NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall


Posted in Natural Science by Ian MacDougall on May 29, 2019

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
       I summon up remembrance of things past,
       I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
       And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
       Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
       For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
       And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
       And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight.
       Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
       And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
       The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
       Which I new pay as if not paid before.
            But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
           All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) Sonnet 30

A single phrase from a piece of music is enough to start memories ‘flooding back’ from wherever in the head it is they are kept, and however kept there; until “death’s dateless night”.                                                                                                            

The organic basis of memory is intriguing, but at the same time one of the hardest topics to research in all of science.  . The Nobel laureate Sir John Eccles retired declaring that after a lifetime of neurological research, he knew nothing more of much significance about the operation of the brain than he did when he first began work as a neurologist. He predicted also that “The last thing that man will understand in nature is the performance of his brain.”

So far, he is on track to be proved right. ;

After a working life teaching scientific thinking and scientific thought to people with fresh young active and alert personalities and minds, I may be in a position to offer an hypothesis; for which I make no claim other than it might just be something useful for some line of research in that field. What interests me right here and now is the possible manner in which information is stored in the nervous system, presumably but not necessarily exclusively, in the brain.

Though protozoans can respond to stimuli, and practice survival behaviour, it is at the level of the coelenterates that what we might call nervous systems appear.  The initial purpose appears to be coordination and telegraph-like signalling for muscle movement, principally for self-protection. Those animals are not capable of the behaviour of self-protection,  because like sponges and some protozoa, their behaviour repertoire is limited. They might as well be plants, protecting themselves as best they can with woody barriers, thorns, and the widest possible variety of stings and poisons. But any animal which through perception and response to stimuli seeks to protect itself and aid its own survival, to that extent has a form of what we might call ‘consciousness.’

Consciousness is by no means confined to the higher vertebrates. Arguably, coelenterates (eg coral polyps) and molluscs have it, at least on the above basis. A snail responds to danger by withdrawing into its shell, so protecting itself. In other words, like the living human itself gradually coming into being from zygote to embryo to foetus to baby to infant and so on, consciousness in the course of evolution has done much the same; rather than being switched on as if an electric light in the final, fully-formed conscious Homo sapiens.

I contend that a likely beginning point in any animal species’ start towards consciousness is Hamlet’s classic question: To be, or not to be? Those indifferent to their own survival tend to leave fewer than average descendants. An ability to sense a situation of danger, and respond to it in a way favouring survival, merely requires a fixed action pattern wired into the animal’s nervous system in some way, however basic that nervous system might be.                                

But also, as in many other cases in biology, a cell, tissue or organ having one initial apparent purpose can be adapted, modified or whatever  for a very different, if not apparently unrelated purpose.

The horn of a rhinoceros for example, is actually made of keratin: the same substance that makes up animal hair fibres, claws and fingernails, which are in turn modified reptilian scales inherited from ancestral fish. Amphibian legs are likewise modified fins of fish. Jawbones originated in fish as modified gill arches. Similarly, in plants, flower petals are modified leaves.

In architectural history, walls of buildings initially had the purpose of supporting the roof and keeping out wind and weather. But their vertical surfaces soon became interesting to decorators and other artists, leading to frescoes, murals and information storage and presentations in the form of wall art and writing, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs.

I contend here that the protein content of the neuronal cell membrane conceivably has a function not just in containing the cell contents, but as a repository for the vast detail of memory.

Our individual human collections of memories become within each of us a huge otherworld. That is, a world apart from the experiences of human collectives organised as communities (including communicating language communities) tribes and larger entities such as social classes and nations.

The human brain is often considered to be the most cognitively capable among mammalian brains and to be much larger than expected for a mammal of our body size. Although the number of neurons is generally assumed to be a determinant of computational power, and despite the widespread quotes that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons and ten times more glial cells, the absolute number of neurons and glial cells in the human brain remains unknown. Here we determine these numbers by using the isotropic fractionator and compare them with the expected values for a humansized primate. We find that the adult male human brain contains on average 86.1 ± 8.1 billion NeuNpositive cells (“neurons”) and 84.6 ± 9.8 billion NeuNnegative (“nonneuronal”) cells.

