Memory and the Human Lifespan

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

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
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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

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  • 24 lectures on 12 CDs
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  • 136-page printed course guidebook
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  • Memory exercises
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Your professor

Steve Joordens

About Your Professor

Steve Joordens, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Memory and the Human Lifespan is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 52.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from THE MAGIC OF COMPLEXITY Gradually a vague idea of the system of memory has emerged, described by Joordens as multiple systems interacting. In L1 he makes the best statement in the course: "memory is a group of cognitive processes that interrelate in complex ways". But though he lists processes, he avoids explaining the way the complex interactions work, thereby disappointing some reviewers. In other words, he ends up very short of showing WHY the parts interact. In fairness, Joordens does an excellent job of labeling processes and many will benefit from his insights into how such processes interact. He tries to break down memory into processes like "episodic memory, semantic memory, working memory, procedural memory, mnemonics, rote memory, echoic memory, haptic memory, implicit memory, declarative & non-declarative memory, etc. He adds abilities/disabilities such as "deliberately organized information", "good/bad" categorization, mood, "episodes where we are not the star", script theory, constructivist learning, capture error, etc. Joordens thus presents the brain as a desciptive with a lot of parts interacting. Such jargon is what some reviewers have complained about. Joordens presents "complexity" like a Detroit automobile plant where a bunch of complicated parts interact to produce an expected result. But the brain's organic nonlinear complexity produces UNEXPECTED results: from the inexplicable genius of Leonardo di Vinci, to recoveries of body systems from undifferentiated reserves, to the many other wonders Jeannette Norden describes in TGC "The Brain". Joordens admits that attempts to model via neural networks (though partially imitating complexity) are continuously adjusted to get wanted results. Yet he fails to observe that it takes a human brain based on true non-linear complexity to adjust a neural network "brain" based on parallel distributed processing. He correctly stated should the brain be considered 'complex', but what does this mean in terms of complexity theory? To illustrate the disparity between ‘complex’ (meaning complicated) and ‘complex’ meaning “non-linear”, we can look to Detroit. "Complex cars", like the technical jargon Joordens uses for the brain, are really complicated binary entities (they work within the parameters we expect or they don't). Going beyond those parameters produces breakdown, not “novel ingenuity”. The complexity in organic systems like the brain is not binary but dependent on chemical gradient, feedback receptor regulation, massive nonlinear three-dimensional cellular chemistry and physical integration arrays acting nonlinearly to produce the magic of organic CNS output. To illustrate true complexity, I will refer to a few simpler organic illustrations than the human brain. Some of the terms may be unfamiliar to those without basic biochemical or complexity theory backgrounds, SO PLEASE FORGIVE IN ORDER THAT I MAY SHOW WHY AN APPROPRIATE DISCUSSION OF BRAIN COMPLEXITY MAY BE BEYOND A FIRST YEAR COURSE. Healthy complex systems differ from linear systems: A.) They are inherently "robust" (self-correcting) when subject to perturbation (ie: why you don't pass out between meals); B.) When complex systems are subjected to a constant pressure in one direction, they lose their ability to recover (ie: why diabetes occurs more often in the obese over time); C.) Disorganized complex systems when subjected to appropriate massive perturbation may reorganize themselves (ie: restarting the heart by electroshock). Complex systems have 3 markers: #1) Turing Instability: This is the point at which "nonlinear chatter" suddenly organizes chaos. It is demonstrated both in the brain when thought emerges and in the lab by observation of Pseudomonas organisms "spontaneously" self-organizing into Pseudomonas colonies with differentiated functional components. #2) Constrained nonlinear positive feedback loops (Ex: cellular autocatalysis) #3) Entrainment or "mode locking": when a system is driven far enough from equilibrium stationary oscillatory patterns may emerge. A very good example of this is pancreatic pulsatile insulin in sync with liver glucose production in the non-diabetic. This complex mode-locked insulin/insulin receptor interdependency can fail when the complexity of the system is overwhelmed (see B. above) by excessive sugar loading and/or even inappropriately timed insulin. Yes, a basic understanding of complexity can help Physicians select drug regimens. SUMMARY: For most, this course contains useful observations about the simple components of memory systems and the various labels some have attached to these observations. But for those reviewers who have complained about jargon over substance, simplistic binary interactions won't substitute for understanding the magic of brain nonlinear complexity. In the end, the course fails to scientifically address the author's primary thesis: "memory is a group of cognitive processes that interrelate in complex ways".
Date published: 2019-04-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Memorable (No Pun Intended) I am enjoying this course so much that I carry it with me all the time, hoping I'll have to run an errand in my car and will be able to listen to the course on the way. The lecturer is knowledgeable, well organized, an an excellent conveyor of complex information in an accessible and comfortable manner.
