Compared to our perceptions of the present, which seem vivid and concrete, our memories of the past feel hazy and intangible. Yet it is perceptions that are fleeting, while memories can endure for a lifetime. This apparent paradox presents scientists with an irresistible problem: How can we explain the persistence of memory?
We know that the connectivity of the brain is relatively stable, because it is based on material structures: synapses and the wire-like branches of neurons. This suggests that the connectome contains patterns that retain the information of memories. Many neuroscientists theorize that the neurons activated by an experience wire together, and that a memory of the experience resides in this pattern of connectivity. We will attempt to see memories by mapping neural connections and decoding the patterns that we find.
Discovering how memories are encoded in connectomes could help lead to interventions that improve the learning abilities of children and adults, preserve the elderly’s capacity for memory, and enable us to forget traumatic experiences.