3D illustration of brain connectivity in a transparent human head. 3D illustration of brain connectivity in a transparent human head.

Beyond Gigabytes: Can We Measure the Brain’s Memory Capacity?

Living in today’s world, our lives revolve around gadgets. Day in and day out, we use computers, tablets, and computers; mobile phones have become an inseparable part of our lives. And what is common among all these devices? Their memory capacity.

Usually, we study the memory capacity of these devices in terms of megabytes and gigabytes, but does the same unit of measurement go for our brain’s memory capacity as well?

Can we compare the memory capacity of the human brain with the memory capacity of these devices or any instruments, for that matter? Well, the obvious answer to that question is no,

Let Me First Talk about Capacity of the Human Brain

Primarily, the brain is a very versatile, independent, and strong organ, and honestly, you do not have a concrete answer as to how many memories it can store. The brain is a part of the nervous system, which also contains the spinal cord, and its working process is very magical and intricate

Not only does it manage our memory, but it also manages emotions, thoughts, breathing, touch, and vision, among other bodily procedures.

One way to calculate the memory capacity of the human brain is by gauging the connections between the brain cells. The connections are then decoded into computer memory measurement units like bytes.

It is a very big question, so obviously, good research has been done to understand memory capacity, and according to the studies done by Paul Reber, professor of psychology at Northwestern University, it has been concluded that the human brain has a capacity of 2.5 petabytes.

So, I would say that the human brain has millions and billions of neurons, and neural connections are present between all of them. You can have an estimate of the number of connections.

But in simple terms, a petabyte implies 1024 terabytes, or in more simple terms, 2.5 million gigabytes of memory can be stored by the human brain.

Nick Bach, Owner/Psychologist of Grace Psychological Services, LLC, talked to the Icy Whiz team about comparing human and technology memory. Here is what he had to say:

Nick Bach - Featured
Nick Bach

“Technological devices have a much larger storage capacity than the human brain in terms of raw data storage.

However, the human brain possesses incredible capabilities for complex information processing, pattern recognition, and emotional connection that are exponentially greater than anything current technology can replicate.

Understanding the types of memory, such as short-term memory, long-term memory, and working memory, can indeed provide insights into how our brain’s storage system operates.

Research into memory processes has shown that memories are not fixed but are constantly being updated and modified through processes like consolidation and reconsolidation.

In terms of human memory, it is important to consider the limitations and biases that can affect our ability to remember information accurately. For example, factors like stress, emotion, and attention can play a significant role in memory formation and retrieval.

Additionally, our memories are not perfect and can be influenced by cognitive biases, leading to distortions and errors.

By understanding how memory works, researchers and practitioners can develop strategies to improve memory processes and enhance learning and recall. Techniques like mnemonic devices, spaced repetition, and mindfulness practices are effective in improving memory function.”

Types of Memory

Now you have an idea of how huge the capacity of the human brain is. So you need to understand that memory basically is of three types, namely sensory memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.

  • Sensory Memory – Sensory memory, as the name suggests, is the memory that helps you remember what happened after the end of your stimulus. It is the first memory that is formed; only after this do you have short-term or long-term memory. This sensory experience gives you the sensory information to store, and it becomes short-term or long-term memory, given the number of times it is repeated.
  • Short-Term Memory – It is basically the memory that stays with you of the information that is there for a short duration after the stimulus has ended, say 30 seconds. You can try to keep information in your short-term memory by repeating it, so if you repeat the information every 30 seconds, you will not forget it. Like when somebody tells you their phone number, and you repeat it until you have to dial it, you will not forget it.
  • Long-Term Memory – Anything that is not a part of the sensory or short-term memory falls under the category of long-term memory. All memories can be stored for more than 30 seconds, although there is no top capping for them. So, the storage here is in abundance.
How Does Human Memory Work?

In an interview with the Icy Whiz team, Aseem Jha, Founder and Head of Customer Delivery at Legal Consulting Pro, talked about this. Here is what he said:

Aseem Jha - Featured
Aseem Jha

“The comparison between human brain memory capacity and that of technological devices is fascinating yet nuanced. While technological devices boast impressive storage capacities, they pale in comparison to the complexity and adaptability of the human brain’s memory system.

