Scientists have found that by activating just a few brain cells in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, strong memories can be released. MIT researchers first isolated brain cells in mice that were active only when experiencing a new environment, then gave the mice electric shocks. Using light to later activate these same brain cells in a neutral environment, the mice immediately cowered into a defensive crouch, suggesting they were recalling the experience of being shocked, though the memory had been artificially stimulated.
What’s the Big Idea?
The experiment settles some old philosophical questions by confirming that ethereal phenomena like memory are actually contained within physical brain cells. “René Descartes didn’t believe the mind can be studied as a natural science. He was wrong. This experimental method is the ultimate way of demonstrating that mind, like memory recall, is based on changes in matter,” said the study’s co-author co-author Xu Liu. Scientist say the experiment may also have applications in the study of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders.