The Science of Memory & How to Keep It | Charan Ranganath

Charan RanganathDo you ever feel like your memories are slipping away? Whether it’s forgetting a name, what you did over the weekend, or that classic, where the car or keys are? Or, maybe it’s that you seem to be losing those precious moments with loved ones, forgetting meaningful life experiences, or less able to hold onto what really matters without working harder to recall it? If so, you’re not alone. Our memories can feel like sand slipping through our fingers no matter how desperately we try to cling on.

Question is, what’s happening there? How much of it is natural and okay? How much is a source of concern? What’s really causing it? And, what can we do about it? What if you could unlock the power hidden within your own mind to remember more of what makes life worth living? 

My guest today is Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Davis who has spent over 25 years studying the intricate mechanisms of memory. In his fascinating new book, Why We Remember: Unlocking Memory’s Power to Hold on to What Matters, Charan explores how memory shapes our sense of self, allows us to learn from the past, and can even help us lead more meaningful lives.

As he explains, memory is far more complex than simply a video recording of the past. It involves our emotions, identity, imagination, and subjective experiences. By understanding its multilayered nature, we can harness the power of memory to create richer moments, deeper connections, and a greater sense of purpose.

Through vivid stories and the latest scientific insights, Charan reveals how memory intertwines with our dreams, relationships, creativity, and overall well-being. He shares practical tips to improve your memory while avoiding common pitfalls. And he opens our eyes to how memory unlocks the potential for personal growth at any age.

If you want to hold on to the moments and people that matter—and more easily let go of regret and trauma—you won’t want to miss this fascinating exploration into the art, science and practice of remembering. By the end, you’ll see how memory could be the key to finding meaning, living fully, and pursuing your best life.

You can find Charan at: X | Instagram | Episode Transcript

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photo credit: Michael Rock

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Episode Transcript:

