From the Editor; July / August 2010; Scientific American Mind; by Mariette DiChristina; 1 Page(s)
Faced with a dauntingly complex problem, scientists typically do the logical thing. They break it into component parts, to simplify and focus their efforts. After all, grappling with smaller facets lets you try to conquer, one piece at a time, a larger problem. But the brain’s very nature resists this technique. In effect, it refuses to be compartmentalized. The more researchers may attempt to look at a single processing question, the more it turns out to be interrelated with many other things going on in the brain.
Take memory. It’s tempting to think of recall as a video recording or some simple device. Far from existing in one discrete module, however, recollections develop from thousands of connections among neurons. In the first article of this issue’s special report on memory, “Making Connections,” by Anthony J. Greene, you will learn that neural connections underlie everything we know. As neurons light up together, they create links within which our memories lie. As Greene puts it, memories are “a web of connections between people and things.” Events that have high emotional value are particularly crisp in our minds. The second article of our special report, “Yearning for Yesterday,” by Jochen Gebauer and Constantine Sedikides, explains how nostalgia, where we bask in the past, can actually be good for you.