Unfortunately, in life outside Back to the Future, we do not yet have the option of time travel. The closest thing we have at the moment is mental time travel. As humans, we have the ability to let our minds wander back in time to an experience of our choice, whether it be thirty years, or thirty minutes.
The ability to remember a particular event or episode (so-called ‘episodic memory’) is not the only type of memory we have. We also have memory of facts of the world, for example, ‘the sky is blue’, or ‘Jack Bauer is a hard man’, without having a specific episode in mind – we just seem to know it.
Episodic memory is considered to be a key aspect of our consciousness. Indeed we find it difficult to imagine being ourselves without our personal memories. This topic has not only captivated philosophers and science fiction writers; it is also a large field in science. One area has been to try and learn whether other animals apart from humans have memories of past events in their lives. Apart from it being an interesting question in itself, knowing this could help us better appreciate human episodic memory, and aid our understanding of diseases which affect it (like Alzheimer’s).
But how do we go about finding out if other animals remember events from their past?