The brain is, at least to me, an enigma wrapped in a mystery. People who are smarter than me—a list that encompasses most humans, dogs, and possibly some species of yeast—have worked out many aspects of the brain. But some seemingly basic things, like how we remember, are still understood only at a very vague level. Now, by investigating a mathematical model of neural activity, researchers have found another possible mechanism to store and recall memories .
We know in detail how neurons function. Neurotransmitters, synapses firing, excitation, and suppression are all textbook knowledge. Indeed, we've abstracted these ideas to create blackbox algorithms to help us ruin people's lives by performing real-world tasks.
We also understand the brain at a higher, more structural, level: we know which bits of the brain are involved in processing different tasks. The vision system, for instance is mapped out in exquisite detail. Yet the intermediate level in between these two areas remains frustratingly vague. We know that a set of neurons might be involved in identifying vertical lines in our visual field, but we don't really understand how that recognition occurs.