So 100 billion is a good round working number. There is a large number of neurones and accompanying glial cells in the human brain. The axons of those neurones are relatively long cellular tubes ending in a cell body, with numerous branches or dendrites coming off it, like branches off some leafless tree. Nerve impulses pass along a linear series of neurones insulated from each other sideways by fatty sheaths of myelin, and separated from each other end-to-end by tiny gaps called synapses. Across any synapse, the signal is carried by neurotransmitter molecules from the axon of one neurone to the dendrites of the next in the neurone series in the nerve or nerve bundle. A single neurone can have up to a thousand synapses.

For our purposes, the brain amounts to a dense electrical jelly packed out with neurones.  Let us now consider neurone dimensions. The diameter of a typical neurone is 1/106 m.

The human brain has often been viewed as outstanding among mammalian brains: the most cognitively able, the largest-than-expected from body size, endowed with an overdeveloped cerebral cortex that represents over 80% of brain mass, and purportedly containing 100 billion neurons and 10× more glial cells.

The Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain

Neurone diameter is one one millionth of a metre or 1/1,000,000 m.  So the circumference C of any neurone, is the product of the diameter of the neurone and pi (π ).

 C = πd

π [pi in Greek] is the ratio of the length of the circumference of a circle to its diameter: 3.1415927 [approx – it is an irrational number, because C must be assumed to be an infinite number of very short straight lines.] We take the total length of the cerebral neurones as 850,000 km.

In the case of any neurone in cross-section, 

C     = the diameter of the neurone x π

       = 1/106 m x 3.14 = 3.14 x 10-6 m

The human brain’s approximately 86 billion neurons are probably connected by something like 850,000 km of axons and dendrites. Of this total, roughly 80% is short-range, local connections (averaging 680 microns in length), and approximately 20% is long-range, global connections in the form of myelinated fibers (likely averaging several centimeters in length).


As we saw, neurones are essentially pipes. Across the walls of these pipes, sodium and potassium ions exchange in a wave-like motion as the nerve impulse travels along the neurone from the axon of one to the dendrites of the next. The functional internal area of the wall of the nerve pipe is thus the pipe circumference multiplied by the total length of all the neurone pipes.  (We assume that thanks to the myelin sheath, the external membrane surface is probably not involved.)

So the neurone circumference multiplied by the average length of a neurone gives us the area Aneuron cell membrane  (one side only) of the neurone cell membrane.

Aneuron cell membrane       = area of neuron cell membrane (one side only)

                                  = C x length of av. length of neurone

                                  = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.67 x 103 m2

That is to say that if one was to split all the cerebral neurones and flatten them out into a layer one neurone-membrane thick, they would cover an area of around 2, 670 square metres. That would be the area of a square around 51 metres by 51 metres. Say 50 x 50 m2. (It would be double that if we considered both inner and outer neurone surfaces, but we will not.)

If one put a human brain into a blender, added some water and turned the whole lot into a slurry, it could conceivably be spray-painted on to cover such an area to a depth of one cell membrane thickness. (The mechanics of doing it I leave to others more skilled in that field than am I.) But that checks out about right on an order of magnitude level.

Area of neuron cell membrane (Aneuron cell membrane : one side only) 

= C x total av. length of neurone

Aneuron cell membrane  = av neurone diameter x total length of neurones ( 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2)

                             = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2

                             = 2,669m2

That makes it a square of 52 m per side: say 50 m2.

Again, we would double that if both inside and outside surfaces of the neurone cell membrane are involved in memory. But I doubt they are, for the above (myelin) reason.

The neurone membrane consists of two layers of protein each one molecule thick, separated by a single layer of lipid molecules. (So it is a lipid sandwich whose ‘bread’ is protein.)

Our next question is: how many protein molecules can be packed one molecule deep into that area of 50m x 50m?                                                                                           

Take each protein molecule as being 10nm across (1 nanometre = 10^-9 m). Therefore the number of protein molecules Np needed for this will be:

Np  = 50 / 10-9 x 50 / 10-9  = 2500 x 1018

      ~ 2.5 x 1021

If we were to represent each protein molecule as grain of sand on a beach: each grain of side 1mm, we would need an area Abeach of  2.5 x 1021 mm2 to accommodate  it.

Abeach  = 2.5 x 1021 x 10-6 m2 , there being 106 sq mm in 1 sq m.

           = 2.5 x 1021 x 10-6 m2

           = 2.5 x 1015 m2

           = 2.5 x 1015 m2 x 10-6 km2

           = 2.5 x 109 km2  of beach

As the area of Australia is 7.692 million km², or 7.692 x 10^6 km2, the number of ‘Australias’  needed for  2.5 x 109 sq km of beach is 2.5 x 109 sq km /7.692 x 106 km2

         = 325 ‘Australias’

The Earth has an overall surface area of 5.1 x 108 km2 .

