The Science of Memory
The Science of Memory

By Jon Wren

As modern science learns more and more about the human brain, some of the biggest findings have centered on memory. New research is helping us understand not only how we remember things, but also why we remember some things more than others. Interestingly, new findings show that nothing creates a stronger memory than experience and repetition.

For example, when we meet someone and learn their name, that information goes to a specific part of the brain called the hippocampus. That’s where the brain stores facts and figures. But the circumstances about where, why, and how we met them are stored in a larger and much more sophisticated part of the brain called the neocortex. That means the brain is wired to remember sights, smells, and circumstances much better than abstract facts and figures.

On the first Easter morning, Luke’s Gospel says some female followers of Jesus went to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ body and instead encountered two angels. The angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee” (Luke 24:5, 6, author’s emphasis).

When Jesus told his followers he would rise from the dead, they had heard it the same way we might hear facts or a news report. Mary Magdalene, for example, probably heard what Jesus said, and yet she didn’t experience the truth of his statement until that morning. Her memory, and her faith, grew stronger as a result.

It’s easy for us as Christ followers, even at Easter, to find ourselves in the same place Mary had been that morning more than 2,000 years ago. We’ve heard the story of the resurrection many times, but our understanding of it can remain shallow or sterile. That is a reason we take Communion—a regular and tangible experience that involves all of our senses in engaging with the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection. May we take advantage of this opportunity to fully and completely remember just what Christ’s love for us truly means.

Jon Wren works with the Office of Civil Rights, addressing the impact of gentrification on school desegregation. He loves history, college football, and once got a ticket for driving too slowly.

Image by Rodhullandemu; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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