Sunday, 14 May 2017

Long-term memory, awareness and identity

Deep memory - when memories from the distant past metamorphose into something more than synapses and neurons, taking on a supernatural quality - remains something beyond the ability of science to explain. Spiritual memory indeed.

I'm at my father's. It's May - the month we moved into our house on Cleveland Road back in 1970. My memories of the house, the garden, the nearby park are deep-rooted; not the short-term memories of the things I did, the people I met, last week - but memories that are an integral part of who I am. Looking across Cleveland Park up towards Cleveland Road in the afternoon sunshine as a 12 year old, triggered memories of summer holidays in Eastbourne and on the Isle of Wight... beyond the row of houses, the shimmering sea. Spirit of place. Below: the low evening sun illuminates houses to the east of Cleveland Park with a passing raincloud in the background.

And eating a punnet of blackberries this morning takes me back to childhood trips to Oxshott Common, where the blackberries grow in profusion in the autumn. Sunlight triggers those deep memories; emotions are more profound when rays from the Sun, 93 million miles away, agitate the visual cortex.

Short-term memory is believed to reside in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, while long-term memory could be stored by DNA methylation or even by prions. Science just doesn't know, let alone begin to explain how our consciousness functions.

But in the meanwhile, our consciousness abides.

To be aware is to be purposefully observant; to quote Jonathan Wood, "consciousness is about searching." At the heart of awareness lies a sense of purpose and understanding - your knowledge evolves, blossoms, expands, your consciousness takes on a many-layered structure. To be aware - to search, to be curious, put your ego - that most manifest representation of 'you' - in the back seat.

The promotion of the ego, the glorification of gratification promoted by the lifestyle advertising that bombards us from all sides, distracting us from the deep search for meaning of our universe. From our own personal perspective, the entire universe seems to have been put into place with ourselves at its epicentre. If it were not for us to observe it, would it even exist? Can you be sure? Because as individuals, in the grand scheme of things, we are insignificant. The existence of an incalculable number of stars that make up our universe puts into perspective our day-to-day troubles.  We need to set the sliders, to balance those two entirely contradictory positions.

We believe ourselves to be unique, and of course we are. But consequential? What is the source of our uniqueness - spiritual? Evolutionary? Extraterrestrial? All three? Extraterrestrial origins? Where do you think the heavier elements in your body have come from? The atoms of which we are made were originally created by fusion within stars light years from here, billions of years ago... "The stuff of life that knit me/Blew hither: here am I," as A.E. Housman wrote.

He we are. Some of us are aware of this fact, most of us, sadly, not. Who am I? The very essence of my identity reside within the long-term memories that remind me where I'm from.

This time last year:
Language and politics

This time two years ago:
Trafalgar Square, then and now

This time four years ago:
GM's city car for Europe fails to wow me

This time five years ago:
A biblical sky

This time seven years ago:
The parable of the Iron-Filings Factory

This time ten years ago:
Got to get ourselves back to the Garden

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pure spiritual bliss - memory is our purest DNA

Frater Wordclock