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Charan Ranganath — Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold on to What Matters

Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory's Power to Hold on to What Matters (book cover)

A new understanding of memory is emerging from the latest scientific research. In Why We Remember, pioneering neuroscientist and psychologist Charan Ranganath radically reframes the way we think about the everyday act of remembering. Combining accessible language with cutting-edge research, he reveals the surprising ways our brains record the past and how we use that information to understand who we are in the present, and to imagine and plan for the future.

Memory, Dr. Ranganath shows, is a highly transformative force that shapes how we experience the world in often invisible and sometimes destructive ways. Knowing this can help us with daily remembering tasks, like finding our keys, and with the challenge of memory loss as we age. What’s more, when we work with the brain’s ability to learn and reinterpret past events, we can heal trauma, shed our biases, learn faster, and grow in self-awareness.

Including fascinating studies and examples from pop culture, and drawing on Ranganath’s life as a scientist, father, and child of immigrants, Why We Remember is a captivating read that unveils the hidden role memory plays throughout our lives. When we understand its power—and its quirks—we can cut through the clutter and remember the things we want to remember. We can make freer choices and plan a happier future.

Charan Ranganath (photo by Michael Rock)

Charan Ranganath is 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. For over 25 years, Dr. Ranganath has studied the mechanisms in the brain that allow us to remember past events, using brain imaging techniques, computational modeling and studies of patients with memory disorders. He has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship. He lives in Davis, California. Outside of neuroscience, Dr. Ranganath is also a songwriter and guitarist with a number of recording credits, including a song on a feature film soundtrack.

Shermer and Ranganath discuss:

  • the neurophysiology of memory: how memories are stored by neurons
  • the meaning of “forgetting” — Is the memory in there somewhere or lost forever?
  • How much of what we could remember do we actually remember?
  • episodic, semantic, working, flashbulb, long-term, and short-term memory
  • recovered memories vs. false memories + confabulation, conflation
  • regular memory loss and disease/injury memory loss
  • Alzheimer’s, dementia, senility
  • PTSD and bad memories
  • déjá vu
  • triggers of memory: music, smells, contextual cues
  • learning as a form of memory
  • learning by making mistakes
  • social memories and the extended self
  • remembered self vs. experiencing self
  • MEMself vs. POVself
  • uploading memories into the cloud
  • improving your memory: what works, what doesn’t.

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This episode was released on May 28, 2024.

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