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Memory and the Human Lifespan

Memory and the Human Lifespan

Professor Steve Joordens Ph.D.
University of Toronto, Scarborough
Course No.  1911
Course No.  1911
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

What if your memory suddenly vanished? What if you could no longer summon up any recollections of your mother's embrace, a best friend's confidences, or the moment you first met your spouse? What if you couldn't even remember yourself—not your name, your school, where you worked, or even the face of the total stranger staring back at you from the mirror?

If all of these memories were gone, would "self" even have a meaning?

The truth is that while you may think of human memory as a capacity—a way to call up important facts or episodes from your past—it is much, much more.

Your various memory systems, in fact, provide the continuity of consciousness that allows the concept of "you" to make sense, creating the ongoing narrative that makes your life truly yours. Without those systems and the overall experience of memory they make possible, you would have no context for the most crucial decisions of your life. You would have to make—without the benefit of experience and knowledge—the decisions that determine not only your quality of life, but your very survival. And your ability to learn, or even to form the personality that makes you unique, would similarly be set adrift.

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What if your memory suddenly vanished? What if you could no longer summon up any recollections of your mother's embrace, a best friend's confidences, or the moment you first met your spouse? What if you couldn't even remember yourself—not your name, your school, where you worked, or even the face of the total stranger staring back at you from the mirror?

If all of these memories were gone, would "self" even have a meaning?

The truth is that while you may think of human memory as a capacity—a way to call up important facts or episodes from your past—it is much, much more.

Your various memory systems, in fact, provide the continuity of consciousness that allows the concept of "you" to make sense, creating the ongoing narrative that makes your life truly yours. Without those systems and the overall experience of memory they make possible, you would have no context for the most crucial decisions of your life. You would have to make—without the benefit of experience and knowledge—the decisions that determine not only your quality of life, but your very survival. And your ability to learn, or even to form the personality that makes you unique, would similarly be set adrift.

In Memory and the Human Lifespan, Professor Steve Joordens of the University of Toronto Scarborough, who has been repeatedly honored as both teacher and researcher, leads you on a startling voyage into the human mind, explaining not only how the various aspects of your memory operate, but the impact memory has on your daily experience of life.

His 24 riveting lectures carefully explain

  • the different kinds of systems that come together to make memory possible;
  • how those systems work together to build and access memories of specific events, solve problems, learn basic tasks like brushing your teeth, or acquire the skills to play a musical instrument;
  • the kinds of memory deficits that result when various parts of the brain are damaged or deteriorate;
  • how memory shapes not only your experience of the past but also of the present, as well as your expectations of the future;
  • how your memory systems develop throughout your life; and much more.

Moreover, by understanding how the brain organizes and encodes information, you can better harness its extraordinary powers to fine-tune how it works for you and use this information to help reshape your very experience of being alive.

Stand on the Threshold of Great Discoveries

While attempts to grasp and facilitate memory date back at least to classical Greece, only now can we truly begin to understand how memory works, thanks to the advantages of science and technology that have been developing for over a century.

Working with the latest findings from memory research, Professor Joordens takes you inside the human mind, from infancy to advanced age, with a special emphasis on the variety of experiences that are characteristic of the adult mind. You'll learn

  • how your brain encodes, stores, and retrieves memories;
  • the specialized roles played by your different memory systems, including semantic, episodic, procedural, and implicit memory;
  • how research into the workings of the brain—once dependent on studying the deficits visited on brain-damaged patients—has made extraordinary leaps, with new technologies like functional magnetic resonance imaging allowing doctors to observe the brain at work, with no harm or discomfort to the patient.

Such scientific advances have given doctors an unprecedented understanding of those deficits. And Professor Joordens makes certain in describing that underlying science that we never lose sight of the human beings who must live with the consequences of their conditions. In an especially poignant portrait, for example, he relates the story of British musician, conductor, and singer Clive Wearing. You learn how a brain infection damaged Wearing's hippocampus, a region deep within the brain that provides, among other things, a gateway from immediate working memory to long-term memory.

Discover Startling Revelations about Human Memory

Each lecture of Memory and the Human Lifespanstartles you with surprising revelations about the extraordinary subject of memory. These include

  • the different aspects of memory that taxi drivers must call on to do their job, as well as the difficulty of mastering the knowledge needed to pass the qualifying exam in London—a task for which two to four years of study are recommended;
  • the evidence of often-astonishing memory capabilities in animals, including the remarkable feats of a lobster-stealing octopus in Miami;
  • how the principle of perceptual fluency influences your behavior by creating subtle feelings of warm familiarity in many situations in which you aren't even aware it is operating, from writing a story to shopping to making a choice in the voting booth; and
  • what the latest research about so-called "recovered memories" and "false memories" may reveal about the accuracy of episodic memory itself, with implications we would do well to consider in many areas of life—including the courtroom.

