While we may complain about the fallibility of our memories, especially when trying to put a name to a face, we actually have an enormous capacity for retaining information over long periods of time. Our accumulated memories not only form our autobiography, but can also guide our future actions and so are fundamental to our personal identity as Oscar Wilde said ” Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us... “
Since the 1950s we have known that different kinds of memories are stored in different areas of the brain; but how is memory information encoded and stored so that we can retrieve when we need to? Why when our memories are notoriously unreliable, are some memories persistent and sometimes so persistent that they intrude and disrupt our lives? Can we manipulate our memory systems to erase these bad memories or create false memories? Is it possible to enhance our memories or is forgetfulness an inevitable consequence of getting old?