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The New Science Of Memory, How to Remember What Matters & Why We’re Designed To Forget with Dr Charan Ranganath

by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee   /  April 17, 2024

We often think about our memories as a record of the past – but what if they’re only a selective and evolving version of it? Today’s guest is a world-leading memory expert who has a surprising message: we’re not supposed to remember everything. In fact, our brains are designed to forget. And much of what you experience today will be lost by tomorrow.

Dr Charan Ranganath is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and Director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California at Davis.  For more than 25 years, he has studied the mechanisms in the brain that allow us to remember past events, using brain imaging techniques, computational modelling and research on patients with memory disorders. The occasion for his appearance on my podcast is the publication of his wonderful new book, Why We Remember: The Science of Memory and How it Shapes Us, which challenges, educates and enlightens, on so much of what we thought to be true about memories.

In this fascinating conversation, he explains that the seemingly selective and unreliable nature of human memory doesn’t reveal laziness, distraction or early dementia. Instead, it shows that our brains have not evolved to keep a comprehensive record of events. Rather than live in the past, the brain’s job is to extract the information it needs, to guide our futures.

We also discuss how memories create our sense of self. We learn that our memory is an unreliable narrator but that we can use this to our advantage. By changing our perspective on traumatic experiences, we can feel differently about them in the present – a theory on which many forms of therapy are based.

We also discuss our brain’s ability to change – its plasticity – and how we’re most likely to remember life’s emotional experiences as well as its new and surprising ones. Charan explains why music and smells are evocative cues, why it’s never too late to learn new skills, and why forgetting is a sign of an efficient brain – in fact, one of Charan’s key insights is that we shouldn’t strive to remember more, but to remember better

This is a fascinating conversation, full of fresh ideas, wisdom and practical advice about a topic that deeply matters to all of us.

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.*

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Watch the video version of the conversation here:

Connect with Charan:

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Charan’s book:

Why We Remember: The Science of Memory and How it Shapes Us

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*DISCLAIMER: Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

†Disclosure: All books marked with a † are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We take part in Amazon’s affiliate advertising program designed to provide a way for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon’s website. You are not charged any extra by using these links to purchase books.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee MbChB, BSc (Hons), MRCP, MRCGP