For more than a decade, University of Southern California neuro-engineer Theodore Berger has been working on an artificial hippocampus, an electronic aid for the part of the brain that scientists believe
encodes experiences as long-term memories. Now Berger and a new startup called Kernel are confident that the device is ready for prime time.
"We’re testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results,” Berger told IEEE Spectrum. “We’re going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis.”
In Berger’s approach, electrodes in the hippocampus first record electrical signals from certain neurons as they learn something new and encode the memory. These electrical signals are the result of neurons “firing” in specific patterns. Berger studied how electrical signals associated with learning are translated into signals associated with storing that information in long-term memory. Then his lab built mathematical models that take any input (learning) signal, and produce the proper output (memory) signal.
An implant could help someone whose hippocampus doesn't properly turn information into memories.
An implanted memory prosthetic would have electrodes to record signals during learning, a microprocessor to do the computations, and electrodes that stimulate neurons to encode the information as a memory.
For people who have difficulty forming lasting memories on their own, the prosthetic would provide a boost. “We take these memory codes, enhance them, and put them back into the brain,” Berger says. “If we can do that consistently, then we’ll be ready to go.”
"New Startup Aims to Commercialize a Brain Prosthetic to Improve Memory" (IEEE Spectrum) Read the rest
One of my all-time favorite books is Ron Hale-Evans' Mind Performance Hacks, by Ron Hale-Evans, which has 75 practical tips for becoming a better thinker. I highly recommend it, as well as his follow-up book, Mindhacker (co-written with Marty Hale-Evans)
The first tip in the book is a classic, but I suspect many people don't know it. It's a way to make a mental list of ten things. You can use this method to create a shopping list, a packing list, an errand list, or anything else that has ten things or less.
To start using this technique, you first have to remember 10 key
words. Once you memorize these words, you can use the same ones for the rest of your life. Here they are:
1 :: gun
2 :: shoe
3 :: tree
4 :: door
5 :: hive
6 :: sticks
7 :: heaven
8 :: gate
9 :: wine
10 :: hen
Notice that the words rhyme with the number they are associated with. You probably have them memorized already.
Now, take each item on your list and pair them with a keyword by visualizing the two words in a weird (and therefore memorable) way . Here's how Ron uses the keywords to remember what he needs to bring with him when he leaves his house:
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1 :: gun :: medication
I never leave the house without this. I imagine a gun firing pills scattershot in all directions.
2 :: shoe :: keys
I imagine the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe trying to open the front door of her giant shoe with her keys while dozens of her children are tugging on her skirt.
Our friend Joshua Foer, memory champion and author of the fantastic book "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything," shows how he stores incredible amounts of useful (and useless) information in the memory palace in his head.
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Q: Why is it so hard to remember the name of someone you've just met? A: Because our memories evolved to be associative, and the name of a person doesn't have much of an association with who they are. Mind Hacks offers a way to help you remember names by inventing false associations. The sillier or weirder the association, the better.
I've been using a similar method to help me remember the order of a shuffled deck of cards. My goal is to be able to hand someone a deck of cards, ask them to shuffle it and return it to me. I will then spend a minute or two going through the deck, looking at each card. Then I will hand the deck back to the person and ask them to look at the cards while I call them out one-by-one.
I'm using a memorization method from an e-book called How to Learn & Memorize a Randomized Deck of Playing Cards Using a Memory Palace and Image-Association System Specifically Designed for Card Memorization Mastery by Anthony Metivier. I've been practicing for about 4 days (10-15 minutes a day) and I can remember the mnemonically-derived "names" of 26 cards so far. For example, the 2 of Spades is "tin can." The King of Hearts is "ram." The 9 of Spades is "tape."
