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Why We Remember

Unlocking Memory's Power to Hold on to What Matters

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Memory is far more than a record of the past. In this groundbreaking tour of the mind and brain, one of the world’s top memory researchers reveals the powerful role memory plays in nearly every aspect of our lives, from recalling faces and names, to learning, decision-making, trauma and healing.

A new understanding of memory is emerging from the latest scientific research. In Why We Remember, pioneering neuroscientist and psychologist Charan Ranganath radically reframes the way we think about the everyday act of remembering. Combining accessible language with cutting-edge research, he reveals the surprising ways our brains record the past and how we use that information to understand who we are in the present, and to imagine and plan for the future.

Memory, Dr. Ranganath shows, is a highly transformative force that shapes how we experience the world in often invisible and sometimes destructive ways. Knowing this can help us with daily remembering tasks, like finding our keys, and with the challenge of memory loss as we age. What’s more, when we work with the brain’s ability to learn and reinterpret past events, we can heal trauma, shed our biases, learn faster, and grow in self-awareness.

Including fascinating studies and examples from pop culture, and drawing on Ranganath’s life as a scientist, father, and child of immigrants, Why We Remember is a captivating read that unveils the hidden role memory plays throughout our lives. When we understand its power-- and its quirks--we can cut through the clutter and remember the things we want to remember. We can make freer choices and plan a happier future.

In this magnum opus, leading memory researcher Charan Ranganath turns much of what we think we know about memory on its head, revealing through hard evidence that the primary mission of our brain’s memory system is, in many respects, to forget things, in order to prepare us for a changing and uncertain future. Ranganath is a master explainer and storyteller.” —Daniel J. Levitin, author of Successful Aging and This Is Your Brain on Music
 
“Prominent neuroscientist and Guggenheim Fellow Charan Ranganath guides us through the science of our memories with incredible insight and clear science. He combines fascinating tales of the peculiarities of memory with practical, actionable steps. His experiences working with people with memory disorders have large implications for mental health. Not only will every reader remember better afterward, they'll also never forget this life-changing book.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of Maladies and Gene
 
Why We Remember offers a radically new and engaging explanation of how and why we remember. More than just a record of our past, Dr. Ranganath shows us that memories are deeply involved in the present, and a path toward an anticipated future. A brighter one, after reading this book! It is a tour de force of both individual and collective importance. I could not imagine anyone better to bring this revolution to the world than Charan Ranganath.” —Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep

Why We Remember is terrific. Its unique and distinctive framing makes clear the beneficial roles of forgetting and of the flawed, emotionally malleable aspects of memory. It is unmatched in its ability to share both the psychological and biological aspects of memory. Ranganath balances original first-class science with lighter, more personal writing. This will be a mind-changing read for anyone who wants to better understand and use their own brain.” —Robert Sapolsky, author of Behave
 
Why We Remember is going to transform readers’ understanding of memory. It’s hard to think of a topic more timely and important to communicate to the world, or a scientist who is better positioned to do so than Charan Ranganath. I’ve long known Charan to be a groundbreaking scientist. With Why We Remember he is poised to become a rockstar author as well.” —Ethan Kross, author of Chatter

“This book captures a transcendent truth about our lives. Memories serve to guide our future, our engagement of the world. They are not rigid, static pictures of our past. In this penetrating analysis of the central problem of brain science—how memories influence our subjective awareness, our decisions, and our moods—Ranganath has delivered a compelling picture of how basic science can help us all understand the human experience. It is a major accomplishment.” —Mike Gazzaniga, author of The Consciousness Instinct
 
“This book shows us how understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better. We are under the constant persuasion and influence of our unconscious mind, and as Charan Ranganath so rightly points out, this is not always for the best. By giving us a clear map of memory, we are better able to take charge of our lives, learn from the mistakes of the past, make better decisions in the present, and positively predict our futures.” —Tali Sharot, author of The Optimism Bias and The Influential Mind
 
