October 2, 2020; revised October 3, 2020
Memory preservation and recall involve two components in the brain per Buddha Dhamma. We identify the “transmitter” as the hippocampus. The “receiver” is tentatively identified to be in the posterior visual areas of the cortex possibly the precuneus.
Key Points From the Discussion So Far
1. When outside the physical body, a gandhabba can see, hear, and recall memories “directly.” The invisible gandhabba sees and hears with the cakkhu and sota pasada rupa and recall memories directly in hadaya vatthu. Kammic energy creates up to six sensory units, including those three. See “Mind and Matter – Buddhist Analysis.”
- When inside a physical body, a gandhabba is TOTALLY shielded from outside. But thanks to that solid, dense body, the gandhabba can taste, smell, and touch things too. But ALL six types of interactions with the external world now REQUIRE a functional brain.
- Using an analogy of a military tank, we discussed how the brain analyzes the sensory inputs coming through five physical senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body) and passes them to the gandhabba. See, “Gandhabba in a Human Body – an Analogy.”
- Now, let us discuss the critical role played by the brain in the memory preservation/recall process.
Memory Preservation/Recall for a Gandhabba Inside a Human Body
2. The sights, sounds, tastes, odors, and touchable objects are in the external world. In the same way, our memories are also in the external world.
- Of course, that Buddhist view differs from the scientific view that the memories are “stored” in our brains. See, “Mind Is Not in the Brain.”
- The “physical world” or “rupa loka” that is spread out in space (ākāsa dhātu) is only one part of our world.
- That physical world has a mental counterpart. It is the “mental world” or “nāma loka” associated with the viññāṇa dhātu. Our memories or “nāmagotta” (as well as plans and our kamma bija) are in that nāma loka.
3. Out of the five aggregates (pañcakkhandha), the rupakkhandha encompasses everything associated with the rupa loka. The other four aggregates (vedanākkhandha, saññākkhandha, saṅkhārakkhandha, and viññāṇakkhandha) are associated with the nāma loka. We will discuss that in more detail in upcoming posts.
- As discussed in the above-mentioned posts, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and the physical body brings in the five physical sensory inputs to the gandhabba trapped inside the physical body. The brain plays a key role in processing those sensory inputs and passing them to the gandhabba.
- Two brain components play critical roles in memory preservation/recall for the gandhabba trapped in a physical body. Let us discuss that now.
A Transmitter and a Receiver of Memory in the Brain
4. The five physical senses need to “bring in” external sensory inputs from the physical world. People, animals, and things in the rupa loka can be seen with the eyes. Our physical bodies can touch those things, etc.
- On the other hand, records of our thoughts (nāmagotta) need to be first sent out of the physical body to the nāma loka (viññāṇa dhātu.) Those thoughts arise in the gandhabba inside the physical body. As thoughts arise in gandhabba, the “transmitter” in the brain transmits them to the outside.
- We can recall those records as needed, with the aid of the “receiver” in the brain.
The Critical Roles of the Transmitter and the Receiver
5. If the transmitter in the brain does not work, then records of one’s thoughts cannot be transmitted out to the viññāṇa dhātu. That means those records WILL NOT be saved. If someone’s transmitter stops working, the recording of nāmagotta will stop.
- If the transmitter keeps working, but the receiver stops working, then one will not be able to recall ANY of the memories. However, one’s nāmagotta will continue to accumulate in the nāma loka.
- Of course, if both transmitter and receiver fail, then one’s nāmagotta will not be saved, AND one will not be able to recall ANY memories.
6. Now, let us see what happens when that person dies and is reborn with a human body again. If both the transmitter and receiver work in the new life, the only problem would be the following.
- If the transmitter had not worked for a specific time in the previous life, nāmagotta for that period would be missing FOREVER.
- That last scenario would be similar to the case of nāmagotta missing for the time spent in the asañña realm. For that whole time spent in the asañña realm, there would be no thoughts and thus no “events” to record.
Identification of the Transmitter of Nāmagotta as Hippocampus
7. In the previous post, “Patient H.M. – Different Roles of Brain in Memory,” we discussed the case of patient H.M. As explained in #4 of that post, a surgeon removed H.M.’s hippocampus to treat a different medical problem.
