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Borges and Memory
Imagine the astonishment felt by neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga when he found a fantastically precise interpretation of his research findings in a story written by the great Argentinian fabulist Jorge Luis Borges fifty years earlier. Quian Quiroga studies the workings of the brain—in particular how memory works—one of the most complex and elusive mysteries of science. He and his fellow neuroscientists have at their disposal sophisticated imaging equipment and access to information not available just twenty years ago. And yet Borges seemed to have imagined the gist of Quian Quiroga's discoveries decades before he made them.
The title character of Borges's "Funes the Memorious" remembers everything in excruciatingly particular detail but is unable to grasp abstract ideas. Quian Quiroga found neurons in the human brain that respond to abstract concepts but ignore particular details, and, spurred by the way Borges imagined the consequences of remembering every detail but being incapable of abstraction, he began a search for the origins of Funes. Borges’s widow, María Kodama, gave him access to her husband’s personal library, and Borges’s books led Quian Quiroga to reread earlier thinkers in philosophy and psychology. He found that just as Borges had perhaps dreamed the results of Quian Quiroga’s discoveries, other thinkers—William James, Gustav Spiller, John Stuart Mill—had perhaps also dreamed a story like "Funes."
With Borges and Memory, Quian Quiroga has given us a fascinating and accessible story about the workings of the brain that the great creator of Funes would appreciate.
About the Author
Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a native of Argentina, is Professor and Director of the Bioengineering Research Centre at the University of Leicester.
Table of Contents
- Borges and Memory
- Borges and Memory
- Encounters with the Human Brain
- Rodrigo Quian Quiroga
- translated by Juan Pablo Fernández
- foreword by María Kodama
- The MIT Press
- Cambridge, Massachusetts
- London, England
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
- This work was originally published in Spanish by Editorial Sudamericana, Buenos Aires, 2011.
- Every effort has been made to contact those who hold the rights to images. Any rights holders not credited should contact the publisher.
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- This book was set in Scala and Scala Sans by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
- Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
- Quian Quiroga, Rodrigo.
- [Borges y la memoria. English]
- Borges and memory : encounters with the human brain / Rodrigo Quian Quiroga ; translated by Juan Pablo Fernández ; foreword by María Kodama.
- p. cm.
- Includes bibliographical references and index.
- ISBN 978-0-262-01821-0 (hardcover : alk. paper)
- 1. Memory—Physiological aspects—Popular works. 2. Brain—Research—Popular works. 3. Memory disorders—Case studies. 4. Memory in literature. 5. Borges, Jorge Luis, 1899–1986—Criticism and interpretation. I. Title.
- QP406.Q53 2012
- 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
- Foreword by María Kodama vii
- Introduction 1
- 1 Funes and Other Cases of Extraordinary Memory 9
- 2 The Library of Babel 23
- 3 The Man Who Could Not Forget 37
- 4 Living in the Past 51
- 5 Subtleties of Memory 65
- 6 Where Do Memories Reside? 77
- 7 Prodigious Minds 101
- 8 The Delicate Balance between Remembering and Forgetting 117
- 9 Perception and Memory 131
- 10 Neurophysiology of Vision 145
- 11 The Jennifer Aniston Neuron 159
- 12 Keys to Thought 181
- Acknowledgments 203
- Index 207