Hellooo reddits! I'm Steve Ramirez Ph. D, Director of The Ramirez Group (http://theramirezgroup.org/research), Assistant Professor of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Boston University, and faculty member at the BU Center for Memory & Brain and Center for Systems Neuroscience. I study how memory works and then how to hijack it to treat disorders of the brain. My lab's work focuses on how to suppress bad memories, how to activate good ones, and how to create "maps" of what memories look like in the brain. I also LOVE inception and cat gifs. At the same time, my lab also tries to locate memory traces in the mouse brain and we are currently exploring how to reactivate these traces and implant false ones as well. My hope is that my lab's work can inform how patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or depression are treated.

PROOF THAT I EXIST! https://twitter.com/okaysteve/status/1101121214876184576.

the lab's instagram bc instaYES: https://www.instagram.com/2fos2furious

I'm crazy grateful to have received a NIH Director’s Early Independence Award, a McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders award, and a NARSAD Young Investigator Award. I'm a National Geographic Breakthrough Explorer and a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient (I'd like to thank my mom... my dad...), and my work has been published in Nature, Science, Neuron, and Frontiers in Neural Circuits, among other publications. You can also see my TED Talk here discussing my memory research and implications, which was probably the most stressful and exciting day of my life: https://www.ted.com/talks/steve_ramirez_and_xu_liu_a_mouse_a_laser_beam_a_manipulated_memory

It's good to be back reddit -- last time as a poor grad student, and now as a poor professor! so ask me anything about neuroscience in general or memory in particular! LETS GO!

EDIT: alright reddits, my keyboard currently is up in smoke and my fingers fell off a few minutes ago, so I have to logoff for an hour and go stuff my face with thai noodles (poor professor status: confirmed) for a bit. please leave any and all questions and ill get back to as many of them as possible, and ya'll are AMAZING slash I hope to be back soon for another round of inception, careers in science, and ethics of memory manipulation! #BLESSUP

Comments: 799 • Responses: 46  • Date: 

Buhroocykins233 karma

Is it possible to create memories for people to remember?

okaysteve13299 karma

hey there! As of now, creating memories a la the matrix isn't possible, but i'm an eternal optimist and put no speed limit on scientific innovation

TheBaconBurpeeBeast155 karma

What correlations have you seen in individuals that have difficulty coping with bad memories? Any biological markers? Have you studied people who are the complete opposite? What have you noticed?

okaysteve13213 karma

fantastic question! bad memories (and good ones) really do leave a kind of physical stamp in the brain, and finding biological markers for them is, imho, a holy grail in neuroscience. we're hoping that by making maps of memories, we can pinpoint key crossroads where bad memories persist and ideally find ways of targeting them too to try to mitigate any resulting pathology!

Formally_JC122 karma

Hi Steve. Thanks for doing the AMA

What effects, if any, do the chemicals in the foods we consume have on our brain and memory (i.e artificial sweeteners, etc)?

okaysteve13138 karma

oh man it's my pleasure slash it's good to be back! i'm not too familiar on the effects of artificial chemicals on the brain but we do know that chemicals like caffeine, other drugs, and food in general can modulate the brain's activities in all sorts of directions, e.g. being more sleepy or less sleepy, more attentive or more distracted. at the end of the day, we're a rich soup of biochemical cocktails and those we ingest surely have effects throughout the brain and body!

Ipsey110 karma

Why do people with ADHD seem to have a harder time remembering things in the short term and is there a way around that?

okaysteve13113 karma

such a good Q: tbh im actually not 100% sure as to why this is the case but i'd love to look into it and ask some buddies working on this for their opinion / get back to you asap! it could be a result of how the "circuits" in the brain that give rise to memory operate in people with ADHD but pinpointing where exactly this occurs i think is the key question, which hopefully we'll get an answer too sooner v later!

Dicios91 karma

So mr.brain guy, what are some good exercises to train ones memory to remember better? Don't tell me to do Sudoku.

okaysteve13172 karma

omg i'm les miserables at sudoku so NBD! some of the most potent ways we can make sure our memories are laid down in the brain effectively over time are the two things we're all probs bad at -- having a routine of a good night's sleep and exercise! we're not quite there yet with having a drug like bradley cooper in limitless, but i'm keeping my fingers crossed!

