Memory Musing: My Brain's Functioning Just Fine (Alternative Title: Don't Lose your Keys)

in #writing2 years ago (edited)

In order for one to have a healthy memory, one must also be able to forget.

The goal of the memory is not to transmit accurate information across time, but to optimise intelligent decision making by letting go of what isn't important, and holding onto what is, according to this study. They found that without forgetting irrelevant details and focussing on real world, real time decisions, we may become more adaptable and flexible, letting go of outdated and possibily misleading information, such as the phone number you recall from the house you lived in twenty years ago. As the hippocampus helps with learning new things, old things get overwritten and are harder to access. That can be a good thing - a survival, evolutionary mechanism that helps with real time decision making.

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Memories, of course, can be crippling, as any one who holds onto the past must know:

My house of memories
Is all I own
I live in misery
Now that you're gone
A constant reminder
Of what used to be
Is torturing me
In my house of memories
Merle Haggard

Holding onto the exact memories of the lover that left you or who won the tennis championships in 1986 is not going to help you with real life. Besides, we have to allow the cup of water that is our brain to overflow, lest it stagnate or not retain new information that's going to be useful for us. Patient H.M (named upon his death as Henry Gustav Molaison), having lost his hippocampus due to a brain surgery for epilepsy, could not make new memories, only go over old ones - this is something we find desperately sad.

From the age of 27 to his death at 82, he was studied by a team of neuroscientists who learnt more about memory function from this guy than ever before. His profound amnesia taught us how memory functions. He could remember his childhood and the stock market crash of 1929, but he couldn't remember anything in the few years leading up to the surgery. Having severe anterograde amnesia meant that he couldn't form new memories, and he poignantly described it as:

'like waking from a dream...every day is alone in itself'

Scientists learned through Patient H.M that memory is held in different parts of the brain. For example, Henry may not remember having learnt a task, but each time he performed it, his performance improved. We can learn new motor skills just be repeated practice, even if we might not consciously remember them. The discovery that we have multiple systems for memory located in different parts of the brain.

Clearly, memory is a complex thing. To say 'honey, you're so forgetful doesn't really tell us much about what is going on in our brains when we 'forget' something.

The fact that I lost the car keys two weeks ago is a case in point. Stress, for example, impacts on memory:

The other thing that happens during stress is the activation of the anterior pituitary gland’s release of ACTH, which in turn activates another part of the adrenal gland to dump cortisol into the bloodstream. In the short term, cortisol can have many beneficial effects for combatting stress, such as mobilizing white blood cells and enhancing the immune system. But cortisol binds to cells in the brain’s hippocampus, the area that converts new experiences into memory. This binding actually disrupts the memory-forming process. Ultimately, if stress continues, the synaptic regions deteriorate, making the impairment permanent - cc Psychology Today

Deep in stressful work mode and hyper anxious times, the increased cortisol in my system stops me remembering what I'm doing. I haven't forgotten because I'm stressed - I just did not really form a memory about what was happening around the event I was supposed to remember, like the fact I'd slid the car keys in the insulated bag we'd taken to the beach for a picnic after a surf last week. I have to make sure that I actively try to retrieve the information, for example, saying: 'I am putting the car keys in the bag' three times may have helped me recall it later, because it means I'll have better encoding. Place the things I have to remember into a story, and I'm more likely to remember: mangos, coriander and tofu would be easily forgotten at the supermarket unless I had imagined wearing a hat of mangos, Carmen Miranda style, whilst slapping a mannequin made of tofu with a whip of coriander.

Furthermore, technology affects our memory. Consider the water analogy again. We're constantly pouring information into our glass water memories that some memories are bound to splash out. We simply fill up. We also might fail to pay attention because we are quickly flitting from one task to the text. We also can refuse to struggle to remember things (and therefore have a good imprinted, encoded memory function) because we know we don't have to - that information is already there, so what is the point in making an effort to remember it?

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This can have apocalyptic repercussions, as explored in the Nick Clarky Waldo's dystopian novel 'The Feed'. The prologue outlines a world about to crumble - not so different to this one. Tom tries to persuade his wife to switch off her Feed, where is she in a never ending feed of information and connection, augmented with everything about what one experiences in real life. Advertisements are quick codes which cause relevant ads to display when you look at them - a VR algorithmic nightmare for those of us that despite Google and Facebook for that reason. When the Feed goes down, chaos of course ensues. What struck me about this book was the struggle that characters had to remember - they never had to before. As all information is digitised, why remember a recipe, a book or how to do anything if you simply pull it up in your internal feed? Thus they must learn and retain the most basic of skills - how to light a fire, for example. The explorations of memory were the most fascinating element of this novel for me.

We all know the feeling of having all the tabs open in our browsers, and twenty billion passwords you haven't got a hope in remembering.

Somehow we have gone from four digit pins to streams of numbers so long that it hurts even thinking about them. Capital letters and exclamation marks confuse eight digit passwords you think you've memorised, and which darn email address did you use with that sign up? Some are pen and paper people - but I'd lose the pen and the paper. We can also get blindly confident that we had saved something when we hadn't. Thought we'd sent it to the email address we were going to save it, and placed an encryption on it and felt quite tech savvy and smug about it, only to realise that...'d lost the keys for your Whaleshares account.

