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Monday, September 28, 2009

Up the Long Memory Ladder

Click to embiggen!

I've long been preoccupied with the problem of memory as it relates to identity. In this photo, I can be seen perched on a ladder, helping raise a painted backdrop for the Leduc Junior High Grade 9 Farewell ceremony of 1984.

I remember the backdrop; I remember the ceremony. (As Student Council President and MC, I delivered a pretty good speech - or at least, a speech that was well-received - I'm a little afraid to read it now.) But I have no memory of climbing that ladder. It may as well have happened to someone else.

Earl's speech. Note backdrop.

I realize that this is pretty sophomoric observation, but I find it quite chilling that everyone I know would claim that I am or was the person pictured on that ladder, but if I have no recollection of the event, how can I really claim to have experienced it? Can I really lay claim to that young man's identity? Is his experience of that day equally my own?

I feel bad for that kid. Maybe that was an important day for him. Maybe he thought to himself, "I want to remember this forever." Who knows what else happened on that day?

If he wanted me - his future self - to be the guardian of some special moment, some important learning experience, then I've failed him.

On the other hand, maybe it was just another day. I was a bit of a geek during my grade school years (shocking, I know), participating in a lot of activities - scenes like this were actually pretty common. Maybe it would only have been memorable if I'd fallen off the ladder. Or maybe I did fall off, and that's why I don't remember - concussion!

"The cells I am at the moment will soon die, but I will be here...yes I'll still be here..."


susan_rn92 said...

Your brain is a remarkable system. Did you know that at 28 weeks of gestation (before you are born), all the neurons of your brain are developed? After that they are making connections, and by the time you are born, half these neurons haved died. So use them or lose them!

Jumanjeff said...

I am not sure how often you go back over old postings, Earl. It took me a long time to think of this:

What you are experiencing is the transition from "fluid" thought to "crystallized" thought processes.

Cognitive theory has it that the human brain develops and ages along certain guidelines. From foetus to 2 years old, the brain's main job is to create and connect all of the neurons. From 2 to the growth spurt in pre-adolescence, the brain learns cultural-specific things, like behaviour, skills, and language. From adolescence to young adult, the brain learns reasoning, fact, and logic. In later adulthood, the brain settles into patterned behavior. In the last stages, we endure senescence, which takes apart all we have achieved.

A young adult brain is "wired" to seek out new experiences, and to catalogue everything it comes across. Sooner or later, the experiences will overlap, so that there are some favourite things that the brain will prefer to do. In later life, the brain no longer seeks out new stimuli, and instead becomes specialized in highly efficient performance of preferred tasks.

This is the difference between fluid and crystal thinking. Younger Earl gladly climbed the ladder as well as making the speech because he was adept at seeking out new stimuli. Yet he was niether especially crafty with ladders or speeches. Older Earl has learned that he prefers writing as a pattern of behaviour, and so has trained his brain to write well. He no longer craves a variety of experience, but would rather hone his preferred skill set.

Older Earl, placed in the same situation, would ensure that the speech was top quality. To make time for the effort, he would compel someone young to climb up the ladder for him.

A fluid thinker wants to experience as many things as possible, but seldom becomes proficient at any of them (although there are exceptions). Most fluid thinkers are too random and arbitrary to appeal to crystallized thinkers. A crystallized thinker rejects extraneous phenomena to be able to concentrate on extreme proficiency of his or her best abilities. Crystallized thinkers get "locked in" to specific ways of doing things, which mystifies and annoys fluid thinkers.

The transition process begins in the 40's and ends in the 50's for most people. I would not say that one form of thinking is better than the other, but crystal thought does follow fluid. If you are aware of that, you can train your brain to be ready for the big change.

Earl J. Woods said...

My brain is crystallizing? That doesn't sound good!It's The Monolith Monsters inside my skull...