.So with each protein molecule in the neurone surface being represented as a 1 cubic mm sand grain, on a ‘beach’ one sand grain deep, the number of Earths we would need for this is 2.5 x 109 sq km / 5.1 x 108 km2

     = 4.9

     ~ 5 ‘planet Earths’.

In other words, scaled down from beach to neurone dimensions, on the molecular scale of things there is a rather vast protein surface inside every human brain.

BUT the vastness is even bigger than that. If each of the sand grains on that beach were to represent the protein molecules in the cell membranes of the neurones in the human brain, not only would we need a beach five times the surface area of the Earth to represent them, but as well, each of those protein molecules is made up of a selection of the 20 amino acids Nature uses to build the bodies of animals and plants, all held together by hydrogen bonds into a functional shape. And not just into any old shape. Proteins in order to function as they do in nature have to be of specific shapes.The possible combinations of amino acids and protein molecules increases; hugely.

This is illustrated by the simple act of boiling an egg. The heat denatures the ‘white’ of the egg (the albumin) and turns it from clear to white and from gelatinous to semi- solid. A shelled boiled egg will retain its ovoid shape, and can never be ‘unboiled’ again. A shelled raw egg does what such eggs have been doing since the invention of the frying pan.

As well, the sand grains on the vast five-Earths beach could be made more representative of the amino acids by each being in one of 20 colours, with each grain having information storage power according to its colour, as well as being in one of at least two orientations relative to some local point we can take as ‘fixed’ despite movement of the body, eg the orientation of the neurone cell membrane itself. One position or orientation could be for ‘on’ and another readily available one for ‘off’. Change that, and trouble follows; which is possibly why a blow to the head can be disastrous for both consciousness and memory.

Three colours only are used to form the pixels of a colour TV screen. Combinations and permutations of red, blue and green are used to make all the colours of the screen plus white (all brightly shining) and black (all off). But each protein molecule, can be one of 20 different molecular types, and can be oriented relative to its neighbours or some local fixed point in one of at least two orientation states. That can contribute to a cerebral memory system with vast possibilities for information storage.

BUT BACK TO THE BEACH. It should be apparent that with an area  2 x 1021 mm2 covered with 2 x 1021 sand grains, each grain being a cube of side 1 mm and having one of 20 distinct colours, we have considerable possibilities both for coding of information and for its storage and retrieval, provided we have ease of accessibility and some sort of writing/reading mechanism or system.

On high resolution OLED TV screens for example: we have 3 dots per pixel. Each dot is one of 3 possible colours, red, green and blue, with an illusion of intermediate spectral colours achieved by combining these primary colours. So in a square 100 pixels x 100 pixels on such a TV screen, there would be 10,000 pixels in all, each pixel consisting of 3 dots of red, green and blue. Pixels per inch (or pixels per centimeter) can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image file. A 100×100 pixel image printed in a 1 inch square has, by definition, a resolution of 100 pixels per inch.                                                                                         

Such a matrix could be used to store information, just as tribal lore is stored in an Australian Aboriginal dot painting.

A suitable scanner would be needed to read back the stored information in say, electronic form as a series of pulses.

Thus the neurones in the animal brain can be thought of in sum as a screen with 2 x 1021 pixels, each pixel consisting of one of 20 possible protein dots, and as the image on the TV screen is intrinsically capable of doing, capable of storing information in those protein dots. The dots would be read or otherwise accessed by suitable reading molecular apparatus, probably on the basis of the less access routinely required, the longer the time needed to effect the reading that constitutes memory recall.

One way Nature could have done this would be by placing Na+ and K+ ions to represent 1s and 0s the way digital computers use the polarity of microscopic switches in memory chips and microprocessors.                                                                               

Memory storage would then be a process of somehow moving the Na+ and K+ ions into different patterns on the cell membrane protein ‘beach’. Perhaps the myriad of glial cells might be involved in this.

Or possibly, a univalent positive ion (say, a K+ ion) is replaced with a divalent one (say a Ca2+ ion) making a local area of enhanced positivity, and thus capable of being digital code; for an item of information; ad infinitum.

