January 12, 2003

The Virtue of Forgetfulness

The telephone rang, so instant and close, like the ringer was embedded in the temporal lobe of my brain. I reached for it by mere reflex before I even knew what it was that had made me startle. There had been an alarm of some sort; the shock had actually lifted me up off the chair where I had been living in another life in another person's body for the quiet hour since Ann left for work. Somehow at this instant, there was now a phone receiver in my hand.

I don't recollect who it was on the other end; I'm not sure I fully realized who I was talking to or why as I sat there, somehow finding the telephone in the hand that seconds before had been channeling thought and memory into a keyboard. Days had passed in that one focused hour of writing. I do remember what the voice asked me.

"Mr. First, what is your zip code?"

And I could not say. There is no zip code, no street address where I had been living in the instant before the call; there is not even a calendar to know if it were past or future. Now I was pulled back to the moment, back to the world of time, space and the numbers that encode our being in this world, and I could not find them. Zip code. Has to do with what state I am in, that's a start. It didn't help that we had just returned from a short trip during which we passed through two former home towns, and my brief and impersonal brush with these places that had been home but were no longer home had set me into trances spiraling out like the swirl of galaxies; friends, buildings and streets, creeks, trails, tears and triumphs were the stars, and I was moving through them propelled by solar winds.

I found the number. But my difficulty doing so quite disturbed me. Was I losing my mind? Was this an early sign that memory was coming apart like a ship slowly breaking in pieces on a rocky reef? The eyes of my mind had been so focused on the places I wanted to go with my words that hour that I was barely able to look back into this material world to retrieve some raw numeric piece of flotsam that was irrelevant to my spacetravel in the cosmos of thought and memory. I attributed my forgetfulness to the detachment one finds when lost to the now, writing from the heart. Still, I admit, not being able to recite this number instantly seemed it could be something to worry about, which is the first conclusion with events like this, when they happen among my agemates.

Or maybe I was just intensely attending to the gorilla. And maybe that's okay. Consider this new look at forgetting that suggests that sins of memory that author Daniel L. Schacter, chairman of Harvard University’s Psychology Department suggests "are surprisingly vital to a keen mind". (Another review here).

[...]Organizing the book by examining each of seven "sins," such as absent-mindedness and suggestibility, Schacter slowly builds his case that these sometimes enraging bugs are actually side effects of system features we wouldn't want to do without. For example, when we focus our attention on one aspect of our surroundings, we inevitably draw attention away from others:

Consider this scenario: if you were watching a circle of people passing a basketball and someone dressed in a gorilla costume walked through the circle, beat his chest, and exited, of course you would notice him immediately--wouldn't you? [Researchers] filmed such a scene and showed it to people who were asked to track the movement of the ball by counting the number of passes made by one of the teams. Approximately half of the participants failed to notice the gorilla.

Thanks to Fragments reader "j" for his link to The Seven Sins of Memory:
How the Mind Forgets and Remembers
.

Posted by fred1st at January 12, 2003 06:17 AM | TrackBack
Comments

Simple: as in one form, one style, all pleasing.

Frogs with goiters are known to be uniquely tolerant and kind. Legend has it, when the first baby smiled it's first smile, it broke into a million pieces and those pieces became frogs with goiters. These wonderful green creatures often posess magical powers and fill all who cross their paths with a sense of goodwill and camaraderie.

Memories are kept in timeworn compartments of my cerebral storeroom, categorized by importance and emotion. Some reside on somewhat dustier shelves than others; some are further t'wards the back and therefore take a bit longer to reach. Simple really.

Posted by: anne at January 12, 2003 02:26 PM

Just came across this great memory link
"http://www.exploratorium.edu/memory/index.html"
(via Plep)...Cheers.

Posted by: boynton at January 12, 2003 11:02 PM

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