“Dr. Ranganath is the perfect messenger to fight the lack of knowledge in the society about our dearest organ—the brain and its role in memory. Ranganath’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the field, combined with his communication skills, ensure that Why We Remember is an exciting and important book project, that will help us heal and be better, both individually and as a society.” —May-Britt Moser, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2014

“Charan Ranganath offers answers to universal questions: how do we stop worrying about the future, let go of the past, and live in the present? Through fascinating science, deeply compelling personal stories, and with a strong voice, Why We Remember delivers on all it promises. This will surely be a book that redefines our relationship with memory and prepares us to face the future head on.” —Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind

There is no one on earth who could share the recent achievements in the study of human memory better than Charan Ranganath. His familiarity with the groundbreaking research, combined with his own innovative experiments, makes him unmatched for the task of sharing this knowledge with the general public. With a passion for communication and sharing of knowledge, and the ability to take a broad perspective, he is the ideal person to write this book.” —Edvard Moser, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2014
 
“For a while now I’ve thought of the experiences that we remember often as touchpoints for who we are. Charan Ranganath uses his cutting edge science to explain how our present shapes our past, and how the stories we tell ourselves ultimately impact our futures. Why We Remember is the key to moving beyond our inner narratives, and into a life of purposeful decision making and joy. An absolute must-read!” —Dr. Lisa Miller, author of The Spiritual Child
 
Why We Remember is a complete, much needed, appealing, poetic, and practical view of the field of memory—and there is no one better positioned than Ranganath to guide readers on a tour of this inner landscape.” —David Eagleman, author of Incognito
© Michael Rock
CHARAN RANGANATH is a Professor at the Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California at Davis. For over 25 years, Dr. Ranganath has studied the mechanisms in the brain that allow us to remember past events, using brain imaging techniques, computational modeling and studies of patients with memory disorders. He has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship. He lives in Davis, California. Outside of neuroscience, Dr. Ranganath is also a songwriter and guitarist with a number of recording credits, including a song on a feature film soundtrack. View titles by Charan Ranganath

About

Memory is far more than a record of the past. In this groundbreaking tour of the mind and brain, one of the world’s top memory researchers reveals the powerful role memory plays in nearly every aspect of our lives, from recalling faces and names, to learning, decision-making, trauma and healing.

A new understanding of memory is emerging from the latest scientific research. In Why We Remember, pioneering neuroscientist and psychologist Charan Ranganath radically reframes the way we think about the everyday act of remembering. Combining accessible language with cutting-edge research, he reveals the surprising ways our brains record the past and how we use that information to understand who we are in the present, and to imagine and plan for the future.

Memory, Dr. Ranganath shows, is a highly transformative force that shapes how we experience the world in often invisible and sometimes destructive ways. Knowing this can help us with daily remembering tasks, like finding our keys, and with the challenge of memory loss as we age. What’s more, when we work with the brain’s ability to learn and reinterpret past events, we can heal trauma, shed our biases, learn faster, and grow in self-awareness.

Including fascinating studies and examples from pop culture, and drawing on Ranganath’s life as a scientist, father, and child of immigrants, Why We Remember is a captivating read that unveils the hidden role memory plays throughout our lives. When we understand its power-- and its quirks--we can cut through the clutter and remember the things we want to remember. We can make freer choices and plan a happier future.

In this magnum opus, leading memory researcher Charan Ranganath turns much of what we think we know about memory on its head, revealing through hard evidence that the primary mission of our brain’s memory system is, in many respects, to forget things, in order to prepare us for a changing and uncertain future. Ranganath is a master explainer and storyteller.” —Daniel J. Levitin, author of Successful Aging and This Is Your Brain on Music
 
“Prominent neuroscientist and Guggenheim Fellow Charan Ranganath guides us through the science of our memories with incredible insight and clear science. He combines fascinating tales of the peculiarities of memory with practical, actionable steps. His experiences working with people with memory disorders have large implications for mental health. Not only will every reader remember better afterward, they'll also never forget this life-changing book.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of Maladies and Gene
 
