Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts

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Overview

Short-listed for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books, the Best Book of Ideas Prize, and the Society of Biology Book Awards ? Book of the Year: Sunday Times, Sunday Express, and New Scientist

A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing fixed, unchanging memories, we create new recollections each time we are called upon to remember. As psychologist Charles Fernyhough explains, remembering is an act of narrative imagination as much as...

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Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell About Our Pasts

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Overview

Short-listed for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books, the Best Book of Ideas Prize, and the Society of Biology Book Awards • Book of the Year: Sunday Times, Sunday Express, and New Scientist

A new consensus is emerging among cognitive scientists: rather than possessing fixed, unchanging memories, we create new recollections each time we are called upon to remember. As psychologist Charles Fernyhough explains, remembering is an act of narrative imagination as much as it is the product of a neurological process. In Pieces of Light, he illuminates this compelling scientific breakthrough in a series of personal stories, each illustrating memory's complex synergy of cognitive and neurological functions.

Combining science and literature, the ordinary and the extraordinary, this fascinating tour through the new science of autobiographical memory helps us better understand the ways we remember—and the ways we forget.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Psychologist Fernyhough (A Thousand Days of Wonder) aims to debunk the myth that memory is purely retrospective—memories, he argues, are not “heirloom from the past” summoned back for display in the present; they are momentary reconstructions. Fernyhough contends that neuroscience is crucial in solving the puzzle of memory, but his primary means of shedding light on the topic is through personal and historical anecdotes. This tactic can feel contrived at times, but it makes his examination welcoming and accessible to lay readers. His analysis is wide-ranging, touching on everything from the mundane lapses in memory that make a labyrinth of a familiar city, to brain damage and traumatic memories mediated and distorted by intense emotions. He also covers a wide swath of literary and historical ground, including the olfactory and musical remembrances of Proust and memory exercises of the Middle Ages. What is abundantly clear throughout is that remembering has always been a deeply imaginative process. Few of Fernyhough’s points stand out as groundbreaking, but his notion of memory as “a way of being with other people” is a refreshingly social take on an intensely personal experience. Agent: David Grossman, David Grossman Literary Agency (U.K.) (Mar.)
Doctor - David Eagleman
"Fernyhough weaves literature and science to expose our rich, beautiful relationship with our past and future selves."
Time Magazines Higher Education
"A sophisticated blend of findings from science, ideas from literature and examples from personal narratives. . . . Refreshing, well judged and at times moving."
Andre Aciman
"In its stunning blend of the literary with the scientific, Pieces of Light illuminates ordinary and extraordinary stories to remind us that who we are now has everything to do with who we were once, and that identity itself is intricately rooted the transporting moments of remembrance."
The Guardian
Pieces of Light is utterly fascinating and superbly written. I learned more about memory from this book than any other. There are few science books around of this class.
Moheb Costandi
“Remarkable storytelling skills. . . . Seamlessly intersperses the personal aspects of [his] journey with descriptions of cutting-edge research into spatial naviation and memory manipulation, as well as new ideas about how memory works.”
Sunday Business Post
“As absorbing as it is thought-provoking.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Exhilarating… Most strikingly Fernyhough breaks free from the ‘silo mentality’ separating science and art… makes a compelling case that memory ‘allows us to “see” time’, something of what happened then and of who we are today, albeit through what he delightfully calls its ‘slippery charms’.”
Elizabeth Loftus
“A beautifully written, absorbing read — a fascinating journey through the latest science of memory.”
Douwe Draaisma
“Both playful and profound, a wonderfully memorable read.”
Dr. David Eagleman
“Fernyhough weaves literature and science to expose our rich, beautiful relationship with our past and future selves.”
Daniel L. Schacter
“Combining the engaging style of a novelist with the rigour of a scientist. . . . Pieces of Light will both linger in your memory and change the way you think about it.”
André Aciman
“In its stunning blend of the literary with the scientific, Pieces of Light illuminates ordinary and extraordinary stories to remind us that who we are now has everything to do with who we were once, and that identity itself is intricately rooted the transporting moments of remembrance.”
Booklist
“[A] thoughtful exploration of recent memory research. . . . Fernyhough, who writes fiction as well as psychological studies, is a deft guide to discoveries that have led memory researchers to stress the centrality of storytelling.”
Nature
“A thoughtful study of how we make sense of ourselves.”
Financial Times
“Fernyhough is a gifted writer who can turn any experience into lively prose. . . . The stories in Pieces of Light . . . will entertain anyone who reads them.”
Observer (UK)
“Outstanding. . . . Fernyhough’s skills as a writer are evident both in the beautiful prose and in the way he uses literature to illustrate his argument . . . He draws on both science and art to marvelous effect.”
New Scientist
“An immense pleasure, as Fernyhough casts the emerging science of memory through the lens of his own recollections. . . . Remains restrained and lyrical throughout.”
Times Higher Education
“A sophisticated blend of findings from science, ideas from literature and examples from personal narratives. . . . Refreshing, well judged and at times moving.”
Telegraph
“Fernyhough takes us on a captivating journey into the mind. And he does so with great style.”
Independent
“A fascinating snapshot of where our thinking stands on the subject.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062237897
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 305
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Fernyhough is an award-winning writer and psychologist. His books include A Thousand Days of Wonder: A Scientist's Chronicle of His Daughter's Developing Mind and the novels The Auctioneer and A Box of Birds. He has written for the Guardian, the Financial Times, and the Sunday Telegraph; contributes to NPR's Radiolab; blogs for Psychology Today; and is a professor of psychology at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2013

    Forget it

    This book may have some interesting information in it, but the writer does not want you to find it. The reader has to read through an overly wordy book with stories of the authors life that seem to go nowhere. There is a story where the author describes trying to remember where he lives by walking through his old neighborhood. I just wanted to scream "Get to the point." Life is too short to spend time read this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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