“Engram” – When I’m wrong, I admit it.

For as long as I can remember, when I have introduced students to the concept of the “engram,” or “memory-trace”–the change in the nervous system that encodes a memory–I have told them that the word was coined by Karl Lashley. Lashley spent a career, well over 30 years, searching for the engram, an effort described in one of his later papers, The Search for the Engram (1950), in which he famously concluded (with tongue firmly implanted in cheek) that “learning just is not possible.” Basically, he was unable to find the engram.

I learned at the recent meeting of the Pavlovian Society that I have been wrong for all these years. The term “engram” was coined by Richard Semon, an evolutionary biologist and physiologist. His work is little known, as are most of the other memory-relates words that he coined, but “engram” is still going strong.

Apologies to the many students I have misled.

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