The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) will be holding its 17th EMBL | EMBO Science and Society Multi-disciplinary Conference on November 3 – 4, 2016 in Heidelberg, Germany. The organisers have entitled the conference “The Past in the Present — The Making of Memories” and are inviting you to participate.
The scope of the meeting
‘Memory’ refers to a diverse set of mechanisms by which living organisms retain information and reconstruct past experiences, usually for present purposes. It is memory that makes it possible for the organism to use past events to inform the unfolding of actions and experiences. In the case of human beings, the ability to conjure up long-gone but specific episodes is both familiar and puzzling, and is a key to the understanding of ‘personal identity’. We are often enticed to confound memory with knowledge. We remember experiences and events that are not happening now, so memory differs from perception. We remember events that really happened, so memory is unlike pure imagination. Yet, in practice, remembering, perceiving, and imagining are intimately intertwined.
Remembering is often suffused with emotions. It is also essential for much reasoning and decision-making, both individual and collective. And it is dynamically connected with sleeping and dreaming. Some memories are shaped by language, others by imagery. Memory can go wrong in mundane and minor, or in dramatic and disastrous ways. Memory tends to be selective, and much forgetting is normal and unavoidable. At the same time, memory formation and capacity vary substantially, not only over the lifespan of each individual, but also between individuals.
To most people, the biological study of memory follows two main lines of inquiry. The first analyzes how nerves signal to one another, and how such signaling is not fixed, but is modulated by activity and experience. The second focuses on brain systems and cognition. Human memory is not unitary but takes different forms in different brain circuits.
But, ‘memory’ as a form of biological inscription is not limited to neural activities and networks, but can be seen as also embedded in multiple ways at different levels of biological organization, be they molecular, cellular, or organismal. And as a species-specific trait of humans, our ‘cultures’ have always served as essential collective depositories of memory. For instance, our current digitalization technologies can be seen as merely the latest avatar of our abilities and ingenuity to selectively store memories externally.
These are some of the themes on which we will focus at the time of the 17th EMBL/EMBO Science and Society multi-disciplinary conference in Heidelberg in 2016.
Further readings on the conference topic can be found here.
The main aim of these joint EMBL/EMBO Science and Society meetings is to present important areas of life science research in a manner accessible to all, and to promote reflection on their implications. At the same time, they should facilitate a broad dialogue between biologists, behavioral and social scientists, students of all disciplines, and members of the public.
- Molecular memory
- Human memory: origins, mechanisms and meanings
- Memory: from order, to reorder, to oblivion
- The normal, the off-scale, and the extended human memory
Speakers and Chairs
- Jan Born – University of Tübingen, Germany: “Sleep to Form Memory“
- Frederick L. Coolidge – University of Colorado, United States of America: “The Evolution of Memory: from Flatworms to Neandertals to Homo Sapiens“
- Andreas Draguhn – Heidelberg University, Germany
- Michele Garfinkel – EMBO, Germany
- Nick Goldman – EMBL-EBI, United Kingdom: “Digital Memory“
- Adrian VS Hill – University of Oxford, United Kingdom: “Immune Memory – the Key to Vaccines“
- Jonathan C. Howard – Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Portugal
- Martin Korte – TU Braunschweig, Germany: “The Adaptive Brain in Action: Cellular correlates of learning, memory and forgetting“
- Hannah Landecker – UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, United States of America: “The Information of Conformation: Chromatin Memory as the Imprint of Experience“
- Pamela Banta Lavenex – University of Lausanne, Switzerland: “Learning to remember our past: The development of the spatial and temporal components of episodic memory“
- Mara Mather – USC Davis School of Gerontology, United States of America: “During intense or emotionally arousing moments how does the brain know what to encode?“
- Hannah Monyer – German Cancer Research Center, Germany: “How does inhibition support memory?“
- Yee Lee Shing – MPI for Human Development, Germany: “Memory Across the Lifespan: Is Aging the Reversal of Development?“
- Craig Stark – Universtity of California, Irvine, United States of America: “Going off-scale: The extreme abilities of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory“
- Jacqueline Trotter – Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
- Eske Willerslev – University of Copenhagen, Denmark: “Hunting for the Past with Ancient DNA“
- Scientific Organiser: Halldór Stefánsson – EMBL Heidelberg, Germany
- Conference Organiser: Tim Nürnberger – EMBL Heidelberg, Germany