Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Expanding Boundaries of Memory

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Expanding Boundaries of Memory

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: In psychology, traditional studies have sought the boundaries of memory in specific brain structures thought to mark the beginning and limits of memory.

Recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest new brain processes and chronologies relevant to memory. Advances in brain research and instrumentation have clarified some memory pathways and permitted direct observation of the living brain but these studies obscure the real boundaries of memory.

A major breech of boundaries has come with verification of birth memories of children and adults. Superb memory abilities support a host of newly appreciated cognitive talents of newborns. Memory boundaries are enormously expanded by evidence of prenatal memory, gestation memory, and past-life memory which require radically different explanations.

Evidence from the farther reaches of memory, accessed in non-ordinary states of consciousness, indicates that storage of memory is outside the bodybrain. In this perspective, memory appears to be an innate and ageless endowment of human consciousness.

Psychologists and neurologists used to know the boundaries of memory. Few people could remember anything before age 3, probably because they had too little cortex and no language. Intelligence was not expected of the unborn, and even newborns were called a "brainstem preparation" obviously not equipped for perception and memory. Anything that seemed like memory was called a "fantasy."

In medicine, brain and body were different realms. Clear boundaries separated the nervous system, endocrine system, and immune system, marking off the territory of specialists. A brain in coma or under general anesthesia was not expected to remember anything. Brain death would, of course, wipe out all memory.

In psychology departments memory, learning, communication, and personality were taught in separate courses and probably had different developmental schedules. Consciousness was considered unsuitable for scientific study and thinking was taught in the philosophy department. That was how it was.

Today most of these carefully set boundaries have been breached; in retrospect, they were illusions of convenience. Scientists now cross all disciplinary lines to probe the outer limits of memory and to scrutinize its microscopic pathways and incredible biochemistry. New discoveries make old theories quickly obsolete. At present no theory comprehends all the known facts of memory but a holistic approach is replacing the atomistic approach of the past.


Memory is expanding along all its borders. Memory does not begin at age two or three but stretches back to birth; newborns have led us to this truth. But memory does not begin at birth; it stretches backward to include prenatal memories as well. In crossing this boundary, it is the unborn who are teaching us. At still farther reaches of memory, even material boundaries have been bridged, as we learn from research into altered states of consciousness.

The true complexity of memory is a recent discovery (Tulving, 1985). Scholars generally agree now that memory is not one but different systems (Luria, 1966; Pribram, 1969), not always unified, functioning as "modules" independently and in series (Gazzaniga, 1985), working both automatically and at will, limited and perhaps inaccurate (Loftus, 1980; McCloskey & Zaragoza, 1985), but in altered states, memory is sometimes remarkably reliable and clearly beyond previously accepted limits (Cheek, 1974; Stevenson, 1974; Raikov, 1980; Chamberlain, 1981; Grof, 1988: Part I).

The lexicon of modern memory reveals both complexity and confusion: short and long term memory, autobiographical memory, semantic memory, affect, perceptual, and motor memory, declarative and procedural memory, "habit" memory, recognition and recall, explicit and implicit memory, embryonal imprints, holographic or cellular memory, anniversary memory, out-of-body memory, and past-life recall. …

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