Charan Ranganath: [00:00:00] Memories are actually changed by the act of recalling something. It’s a moving target. When you retrieve memories, you have this new opportunity to reframe it within this larger narrative and look at things from a different perspective and incorporate what you know now with information from the past. So this whole dynamic nature of memory and the way it unfolds over time is just, I think it’s very beautiful thing.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:00:27] So do you ever feel like your memories are just kind of slipping away, whether it’s forgetting a name, what you did over the weekend or that classic where there’s a car in the car keys, or maybe it’s that you seem to be losing precious moments with loved ones, forgetting meaningful life experiences. Or maybe you’re less able to hold on to what really matters without working harder to recall it. If so, you’re not alone. Our memories can feel a little bit like sand slipping through our fingers, no matter how desperately we try to cling to them. Question is what’s happening there and how much of it is natural and okay? How much is a source of concern, what is really causing it, and what can we do about it? What if you could unlock the power hidden within your own mind, your brain, to remember more of what makes life worth living? My guest today, Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Davis who has spent over 25 years studying the intricate mechanisms of memory in his fascinating new book, Why We Remember Unlocking Memories Power to Hold On to What Matters, he explores how memory shapes our sense of self, allows us to learn from the past, and can even help us lead more meaningful lives. And, as he explains, memory is just far more complex than simply a video recording of the past. It involves our emotions, our identity, imagination and subjective experiences. So by understanding its multi-layered nature, we can harness the power of memory to create richer moments, deeper connections, and a greater sense of purpose that stays with us for longer. Through stories and the latest scientific insights, Charan reveals how memory intertwines with our dreams, our relationships, creativity, and overall well-being, and he shares practical tips to improve your memory while avoiding common pitfalls, and opens our eyes to how memory really works and unlocks the potential for personal growth at any age. So if you want to hold on to the moments and people that matter and more easily let go of regret and trauma as well, you won’t want to miss this fascinating exploration into the art, science, and practice of memory and remembering. By the end, you will see how memory could be the key to finding meaning to living more fully and pursuing your best life. So excited to share this conversation with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:02:51] The word that you’ve been doing is deeply interesting to me, and I think to a lot of our listening community, I’m always curious also, you know, I think the study of neuroscience and memory in particular is something that I feel is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the popular conversation. You’ve been deep into this for two and a half decades or so, maybe longer than that, actually, at this point, was there something that led you to this exploration? Because often, you know, when somebody becomes so devoted to a a particular pursuit, I’m always curious whether there was some kind of inciting incident or whether it was just like a slow evolution.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:03:28] I would say it’s a slow evolution. I mean, there’s kind of why did I get into psychology? And then the why do I get into memory research and neuroscience? Probably the cleanest answer that I can come up with is when I was in grad school, I was actually doing clinical psychology, and so about half of my clinical time was doing what’s called neuropsychological evaluations. So these would be people who come in, let’s say, an executive who says, you know, I’m worried I have Alzheimer’s disease. I’m kind of losing. I forget things really easily. And sometimes you’d get people who had other things that were going on. But memory was the thing that they almost always complained about. It was the most commonly complained about symptom. And one of the things that got me was the fact that you could find somebody. They might have said, well, he doesn’t have a memory problem, he’s just clinically depressed, or he doesn’t have a memory problem. He’s got, you know, something else going on. But at the end of the day, it all affected memory. And that was the thing that was the most disabling for people and disturbing for people. And then meanwhile, in the clinic I was working, I was trained in cognitive behavior therapy. So it’s a very kind of a, you know, more of a research-backed way of doing things. But a big part of that was the cognitive therapy, which was really understanding and getting to people’s beliefs. And to do that, you really ended up, no matter what, going into memory and getting into people’s past. And so around this time, the world of the neuroscience of memory, there’s really some big advances being made in brain imaging. And so I just had a lot of other things for going on. It was just this kind of like ideal moment for me to say, hey, I’m going to shift gears from depression research and get in the game in studying the brain, because I think this is where we can really make some strides in improving our clinical practice and doing more for our patients.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:05:30] Yeah, I mean, it’s really fascinating the way you described so many people coming into you when you’re doing the evaluations and memory being such a big part of not just what you’re seeing, but also the concern, like the thing that led them to seek some kind of evaluation. In your experience, what is it about memory that is so profoundly fear-inducing for so many people?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:05:53] Yeah. So I think there’s so many reasons. And this is one of the things I really wanted to get across in the book is that memory is just involved in so many ways in our present that in our future, that it really is one of those things that when you lose it, it is scary in terms of why I can give you. There’s a lot of reasons I can talk about, but maybe one I’ll just throw right out there, which I think many people can relate to, is you’re, let’s say, traveling. You wake up in a hotel or an Airbnb or whatever, and it’s your first night there. What do you ask yourself? It’s like, where am I? It’s very disorienting, right? And the only way you can answer that question is to say, well, how did I get here? And how did I get here is always about memory. And so if I say, oh, well, I was traveling, I took a trip to New York, and I remember getting checking into the hotel last night. I’m satisfied. But if you don’t have that answer, it’s like you’re just floating in the universe, right? I mean, it’s like you have nothing to orient you. And so that in and of itself is scary, right then. Now imagine that you’re not being able to hold up in a conversation and people are talking about things. And you lost what they were talking about 30 ago, but you’re nodding your head trying to keep up or, you know, you can’t really plan your day because you’re constantly stuck in the present. And so you’re just constantly reacting to things. And I think the biggest one probably is that it’s so core to our sense of who we are. It’s so core to our identity. And when people start to lose their memory, it’s not like they lose their self per se, but their self becomes more stuck and it becomes more concrete. It’s not like people lose a lot of capacity for growth and change.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:07:47] That makes a lot of sense to me, especially that last part, the identity part. To me, the fear-based part of it is probably connected most to that because it’s sort of like, who am I if I can’t remember who I am? But it’s interesting because you seem to make a distinction, say like its memory is not the entirety of identity, you know, and which makes me wonder, you know, like if memory is basically the story of you and how you’ve become who you are up until this moment in time. Is memory also your affect? Like, let’s say, like you’ve grown to become a kind person or a compassionate person. It’s literally just a part of how you show up in the world. Is there a memory element to that?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:08:27] Yeah, I think that it’s twofold, actually, and this is one of the fascinating things about memory. And maybe we can get into this a little further with some of the things I’ve been thinking about since writing the book, in terms of how it plays into daily life. But just as a starting point, if you look at all the experiences that you have, not all of them will be remembered. In fact, most of them will be forgotten. But the things that really stick out are often emotional experiences, whether it’s traumas or memories of joyful experiences, you know, memories of things that we got really excited about, those are all the things that really stick with us. And so in part, those are more of the experiences that we carry forward with us. Those are also the experiences that we tend to look back on more. Right? And when we look back, the way we look back at those memories can affect our mood in the here and now. In fact, in some of my early research, one of the things that I did was I would actually I was studying mood and thinking. And so the way we would get people into sad mood was we would ask them to think about sad times in their life and immediately we’d get them there. It’s like they just would go back to that place.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:09:44] What’s interesting is most people, as it turns out, have a positive bias and they tend to view the past in a very rosy way and view themselves in a more positive way than maybe the facts really suggest. And so that’s actually kind of interesting too, is, is that that provides especially as people get older people, that optimistic bias tends to become more pronounced. So for many people, they think that being able to look back on the past is a source of happiness, and it’s a source of pleasant things that give them kind of a sense of who they are. If you can remind yourself of something good you’ve done that makes you feel better about yourself, right? And so there’s even studies showing that if you ask people to remember a time in their life when they’re altruistic, they’re more likely to feel like doing something altruistic in the present. And that’s why, actually, one of the things I try to do, I’m terrible at actually making time for these things. I should probably spend some time talking to you about this stuff after the show is over, but it’s like I’ve tried work in a gratitude practice at the end of the day. And for me, I always struggled with that because I would say, okay, well, you know, do I really want to say I’m thankful that I’m not, you know, terminally ill or something? It’s true, I am, but it’s hard to I couldn’t get get it.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:11:07] And then what I started to do was I started to say, what’s something that happened in the last 24 hours? That was good. It’s like the smaller the better. As it turns out. It’s like, if I just remembered one small thing that happened. I got an email from somebody and they, you know, that I hadn’t heard from in a while, and I really liked hearing from that person. I would do this for about 2 or 3 things, and the first 1 or 2 would be really hard for me to come up with, and then they just start flowing out, because the more of these positive things I thought about, the better I would feel and the better I feel, the easier it is to recall more of these positive things. And so is this incredibly useful tool for enhancing your well-being in the here and now is thinking about these things. And again, they don’t have to be profound, significant things. I think the more specific they are, the more they involve this act of what we call mental time travel, where you go back to a particular time and place, and inherent to that is going back to a feeling that you had at that time.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:12:09] Hmm. That makes so much sense to me. It’s interesting because you’re also part of what I’m hearing you talk about is sort of like the distinction between short-term time travel and long-term time travel. It’s like you can travel back to yesterday and you can travel back to, you know, like 30, 40 years ago or whenever it was that you’re trying to recall that thing. Which brings up another curiosity of mine, which is this notion of the difference between long-term versus short-term memory, and why so many people seem to have this experience of tell me to remember what song I danced to in my high school prom. And I can tell you, and I can also sing all of the words, like all of the lyrics to every song from when I was in high school. It is in my head. Ask me to remember. You know, like what I had for breakfast or who I met two days ago. And I’m going to have to work for that. So tease this out for for me a little bit. Yeah.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:13:00] In memory research, we just love to carve things up into little categories. So we’ll say there’s short term and there’s long term and there’s this and there’s that. But in terms of what you’re talking about, I think it reflects several interesting characteristics of memory. So one is people tend to look back on particular times in their life that it’s typically around, I don’t know, 16 to 30 years old. And those are the times that, you know, as people get older, they look back on more and more relative to other periods. And that’s called the reminiscence bump. And so there’s something about that period. There’s a lot of different explanations. I think one is that’s where we really feel like a solidified sense of who we are, you know, or if we feel like those are the most formative times in our life, that’s where also we establish our careers and, you know, build the relationships that are more like lifelong relationships. So there’s a lot to look at there. Right? And songs in particular are just these incredibly powerful retrieval cues for us because they’re the soundtrack that’s playing in the background during a particular time.