Cover Image: Why We Remember

Why We Remember

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Member Reviews

This brilliant book completely changed the way this reader will think about remembering.

Written by a clinical psychologist who is also a neurologist, the author offers a sweeping perspective on memory : what it is and how it works (or why we remember); how we use memory to orient ourselves, shaping our everyday identity and perceptions; and finally, how memory transcends the individual as it informs (or even misinforms) cultures, nations and social structures.

For this reader, this fascinating look at the mystery that is our mind, - past, present and future - is now forevermore tied up with the magic of memory, and the insights offered by this wonderful book.

Perhaps most enthralling of all is the most basic concept - the author’s clear and compelling explanation of the inner handshake between episodic memory (or memory of context-specific historical events), and our semantic memory (memory of facts, or general knowledge) when it comes to retrieving (or re-building) a memory.

When we retrieve a memory of an event from our past, the most advanced areas of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) engage the hippocampus (the memory coordinator) with a contextual cue, which begins the process of recreating a specific internal experience based on what we know and understand now (our semantic knowledge) of the people, places, and actions connected to the specific memory. This semantic knowledge is based on our current schemas - our blueprints for the world as we know it (today, in the present) - details of which are stored across our neocortex, and are continuously being modified as we learn and grow.

A memory is, in this way, our thinking about the past, but to our brain it is exactly as if we are re-experiencing it.

The implications of this are massive, - a memory is not a rewind of a static event, stored in its entirety in our head , but is a present day retelling, based on our current understanding of the world, and bits of context surrounding it. The memory is recast, uniquely, every time we remember, and is laid down anew. What we end up remembering then has everything to do with who we are (how we identify with the world); what we feel (our biases and emotions, particularly as related to the memory); our biology, health and functioning neurology; and scores of other factors we are just beginning to understand.

Memory, as the author explains it, is our consciousness - repositioned to a time and a place in the past. A prioritized bit of experience we have captured, (given our biological limitations ) because, for various reasons it was deemed important, and still is. So that we can understand our present world more broadly, (through our past), make predictions and set expectations for the future, inspire curiosity, be alerted to the unexpected, and be prepared to react accordingly.

With clarity and simplicity, the author tackles all these constructs and concepts (and more, so much more) shaping them into surprisingly understandable kernels of knowledge, woven into a broadly illuminating text that is quite literally mind-altering.

With so much to offer (and so much for this reader to learn) this brilliant book must and will be reread.

A great big thank you to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.

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Why We Remember gives readers some detail into the anatomy of the brain and a deeper dive into how memory works. This is my first book hyper focused on memory, it was interesting to read about the different triggers to how and what we remember. The examples given in the book were realistic and I often found myself thinking, "Yes, I've done this...".

The reason for lower rating however, is due to how the material was presented. I felt like I was reading a text book, which at times, made it harder to get through certain sections. This personal feeling aside, I am walking away from this book knowing more about the power of memory and how it influences our daily lives.

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Why We Remember was an interesting delve into how memory works. It goes over the basics of why we have a memory in the first place, how forgetfulness is as important as remembering, how our memories are linked to imagination, feelings, and learning, and how our memories change throughout our lives due to how they are recalled, what new information we learn, and our social interactions.

I would say this book is not for someone looking for an easily digestible introductory read to memory. It would probably be helpful to have some basic knowledge of different areas of the brain and roughly what they do. I found the text could get bogged down in some areas with the more technical jargon.

I also found that the author put in a lot of unnecessary notes and asides about his personal connections to the people he was talking about. As an example, he introduced a neuroscientist by describing him as a friend, that they went surfing and skateboarding together, and that the guy fractured his wrist one time and would most likely be more careful in the future. The paragraph had been talking about false memories. The neuroscientist's story was about a computer model he made of the hippocampus to explore how memories are formed and retrieved, and how they can become corrupted. His broken wrist had nothing to do with the rest of the study he was conducting - why did I need to know about it? I found there were many such useless anecdotes in the text, and personally I did not find that they added to my reading experience, just extended it.

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Books on memory at this point are hard for me to parse. This book was good but I've read so many memory books that it's hard to know whether this added much to the repertoire. It had a lot of good info so I recommend for people less familiar but I don't know how it would work for intermediates to experts.

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