The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting
Buy book - Remember by Lisa Genova
What exactly is the subject of the Remember book?
Remember (2021) is a documentary that explores our remarkable and imperfect capacity to form memories. It delves into the many types of memories we generate, how the brain creates them, why they fail so often, and what we can do to make the most of our amazing and problematic ability to recall the details of our lives.
Who is the target audience for the Remember book?
- People who are interested in how our brains work
- Whoever wants to learn more about the human ability to recall and to forget.
- People who are worried about what happens to our memory as we get older
Who is Lisa Genova, and what is her background?
Lise Genova is a neuroscientist who received her training at Harvard University. She is the author of several best-selling novels that are concerned with the ills of the human brain, including Still Alice, which was made into an Academy Award-winning film starring Julianne Moore and adapted into a television series.
What exactly is in it for me? Learn all there is to know about the strengths and limitations of your incredible, yet prone to error, memory.
Do you have a clear memory of where you placed your vehicle keys? Or, for that matter, where you've parked your vehicle. What was the name of the actor who played that role in that movie - did you know who he was? Memory lapses occur throughout the day, and if you're over a certain age, they may be a source of anxiety and concern. We wonder whether this is the beginning of the end of our civilization. Is dementia or Alzheimer's disease a long way off? Despite this, we are unconcerned with having remembered tens of thousands of words. We can vividly remember particular moments from our infancy in great detail. We recall the words of a popular song from many decades ago. Despite its many faults and contradictions, the recollection is really remarkable. These notes, which are based on a review of the most recent neuroscience research, examine the strength, frailties, and function of the brain's memory systems.
Throughout these notes, you'll learn about the processes by which memories are created, accessed, and shaped, as well as how and why we forget so much. You'll also learn how to come to terms with and make use of both the strengths and limitations of your memory.
In the physical world, memory is something that is activated by attention and produced via a process of encoding and consolidation.
Anything you see vanishes in 15 to 30 seconds unless it is transferred to the hippocampus, a deep brain region that is responsible for tying neuronal activity together to create a long-term memory.
As an example, consider the following: During a period of intense concentration during a specific action, your brain converts raw input from your senses into neural activity in the prefrontal cortex. Encoding is the term used to describe this procedure. Once the information has been encoded, it moves on to consolidation, where it is transferred from the prefrontal cortex to the hippocampus. The neuronal activity is condensed into a stable pattern in this case. That arrangement of neurons has now become a part of your memory of that particular instant. But, what precisely is "memory," and how does it function in the first place? There are three major kinds of memory functions that you depend on in your everyday life: semantic memory, episodic memory, and muscle memory, to name a few. The memories that are consolidated by the hippocampus may be divided into two categories: semantic memories and episodic memories. Let's start with the semantic memories. If you happen to have a US penny in your pocket, go ahead and take it out, place it in your palm, and pay attention to it for a moment. You'll see that Lincoln is facing to the right, that the phrase "In God We Trust" arcs over him, that the year rests in front of his chest, and that the word Liberty hangs on his shoulder.
While you are looking at the coin, the picture of the penny is being stored in the prefrontal cortex of your brain, which is responsible for decision-making. Keep in mind, however, that in order for this memory to be retained, it must first be consolidated in your hippocampus. As a result, you're more concerned with your pennies.Pay close attention to the little things. The neural representation of the penny will ultimately make its way to the hippocampus of the brain, where it will be linked into a stable neural pattern, thus creating your long-term memory of the penny, which will be ready to be triggered whenever you need it. Semantic memory is the term used to describe this kind of memory. This kind of memory is formed as a result of repeated activities in your everyday life or via deliberate repetition. For example, the barista at the café knows what the regulars want since she hears them order it on a consistent basis.
Episodic memories, on the other hand, are associated with a specific location and time. They are life-changing, unexpected, and significant experiences that have had an effect on you and that your brain has translated into stable neural patterns — events such as the first time you hold your kid, or frightening events such as being in a car accident. This specific kind of memory will be discussed in more detail in the next section.
Our episodic memory may be strong and vivid, but it is almost certainly incorrect.
For those of you who are of a certain age, you may remember the date of January 28, 1986, when a space shuttle careened high into the azure sky above Florida and crashed into the ground in a ball of fire. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which killed all seven astronauts on board, was broadcast live to millions of people across the world. An Emory University psychology professor and his colleague asked their students to write down what they were doing when they saw or heard of the explosion twenty-four hours after it had happened. The instructors followed up with the students two and a half years later, this time asking for a firsthand narrative of what happened on that fateful January morning. Almost every student's recollection has been altered in some way.
