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UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See prorev.com for full contents of our site

February 24, 2010

STUDY: ERASING OLD MEMORIES MAY BE USEFUL FOR THE NEW ONES

Your editor has long argued that his memory lapses were not due to a medical problem but to having been born with inadequate cerebral RAM. This article confirms the thesis:

SCIENCE DAILY - Scientists have known that newly acquired, short-term memories are often fleeting. But a new study in flies suggests that kind of forgetfulness doesn't just happen. Rather, an active process of erasing memories may in some ways be as important as the ability to lay down new memories, say researchers who report their findings in the February 19th issue of the journal Cell.

"Learning activates the biochemical formation of memory," says Yi Zhong of Tsinghua University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "But you need to remove memories for new information to come in. We've found that forgetting is an active process to remove memory."

The researchers have traced that process to a molecular pathway including a small protein known as Rac. When that mechanism is blocked, flies hold on to newly acquired memories for longer than they otherwise would.

At the psychological level, scientists have debated about the reasons we forget. One theory held that new memories are simply unstable and evaporate over time. On the other hand, some thought that interference caused earlier short-term memories to be overridden as new information comes in.

Now it appears that those competing notions are, at the molecular level at least, one and the same. . .

"We still don't really understand the substrate of memory in terms of what is formed and what is erased," Zhong said. "The study of forgetting may be a better way to identify the material basis of memory."


1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the late '40s, Wilder Penfield showed, by direct low-voltage brain stimulation, that memories continue to exist even when "forgotten".

What happens is that the links to rarely-needed memories gradually decay in a way analogous to a path becoming overgrown. Once the "path" has become sufficently overgrown, we're very unlikely to find it again easily.

However, our memories are associative, meaning that we typically build many links to the same information, one link for every association we have for it.

So although the main pathway might become overgrown, we might still be able to access the memory via another, less-used path --if we happen to stumble across it.

And, as Penfield found, "forgotten" material can be retrieved completely by direct stimulation--if we know where to stimulate.

So until Yi Zhong et al. account for Penfield's findings, I don't think much of their conclusions.

February 24, 2010 4:51 PM  

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