If we are our memories, what happens to us if we lose it? A small moment or a lifetime?
We use the terms ‘remember’ and ‘forget’ with as much casualness as the breath we take. With The Book Of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz, we can dwell a bit longer.
Memory is a function of how our brain encodes, stores and retrieves information.
And all three functions are subject to corruption.
Stimuli that messes with the amount and manner of information stored, physical or neurological damage to where we store these memories, and time that can decay the stored information.
In light of this, if we are our memories, how easy or difficult is it, to be us?
And to remain as ‘ourselves’?
Or, is it in fact the opposite – as the book quotes from
Jorge Luis Borges’ ‘Funes The Memorious’ …
This is Cecilia Ruiz’s first, and what a first. A delicate, vignette style of story-telling, in illustrations and words, that stays with us longer than we would imagine.
Each character has not more than four lines to them, and so hauntingly deep is their story, it puts us to shame on not knowing the art of using words this beautifully.
To say nothing of the imagination.
The book covers memory-afflictions from commonplace forgetfulness, to neurological disorders, to physical damage-triggered afflictions, to conditions where memory is extraordinarily active (hypermnesia).
Clinical as the above descriptions sound, when combined with the character and their life, it’s a mixture of trying to imagine life, and what would have been,
if it were not for this memory gap.
A woman who forgets faces but remembers scents, so makes perfumes for her loved ones, to recognise that a loved one is near. A boy who has memory to remember
an exact tune of a bird, to hum on lonely days.
Do you recall a favourite memory often, to ‘relive’ it once more, in your mind?
Now, what if we knew that no memory is real? Every time we recall it, it is altered, corrupted, until it is mostly or entirely changed from the original.
Neuroscientist Daniella Schiller, of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, says that memories are slightly altered / reconstructed when recalled. This slightly altered memory is stored back as real, and will be further altered when recalled again.
To put it straight, if we recall a memory often, we have changed it. And the most unchanged ones are the ones we aren’t trying to remember.
That’s just fascinating and scary.
So, that moment / person we remember… how much do we really remember?
And how much is a projection of what we wish for that moment / person to be?
Factors that contribute to memory change include the environment we are in, and also the mood we are in. And once that memory is altered, our feelings for it also alter.
“If you remember something in the context of a new environment or time, or if you are in a different mood, your memories might integrate the new information.”, says Donna Bridge, who has authored a paper on the study in the Journal of Neuroscience.
In this ever-changing scene of memory, and its inevitable gaps,
where do we stand?
Schiller, in her work, concludes, “Memory is what we are today. Who we are today.”
If we are not so much our recollections, as much as our present-day selves…
does knowing that help in how we evaluate our feelings for people, situations,
and hence, also decisions?
Outside of memory afflictions, what does that mean?
That none of us is free of memory gaps. The extent and its effect
will vary from you to me.
The author quotes from Jorge Luis Borges:
Our memories are altered, greatly or minutely, by the person we are today.
And we ourselves are being altered constantly by time.
That makes memory the gap between our self, and who we remember ourselves to be.
“Memory is the thing you forget with.”
– Alexander Chase, Perspectives, 1966