Shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books
Leading psychologist Charles Fernyhough blends the most current science with literature and personal stories in Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts.
A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing fixed, unchanging memories, they have found that we create recollections anew each time we are called upon to remember. According to psychologist Charles Fernyhough, remembering is an act of narrative imagination as much as it is the product of a neurological process.
An NPR and Psychology Today contributor, Dr. Fernyhough guides readers through the fascinating new science of autobiographical memory, covering topics such as: navigation, imagination, and the power of sense associations to cue remembering. Exquisitely written and meticulously researched, Pieces of Light brings together science and literature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, to help us better understand our powers of recall and our relationship with the past.
Psychologist Fernyhough (A Thousand Days of Wonder) aims to debunk the myth that memory is purely retrospective memories, he argues, are not heirloom from the past summoned back for display in the present; they are momentary reconstructions. Fernyhough contends that neuroscience is crucial in solving the puzzle of memory, but his primary means of shedding light on the topic is through personal and historical anecdotes. This tactic can feel contrived at times, but it makes his examination welcoming and accessible to lay readers. His analysis is wide-ranging, touching on everything from the mundane lapses in memory that make a labyrinth of a familiar city, to brain damage and traumatic memories mediated and distorted by intense emotions. He also covers a wide swath of literary and historical ground, including the olfactory and musical remembrances of Proust and memory exercises of the Middle Ages. What is abundantly clear throughout is that remembering has always been a deeply imaginative process. Few of Fernyhough s points stand out as groundbreaking, but his notion of memory as a way of being with other people is a refreshingly social take on an intensely personal experience.