While Professor Joordens has built these lectures around the latest scientific findings, he has gone to great lengths to make each one absolutely accessible. Every point is clearly explained, and every lecture is enriched with illustrative analogies and vivid anecdotes and examples. It's this same approach that has won him numerous awards and accolades for his teaching, including the President's Teaching Award—the University of Toronto's highest honor—and the Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award.

Just as important, the science is never allowed to overshadow the idea of memory as central to our very humanity. No matter how deeply into research results a lecture may go to explore the construction or retrieval of a memory, Memory and the Human Lifespan always presents the subject as a human experience—a fascinating, multilayered exploration of yourself that you'll never forget.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Memory Is a Party
    Using the metaphor of a party whose “guests” include the different components of the complex interactions that make up memory, Professor Joordens introduces you to several kinds of memory—including episodic, semantic, and procedural—to arrive at an initial understanding of the variety of processes at work in human “memory.” x
  • 2
    The Ancient “Art of Memory”
    Techniques to embed and retrieve memories more easily—so-called mnemonic strategies—date back at least to classical Greece. See how one such technique—the Method of Loci—can help improve the episodic memory you depend on to recall a group of items such as grocery or to-do lists. x
  • 3
    Rote Memorization and a Science of Forgetting
    Is a mnemonic strategy always the most useful? Examine rote memorization and how it differs from mnemonics. Also, get an introduction to the work of Hermann Ebbinghaus, whose 19th-century experiments in remembering and forgetting marked the first scientific examination of memory. x
  • 4
    Sensory Memory—Brief Traces of the Past
    Begin a deeper discussion of the different kinds of memory, beginning with sensory memory and how its brief retentive power lets you switch from one stimulus to another—and even gives you your sense of “the present moment.” Here, the focus is on iconic (or visual) memory and its auditory counterpart, echoic memory. x
  • 5
    The Conveyor Belt of Working Memory
    Plunge into the mental processes that allow you to work with information, often with the goal of solving a problem. You learn that these processes can also be used to keep information briefly “in mind,” though they require effort and are prone to interference. x
  • 6
    Encoding—Our Gateway into Long-Term Memory
    How does information make its way from your temporary working memory into long-term memory so you can access it again when you need it? This introduction to encoding explains the process and offers useful tips for improving your own recall. x
  • 7
    Episodic and Semantic Long-Term Memory
    Strengthen your grasp of how these two key memory systems function. You explore the relationship between them with analogies that range from the job requirements of London taxi drivers to the famed “holo-deck” of the Star Trek television series. x
  • 8
    The Secret Passage—Implicit Memory
    Encounter still another category of memory—a way in which your experiences can enter long-term memory without the kind of “effortful encoding” discussed earlier. You learn why this sort of memory creation is vitally important, yet also unreliable as a substitute for conscious effort. x
  • 9
    From Procedural Memory to Habit
    In this lecture, you see that your memory for procedures is useful not only in the “muscle memory” of physical skills, but also in cognitive processes. Also, learn about constructivist learning, in which the explicit structure of a procedure—which is usually taught verbally—instead is learned implicitly during exploratory practice. x
  • 10
    When Memory Systems Battle—Habits vs. Goals
    What happens when implicit or procedural memories become so powerful they seize control? In this examination of the tenacity of habits, learn how and why habits are formed and what steps might be useful in changing them, or at least regaining control. x
  • 11
    Sleep and the Consolidation of Memories
    Does sleep play a role in strengthening memories of your experiences during the day? Gain a sense of the latest research about a subject that is difficult to study as you explore the relationship between sleep and memory, including the possible link between specific sleep stages and specific kinds of memory. x
  • 12
    Infant and Early Childhood Memory
    How does the maturation of memory fit into a child’s overall brain development? Gain invaluable and surprising insights into the month-by-month and year-by-year development of a child’s capacity for memory, beginning in the womb and continuing on with its dramatic development after entry into the world. x
  • 13
    Animal Cognition and Memory
    Does an elephant really never forget? Expand your study of memory to investigate the extent to which the mysterious abilities of humans may also exist in animals and, if so, how they might differ from our own. x
  • 14
    Mapping Memory in the Brain
    Almost two decades since its revolutionary appearance, fMRI—functional magnetic resonance imaging—is allowing researchers to watch the living human brain at work, with no harm or discomfort to the subject. Explore what happens in several areas of the brain as memories are created or retrieved. x
  • 15
    Neural Network Models
    Can computer models mimic the operations of the human brain? Examine the use of neural network modeling, in which biologically inspired models posited by researchers in cognitive neuroscience are advancing our understanding of just how those operations take place. x
  • 16
    Learning from Brain Damage and Amnesias
    Leave the world of computers for that of neuropsychology as you focus on the life situations of several patients who have suffered some form of brain injury. You learn how damage to different areas of the brain can have dramatically different impacts on memory and how these patients experience the world. x
  • 17
    The Many Challenges of Alzheimer’s Disease
    In a lecture that explores one of our most frightening diseases from both the caregiver’s and sufferer’s perspectives, learn how Alzheimer’s progresses, how that progression may be forestalled, and ways in which technology may be able to help through the emerging field of “cognitive prosthetics.” x
  • 18
    That Powerful Glow of Warm Familiarity
    Why does something familiar to us actually feel that way? Discover the sources of familiarity as you are introduced to the concepts of perceptual fluency and prototypes, and explore some surprising ways that those feelings of familiarity can trump other considerations. x
  • 19
    Déjà Vu and the Illusion of Memory
    Is déjà vu simply an illusion of memory? If so, can we learn more about memory by trying to understand how this common phenomenon comes about? Examine some of the theories that have been put forth to explain this uncanny experience. x
  • 20
    Recovered Memories or False Memories?
    Is episodic memory subject to the same pitfalls as misattributed feelings of familiarity? Can we “remember” things that never took place with the same intensity and certainty as those that did? Gain new insights into what is at stake when long-forgotten “memories” resurface. x
  • 21
    Mind the Gaps! Memory as Reconstruction
    Metaphors for memory usually reference information storehouses of some kind, such as library stacks or computer hard drives, from which episodic memories are “retrieved.” Learn about the extent to which we actually construct our memories anew each time we summon them and how this explains common memory errors. x
  • 22
    How We Choose What's Important to Remember
    Does our brain always make decisions for us about which aspects of our experience to encode for later recall, or can we influence that process ourselves? Learn potentially powerful techniques for influencing the shape of future memories. x
  • 23
    Aging, Memory, and Cognitive Transition
    Apply a reality check to the popularly held belief that memory naturally declines as we age. Learn what happened when a researcher corrected for the age-related variables long-ignored by traditional testers—and what conclusions we can draw about what lies ahead for us as we grow older. x
  • 24
    The Monster at the End of the Book
    Contemplate the significance of what you’ve learned, with special attention to the common question of whether you can improve your episodic memory—remembering what you want to recall, forgetting what you’d rather not, and making choices about how to achieve a balance. x

