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Explainer: How Many Megabytes Does Your Brain Hold?

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Published on Apr 27, 2012

In its latest cross-border taunts, , North Korea's state-run media has called South Korean President Lee Myung-bak an "underwit with 2MB of knowledge." How many megabytes should a human brain be able to store?

A lot more than two. Most computational neuroscientists estimate human storage capacity somewhere between 10 and 100 terabytes. A terabyte is 1 million megabytes.

The math behind these estimates is fairly simple. The human brain contains roughly 100 billion neurons. Each neuron seems capable of making around 1,000 connections, representing about 1,000 potential synapses, which largely do the work of data storage. Multiply each of these 100 billion neurons by the approximately 1,000 connections it can make, and you get 100 trillion data points, or about 100 terabytes of information.

But neuroscientists are quick to admit that these calculations may be off. For one thing, we aren't sure how many synapses transmit at different strengths. Some synapses could transmit at different strengths and store several bits at a time. Other synapses might transmit in concert, or store instead of processing information.

we don't yet know everything about how data is stored or moved throughout the brain. And while computers are faster at completing specialized tasks, our brains are simply still much more complex than an external hard drive. And more efficient. To run a computer as complex as the brain, some estimate you'd need the same amount of power used to run all of Washington D.C. So insults about a brain's capacity are probably wrong-headed. Insults about how it's being used—that's another story.

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