November 03, 2021 4:00 PM to 5:00 PMUptown Campus
The Tulane Cognitive Studies program is happy to announce the first in our “Cognitive Studies in the Science” talk series, co-hosted with the Tulane Brain Institute! Please join us for an exciting talk in the Philosophy of Neuroscience:
Sarah Robins, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Philosophy Department, University of Kansas
The Engram Renaissance
The search for the engram—the neural mechanism of memory—has been a guiding research project for neuroscience since its emergence as a distinct scientific field. Owing to a series of discoveries in recent years, made possible by the development of tools like DREADDs and optogenetics, researchers claim we are now in the midst of an “engram renaissance” (Josselyn, Köhler, and Frankland, 2017, p. 4647).
This renaissance includes a range of fascinating discoveries, including: the production of false memory in non-human animals (Ramirez et al. 2013); the ability to change the valence of a memory from positive to negative and vice versa (Redondo et al., 2014); recovery of memory in early-stage Alzheimer’s models (Roy et al. 2016); and the creation and implantation of an artificial engram (Vetere et al. 2019). The results are exciting not only for what they reveal about the basic mechanisms of memory, but for the opportunities they provide to connect with broader areas of memory science. The engram renaissance portrays a field poised to make good on Squire and Kandel’s proclamation that “memory promises to be the first mental faculty to be understandable in a language that makes a bridge from molecules to mind” (Squire & Kandel, 1999: 3).
Neuroscientists engaged in this research are actively looking for theoretical and conceptual sources to build this bridge. There is, however, a paucity of contemporary work on the engram. This concept, so central to our thinking about memory, is largely ignored by philosophers of memory and philosophers of neuroscience. This is true even as both subfields have grown increasingly active in recent years. This talk outlines a proposal to fill this gap, developing a theory of the engram that captures work in contemporary neurobiology and conveys its significance for our theorizing about memory more broadly. By articulating the explanatory role the engram plays in our understanding of memory, and the features the engram must have in order to play this role, I
provide a framework to guide empirical inquiry into the mechanisms of memory. The account of the engram also serves to appropriately situate the neurobiology of memory as a central contributor in the interdisciplinary inquiry into memory as a core cognitive ability.