- After the surgery, H.M. lost the ability to recall anything that happened AFTER the operation. However, he could recall events that took place BEFORE the operation.
- The fact that he could recall some memories means the receiver was working!
- The second clue is that he cannot recall new memories made AFTER the operation, which means the transmitter was removed in operation. Only one small part of the brain (hippocampus) was removed during the operation. Thus, it is a clear-cut case that the hippocampus is the transmitter!
- By the way, patient E.P. discussed in #9 of that same post had the same issue of not recalling only those memories created AFTER an incident. In that case, a virus attacked E.P.’s brain area that contained the hippocampus. Thus, his account is also consistent with the hippocampus being the transmitter.
Loss of the Receiver Leads to Complete Loss of Episodic Memories
8. What would happen if the receiver is damaged? Of course, one would not be able to recall anything at all.
- We discussed the case of Clive Wearing in that same post starting at #10. Clive did lose ALL memories. Thus, it is clear that Clive lost the receiver.
- However, he lost his memories due to a viral attack, just like patient E.P. It was not a specific brain component like for patient H.M.
- There was much more damage to Mr. Wearing’s brain than to patient E.P.’s brain. Some areas in the frontal and temporal lobes and around the hippocampus were damaged. There are many small components around the hippocampus (like the amygdala.) I could not find more specific information on the damaged areas of Mr. Wearing’s brain.
- On the other hand, his cerebellum (located in the back of the head) had no damage. Thus, he was able to do routine tasks using habitual memory. He could even play the piano, as we discussed in that post. As discussed in #12, “learned memories” remain hard-wired in the cerebellum. His cerebellum did not have any damage.
- But he would not recall playing the piano a minute after he finished playing! He could not recall ANY “episodic memories” because his “memory receiver” was damaged. His transmitter (hippocampus) was also damaged.
Tentative Identification of the Receiver
9. A recent study monitored various regions of the brain when a subject was asked to recall a past event. I just came across this publication today, October 3, 2020.
- The authors of the publication state, “..Results showed that initial access was very fast, did not activate the hippocampus, and involved activation of predominantly posterior visual areas, including the precuneus.”
- As discussed above in #7, we believe the hippocampus is the transmitter. Thus, this study is consistent with that.
- The publication is available for free distribution: Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory-The role of the precuneus-Mazzoni-2019
Connection to the Ability to Recall Past Lives – Why Scientists Are Wrong
10. Since memories (nāmagotta) remain preserved in the nāma loka (viññāṇa dhātu), they will NEVER be lost. That is why some children can recall their past lives.
- On the other hand, recalling a past life would be impossible if memories were “stored in the brain,” as some scientists speculate. Thus, even if just one of numerous past life accounts is correct, that model has to be discarded.
- Of course, those who cultivate abhiññā powers can recall MANY past lives. The Buddha recalled how he received “niyata vivarana” to become a Buddha from many previous Buddhas who lived billions of years ago! See, “Pāramitā and Niyata Vivarana – Myths or Realities?“
- Further evidence is building up from numerous Near-Death-Experience (NDE) studies conducted by heart surgeons. We discussed those problems with the “memories stored in the brain” theory in the post “Theories of Our World – Scientific Overview.”
Buddha Dhamma Is Self-Consistent and Compatible With Scientific Findings
11. Buddha Dhamma is fully self-consistent. See “Buddha Dhamma: Non-Perceivability and Self-Consistency.” All the posts on this website are self-consistent and are consistent with the Tipiṭaka.
- Over the years, scientific theories kept changing to be consistent with new findings. I predict that science WILL discard the idea that memories remain stored in the brain. It is just a matter of time.
- Another piece of recent evidence is the following. Some people can remember what happened on any ARBITRARILY selected day, even several years ago. It Is as though their memories were digitally recorded.
- Our brains are not digital, as proven in recent years. They do not work the same way as digital computers. It is impossible to “record” events in such detail in our brains.
- We will discuss accounts of some of those people with “perfect memories” in the next post.
All posts in this section at “Buddha Dhamma – A Scientific Approach.”