How does our brain remember things? That's what listener Fiona wants to know. In this episode, we learn that scientists are still searching for the answers.
Andre Fenton had the same question as Fiona when he was a kid. He wondered how people understand their own experience. "I thought it was magic," he told us. For a long time, he was interested in philosophy - the study of knowledge. But when he found out that people could study the brain itself - as a physical object - he quickly turned to science. Science gave him a route to answering his questions that he wasn't able to find before.
"Science for me is really more than a tool," Andre said. "It's a way of being."
To learn out more about Andre's inspiration to become a scientist and how he got to where he is now, read this article.
Andre's story tells us a lot about how the scientific process works. Discovery isn't a straight line from ignorance to knowledge. It takes a long time to make a discovery, and an even longer time for scientists to accept discoveries as a scientific fact. Think about these quotes from Andre in the episode:
- "There really are very few moments when you say, “Oh, I know I have the answer.”
- "Almost no one, ever, is able to discover something that is universally recognized as a discovery."
- "And that's why scientific facts or scientific knowledge tends to be very high quality knowledge."
It doesn't matter how famous or smart a scientist is, or how exciting a discovery might be. Other scientists are always skeptical about new discoveries. The results of experiments have to be replicated, or done successfully, many times before it can be accepted. So even though Andre was disappointed to be proven wrong in his first discovery, he appreciated the process.
- "Science is actually a way of looking at the world a way of organizing information, and ultimately a way of making arguments about what we know, and what we don't know, that are strongly based on physical measured evidence, not just opinion. Not just authority."
As we learned in the episode, Andre isn't the only scientist studying how our memory works. There's lots of scientists interested in this question, and they have lots of different approaches.
Here's a few articles about recent research in understanding memory:
How We Recall The Past - Neuroscientists discover a brain circuit dedicated to retrieving memories (MIT)
Memories of fear could be erased (The Guardian)
Your brain can make new memories while you sleep, neuroscientists show (Washington Post)
Okay, so there's a lot of things that we're still learning about the brain! Here's what we DO know (or we're pretty sure we know):
What do YOU want to know about the brain?! Send us your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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