The Science of Memory

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Memory makes us human. No other animal or species carries in its brain so many memories of such complexity nor so regularly revisits those memories for happiness, safety, and the accomplishment of complex tasks. Human civilization continues because we are able to pass along memories from one person to another, from one generation to the next.

According to Wikipedia, memory is the process by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding allows information from the outside world to be sensed in the form of chemical and physical stimuli. Storage is the second memory process and allows for the creation of a stable, more permanent record of encoded information. Finally, the third process is the retrieval of information that has been stored. Such information must be accessed and returned to consciousness or working memory. Depending on the type of information stored, retrieval may be effortless or it may require a more cognitively demanding search through memory.

From an information processing perspective there are three main stages in the formation and retrieval of memory:

  1. Encoding or registration: receiving, processing and combining of received information
  2. Storage: creation of a permanent record of the encoded information in short term or long term memory
  3. Retrieval, recall or recollection: calling back the stored information in response to some cue for use in a process or activity