CMDR_Makashi58 karma

How is a memory stored in the brain?

okaysteve13122 karma

to be honest, if i had a fully accurate answer i'd be out of a job! but for now we speculate that memory leaves a kind of physical stamp on the brain that can persist and dynamically change over time. so basically, an experience that leaves a memory in the brain makes brain cells change their connections with one another and their patterns of activity with each other, but this real home-run question hasn't quite been batted out of the park yet!

babycosmonaut47 karma

What are your thoughts on EMDR?

okaysteve1379 karma

to me, modern approaches to psychotherapy have yielded some fascinating results lately, and it might be too early to tell what's the most effective method. that said, i think a ton of non-traditional approaches (e.g. ketamine, emdr, the works) are really helping us think outside the box on how to treat disorders of the brain.

damatas32 karma

What is your opinion on psilocybin or LSD as treatment for depression and PTSD?

okaysteve1396 karma

my personal opinion is that we need to explore waaay more all the modern treatments that are being used to treat depression and PTSD (e.g. ketamine, LSD, psilocybin), because as more and more subsets of patients report therapeutic value, the more we'd want to know why it worked and the mechanisms too.

so tl;DR: need. more. science. funded!

Queeblosaurus28 karma

What do the effects of cannabis do to aid people suffering with PTSD?

okaysteve1346 karma

there's been an explosion of ideas with regards to how cannabid can modulate memories, attention, symptoms of PTSD, nausea induced by chemotherapy... the works! i'm super stoked to see where this research goes because people have both self-reported and studied the medicinal effects of cannabis, and it's without a doubt a ripe and hopefully fruitful area of research currently hitting its stride!

2fos2furious28 karma

How much fos would a firing neuron fos if a fos firing neuron would fire fos?

okaysteve1338 karma

see. fos. see. fos. run. see. fos. run. fast! RUN FOS RUN!

Gamer190627 karma

How long do you think will it take for memories about someone to completely fade away and is their any technique to accelerate the process?

okaysteve1348 karma

love it -- this is such a hot button in memory research! we actually don't definitively know the extent to which forgetting happens or if it means memories just become more and more inaccessible over time. we're not quite at eternal sunshine levels in humans just yet, but in rodents it's possible to artificially erase aspects of experience depending on where in the brain we target! for example, for me i'd LOVE to forget the patriots losing the superbowl in 2007 lol, but the emotional oomph associated with it has tuned down over time, but not quite to 0!

Thehumblepiece25 karma

Does a baby have some memories at age 0?

okaysteve1360 karma

the most common consensus is that the brain hasn't fully developed to be able to have memories stick for a lifetime, but there's a humungous wave of recent research suggesting that (at least in rodents) memories formed during early stages of life actually do persist but remain inaccessible as we age. the verdict is still up in the air in my opinion!

vrosej1023 karma

Decades ago, I witnessed someone be coerced into a false memory over a period of months. How common is this sort of thing?

okaysteve1361 karma

researchers elizabeth loftus, dan schacter, and julia shaw have some of the most profound work on how false memories are made in the brain and how easily they can be "implanted" and i'd def recommending checking out their work! the short of it is that there's a handful of techniques that can be used to get people to believe something happened when it didn't, and they also study the neural basis of how this happens. a lot of it has to do with memories actually be a flexible representation of the past that can combine and recombine over time, rather than being a bona fide iphone9 video of the past. if you reallyyyy wanna dive deep into this, check out "the mandela effect" and prepare for the ensuing rabbit hole!

JeremyJammDDS17 karma

How can I erase the memory of the venoumous, evil snake that is my ex?

okaysteve1320 karma

hmmm a memory anti-venom so far is the stuff of eternal sunshine and emotional memories have definitely been modulated in rodents and humans nonetheless! check out daniela schiller's work at mount sinai and sheena josselyn's work at university of toronto -- they're pioneers in the field of memory erasure, albeit not of ex's (yet!)

DeerTrivia12 karma

As someone who suffers from both anxiety and depression, I would love to know about the benefits of memory manipulation. Is this a commonly available treatment, or still too new to be widely available? Where would I learn more about this?

okaysteve1310 karma

thank you so much for sharing this -- the ideal goal would be able to artificially manipulate and dial down the emotional oomph associated with anxiety and depression, but as of now the best tools we have are therapy and medicine. these too run on one side of my family and it's quite remarkable how diverse everyone's response has been to therapy, medicine, or both, but what we hope our lab's work does is to make a kind of blueprint of where memories and emotions are located and then how to tune up or down the volume on each in a therapeutic manner. of course, we're just on the tip of the iceberg since we're doing this in rodents, but hopefully our mammalian brains share enough in common where we can use the lab's work (and that of others of course!) as a kind of blueprint for what therapeutic value these tools may have


Hi there. I was wondering whether we have any idea of where memories are stored? Is there a specific part of the brain where, for example if injured, there would be a large effect on recall and memory in general? Thanks!