Upon learning of the differences between their recollections of the day the Challenger exploded, several of the students claimed that their present version of events was accurate and that the one they had written down within 24 hours of the explosive launch was completely incorrect. Surprised? Don't be concerned; this is quite normal. What is the most important message here? Our episodic memory may be strong and vivid, but it is almost certainly incorrect. In order to convert sensory input into neural activity, our brains must go through a series of stages, which are then consolidated into a stable pattern that we can store and remember when the situation demands it. However, at each stage, the memory is vulnerable to errors caused by human error.
First and foremost, although our attention is capable of capturing a tremendous quantity of sensory information, it is not capable of capturing everything. We are constrained by our point of view and led by our own interests and aspirations. Our opinions and prejudices play a significant role in the translation of sensory information into brain activity. At the end of the process, we use our imagination to condense the brain activity into a stable, retrievable pattern. Under the influence of our imagination, preconceptions, and the recommendations of others, we omit certain facts and include others in our story. Following this moment, the memory is placed into storage. If the neuronal connections that make up memory are not repaired, the memory will physically fade. There are voids. We lose sight of reality.
Similarly, retrieving a memory does not ensure that it is accurate. We remember the neuronal pattern and fill in the gaps with information that we have created ourselves. We also reframe the recalled event in light of our current situation. We invent a story that corresponds to our present beliefs and emotions, thus successfully altering the events of yesterday for the sake of today. Every time we recall anything, we rewrite and save the modified version, and the old version is no longer available for use. Because it is the only version we have, our most recent version of memory seems to be genuine to us.
Exercise-induced muscle memory is a distinct and essential kind of memory that develops in your motor cortex as a result of continuous exercise.
Whether the penny becomes a semantic memory developed via repetition, or a detail in an episodic memory of a significant event, the hippocampus is where the memory is stored and is accessible to the brain. Muscle memory, on the other hand, is an incredibly essential kind of memory that exists in a completely different part of the brain. The most important lesson to take away from this is: Exercise-induced muscle memory is a distinct and essential kind of memory that develops in your motor cortex as a result of continuous exercise. When Henry Molaison was a little kid, he was riding his bicycle when he lost control and crashed, breaking his skull. He started having seizures a few years later, and his condition deteriorated. The seizures became increasingly severe until, at the age of 27, he decided to allow an experimental brain surgery procedure to be performed by a surgeon called William Scoville. Henry's hippocampus was removed by Dr. Scoville.
However, although the seizures stopped, the respite came at a terrible cost. Henry was unable to create long-term memories if he did not have access to the hippocampus. Henry did, however, maintain a different kind of memory, which is stored in a region of the brain known as the motor cortex. It is the motor cortex that sends a message down the spinal cord and into your muscles when you perform a purposeful physical action, such as pushing a finger down on a piano note or leaping from the ground to clear a snag. As a result, every time you press a piano note or leap over a hoop, you are activating those neurons in the motor cortex. The connections between them get stronger as time goes on, and the brain route becomes more stable as well. With time and practice, you'll be able to activate the route with greater ease, and after a while, you'll be able to recall this so-called muscle memory without having to think about it.
For example, a researcher, whose name or face Henry could never recall, demonstrated a sketching technique that required him to only see his drawing hand through a mirror rather than directly in front of him while painting.In essence, his brain had to direct his hand in the opposite direction of what he was doing. Henry's motor cortex has to be rewired in order for him to draw mirror images. Each session felt like the first, but as he practiced, the connections in his brain became stronger, and he became more adept at controlling the lines that flowed from his pen. Because muscle memory does not depend on the hippocampus, Henry may be able to continue to learn new physical abilities even if the hippocampus is not there.
Forgetting is healthy, essential, and even beneficial, despite how irritating it may be.
There was once a guy who was incapable of forgetting anything... ever. He went by the name of Solomon Shereshevsky, and for more than three decades, psychiatrists subjected him to lengthy and useless lists of words and numbers to see how he would react. Throughout the whole process, his memory was unfailing. Shereshevsky began to see his memories as a burden rather than a kind of superpower as time went on. With so much information, most of it worthless, he had a never-ending job of sifting through it all to get the information he needed. On top of it all, Shereshevsky, like everyone else, has gone through things he'd prefer not to remember. He'd fantasize about putting these unpleasant memories on fire, but he'd be disappointed if the recollections turned to smoke and ash. Shereshevsky was unable to forget what had happened. The important lesson here is that forgetting, although irritating, is healthy, necessary, and even beneficial in certain circumstances.