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:14:06] So there’s like, I’m sure you’ve had like, tell me a song from, you know, that you’re thinking of from your past that brings you back. Just tell me one. I’m just curious. The tainted love, beautiful. Boop boop on up, ain’t it, love? Yeah, yeah. Okay. I’m gonna do karaoke here. That was going to turn off your viewers really quickly. Or listeners. So Tainted Love is a beautiful one, right? Because it’s like it was on the radio for, you know, on MTV for a very narrow period of time. Played a lot. And then, you know, it kind of made a resurgence now that 80s music is back. But it was really this kind of a thing that you’re probably hearing a lot at that particular time. And then you probably went for a period where you weren’t listening to it. Right. And so it’s so uniquely associated with that time period that when you hear it, it can bring back that context, the kind of the sights and the sounds and the voices and just the feeling that you had back at that age, back at that time. Mm.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:15:08] No, that makes a lot of sense. I think for me also in particular, it’s interesting to hear that that’s sort of like a more broad phenomenon because I’ve been fiercely music-oriented my entire life. And clearly, for those who can’t see the video, like there’s a wall of guitars behind you, so it’s been a part of your life for in a meaningful way, too. But it is such an anchor for so many moments in my life and so many feelings. And it’s like you said, it’s not just that I you know, when I hear those first three bars and Tainted Love by the Eurythmics, it’s not that I just hear them like, it’s almost like the physiology of my body returns to that moment in the blink of an eye. It’s like I can snap my fingers and I’m back there. The other thing I’m curious about also is this sort of like a source of time travel is sense. I’ve also found myself like walking through a public space and smelling something, you know, just like maybe somebody passes by me or like I walk by a cinema or whatever it may be, you know, and there’s a scent that seems to also trigger something very like that very same time traveling type of experience. Is that also a very common thing?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:16:12] Yes. Yeah, very much so. There’s two different schools of thought about scent, which I don’t think. I think they’re both probably right. One is there’s an area of the brain that’s particularly in poor episodic memory, which is that ability to travel back in time to the past, and those memories are tied to a particular time and place. And one of the things that is so unique about particular times and places are smells. If you actually look at the neural circuitry of the brain areas that do smell, they have a fairly direct pathway to the hippocampus compared to some of the other senses, where they get processed and processed and processed before they reach it. So that’s one theory is, is that there’s a more primal link, another view, which I think is I find very compelling, is that, again, since there are often things that we do in the background, we often don’t pay attention directly to sense, but they kind of are there and part of the context. So for instance, when I go back and visit my relatives in India, there are certain smells that I can get there that are just utterly different than anything that I can smell here. Sometimes it’s food, sometimes it’s bad smells that you smell outside, but there are certain things that you would only get there. And so those things really bring me back and put me in a mindset of being back at that time. And so I think it’s just any if they’re tied to emotional things too, that’s another thing scents, so often tied to our emotions, if you actually look at people who have brain damage and they lose their sense of smell, they often become depressed. And it’s really just like kind of very difficult for them emotionally. So I think that’s another thing too is sense are just so tied to our feelings.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:17:59] Mhm. That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned a part of the brain, the hippocampus. Which brings up another question, which is this notion of where in the brain does memory actually live? And I think over time, you’ve heard people say, well, it’s here or no, it’s here. And it sounds like there’s sort of like an emerging theory of memory that actually makes it much more spread out across different areas. Take me into that conversation a little bit. Yeah.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:18:27] It’s, uh, you know, part of the challenge in talking about these things is, is when we say the memory or even just memory, it’s such a big thing. Right? So it’s like, is it your ability to grab a tennis racket and play tennis? You’re not remembering per se, but you’ve had some changes in your brain that you learned how to play. Likewise, you can remember an event. And so these things are just different brain areas working together in different ways. But if we go back to episodic memory, which is the one I think that I that’s my specialty in what I think many people think about when they say memory. It’s really this ability to link together, not just it’s not just like the ability to remember a face, but to associate a face with a name and the place that you met them and the sounds that were going on at the time, the things that you were thinking about and feeling. And so if you step back from it and you know, those events unfold over like, let’s say, you know, several minutes, right? So think about all the information that you’re putting together across so many areas of your brain in a sequence for so much period of time. And so what you get is that can’t be done by one area alone. But what you need is you need these areas that are a little bit more specialized, like, here’s my areas of the brain that are more important for processing information about people, some others that are more important for processing information about places and so forth.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:19:59] And what the hippocampus allows you to do is it’s kind of a non-specialist. It’s just kind of like a matchmaker just saying, okay, so here’s something really important that’s happened. Let’s grab information about Jonathan and let’s grab my information about what I’m seeing with this brick wall in the background, which your listeners can’t see that. But you know what I’m saying. Let’s take the conversation and the way we’re kind of connecting with each other and let’s put all that together. And so it does that because it’s just so well connected to many other areas of the brain. And what we’re learning about is, is that episodic memory is all about connections. It’s like you have the hippocampus, which is this very connected area, and then it’s connected to many areas of the brain that are also ridiculously connected. Right. So imagine it’s just like if you have like a, you know, a film producer or something in Hollywood and they’re connected to a bunch of stars and those people are connected. So it’s like this person can reach anybody just with a couple of phone calls. Right? And that’s kind of like what the hippocampus is doing. It’s probably a terrible analogy. I’ll probably regret that. But that’s that’s what probably the first thing that comes to mind.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:21:09] Got it. So it’s really not about like there may be some sort of like memory-heavy areas of the brain, but like the ability to recall, to remember. And with all the detail and all the sensory experience and everything, it’s it’s not sort of like located in one specific area. This is the brain’s ability to weave together different parts, to create different types of memory-based experiences.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:21:29] That’s right. The hippocampus would be critical for that ability, it seems, because it’s really without that you have all these little isolated elements of the event that could be in memory, so to speak, but you can’t put them together. And so, you know, you might recognize my face later on if you see me, if you had damage to the hippocampus, but you would have a lot of trouble remembering anything we talked about, or even necessarily remembering that we met you was just uhhh, I think I’ve seen this guy before. I don’t know where, you know. And so that is what happens for a lot of people, especially you can see this in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s. This is what happens.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:22:10] So they’ll sort of like recognize a face, but they won’t be able to give context to it.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:22:15] They won’t be able to give context to it. Exactly. So they’ll end up kind of getting lost in conversations. Because when we’re talking, you probably, I’m sure, just to make sense of what I’m saying. Every once in a while, you have to refer back to something I previously said and just remind yourself of that to build up this larger kind of understanding of what we’re talking about and where our conversation is going. And of course, they will often get lost in, you know, when they’re navigating from one place to another because you use memory for that and so forth, not so much in a familiar place. But if they’re going someplace new, they drive someplace let’s say they haven’t been to before. Then it’s hard for them to get back because they don’t really know where they are. And so those are the kinds of things that you tend to see very early on.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:23:01] Yeah. How? How do we decide what’s worth storing and what’s not? Because my sense is. And tell me if this is wrong, that if we try to store everything, literally everything that came into our sense mechanisms, into our like, everything that we couldn’t function. So there’s got to be a massive editing part of what we’re not only processing and responding to, but also deciding, oh, this is worth storing. Is that right?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:23:29] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this is a really important point, which is that if you just start at the most basic level, we’re not actually even getting in most of the information from the world. At the most basic level, you’re just looking around right now. You have this sense that you’re taking in everything, but in fact, your eyes are going to be moving super quickly about four times a second, and you’ll grab little snapshots of things at high resolution, but then your brain stitches that together into a sense of what’s going on. And that’s your visual world, right? So you’re getting little bits and pieces and putting that together in the moment. And you’re using integrating that with memory to to get a richer mental picture of what’s going on. So already your sense of what’s going on is selective before you’ve even created a rich memory for it. Right. So but then on top of it, we know that people tend to forget things very, very quickly. Much of what we what we learn in a day will be forgotten in 24 hours, like about 60%. It’s remarkably fast. And so our brain is designed to do this, I think, because you can have different design philosophies for a brain. I’ve been thinking a lot about this now that we’ve been doing computer models of the brain is, you know, if I’m designing a car and I want to like, you know, compete in street races or something like that, I might, you know, get like a, you know, sports car or something, but I’m not going to be able to use that sports car to haul, like, you know, ten kids to a soccer game or something like that, or to carry like a bunch of, you know, like dirt or something to a construction site.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:25:15] They’re just, you know, if you want something for hauling large amounts of stuff, it’s not optimal for high performance and vice versa. And so our brains in general are designed for that high performance, not to lug around a bunch of junk. As a result, we’re able to get smaller bits and pieces, but use that information and find it and access it very quickly. So how does it decide? Well, that’s something that, you know, our brains are always trying to figure out what’s important, anthropomorphizing a bit. So go with me on this. But you know, your brain is sitting, you’re trying to figure out what’s important. Well, things that are going to be scary, things that are going to give us feelings of attachment, like love, things that are, you know, make us angry, or things that situations in which we’re scared.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:26:04] So those intense emotions tend to be associated with brain systems that are designed to keep us alive and help us reproduce. Right. And so those are experiences that the brain is likely to need to call back on later on. And so those are going to be some of those experiences. There’s also things that surprise us, because if I know if you knew every word that I was going to say before I said it, you wouldn’t even need to remember any of this conversation because you already had that memory. Right? So why would you form this rich, durable memory for something that goes along completely with what, you know, a lot more efficient to grab just the points in our conversation that surprised you, the points of the conversation that were interesting, or the points in the conversation that were novel things that you just didn’t know about. And so those are a lot of the rules of how the kinds of things that tend to stick around in memory, they tend to follow one of these principles, and it could be idiosyncratic. Maybe it’s something that just made you curious in the moment. It just caught your attention because it just flashed on the screen or something like that. You’ll never fully know, but they tend to be novel, surprising, emotionally significant. Hmm.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:27:19] So novel, surprising, emotionally significant. And you talked earlier also about this notion of something that that is highly sensory in nature. Often also, maybe that gets elevated in importance and, you know, in the what should I store type of thing, which also then raises my curiosity about the relationship between attentiveness or attention and memory. You know, some things I feel like they quote happen to you. You didn’t focus your attention on them, but they happened and they’re locked in there for life. Other things, you feel like you have to very intentionally take that attention and just laser in on it and then repeat it. This is like the classic studying for the final exam type of thing. It’s like, right, you know, and then and then I almost feel like you’ve harnessed all of. This attention and all of this effort, and you really want to lock it in there, and then you take the test. And the next day, if somebody asked you what your answer was to like question three, like you’d be like, I have no idea. Like so much of that body of knowledge, it was useful for a very particular use case. But as soon as that use case was over, it’s like your recall is gone too. What’s the link between attention, between doing something for a very specific outcome or use case, and how that affects memory?