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The Forgetting Machine: Memory, Perception, and the "Jennifer Aniston Neuron"

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  219 ratings  ·  33 reviews
If we lose our memories, are we still ourselves? Is identity merely a collection of electrical impulses? What separates us from animals, or from computers?
From Plato to Westworld, these questions have fascinated and befuddled philosophers, artists, and scientists for centuries. In The Forgetting Machine, neuroscientist Rodrigo Quiroga explains how the mechanics of memory
Paperback, 170 pages
Published October 3rd 2017 by Benbella Books
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Oct 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Who would you be without your memories? Would you still be you? I've long been interested in anything and everything about memory. Not a lot here was new to me, but even so, I found the book informative, accessible, and engaging. The audio is well done. I enjoyed it and listened to some chapters twice, frequently stopping to inform my husband of various factoids. It's amazing how little we really remember, how much we forget, and how malleable memories really are. ...more
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-nonfiction
Not only do I wish more scientists would write books to educate laypeople, I wish more scientists would write books as informative and accessible as The Forgetting Machine: Memory, Perception, and the “Jennifer Aniston Neuron” by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga. This highly-credentialed, multi-degreed, computational neuroscientist has written a fascinating book about the vastness and limitations of human memory. Viewed by most as a complex subject, Quiroga has skillfully dismantled this complexity into ve ...more
Kent Winward
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had a great review -- and then I forgot it.

Actually, not a bad little neuroscience book on how we create and maintain memory which is infinitely fascinating, even if I can't remember everything I read.
Oct 27, 2020 rated it liked it
A dry, textbook-like explanation of what are, in fact, deeply profound discoveries. Together, they point toward a counterintuitive idea: that the human brain structures experience (and memory) around a kind of neurological shorthand, referred to as concepts (naturally, the neurons responsible are called “concept neurons”). The sensory experiences we think we remember are actually filled in only when we actively recall that memory—activating a concept then activates a whole “neural cascade” throu ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent review of human memory from a physicist turned biologist.
The Forgetting Machine by Rodrigo Quian Quiroga is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early October.

Unfortunately, Quiroga writes in more of a lit/research review style than really telling us all something new about cognitive psychology, neuroscience, memory, visual acuity, a human's capacity for intelligence, and the advent of android thought. Where he had me, though, was his own personal sentiment about the perishability of memory and the somewhat depressing thought about how someone's whol
Feb 20, 2021 added it

very interesting
Jonathan Grant
Pretty interesting general book about how our memory works. Doesn't delve too deep, but still decent. ...more
K De
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Professor Quiroga gives a concise overview of how memory is being understood through neuroscience. It is clearly explained and very interesting in how neuroscience is grappling with the physical structure of the brain in order to understand how memory is truly a part of being human.
Jairo Gomez
Nov 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
A book about the mechanics of memory (written for the layman) with an interesting commentary on the philosophical aspects of human identity.

Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, Director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience at the University of Leicester, evokes (surprisingly relevant*) pop culture references and delightful passages from Borges to demystify the concepts of synapse, memory, abstraction, and self-awareness.

The book starts with a brief introduction to neurons and synapses, explaining the chemic
Oct 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Pretty enjoyable and informative read. It did not go as into the philosophy of the topic as I expected - confusing mainly on the psychology and neuroscience side of it - but I don’t hold that against it, it might however make me bias against the book a bit. The writing was adequate, nothing to exciting but nothing too dry. Overall I’m glad I read it but don’t feel the need to recommend it to anyone who is not already interested.

That said, three stars is still a positive review. I don’t think th
Injla Khan
Jan 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
It's one of those books that talks about a few, but important topics of a very vast and wide field and drives the point home. Extremely easy and fun to read, with memorable examples that condense a lot of concepts that you'd want to remember (you'd expect that from an expert on memory, right!). I am always a bit worried about my lack of recalling abilities (or used to be), and have been trying various methods to make my memory better. But reading this book made me feel so validated- because well ...more
Nov 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Chancellor Clay
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
The book provides a phenomenal insight into the world of the brain, neurons, memory, and the usage of language. The book also briefly dives into the relatively unknown world of animal memory as well.

