Remembering a talk about memory

One of the best things about living and working in London is the year-round roster of talks and lectures at places like the Southbank and the ICA. For a freelance journalist on the lookout for stories, these events are essential springboards into new territory.

Last year I was in the audience for the launch of a collection of essays, edited by AS Byatt, called “Memory - An Anthology. It’s a brilliant book, with essays ranging from poetical mediations on the nature of recollection to cutting-edge neurobiology. Wordsworth, Cicero, Dawkins and Oliver Sachs are all gathered within the volume’s 400 or so pages.

The launch took the form of a brilliant panel discussion about memory and cognition at the Southbank centre. One anecdote that has stayed with me concerned a professor who, on the day following the first Apollo moon landing, had his class write full descriptions of what they had been up to on that historic occassion.

A decade or so later he wrote and asked them to again describe what they had been doing that day - and found that most of their accounts had changed radically. When confronted with their original essays, many of his ex-students were profoundly shocked. Yes, they recognised the handwriting as their own, but they could not believe the account of their Moon Landing Day they had described a decade ago. Over the course of a decade, their memories had corrupted, or mutated, or adapted. The reality they had in their heads was not, after all, “the truth”.

On Monday 26th January there’s another opportunity to get stuck into these philosophical questions, courtesy of the ICA. “What Science Can’t Tell Us” is going to be a panel debate between two eminent thinkers - one of whom believes that some dogs have a kind of sixth sense that tells them when their owners are returning. Sounds promising!

Given launches that day, I may be required to do some work around the launch - this is one a few ongoing freelance gigs that are currently paying my rent. But if I’m not needed in the office, I’ll be down at the ICA for an evening of magic dogs versus rationality (betraying my personal bias here somewhat!)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 at 11:05 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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