In traditional book libraries, every holding (book, journal etc) is entered in a card catalogue, which becomes the first place for the information-seeking reader to go. If you know what you are looking for, then the catalogue gives you the location of the book, and the book’s index, or its table of contents,  gives you the page to go to for the information you seek.

These days cataloguing is done electronically, as indeed is information storage generally. But the library with its catalogue is still the best and most readily understandable analogy for information storage, in my humble opinion.

In computers, electrical circuits are made and broken at very high speeds, and information is stored in binary code of 1s and 0s on hard drives, memory sticks and other such devices. On a computer hard drive’s metal disc, a tiny local area of the metal can be magnetised.  That large shiny, circular ‘plate’ of magnetic material is called the ‘platter’. It is divided into billions of tiny areas, each one capable of being magnetised (say to store a 1) or demagnetised (say to store a 0). Magnetism is used in computer storage because it goes on storing information even when the power is switched off. 

Flash drives a full of tiny transistors which can serve as switches having two positions: ‘on’ and ‘off’.   But whatever the organic basis of human memory, the information storage has to be vast, and the location and retrieval systems very powerful and rapid.

I will give you an example. If you are of a certain age, you might recall receiving news of US President John F Kennedy’s assassination on November 22nd, 1963. Or if you are not of a certain age, you might recall the circumstance in which you first heard of it.

OR: where were you when you first became aware that you existed?                              

AND/OR Do you remember learning to ride a bicycle for the first time free of trainer wheels or fussing adults?

Do you remember learning to walk? I do. Long before that memorable day I learned to ride my 2-wheeler bike, I was crawling around the floor of my parents’ rented house at 77 Woodward Ave, Strathfield, a suburb of Sydney. I hauled myself up and held onto the sofa, made it from the sofa to an armchair, and from there to a second armchair. For me, 78 years on, that is still a vivid memory. The year was 1940, in the month of December, which I worked out from the age my mother later told me that I was at the time: 8 months.                                                          

Or if such has never been of particular concern to you, please recall the name of your first pet dog or cat. (Mine was ‘Binka’, a mainly fox terrier ‘bitser’ dog; and a cross I am sure between 16 of the finest dogs and bitches from round the streets of Strathfield.)

We all have streams of memories: often trivia to others and just as often pretty vital and vivid stuff to us as individuals. Have I ever flown in a biplane? No. I cannot recall ever having done so; but that lack of memory is itself a memory ‘fact’. However, I have flown in other kinds of planes, the first one being a piston-engined, prop-driven  Lockheed Super-constellation in 1958, and the latest one being some Boeing job in the Virgin fleet. About a month ago, my wife Jenny and I flew across from Adelaide in it, and were met at the Canberra Airport by Jenny’s brother Stuart and his wife Anna. More facts fresh out of storage, which will fade I am sure, possibly, even probably, because the organic molecules and ions arguably used for their storage will be found other uses. But more on that below.

Hypnosis has been established as a means of retrieving memories long believed by their owner to be totally forgotten. That is also a fact I have encountered and memorised somehow. That fact and countless, probably millions, of other bits of trivial information are stored in me in some manner; presumably somewhere in my central nervous system, probably mainly in my brain, though perhaps the spinal cord and peripheral nerves play a role: hence the expression ‘muscle memory.’

If I was retrieving them and relaying them verbally to you, dear reader, then in all likelihood my speed of transmission would match your speed of reception and interpretation, because our two brains are constructed on similar lines. If you were a blue whale, a hummingbird, or say one of the Australian eastern brown snakes, living on the hill just up the street from my home here in Canberra, that can get about 5 deadly strikes in before you know about the first of them, there could be synchronisation problems.

Now, to return to the Kennedy assassination: I do recall my particular circumstances. I was living in my Great Aunt Sadie’s house in Fivedock, Sydney. (Aunt Sadie was in a nursing home nearby) and my (then) wife came wide-eyed into the room where I was with the news.

My response to her was half exclamation, half question. “What?!”

And I could not at first believe it. Today, I ask myself as well another ‘what‘ question: what happened in those last 5 seconds?  What happened when I remembered that event?

Or when I recall this extra little bit of information: Aunt Sadie was born in New York, but taken back to Scotland as a baby by her Scottish parents, where she learned to talk and had her early childhood. Later, after emigrating to Australia with her parents, she used to tell everyone with great enthusiasm in her pronounced Scots burr: “I’m a Yankee!”

As I recall, most found that very hard to believe.