Understanding the various types of memory, such as short-term, long-term, and procedural memory, sheds light on how our brain’s storage system operates.

My personal experience corroborates this; I’ve found that recalling vivid sensory details from past experiences often triggers a cascade of associated memories, showcasing the intricate interplay between different types of memory.

Facts surrounding human memory, like its fallibility and susceptibility to biases, underscore the importance of employing diverse memory enhancement techniques.

Personally, techniques such as mnemonic devices, spaced repetition, and mindfulness practices have proven effective in bolstering my memory recall and retention, aligning with research findings on memory enhancement.

Integrating these insights into educational strategies and everyday life can empower individuals to optimize their cognitive abilities and harness the full potential of their memory.”

I’ll Tell You Some Other Facts about the Human Memory

Although we have seen the enormous capacity of storage and also how each type of memory is formed, now there are a lot of other facts that need to be understood, which might surprise you. When you learn or get to know something new, you actually tend to forget half of it within an hour, and as the day goes by. Believe me, you will honestly only remember 20-30% of it.

Although our short-term memory has a very small span, but its capacity is astonishing. It can actually hold up to 7 different pieces of information at a time, meaning for 20/30 seconds.

We assume that our brain shuts down when we are sleeping, but it is actually the exact opposite. It uses more brain activity while dreaming than when we are awake. So, it won’t now be difficult to accept that we have about 70,000 thoughts in a day.

It is said that left-handed people have a better memory, and it is termed the lefty advantage; the reason given in various studies is that left-handed people have a larger corpus callosum than right-handed people, as they have more white matter.

There is so much about our brain and memory, so it looks like we have the best memory capacity device in our bodies. But, you will be surprised to know that most of us do not have the perfect memory.

Having the ideal memory is known as hyperthymesia. It is very rare and a very superior brain feature, and there would hardly be 20/100 people in the whole world with this ability.

We interviewed Vikas Kaushik, CEO at TechAhead, who is an expert in the field of IT to know more about this subject. Here is what he had to say:

Vikas Kaushik
Vikas Kaushik

“Technology memory and brain memory are fascinatingly different but connected. There is nothing like biological memory for its contextual awareness and complex emotional links.

It is the foundation of intuition and creativity. Conversely, tech memory enhances efficiency because of its enormous storage and quick recall. To improve both, one must be aware of their sorts.

Brain memory is based on long-term potentiation, whereas digital storage is based on hardware and algorithms. A balanced strategy is essential for improvement: using technology to store and retrieve data while promoting mental wellness through mindfulness and cognitive activities.

Combining these two methods allows for the best of both worlds: computerized recall speed and the depth of human thought.”

Enhancing your Memory

Sleep regularly and try to get a sound and well-rested sleep of 7 to 8 hours every night, and along with regular sleep, make sure you treat your body with some physical activity. Exercise every day in some or the other format or at least 4 times a week. This helps to boost the growth of the cells in your brain and produces neurotransmitters, which help in enhancing your memory.

Consume food that helps build better memory, like vegetables, berries, nuts, and green, leafy salads. Try to completely cut down your smoking and alcohol intake, as these adversely affect your memory capacity. Sugary and processed foods should also be eradicated from the diet. All this will help you in improving memory at some level.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on May 18, 2024 by Pragya


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. According to this article the concept of the human brain’s memory capacity being measured in petabytes is mind-blowing. Understanding the different types of memory and their functions provides a deep insight into the complexity of our brain. The revelation about forgetting half of newly learned information within an hour emphasizes the need for effective memory-enhancing strategies, making the article both intriguing and practical. Sleep well ,exercise daily and consume good food that will built memory Very Informative article .

  2. A wonderful narrative on human memory filled with fun facts like the lefthanded people have good memory power etc. Instead of telling impractical or not proven things, the author ask us to improve our physical strength and health to have a good memory. facts like short term memory, long term memory and sensory memory made the write-up an informative one.

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