Sensory Memory

One of the coolest things I learned during my psychology master’s program was that your memories are probably stored not just in your brain but throughout your entire nervous system. It was funny to me to consider the idea that I was retrieving a high school memory from my big toe. The science behind this theory is that often we react to a _potential_ danger before we can ever actually process the fact that we might get hurt. For instance, when you touch a burner on your kitchen range, sometimes you will react sharply by withdrawing your hand quickly as though you had been burned, even though the burner itself is cold. That is due to a memory stored in that part of your body of a time in the past when you _had_ been burned, and your reflexes reacted before your brain had the chance the determine that there was no actual danger present.

Another thing that most people are probably aware of is that the senses can often store the most potent memories of all. Say you smell perfume and you are struck with a poignant memory of a former love and are brought to the brink of tears at the vividness of the thoughts and feelings associated with that memory, even though it’s been years since you last saw that individual. Or you hear an old song for the first time in forever and you remember an event you hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. Or you touch a rough board and you can remember as though it was yesterday that time as a child that you worked in the shop with your dad building a birdhouse.

The senses are amazing things, and it’s still amazing to me just what kinds of memories are stored with them and what can be accessed with just the right stimulus. Our bodies are an intricate and vastly complex work, and I think I never cease to be fascinated the things they can do.

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