Date published: 2019-02-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Monotonous despite credentials... First off, Professor Joordens has a slew of credentials and awards for his speaking (as mentioned in the intro) and so I was expecting to settle into quite the usual learning experience, one so thrilling and captivating in the lecture series I finished on archeology and another on the customs of the world. But alas, after the 8th lecture I was struggling to continue forward...and admittedly, I gave up (onward to the visually captivating lectures on the science of flight). Dr. Joodens tips and pointers are few and far between, all while buffeted with important milestones and peoples of memory and its associated pathways of the brain (Dr. Thad Polk who has several lecture series on the brain is far-more concise and interesting in explaining this aspect of the body); and unfortunately, even with his repetition of the "echoic" portion of your memory which "keeps" a subject for a limited time period, such peoples and their names and achievements are long gone before the lecture ends. So Dr. Joordens suggest mnemonics such as associating a random set of words or numbers to a routine of your day, an impressive feat for those Vegas shows but of little actual use, especially if you are meeting a group of important business associates in a short time, all while struggling to form elaborate images in your head such as placing a person as a swan while relating them to the number 2, just because their name might be Jake Swansea or whatever. To be honest, the eight lectures emerged as a gap of time where I began looking forward to going back to Terri Gross and Fresh Air, if only to hear some inflection in voice patterns. All in all, this proved one of the more disappointing courses --at least, what I can remember of it-- and shattered my streak of many easy-listening and informative lectures from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2019-01-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Solid, wide-ranging, informative This was a solid supplement to my growing collection of brain-based courses. Anyone with an interest health and welfare would enjoy this course. Professor Joordens goes over the basics slowly so you don’t get overwhelmed with complicated concepts or terminology. There is plenty of review and anecdotes to make the concepts more relevant to your daily life. Overall, I came away with a better grasp of how memory works, how it changes over time, and what challenges to expect as times goes by. It’s one of those course you’ll go through again.
Date published: 2018-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Completely Fascinating (and Reassuring!) This is an excellent course, whose subject matter is fascinating. The remarkable field of memory studies is covered from the perspectives of subjective experience, objective analysis, brain and neural anatomy and physiology, normal "transition" (I love that!) with aging, and disease states such as, of course, Alzheimer's. I mention "reassuring" because our professor is explicit in differentiating "normal", i.e. expected, changes of memory with aging from disease processes. For most of us with age-related memory loss this will indeed relieve some anxiety. There are even aspects of memory which, from the right perspective, can be seen to improve with the years. For those with true warning signs, learning these will hopefully motivate appropriate planning. (With that in mind, I urge everyone to enroll in the Alzheimer's Prevention Registry. You will then be informed of opportunities to participate in prevention studies, as well as kept up to date on the latest research. The All of Us research program, with a wider focus, is also very worth a look.) Professor Joordens is outstanding. He speaks in an eloquent conversational style which easily maintained my interest. The lectures are well-organized and consistently clear, and the information density is high. Some nice hints on mnemonics - how to consciously improve your memory - are also provided, although this is certainly not the focus of the course. My one significant criticism is our professor's endorsement of the use of "implicit memory", a.k.a. intuition, by physicians when diagnosing illness. In Lecture 8 he advises "don't get too upset" if your doctor can't explain why he or she thinks we have a particular disease. Well, no! As a physician, I advise anyone whose doctor says this to immediately change providers. Imagine if your auto mechanic or airline pilot announced they're going to proceed in a certain way but can't explain why. Implicit memory may be extremely useful and often accurate, but don't bet your life on it. So - my highest recommendation for pretty much anyone with a memory. You will likely enjoy the course, and may well benefit from it in substantial ways. P.S. - I appreciated that at several points Professor Joordens acknowledges the overlooked importance of forgetting, as well as memory, to our mental health. I only wish he had offered one of Nietzsche's apposite quotes: "...active forgetfulness...is like a doorkeeper, a preserver of psychic order, repose, and etiquette: so that it will be immediately obvious how there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present, without forgetfulness."
Date published: 2018-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned a lot I bought this course, as I have bought many others, as research into my latest novel. The nature of memory is important to the plot, and I believe that this course has improved the accuracy of the novel considerably and suggested several plot details.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mermorable Professor Joordens is very knowledgeable and lectures in an easy going way. Upon starting the course I found the first few lectures seemed to be directed at memory improvement, but not in a systematical way. He then moved on to exploring various types of memory. It was at this point I reread the course description, I found I had misunderstood the nature of the course. With this better understanding, following the outline and directions of the lectures was obvious. Joordens lecture style is easy to listen to, but I do not consider it dynamic. This being the case I would frequently find myself enthralled by a topic and start thinking about the implications thereof. Of course the direction of the lecture itself was lost, so return to the spot of departure and properly watch and listen. I found the use of graphics well done and helpful in putting the subject in context, and helping to lock it in my mind. It may be time for portions of the course to be redone, in my studies of memory I found some of Joordens conclusion seemed to be somewhat dated. I good course, and a fine introduction to the nature of memory.
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging, entertaining, and informative overview. I thought this course was an excellent overview for the layperson. The professor is engaging, articulate, entertaining, and informative. He presents an intro to different types of memory (e.g. Episodic and Semantic), Alzheimer's disease, early Infant learning, and other wide-ranging topics associated with memory across our lifetimes -- just as it's titled. Each lecture covers a different subject, but never in such depth that a generalist gets lost. Excellent information and substance. I don't give many 5 star ratings, but this course deserved one.
Date published: 2017-02-06
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