Of all the mental faculties of humans, the faculty of memory has been the most mysterious from times immemorial. Most of us think that if a person is born with a good memory, he is lucky. We tend to categorize people into two segments – those with a good memory and those with a poor memory.

We believe that a person having a poor memory is cursed for a life time and no matter what he does, there is no way of improving one’s memory capacity. A very small percentage of world population has a fairly good knowledge of how memory works, why most often our memory fails us and how, at times, we can remember certain things so well.

Interestingly, any two individuals on this planet have exactly the same capacity for memory.

This may sound incredible, as it is in opposition with our daily experience of witnessing people with varying levels of memory.

If we really get into the basics, every human being has exactly the same mass in the brain. If we take a look into the basic units or the building blocks of the brain – the brain cells or the neurons – any two brains contain approximately the same number of them. It is estimated that every human brain consists of nearly 10×12 neurons.

Each neuron is capable of making millions of connections with other neurons. All the possible interneuron connections run into several trillions. Coming to the number of inter-neuron connections, the more the merrier. The reason being, the more connections you have, the more is the “processing speed” of the brain. Viewed in this perspective, the memory capacity one can summon from the brain is awesome.

There is absolutely no reason why any individual has to suffer from a poor memory.

The individual differences in respect of memory capacities, which we perceive are just the differences in the utilization levels and not those of built-in capacity.

The situation may be likened with two manufacturing units with exactly the same installed capacities. One of them may be fully harnessing its potential and deriving maximum potential. The other might have been ridden with several problems and hence is performing far below the actual capacity.

The point is any two individuals in this world have the same built-in capacity of memory. But how much positive result they take out of it, actually depends on how they utilize the innate potential.

Good memory Vs. Bad memory

If that be the case, then, how do you explain the unmistakable experience of witnessing some people having good memory and some other people having bad memory? In fact, there is nothing like a good memory or a bad memory.

Every person has good memory in some areas and also bad memory in certain other areas.

For example, a student may find it too difficult for him to remember the Newton’s laws of Motion. The same student may have an excellent memory for facts and figures on Tennis. People around us tend to brand us as a person with a good memory or otherwise, depending on whether they attach importance to what we remember or what we forget.

In the above case, the student may be branded as a person with a poor memory by his elders and teachers as he was unable to remember his academics. Whereas, his friends etc. may be all praise for his memory, as he can reel off so many facts and figures on Tennis.

The student in question now has a choice. He can accept his friends’ version that he has a good memory. Or he can succumb to the verdict of his authority figures that he has a very poor memory.

Memorising is a process

I say memorising is a process, because it can be duplicated. For example, a particular company makes wrist watches. For making those watches, they use a process. Whenever they use the same process, they make the same kind of a watch. For that matter, whenever that particular process is used by any one, he will be able to get the same kind of result.

Memory is also a skill. No one on this planet has born with the ability of driving a car. But millions of people around the world can drive a car. They have leant, they have practiced and they have perfected driving. Likewise, the skill of memorising can also be learnt, practiced and also perfected.

Do we forget?

The question may sound like a funny joke, because we all experience forgetting at least once (if not more!) every day. On a worst day, we may even have the experience of forgetting more than a dozen times.

The actual fact is that a human brain can be compared to the black box in an aircraft, where, data can only enter into but cannot be erased.

It means that you do not forget any thing that you learn, experience etc., since the day one of your life. Even though the required data is available in the brain, you might fail to retrieve the same at the appropriate time of need.

To drive home the point that there is nothing like forgetting, let us look at an example which describes a situation which every person is very much familiar with. Let us go back to your school days.

You are an examination hall, taking a test. The question paper was handed over to you. You just scan through the exam paper and you are immensely happy to note that you can answer all those questions as you made a thorough preparation. So, straight away you start answering the questions. You finished answering three questions and arrived at the fourth one. Suddenly, your mind goes blank and you are not able to get the answer for that question.

You are not much worried, because, you have the confidence that you will recall the answer in a moment. So you bypass the fourth question and proceed to the next. Before finishing the remaining answers, you have been revisiting the question No.4, but with little success. Finally, you are left only with that question.

The more you try to recall the answer, the more it eludes you. Finally when the time is up, you very reluctantly give up and go out of the exam hall. And bingo! The answer flashes in your mind.

Is this sounding familiar? This must be very common experience to all of us. This clearly demonstrates the fact the answer has not, after all, vanished into thin air. You simply failed to retrieve it when you wanted it.

In the real sense of the word, there is nothing like forgetting. We do not forget anything.

We mistake the failure to recall as forgetting.

How much a brain can hold?

In the above discussion, it was pointed out that the brain can only take in information and what all we learn and experience from the day-one of our life gets stored in the brain and stays there for a life time. By this statement, it is implied that the brain has a huge storage capacity. But can we quantify the storage capacity of the human brain?

It is learnt that each human brain has roughly around 1012 (one million million) neurons. For the purpose of storage capacity, each neuron can roughly be equated to one computer. That means, a human brain is a network of a million million computers. The total storage capacity of a human brain is incomprehensible.

On an average, most people use less than 5% of their brain’s capacity.