the same foods (She wrote a book on her experience!- link below).
Another extreme case was an 8-year-old girl who received a 10-year-old girls heart. After her operation she began to have nightmares of a man trying to kill her. Her dreams were so vivid that she went to a psychiatrist who actually believed they were real. It was found that the donor was murdered and the recipient who had the nightmares described the man in such detail that the police were able to find the killer and he was convicted of murder.
There are a few different theories on how cellular memories might work but there is no strong scientific evidence on the process of cellular memories. A lot of research is being done today not only with interaction of the brain and the bodies organs but also with quantum physics and how atoms interact. It is still a mystery today but its something interesting to keep in the back of your head… or heart.
Gageways to the Mind -YouTube
Making Cellular Memories -Harvard Medical School Journal
A Change of Heart: A Memoir -Novel by Clair Sylvia