What have we learned about the engram?

Jonathan Najenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The discovery of the engram, the physical substrate of memory, is a central challenge for the sciences of memory. Following the application of optogenetics to the neurobiological study of memory, scientists and philosophers claim that the engram has been found. In this paper, I evaluate the implications of applying optogenetic tools to the localization of the engram. I argue that conceptions of engram localization need to be revised to be made consistent with optogenetic studies of the engram. I distinguish between challenges to vehicle and content localization. First, I consider the silent engram hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, optogenetic studies indicate that synaptic efficacy, the traditional engram-bearing vehicle, is important merely for retrieval. I argue that this interpretation rests upon a misunderstanding of accessibility. Second, I argue that optogenetic-based strategies and findings conflict with preservationist and constructivist views on memory storage. There is an enduring trace, but stored content may change over time and experience, resulting in doubt about what constitutes a single engram.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9581-9601
Number of pages21
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Amnesia
  • Engram
  • Information
  • Memory
  • Memory trace
  • Neuroscience
  • Optogenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Social Sciences (all)


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