2017 William James Fellow

Daniel L. Schacter

Harvard University

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In the course of his illustrious career, Daniel Schacter has changed the way we think about memory. He has taught us that memory is not one thing but many things, and that the “memories we cannot remember” are among the most important and most powerful.

Schacter has demonstrated that the errors and illusions to which memory is prone are windows to its constructive nature, and that the reasons memory works are also the reasons that it fails. He has taught us that the mind preserves the past in order to imagine the future, and that the cognitive and neural mechanisms that allow us to revisit our yesterdays are the mechanisms that allow us to pre-visit our tomorrows. From his rigorous priming experiments to his case studies of amnesiac patients to his pioneering use of neuroimaging, Schacter has spent 35 years replacing myth with fact and mystery with knowledge.

William James wrote: “The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion.” Memory is what keeps our lives from disappearing completely, and Daniel Schacter’s seminal scientific discoveries have revolutionized our understanding of this essential human faculty.