The Braginsky Center for the Interface between the Sciences and the HumanitiesFrom the vantage point of the Science of Memory, human cultures can be considered as 'biocultural supraorganisms' that can store distributed experience-dependent, behaviorally-relevant representations over hundreds and thousands of years. I will describe cognitive and artefactual instruments that mediate encoding, consolidation, storage and retrieval of such cross-generational collective engrams in large human populations. Investigation of this type of long-duration memory is made possible by combining archeology, history and cognitive science.
I will focus on a model system for the analysis of long-duration cultural memory. This is the memory of the Jewish culture, that can be traced back ca. 3300 yr (i.e. ca. 130 generations) ago. I will zoom in on the core memory of this culture, i.e., the minimal set of cross-generational mnemonic items considered by members of that culture to define their collective origin, history and distinctiveness. Identifying a core memory item and tracing its fate over time can facilitate mechanistic understanding of remote as well as more recent collective memory.
I will present data and hypotheses concerning the encoding, transformation, persistence and reactivation of an early component of the core memory, that had amalgamated fact with fiction in its first ca. 1000 yrs before being put in writing ca. 2300 yrs ago in an information-dense text of only 63 Hebrew words. Its high-fidelity persistence relied on evolving procedural reactivations. Potential implications of this persistence mechanism for understanding remote memory in individuals will be discussed. In recent generations reactivation of this memory and its updating play a role in splitting Jewish cultural memory into sub-narratives that differ, inter alia, in geographical distribution and cultural signature. This enables data-based analysis of ongoing transformation of collective memory in a large distributed human population
Department of Neurobiology, WIS