Tag: "Abby Goldsmith"

Science Future: Maintaining Memory

Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires our future. To discover these influences, we look to the future of science, to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery and links it back to science fiction in order to discuss these influences and speculate on the future of science fiction.

Maintaining Memory

One could say that in reading and listening to science fiction we are, in a way, remembering the future. The future we remember from these stories is often wrong and full of holes, just like our memory of the past. Memory is a fickle thing, as anybody who has lost their keys or forgotten their homework, can attest to. In science fiction, memory is often even more unreliable. Take some of our recent stories here at Escape Pod. In EP284: On a Clear Day You Can See All the Way to Conspiracy by Desmond Warzel and EP292: In The Water by Katherine Mankiller memory is something that is easily modified and manipulated.

Thankfully that isn’t the case, right? Yes and no.

Recent studies into computer aided training have yielded mixed results when it comes to expanding the mental capabilities. The study focused on a popular theory that taxing a person’s working memory can lead to an increase in mental capacity. Basically if you’re forced to hold more numbers or words in your head while performing calculations with them, you’ll find it easier to hold that many, if not more, thoughts later. The results were mixed. Some of the participants showed marked increase working memory and some showed little to none at all. What was found was that there was a significant correlation between how much the participants enjoyed the training, with the people who enjoyed it the most showing the most improvement.

This is great news, except that we can’t always trust what we remember. A study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, shows that visual advertisements, such as happy scenes involving prominent product placement, actually trick our brains into forming memories. We believe we’ve actually experienced what we see. A study managed to convince a group of students that they had eaten a particular brand of popcorn and remember enjoying it when they were asked about it later.

A group of pyramidal cell axons in the brain.

Thankfully this stuff isn’t really mind control it is just creating new, if false, memories. Like hacking the brain except the individual has ultimate control over how the memory forms. We haven’t figured out how to really control this process but scientists are making strides in understanding how the brain makes a memory. For example nueroscientists in University of California, Berkeley, have figured out how heightened emotion, like fear, helps us to remember events. It seems that in fearful states, the amygdala, the part of our brains that controls emotion, talks the hippocampus, a relay hub for memory, into generating new neurons. These new neurons are fresh and ready for imprinting with your most recent experiences which how you remember that last near collision with a fellow driver but can never remember what year Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia. Next time try studying while listening to Psuedopod!

Understanding how we create memory will help us lead to actual memory creation, not unlike what happens in EP288: Future Perfect by LaShawn M. Wanak or keep our memories after everything around us changes, like in EP287: A Taste of Time by Abby Goldsmith. Movies like Inception and Total Recall will be that much closer to reality. With it I expect we’ll see more tales that touch upon the implications behind memory altering technologies and Stories speculating on what it means to have your memory altered, willingly, or unwillingly.

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom.” – Aeschylus

EP287 A Taste of Time

By Abby Goldsmith
Read by: Mur Lafferty
Originally published in Deep Magic, May 2004
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Abby Goldsmith
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated PG: references to infidelity

Show Notes:

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  • Next week… don’t drink the water.

A Taste of Time
by Abby Goldsmith

1.

On the night she turned twenty-nine, Jane sat on her narrow bed, watching TV and drinking alone. She’d gone through a bottle of wine and was mostly through a second bottle. Tomorrow morning would be painful.

Or she could stop worrying about tomorrow. The ibuprofen in her cabinet kept popping into her mind. Jane wasn’t sure if all those pills chased by alcohol would be enough to end her life, but the idea of looking up how to commit suicide online seemed just too pathetic.

The front door of her tiny apartment creaked open.

Jane leaned forward, peering through her bedroom doorway. A black wine bottle stood on the floor, with a placard dangling from its silver ribbon.

Her gaze immediately went to the deadbolt. It was in place, as she’d left it.

Jane shut the TV off and listened for noises from the hallway. All she heard were the sounds of Boston traffic outside. Several weeks ago, after she’d come home to find her boyfriend screwing a fat chick on her couch, she’d had the locks changed. No one could have gotten in.

Yet the bottle sat mysteriously on the wooden floor.

At last, Jane crossed her apartment, checking every shadow for an intruder.

She picked up the bottle. The placard had gilded letters, making it a potentially expensive gift.

Tabula Rasa
Warning: There Is No Return

Jane flipped the placard over twice, but nothing else was written on it.

She listened, alert for any noise. Mystery had never been much a part of her adult life, and it gave her a strangely excited feeling. If the warning label meant something like _poison_, it seemed like a more dignified way to go than pills and alcohol.

Her reflection on the black surface of the bottle was disturbingly clear. There she was: Plain Jane, a frumpy woman with a double-chin and acne scars.

She unscrewed the cap and popped the foil underneath. A stringent smell wafted up, making her wrinkle her nose and salivate at the same time.

“Happy birthday, Jane,” she told herself, and swallowed a mouthful.

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