The majority of the time, we forget by default. Our decision to not pay much attention to the situation at hand is based on our current state of consciousness. Because of our working memory, we are able to do this. It records the sensory input from our current surroundings and moments, and it aids us in making sense of what is happening from one moment to the next. However, although our working memory is necessary, it is only available for a short period of time. For example, on your regular commute home, it will allow you to see now-familiar information such as billboards, bridges, and other vehicles on the road.If nothing unusual occurs throughout your trip, you will arrive at your destination with no memory of the experience.
However, even when you pay careful attention to a particular moment, there is no assurance that you will capture it on camera. Do you recall the penny? Is the word Liberty on Lincoln's shoulder or on his breast, or somewhere in between? Don't panic if you can't remember anything. You deduced the meaning of the note and came to the conclusion that understanding the layout of a penny is pointless on some level. It is, in fact, true. Those neuronal connections have started to degrade in a well-thought-out manner. We may also forget on purpose, which can be both healthy and beneficial in certain situations. The ability to ignore real-world signals that trigger an unpleasant memory and, with effort and practice, divert our thoughts to a different location is something that we can all do. As a result, the brain pathway associated with that unpleasant memory gradually fades over time.
Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) will find it much more difficult to disengage from that brain circuit. The terrible event continues to nag at me at the current moment. Some individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have achieved improvement by taking advantage of the creative freedom we provide ourselves when recalling memories because they are unable to ignore the pain. They deliberately remember the experience over and over again, but with each recall, they envision a more positive outcome with the aim of overcoming the trauma. The possibility of rewriting painful memories reminds us of a technique Solomon Shereshevsky discovered later in life and used to rewrite his own recollections.
In his mind's eye, the guy who recalled everything would write a meaningless scribble on a chalkboard to represent what he wished to forget about it. After that, he'd wipe the board clean. Shereshevsky continued his imagined cleaning until he was finally able to forget about it.
When it comes to remembering to do something in the future, we are notoriously unreliable.
Classical musicians have amazing memories, which they use to their advantage. Hundreds of thousands of notes in succession, each must be played at its own precise time and pressure, are regularly memorized by these musicians. Yo-Yo Ma, the world-renowned cellist, is unquestionably one of the world's greatest memory masters, and yet, on one night in the autumn of 1999, he accidentally left his cello – a $2.5 million instrument – in the trunk of a New York City taxi, where it was discovered the next day. Irrespective of whether fatigue, worry, or attention were factors in Ma's inability to recall how to check the trunk and lift out the violin before the car flew away into Manhattan traffic, the incident illustrates an essential aspect of the human brain. The main takeaway from this is that our capacity to remember to do anything later is completely inconsistent and untrustworthy.
Prospective memory is the term used to describe this kind of memory. Intentional memory is a message to one's future self; it is a memory of one's future self.Prospective memory is so erratic in its nature that it is best regarded as a kind of forgetting. A lot of things slip our minds: picking up milk on the way home, picking up dry cleaning, or even canceling the free trial for that streaming service that we signed up for. They may cause some annoyance, but in the grand scheme of things, they are quite harmless. The reality is that this isn't always the case. Between 2008 and 2013, for example, 772 surgical tools were left on the insides of patients by surgeons in the United States before they were sewn up.
Because of our proclivity for forgetting things, particularly when the stakes are high, it is preferable to rely on external memory aides to help us remember things. Checklists, for example, are now considered best practice among surgeons, and are an unavoidable necessity for commercial pilots in the aviation industry. Making a to-do list and sticking to a regular schedule for completing it is an excellent memory aid.Incorporate your to-do list with the calendar on your smartphone or computer, set alerts and alarms, and be precise about what has to be accomplished. If you have a physical cue, make sure it is in a prominent location so that it can not be missed. For example, if you need to bring wine to a friend's dinner party, place the bottle directly in front of your front door so that it is easily accessible. Even if his cello had been blocking the cab's door, Yo-Yo Ma would not have forgotten to bring it along with him.
The fact that you are able to learn and remember knowledge is both amazing and mediocre.
When Akira Haraguchi, a retired engineer, was 69 years old, he accomplished something really remarkable. He was able to remember pi – that enigmatic mathematical constant – in 111,700 digits without using any external reminders.No, Haraguchi is not a memory savant in the traditional sense. He isn't some kind of mathematical prodigy, either. His brain is, in many respects, identical to yours in terms of structure. Consider the following scenario: You've most certainly accomplished something like Haraguchi's recitation of the number pi. Take, for example, the fact that you, like many people, are likely to be able to comprehend, spell, and pronounce as many as 100,000 words correctly. That is only knowledge that has been remembered. It's a mind-boggling accomplishment! But how can you manage to accomplish all of that while still managing to forget so much, so frequently? Haraguchi, for example, has admitted to missing his wife's birthday on many occasions.
