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How does memory work?

October 24, 2014  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments


Watch John Medina talk about how memory works

How does memory work? To begin with, we have to destroy the premise behind the question. We don't just have a memory system - like a computer has a hard-drive. We have various memory systems, each in charge of different types of learning. And they work in a semi-independent way from each other.

Though we've spent a long time looking, we don't actually know much about how these individual systems work. We know even less about how they are integrated.

Let me give you one striking example of how separate the systems are. James McGaugh has worked with a woman for a long period of time called A.J.

A.J. doesn't impress you with dramatic memory abilities when you first meet her. She is a C student. She doesn't have any flashbulb tendencies. Her declarative memory systems - the ability to remember things you can declare, like "Lincoln was the 16th president" appears to be pretty average. If all you looked at were her declarative systems, you wouldn't want to study her at all.

The problem is, AJ has more than just one memory system.

A.J.'s has a memory system that is anything but average.

She has very powerful what we call semantic autobiographical memory. She can remember anything she has ever done, what she has worn for dinner 15 years ago, what flowers she cut and put on the table, and so. Jim has studied her for years and can confirm that she remembers anything of a semantic autobiographical nature. In fact, she is eidetic in this category, photographic, flashbulb like.

Now here we have a conundrum. How come she can't apply that same talent to her schoolwork? The reason is simple. She has two memory systems that work in a semi-independent fashion. She has a great memory for personal experience, She has a poor memory for facts.

You see, memory isn't simple. So when you ask me "how does memory work?" my first response must be "Pray, about what memory system are you talking?"

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Interview with ABC News

October 13, 2014  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments


Watch John Medina's interview with ABC News Australia





Interview with ABC News

October 13, 2014  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments


Watch John Medina's interview with ABC News Australia





The Performance Envelope

September 25, 2014  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments


Watch the performance envelope video

Though we really don't know very much about how the brain processes information - we have yet to be able to determine why you know your name - to give just one flagrant example - we are not clueless about how the brain works.

We know about its evolutionary performance envelope, for example.

These are the conditions upon which the brain processes information in the best way. The most efficient way. The most accurate way.

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

That's so important I'm going to say it again.

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

Let me drill down on this a little bit.

Its important to understand the human brain is the world's most sophisticated survival organ. It's built to keep its owner alive long enough to pass its owner's genes onto the next generation - a decidedly very Darwinian thing to say. There's the survival stuff.

This magnificent survival organ was forged in an outdoor crucible, probably  and mostly in East Africa. For 99.987% of our time on the planet, we have lived in settings composed of natural elements, starting out in the savannah. We did it under conditions of increasing climatic instability - where our green, wet rainforest that used to inhabit our North African womb increasingly gave way to the not-as-green and not-as-wet savannah.

Because we were hunter-gatherers in an unstable ecological environment, we were moving around almost all of our waking hours. Some estimates put our movement at nearly 12 miles per day. Constant motion.

Those are the conditions under which our brain thrives. We have not escaped the blast radius of our evolutionary predilections forged over millions of years simply because we have - for the last few thousand - been able to live in sedentary cities.

Get the updated and expanded edition of John Medina's NYT bestseller Brain Rules. Learn more at www.brainrules.net

The Performance Envelope

September 25, 2014  |  Posted by Brain Rules | No Comments


Watch the performance envelope video

Though we really don't know very much about how the brain processes information - we have yet to be able to determine why you know your name - to give just one flagrant example - we are not clueless about how the brain works.

We know about its evolutionary performance envelope, for example.

These are the conditions upon which the brain processes information in the best way. The most efficient way. The most accurate way.

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

That's so important I'm going to say it again.

The human brain appears to have been designed to solve problems related to surviving in an outdoor setting, in unstable meteorological conditions and to do so in near constant motion.

Let me drill down on this a little bit.

Its important to understand the human brain is the world's most sophisticated survival organ. It's built to keep its owner alive long enough to pass its owner's genes onto the next generation - a decidedly very Darwinian thing to say. There's the survival stuff.

This magnificent survival organ was forged in an outdoor crucible, probably  and mostly in East Africa. For 99.987% of our time on the planet, we have lived in settings composed of natural elements, starting out in the savannah. We did it under conditions of increasing climatic instability - where our green, wet rainforest that used to inhabit our North African womb increasingly gave way to the not-as-green and not-as-wet savannah.

Because we were hunter-gatherers in an unstable ecological environment, we were moving around almost all of our waking hours. Some estimates put our movement at nearly 12 miles per day. Constant motion.

Those are the conditions under which our brain thrives. We have not escaped the blast radius of our evolutionary predilections forged over millions of years simply because we have - for the last few thousand - been able to live in sedentary cities.

Get the updated and expanded edition of John Medina's NYT bestseller Brain Rules. Learn more at www.brainrules.net