Magazine article World Literature Today

Adventures in Memory: The Science and Secrets of Remembering and Forgetting

Magazine article World Literature Today

Adventures in Memory: The Science and Secrets of Remembering and Forgetting

Article excerpt

Hilde Østby & Ylva Østby Adventures in Memory: The Science and Secrets of Remembering and Forgetting Trans. Marianne Lindvall. Vancouver. Greystone Books. 2018. 312 pages.

It sounds like a lovely pastime, diving to observe sweetly absurd-looking seahorses (genus Hippocampus), but what is its relevance to a book about memory? For this is indeed a wide-ranging book about how we remember past experiences and so also can predict the likelihood of future events. The Østby sisters-Hilda is a journalist and historian of ideas, Ylva a neuropsychologist- focus on human memory, though they can't resist digressing now and then to tell us about, say, the uncanny ability of birds to memorize and adapt their songs or of slime molds to learn how to navigate mazes.

Nothing about what seahorses remember, though, but instead a lot about the hippocampal gyri, a paired, deeply buried structure of rolled-up cortex in the vertebrate brain. Each hippocampus (it actually looks not so much like a seahorse, more like a tapering sausage) acts together with adjacent cortical areas to drive the consolidation of experiences into memory traces. Damage to one hippocampus is not incapacitating, but the loss of both seriously impairs memory retention for more than the few minutes of the short-term memory span.

We are given a fascinating, if brief and somewhat eclectic, account of how the hippocampus works and connects to brainwide networks, but the writers are more at home with the psychological aspects of memory. …

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