Why can you vividly recall the day your father took you to your first baseball game many years ago, but you can’t remember where you just put the car keys? We tend not to think about it much, but memory is the seat of consciousness. The process of how we remember, how we forget, and why we remember certain things and not others is a rich subject of scientific inquiry, and a fascinating window onto who we are and what makes us tick.
In our e-book, Remember When? The Science of Memory, we explore what science can and can’t tell us about memory. In the introductory section called “What Is Memory?” we define what memory is, including what makes something memorable and some common misconceptions about memory. “You Must Remember This … Because You Have no Choice,” by Gary Stix, explores why some people can remember what they had for lunch on a Tuesday 20 years ago while others can’t. Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, discusses a range of topics, from his groundbreaking work on how the brains acquires and holds memories to Freud’s psychoanalysis.
Section 2, “The Anatomy of Memory,” delves deeper into the process of memory formation, from how memories are saved to how they’re transferred from short-term storage in the hippocampus to long-term storage in the cortex. “Brain Cells for Grandmother” looks at a controversial theory that some memories have corresponding neurons assigned to it–that there is a neuron for grandmother, another for actress Jennifer Aniston, and so on. We also explore the role of memory in learning and the effects of trauma and age. Joe Z. Tsien discusses his technique of genetically tweaking certain receptor proteins on neurons in “Building a Brainier Mouse.” In “Erasing Painful Memories,” veteran journalist Jerry Adler looks at research into both behavioral therapies and drugs that can help to alter painful or traumatic memories after the fact.
Section 6, “Aging,” analyzes memory as it relates to typical aging processes; it’s well known that the ability to recall things diminishes as we age, but in lieu of being diagnosed with dementia, the causes remain mysterious. Finally, the last section looks at ways to improve your memory. One story links dreaming to improved learning. In “A Pill to Remember,” R. Douglas Fields summarizes the work behind the idea of a “smart pill,” based on the relatively recent discovery that a specific protein kinase might boost memory and could be given in pill form to enhance that most mysterious process.