Tag: "Berkeley"

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