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Memory: The Key to Consciousness

Richard F. Thompson
Stephen A. Madigan
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Memory is perhaps the most extraordinary phenomenon in the natural world. Every person's brain holds millions of bits of information in long-term storage. This vast memory store includes our extensive vocabulary and knowledge of language; the tremendous and unique variety of facts we've amassed; all the skills we've learned, from walking and talking to musical and athletic performance; many of the emotions we feel; and the continuous sensations, feelings, and understandings of the world we term consciousness. Without memory there can be no mind as we understand it.

    Focusing on cutting-edge research in behavioral science and neuroscience, Memory is a primer of our current scientific understanding of the mechanics of memory and learning. Over the past two decades, memory research has accelerated and we have seen an explosion of new knowledge about the brain. For example, there now exists a wide-ranging and successful applied science devoted exclusively to the study of memory that has yielded better procedures for eliciting valid recollections in legal settings and improved the diagnosis and treatment of memory disorders.

    Everyone fascinated by the scope and power of the human brain will find this book unforgettable.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4948-2
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. 1 What Is Memory?
    (pp. 1-24)

    Memory is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the natural world. Our brains are modified and reorganized by our experiences. Our interactions with the physical world—our sensory experiences, our perceptions, our actions—change us continuously and determine what we are later able to perceive, remember, understand, and become.

    Every person has perhaps billions of bytes of information stored in long-term memory. This “memory store” is the vast store of information you possess as a result of learning and are not aware of unless you call it up. It includes all vocabulary and knowledge of language, all the facts that have...

  4. 2 Memories of the Here and Now
    (pp. 25-49)

    We begin our exploration of the human memory system by considering primary memory, a term used by the psychologist-philosopher William James in 1890 to refer to the contents of our immediate, ongoing awareness. Since James’s time, it has been variously called immediate memory, short-term memory, and working memory. The modern version of James’s concept of primary memory originated in research by the British psychologist Donald Broadbent and the American psychologist George Miller, who analyzed the problems of attending to and processing events that occurred simultaneously or in quick succession. Intense experimental study of these problems has produced detailed understanding of...

  5. 3 The Early Development of Memory
    (pp. 50-85)

    The development of memory by the human brain from conception to adulthood is an extraordinary story. The physical differences among the infants shown in Figure 3-1, who are arranged in order of increasing age from 2 to 18 months, are easy enough to see. Harder to see—but suggested by the differences in the sizes of their heads—are their brains, which have been growing, processing information, and creating memories, starting several months before birth.

    The human brain has upward of a trillion nerve cells. A number like this is much too large for most of us to grasp (nevertheless,...

  6. 4 Ordinary Forgetting
    (pp. 86-116)

    Sherlock Holmes had very definite ideas about forgetting and its causes. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s story A Study in Scarlet, Holmes gives Watson the following stern lecture:

    I consider a man’s brain is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it. ....

  7. 5 Amnesia
    (pp. 117-141)

    Sudden memory loss has been an important plot element in many works of fiction. The film Memento, released in 2001, features a protagonist named Lenny who suffers brain damage in an assault. He is shown as being mentally normal in many ways: His language production and comprehension are normal, he has retained perceptual skills and knowledge (he knows the names of objects and what they are for), his social behavior is appropriate, and he remembers his personal past that preceded the brain damage. What Lenny has lost is his ability to form new, durable memories. He cannot remember the previous...

  8. 6 False Memory
    (pp. 142-161)

    In 1974 Elizabeth Loftus, then at the University of Washington, reported the results of experiments that showed how visual memory could be interfered with when the experimenter presented certain kinds of false information to research subjects. In one such experiment, subjects first watched a short film that included a brief segment showing a collision between two cars. Subjects were then immediately asked to write a description of what they had seen, and then were asked to estimate how fast the cars were going when they collided. The key part of the experiment was that different subjects were asked this question...

  9. 7 Emotional Learning and Memory
    (pp. 162-196)

    Emotions are among the most powerful forces in human behavior. This is particularly true for learning and memory. The carrot and the stick, rewards and punishments, are the most effective ways of training animals and humans. Food rewards and unpleasant stimuli like loud sounds and electric shocks are extremely effective in training animals to learn anything they are capable of performing. Except in the laboratory, such direct rewards and punishments are not common for people. Instead, social approval and disapproval and more remote rewards like money are key to much human learning and behavior. Considerably more is known about the...

  10. 8 Language
    (pp. 197-227)

    Language is the most astonishing behavior in the animal kingdom. It is the species-typical behavior that sets humans completely apart from all other animals. Language is a means of communication, but it is much more than that. Many animals can communicate. The dance of the honeybee communicates the location of flowers to other members of the hive. But human language permits communication about anything, even things like unicorns that have never existed. The key lies in the fact that the units of meaning, words, can be strung together in different ways, according to rules, to communicate different meanings.

    Language is...

  11. 9 Mechanisms of Memory
    (pp. 228-250)

    In an espionage movie an American secret agent discovers a horrendous terrorist plot to destroy a U.S. city. With this discovery he knows how to stop the terrorists. Unfortunately, before he can tell anyone else about it, he is killed. Government scientists extract protein memory molecules from his brain and inject them into the movie’s hero. He acquires the memories from the dead agent’s brain molecules and stops the terrorists.

    Sound far-fetched? Actually experiments have been done that gave some credence to this sort of scenario. The initial studies involved little flatworms called planaria that have a very primitive nervous...

  12. 10 The Future of Memory
    (pp. 251-258)

    It is always entertaining to look into the crystal ball and predict the future—entertaining but very speculative. The study of the brain in all its aspects, from genes to neurons to consciousness, is expanding at an almost exponential rate. Much of this new knowledge will impact our understanding of memory and the ways that memory processes might be altered or even enhanced in the future.

    Some people are disturbed by the notion that we can alter genes. There is even opposition in some parts of the world to the use of food products genetically engineered to be more resistant...

  13. Suggested Readings
    (pp. 259-260)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 261-266)
  15. Index
    (pp. 267-280)