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:28:34] Your question is so rich, there’s so much here, but I’ll be mindful of time and try to keep it short because there’s so much here. One part of what you’re bringing up is related to something that I’ve been really interested in, our own research, which is curiosity and motivation and how that fits into with memory. So one of the things that you brought up is sometimes things that grabbed you, and these are things that are probably grabbing your motivational systems that are giving you, like I said, surprise, scary, whatever it is. Right? But then there are those things where you feel like I have to learn this, right? And what’s my motivation for learning this? And how long do I need to keep this around? That’s a big part of the equation for how motivation plays into memory. So we know that in general, motivation to get things is associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine. And dopamine is one of these neurotransmitters that we call them neuromodulators because they don’t just make the brain more responsive or less responsive, it just changes the way things happen. But they also make the brain more plastic and stabilize these changes that happen. And so as a result, when you have these chemicals released or memories can become more lasting. And so when we’re really motivated to do something intrinsically, some of our research suggests that that drives these same neural circuits that drive us when we’re trying to get a reward, something like, I’m hungry, I’m trying to get food.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:30:07] If you’re hungry for information, a lot of those same circuits will be activated. One of the cool things about that is that when we’re in that state, we can actually soak up all kinds of information. So we’ve shown when people are in the state of high curiosity, things that are just going on in the background, people can often remember them better than when they’re in a low state of curiosity. And where this hits home is what you brought up about the test. And this is something that I’ve become, you know, I feel quite strongly about these days, is there’s a lot of research to show that when you start giving people extrinsic rewards or motivations for certain things, they lose their internal motivation. And so what happens is you’re not learning this stuff because you’re curious. You’re learning this stuff because it’s on the test and you have to perform well on the test. So you’re getting stressed out, bad for memory. Sometimes you’re like, you don’t really want to do this in the first place, so you’re kind of reducing that biological boost that you might get. That’s a part of it. And um, there’s some other parts we can get into about why the way that you study in a test can be bad, but that’s another topic we can get into if you like.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:31:21] Yeah, I’m actually curious about that because, you know, I use the example of a test, but I think so many folks, this phenomenon doesn’t go away. You’re in a job, you’re put on a new team, you’re in a new project. You know, there’s always something new to learn. And I think some people ruin the day that that’s the reality. And some people love the fact that that’s a reality. But, you know, the nature is like we live lives, especially now and especially in our working lives, where constant change is, is the new normal, which means there has to be constant learning of new things. So, so this is the type of thing that is relevant to, I think, everybody these days. And I think sometimes if you happen to be fortunate and have made choices that put you in a space where you’re excited to do that learning and you’re excited, the fact that there’s a new project or a new product or whatever it is, or I’m on a new team and now, like, I have to get up to speed on all this new stuff, but then there are going to be other people and many other people who are sort of like, okay, so there’s a process of constant learning, and part of that is memory encoding that I have to do not because I’m genuinely curious about it, but because my living, my livelihood, my security and safety depend on it.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:32:28] So to me, you know, this is this isn’t something we leave behind in high school or college. Like, this is a phenomenon that travels with us all the time. And I think a lot of people really struggle with with it, especially if you’re in that experience of, you know, I just feel like I’m constantly having to study like I never got out of that circumstance, you know, that I really didn’t enjoy earlier in life and, and study something that like, you know, I want the paycheck and maybe I even want the outcome, but I’m not actually genuinely curious about the thing that I have to learn to get both. Is there a way to. Make that experience easier and more enjoyable.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:33:06] Yeah, one of the things that we know is that when people are stressed out, sometimes stress can improve memory for the time that we’re stressed, but it does it in a particular way. It tends to be remember the things that were stressful more than anything else. So you might remember the stressful time you spent trying to memorize this stuff more than the actual things that you were trying to memorize. It depends on a lot of factors, but that’s part of it. But definitely, when we’re stressed out, our ability to remember past things that we’ve learned, it gets kind of blown up because you are shutting down a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which we call we say it’s related to what’s called the central executive, which means that basically it’s not a specialist in any kind of particular function in the brain, but it’s kind of coordinating all these areas of the brain in the service of getting a job done. Right. So any time you’re doing something that requires that kind of an internal motivation, that’s not based on kind of like, you know, sweaty hands, a beer in front of me, I just grabbed the beer. But if I have to work hard to make money to get that beer, that’s like a very abstract thing. And that requires a prefrontal cortex to guide us. And when we’re stressed, the prefrontal cortex goes out the window. And so your ability to be able to focus on things that might help you remember past events goes away. You lose that ability to kind of internally drive memory, so to speak. On the positive side, though, I think it’s like you can again, especially during learning, the more people can take.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:34:45] And this is something that I really wanted to point out in the book, is that we tend to have this idea. It’s really funny that like when I talk to people, they always say, oh, I wish I had a better memory. I don’t have a good memory. But in the moment, people tend to be extraordinarily overconfident about their ability to remember things later on. And so I think there’s this assumption that memory, that learning should be effortless. And I think one of the things that I really wanted to get across in the book is that learning is very effortful. And in fact, the more you feel that effort, the more learning is taking place. And we’ve studied this with different computer models of the brain, but there have also been lots of studies done on this. So you mentioned taking a test, right? One of the things that the research shows is that if you were trying to learn a new language like Swahili, it’s much more effective for me to test you on those words over and over and over than it is for you to study. Try to just read them and memorize them. Now. When you read them, try to memorize them. You feel like, ah, I’ve got this. I really can, you know, I’ll remember this. But when you test yourself, what happens? Is it really. It’s like the stress test, so to speak, on your brain. You’re trying to pull up those connections, but you often fail. And so but through that process, the brain can kind of reorient and kind of fix the connections that are good, lose the connections that are bad, and become more optimal to get that memory again later on.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:36:18] But the thing is, is that active testing requires us to be okay with making mistakes, to be okay with struggling. Right. And so that kind of learning is effortful. And there’s a whole host of conditions like this. Like if instead of cramming for a test, you space out your learning like once a week, you get much, much better retention on average. But it’s harder. It’s less fun, you know? And I think the things that are the best mechanisms for learning do require some struggle. And I think we need to reorient our attitudes about learning, that learning should be effortless. And being smart means that everything comes to you easily. And I think it’s really much more of if I always tell people, this is kind of a slight tangent, but I think it really relates to this, which is that I always tell people, if you don’t have an imposter complex, you’re probably not working hard enough. You know, because having an imposter complex means that you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. And if you feel like you know what you’re doing, that means you’re not learning. And in my field, if you’re not learning, you might as well just quit. And it’s because this is what it’s all about for us is learning new things and figuring out how the brain works, which is a constant process of challenging your assumptions and exposing weaknesses in your thinking, but then incorporating new knowledge and new data into that and building it up.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:37:45] As you’re describing. A lot of this also, where my brain is going is that when we talk about memory and tell me if this is right or not, just like a really, really oversimplified model, we’re really kind of talking about two different things. One is encoding. How do we actually remember something? And the other is recall, um, like, how do we put it in so it stays? And then how do we pull it back out when we need or want it? And I would imagine that the first part also influences our ability to do the second part.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:38:16] Yes, it does. And in fact they’re much more related, I think, than people think. Again, you know, memory researchers will emphasize the differences between encoding and retrieval, which is that recall process you’re talking about. But one of the things that we do know is, is the act of trying to recall a memory actually also results in a new kind of encoding process. And what I mean by that, if I lose the jargon, is memories are actually changed by the act of recalling something. So that essentially, if you try to remember this conversation later on, just you’re trying to remember it will change this memory and often make it more accessible later on just by trying to remember it now. And so that’s one of the, I think, the unappreciated aspects of memory and why this is interesting is that memories, it’s a moving target, you know, because every time you remember it now, that memory has a little bit of residue not only of the original event, but also what was going on when you were thinking about it. And I think that’s kind of cool because it offers us a way. You know, I was thinking about what it means to have a good life.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:39:29] And one of the things that I was, uh, uh, look, you know, I just was like, there’s a quote about this, and it’s from, uh, Soren Kierkegaard, the existential philosopher. And I know zero about existential philosophy, but but I really like this quote, which is he said, life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. And in his point, it’s actually I disagree with the way that he his point that he wanted to make with that. But I like this idea of life can only be understood backwards, because what that means to me is when you retrieve memories, you have this new opportunity to reframe it within this larger narrative and look at things from a different perspective, and incorporate what you know now with information from the past. And that can be bad in the sense of like it can lead us to misremember things and incorporate all sorts of errors in our memory, which is obviously very bad consequences. But it can also be great if we can take these experiences that were, say, painful in the moment and learn from them and say like, you know, now that I’m looking at this from a different perspective, I can say, I didn’t know I made this mistake back then.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:40:42] But now I’ve learned something. I’ve learned something about myself, or I learned something about what I should do, how I should change, or whatever it is. Right. And that, I think, is, you know, that’s what we used to do when we were doing what I was doing. Therapy is it’s all about taking a memory from the past and asking people to work with it in a new light. And one of the cool things about doing therapy is when I share a memory that I’ve never told anyone before, and you’re the first person I’ve told this to, now that memory is no longer just mine. It’s ours because I’m tailoring that story I tell to you, and then you react and say something back to me. And now we’re trying to achieve this common ground. And as we do so, we’re changing the story of the memory because it’s now just not my perspective. It’s also got your perspective in it. And that’s forcing me to turn around and look at things in a new way. So this whole dynamic nature of memory and the way it unfolds over time is just, I think it’s very beautiful thing.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:41:42] Yeah. I mean, it’s really powerful because what you’re describing is, you know, in part the process of making an individual’s memory a collective memory. But but part of what you’re also describing is this experience of, can we take as close to the, the quote, fact of what happened and then tease out the emotion or the effect, the impact? And if they’re both good, awesome, just keep them lumped together like rock it out. Right. But if one’s bad, if one was like, you know, capital T trauma, you know, if you can go back and recall the circumstance, but then move through a process that was able to dissociate the emotion, the trauma from the actual circumstance, or maybe tell a different story about it so that, you know, you can acknowledge the fact that this happened and it happened in the way that I remember, but I’m able to actually pull away the brutalizing emotion that comes from that, that that would be an incredibly good thing. As you describe this part of what sometimes happens in therapy. And I know, like I’ve heard this described as an experience from friends who have done eMDR therapy to process trauma, that the memory is still there, fully intact. But the physiological and psychological reaction to it is either greatly dissipated or completely gone.