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In my story characters can go into perfectly simulated virtual worlds where their memories have been replicated down to the individual neurons and their protien structures. In these worlds time passes at a much slower rate meaning they can spend years enjoying fantasies, studying and training whilst only minutes or hours passes in the real world.

I am wondering how their digital conscious can downloaded back into their biological brain. Without them having robotic brains or even nanotech neuron replacements, is there an explanation how a fully biological brain can accept the digital data and allow it to change their own neurons?

I understand doing anything like this is so far into the future and our understanding of the brain isn't advanced enough yet so answers can only be theoretical but is there a plausable explanation for how this could happen?

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, if you have a high-speed brain-computer interface which can read the data from the brain, I would expect that the same company also manufactures a more expensive model able to write data to the brain. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 23 '20 at 13:16
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Hmm yes I suppose thats true, I don't know enough about biology or neuroscience to explain how memories are stored and how to read the memories, maybe they have worked out what protien sequences in neurons store and they know what they mean for all humans but then they would have to be changed or re arranged for the new memory? $\endgroup$ – user69935 Apr 23 '20 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ The point is that nobody knows how memories are stored and retrieved... $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 23 '20 at 18:06
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP no I understand that, I thought some members might have known recent discoveries or theories. I was contemplating a nanobot replacement neurons for the stage after but I might go straight for fully robotic brains. $\endgroup$ – user69935 Apr 23 '20 at 18:21
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No

No, there is no plausible explanation of how to transfer memories. Theoretical? Sure. I've seen it done using a lot of different methods, everything from Matrix-style computer ports all over the skin to nanomachine swarms within the brain. As you have pointed out, our knowledge of how memories work right now isn't perfect - it's not even great. We have rough ideas of which areas of the brain correspond to how different types of memories are made, we have a rough idea of the architecture that the brain uses to recall such memories. But we don't have a clear picture of how it works on the molecular level. Sure, we're making progress on that end - we're getting a better idea every day and we're learning more about the which molecules are involved and more about the molecules themselves.

But, as of our current understanding, we have no way of coming up with a plausible explanation of digitally inducing memories into a human brain. Theoretical? Yes. Theoretical enough that you can throw it into a sci-fi novel and no one will blink? Yes. Plausible? No.

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Use the biological data transfer and enhance it

At first I see a problem: You copy the consciousness of a human and make him experience different things (in reallife, maybe multiple computer selfs?). Since the experiences diverge you get merging conflicts: which experiences do you apply, which do you want to apply first?

So instead of copying the human mind, you could go and let the human experience the years directly. You would use your biological ways to storage new memories, with your sensors e.g. eyes (visual), ears (sound), and so on. Maybe you find a way in your scenario to boost your brain-speed (and then the VR) to allow for a faster data-transfer in the brain by the biological way with some kind of brain-enhancing drug.

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    $\begingroup$ I see what your saying, I had planned for them to be out cold whilst their mind is in the virtual world maybe even slowly having their memory updated. The problem with being attached to the real body is what happens in the sim could harm the body, although some programming could stop that maybe but its the time frames, I don't think the brain could process a sped up virtual world on the scales im after? $\endgroup$ – user69935 Apr 23 '20 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know about the timescales, it's the future anyhow $\endgroup$ – M.Winkens Apr 23 '20 at 19:18
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Rather than proteins or any molecular mechanism that hard code memories or information in the brain, neural signaling is a dynamic process that occurs as electrical signals that propagate on partly-static infrastructure. If you could 1) scan the brain in enough detail to see every individual connection between neurons and which of the various signaling mechanisms they have, and 2) read out the electrical activity of every neuron at a snap shot in time, then you'd likely be able to simulate the whole thing.

Learning and memory formation, one the other hand, are slower processes that involve growing or removing connections between neurons and changing the strength with which they communicate with each other. This would make it more difficult to write the simulated brain back into the living brain: you'd have to update the physical structure of the neurons, including what connections they have and the density of neurotransmitters/receivers in the cell membranes between them. Now, the brain obviously has the mechanisms to make these changes (these "learning" mechanisms are much less understood today than the signaling itself) but it wouldn't natively happen as fast as your simulation. A possible "plausible" explanation is some genetic manipulation that fast-forwards the biological brain to the final simulated brain state, quickly and efficiently bypassing the many slow "real-time" iterations the simulated brain had to go through while you were learning your lessons.

As an aside, there are a couple confusing comments/answers that put too much weight on the idea of information being stored in proteins or other molecular mechanisms of computation. So, here's a short primer that should help get the feel of how we understand neurons to work:

Communication between neurons, and the way they represent information and do computations, is done with electrical signals. The most basic unit of neural information is the action potential: a brief, all-or-nothing, zero or one, voltage change across the neuron's cell membrane. This signal can be further communicated to other neurons, causing them to fire their own discrete action potential. While the details are unknown, the neural signalling all takes place in the strength, frequency, and timing of connections of huge populations of neurons communicating with each other one binary (more or less) bit at a time. The way these connections are developed over time represent all sorts of comparators and integrators and memory circuits and other higher-level logical units that consist of many neurons firing 0/1 with complex connections between them. Fundamentally it is a dynamic process, and neurons don't hold information for very long, nor do they store proteins or some other kind of "hard-disk" storage. The molecular basis of the action potential is based on the movement of ions across the cell membrane in a positive-feedback loop. This is initiated by neurotransmitters sent from the axon terminals of one neuron to the dendrites of another neuron. The configuration of neurotransmitters and receivers in the gap between neurons can hard-code the strength of the signal communicated from one to the other. This and the presence of a connection in the first place are the building blocks of the neural circuit that represents information by firing action potentials around. Think of it like a dynamic digital logic block. It proscribes specific input/output relationships and by putting many of them together you can design the output.

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