Archive | August 2011

Five Minutes of Fame.

Five Minutes of Fame.

It’s the end of a very busy and exciting week in which I helped organize a huge conference on memory at the University of York. The ICOM conference was, we think, the biggest ever specialist conference on the topic, and we had over 800 delegates from around the world, including many of the most famous names in memory research. It was an exhilerating  experience, the culmination of months of planning and very rewarding indeed, although very hard work.

One of the personal highlights was being asked to appear on Newsnight, one of Britain’s top current affairs programmes which regularly attracts an audience of around 600,000 people despite airing at 10.30pm – well past my normal bedtime!

The nice thing about this is that it gave me the chance to talk about some of the fascinating research we’d been hearing about this week. However, there were so many exciting new ideas discussed at ICOM that I can’t say I felt very confident that I would be able to make much sense of it. Luckily I wasn’t alone and on the way to London I got to know Donna Rose Addis who was on the show with me.

Donna Rose is well known for her research on the way that memory provides us with a sense of self – the sense that you are the same person today as yesterday and that even though the world around you changes something inside stays the same; the ‘you’ inside you. She also works on links between remembering the past and imagining the future. It turns out that these are not as different as you might think and rely on similar systems in the brain. So imagination involves a lot of memory and vice versa. These rather fascinating ideas are typical of the sort of thing we heard about during ICOM – in so many ways memory is not the way you think! Donna is a proper memory expert and recently won a major prize in her native New Zealand. She’s spent the year travelling around the world visiting the top labs around the world. Thankfully she is also a really nice person, and we had a good chance to chat about what we might talk about, which made me feel a bit more confident.

Quite apart from the scientific context I was rather starstruck, and I am not sure how successful I was at feigning nonchalance. The most thrilling thing was to be inside TV Centre – after growing up watching so many programmes that were made there, being there feels like meeting an old and revered film star. It was really such an overwhelming experience that I haven’t had time to fully digest it and it might be worth another post or an update later.

I was only on the screen for a few minutes, and it flew by very quickly, so it was difficult to say anything at all subtle or complicated. To be honest I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth until I heard it. Fortunately when I watched it back afterwards it seemed to make sense and I managed to make some worthwhile points. I felt as if I’d been dropped straight in at the deep end and had somehow managed to keep my head above the surface and found myself miraculously treading water. I wouldn’t be afraid to do it again, and if Andy Warhol was right, I still have about 10 minutes of fame left.

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