But of course, in a very real sense you will. You will find a physical recording of a real elephant (which you can extract, reproduce or manipulate ) just as you will find a physical recording of a very real colour red.
I agree with much of what you wrote here MW, but I wanted to point something out here. If by "physical recording" you are alluding to memory then you are incorrect. Our memory does NOT work like a hard drive or blue ray. Memory is an act of creation more than of recall. This is what neurobiology has shown us over the last 10 or so years.
We can show this through an experiment: let me lay it out for you.
You take some lab rats and play them a tone. A beep. Then through the metal of their cage deliver them a small shock. Rats are good learners. The rat quickly learns that the tone represents a threat and whenever the rat hears the tone a threat response is generated.
There is a drug, anisomycin, derived from Streptomyces--a filamentous, "fungi-like" bacteria. If you give this drug to someone or some animal it impairs the formation of new memories. How? It impairs them by inhibiting protein synthesis. No protein synthesis, no new neuron-talk at synapses. No new neuron-talk at synapses, no new memories. So back to our rats; you give the rats some anisomycin and then play the tone and deliver the shock. Do this over and over; drug→ tone→ shock. Now come back later and play the tone. What happens? No threat response. The anisomycin has interfered with the rat's ability to generate a memory and learn from the tone-shock relationship.
So this was the late 20th century view of memories, like you are espousing now. That they are the result of neural connections in the brain, saved to later be recalled like a hard disk.
But not so fast.
Enter more experiments.
Lets say that you play the rat the tone then shock it. Do this over and over. A 100 times. A 1000 times. The rat learns the tone-shock relationship and a threat response is generated to just the tone alone. A memory to be "recalled" whenever the rat hears the tone. Now take this same rat, the one already learned in the art of tone-shock relationships and give it some anisomycin before replaying the tone and delivering the shock. What happens?
When you do this (learned rat→drug→tone→shock) the rat "unlearns" the association between the tone and the shock. Such that if now, at a later date you play the tone for the rat there is no threat response generated. Puzzling isn't it? If memory is just experiences stored on a hard drive then they ought not be affected by something that inhibits only new memory formation.
So what is happening?
When we recall, we are actually creating in our mind. Memory is an act of creation, not recall. There is no "physical memory" stored in our brain (I hope that doesn't upset you much, I know you're into scifi and their portrayal of memory and where it might go "soon" with technology) anywhere. What's happening when we remember is that ensembles of neurons fire along synapses (via proteins) that were "coded" during the act of "making a memory". Those protein "communication" at those synapses replicate a prior state that lets us generate an experience in our head--Not a past experience, but a simulacrum of the experience those synapses were "coded" for at the time. Which really makes sense when you think about how tetany, gene transcription and neuraxial synapsing occurs (previous post on the subject hereyou might find useful).
Now at this point in the story with your scientific thinking hat on, you like me, might be wondering--How do we know anisomycin (an admitted protein synthesis inhibitor) isn't just causing brain damage to the rats?
There is another experiment we can do. Even cooler than that last.
We take some rats. And play them tone 1, lets say a higher frequency tone--Then bam, deliver a shock to our furry little friends. Now play them a second tone, tone 2 (we'll say this one is a lower frequency tone) and bam: deliver a shock to our furry little friends.
Now we have rats that have learned that tone 1 or tone 2 is something to fear. Tone 1 or tone 2 generates a threat response. Now if anisomycin is just damaging the brain, administering it during "recall" should erase both tone 1 and tone 2.
So well take half of our rats, we'll call group A, and give them drug→tone 1→ shock. The other half, group B, get drug→ tone 2→ shock.
If we play group A rats (drug→ tone 1) tone 1, what happens? Nothing. No threat response. If we take those same group A rats and play them tone 2 (the one we left along) it does generate a threat response. Same thing with group B. We play group B tone 2 and what do we get? Nada. Play them tone 1 and what do we get? A threat response.
Ponder on that. We've just selectively "erased" memory in rats with a drug that inhibits the creation of new memory. Isn't that some crazy ****?
If that is making you think of;
I'm right there with you!
The implications of early 21st memory are huge! And if you think about it, it explains a lot about our memories. It explains why "eye-witnesses" make such ****ty witnesses. Because you are not just recalling a hard-coded stored memory. Like (my cousin) Vinny showed:
because our memory is an act of creation--It isn't always accurate. When your brain recreates an experience to "remember", pieces that didn't get protein "coded" the first time are simply made up by the brain to fill out the experience. Was that a red car or a green car that sped away from the scene? Brain: "ehhh we'll go with red" (never mind it was actually blue).
In fact, taking this further the more you use a specific memory the less accurate it becomes over time. You are in effect recreating a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum of a simulacrum. Each time, creation and the current state in your brain alters the "memory"--filling in pieces, changing pieces, etc. That special time you remember eating ice cream on a hot day with mommy when you were 4? Long gone. Whats left is a recreation of an experience that happened long ago.
Applications for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-esq type modifications are already being clinically experimented with.
Some further reading you may find informative MW;
Fear memories require protein synthesis in the amygdala for reconsolidation after retrieval(original nature publication).
Characterization of fear memory reconsolidation--Journal neuroscience
Anisomycin, a Protein Synthesis Inhibitor, Disrupts Traumatic Memory Consolidation and Attenuates Posttraumatic Stress Response in Rats
The biology of induced memory