Will you like Henry Molaison (HM), the man who lost his memory (after a brain surgery) thrive even though you couldn’t learn new words,songs,recognize new faces…and suffered from a retrograde amnesia ( inability to recall events that happened or information learned before injury or a disease happened) ? ( https://www.psychologytoday.com/…/hm-the-man-no…). Personally, the very thought of loosing my memory sends horrible chills down my spine.What do we become without our memory? Unlike Friedrich Nietzsche who asserts that “a bad memory is advantageous because it allows us to enjoy several times the same good thing for the first time”, I view memory loss as a real tragedy.Memory is the process involved in retaining,retrieving, and using information about stimuli, images,events,ideas, and skills after the original information is no longer present (1). Memory helps us remember names and faces, study material,daily schedule,places we’ve been, plans we made…; without memory, we will be socially awkward as we will not know how to behave ( e.g. keep track of the flow of a conversation…); loved ones and pets will be absolutely alien to us. How disturbing!
Memories are directly associated with parts of the cerebral cortex; it’s now known for example that the frontal lobe is involved in short-term memories (mental process of holding few items for a short period of time) and retaining longer term memories which are not task-based; the temporal lobe “plays a key role in the formation of long-term memory” ( mental process of holding a huge capacity of information for a very long period of time); the medial temporal lobe is associated with declarative ( memory of facts and verbal knowledge) and episodic memories (memory of past personal experiences) ; the basal ganglia system is important in the formation and retrieval ( when we remember information stored in our long-term memory) of procedural memory ( where motor skills tasks information are stored) (www.human-memory.net/brain_parts.html).
In order for an information to be encoded ( stored in the long -term memory), Atkinson and Shiffrin theorized in 1968 that first, the stimulus ( input) had to be held for a second in the sensory memory, then moved into the short-term memory for about 15-30 seconds where it ends up “discarded” or erased if not rehearsed (rehearsal is “a control process of repeating a stimulus over and over in order to hold it in your mind” (2). Later on, Baddeley showed that Atkinson and Shiffrin’s modal model of memory (composed of sensory memory,short-term memory and long-term memory) was limited as he proveded that it was possible to do more than one thing at the time ( e.g. keeping a short string of numbers in mind while reading).His model proposed a new name for short-term memory: working memory or the limited-capacity system for temporary storage and manipulation of information for complex tasks such as comprehension,learning and reasoning (3).
Unfortunately, for people plagued with the inability to form or retrieve memories (alzheimer,dementia…), it almost seems like none of this matters. What difference does working memory instead of short-term memory make? Because of their inability to encode information and retrieve it, they have no memory.I have never thought about this until now.Life without memory, how painfully sad and confused it must be.How awkward it must be to not recognize people who, by all indications know you well. I agree with Mark Lawrence that: “Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered nail after nail through his skull.”
- Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. P.116
2. Id P.118.
3. Id P.131-132.