Lecture Titles

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Steve Joordens
Ph.D. Steve Joordens
University of Toronto, Scarborough

Dr. Steve Joordens is Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where he has taught since 1995. He earned a doctorate in cognitive psychology from the University of Waterloo. Honored repeatedly as both teacher and researcher, Professor Joordens is on the cutting edge of the emerging field of cognitive prosthetics to assist both learning-disabled patients as well as patients with Alzheimer's disease. He is a frequent speaker at professional conferences, where he consistently earns best in session honors. In addition to publishing many articles on human memory, consciousness, and attention in empirical and theoretical psychology journals, Professor Joordens earned both the Premier's Research Excellence Award and the National Technology Innovation Award-the latter for the creation of an Internet-based educational platform that supports the development of critical thinking and clear communication skills in any size classroom. His teaching skills have also earned him repeated honors, including the President's Teaching Award, his university's highest teaching honor; the Scarborough College Students' Union Best Professor Award; a provincially sponsored Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award; and four nominations for Television Ontario's Best Lecturer Competition, which include two Top 10 finishes.

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Reviews

Rated 4.7 out of 5 by 34 reviewers.
Rated 3 out of 5 by Memory and Human Lifespan The topic is important and alluring. The lecturer is easy to listen to. That said it appears that in the extensive breakdown of the memory process the subject becomes blurred by excessive explanation that at times seems irrelevant frequently causing one's mind to wander to other non related areas. Overall, I was disappointed. October 22, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fun and interesting I'm a psychology doctoral student and have been using The Great Courses as a resource to bolster my learning. This course was an excellent adjunct to the standard courses on learning and memory found in my doctoral program. I think its useful for both newcomers and experienced learners on the topic. Additionally, Dr. Joordens is a very good presenter. He makes each lecture interesting and fun to watch. June 30, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Not memorable I found this Canadian professor to be a pleasant man, with his strong regional accent and sense of humor. There is a lot of material contained in these 24 lectures. However, I thought he spent too much time repeating terminology -- parts of the brain and names we create for them -- and not enough time on the big picture concepts. For instance, well into the course he mentions that our working memory is where we create the sense of self. But then he quickly moves on to other things. Isn't that the most important concept to consider here? In the concluding lectures, the professor says that simply learning "tricks" to improve your rote memory may be a case of losing the forest for the trees, but I feel that is precisely what this course does. The big ideas are sacrificed in favor of terminology and minute details. Perhaps a revised version, or a Part II is necessary. I will give TGC credit in standing behind their product. I sent this set of CDs back and successfully exchanged them for a new course that successfully held my interest. February 27, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Fantastic class! This is the first class I have done with The Great Courses and it has set the bar very high for those that will follow. The professor is very likeable and also VERY knowledgeable about his area of expertise, memory. This class will be interesting to someone who wants an academic understanding of how human memory works, and also to someone who wants a personal understanding. I highly recommend! January 4, 2014
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