Friday, December 26, 2008

Understanding a Word by Playing with It

Through a fascinating comment that I read on Truthdig, I found myself searching for information about the memory research work of Karim Nader. As a point of departure, I found the following abstract for a talk he had given at the Institut des Neurosciences de Bordeaux on September 10, 2007:

It was thought that memories consolidate only once. Considerable evidence has now accumulated to demonstrate that when consolidated memories are remembered, they can undergo another consolidation-like process, called reconsolidation. Reconsolidation has now been found across paradigms and tasks suggesting that it is a fundamental process.
The next questions that we need to address is how does a consolidated memory become
un-consolidated” during reactivation. Furthermore, given that not all memories undergo reconsolidation what are the neurobiological mechanisms that determine when a memory will and will not undergo reconsolidation? We have identified some mechanisms in that must occur in order for fear memories to become “un-fixed” and begun to understand the principles of how behavioral conditions control whether a memory does or does not under go reconsolidation. Lastly, I will discuss the theoretical and historical issues surrounding interpretations of amnesia as being the absence of a memory vs the inability to retrieve the memory. I will discuss a new framework for testing this issue which has not been resolved

This idea of reconsolidation reminded me of the model that Gerald Edelman had proposed. Beginning with perceptual categorization as his point of departure, Edelman suggested that memory was a matter of the ongoing recategorization of existing categories. Between Edelman and Nader I found myself playing a sort of pun on "re-membering," through which the association of objects with categories is formed through the sort of consolidation that Nader seems to have in mind and then maintained through what he calls reconsolidation. Ideologically, Edelman had been searching for a model that would do away with database storage as a metaphor for memory; and, while Nader and his colleagues were talking about "memory storage" in earlier papers, reconsolidation seems to be one approach to honor Edelman's postulation of memory-without-storage. Furthermore, in honor of Aristotle's pioneering study of the subject, reconsolidation may also be associated with the pun "re-collection." What is most interesting is that the prefix "re" emphasizes the extent to which we are more concerned with an ongoing process than with any state-based model, placing us firmly in the discourse of verb-based, rather than noun-based, description.

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