To help me memorize the names of the cards, I'm using a free cross-platform flashcard app called AnkiApp. It keeps track of the cards that you easily remember, and focuses on the ones you have difficulty remembering. Read the rest
Chances are you don't remember much from before you were about three years old, and the way we narrate our worlds to ourselves is a big part of why. Read the rest
UCLA psychology professor Alan Castel ran an experiment where more than 100 students drew the Apple logo from memory, and the results were surprisingly terrible. Why? Read the rest
In the New Yorker, my friend Dan Zalewski reports on Lonni Sue Johnson, a 64-year-old with profound amnesia—and new research into how her brain, and memory, works. Read the rest
Your memories can be manipulated and changed
. In fact, this happens often. And you're the one doing it to yourself. Read the rest
Insights on science and doing science by the woman who studied one of history's most famous neuro patients.
Science journalist Stephen Ross Pomeroy uses real research to explain how you can trick your friends and loved ones into "remembering" events that never actually happened
. Key tips: Don't get too intricate with the details (your mark will fill those in for themselves) and do focus on false memories that would have a strong emotional component. Read the rest
Time is relative. Remember how each day in grade school (especially summer days) seemed to last for an eternity? Ever notice how it seems to take forever to travel a new route on your bike, while the return trip along the same path is done in the blink of an eye?
Turns out, both of those things are connected and they have important implications for the nature of memory. There's a great summary of the science on this up at The Irish Times. It's written by William Reville, emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork.
The key issue, according to Reville, is that the amount of information your brain can store during a given time period isn't really dependent on the length of that time period. You could store up a lot of new information during 10 minutes of a really interesting lecture. You might store only a little new information during 10 minutes of walking your dog along a path you know very well.
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The higher the intensity, the longer the duration seems to be. In a classic experiment, participants were asked to memorise either a simple [a circle] or complex figure . Although the clock-time allocated to each task was identical, participants later estimated the duration of memorising the complex shape to be significantly longer than for the simple shape.
... [H]ere is a “guaranteed” way to lengthen your life. Childhood holidays seem to last forever, but as you grow older time seems to accelerate. “Time” is related to how much information you are taking in – information stretches time.
Marilyn sez, "Nelson Dellis began training his memory after his grandmother died of Alzheimer's, and last week the 28-year-old won the U.S. Memory Championship for the second year in a row."
The technique? Translating data into visual images and placing them into a “memory palace” – a place in your mind that you can walk through again later and gather the storage.
Dellis came to the competition with a new technique: he would turn a group of seven numbers into a single image. To him, the number 0093495, for example, represented an image of Olivia Newton slam-dunking a helmet while wearing spandex.
Using the same colorful imagery, Dellis and the other mental athletes memorized a 50-line poem, 99 names and faces, random words and numbers, and biographical information including zip codes and phone numbers – all under the pressure of a few minutes each.
Mental Athletes Increase Brain Size in 15th US Memory Championship (Thanks, Marilyn!) Read the rest
Even in important moments, our brains are not as good at creating accurate memories as we think they are.
This clip from the World Science Festival features two stories that show how easily the brain can be manipulated. In the first, writer Jonah Lehrer describes how he remembers his cousin ruining his 8th birthday party (except, that, he later found out, this incident never happened). The second is significantly more rattling, as Harvard psycholigst Daniel L. Schacter describes a case of mistaken identity that could have led to an innocent man being tried for rape.
This tendency of the brain to naturally distort memories has been studied in relation to what people believe they remember about September 11th. It turns out, even memories that we think of as being seared into our brains aren't as accurate as they're often treated as being, writes Greg Bousted in a piece for Scientific American. Human memory simply isn't that reliable.
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Memories of tragic public events have been of interest to researchers for years. Dubbed as “flashbulb memories” for their extraordinary vividness of detail and photographic recall, these emotionally charged memories are described as being “burned” into one’s mind. Knowing exactly where one was or what one was doing during the assignation of John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, or now, the September 11 attacks has become a quintessential phenomenon of the past few generations. In 1977, a pair of Harvard psychologists studied the reported memories of the JFK assassination. Participants had “an almost perceptual clarity” for recalling when they learned about the assassination and during the immediate aftermath, noting even trivial details with impressive accuracy.