And hence, my friends, whilst you should always pay attention. You might have twenty tabs open, and might be cocky enough to be able to downright crow that you've never lost a password for anything online before (which is a bit of a lie, because sometimes you do, but you have enough information to get back in again, like the street you grew up on or your first pet) and you might think it's safely on your clipboard - but you can never be sure.


Article Credits

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If you'd like to find me on whaleshares, my user name there is @riverflowing xx


Oh our memory, can be a fickle thing at times!
Good info about stress and the effects on memory. I'll have to remeber that when I'm feeling stress to repeat things or put them into a story so I can make a memory during times stress tends to block it.
I'm starting to think i need to use lists more as I think I can rembember something but as the day goes on and things start happening whatever it is i was suppose to rember is totally gone - zippo!
But then i have to remember my list! Ahh!

A: Lastpass is an excellent way of keepin' ALL dem keys (hasn't failed me once... over 90 unique logins, and one pass-phrase which is simply a bar of song lyrics from 1991)

B: This was an extremely painful article to read, as I have memory damage, and have trouble forming new ones... At times it has been so bad that I (later discovered) I was indexing new memories via tying them onto old ones.. somewhat like the concept of the "script-kiddie" who has one massive script that he just keeps tacking things onto again and again and again until it's so unwieldy that even this breaks down...

And it did.. a few years ago, while targeted by a con-artist who made heavy use of gaslighting techniques, I was living in a situation of such stress that I literally forgot what I was saying in mid-sentence once... and had to ask what the topic was. PTSD (which is very much the aftermath of a peculiar form of brain-injury) can lead to this sort of mismatched wiring, as it is literally a throwback mechanism to the days before reason, to our deep survival instincts and ancestral memories which; much to the chagrin of many people, remain written into our bones until this very day...

And let me say... those gaslighters are most unprepared for what happens when a victim reaches The Kingdom of Butterflies...

Thanks for the tip! I promise I'll get on it. I'm sorry that you found it painful to read. It's merely skimming the surface of how memory might work in various ways. I know what it feels like to stop mid sentence. When we go to that deep limbic brain stuff it's pure survival - the memories formed in the more rational, higher parts of our reasoning brain just don't come into it.

Wow, just read the Kingdom of Butterflies - thanks so much for putting me onto that beautiful piece of writing! What an extraordinary way you have with words. I just love your wriitng so much and so glad we met.

Nightmare, i did the same with my first steem account i though id screenshoted the password to write down later, only to realise the password is so long it filled the box... and i only screenshoted half of it 😣

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oh no! but you hadn't posted much had you? I had earnt a few whaleshares - lost forever now. Oh well.

Sorry to hear you lost those whale shares, thankfully i didnt do a single post or id of been upset... just had the shame of waiting another 2 weeks to get an account verified haha

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Having severe memory problems from Lyme disease, I'd think I would have a great one, as Lyme killed most of the old memories. But not so. Like @yestermorrow I have trouble making new memory or retrieving older info I use often. One of the reasons I appear so organized...

"Henry may not remember having learnt a task, but each time he performed it, his performance improved. We can learn new motor skills just be repeated practice, even if we might not consciously remember them. "

That is part of the organization, things in the same place always, so I return to the same place for them. It doesn't seem to require much thinking.

A very interesting post on memory....

Oh YES, and @porters, that's what I was going to advise you! I didn't know that Lyme did that, and now I see there's a real reason for your organisation. I make sure I try to do the same thing with J and I - the bowl by the kitchen for keys, for example, or the big blackboard for whenever we think "I need this" we reach for the chalk and write it down without thinking. It's about forming habits to make life easier. That's why I lost the car keys - knew they were in the house as the car was in the driveway! But I had put them in a very unusual spot, not where I'd normally go. I'm glad you remember to stop past and comment on my post, dear! I love your comments - always so thoughtful and interesting xxx

No way I'd forget to check my steemit feed! Too many interesting posts to read. :)) I have been known to forget to check my wallet for weeks at a time, but never the feed or replies. :))

Very true. This is one of the reasons that I began studying behavioural science, to learn how I might make greater use of Aunt Lili's Court (the limbic region) and muscle memory. There is SO MUCH more to our species than anyone imagines... It is a reason for great hope, in the darkest of times...

At least that's how I feel about it.

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Yeah, when it comes to forgetting, I will never forget what one of my psychology professors said in college: "If you were not able to forget, you would go insane". Our memories are very interesting when it comes to recollecting them, the ways we do it and how they impact us. Thank you for such a great text about them. Much love! 💚

Ohh there are times when certain memories just stick with us like a glue and sometimes you cannot even recollect something that may have happened just in the near past. I have seen these days that my dreams get stuck to me, I keep thinking of them even days after I have had it.
I had the habit of sticking on to my past which was not very pleasant, but after doing a lot of Let Go practices I feel I have been able to shed off quite a lot and with that I also feel much lighter in my mind.

it is really complex things, but I notice some one who eat much chemical thing will eventually cause the brain nerve works slower then the one who only eat healthy food. I pay good attention and comparing on the child who love unhealthy food to the one who is always bring the healthy food from home. The one who bring healthy food from home always have better result in exam. I no idea whether it has been scientifically evidence or not.

of course there is evidence for this. I love that you have observed it for yourself.

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