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much. And quite probably the same is true of many nerve cells involved in the general process of doing the analog of producing hash codes.

The reason for such a lack of change could conceivably be simply that at the relevant level the overall properties of the stream of data corresponding to typical experience remain fairly constant. But it might also be that if one expects to retrieve elements of memory reliably then there is no choice but to set things up so that the hashing procedure one uses always stays essentially the same.

And if there is a fixed such scheme, then this implies that while certain similarities between pieces of data will immediately be recognized, others will not.

So how does this compare to what we know of actual human memory? There are many kinds of similarities that we recognize quite effortlessly. But there are also ones that we do not. And thus, for example, given a somewhat complicated visual image—say of a face or a cellular automaton pattern—we can often not even immediately recognize similarity to the same image turned upside-down.

So are such limitations in the end intrinsic to the underlying mechanism of human memory, or do they somehow merely reflect characteristics of the memory that we happen to build up from our typical actual experience of the world?

My guess is that it is to some extent a mixture. But insofar as more important limitations tend to be the result of quite low-level aspects of our memory system it seems likely that even if these aspects could in principle be changed it would in practice be essentially impossible to do so. For the low levels of our memory system are exposed to an immense stream of data. And so to cause any substantial change one would presumably have to insert a comparable amount of data with the special properties one wants. But for a human interacting with anything like a normal environment this would in practice be absolutely impossible.

So in the end I strongly suspect that the basic rules by which human memory operates can almost always be viewed as being essentially fixed—and, I believe, fairly simple.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]