One of the bigger difficulties is the storage of information is that the more efficient information is stored, the quicker a single person can learn, and thus the more they know. This becomes extremely efficient when books come into play and starts on a quick rise after the population becomes literate.

But sometimes a species cannot create this basic binding of paper, perhaps they are polymorphic, perhaps they are blind. The reason why they cannot create books doesn't matter, the next concept is. Inspired from the 'spiders' from Stephanie Meyers, The host;

Each new Spider was born knowing what the last knew, so knowledge was never lost

This concept has struck me as extremely interesting, the idea of memory being passed on to the next generation seems very unusual and yet oddly fascinating. Is there any way to explain how memory could be passed on to the next generation?

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    $\begingroup$ In our own world, genetic memory manifests itself as a type of instinct. Scientific studies have shown that sensory conditioning can be passed to subsequent generations. However, it sounds like what you are looking for is the transfer of much more complex thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ Like genetic memory? Similar to Goa'uld from Stargate? $\endgroup$
    – codescape
    Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know about explaining it, but the 1962 experiment by JV Mcconnell demonstrated "Memory Transfer Through Canibalism". Apparently if a planarian worm eats another planarian worm, it learns the skills that the consumed worm had in life. $\endgroup$
    – Simon G.
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 16:31

4 Answers 4


Mystically: your fictional people remember their past incarnations. With a bit more of handwaving this ceases being mystical and can actually go scientific.

Mystically, version 2: your beings can access the Akashic Records. Depending on the mystical school describing these, they may contain from just thoughts and desires of everyone who has ever lived to each and every detail of the whole history, past and future, of each particle in the universe, so taylor it to your needs.

Genetically: as seen in Assassin's Creed. This has an advantage that you can limit the amount of information that a species can carry from one generation to the next, if you wish.

Genetically, version 2: as seen in Steven Universe. Gems are born when a planet's crust is seeded with a kind of genetic matrix for their species. The matrix contains not only the instructions for their shape and composition, but also all the knowledge that they will have upon birth.

Genetically, through horizontal transfer: if genes can carry memories, these memories can be implanted into someone else through viral infection. Virii will sometimes incorporate genes of one host, and when they infect new hosts later on, the more recent host will have some of the previous host's genes implanted on their infected cells. This is called horizontal gene transfer and it is a thing in nature. Alternatively this may be achieve through genetic engineering/therapy, for a more controlled and accurate effect.

Telepathically: as seen with the Zerg species in Starcraft. A Zerg learns all they need to know via telepathy, being instructed by the hierarchy that spawned them. They are guided, in ascending order of rank, by hatcheries, overlords, cerebrates and on top of that an overmind.

Technologically: you can have a brain implant installed on the brain of a newborn to kickstart its brain with memories from other people (or even fabricated memories). See Ghots in the Shell (movie and animé), and the awesome sci-fi books Old Man's War and its sequel The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. Though your species may have no technology of their own, a more advanced benefactor may implant stuff on them.

Technologically, version 2: Again an implant, but this time to link everybody together like a hive mind. The technological version of telepathy. Star Trek's The Borg work like this. This way everybody can access the same knowledge, or maybe a secured version per family. This technique could also allow a human version of cloud computing. See Joe Haldeman's The Forever War and Forever Free for a variation on this theme.

Magically: again as seen on Assassin's Creed. At some point the protagonist of the original game transfers his memories to a set of discs (such discs are technological in nature, but that technology is advanced enough that it is indistinguishable from magic for all purposes). One of his descendants absorbs those memories from the discs a few centuries later. This memory transfer method does not rely on the genetic memory transfer method on which the series is based.

Magically, version 2: as seen in Steven Universe. Gems can fuse among themselves to form new beings. These beings have the memories from the gems that fused. They are also able to use any component's wisdom, insight and personality to judge, handle, process and combine any other component's memories, thus being able to have much more knowledge than the mere sum of each isolated component's memories.

Organically: those trees from James Cameron's Avatar. People can connect to those to upload and download memories. Seems like whole forests are interconnected as well.

Failing all those... Maybe the species reproduces by binary fission, like bacteria. Each child will have the memories of their parent. I have read that this is the case with starfish when an arm regenerates a whole body, but I can't find any sources confirming this now.

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    $\begingroup$ I've suggested Technologically, version 2: via an edit, I hope you like it :) $\endgroup$
    – Martijn
    Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Martijn edit approved and improved on, many thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 12:13

In humans, the embryo is built, essentially from scratch, from a fertilised egg. Reproduction doesn't have to be like this.

In your species, the embryo begins not as an egg but as a bud on the side of the mother's brain (which is conveniently located in the mother's torso). This bud forms a cyst around itself, but it remains connected by a bundle of nerves, which allow the developing brain to interface directly with the mother's. The mother's thoughts and the foetus's are shared. The foetus learns from the mother's experiences. The mother has direct experience of the grow mind within her body. The brain bud then develops a placenta like structure which draws nutrients from the mother, and causes the embryo's body to grow. Eventually, the nervous connection withers as foetus becomes independent, shortly before birth.

In that scenario the baby is genetically identical to the mother. There could be sexual reproduction: You could have a parasitic male, that buries into the female body, rests on the brain, and the genetic merging of his and her brain tissue starts the brain bud described above. In this scenario, the embryo has genes from both mother and father, but memories only from mother.

  • $\begingroup$ The second paragraph, mixed with the reproductive method of the Asari race from Mass Effect, would be really interesting, as it would allow for an embryo to telepathically gather memories from the father as well. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 19:55

Well, sort of.

The form that evolved intelligences always seem to take is a complex of super-interconnected thoughts, which can't really be separated wholesale from the intelligence itself. Or rather, they could, but it would be so incredibly delicate and computationally expensive that there is essentially zero chance of it ever evolving (note: this also includes telepathy). The only ways I could think of it coming about are if it was engineered by some advanced super-race, or if the aliens reproduced by temporarily shutting down their brains and then duplicating them cell-by-cell. In the latter case, the resulting spawn would be psychologically identical to the parent, which isn't ideal. Perhaps, the spawn is then flushed with hormones and such that "reset" most of their brain, turning the ancestral memories from "experiences" to "known facts"?

That said, the "right" answer while writing something is probably "sure, if you want it to". Most of Renan's answers are good ones. All of them except the genetic memory one, really, which draws the ire of pretty much every nerd with any knowledge of genetics or information theory. Although I suppose it is a good way for a bioengineered species to have ancestral memory. For example, have a section of the brain specifically dedicated to monitoring the rest of the brain, and whenever something significant happens, that section "writes it down" in DNA and uses specialized blood cells to send it off to the germ cells. This organ would probably also be responsible for turning the ancestral DNA-memories into synapse-memories during brain development.

  • $\begingroup$ I absolutely love the idea of using DNA to store information like a computer would. DNA is almost as simple as binary code. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 21, 2016 at 1:52

I would recommend the book "A Fire Upon the Deep" by Vernor Vinge.

The story revolves heavily around a planet where the native life evolved very sensitive sound organs. One species, the Tines, was able to become sentient through an acoustic group mind. Sentient Tine persons would consist of 4 to 8 less-than-sentient individuals sharing their thoughts directly through quiet and intricate buzzing.

Tine persons were effectively immortal since their young would immediately be incorporated into one of their parents' group minds and programmed with cognitive duties and memories. It would eventually take the place of older individuals that died off.


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