Praise for the previous edition:
"Recommended for specialists and non-specialists alike."
- American Journal of Psychology
At the most critical times, especially during negotiations and arguments, memory can fail. Some people can quickly recall faces, but names and dates are easily forgotten.
Your Memory explains how memory works and how to make it more reliable. This book is full of useful information and advice, and practical exercises for improving the quality and capacity of memory.
Combining anecdotes and exercises with scientific developments and statistics, the book presents this complex topic in a highly accessible way. The author covers a range of issues, such as why a natural system of classifying, storing and retrieving information that exceeds the capacity of a computer can, at times, also forget a phone number.
Your Memory tackles all the fundamental questions about memory and provides answers and solutions for the person who always seems to forget that all-important anniversary date.
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Alan Baddeley is professor of Psychology at the University of York and has lectured extensively worldwide including the University of California, Harvard University and the University of Texas. He has written five books on human memory and edited another seven.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
WHAT IS MEMORY?
"I have a terrible memory." How often have you heard this statement? In my own case, whenever I meet someone and in casual conversation admit that I carry out research on memory, by far the most common response is "You should do some work on me -- my memory is awful!" So is mine -- I once managed to forget to turn up for a radio phone-in show on memory. I was reminded of my lapse by reading the radio listings in the newspaper, and arrived at the studio just in time to be asked by the host for "a few tips on improving your memory"!
Yet I also believe that I have a good memory, and would argue, despite its occasionally embarrassing fallibility, that both my memory and yours exceed that of the best computer in terms of capacity, flexibility and durability. In the chapters that follow, I hope to persuade you to share my admiration.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the importance of memory is to consider what it would be like to live without it, or rather without them, since memory is not a single organ like the heart or liver, but an alliance of systems that work together, allowing us to learn from the past and predict the future.
It doesn't take much to remind us of the frailty and impermanence of memory. Almost any damage to the brain will lead to some slow-down in learning and some impairment in the speed with which we access old memories. Certain areas of the brain, however, are particularly crucial for memory. Serious damage to these can lead to dense amnesia, which can be a crippling handicap.
Consider the case of Clive Wearing, a talented musician and an expert on early music, who fell ill as a result of a viral infection. Carried by a large percentage of the population, the Herpes simplex virus typically has no worse effect than causing the occasional cold sore. On very rare occasions, however, the virus manages to overcome the brain's natural defenses and causes an inflammation known as encephalitis. This can lead to extensive brain damage, and until relatively recently was frequently fatal. Although the disease can now be treated, patients often suffer extensive brain damage which frequently leads to memory problems.
Clive Wearing is a particularly dramatic example of the terrible aftereffects of encephalitis. He is so impaired that he cannot remember what happened more than a few minutes before, with the result that he is convinced that he has only just recovered consciousness. He keeps a diary which records this obsession -- page upon page of records indicating the date, the time and the fact that consciousness has just been regained, when confronted with evidence of earlier apparent conscious awareness, by being shown a video of himself, for example, he becomes upset and denies the evidence, even after many years of being in this condition. It is as if, faced with the enormity of a life limited to a horizon of a few seconds, he clings to the view that he has just recovered consciousness, with the implication that in the future all will be well.
Clive's world was very effectively portrayed in a television program by Jonathan Miller entitled Prisoner of Consciousness. whenever his wife appears, Clive greets her with the joy appropriate to someone who has not seen a loved one for many months. She has only to leave the room for two or three minutes and return for the joy to be repeated, a process that is always full of emotion, and always expressed in the same way. Clive lives in a permanent present, unable to register change or to use the past to anticipate the future, a situation he once described as "Hell on earth. It's like being dead -- all the bloody time!"
Clive's memory for his past is less dramatically impaired than his ongoing memory. Nevertheless it is severely disrupted -- he knows who he is, and can give you a broad outline of his earlier life, but with very little accurate detail. He was not certain, for instance, whether his current, second, wife and he were married or not. He could remember, given appropriate cues, certain highlights of his life, such as singing for the Pope during a papal visit to London or directing the first performance of Handel's Messiah in London with authentic instruments and decor. He had written a book on the early composer Lassus, but could remember virtually nothing about him. His visual memory was also impaired -- he had spent four years in Cambridge, but did not recognize a photograph of his old college. His general knowledge was similarly reduced -- he had no idea, for example, who was the author of Romeo and Juliet.
There was, however, one area that was remarkably preserved, namely his musical skills. On one occasion his wife returned home to discover that his old choir was visiting him, and that he was conducting them just as he did in the old days. He could sight-read music and was able to accompany himself on the harpsichord, playing quite complex music and singing with great skill and feeling. Alas, he appears to find the transition from music back to his desolate state of amnesia particularly disturbing, with the result that music does not seem to provide the kind of solace that one might have hoped.
Clive has been in this state since 1985. He is still convinced that he has just woken up. He still lives in a desolate, eternal present. He cannot enjoy books because he cannot follow their plot, and takes no interest in current affairs because, likewise, they are meaningless as he-does not remember their context. If he goes out, he immediately becomes lost. He is indeed a prisoner limited to a brief island of consciousness in the sea of amnesia.
The tragic case of Clive Wearing demonstrates that memory is important, but what is memory?
The physical basis of memory
It is often assumed by non-psychologists, and indeed by a few psychologists, that psychological theories should have the final aim of giving a physiological account of psychological facts. This view, which is sometimes called reductionism, sees a continuous chain of explanation, extending down from psychology through physiology, biochemistry, biophysics and so on, right down to the subatomic particles studied by physicists.
Suppose I were an architect and wanted to find out about London's St. Paul's Cathedral. I could pursue my enquiries at many different levels. I could ask about the history of the building and how it came to be built following the Great Fire of 1666. I could ask about the style, and the influence of classical architecture on Sir Christopher Wren, who built it. I could ask about its function, and the details of the material which went into its construction. The notion that a study of memory must begin with its biochemistry would be somewhat analogous to advocating that anyone interested in St. Paul's Cathedral should begin by studying the atomic structure of brick and stone. While there is no doubt that such a study would be relevant (and indeed if the atomic structure of the bricks had been inappropriate, the cathedral would never have stood up), we could know everything about the atomic structure of brick and stone and yet know virtually nothing of interest about the cathedral. On the other hand, we could know a great deal about the cathedral without having any knowledge of the physiochemical properties of brick and stone.
The structure of materials does of course at some point constrain an architect and obviously has an important bearing on the creation of a building. Similarly, in principle, a number of aspects of human memory could be importantly influenced by physiological or biochemical findings. However, many of the claims for an understanding of the molecular basis of memory that were being made a few years ago have since been shown to be premature. The neurochemistry of memory is proving much more complex than was previously suspected. There is no doubt that progress is being made in this important area, and that one day there may be a very fruitful collaboration between
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