According to some theorists, the cells of the body retain memories independently from the brain. This phenomenon is known as “cellular memory,” and it has attracted a number of supporters in various communities around the world. Many scientific authorities dispute the concept though, arguing that phenomena which are attributed to it probably have more prosaic explanations.
The idea behind cellular memory is that cells can store memories about experiences, sensations, taste, habits, and other core aspects of someone's identity. Promoters of the theory believe that these memories are stored through the exchange of chemicals between cells, just as they are stored in the brain. Theorists believe that cells may also be able to store information related to traumatic experiences.
This idea was popularized as the result of a number of anecdotal stories involving organ transplants. All of these stories involved recipients who adopted new habits after transplant, or who claimed to remember experiences which had not actually happened. Some people suggested that these events could be explained by cellular memory, as a result of donor organs influencing their recipients. Others suggested that they might be the result of chemical changes in the body caused by transplant medications.
Many of these stories had some distinctive flaws which suggested that there might be other explanations. People who claim to have a taste for alcohol after transplant, for example, could be responding to psychological suggestions about cell memory, inventing a past for a donor and relying on the fact that many donor organs come from youths involved in alcohol-related car crashes.
Some casual surveys of organ recipients have been undertaken to explore cellular memory and its role in organ transplant. These studies have generally suggested that the theory cannot be proved, as people who claim to experience cellular memory often come from communities where such concepts are widely accepted and believed, which makes them more open to suggestion. Often, the memories and habits which recipients claim are the result of cellular memory cannot be linked with the donor.
Like many theories which are largely dismissed by the conventional medical establishment, the idea of cellular memory has not been rigorously tested in controlled studies. Supporters of the theory often reject such studies because they argue that they are flawed because of their connection with “the establishment,” while many skeptics are unwilling to embark on studies to disprove a theory which they already think is wrong. This rather short-sighted attitude is unfortunate, as it might be interesting to conduct large scale scientific studies to get to the bottom of the claims.