‘[Man] is not conscious of being born, he dies in pain, and he forgets to live.’ —La Bruyère


My brain tumor introduced itself to me on a grainy MRI, in the summer of 2009, when I was 28 years old. […]

Over time I would lose my memory—almost completely—of things that happened just moments before, and become unable to recall events that happened days and years earlier. […]

Through persistence, luck, and maybe something more, an incredible medical procedure returned my mind and memories to me almost all at once. I became the man who remembered events I had never experienced, due to my amnesia. The man who forgot which member of his family had died while he was sick, only to have that memory, like hundreds of others, come flooding back. The memories came back out of order, with flashbacks mystically presenting themselves in ways that left me both excited and frightened.

{ Quartz | Continue reading }

And the wordless, in the wind the weathercocks are rattling


An influential theory about the malleability of memory comes under scrutiny in a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The ‘reconsolidation’ hypothesis holds that when a memory is recalled, its molecular trace in the brain becomes plastic. On this view, a reactivated memory has to be ‘saved’ or consolidated all over again in order for it to be stored.

A drug that blocks memory formation (‘amnestic’) will, therefore, not just block new memories but will also cause reactivated memories to be forgotten, by preventing reconsolidation.

This theory has generated a great deal of research interest and has led to speculation that blocking reconsolidation could be used as a tool to ‘wipe’ human memories.

However, Gisquet-Verrier et al. propose that amnestic drugs don’t in fact block reconsolidation, but instead add an additional element to a reactivated memory trace. This additional element is a memory of the amnestic itself – essentially, ‘how it feels’ to be intoxicated with that drug.

In other words, the proposal is that amnestics tag memories with ‘amnestic-intoxication’ which makes these memories less accessible due to the phenomenon of state dependent recall. This predicts that the memories could be retrieved by giving another dose of the amnestic.

So, Gisquet-Verrier et al. are saying that (sometimes) an ‘amnestic’ drug can actually improve memory.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

related { Kids can remember tomorrow what they forgot today }

‘Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.’ —Nietzsche


You see a man at the grocery store. Is that the fellow you went to college with or just a guy who looks like him? One tiny spot in the brain has the answer.

Neuroscientists have identified the part of the hippocampus that creates and processes this type of memory, furthering our understanding of how the mind works, and what’s going wrong when it doesn’t.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

“La vieillesse est un naufrage.” –Charles de Gaulle


Ageing causes changes to the brain size, vasculature, and cognition. The brain shrinks with increasing age and there are changes at all levels from molecules to morphology. Incidence of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise with age, as does level of memory impairment and there are changes in levels of neurotransmitters and hormones. Protective factors that reduce cardiovascular risk, namely regular exercise, a healthy diet, and low to moderate alcohol intake, seem to aid the ageing brain as does increased cognitive effort in the form of education or occupational attainment. A healthy life both physically and mentally may be the best defence against the changes of an ageing brain. Additional measures to prevent cardiovascular disease may also be important. […]

It has been widely found that the volume of the brain and/or its weight declines with age at a rate of around 5% per decade after age 40 with the actual rate of decline possibly increasing with age particularly over age 70. […]

The most widely seen cognitive change associated with ageing is that of memory. Memory function can be broadly divided into four sections, episodic memory, semantic memory, procedural memory, and working memory.18 The first two of these are most important with regard to ageing. Episodic memory is defined as “a form of memory in which information is stored with ‘mental tags’, about where, when and how the information was picked up”. An example of an episodic memory would be a memory of your first day at school, the important meeting you attended last week, or the lesson where you learnt that Paris is the capital of France. Episodic memory performance is thought to decline from middle age onwards. This is particularly true for recall in normal ageing and less so for recognition. It is also a characteristic of the memory loss seen in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). […]

Semantic memory is defined as “memory for meanings”, for example, knowing that Paris is the capital of France, that 10 millimetres make up a centimetre, or that Mozart composed the Magic Flute. Semantic memory increases gradually from middle age to the young elderly but then declines in the very elderly.

{ Postgraduate Medical Journal | Continue reading | Thanks Tim}

‘Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.’ —Karl Popper


Recalling one memory actually leads to the forgetting of other competing memories, a new study confirms.

It is one of the single most surprising facts about memory, now isolated by neuroscience research.

Although many scientists believed the brain must work this way, this is the first time it has been demonstrated.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading | Nature }

‘You loved me once, you loved me twice.’ –Ralphi Rosario


“The goal of memory isn’t to keep the details. It’s to be able to generalize from what you know so that you are more confident in acting on it,” Davachi says.

You run away from the dog that looks like the one that bit you, rather than standing around questioning how accurate your recall is.

{ The New Yorker | Continue reading }

‘The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.’ –Bergson


Few studies have investigated the role of sleep deprivation in the formation of false memories, despite overwhelming evidence that sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function. We examined the relationship between self-reported sleep duration and false memories and the effect of 24 hr of total sleep deprivation on susceptibility to false memories. We found that under certain conditions, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing false memories.

{ Neuroethics & Law | Continue reading }

acrylic on canvas { William Betts, Amber, 03/19/04, 20:05:12, 2008 }

‘Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.’ –Sholem Asch


Memory has to be ‘turned on’ in order to remember even the simplest details, a new study finds. When not expecting to be tested, people can forget information just one second after paying attention to it. But, when they expect to be tested, people’s recall is doubled or even tripled.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading }

photo { Spot | NYT }

Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia


We’ve all had that experience of going purposefully from one room to another, only to get there and forget why we made the journey. Four years ago, researcher Gabriel Radvansky and his colleagues stripped this effect down, showing that the simple act of passing through a doorway induces forgetting.

Now psychologists at Knox College, USA, have taken things further, demonstrating that merely imagining walking through a doorway is enough to trigger increased forgetfulness.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

photo { Barbara Klemm, Louvre, Paris, 1987 }

‘Is this mine? Naw. Nothing’s mine.’ —Richard Prince


In an experiment researchers showed that the human brain uses memories to make predictions about what it expects to find in familiar contexts. When those subconscious predictions are shown to be wrong, the related memories are weakened and are more likely to be forgotten. And the greater the error, the more likely you are to forget the memory.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

‘Two simple words in the English language: I forgot!’ –Steve Martin


In December last year, researchers Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler made a splash with a paper seeming to show that memories can be inherited.

This article, published in Nature Neuroscience, reported that if adult mice are taught to be afraid of a particular smell, then their children will also fear it. Which is pretty wild. Epigenetics was proposed as the mechanism.

Now, however, psychologist Gregory Francis says that the data Dias and Ressler published are just too good to be true.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }

‘A place void of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest.’ –Dante


Some people report that in fear-related situations time seems to slowdown. That is to say, for example, during a car crash the event takes much longer from the point of a person experiencing the crash than the observer. But how and why the brain creates this slow motion experience is not completely understood. […]

In a situation where emotions are involved, there is an increased amygdala activity and a consequent increase in memory recording. When a person is asked to recall a fear-related event, the amount of details that he/she can recall is substantially increased compared to normal situation. However, the brain, not used to recalling so many details, is left to think that the event must have taken longer than it really did.

It is ‘the trick of memory’ as Eagleman puts it; the brain is not used to these exceptional circumstances and therefore, it tricks itself into false time perception.

{ The Question Gene | Continue reading }