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:43:05] Yeah, there’s a whole area of research on this. It’s a topic called reconsolidation. And the basic idea is, is that if you can kind of trigger the activation of that memory, but then somehow modify it once it’s pulled up, you can change it. And so in theory, you could change that kind of visceral reaction. And some people have found with some research that that can be done. And it’s a the research on this is kind of mixed. But I think the core of your question is, I think it speaks to this kind of deeper way of thinking about memory in the first place, which is, as a scientist, I collect data and the data is the data. And I can say, was the data collected in a good way, or was it collected in a bad way or so forth? But it’s ultimately it’s data. But then I try to make a story out of it. I make sense of it, and I try to come up with a theory that makes sense of it. I think memory is kind of like that, too. And, you know, Adam Grant has a thing where he talks about think like a scientist. You know, it’s really true because it’s like you get this data from memory and there is a truth to that data. But then there’s the theory that we come up to explain that data. And those theories are just theories. There’s sometimes parts of it that might be true. There’s parts of it that might be wrong, and there’s parts of it that might just be our perspective that are neither true nor false. Right. So I think that’s really the part where we often get confused between that narrative and the actual data of memory.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:44:34] Sometimes the narrative just takes over, and the emotion that we have is often tied to that interpretation and that narrative. So, for instance, we know that norepinephrine or noradrenaline, as I call it in the book, this brain chemical that’s released when we have a fight or flight response. Right. So somebody comes in to your home with a knife or something like that, your heart rate’s going to increase. Your brain’s going to be flooded with norepinephrine. But let’s say then you decide, you know, you survive this horrible experience. And then a week later you’re in Guatemala and you go zip-lining in the rainforest. And maybe this is, like, super exciting for you and you’re totally having the time of your life. Your brain is also being flooded with norepinephrine, but those are two very different memories you’ll have. Right? So I think there’s the kind of physiology, kind of visceral experience of remembering. But then there’s the interpretation and they’re related to each other, but they’re also different. So there’s the sights and the sounds. There’s the like kind of the visceral emotional experience and the context. But then there’s also the narrative and the story we tell, and there’s separate but related and interactive. And so it’s a very complex thing. Right? I think it is possible for people to lose some of those, the immediacy of those emotional, traumatic experiences. But for some people it becomes the opposite, where it’s like it almost it becomes like dominated by that visceral experience and, you know, or dominated by these emotions to the point where a lot of the actual details of what happened are just like being put in the background. Mhm.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:46:14] Yeah. That makes sense. It’s almost like the emotion takes over and um, shuts down your ability to really process the underlying circumstance.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:46:23] That’s right. There’s a really actually we did some interesting research on this. And other people have done research too, showing that when people have an emotional response to something that even something arbitrary, that we have people study a picture of a car crash or something, they’ll have a very vivid, they’ll report vivid remembering, but that is not correlated with the actual memory for the details of things that were kind of peripheral during that event. Right. So it’s like you feel like the immediacy that you get is what kind of gives you that sense of vividness, but the actual amount of detail is separate from that. And it can be correlated. But it’s different.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:47:01] Yeah. And it’s like it’s the emotion. It’s the state that you’re remembering. Um, really, really strongly wrapped around the detail. You want to make curiosities also, and I think this is a growing curiosity, is how technology, how personal technology is potentially impacting our memory, in particular, those little devices that we all carry around in our pocket or pack or whatever it may be. You know, my sense is if you ask the typical person, you know, okay, so tell me, the telephone numbers of the five people closest to you in your life. A lot of people couldn’t do that anymore. And like when I was a kid, like every friend that I knew, every family member, like, boom, it was right there. Now, like, it’s rare that I can’t remember the last time I actually typed in the telephone number of somebody who was really close to me. You know, we used to just look it up on the device, and now we often just say it out loud, like call so and so. Is that affecting our memory?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:48:04] This is one of my favorite things to talk about. I really think about this a lot. And I think the answer is researchers are still trying to figure it out, but there are some things that we know and some reasonable speculation. So if we think about like just the minimal part of this, I’m all for outsourcing tedious memory tasks. Like in other words, humans do not have a photographic memory. No human has ever been reported that remembers everything, right? But my phone does, so why not? If there’s anything that’s a painful, tedious memory task like phone numbers, why not just have my phone recorded? You know? Why not just store it there? Or if I have appointments, why not just give it to my phone? Um, there’s lots of other stuff I can use my memory for. That’s, like, very intelligent and things that I wouldn’t want to trust to my phone. So I don’t trust the assistants on my phone to do anything. So things that involve thinking, I’d rather, you know, focus on those. So in that sense, I don’t think there’s a problem. I don’t think there’s like a use it or lose it kind of thing because we got so much stuff going on that we have to memorize that. Really, if you’re not remembering one, you know, I mean, if you’re if you’re saving yourself one thing on average, that’s pretty good. I mean, getting back to this idea of like, how is the technology then affecting us in bad ways? I think there’s there’s a few ways it does. So one is if I have my phone or, you know, I’ve not gotten a smartwatch for this reason, they’re constantly bugging you with alerts.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:49:36] And those alerts distract you. And so what happens is every time that, you know, our brain takes these continuous experiences that we have and it breaks it up into little events. And so what happens is every time I get distracted and go off task and then come back, I end up building this kind of mess of little fragmented memories instead of something that’s much more rich and integrated and cohesive. What that means is instead of getting like kind of a well-organized memory for this experience, I’ve got a bunch of clutter that is hard to make sense of later on. And so I think we often do this willingly to ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just like, I really appreciated how much I’m a slave to email and I’m constantly checking it at the site is feeling of boredom and that shifting back and forth. It has a real cost to it because we’re making these fragmented memories, and every time we switch, your prefrontal cortex has to do a lot just to catch you up. So if I’m switching back and forth between email and conversation or text messages and conversation, what happens is I’m never really here and I’m never really they’re always one step behind. And instead of being able to use my prefrontal cortex to focus on what’s important, I’m using it just to get on task, just to get, you know, just to catch up. And so that I think is a big problem. And I think a lot of the way we interact with technology, we need to think about how do we do it in a way that is intelligent.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:51:13] Um, and I mean, there’s so many interesting implications for the way things are going. Like one of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about is how with AI, you know, sort of doing the simplest things like, you know, just autocompleting text in an email or something like that, right? I don’t it doesn’t bother me necessarily that that’s the case. But the thing is, if it’s just easy for me to generate, like, you know, if I’m writing an email to you and I say thank you, and it’s just like Google finishes my email for me, I might look at that and go, well, this isn’t what I was going to write, but it’s good enough. And I read that a bunch of times, and eventually it becomes more fluent in my brain, adapts to it more and more. And so what happens is, is that often we don’t build the technology to meet our needs as much as we adapt to the technology, and we learn like text messaging, I mean, who has a meaningful interaction by text messages, right? It’s. Says by nature, it’s not a good medium for sending, you know, detailed, consequential messages. I mean, I do realize people break up text messages, but not something you should do. So I mean, that’s like a kind of example. So I do think that technology has this risk of making us be less mindful, both less in the moment, more distractible, and also just kind of going for what’s easy in a way that actually can take away some of our creativity and some of our uniqueness.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:52:43] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And I know I’m constantly sort of catching myself in all these different cycles and, and really trying to put devices down more. But like you said, if there are certain just rote tasks or things that need to be stored, I’m pretty good with that. But it’s more the relational side, I think, like like I want to be present. I want to remember conversations and people and moments with them and experiences. And I wonder whether, you know, you go to any concert now, um, and at any given time, like if you turn and look all around you, you will just see a sea of devices being held up, like recording it. And like sometimes I just want to say like, it’s okay if this isn’t like if you don’t capture this, you know, in mPEG format and get to like, share it or review it like you’re not here for the social currency of being here. You’re here to be here. I can’t imagine that your not only your immediate lived experience, you know, is going to be diminished, but also you’re like, I love being able to just like close my eyes and take myself back to some of the concerts I’ve been to in the past.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:53:51] Even though there’s no there’s no evidence outside of my brain that exists of them. Like, I’m there, you know, and I and I sense I wouldn’t have that just inside of me had it been so focused on trying to capture it externally. So I’m so curious about, you know, like the effect of that. I guess we’ll see over time what experiences like that lead to. You know, one of the curiosities I have is and you write about this also is the relationship between memory and sleep. You know, this is one of these other things that I think you hear in popular lore, you know, like you encode your memories when you sleep and you have to sleep a certain amount of time. And if you’re like, really want something to get locked in there, like do it right before you go to bed and like, that’s the highest. But what’s real and what’s fake here.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:54:32] It’s very hard to tell. I mean, one of the reasons why I wanted to write this book, in part, was really to get more out there with the public and explain how hard science is, and it’s very hard to take something that happens in a lab in a particular experiment to make a generalization. But this is how it works in the real world. There’s all sorts of uncertainty. This is just my opinion. There’s many different opinions on it, and there’s almost always going to be an answer of it depends. But the way that I see it, it is the case probably that you will remember things better that happened right before you go to sleep, in part because your memories compete with each other. And so if you go to sleep right after you go to sleep, there’s you’re not really forming a whole lot of new rich memories there that would be competing with the stuff that you did right before you go to sleep. So that can be kind of helpful. But sleep also, your brain is doing all sorts of churning during sleep, and it’s doing different kinds of things during different stages of sleep. And some of the research that’s out there that I find especially compelling is that it’s not necessarily just kind of stabilizing what you’ve learned, but in some way, it’s in some ways it’s destabilizing it by allowing you to find connections between different things that happen at different points of the day and different things that happen in previous days.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:55:55] Right. So if you’re experiencing life moment by moment by moment, how does the brain pull out knowledge from that? And we think sleep is a really interesting way for the brain to kind of free associate and take what’s happened recently and tie it to things that happened in the past and give you rapidly a way to pull out knowledge from that. And so there’s some data, for instance, suggests that if you teach people new words after sleep, they’re more readily able to incorporate it into their language, because it’s now tied in with the rest of the ecosystem that, you know. And so that’s, I think, a really important function of sleep and a function. I said, because there’s so many other things that have to do with the restorative elements of sleep clearing out amyloid protein and other, you know, gunk from your brain. I mean, there’s so many things that happen during sleep that are really good for you.