okaysteve1320 karma

great question! lets take my memory of my sub-par bagel and cream cheese sandwich this morning. there were sights and sounds and smells associated with colored in with emotion that all recruit magnificently intricate corners of the brain associated with each. in this sense, we believe memories are "distributed" throughout the brain and certain brain areas like, say, the hippocampus are involved in processing memories and other areas like the amygdala can add emotional hue to it, but this is still conjecture! we know that damage to the hippocampus, for instance, can lead to profound amnesia, but what we hope to see in our lifetime is a full-fledged map of which areas (or to make it fancy, which "neural circuits") are the most important for memories in general

Lightergass9 karma

Hey man!

You say something about treating anxiety, what if the patient don't know what memory or if any memories are the cause of anxiety?

okaysteve135 karma

thanks so much for the Q! and i agree -- anxiety can be more of a state rather than a particular memory, and so scientists are doing a ton of work to try to find "circuits" in the brain that give rise to symptoms that, together, form the anxious state

StationaryEmergency9 karma


okaysteve1310 karma


niceguysfinishtheOJ8 karma

How do ethics play into the inevitable defense applications of these capabilities?

okaysteve1310 karma

ethics is a HUGE part of memory manipulation! my goal is to start this convo yday so that memory manipulation is done in a clinical setting as opposed to pull an inception or total recall. and the more we know about things like false memories too, the more we can educate jurors and society in general on the remarkable flexibility that our memories have!

carlsberg247 karma

The brain stores an incredible amount of information. How is it able to find the correct stored information among such a huge amount of data? For example, if I say the word "storm", it immediately evokes mental associations of images, sounds, personal experiences, movies we've seen and anything else that is tangentially (sometimes very tangentially, but still) related.

okaysteve136 karma

this is such a great point! i think it's amazing the brain can mentally time travel back to virtually any moment in the past (e.g. my DELICIOUS microwaved mac and cheese from last night) without breaking a sweat. we think areas like the hippocampus can help quickly find the "books" of memory that are stored throughout the brain but, as a hippocampus research and as much as i hate to say it, even the hippocampus itself isn't the center of the world :), so the answer almost certainly will be much more complicated!

Sansanvi6 karma

Is it possible for someone to entirely forget a rather traumatic experience? And if so, how does that work?

okaysteve134 karma

the idea of whether or not we fully forget is a FASCINATING one that i think is still unsolved! id like to think that we continue to find out effective ways to fully suppress the emotions associated with a traumatic experience (therapy, medicine, outside-the-box techniques), and thankfully it's an area of research full of brilliant researchers out there really pushing forwar!

slaymedaddy695 karma

College student here, what is the best study practice? What is the best way to study?

okaysteve1314 karma

great question! usually some of the best methods include really diving deeply into the material, doing so on a daily basis (rather than cramming), and getting a good night sleep / having a healthy lifestyle. the material basically has more glue to stick, and even though cramming can work for ace-ing a test, that method has way less glue in the brain to stick over time. i'd say to go over the material daily with little distractions, rest up, and (at least for me) making study guides that summarized the hardest points really helped! best of luck too!

liuxiaoyu5 karma

is it true that the more we memorized, the harder it would be for us to memorize more? Is there a limit to how much the brain can memorize? If there is, does the brain make 'space' by compressing less significant memories?

okaysteve1312 karma

great question! as of now, we have no idea what the bandwidth of the brain actually is, but my guess is 4 billion years of evolution gave us some pretty epic numbers to work with, and i'd say we don't really come close in a lifetime to filling up our brains. experience and how it is stored in the brain sometimes feels like a MAGICALLY infinite thing :)!

Letzter_Keks5 karma

How is it physichally possible that while decision-making we take so many memorys in account? How exactly can one imagine that memory is stored in the brain? The idea, that really complex memorys can all be stored in simple neurons of the brain is really hard to imagine for me.

okaysteve136 karma

fantastic question! when we think about it, we have 86 billion brain cells and almost 100 trillion connects, so our brain has really knotted itself over 4 billion years of evolution into something spectacular. somewhere in those numbers perhaps is the answer :)

IGnuGnat4 karma

I have had chronic migraines for decades. Many women say it's worse than giving birth; chronic means 3-5x weekly or more. I have found some meds that mostly work for the chronic pain but I still tend to avoid making social commitments and I plan everything with the possibility in mind that I could randomly be struck down with migraines; I'm afraid that one day the meds will stop working. I think I deal with the psychological issues of chronic pain better than most; I have some little mantras and I say things like: "i will not let the pain of yesterday taint the joy of today" "this too shall pass" Quality of life is made of quality of moments. I try to create as many quality moments as I can, and focus on those; I live in these moments and I try to forget the terrible moments. I am wondering if you have any sort of tips for people with chronic migraines or chronic pain?

okaysteve1311 karma

thank you so much for sharing these experiences -- chronic migraines run in my family too, and so far the treatments have been pretty diverse, ranging from therapies to medicine to exercise to meditating. i wish i had a definitive answer but i can collect a list of what's worked for us too and DM it your way!

