Memory and its neural basis

Published on May 18, 2010 Updated on December 16, 2020   45 min

A selection of talks on Neuroscience

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Hello, my name is James McClelland and I'm a professor at Stanford University in the Department of Psychology. I'd like to welcome you to my lecture on Memory and its Neural Basis.
Let's start by thinking about the phenomenology of human memory. The quote you see here from the playwright Harold Pinter comes from a conversation he had with a theater critic prior to the opening of a play of his called "Old Times", in which Pinter portrayed the conversation of a couple who were talking about the time around when they first met and a person who they both knew at that time. As the play unfolds, one comes to see how each of the two characters in the play has constructed a very, very different set of recollections about these earlier experiences. It fits in with a perspective psychologists take on memory, which is to view it as a constructive process; one that uses shreds of information from particular past experiences and knits them together perhaps with shreds from other past experiences and with other bits of knowledge we have to construct a representation of something.
This constructive view of memory contrasts with perhaps the lay person's way of thinking about what a memory is, like a photograph or a copy, maybe a reduced description like some notes of a previous experience that we can stick in a file folder and file away so that later on when we want to remember it, we essentially retrieve this file folder and open it up and inspect its contents. On this way of thinking, the thing that we store and the thing that we then inspect later are essentially one and the same thing. But in contemporary neuroscientific theories of memory, we have a very different view of that matter.