 

Jonathan Fields: [00:56:51] Mhm. So you mentioned amyloid protein. And that kind of brings us to another curiosity. And I think it’s a it’s a huge curiosity. And it’s kind of like brings us back to the beginning of the conversation too, which is aging and memory. You know there I know a lot of competing theories on how brains lose memory or. Become cognitively impaired in a lot of different ways with age. Amyloid protein is sort of like in the mix there. How do we preserve as much of our memory as possible as we move further into life?

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:57:24] This is one of the big questions right now in science, and one of the interesting changes that’s happened in the mindset of people who are studying cognitive aging is they’ve shifted from thinking about aging as this progression of bad things. And how can we cure the bad things to a concept of brain health and really kind of like healthy aging. And the reason is, is that we definitely would love to have treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, and we need them, and they’re going to be drugs that are probably going to be a part of that, maybe brain implants and so forth. But there’s so much low-hanging fruit that people can do right now that will affect their cognitive aging and also improve your quality of life. Because the simplest thing I tell people is that your brain is a body part. And so things that are good for your physical health and things that are good for your mental health will be good for your brain and be good for memory. So even though memory for events, episodic memory declines as we get older, on average, some people are much better at holding on to it than others, and some of the factors that influence it are things like cardiac health. Things that are very bad would be things like diabetes. Terrible, terrible for memory. Um, and even if it doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, it can cause vascular dementia, where you get these tiny, tiny little strokes all over the place, and it would be like you cut little connections everywhere to the point where no part of the brain can talk to any other part. And so and in addition, it does increase your risk for Alzheimer’s. And so things that are bad would be things like diabetes, chronic stress, very bad for memory, things that are good.

