Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Remembering is just a great trick of the mind..."

The title of this post comes from a great book for young teens called Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. In the book, two misfits find each other, go on quests, encounter danger . . . basically all the motifs of American fiction you'd find in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . But it's new, and fresh, and, at least for boys, it's a great read.

Anyway, one of the main characters, Freak, tells his friend, Max, that "Remembering is just a great trick of the mind, and if you try hard enough, you can remember just about anything." I've always found that interesting, especially given that eyewitness testimony can sometimes be unreliable for just this very reason.

So here's the hard segue into today's topic--human memory. In terms of science, you really can't beat the lab of the modern neuroscientist for a place to find people searching for the holy grail of human existence, at least in a biological sense. What is consciousness? How do we recognize faces? Why do we react to music so profoundly? Such marvelous questions and all the study focused on this grapefruit sized organ encased in our skulls. You'll do yourself a world of good if you read this series of four articles from the LA Times.


Lorelai said...

At least I'm aware that my memory is unreliable, damn it.

(It says Lorelai, but really it's Angela.)

P.S. If mild profanity is unacceptable, please let me know.

symbot said...

Fascinating. Another strike against dualism. And my mom, whose family has a history of Alzheimers, would find this unbelievably promising.

Naturally, a speculative question opens up. The fact that the brain has an active mechanism for forgetting is especially interesting. It sheds an ominous light on the idea of perfect (i.e. digital) memory... what if a person's supply of adenosine was suddenly cut off, and they could remember everything they had ever experienced? Would they undergo a complete mental breakdown? Would they become the ultimate destructive or non-functional genius?

And what would happen if we built an intelligent system, like a computer, that had perfect comprehensive method of long-term storage? Would it be Skynet? Is forgetfulness the Pandora's Box of our brains, keeping us from going totally insane?

Science wins. Science fiction comes in a close second.