Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hell hath no fury like a perfect memory...

One of my co-bloggers was recently worrying about what he feared was a declining memory. But what would it be like to remember every little detail of your life? And is "perfect memory" actually an inability to remember certain kinds of ideas?

The Frontal Cortex : Hell is a Perfect Memory


Charles Henry said...

In addition to good memories, every angry word, every mistake, every disappointment, every shock and every moment of pain goes unforgotten.

Interesting that, faced with the choice of celebrating the good memories or regretting the bad, the article makes it seem like she focuses on the bad memories.

No matter what, we seemed wired to struggle to appreciate the good that blesses our lives.

Wouldn't she also have perfect recall of the romance of her first love, the joy of her first pet, the satisfaction of her biggest accomplishments.... many accumulated pleasant memories, at equal reach to the lingering bad memories?

I don't mean to make this observation from some lofty perch; I see my own propensity for ingratitude when I read the linked article. Maybe I'm even mistaking my bad habits for hers...

Thanks for this timely lesson in learning to see the good as well as the bad, that even when all things are equal, as presumably they come close to being when you have "perfect recall", that it's still usually a choice to be happy, it often requires an act of will to see the good in life.

It's just not equally easy a choice as settling on seeing only the bad.

Dag said...

I wonder if you're conflating memory with recall. My guess is that recall is an activity once chooses, and that memory comes unbidden, the stronger the memory the more unlikely it would be to stay hidden in the murk of a life-time. If the forgotten is never possible, then the memorable will be around eternally, forever a torment, driving out all but the bidden, however possible that might be in active, aggressively sought out and defensively secured moments. A scent, a sound, a flutter of the leaves in the breeze, and all of memory could come rushing in like a tidal wave, taking with it any good thoughts one might have been contemplating unwary. Who'd know? I forget as much as I can.

Dag said...

Here, by coincidence, as they say, is some from a book I am currently involved in:

Phyicist Freeman Dyson and others have reanalysed the physics of intelligent life coping in a dying universe. Can ingenious ways, they ask, be found for intelligent life ot survive even as temperatures drop near absolute zero"


In Dyson's original work, he assumed that the 2.7 degree microwave radiation in the univrse would continue to drop indefinitely, so intelligent beings might extract usable work from thse tiny temperature differences. As ong as the temperature continued to drop, usable worrk could always be extracted.


{In the 1980s, it was found that certain quantum systems, such as the Browning motion in a fluid, can serve as the basis of a [disembodied Human] computer, regardless of how cold the temperature is outside. So even as the temperatures plunge, these computers can still compute by using less and less energy. This was good news to Dyson. But there was a catch. The system must satisfy two conditions: it must remain in equilibrium with its environment, and it must never discard information. But if the universe expands, equilibrium is impossible, because radiation gets diluted and stretched in it wavelength. An accelerating universe changes too rapidly for the system to reach equilibrium. And second, the requirement that it never discard information means that an intelligent being must never forget. Eventually, an intelligent being, unable to discard old memories, might find itself reliving old memories over and over again. "Eternity would be a prison, rather than an endlessly receding horizon of creativity and exploration. It might be nirvana, but would it be living?

Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds. New York; Anchor Books; 2006, pp. 300-302.

Happy for me, I can forget Nietzsche as often as I choose.

truepeers said...

No matter what, we seemed wired to struggle to appreciate the good that blesses our lives.

-I don't think it's a question of our biological wiring; it is rather a question of how culture works. Soft-wired culture emerges in public events that prove memorable and conducive to forms of institutionalization. These events that take the form of conflict eventually leading to a moment of transcendence and consciousness of love and beauty, have stages; and the bad and good memories we have refer to different stages of the event, just as a movie with a happy ending has lots of struggle before the ending. And since these stages cannot occupy our minds' time equally, it is a mistake to think of good and bad times as symmetrical, equally balanced. The good is usually of shorter duration; and the bad is full of a piercing fear or anxiety that leaves marks on the memory in ways different than the more subtle and mysterious good times.

So there is an imbalance between the time that our lives must be concerned with human conflicts and the time that we win for transcendence. Of course some people, like say Buddhist monks or good bloggers, can organize their lives to spend more time dwelling on the transcendent, but the majority of social energy is inevitably focussed on the problem of our conflicting desires. What's more, the more primitive forms of transcendence are not necessarily experienced as "good times" today, but as simply relief that the bad has past, or as ritualistic piety out of fear of going back to bad times. In contrast with children, or many adults, who are often concerned with whatever can mark them out for humiliation before the group, our minds really have to be trained to learn about and focus on the subtler beauties and loves. When grandparents are going out of their way to spoil the grand kids, they are doing this because they see how many moments of conflict and bad emotions there are to mediate.

Keep in mind that what structures our minds as individuals, the form and content of culture, is derived from what first began as public, shared, scenes. Today, we can have an experience of a rather private love with another person; but we experience that as somewhat subversive of the normal public culture. Christian tradition can validate romantic love, as it also makes sacred the individual, the Christian persona; but it really has to work at normalizing what is not really normal to our more primitive consciousness but is rather subversive of public culture and "love" for what all the community can share together as sacred. Whether the romantic couple steals away for a private kiss or flaunts it in public, they know that they are finding meaning in a relationship that is of a type different from that in which our shared cultural meanings normally reside. I think many of our "good times" are similarly subversive and so we cannot expect them to be operating on the same level as our bad times.

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