This enlightening one-hour documentary probes the exciting scientific studies that are trying to unlock the secrets of human memory; it aired on public television in the U.S. as part of the NOVA series in February 2016, and is now available on DVD.
Neuroscientists and molecular biologists are using new technologies to implant, edit, and even erase memories. Why are these investigations so important? They are seeking to understand the precise mechanisms of memory in the human brain so that we can make the most of this faculty as we try to recall the past and deal with changing the future. Memory is one of the keys to our identity and the more we know about it, the better.
For a long time, scientists have seen memory as a tape recorder that registers and stores information and plays it back intact. But now, researchers have discovered that memory is much more malleable. In the PBS press notes for this program, Michael Bicks, the writer, director, and producer of this WGBH Boston production points out that the new understanding of memory "changes the way we look at the brain. It is built to be flexible and quickly rearrange and incorporate new information. So a lot of things that we think are bad about memory, like forgetting things or false memories, are byproducts of the system. It's not designed to be perfect, so people shouldn't expect it to be."
NOVA introduces us to some of the scientists working on the cutting edge of memory research around the world. Karim Nader has come to the conclusion that every time a memory is recalled, it is susceptible to alteration. His findings may have inspired the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Merel Kindt, a clinical psychologist, demonstrates how she has helped a man with a lifelong aversion to spiders overcome his fear memory.
Other memory hacking studies and experiments have to do with false memories, forgetting, and several cases of individuals with HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). The story of Jake Hausler, a 12-year-old boy, revolves around his ability to remember concrete details for every day of his life since age eight. Researchers are using new imaging technologies to scan his brain in order to find out what makes his memory so powerful.
From start to finish, NOVA: Memory Hackers is a solid and substantive program that reveals the latest advances in this scientific field of study.