Blank Minds

I have nothing to say today. Really. My mind is blank or filled with things that aren’t for public consumption. But then that makes me think of minds and our ephemeral memories. We are, in essence, made up of memory, which temporally places us between past and future.

I wrote about memory once when I was writing a column for, a now defunct online magazine caught in the apocalypse of the dotcom fall. Memory is what defines us. Beyond the personality imprint of birth, we begin to remember things, who our parents are, what we like to eat, what feels good, how to walk and talk.

But memory is an odd beast. We could all watch an event; a soccer game, a murder, a birth, a celebration, and everyone would remember it differently. One person might be more attracted to pattern over color, or auditory over visual. How important an event is will also color how well or long we remember it. It is the biggest problems with witnesses for criminal cases. People remember different things and remember them differently because the mind can start to extrapolate and problem solve.

So when I remember December and holidays, I don’t remember each year’s specific holiday nor the ones of the childhood. I remember a particularly good or bad one but couldn’t tell you which year it was. I remember the overall feeling I would get from Christmas and it will be broken into atmosphere, the tree and gifts, and the family and friends and whether overall, people got along or the times were horrid. I’ll remember the taste of turkey but not necessarily a particular turkey. In essence, my mind files all Christmases in the same folder with post-it notes on the truly significant ones.

Therefore memory isn’t accurate while at the same time it is. It isn’t accurate as to chronology, linear sequences or even all details. (I remember you saying this but in fact you remember differently.) It is accurate in context to the person and what is significant. Though, haven’t we all tried to remember something important or where did I put the keys and we cannot remember. Memory is faulty. Datafiles become corrupted. I find too that time affects memory. The sheer distance of hours to an event will have the details fade to only the most important ones.

If we could truly be immortal, how much would we remember? Would we only remember about a hundred years worth of stuff and get vaguer and vaguer ideas of our own histories? I remember being in Byzantium. Well I think I do. I remember the age, or did I just dream that? Barring Alzheimer’s or other conditions that impair memory it might just be that we won’t remember much that isn’t in the most recent two centuries.

Without memory we would have to relearn everything every day and society would remain rudimentary at best. Yet even animals have memory and some of it is ancestral memory, or what we call instincts. It varies by species but in fact no creature could exist long without memory, beyond a simple cell. And without memory I wouldn’t be writing on this blog.

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Filed under Culture, environment, history, life, memories, people

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