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The scope of the meeting
‘Memory’ refers to a diverse set of mechanisms by which living organisms retain information and reconstruct past experiences, usually for present purposes. It is memory that makes it possible for the organism to use past events to inform the unfolding of actions and experiences. In the case of human beings, the ability to conjure up long-gone but specific episodes is both familiar and puzzling, and is a key to the understanding of ‘personal identity’. We are often enticed to confound memory with knowledge. We remember experiences and events that are not happening now, so memory differs from perception. We remember events that really happened, so memory is unlike pure imagination. Yet, in practice, remembering, perceiving, and imagining are intimately intertwined.
Remembering is often suffused with emotions. It is also essential for much reasoning and decision-making, both individual and collective. And it is dynamically connected with sleeping and dreaming. Some memories are shaped by language, others by imagery. Memory can go wrong in mundane and minor, or in dramatic and disastrous ways. Memory tends to be selective, and much forgetting is normal and unavoidable. At the same time, memory formation and capacity vary substantially, not only over the lifespan of each individual, but also between individuals.
To most people, the biological study of memory follows two main lines of inquiry. The first analyzes how nerves signal to one another, and how such signaling is not fixed, but is modulated by activity and experience. The second focuses on brain systems and cognition. Human memory is not unitary but takes different forms in different brain circuits. But, ‘memory’ as a form of biological inscription is not limited to neural activities and networks, but can be seen as also embedded in multiple ways at different levels of biological organization, be they molecular, cellular, or organismal. And as a species-specific trait of humans, our ‘cultures’ have always served as essential collective depositories of memory. For instance, our current digitalization technologies can be seen as merely the latest avatar of our abilities and ingenuity to selectively store memories externally.
These are some of the themes on which we will focus at the time of the 17th EMBL/EMBO Science and Society multi-disciplinary conference in Heidelberg in 2016.
Further readings on the conference topic can be found here.
The main aim of these joint EMBL/EMBO Science and Society meetings is to present important areas of life science research in a manner accessible to all, and to promote reflection on their implications. At the same time, they should facilitate a broad dialogue between biologists, behavioral and social scientists, students of all disciplines, and members of the public.
- Molecular memory
- Human memory: origins, mechanisms and meanings
- Memory: from order, to reorder, to oblivion
- The normal, the off-scale, and the extended human memory
Who should attend?
Everyone is welcome to attend.
For more information about previous meetings in the series please check the Science and Society Website.