 

Charan Ranganath: [00:59:08] Aerobic exercise is very good for memory. Social interactions and social engagement is good for memory. One of the really interesting things that we’re finding too are these other interesting physical and mental health connections in general, having untreated depression may be, you know, as terrible for cognitive health. We’ve when I used to see people in the Neuropsych clinic, many, many people who came in who were convinced that they were becoming demented, were just severely depressed. And depression among the elderly is a huge problem right now. It’s dramatically undertreated. And I think it’s, you know, there’s a lot of stigma associated with it. But I think what people don’t realize is just it really affects thinking and memory. There’s all these other things like we’re finding out about the relationship between the immune system. You’re seeing this in the research on long Covid that’s coming out, uh, where these inflammatory conditions can be terrible for memory or even there’s even some data to suggest that cognitive health is linked to things like gum disease. And whether you’re seeing the dentist, it’s it’s just the range of things is just nuts. Um, things like people who have a hearing problem wearing a hearing aid can improve your cognitive health in the long term. And so there’s this great study that that was done by these researchers in China where they took like these different lifestyle elements that involve things like, you know, socializing, physical exercise, healthy diet. And what they found was the more of these things that people did, you know, they just had, I think it was like 4 or 5 of these lifestyle changes. The more that they did, you could basically find a dose-response curve of how much better they were able to hold on to their memories as they got older.