Valaseun3 karma

Are there any small daily tasks or habits that you can train yourself to do that will assist in retaining information?

okaysteve139 karma

a routine of exercise and good night's sleep! and of course training ourselves to focus on a particular task at hand which, as someone who is superglued to his iphone, is a lot easier said than done!

darthdent673 karma

I too am curious about trauma and memory. I myself played physical sports and did some jackass-esque stuff in my younger years and now I find with family I can’t always recall what they are talking about. I have a vague recollection of some of it but usually nothing solid as a memory. Is this common with head trauma. Or is it we create are own memories so what maybe important to my brother, is not to me, therefore I don’t retain the memory?

okaysteve133 karma

this is indeed common with head trauma (and im totally with you on jackass-ing my way through the younger years) and to be totally candid, how these memories can come and go is still a topic of intense research, especially with regards to any kind of brain injuries. my guess is that the brain can become slightly less able to have certain memories "stick" but, promisingly, the brain is super dynamic and flexible, or "plastic" which hopefully makes new avenues for treatments too!

TalkingBackAgain3 karma

Hello Steve, you’re my favourite neuro scientist! Do you believe bacteria in the gut have an influence on brain chemistry and would there be a pathway for treating certain pathologies by altering gut flora?

How far are we on the way to making a map of the brain that reliably pinpoints areas where we know certain functions of the brain to take place?

okaysteve134 karma

<aw shucks meme> thank you! and absolutely -- there's PHENOM work happening on the gut microbiome and how it can heavily influence activity in the brain in terms of firing patterns, neuromodulators, the works! the body and brain really can be communicative bffs (or frenemies sometimes). and i have my fingers crossed we'll see at least a few maps in our lifetime because there's too many dedicated scientists working on the exact problem.

boostedjg2 karma

Hi Steve, thanks for doing this AMA!

My girlfriend is taking your class right now and absolutely loves it. What do you value about the teaching experience and how does it supplement the other parts of your career?

okaysteve134 karma

thanks so much to you both for the question and kind words :)! teaching for me has been the kind of adrenaline-filled roller coaster i never wanna get off of -- it helps me frame neuroscience in a way that never loses the big picture, it helps me really wear myself on my sleeves to the students and humanize the triumphs and challenges of a career in science and, above all, it gives us an excuse to have donuts during review sessions :D! to me, i tell others profs this is my personal standard: your students are paying 50K+ a year at the university, and imagine you have a class of 30 students, then you had better teach a class worthy of $1,500,000 or youre not doing your job properly. it's a high bar but an ideal worth striving towards!

DiManes2 karma

What a fascinating field of study! Here's a few silly questions I have:

- Is creating fake memories via having a subject watch a video or participate in a reenactment in a drug induced state, then reinforcing that memory socially later on, realistic? (a la The Manchurian Candidate) That seems like an interesting thought experiment.

- Is conditioning a good way to manipulate memory? For instance, if we were in a car crash, we might spend five minutes in a car every day eating a candy bar in order to re-associate that space with pleasure. Anecdotally, that seems to work somewhat from what I've seen. Or no?

okaysteve132 karma

silly questions are the best questions imho bc they open up endless creativity! there's "state-dependent learning" where our particular mental state (say, while on some kind of drug) can influence when we subsequently recall that memory (e.g. when we're back in that state). it's like what happened to bucky barnes in captain america civil war. also, conditioning as a fantastic example of how people and animals can learn to form associations and then how to subsequently manipulate those associations (e.g. through re-experiencing those memories literally in person or mentally), which no doubt can affect them!

jseego2 karma

Are you (or anyone else in your field) worried at all about the ethical effects of developing this technology? With privacy already eroding in our world, the right to the privacy of one's own thoughts should be a human right. Is anyone exploring what would happen if the technology you (and others) are working on were ever to be weaponized or put into the wrong hands? Is there some kind of ethical guideline or hippocratic oath for people working on memory and thought?

okaysteve132 karma

thank you so much for the SUPER important question! my hope is that if this kind of work ever reaches humans, it informs us on how to treat disorders of the brain in a clinical setting, like a doctor would give a patient some drug-based treatments based on a particular disorders, as opposed to for recreational use. i'm totally on board with you on setting up a social and legal infrastructure (like with drugs) to use these responsibly and ethically.