The most important lesson to take away from this is: The fact that you are able to learn and remember knowledge is both amazing and mediocre. One of the most common and frustrating failures in memory happens, so to say, at the tip of the tongue, which is very frustrating. Consider the following scenario: You're looking for the name of that renowned surfer. You're thinking about that one renowned surfer, right? It all starts with the letter L. It isn't Lance Armstrong, either. He's the one on the bike. But the name Lance Armstrong is so similar to the name Laird Hamilton that the word Laird Hamilton keeps drawing your attention back to Lance Armstrong and away from the brain route that leads to the name you're searching for, which is Laird Hamilton, by the way. If you look it up on Google, that's fine.There is no proof that searching for obscure information causes your memory to deteriorate. Because they are abstract, names are often subjected to grammatical errors at the tip of the tongue.
Here's an example of what I mean. In the case of a guy whom you saw and later discovered that he was a baker, you are more likely to recall that piece of information than if you had just heard that his name was Baker. This is due to the fact that the surname Baker has no significance in and of itself; there is no narrative, no sensory input, and no object for your brain to grasp. However, baking – an occupation – is a treasure trove of related scents, tastes, textures, and other sensations. When it came to memorizing pi, Haraguchi took advantage of the brain's natural inclination to be meaningful and tactile. He turned each abstract number into a syllable, and then each syllable into a word by repeating the process. He discovered that the digits of pi told him a lengthy, unique, and fascinating tale when he linked them together.
Although it is distressing, the deterioration of memory with age is a normal occurrence. But what about Alzheimer's Disease? That's a whole other story.
Typical examples of frequent loss of memory for many of us look something like this: You go into a room, but come to a complete standstill. You take a look around and think, "Why did I come in here?" Alternatively, you may find yourself experiencing the following many times a day. You're about to go out the front door when you abruptly come to a halt and slam your pockets together. No, there isn't anything there. Examine the inside of your coat. Do you remember where you put your keys? The more we grow older, say, beyond the age of 50, the more we become aware of these lapses, in part because they occur more often, but also because they may be met with fear when they occur. As we dig through our drawers in search of our vehicle keys, we begin to wonder: Am I losing my mind? The most important message is as follows: Although it is distressing, the deterioration of memory with age is a normal occurrence. But what about Alzheimer's Disease? That's a whole other story.
As we get older, our memory begins to deteriorate. The Semantic memory is much more susceptible to slips of the tongue at the tip of the tongue.More voids develop in our episodic memory, which serves as a museum of our past lives. And our already shaky future memories, as well as the mental to-do list that we keep in our minds, have become much more so. All of this is natural, and it is mostly caused by the slowing down of our brains' processing speed, the aging of neurons and their connections, and a decreasing ability to pay attention to the present moment. However, Alzheimer's disease seems to have a more unique cause: the accumulation of proteins in our brains, which form amyloid plaques, which cause the disease to progress.
The formation of amyloid plaques begins in the hippocampus and spreads to the brain regions responsible for assisting us in navigating our environment and problems.Alzheimer's disease is characterized by the accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brain for more than a decade before initiating a cascade of neurological failures. Furthermore, since Alzheimer's disease travels through the brain in a different way than regular aging, the memory gaps produced by the illness are distinct from those caused by normal aging. Someone suffering from Alzheimer's disease may not only misplace their keys, but they will also likely hold their keys in their hand and question what they are used for. There is good news on both fronts, since, although brain aging is unavoidable and the effects of Alzheimer's disease are devastating, there is also excellent news. The last section of this section will discuss how you may maximize your memory in the face of these difficulties.
A healthy, active lifestyle will not only help you avoid Alzheimer's disease, but it will also help you fight the natural deterioration of your memory.
For more than two decades, a team of Alzheimer's disease researchers tracked the lives of 678 senior Catholic nuns in the United States. The researchers put the nuns through a battery of physical and cognitive exams, and when they died, each sister gave her brain to the scientists for an autopsy. The researchers found some signs of amyloid plaque, the precursor of Alzheimer's disease, as they would have expected to find in any sample of older brains. Interestingly, despite the fact that they were aware of the shrinkage and tangles associated with the illness, many of these same nuns did not exhibit any symptoms of the disease throughout their lives. What is the most important message here? A healthy, active lifestyle will not only help you avoid Alzheimer's disease, but it will also help you fight the natural deterioration of your memory.
The nuns, according to the researchers, were constantly forming new brain connections as a result of their years of formal education, busy social life, meaningful employment, and intellectually challenging hobbies throughout their lives. As a result, when amyloid plaques blocked a neural pathway, these resilient brains were able to use alternative neuronal pathways to delay the development of dementia.
