Diving in the heart of memory, our GPS from 0 to 110 years

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By Hervé Morin and Pascale Santi

On the occasion of the launch of the application "Memorable" by "The World", investigation on the functioning of memory. Science gives ways to nurture and preserve it, as the digital world transforms the relationship with knowledge.

Memory is our identity. It allows us to situate ourselves in time, but also in space and social relations, in our history, that of our loved ones or of the whole of humanity. Without it, it's impossible to plan for the future, make decisions, or ride a bike.

The newly born baby, the growing child, the mature adult, the aging old man … At each age of life, memory allows us to encode, store and retrieve information. But its operation changes, adapts itself. From 0 to 110, how does it shape our learning?

Read also "The World" launches Memorable, an application to cultivate one's memory and knowledge

Like matryoshkas

To begin, we must know that the question occupies philosophers for millennia, and scientists for a century and a half. In one of the essays published in "The Foundations of Memory" (James S. Nairne, 2007) entitled "Are There 256 Kinds of Memories? Neuropsychologist Endel Tulving, one of the leading experts on the subject, did not care about the inflation of the proposals in recent decades. He pointed out that some of the memories in his list could fit into each other, like matriochkas – the iconic memory embedded in the sensory memory, the semantic memory included in the declarative memory. "How many behavioral or cognitive processes do you know that include themselves? "he asked his esteemed colleagues.

Manner to say that it would be advisable to return to more sobriety if one really wanted to explain the main principles of the functioning of the memory. The message has passed, though, as always in neuropsychology, the peculiarities of some patients lead to the isolation of singular features from memory – for example, prosopagnosia, that is, the inability to recognize faces, described very long time, definitely refers to a particular brain network.

Encode, store and retrieve information: each of these phases refers to very different mechanisms.

Five different memories

Inspired by Tulving, who proposed a hierarchical architecture of five different memories involved in these mechanisms, and Alan Baddeley of Britain, who emphasized the central role of working memory, the French neuropsychologist Francis Eustache (Inserm, University of Caen, Ecole pratique des hautes études, B2V Observatory of memories) proposed a more dynamic model, with his colleague Béatrice Desgranges.

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