Monday, November 24, 2008

The Brain

I recently saw a documentary on some station (for the life of me I cannot remember WHICH one) about the brain and about memory. At one point they showcased the story of Clive Waring (see YouTube below).

It was fascinating to me, all of it. One of the most poignant parts for me, though, was the journals he kept, which he wrote in daily. He would scribble, frantically trying to keep alive that one moment, that moment of clarity when he truly felt he Was. "I am ALIVE!!!!" he would write, only to not hold onto that 30 seconds later. That was so tragic to me, and at the same time so touching. Philosophically, Metaphysically, it presented an interesting puzzle for me, and I have been pondering it often. I contemplate the "Is-ness" of things, of me, of my experience, and while I feel tethered to the illusion of Being Here, it is merely a clever ruse of my mind that pins me to the temporal map. Clive lives. He is "alive". He has mananaged to settle into Not Knowing, literally. He does recognize his wife, and he plays piano beautifully. At one point in the program his wife is seen saying that Clive is still, in many ways, "himself", that his personality is still very much present despite his slipping from one moment in the stream of life to the next, without much to connect him backwards to what has just passed.

That got me thinking about the temporal nature of personality, or, more to the point, the lack of temporal anchoring. So much of who we Are is set upon a stage of memory, ours, others of us, our stories building a tapestry as we add weft and weave, color and texture.

I studied Philosophy in college, and one of my favorite aspects of that was study of Descartes and Kant. I took a whole semester on Descates' Discourse on Method and Kant's Knowing and Being. It was a real mind bender, let me tell you (see: This, for a Real Neural Twisting). I think, therefore I am. I am, therefore I think. I, therefore, think I AM (Descartes' Mind Fuck: Here).

But AM I?

Last night, wanting to just Zone Out, I watched a DVD my daughter had gotten from Blockbuster, "Samantha Who?", Christina Applegate's series from TV. Used to her less, shall we say, pithy roles, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the subject was handled in a humor-filled way. She was brilliant. Now, yes, I will concede that the subject of Retroactive Amnesia was handled in a light and silly way, but it got me to thinking about the concepts of Now, and Then and how we build our stories and the stories of others with bits of information that we, and others, hold in common.

Pushing Narssicism and Solopscism aside, how much of Who we Are is dependent upon our remembering who we were, to ourself, to others, in the past, even the Very Recent past?

I think that relationships allow us new mirrors, new stories, new paths of Being, that show us other facets of who we are. I also think that our past, our stories, help define what we have been in the world before, and why and how we act Now.

If a tree falls in the woods and there is not a person there to hear, does it make a sound? Yes. But, it does not exist FOR someone else. And, for humans, it seems that existing For and To others is a huge part of what we call Being. Further, it is our appreciation of existing for another which brings substance to our own experience of ourselves. Yes, I exist in a vacuum. (Make that a Dyson, please...)

Have you ever made a new friend and felt that you were seen in a way that more closely resembles who you believe yourself to be? Invigorating, that! Have you ever met someone who truly misunderstands who you believe yourself to be? Oh, so frustrating! See, it happens ALL THE TIME.

Who ARE you, without the boundary of temporal memory? Think about it. Think of all the adjectives you use for yourself and go back and cross off the ones that involve memory. Are you kind? What if you did not remember that 30 seconds from now? What if your kindess was only understood by those who held memory of your Being Kind? Would that suffice as a definition of the person you are/were?

You Are. Right now. And now. And now. And it is only our golden thread that stitches all those moments together creating a humble map to You Are.

Be grateful for your Brain, people. Take good care of it. Wear a helmet and don't drink a fifth of vodka in one sitting. Take the time to remember how Good you Really Are, despite the time/space continuum.

Oh, and stay away from aluminum-based antiperspirants. They rot your brain. Then, you won't remember Thanksgivings of the Past. The only one who will remember is your sloppy Aunt Gracie with the stinky Violet perfume, the one who pinches your cheeks too hard.