Alex Orlando, Discover magazine, discusses new tech to decode study how memories are made. June 2020.
Maybe it’s a hazy snapshot of your first time riding a bicycle. Or the ability to recite the Pythagorean theorem. It could be as simple as that phone number you scrawled on a napkin before it landed in the trash.
Whatever shape they take, our memories help define who we are — and what it means to be human. While scholars have been musing on memory since the time of Socrates, new tech has helped today’s scientists learn much more about the neural and biological machinery behind our recollections. These breakthroughs have led to the discovery that our memories reside in specific clusters of brain cells. Some scientists are exploring how people store and retrieve memories as they move through a virtual reality environment. Others are studying how emotions like fear are encoded in the brain, as well as the circuitry that controls what we’re afraid of.
This research isn’t rooted in the abstract, either. The projects are aimed at real-world applications, including possible treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
And while much of memory science is still a blur, the matter of how, exactly, our brains form memories is coming into sharper focus.