Our brain is not so different from a computer after all. Here’s a closer look at the similarities between our memory and that of a computer.

An overview of the computer process




1. The computer receives its input from keyboard, mouse or stylus, microphone or camera.

2. Next these inputs are processed by the computer.

3. They remain in the computer’s memory – which is either the cache or the RAM while this processing is going on.

4. When the save button is clicked, the processed input is saved in the hard disk or the thumb drive.

5. When we need access to the saved information, we click a few buttons and the computer retrieves the information into the memory for us to view or for the computer to process that information.

Brain Function vs Computer Memory




Input via

  • keyboard,
  • mouse or stylus,
  • camera,
  • microphone or
  • scanner
Input via the senses

  • eyes (visual),
  • ears (auditory),
  • nose (olfactory),
  • tongue (gustatory) and
  • skin or touch (kinesthetic)
Input is stored in temporary form until it is acted on
  • Input via the senses is stored for very short periods of time in sensory register
  • Different senses have different sensory-register holding time. Vision is 1 second and auditory is about 5 seconds.
Input is saved as is, processed and then saved or completely discarded By paying attention we move the sensory register information to short term memory
  • Temporary memory is via physical RAM, virtual memory or cache.
  • Access to it is very fast but we lose the contents once the computer is shut-down
  • Short-term memory time is 18 to 30 seconds
  • Can hold 7 plus/minus 2 items of information at a time
  • Saving a file moves it to hard disk or permanent storage
  • Available over a long time
  • Needs access or retrieval before it is available
  • Rehearsal and consolidation moves information from short-term memory to long-term memory
  • Physical changes made to the brain at this level
  • Limitless Capacity
  • Needs retrieval to access the information in long-term memory


Working Memory

Many people refer to short-term memory as working memory. Working Memory is a combination of both short-term and long-term memories that are pulled in to process them. Hence the name, working memory.

The closest computer equivalent is Virtual Memory – which can be located in physical RAM. When that is not enough, part of the hard disk is also used as virtual memory.

For more information, see the Wikipedia article on Memory

And here’s an interesting lecture from Stanford University on Learning and Memory. It is a bit long, but worth the time.

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