My Aunt Elizabeth and I were talking last night about the fact that each of us remembers different shared experiences. What she recalls easily – I do not, and visa versa. I remember my Uncle Don taking us for a drive on Interstate 80 in Nebraska before it was paved. We drove down the paved ramp at Beaver Crossing onto the eastbound lanes, then covered only in gravel. We cruised with the convertible top down at 20 m.p.h to the next exit at Milford. What makes that memory so strong for me? Are memories personal or are they constructed through the stories we tell?
Neuroscience is still exploring how memories are made and persist. Yi Zuo of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and her colleagues assessed how dendrites (branches between neurons) form in mice based on three different types of activities, compared to a control group that did nothing out of the ordinary. Her results: dendrites appear, grow, persist, and disappear in response to training and learning.
“I think it is a very active process,” Zuo says. “The neurons work very hard to form clusters, to place spines close to one another. Even after a short training period on the first day, a mouse makes a lot of new spines—they might make double what they make in an ordinary day, but these spines are not clustered. Only after repeated training are they clustered.” Previous work in her lab demonstrated that new neural connections form within an hour of the training session.
As human beings, memories are created because our brains are constantly open to change. Memories grow and persist when we are actively experiencing, discovering, learning, and telling our stories. Life-long learning is essential.
What are you actively learning and discovering? What memories have shaped you or your organization?