Out of a huge quantity of trivia, Nature (not I) has somehow stored away inside my head, I have used whatever it was Nature gave me; have looked it up, gone to it, retrieved it and communicated it back to you, the reader of this, who uses as I do,  more or less, the same communication system (called the English language, and in that language often called in turn ‘remembrance of things past’).

And we can bring understanding of the symbols out of storage, and use that information to decode the symbols. So what happened, and how did Nature set us up to be able to do it; however it was that we did it? Because we not only have to retrieve the information, we have to understand the language used in the question, remembering what the words as used in their context, mean.

It is little wonder therefore that the human brain consumes (transforms, if you would prefer) energy at a surprising rate.

The brain makes up 2% of a person’s weight. Despite this, even at rest, the brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy. The brain consumes energy at 10 times the rate of the rest of the body per gram of tissue. The average power consumption of a typical adult is 100 Watts and the brain consumes 20% of this making the power of the brain 20 W.

The facts are:

  1. Memory can be vast in all of us: an unquantifiable collection of words, grammar rules, events and sensual experiences from the 5 fundamental senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and balance.
  2. Recall is often rapid: of skills, words, past advice from others, of one’s own experiences and other categories of memory.
  3. Recent experience, if not out of the ordinary, is readily lost.
  4. First (remarkable) experiences are often long remembered and readily recalled.
  5. Some memories can only be recalled by suggestion and autosuggestion.

     So here is my tentative suggestion and by no means complete hypothesis on what takes place.                                                                                                                          

Memory storage needs a highly accessible ‘wall’ on which symbols of some kind can be drawn, and retrieved easily and efficiently without the librarian (you) having to plough through a mountain codexes (books and journal articles) of irrelevant stuff before arriving at what is sought. We need to be able to stand back, survey the whole store, and then go to the part we want.

The manner this storage was done from the earliest times through to the earliest civilisations is perhaps the model. Neanderthal art in Spain has been dated at 65,000 years BP, though the oldest Australian Aboriginal cave art is at 28,000 BP is also old by any standard.

Cave paintings gave way to hieroglyphics on interior walls of tombs, which in turn gave way to hieroglyphics on papyrus scrolls, those flattened and matted papyrus reeds from the Nile, and from which we derive the word paper. Papyrus (which I remember first learning about in my history class in my first year at high school) in turn gave way to cuneiform impressions made by styli on the surfaces of clay tablets, which gave way to alphabetic script (first developed by the Phoenicians) on animal skin and  parchment, and to ideograms (Chinese script.) on paper scrolls also.

Interestingly, when we read a book we don’t do it letter-by-letter as a beginning reader does ‘sounding it out’.  (‘The cat sat on the mat’ is my favourite.) Each word is read as a whole: ie as an ideogram. But where one needs about 3,000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper, 26 letters of the Roman alphabet is all it takes in English, provided it is correctly spelled.  Paw speling slos tha prozess dowen.

In other words, a book is a surface on which code can be written, scaled down from wall-size to something more convenient. So is microfilm. So is a computer flash drive or hard drive, because however it is stored electronically, that memory code is made visible and alterable and capable of being edited and added to by being displayed on a flat screen and hooked up via a computer to a keyboard.

(The first computer I ever owned was a Commodore CPM, with its Random Access Memory (RAM) upgraded from 16 kilobytes to an enormous 32 kilobytes.  Pathetic by today’s standards, but I just fished that fact out of somewhere in my head as well.)

So what might be the hard drive of the brain and the alterable and editable recording system of the mind dwelling within it? I assume that what we call the mind is based on vast memory of life history, events, words, phrases, quotable quotes, routinely extracted quotes and other expressions, photographs, sound recordings etc. In fact, ‘etc’ raised to the power of M, where M is a very large number.                                                                                                                          

I suggest the most likely candidate is one or (less likely) both of the protein surfaces of the cell membrane of the cerebral neurone, the both of which surfaces resemble somewhat the pile of a rather plush carpet.

One protein surface could serve for short-term memories, and the other for long-term ones, including operating system (culture, language etc) stuff. Importantly, protein molecules are electrically polar, each one having a more positive side and a more negative side, and so they have an affinity for that supreme polar solvent, water. (This can be confirmed by taking some of the protein gelatine, the main constituent of jelly crystals, dissolving it in hot water, and then allowing time for it to cool and form new inter-molecular bonds: a process know as ‘setting’ in jelly preparation, and which can be reversed simply by re-heating the jelly.) Because amino acid and protein molecules are polar, they also have affinity for positively charged ions (ions being charged atoms or groups of atoms.)

