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Memories Are Made of This

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9780297643289: Memories Are Made of This
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Memory is what defines who we are and who others are in our minds. It shapes our moral and intellectual personality, and the way we think and behave. Indeed, it would be impossible to live as one person, with an individual history or consciousness, without the memory threads that constantly link our present to our past and future. But why are memories so complex and mysterious? We remember things every instant, but how are memories formed? And why, if remembering is so ordinary, do our memories fail so often? What is happening in the brain when we recall a face, reconstruct the image of a place, or struggle to find an answer that we think we know? Does storage imply that memories are fixed in particular chunks of brain tissue, or is it a dynamic, biologically creative process that involves many different parts of the brain? How long do different memories last? What do genes have to do with memory? And, finally, are we the only creatures that remember and forget, and, if not, are there commonalties in the memories of different species? This is a fascinating work of popularisation that attempts to answer all these questions and more, deftly weaving the history of ideas about memory with cutting-edge science and psychology.

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Review:

In Memories Are Made of This, Rusiko Bourtchuladze, a Georgian research scientist now working in America, produces an eminently readable synthesis of what is known about memory for the general reader. Poets and philosophers have known for thousands of years that we are our memories, without them we could barely exist as individual people. In the 4th century BC, the Greek dramatist Aristophanes recognised the existence of short and long-term memory. And yet we still do not fully understand what exactly memory is and how it comes about.

Memory is a problem. According to Bourtchuladze, too much of it produces people who have "enormous difficulty making even simple decisions, because at the same time they can think of 50 different options to choose from". Equally, losing our memory is tragic and tends to dehumanise us: "Memory defines who we are and who others are in our own minds. Memory shapes our intellectual and moral personality, the way we think, smile, say hello and behave in day-to-day life. Indeed it would be impossible to live as one person, with an individual history... without the memory threads that constantly link our present to our past and prospective future". The discoveries of the scientists who have worked on the problem of memory makes for fascinating reading with many deeply moving stories. For instance, certain brain damage can cause a loss of ability to recognise faces while other visual skills remain intact. In extreme cases people suffering from prosopagnosia, as it is called, cannot even recognise their own faces. And yet tests have shown that sometimes there is recognition at some unconscious level which just cannot surface, suggesting that face recognition is executed by a chain of commands or subprocesses, some of which continue to work but cannot be accessed by the victim. Most of us will have to face up to memory loss sooner or later, either in ourselves or in someone dear to us. Read this book for a better sympathy of the problem and understanding of what memory is. A scattering of excellent black and white illustrations and diagrams help with some of the more technical points along with notes, references and an index but do not be put off, Memories Are Made of This is perfectly accessible to the general reader.--Douglas Palmer

Review:

'A seductive mixture between the science of memory and the very personal memories of this talented scientist and gifted writer' -- Professor Alcino Silva

'This is one book I will not forget' -- Professor Tim Tully

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Bourtchouladze, Rusiko
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2002)
ISBN 10: 0297643282 ISBN 13: 9780297643289
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