I highly recommend this read to anyone with an interest in how memory works or psychology.
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Each page was extremely exciting to read, I've finished it in one sitting. Definitely recommend it. ...more
Daniel Noventa
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Makes a case for the importance of forgetting.
Nov 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Good information but gets rather technical rather fast.
Erika Skarlupka
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A pretty good high level overview of memory and perception. However, if you've read a few books on either of these subjects then there isnt realy anything new presented in this book. ...more
Richard Thompson
Dec 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: neuroscience
This is a decent short introduction to how memory works. There was nothing much new here that I had not already read elsewhere, but it was good review and re-enforcement.
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely amazing stuff, presented in a surprisingly linear and accessible manner.
Must read!
Abe Smith
Feb 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2021
A great book on memory and how best to use it. Covers loci, cells that fire together wire together, schemas, how memory is meaning and context dependant. Good cognitive phycology book.
Feb 18, 2021 rated it it was amazing
On neuroplasticity, perception, and memory, a fascinating read! Written by a neuroscientist, this book is both accessible and a page-turner.
A short and concise book on memory and intelligence with neurobiological and philosophical accounts
Forgetable. It got off to a great start with the business about the eyes, but most of this is stuff I already knew, so it didn't hold my interest to the end. I could not concentrate on the last hour of the book. Maybe it's me. Maybe not. There was too much quoting literature rather than scientists for my taste. ...more
Virginia MD
In this book Dr Quiroga explains the science behind the so-called "Jennifer Aniston Neuron." The implications of this discovery are actually quite fascinating.

I talked with Dr. Quiroga earlier this year on my Brain Science podcast.

Learn more at
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
V sad that I used an audible credit on this.
Hans Rueckschnat
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Learned so much from this book, could even affect the way that you learn new things.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I won a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads.

This book was not quite what I expected, but great nonetheless. It is less about memory itself and more about how the brain works and by implication what a memory actually is. Engaging style and very light read even in popular science category. Fun examples and good descriptions of experiments. Also has a historical bent as it describes memory through the ages.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting book which covers a broad range of topics to answer the question "how do we know who we are?". Quiroga has done his homework and builds a well-informed case. I found many interesting and inspiring quotes from this book - the number of highlights in the book alone could be made into its own workbook!
Don't read this book without a way to take notes! I think this is a good one to read if you are reflecting on your life and what you want out of your future. Great read!
This changes your way of looking at the world.
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Brain Science Pod...: BS 141 Rodrigo Quian Quiroga 1 5 Jan 30, 2018 11:02AM  

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“We remember almost nothing. The idea that we remember a great deal of the subtleties and details of our experiences, as if we are playing back a movie, is nothing more than an illusion, a construct of the brain. And this is perhaps the greatest secret in the study of memory: the astounding truth that, starting from very little information, the brain generates a reality and a past that make us who we are, despite the fact that this past, this collection of memories, is extremely slippery; despite the fact that the mere act of bringing a memory to our consciousness inevitably changes it; despite the fact that what underlies my awareness of a unique, immutable “self” that makes me who I am is constantly changing.” 0 likes
“What matters is not how much we remember, but how we remember. As I see it, intelligence is closely related to creativity, to noticing something new, to making unexpected connections between disparate facts. Isaac Newton’s genius consisted of realizing that what makes an apple fall from a tree is the same force that keeps the moon in its orbit around the earth: gravity. Centuries later, in his general theory of relativity, Albert Einstein uncovered another astounding relationship when he noted that the effect of the force of gravity is indistinguishable from the acceleration of a spaceship in outer space or the tug we feel in an elevator when it starts to move. Attempting to memorize facts by rote does nothing more than distract our attention from what really matters, the deeper understanding required to establish meaning and notice connections—that which constitutes the basis of intelligence. The method of loci does nothing to help us understand the things we memorize; it is just a formula for memorization that, in fact, competes against comprehension. As we saw in the previous chapter, Shereshevskii was able to memorize a list effortlessly using the method of loci, but was incapable of grasping its content enough to pick out the liquids from the list or, on another occasion, to realize that he had memorized a sequence of consecutive numbers. Using the method of loci to store these lists left Shereshevskii no room to make any of the categorizations that we perform unconsciously (person, animal, liquid, etc.) or to find basic patterns in a list of numbers. To be creative and intelligent, we must go beyond merely remembering and undertake completely different processes: we must assimilate concepts and derive meaning. Focusing on memorization techniques limits our ability to understand, classify, contextualize, and associate. Like memorization, these processes also help to secure memories, but in a more useful and elaborate way; these are precisely the processes that should be developed and encouraged by the educational system.” 0 likes
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