The molecular polarity arises from the fact that the amino acid groups making up the structure of the protein molecule contain highly electronegative oxygen (as  –COOH ) on one side and less electronegative nitrogen (as  – NH2 ) on the other.

There is evidence that hyponatremia (sodium deficiency) affects memory in rats, which fits the above.

Positive ions possibly play a role as the hieroglyphs of memory: one possibility is that monovalent sodium and potassium ions (Na+ and K+) so common in nerve and brain tissue and chemistry swap places, with other enzyme molecules doing the swapping.

Or, a monovalent Na+ or K+ ion could be replaced with a divalent Mg2+ or Ca2+ ion, creating a local area of the protein ‘carpet’ of enhanced positivity.

Our protein molecules can possibly be stored ‘wrong side out’ until required for a memory. So they can be turned and stored ‘right side in’ where they will be needed: in association with local potassium-sodium ion combinations. In other words, they have the potential to act like changeable tiles in a mosaic; with a reading mechanism.

A dot matrix like a TV screen can present ‘information’ in “pixels per inch (or pixels per centimeter) can also describe the resolution, in pixels, of an image file. A 100×100 pixel image printed in a 1 inch square has a resolution of 100 pixels per inch. … Industry standard, good quality photographs usually require 300 pixels per inch, at 100% size…” ( )

Thus a TV or computer screen could function like the wall of an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb to store information; with a suitable playback or readback mechanism or device. Actually, the image is a bit like the ‘positive’ created from the ‘negative’ of an old black-and-white film. Except the ‘negative’ can be considered as an electronic master recording of data, subsequently sent to the TV screen to form the array of illuminated dots that make up the picture or screen image.

Eukaryotic cells are those with their genetic material in chromosomes contained within distinct cell nuclei. The ‘central dogma’ of eukaryote genetics is that genes express themselves through the production of enzyme molecules, which are complex and specific catalysts for the production of proteins. The code embedded in the genes of the nuclear DNA is read as a master plan for the production of enzyme molecules, which in turn act as templates for the production of proteins. The principle is simple: one gene, one enzyme.

Once the proteins are in place in the cell membrane, they can conceivably be read back by the same or similar enzymes and so function in their own way as a code. Thus the eukaryote cell can have at least two functioning systems of information storage:

1. What we might call ‘Ancestral data’ In the ancestral DNA and

2. What we might call ‘Individual data’ in the proteins constructed from information in that DNA and then modified through individual use.

Individual data storage in the brain can also be likened to the books in a library. A lifetime is spent adding to and reading the collection, which can in my experience, finish up rather vast. Most of it is ‘forgotten’ until needed, then simple passage of time brings the book containing the data from the stacks. For example, apart from the recalls of mine I have cited so far, yesterday I had occasion to recall a remark made by a member of the Rolling Stones (a band incidentally whose music does not interest me much) but it was in answer years ago to a journalist’s question as to why no songwriter in the band wrote political songs.  The answer came along the lines of “it’s a bit hard to get too worked up about Ted Heath, mate.” Ted Heath, you will possibly recall, was British Prime Minister. As I recalled, that remark was made by Mick Taylor. And a day or so later I recalled the name. It was Keith Richard. Not Mick Taylor, as I had previously thought.

So what, I ask myself, happened there?

I suggest something may have happened fairly quickly at the protein layer on its inside surface on the cell membrane of one or many of the neurones in my brain, with the much smaller glial cells perhaps having an intermediary messenger role.

ALL I WOULD CONCLUDE FROM THIS is that in the protein-lipid-protein layers of the cell membranes of the CNS neurones, there is enormous potential for information (ie memory) storage; and that those proteins are involved in memory would help explain the ready accessibility of a vast array of information and data stored in the human memory; the possible physical and/or structures in which it is based being apparently housed within the brain. Moreover, the storage is as intimately associated with the central nervous system as it is possible to be.

Note that in reading the above paragraph, you have been rapidly accessing your memory however recorded to retrieve the meanings of all the words in the sequence in which they are written. Change the order, and you change the meaning: as in ‘the mat sat on the cat’.

