LPEN - NeuroMente

Junio 2024
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La mayoría de nuestras memorias son falsas en cierto punto.

El  biólogo, doctor en Neurociencias e investigador de los mecanismo  moleculares de la memoria, afirmó que “en el cerebro todo lleva tiempo y  esfuerzo”; además, afirmó: “memorizar es un juego entre lo que  recordamos y lo que olvidamos”.
The home of decision-making, identity, learning and emotions, among  many other things — some of which still remain a mystery — the brain and  its functions are an neverending source of material for new scientific  research and an impressive amount of books, documentaries and other  explorations.
Argentine scientist Pedro Bekischtein is one of the most prestigious  researchers in this field and after years of investigation, he has  became somewhat of an authority on memory and its intriguing mechanisms.
The brain nowadays seems to be like the rockstar of the organs of the human body, there’s so much research on it?
I would say there are a few things that can explain this. I don’t  think that is just a trend or some fashion, it’s a real interest from  the readers and the public in general but also from scientists. The  scientific community has been growing steadily in the last few years and  that’s mainly because of technology. There are some advances in  technology that allow us now to answer questions that we could not  before. And these are very interesting questions, not only about memory  but also about consciousness.
We can now get inside the brain. Neuroscience didn’t exist as now 50  years ago because those years were dominated by psychology. Back then  you could analyse behaviour but not get inside the brain and see what  was going on there. Nowadays we can.
Out of that large package of disciplines related to neuroscience, you  decided to study the memory. Do we choose what to remember and what  not?
Yes and no (laughs). There are different ways in which you can  acquire information and there are a lot of things that happen to that  information as time goes by. For example, if you are studying something  and paying attention to that, it’s more likely it will stay in your  memory and something that you’re not paying attention to, won’t. But  there are cases in which that varies. A classic example is the 9/11.  People of a certain age remember when they saw on TV the terrorist  attack but they also remember details about that situation such as which  clothes they were wearing, who they were with and what happened and the  surroundings of that situation before and after. And that’s something  you don’t usually remember. You don’t remember that from the day before.  So sometimes a relevant event shines a light on some irrelevant  information around it but you retain that information as well ...  sometimes emotions can help to include details or information of the  situation in the memory.
So, as the memory is so dynamic, the things that we remember can be fake?
Yes. In a way we shouldn’t worry about it. I mean, most of our  memories are at some point false. And sometimes you might have like a  false memory from something that didn’t actually happen. There are  experiments in the lab where you can see that, you can actually create a  memory from an experience that didn’t happen as long as it’s  believable. In cases regarding the law it’s very interesting to analyse  this process. There is a lot of evidence that shows that you can’t  really trust the testimony of an eyewitness. Especially during the  interviews with the police, or with the detectives because the way the  interview is carried out can be more or less effective in changing these  memories.
So yes. But I think it’s not a bad thing. If we were able to store  everything exactly as it happened, we wouldn’t be able to generalize or  elaborate concepts of things. Funes el memorioso (Jorge Luis Borges’  famous character), for instance, he had a memory that wasn’t useful for  life.
It’s common to hear people say “he has a good memory.” Do some people have better memories?
What most of the people say, in general, is that they have a bad  memory. And for me it’s impossible, you just have memory, there’s not  such a thing as a “bad memory.” But then you have people who remember  lots of things and probably that’s because they have some training,  those that we call “brain athletes.” And there are some mnemonic  techniques that can help you remember things. But that’s just by  training, anyone can do it. It’s not that there is anything particular  with their brains. You train, you get it.
One of the curious things you stress in your last book is that,  contrary to what we generally think of memory, it has a lot to do with  the future. Why is that?
I would say that’s the main function of memory. It’s not about the  past, the past just passed. In terms of evolution, we have to survive  and the best way to survive is to avoid behaviours that aren’t  beneficial. So what humans have —and we are not sure if other animals  do— is that the regions of the brain that are activated when remembering  are the same ones that will activate when thinking of a future  situation. When you think, for example, in what you are going to do in  the next few  hours or imagine what you’ll be doing next summer, some  regions of the brain activate. So that led to the idea that what we call  “prospective memory” is like the simulation of possible future.
In that sense, imagination is linked to memory.
Yes, and it makes sense. Because memory is actually a process of  reconstruction. If you’re imagining the future, it makes sense that you  can imagine the past too as the mechanism is the same or very similar.  And there is evidence (for this). I really like the idea of memory being  related to imagination, creativity and those kinds of things.
Being neuroscience something related to humans, it’s hard to imagine  how you make your experiments. How do neuroscientists work? Do you  research with animals?
Yes, we work mainly with rodents, mice and rats. And of course we do  some experiments on humans as well. What happens with rodents is that  you can’t ask them “Do you remember this?” (laughs). So you have to  analyse the behaviour in animals. And we analsze different types of  behaviours. We do what’s called a “causal experiment,” so we manipulate,  to see what happens with their memories. In humans you can’t do this,  so we see how people learn something, whether their brain regions are  activated and when.
Is there a boom of neuroscientific research in Argentina?
I think neuroscience research in Argentina is really good. And it’s  been growing a lot, there are very good research groups in this country.  But not all scientists go and write books or do scientific  communication.
And regarding the announced cuts in the national budget for researching and science, how do you assess the current scenario?
I don’t know. Doing research in Argentina has always been difficult.  There have been some years when it was more difficult than others, for  example during the 1990s. That was awful. I was a student then but I  also started going to the lab in those years. Then I would say that  later, up until 2011, the salaries for researchers were better and were  kind of competitive comparing to the wages of researchers in other  countries. The budget for science and for buying equipment has been  always low here. What happens now is if the budget is approved as they  have been saying, it’s a major cut and it will have some negative  consequences for the research system. Of course I don’t agree with that,  I want a growing scientific field where everyone is able to do what  they are interested in doing.

Lives in: Buenos Aires
Achievements: Pedro Bekinschtein is a biologist. He holds a doctorate from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He studied for three years at the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Cambridge, in the UK.
Books: His latest book 100% memoria was released last month. In 2015 he released 100% cerebro.
Current activities: Rsearcher for the CONICET and leads investigations at the Instituto de Neurociencia Cognitiva y Traslacional.
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