PIECES OF LIGHT by Charles Fernyhough


How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts
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Fernyhough (A Thousand Days of Wonder: A Scientist's Chronicle of His Daughter's Developing Mind, 2010, etc.) takes a multidisciplinary approach to explaining memory.

Using autobiographical accounts and memories elicited from his daughter and other children, the author sets out to make “the new, reconstructive account of memory” available to nonpsychologists. Fernyhough reports on experiments like the University of Ontario's studies comparing levels of complexity of verbal processing with simultaneous neuroimaging of areas of the brain showing how new and older activations are integrated. Neuropsychologists are attempting to distinguish false memories from true and have begun to identify brain regions that are involved, and parallel efforts are underway to treat memory disorders, such as amnesia. Fernyhough references case studies from the criminal justice system that have shown the fallibility of eyewitness accounts and demonstrated the suggestibility of children whose apparently “recovered” memories of sexual abuse were proven to be false. It is now widely accepted that memories are not stored in the brain but re-created in the present each time they are called upon. They are not “mental DVDs stored away in some library of the mind,” writes the author, but are shaped by subsequent events and the emotions they evoked to become autobiographical memories. Fernyhough illustrates this concept with remembered experiences taken from his own childhood and literary references from authors such as Marcel Proust, A.S. Byatt and others, which highlight the difference between memory and imagination.

Will be intriguing for readers interested in the borderlands where memoir, fiction and science overlap but is likely to frustrate readers unfamiliar with the byways of British life.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0062237897
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2013


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