Friday, June 25, 2010

Speaking Tree, times of India, 26 june

Memory Holds The Door
Deepak Ranade, Jun 26, 2010, 12.00am IST


Tags:writer|Deepak RanadeNostalgia|consultant neurosurgeon

Nostalgia is often a pleasurable pain. But pain, nonetheless. Unpleasant memories could create bitterness while pleasant memories tend to fill one with happiness and a desire to relive the experience. Some perceive nostalgia as part of emotional baggage, and question its biological relevance.

From an anthropological standpoint, remembering where the waterholes were in a situation where the supply of water is never constant is a valuable memory input. Similarly, knowledge of the precise location of food sources is important when supply tends to fluctuate. As a recording device, memory provides vital information in trying situations. However, the bank is also filled with a wide-ranging mix of seemingly trivial and redundant data.

The colour of the dress your first date wore on that first day, the tears that coursed down your mother's cheeks after she'd spanked you and the fight you had with your classmate in school over jumping the queue these are all recorded somewhere in our memory bank. In fact, our identity and ego are but an aggregate of all recorded data. Individual identities take shape on the basis of all past events and feelings, experiences and situations that find place in a corner of the brain. Cognitive focus or concentration lends a criticality to this unique and biological data processing system.

Perception, too, plays a crucial role in this recording mechanism. What is assimilated and stored is an outcome of what is perceived. A pragmatic person may therefore not perceive an event in a complex way. If a pragmatic person's friend or colleague encountered him on the street and passed by without a greeting, such a person he would record it as an event, a megabyte of mere oversight. But someone with a more complex perception could interpret this as part of a grand conspiracy. His memory would record it not just as an event megabyte; it would perhaps be a gigabyte of associative emotional data.

Studies have shown that the most vivid autobiographical memories have been of emotional events rather than of any empirical or neutral event. Consciousness is the turntable that keeps rotating while ego is the pin that records grooves on the record. Memories are grooves made by ego on unformatted consciousness. Identity is consciousness formatted by the perceptive ego.

The sense of self as a discrete entity makes all awareness an interaction between self and environment. Interaction is all about duality. But in moments of extreme pleasure or thrill, there is no interaction; there is only a sense of being.

There is an invisible time zone between self and environment. The sense of discreteness disappears momentarily. In those fleeting moments, there is nothing to record. The present has no access to any data. In fact, the present is the moment just prior to the beginning of the process of recording. The dominant temporal lobe is the warehouse of all data. It is an integral part of the limbic system that is phylogenically the oldest in the evolution of the brain. It was linked with emotional responses required for survival and reproduction.

Considering that the limbic system is one of the oldest, all emotional augmenting of mundane events are perhaps vestiges of primitive behaviour, and so is not evolved. In this context, a patient suffering loss of memory may be temporarily or otherwise `liberated' from stored data and its effects, though this is a source of anguish for near and dear ones.

The writer is a consultant neurosurgeon.