Chapter 5. Memory

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a first kiss or a final exam, all your experiences end up the same way. Once the moment has passed, life’s most noteworthy moments get fused into your brain as memories. And while the memories may seem sharp and vivid at first, if you poke them twice you’ll find that many are as soft as a half-baked bagel.

Few of us take the time to kick back and explore our memories. If you did, you’d probably find a smattering of vivid images submerged in a dense and endless fog. Think of the formative periods of your life. Whether it’s the early days of a new job, the first few weeks of parenthood, or a month away from home, odds are you’ll have a much easier time describing the general “feeling” of the time than producing a detailed day-by-day account. And what you do remember will be subtly yet thoroughly altered to match the assumptions, life outlook, and emotional state of the current you (which may not match the mindset of the person who had the original experience). In other words, memories aren’t only fleeting—they’re also alive, and they degrade, evolve, and adapt over the years you keep them.

The study of memory is one of the central pursuits of neuroscience, and it presents some of the brain’s most alluring mysteries. In this chapter, you’ll explore how we remember and why we forget. You’ll consider the different types of memory, and you’ll learn how to make the most of your limited short-term memory storage. You’ll meet a man who couldn’t ...

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