Coral Reefs, Memory and the Human Brain


Folds confound in the many ways they can create infinite shapes. But folding provides much more than aesthetic and interesting patterns within nature. Folds ‘enfold’ biological history. They provide unique ways of storing experience. They are a biological archive of life stories that reflect the interaction of body and environment, of nature and nurture.


Recent discoveries of coral ‘skeletons’ show that these layered beauties store vast amounts of environmental information that date back thousands of years. These datastore annual records of ocean water temperatures, imprints of industrial pollutants and water conditions, and even weather activity, such as storms. Oceanographers are showing how these ecosystems function as climate memory, storing information that dates back thousands of years ago! Sampling these exotic exoskeletonsof these ‘organic time capsules’allegedly won’t harm the coral, which can continue to grow unchanged. Like trees, corals are consideredchronometersof a sort, natural time pieces. Fossil corals helps compare air-ocean interface, as far back as the Ice Age. Further, these ‘chronometers’ reveal factors that impact on the evolution and growth of corals. (Svoboda 2018; Knutson et al 19720.


Such feats of nature may more intuitive than astounding. All those folds – the enfoldings and outfoldings of a coral skeleton seem to replicate the idea that nothing is lost in experience. Patterning – shaping bodily forms – is an act that takes in the world through experience, literally in-corporatingtime, space and action into the body to become a living archive, a history of eco-experience.  In essence, corals, trees and other signs in nature provide skeptics with an unbiased view of how the climate is changing.


This phenomenon of coral life got me thinking about the human brain – how memory is encoded, stored and retrieved.
The evolution of the human neocortex demonstrates fractal dimensionality (John 2014), in which the many enfoldings in cortical white matter (pyramidal neurons) self-organize into columns. These repeating patterns of synaptic connectivity are recurrent. Neural signals are fed back through reciprocal (feedback) loops (Bieberich 2002), down to the level of the dendrite– a downscaled microversion of the global information processing in the brain (Tosevskiet al 2008). As well, neural dendrites form branches that give rise to new synapses and options for connectivity. This dendritic arborizationsimulates that of many branchings in natures – trees, human veins, a river’s tributaries (Tosevski et al 2008).


One theory states that memory arises holographically– through oscillatory waves whose interference patterns code for memory. Add oscillatory dynamics to folding and you find the concept of memory so complex as to baffle the imagination. Moreover, unlike trees and coral, the memory not only illustrates a fractal form of enfolding, but also is distributed throughout the brain, so that one can’t locate just where any phenomena of brain function might ‘sit’ – memory, consciousness and thinking itself.

All images from stock image company


Elizabeth Svoboda, contributing writer, Coral Chronometers: Seasonal Growth Bands in Reef Corals, Quanta Magazine, 05.29.18, accessed June 3, 2018.

Knutson DW, et al.  Science 21 Jul 1972, Vol. 177, Issue 4045, pp. 270-272

Beistrich E. (2002) Recurrent fractal neural networks: a strategy for the exchange of local and global information processing in the brain. Biosystems 66(3):145-64.

Yohan John (2014). Does fractal geometry come into play with neural nets and how neurons communicate in the brain? If so, how? Quora. Answer by Yohan John, PhD in Cognitive & Neural Systems, MSc in Physics, Mar 1, 2014. Available from:

Jovo Tosevski, et al. Fractal analysis of dendritic arborization patterns of pyramidal neurons in human basolateral amygdala. Annals of General Psychiatry2008 7(Suppl 1):S141. Open access.