In a discussion with a friend recently, she asserted that human memory is infinite and never-ending. There is no limit to the amount of information that we can store in our mind. She said that some studies have been conducted on this phenomenon and that they have concluded that memory is indeed unlimited. I haven’t seen these studies yet, but she being a psychology student, I took her word for it.
However, I wasn’t convinced. I personally believe that the human mind has a limited capacity and that it is just like any other electronic storage device with limited capacity. There must be an upper limit to the amount of things that can be stuffed into this finite space. I argued that perhaps we do have a limited amount of memory, but we simply haven’t been able to exhaust that. I said that our lifespan is not enough to run out of space in our brains and to have a stack overflow (yes, I just had to use that reference).
Anyhow, this happened few weeks back and the reason why I’m telling you about all this is because I saw a quote today that seemed at first to me to be a play on words to make something mundane sound profound. But then, on second glance, I felt that there was more to it and that it resonated with what I believe in! This is the quote –
The infinite can never be gained by the finite.
Now, I saw this quote on a Swami Chinmayananda calendar that a senior colleague has on her desk. She is quite the follower of the Chinmaya Mission and often talks to me about it. Okay digressing. So about the quote, well I don’t really want to go into the philosophical underpinnings of this quote. I have no interest in the spiritual context of this quote, but I was quite taken in by the literal meaning of what he said.
In essence, he is saying that a finite container can never contain something infinite, which is quite obvious when it is said like that but still. This immediately validates my argument where I said that the brain being a finite entity cannot hold infinite memories. However, on further introspection, I felt that there was a catch in this somewhere.
It all makes sense when we are talking of the same quantity. A finite amount of space can’t contain infinite matter. A finite amount of time can’t have infinite moments. But what could we say about infinite time being contained in a finite space? They are totally different quantities and as such, incomparable.
When we speak of thoughts and memories, what exactly are we talking about? These aren’t physical quantities that can be put into boxes and transported. They are perhaps, an arrangement of molecules in the complex chemical structure of our mind. Maybe not even that. Honestly, I have no idea what memories or thoughts are. Since I don’t know what they are, I can’t quantify them and since I can’t quantify them.. there’s no way of knowing the capacity of the mind! So that brings us full circle to our point of discussion – Is the capacity of the human mind finite or infinite?
After much deliberation, I have concluded that there is no way to find out unless we are able to fully understand what thoughts and memories are. The brain is a physical thing, yet the mind isn’t. The brain will be contained within a particular size and can’t grow larger than that, so it is finite. The infinity of the brain is impossible, but the infinity of the mind is a totally different thing. It is not something that must adhere to these constraints of space and time (or is it?). So, what are limits of the mind? What is infinity with regard to that?
I am so confused. Damn you, infinity and metaphysics!
Fun fact: The brain is the only organ to have named itself.