We have seen that the total internal area of the cerebral neurones is found my multiplying the average length of a neurone by the number of them:

.Aneuron cell membrane  = av neurone diameter x total length of neurones ( 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2)

                             = 3.14 x 10-6 m x 850 x 106 m = 2.12 x 103 m2

                             = 2,669 m2

This in turn would be an area sufficient to accommodate  around 2 x 1021  protein molecules, ( Np  = 46 / 10-9 x 46 / 10-9  = 2119 x 1018 ,~ 2 x 1021 ) each protein molecule being made up of a combination of amino acid groups of atoms, of which amino acids there are 20 varieties for Nature to use in the recording of memory, and into which memory coding could be set.

But I would contend, at least at this point in time, that synaptic changes and/or fresh neurone connections need not be and are probably not involved. Memory can rather be likened to the switching yard in a major railway terminus, such as the Eveleigh Yards in Sydney. My contention is that the configuration of the points, while essential for getting the right carriages onto the right siding, is not likely to be what memory is stored as or in. Nor is it in the trains, freight cars, crates and boxes stacked within them, whatever their nervous system analogues might be. The points and switching gear is a means to that end, and quite likely, no more.

On this analogy, the surface on which information would be written to be stored as writing, would be that of the rails themselves. Each length of standard Australian rail has a lateral perimeter of 0.730 m (I measured that myself on a small length of standard railway line.) We can calculate the diameter of a pipe with that circumference as follows:

C = πd

Divide both sides by π to retain the = sign:

          Therefore d = C/π

                               = 0.730 m/ 3.1415927

                               = 0.232 m, which is 23.2 cm.

Each rail is part of a national rail system totalling in 2018  33,200 km of track,  or 3.32 x 107 m, each track consisting of two rails, so 66,400 km (6.64.x 107 m) of rail in all, thus with a total surface area of track of

6.64.x 107 m x 0.730 m = 4.85 x 107 m2 = 48.5 km2 = 7km x 7km approx.

That is equivalent to a 23.2 cm (~ 1 foot) diameter pipe extending for 66,400 km: a huge surface area of steel for graffiti artists to get to work on, compared with what they could do for their public information cause by playing about with points and switches. Points and switches or rails of whatever size and overall length, and written on in whatever size of print; if the print size is of a constant proportion to the pipe diameter, it will make no difference. Pipe surface area will always provide far more information storage than will settings of points and switches, even if the latter cover the whole 7km x 7km (approx.) area. 

And as there are 106 m2 in every km2, in an area of 48.5 km2 , that is almost exactly one million times the internal area of the cerebral neurones.  But the ‘hieroglyphs’ written in the proteins are far smaller still. If our railway graffiti artist were to paint slogans in letters 1 m high on carriages, they would be 108 times too big. Again, taking each protein molecule as being 10 nm across  (1 nanometre = 10-9 m). As we have seen above, the number of protein molecules available for the hieroglyphs of memory is

Np  = 46 / 10-9 x 46 / 10-9  = 2,500 x 1018

      ~ 2.5 x 1021

Written out in longhand, that is 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 nice large (as molecules go) protein molecules.  On average.  In every human head on Earth.

Again, taking each protein molecule as being 10 nm across  (1 nanometre = 10-9 m), and the diameter of the neurone  it forms part of as one one millionth of a metre or 1/1,000,000 m, then

                                    Protein molecular diameter = 10 x 10-9 m  = 10-8 m,

                                    Neurone diameter                 = 10-6 m

             then protein diameter / neuron diameter  = 10-8 m / 10-6

                                                                                   =  1/100

Therefore the ‘lettering’ on the pipe representing the neurone axon will be 1/100 of the diameter of the pipe, whatever that diameter may be. This gives considerable scope for the storing of a huge amount of information in the protein layer which makes up most of the vast total of the internal surfaces of the neurones of the brain: of any animal capable of memory of experience past.



REFERENCES: 1. General

Davies, Paul, The Demon in the Machine, Allen Lane, UK, 2019.

Dennettt, Daniel C., Consciouness Explained; Penguin, England, 1991.

Tortora, Gerard J. and Anagnostakos, Nicholas P., Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 5th Ed., Harper and RowPublishers, NY, 1987.


REFERENCES, 2. In order of citation in the text              

memory, organic basis …  

Eccles , Sir John ;

neurone cell membrane

neurone numbers                 


neurone dimensionsThe Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain

neurone diameter 

nerve fibres total length   

 neurone membrane

brain, power consumption

cave art

proteins, neurone  

hyponatremia in rats

pixel density