Cover Image: Why We Remember

Why We Remember

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

You had me at Husker Du.

While I was reading I caught myself thinking, Will I remember this tomorrow? I forced myself to slow down because this is the kind of book you want to savor in order to absorb as much as possible.

The writing flows so well. It's entertaining while also educational—not any easy balance. Highly recommended!

Was this review helpful?

I requested a preview copy of WHY WE REMEMBER by Charan Ranganath after reading his guest essay which explains the difference between little "f" forgetting (fairly common retrieval failure) and capital "F" Forgetting (lost or completely gone memories) in The New York Times. Ranganath has spent decades studying memory mechanisms and is currently a Professor at the Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California at Davis. His new book is subtitled "Unlocking Memory's Power to Hold on to What Matters" and he writes in detail about how the brain works and the various experiments in his research. The content is fascinating (e.g., how false memories are built), but complex at times. Ranganath emphasizes that "your remembering self is constantly - and profoundly - shaping your future by influencing just about every decision you make." He includes extensive notes (roughly fifteen percent of the text) and bibliographic references (another twenty percent) in support of his arguments. This text also made me think about a much older book from Joshua Foer called Moonwalking with Einstein which first introduced me to the method of loci or creating a "memory palace." Although sometimes academic in tone, WHY WE REMEMBER received a starred review from Publishers Weekly ("Approachable and enlightening, this is worth seeking out.").

New York Times Links:

Was this review helpful?

An overview of recent-ish research into memory and how different types of memory work in the conversational style that's become the way medical writers write, often including a lot of personal detail and pop culture references. I was turned off by the inclusion of a quote from antisemitic rocker Johnny Rotten and the author's uncritical promotion of Joseph Campbell's work, which has a decidedly and problematic male, Western viewpoint.

Was this review helpful?

With WHY WE REMEMBER, memory researcher Charan Ranganath presents the science behind memory, how we think, learn, and remember, thus constructing our personal life narratives and unique perspectives. My mind was opened to the possibilities and the pitfalls of memory and I realized how much is subjective, transformative, and malleable in what I formerly believed to be hard and fast truth. An important, transformational book, WHY WE REMEMBER opens us to consider what and how we remember through anecdotes, studies, and research and offers food for thought for those of us inclined to laugh off memory lapses, gaps, and nagging issues such as where we left the car keys. I received a copy of this book and these opinions are my own, unbiased thoughts.

Was this review helpful?

Why We Remember is a well-researched, accessible explanation of how (and why) we form memories. The author combines study results and personal anecdotes to discuss long-term and short-term memories, the catalysts for creating, storing, and retrieving memories — and how common factors like stress and intense emotion likely bias what we remember.

In all, Why We Remember is a fascinating and deep dive into the brain and how it works. Scientists learn more every year about how the brain processes information — and this book explains the current thinking about how we form memories and how those memories then form us.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the digital ARC.

Was this review helpful?

Memory is fascinating and learning more about how it serves us and functions in a day to day setting was an incredibly interesting topic. I've only learned about memory through the lens of crime scenes and witness testimony which can be highly unreliable. The book sheds light on how we function with our memory, how memories are formed, what they can do, and how they can change us.

Was this review helpful?

I read this book as a pre-release e-book obtained through NetGalley, provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

As someone who has been interested in learning more about how memories are formed, forgotten, modified – or how memories can be reframed because of some traumatic memories and learning what happens from neuroscientists who studied or treated me after a TBI 35 years ago, I learned a lot of updated information in this book. Indeed, all of neuroscience is advancing at a remarkable speed over the past few decades. Memory is neither long-term nor short-term, but rather episodic (tells a story in context) or semantic (gives information). Much of memory is recreated based on what we know about categories of things, perhaps with something in it which was surprising – unlike what we expect of things belonging to a category.

A good bit of this book is how memory interacts with choices. Much of the evolutionary drive for creating memories was to avoid making bad choices which we witnessed or made in the past. One of languages purposes is to communicate stories, so that other people can learn from our mistakes too. Human senses are drawn to things which are unexpected in a particular situation. A lot of what causes something to be memorable is if we find it interesting – fills part of the “information gap” and what goes on in the brain to find it interesting. Indeed, we all have a desire to learn.

Much has been discussed about false memories, fake news, and how we remember or misremember events. People confess to crimes they could not have committed – yet they vividly remember committing the crime. How are such memories implanted, can we or do we create them ourselves? Clearly, propaganda seeks to create memories. We alter our own memories, and those who we interact with frequently who share memories. However, at the same time, sharing memories with others and reminiscing together or collaborating successfully can improve the veracity of these semantic memories.

Human memory is not the same as a recording. The book gives a better explanation than what I’ve seen as to why eyewitness accounts are unreliable – even if the event had several witnesses. There’s a lot of culture, societal, and expectations that are involved in the formation of a memory. It also explains why we do not have reliable episodic memories of when we were very young. Likewise, everything from injury to dementia to depression can interfere with the formation of memories, as well as numerous other things from fatigue to chemical ingestion.

Episodic memories are in context, and our senses are drawn to what is different in an instance. Indeed, given sensory stimuli, memories of similar sensations can bring back episodic memories – which in turn can cause us to relive other memories which were related in some way. Music gives us a lot of context for things – which is why we wax nostalgic hearing oldies – or its “evil twin”, begin to ruminate about bad things in the past. It’s also why we remember ad jingles or we remember what we learned as children when it was presented in a song. Yet, episodic memories are changed – and put in a new context – each time they are recalled.

Much has changed over the past 30 years in how we understand which parts of the brain are involved with creating, recalling, and reframing memories. It’s more than just the hippocampus! The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and temporal lobes all play roles, as do numerous neurochemicals. Dopamine is not just the “feel good” chemical, but rather the motivating one.

To put a succinct summary on it, in typical academic parlance, "More research is needed". Indeed, there was a lot to think about in this book, and it brought up other notions, hunches, or hypothesis. Such as, as the dopamine reward system is dampened among people with Alzheimer's, and is increased by curiosity and filling the information gap, perhaps part of dementia is boredom? Or, the amygdala being documented as larger in conservatives, who don't move out of their comfort zone (fear, perhaps), their anxiety exceeds their curiosity.

Was this review helpful?

Why We Remember by Charan Ranganath is a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of the science of memory. Ranganath, a leading figure in memory research, deftly weaves together cutting-edge research with personal anecdotes and cultural references to create a compelling and accessible narrative.

The book begins by providing a brief overview of the different types of memory, from short-term to long-term. Ranganath then goes on to discuss the biological basis of memory, exploring how memories are stored and retrieved in the brain. He also examines the factors that can influence memory, such as emotion, stress, and aging.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is Ranganath's discussion of the relationship between memory and identity. He argues that our memories are not simply a record of the past, but they also play a vital role in shaping who we are. Our memories help us to define ourselves, to make sense of the world around us, and to make decisions about the future.

Ranganath also explores the dark side of memory, such as how it can be distorted by trauma or bias. He discusses the challenges of recovering from traumatic memories and the importance of acknowledging our biases in order to make informed decisions.

Overall, Why We Remember is an excellent book that provides a comprehensive and insightful overview of the science of memory. Ranganath's writing is clear and engaging, and he does a masterful job of balancing scientific rigor with personal storytelling. This book is a must-read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the fascinating and complex world of memory.

Was this review helpful?