Why We Remember offers a radically new and engaging explanation of how and why we remember. More than just a record of our past, Dr. Ranganath shows us that memories are deeply involved in the present, and a path toward an anticipated future. A brighter one, after reading this book! It is a tour de force of both individual and collective importance. I could not imagine anyone better to bring this revolution to the world than Charan Ranganath.” —Dr. Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep

Why We Remember is terrific. Its unique and distinctive framing makes clear the beneficial roles of forgetting and of the flawed, emotionally malleable aspects of memory. It is unmatched in its ability to share both the psychological and biological aspects of memory. Ranganath balances original first-class science with lighter, more personal writing. This will be a mind-changing read for anyone who wants to better understand and use their own brain.” —Robert Sapolsky, author of Behave
 
Why We Remember is going to transform readers’ understanding of memory. It’s hard to think of a topic more timely and important to communicate to the world, or a scientist who is better positioned to do so than Charan Ranganath. I’ve long known Charan to be a groundbreaking scientist. With Why We Remember he is poised to become a rockstar author as well.” —Ethan Kross, author of Chatter

“This book captures a transcendent truth about our lives. Memories serve to guide our future, our engagement of the world. They are not rigid, static pictures of our past. In this penetrating analysis of the central problem of brain science—how memories influence our subjective awareness, our decisions, and our moods—Ranganath has delivered a compelling picture of how basic science can help us all understand the human experience. It is a major accomplishment.” —Mike Gazzaniga, author of The Consciousness Instinct
 
“This book shows us how understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better. We are under the constant persuasion and influence of our unconscious mind, and as Charan Ranganath so rightly points out, this is not always for the best. By giving us a clear map of memory, we are better able to take charge of our lives, learn from the mistakes of the past, make better decisions in the present, and positively predict our futures.” —Tali Sharot, author of The Optimism Bias and The Influential Mind
 
“Dr. Ranganath is the perfect messenger to fight the lack of knowledge in the society about our dearest organ—the brain and its role in memory. Ranganath’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the field, combined with his communication skills, ensure that Why We Remember is an exciting and important book project, that will help us heal and be better, both individually and as a society.” —May-Britt Moser, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2014

“Charan Ranganath offers answers to universal questions: how do we stop worrying about the future, let go of the past, and live in the present? Through fascinating science, deeply compelling personal stories, and with a strong voice, Why We Remember delivers on all it promises. This will surely be a book that redefines our relationship with memory and prepares us to face the future head on.” —Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind

There is no one on earth who could share the recent achievements in the study of human memory better than Charan Ranganath. His familiarity with the groundbreaking research, combined with his own innovative experiments, makes him unmatched for the task of sharing this knowledge with the general public. With a passion for communication and sharing of knowledge, and the ability to take a broad perspective, he is the ideal person to write this book.” —Edvard Moser, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2014
 
“For a while now I’ve thought of the experiences that we remember often as touchpoints for who we are. Charan Ranganath uses his cutting edge science to explain how our present shapes our past, and how the stories we tell ourselves ultimately impact our futures. Why We Remember is the key to moving beyond our inner narratives, and into a life of purposeful decision making and joy. An absolute must-read!” —Dr. Lisa Miller, author of The Spiritual Child
 
Why We Remember is a complete, much needed, appealing, poetic, and practical view of the field of memory—and there is no one better positioned than Ranganath to guide readers on a tour of this inner landscape.” —David Eagleman, author of Incognito

Author

© Michael Rock
CHARAN RANGANATH is a Professor at the Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology and director of the Dynamic Memory Lab at the University of California at Davis. For over 25 years, Dr. Ranganath has studied the mechanisms in the brain that allow us to remember past events, using brain imaging techniques, computational modeling and studies of patients with memory disorders. He has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship. He lives in Davis, California. Outside of neuroscience, Dr. Ranganath is also a songwriter and guitarist with a number of recording credits, including a song on a feature film soundtrack. View titles by Charan Ranganath

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