A key takeaway from this is to push yourself both intellectually and socially to new levels of achievement. Seek out fresh and exciting experiences. Try studying a new language or playing a musical instrument to broaden your horizons. Crossword puzzles, although entertaining, will not solve the problem. You may also be able to get some sleep. As we all know, the underslept brain has difficulty focusing its attention. Furthermore, the hippocampus can not adequately consolidate and retain the memories of the day if it does not get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Furthermore, a chronic lack of sleep significantly raises the chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Another risk factor for memory loss is chronic stress, which is defined as the kind of stress that does not go away. If you have an abusive employer, increasing debt, or any other kind of stress that you have to deal with on a daily basis, your brain will get overwhelmed with stress hormones, and its capacity to create and recall memories will be severely limited. Consequently, the hippocampus shrinks under these conditions. Of course, you should avoid chronic stress whenever possible, but if you are unable to immediately eliminate one of these toxic stressors, consider exploring meditation and mindfulness, gratitude, and compassion techniques. These aid in the reduction of blood pressure and anxiety, the reduction of stress hormones, and the promotion of a large, healthy hippocampus, among other things. As a result, even if these methods are successful in dealing with the intangible, they have real-world consequences as well.
In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you may employ techniques and tricks to improve your memory.
If you had to guess, which is more likely to stick in your mind: the number 105799 or Albert Einstein kicking a bagel? As we've seen, memory is notoriously unreliable when it comes to abstract concepts such as numbers. However, when it comes to pictures and tales, memory has a far stronger grip. In 2006, science writer Joshua Foer utilized the brain's propensity for images and stories to participate in the USA Memory Championship, which was held in New York City. Foer created a code that transformed numbers into representations of people's lives, activities, and things.The number 105799, for example, could be transformed into Einstein kicking a bagel.It was his first year participating in the tournament, and he was victorious. The most important lesson here is that, in addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you may utilize techniques and tactics to improve your memory.
While we are unlikely to be able to match Foer's memory, his method demonstrates that some mnemonic methods may be effective. First and foremost, he paid attention. To fully open the doors of working memory, you must remove all distractions and concentrate only on the emotional, sensory, and factual information that is in front of you. Second, give it a visual representation. If you're scribbling down anything important that you want to remember, do a doodle next to it and emphasize the important information in pink. If you happen to come across a guy named Baker, don't imagine him as a real baker in a white apron; instead, imagine him standing on top of a mountain of Danishes, face down in flour!
Another suggestion for ensuring that a memory is retained is to make it relevant and particular to the individual. Make up a narrative to go along with the facts. Even better, make it all about you. You are not only taking advantage of the brain's love of storytelling, but you are also taking advantage of the all-too-human propensity to get involved in one's own story. In addition, repeat, repeat, and repeat. If you're having trouble recalling raw facts, try quizzing yourself. Wait a few minutes and then retest yourself with all the information. Nothing beats repetition when it comes to developing physical talent, such as piano scales or track and field hurdles. Repeat this process again and over until the neuronal circuits in the motor cortex are permanently burned.
Finally, as we said in our section on prospective memory, external assistance should be used. Make a list of everything. Create comprehensive notifications on your phone to keep track of things. Place the bottle of wine in front of the front door. The use of a search engine, a calendar app, and tactile signals to remind you of things will not result in a weaker intellect, as some people believe. There is no evidence to support this. Use technology and the real world to your advantage, since your brain, although amazing in its own right, needs all of the assistance it can receive.
Remember concludes with a final summation.
The most important lesson in these notes is that you have an amazing ability to remember facts, events from your life, and all that you've learnt to accomplish. Your brain converts the external environment into neural activity, and via a combination of surprise, meaning, and repetition, you develop long-term neural patterns that you will be able to remember for years to come. In spite of this, you have some bizarre inconsistencies and irritating failures in your memory, despite its impressiveness. Fortunately, you may learn to accept and even enjoy your memory's limitations, which can help you avoid the worst effects of memory loss. Advice that can be put into action: Consume foods that are good for the brain. Try the MIND diet, which goes beyond having a fulfilling mental life and uses the finest memory techniques available. The MIND diet combines elements of the Mediterranean diet with those of the DASH diet, which has been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure. The MIND diet comprises mostly of vegetables, leafy greens, berries & nuts, olive oil, whole grains, legumes, and fish, among other ingredients. Several studies have indicated that following this diet may reduce your chance of developing Alzheimer's disease by half.
Buy book - Remember by Lisa Genova
Written by BrookPad Team based on Remember by Lisa Genova