HandRailSuicide12 karma

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that much of long term memory is reconstructive. Schema/storyline consistent info is consolidated even if it did not actually occur.

This means that most memories change over time (and our childhood memories that we cherish so much may be inaccurate).

Does this also mean that if someone’s story remains unwaveringly steady over time, they’re most likely lying?

okaysteve133 karma

hello! so one theory is that all memories are reconstructive, and of course some are more or less malleable than others, which leads to the irony that the memories that we recall the least are the ones that perhaps are the most accurate representations of the past (this is what keeps me up at night)

91gtabird2 karma

Do you see the dangers of eliminating bad memory's? We learn from our mistakes and teach ourselves how to prevent harm to ourselves and others from memory's. Isn't an experience and a memory the same thing? I understand worst case scenarios but what stops us from devolving into a real life dystopian future of "no bad memories ever"?

okaysteve132 karma

absolutely! this was the moral i took away from eternal sunshine, and i'd personally rather see this used in a clinical setting in the future and done in a way where a person's identity isn't fundamentally changed too. so totally agreed -- dystopian would be bad, but in a medicinal case hopefully helpful! the same way that a doctor wouldn't just give out an anti-depressant to the population of boston, hopefully future doctors would administer memory manipulation to those who need it most

rabbitearz932 karma

How has being involved with NatGeo impacted your career? Do you have a favorite moment or experience that stands out?

full disclosure: I work at NatGeo, but my fandom extends beyond that connection :)

okaysteve134 karma

natgeo was such a game-changer for me -- the feeling of becoming part of such an optimistic community full of grit and solidarity honestly refueled my proactive and optimistic approach on the world to infinity. every single person inspired me and made me want to get back to lab to continue doing our work so that, collectively, our communities of scientists and explorers can continue to make the unknown known and change the world for the better. i use to think the latter was lofty, but a single day at natgeo made it not just tractable, but within reach too.

my favorite moment without a doubt: the explorer's festival each year and watching each explorer give an update on their work. i well up every CLAPS single CLAPS time

AlexTheBrown1 karma

What was your route to getting to your PhD? I am a sport science grad about to go into a MSc in neuroscience with a particular interest in neurorehabilitation using Haptic devices. Any advice?

okaysteve132 karma

absolutely! the biggest thing i did that helped was dive into research and try to get as much hands-on experience as possible, as well as asking nonstop questions (just like this!) to those around me that followed a similar trajectory. trust me, imposter syndrome was and is SO REAL throughout, but having the support and input from those around me that followed a path i could potentially go down really help. my particular route was getting into a lab, really experiencing science from within to see how good the great days were and how blah the stressful days were, and all in between. after college, i decided to apply to phd programs and basically shot my shot with schools everywhere and was hoping my research experience was the foot in the door, which that -- along with reaching out to potential mentors -- thankfully did the trick! happy to send any more advice your way too with career specifics bc #solidarity

OhNos_NotThatGuy1 karma

Erasing memories, inception, planting memories...What made you want to pursue a career in super-villainy?

okaysteve132 karma

hahah <evil laughter> naw but in all seriousness, i like to see the field as a way to understand how memory works and what happens when it breaks down, and then ideally to reverse the latter! the career consists of working with a team that fully admire and am lucky to call my homies, on asking questions for a living, on making any excuse to have a coffee and slash or pizza, and on working with the larger neuroscience community to solve all things brain :)

ravangarch1 karma

Hi! How do you erase memories? Is it just temporary? Where did you learn that?

okaysteve132 karma

helloooo! the idea is to try to find brain cells that hold on to a memory, trick those brain cells to respond to some artificial intervention (this can be a drug, or light by using techniques like "opto-genetics", and many more!), and then use that artificial intervention to shut those brain cells off. it can be temporary or long-lasting! and the field of memory research is beautifully enormous, so we're all standing on each other's shoulders to make these experiments possible! i happened to become part of it throughout graduate school

heavynewboern1 karma

Hey Steve. Does the feeling of a Déjà Vu connect to memories in any way?

okaysteve131 karma

oh man this is still an unsolved mystery of the brain in my opinion! it could be that there's a slight misfiring where you feel like you've been somewhere even though you haven't, but perhaps your brain is quickly associating it with a previous memory but without connecting to a "feeling of certainty" -- totally just a guess!