 

Jonathan Fields: [01:00:57] Yeah, I mean, and aligns really well in a lot of ways with like, like Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones, you know, like these areas in the world where, like, people still have a strong sense of purpose. They don’t exercise every day, but they’re moving their body every day. They like they walk all over the place. They’re hills and they’re they eat like, like tons of plants and they’re very socially connected, you know? So it’s interesting to hear that that’s not just about a lot of that. That work was really more focused on longevity or healthspan and lifespan, but that these same things you’re saying are really the same things that help with, you know, cognitive health and memory.

 

Charan Ranganath: [01:01:34] That’s absolutely correct. There’s such a real link there because, you know, just the basic things like circulation, well, your brain needs energy. And if you can get nutrients to your brain faster, that’s a good thing, right? So it’s not just a matter of like avoiding bad things that happen, but kind of good things. Again, sleep. There’s so many good things that happen during sleep that really helpful that you want to be able to do those. And and I think one of the best points about this is that you I watched that Blue Zone show on Netflix, and it was just so impressive because the people who were living in these blue zones weren’t just. Alive and old. They were happy, you know, they were really on average, they seem pretty happy. And that’s a great thing to be able to improve not only your longevity, but your cognitive health. And a lot of that, I think, too, is related to this ability of remembering better and being able to have a healthy use of memory, not letting it keep you from being in the present. Like, in other words, not being so stuck in your head about the past, like either in stuck in nostalgia or stuck in ruminating. But to be able to use memory when it’s helpful and then leave it behind when you don’t need it anymore. 

 

Jonathan Fields: [01:02:49] Hmm. What are you most excited about? About this sort of the the future of memory research?

 

Charan Ranganath: [01:02:54] I am really excited about the idea of showing how and understanding how memory is connected to everything. So in other words, in the science of of in cognitive science and neuroscience, we follow this very kind of we try to study things at the smallest level and then add them up piece by piece by piece. But one of the great things now is, is that we have both the technology and kind of the just base of data to really start to think, well, what if we actually work from the complicated end of the spectrum and we look at everyday experiences like, how am I watching this basketball game? Or how are we maintaining this social interaction or things that are like really meaningful and where there’s this kind of just this beautiful symphonic interaction between what I’m seeing and what I’m remembering and what I’m, you know, doing in the world. And I just really get excited because it’s like, to me, it’s just I love seeing these kinds of connections and seeing things, understanding interactions. And with tools like computer models that simulate how brain areas work, we can we have a way of actually seeing what emerges when we don’t actually look at one little thing in isolation, but we see how everything is connected, how our emotions are actually not separate from, you know, are these things that drive our emotions are not separate from our thinking, but it’s all kind of playing together in this really interesting way.

 

Jonathan Fields: [01:04:32] Yeah. It’s sort of like it’s like the de-siloing of the exploration and science has always been known as being just so profoundly siloed. So for a lot of different reasons. But yeah, to start to look at more of the interconnectedness and share, I think there’s probably a lot of really exciting stuff on the horizon that feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?

 

Charan Ranganath: [01:04:58] I would say remember better. Because when we look back at our life, that’s like a big part of how we see our life, our quality of life at the moment. And so it’s like, I really think about it in terms of what are the memories I want to carry forward with me. I’m always going to have to do annoying things in life, right? But I really try to make decisions more and more based on the things that I will want to remember later on, even if it means sitting in airport security in a line with like a mask and stuff like that. If I get to have a little trip where my daughter and my wife are able to come and we get to sit on a beach together, that’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. And so for me, living a good life is making good memories. Mhm. Thank you.

 

Jonathan Fields: [01:05:46] Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Bessel van der Kolk about how memory, trauma and movement work together. You’ll find a link to Bessel’s episode in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields, signing off for Good Life Project.

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