Saturday, October 13, 2007

Connections and Thoughts

The recent chapter, in LeDoux's The Synaptic Self, "The Mind Trilogy" has helped me to understand Floyd Skloot's situation a little better. I was a bit confused about the "Working Memory" but now I understand it's almost a "temporary memory storage" that allows us to complete the immediate problem put before us in a task-by-task sequential basis. From this I know understand that the reason why Skloot would get lost or confused in the middle of performing a simple exploit is because there was some sort of deficit in his working memory. Clearly Skloot's mother had more severe issues with this, as she would often (exhaustively) ask the same questions and repeat the same statements within seconds.

It is apparent that in "The Missing World" Hazel's working memory is mostly functioning and her largest impairment is in her declarative memory. I do find interesting the consistencies between the fictional account of Hazel and the empirical account of Skloot. Hazel also mentions the "shadows of memory"-- the essence of things you remembered-- knowing you once knew something, but not being able to recall the actual thing. I often wonder if this is an implicit function. Hazel got the "sense" things weren't right, that Johnathan's account of what had happened was off. Could this be a tactic developed by the brain, that in the event the brain cannot remember, we still can get a "feel" for what we had once "known" as means of self-preservation?

Charlotte's discussion of pondering whether or not it's best to forget certain things caused me to remember S. who had to train himself to forget and Skloot who discusses how it is necessary for the brain to discard "useless information" and how this process can run rampant causing us to forget "everything". This reminded me of the discussion we had in class about pharmaceutical pills used to suppress traumatic events in ones life. This got me thinking, if our memory makes us who we are, when we suppress certain memories we are actually shaping who we are. I wonder if, we can use these sort of suppressants as a means of artificial selection. Of course it would be unethical to dictate what a person should and should not remember from birth, we clearly see this through Johnathan. Obviously his plan backfired because of the blatant lying, lack of understand of memory and outside interferences. But in an isolated situation it would be interesting to see the results.


Molly said...

Memories make us who we are. So you are comparing Hazel's loss of memory with Johnathan's attempt to keep our certain events that happened, to say this would only successfully work if it were done in an isolated environment. That environment would just have to be the people around the subject not willing to tell the truth. The interest thing about memory is it is such an domino effect. Hazel remembered something else by remembering the fact that she would have had a desk if she was a journalist. She would have made an account of not only the things going on in the world, but the things happening in her life.

When LeDoux talks about working memory it helps to explain things, like phone numbers. Like he said it's so interesting that our minds can only really comprehend 7 things at a time, whether it be words or objects, and phone numbers just happen to have 7 digits. At the end of the essays on Skloot, he creates an ability to accept his mother for who she is at the present time, and he makes an effort to see the contrasts in the abusive, angry woman she was to this pleasant senile old lady who everyone says is well behaved and a hoot. This just proves that no matter how effected Skloot's memory has been, he has the ability to forgive, which is incredible, especially in the state that the mother treated him.

Molly said...

I think it is good to read all three of these different texts together. Putting aside the repetition and the vivid descriptions of situations. This must be it, right? For people who are senile, things may appear the same, but improvements are taking place everyday. Like when Lilian starts to remember nursery rhymes and develops a stable repetoire for songs she sang and roles she played in musicals years before. This is progress.
Lucky for Hazel she knew that Johnathan's behavior was troubling, that there was something beastly about him, but in a way it is a metaphor for how drastic and dramatic ones memory being stolen feels like. It must be like being robbed of freedom, holding one captive without their permission.
LeDoux describes that we need these certain memory processes for a reason, so that we can obtain what is on the menu while listening to the waiter spout of the specials and drinks, these are parts of our memory, aspects of our self that cannot be toyed with.
Although it is frustrating for the reader that Skloot has to repeat the many times he has to tell his mother he is her son, and he is in fact married to Beverley for 9 years, think of how hard it must be to write. He is suppressing many things in writing and not writing, and there are the good days, the days that are accounted for, think of every other day.I couldn't imagine. Also, no one lets go of their parents or the affect they have over them. It is a relationship that is cemented from birth until death even when people don't talk about it, it doesn't mean it isn't there.
When LeDoux writes about consciousness he is referring it to language, these illnesses are different languages, foreign in their own right and even the people affected by them, speak different dialects. Senility is so different from even what Skloot is going through, misplacing the coffee in the bread box. No one will ever speak the exact same language in the exact same way, but maybe the more we can learn to listen, the better our response will be.

Stephanie said...

I have been asking the same question about why the brain "senses" something it cannot consciously know. I assume that it is because of implicit memory, but I read a book for conference that explained that the reason the mind often cannot consciously recall traumatic events is because the amygdala is not connected to conscious awareness. This confuses me more, though, because we also recall more vivid details of situations in which we were afraid. There is an evolutionary advantage to this. The only explanation I can come up with is that the memory fades in our consciousness if we don't voluntary recall it. So if a memory has been consciously considered, time and time again, there will be a link between the explicit and implicit memory. But if it happened, made its way to the amygdala, and then was consciously forgotten about, it would never resurface on a conscious level. This still doesn't explain one thing - don't we obsess over unpleasant things because, like I said earlier, it was once an evolutionary advantage? So why are certain unpleasant things forgotten about and others obsessed over?

I am rambling here, and I apologize. It's interesting to read about how memory works as I am struggling to recall vital things from all of the LeDoux reading, and then to incorporate this new information with the readings each week. I definitely feel like the LeDoux reading is the missing piece in the puzzle that sheds so much light on why Hazel or Skloot or his mother or whoever we're reading about behaves the way they do. Unfortunately, due to the unreliability of memory (that we're all reading about), certain things are becoming muddy and tangled up in my mind - maybe because the synapses were firing all at once and now associate with each other?

This is related, and I found it fun: