‘The time-travelling brain’: how we remember the past and imagine the future

Associate Professor Muireann Irish, School of Psychology and Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia 2017 Paul Bourke Lecture

Co-presented with the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science, and the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney

16 May, 2017

Humans possess the extraordinary capacity to mentally travel back and forth in subjective time. This allows us to relive personally defining events from our past in exquisite detail, and to mentally project ourselves forwards in time to envisage the future. The relative ease with which we engage in these feats of mental time travel belies their inherent complexity.

Neurodegenerative disorders offer a compelling view of human memory, allowing us to glimpse how distinct neural networks break down in a systematic and coordinated fashion.

In this talk, Professor Irish will present an overview of her work exploring autobiographical memory and future thinking across various dementia syndromes. She will highlight the cognitive mechanisms and neural networks that need to be functional to support these sophisticated cognitive processes and the devastating effects of losing these uniquely human functions.


Muireann Irish

Associate Professor Muireann Irish is an ARC Future Fellow at the School of Psychology and the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney. Muireann has a longstanding interest in the brain networks that support uniquely human functions such as remembering the past and imagining the future. Her research program aims to delineate how these processes break down in dementia to inform our understanding of the cognitive architecture of memory.

The quality of Muireann’s research has been recognised in a series of awards including a NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award (2014), the Laird Cermak Award for Outstanding Research in Memory from the International Neuropsychological Society (2013), and a L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship (2015). Most recently, she was awarded the 2016 NSW Premier’s Prize for Science and Engineering Early Career Researcher of the Year, and was one of 15 women worldwide to be awarded the 2017 L’Oreal-UNESCO International Rising Talent award.