Our memory is a strange thing, but we all need one. Except it isn’t just one area of the brain but a few areas, all linked together. So, whilst I do not know a tremendous amount about it, I do know that there are different parts which work together, utilising electrical signals that enable us to somehow ’store’ information. I have no idea how, but I do know that we have a ’short-term’ memory as well as a ‘long-term’ one, and these can be adversely affected by injury or illness, such as dementia or head injuries. Such effects can be intermittent, short or long term. I am presently being well looked after in a Care Home and one elderly inmate here behaves almost like a child, remembering things from long ago and yet they do not know the current date or what time of day it is. I know what happened to my dear mother after her stroke as it affected her decision-making. Asking her to choose between two things was no great problem, but if she had to choose over more than two items, she would often politely decline. Parts of our brain never ‘switch off’ as they keep vital systems functioning, including our memory. I was made aware of this one night some years ago when I was living ‘up North’. I was fast asleep and there was an earthquake not all that far away. I slept through it and had no recollection of it! But another night I had left a small light on and the bulb blew. It was a most unusual, unexpected sound and I was instantly awake. Strangely, I could even remember what sound had woken me up! I checked, saw the remains of the bulb, cleared it up and made sure all was well before going back to bed. So it seems that some senses are never dormant, it is just that we are not fully aware of them whilst we are sleeping. As humans one might expect that we are all the same, but of course we are not. We all have a brain, so some might expect that we all think and reason the same. In practice that is not so, I guess just as we don’t all look the same. During my research for this blog post I found an article asking the question as to whether the brains of females are ‘wired’ differently to males. I believe the term for someone thinking that way is ‘neurosexism’. Now I may be starting to tread on rather dangerous ground here, quicksand even, but in truth I do not think they are any different. We do know that in many species males have a tendency to fight their enemies, whilst females tend more towards caring for their offspring, but that isn’t so in all cases. Some have suggested that women’s brains are said to be wired for empathy and intuition, whilst male brains are supposed to be optimised for reason and action. But research suggests that the brain is no more gendered than the liver or kidneys or heart. Also, if we consider a few different creatures in our wondrous world, just one example of paternal care is in seahorses, where the males brood the eggs in a pouch until they are ready to hatch. Males from the sunfish family exhibit paternal parental care of both their eggs and fry through a variety of behaviours such as nest guarding and nest fanning (aerating eggs). In the case of lions, both males and females hunt, just in different ways, whilst male marmosets take care of their offspring as newborns — even licking and grooming them at birth. In addition, after his babies are born, a marmoset daddy doesn’t look twice at an ovulating female, despite stereotypes that male animals are always out to spread their genes!
So far as we humans are concerned, I am of the humble opinion that some of it may be to do with how we are treated as we grow up. Some still cling on to the idea that the males should go out to work whilst the females stay home in order to cook, clean and bring up offspring. There are those who are content to do that, but over the years that has changed dramatically, despite some quite serious opposition from their families on occasions! Either way, whether they be male or female, I am amazed how some folk can instantly recall some facts and figures when they are on quiz shows and the like. I prefer to take time and then share knowledge with others this way, on blog posts. I use my memory more to know where and how to retrieve information, knowing that it exists, rather than filling my mind up with the information itself. Although one person I knew who has sadly passed away now once referred to me as a walking encyclopaedia! Comments have been made that my writings have reminded others of past events and it does seem that much of what we store in our memory may never be truly ‘lost’ to us. The most unexpected things can restore a memory to us, or should it be ‘reawaken’. It may be a sight, a smell or a sound, but it seems to be integrated into at least one of our senses. I recently saw a clip of film on YouTube showing a few folk singing in Welsh whilst they were on a London Underground escalator and the sound of their singing echoing up and down reminded me of a time back in 1986 when I was returning home after watching a game of American Football at Wembley Stadium. A whole crowd of us fans were walking along a long corridor leading to the nearby London Underground station and one person began singing “You never close your eyes any more when I kiss your lips..”, the opening line of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” from the Top Gun film which had recently been released. When it came to the chorus, just about everyone joined in! That sound echoed all along the corridor beautifully, it was a thrilling sound and it really did bring back good, happy memories, just as the thought of it does now. But what of pain? When someone passes away for whatever reason, we often hear the phrase ‘remember the good times’, and we do just that. During the past twelve months, quite a bit has been said as well as written about isolation and coping with depression. It is a fact, I know. We have physical pain when we are injured, but there is also the pain of isolation. Except there are ways to overcome the dark times. I have found that being in this Care Home has helped me, as there are other inmates in the building and I do chat to them at times, but I also set great store by chatting with the Carers and staff here. Some of you reading this know that I send morning greetings to you, as we all need to retain such connections with the world outside. I have found a few ‘live’ web cams that I can watch, so I know what is occurring out there. I am not at all in ’solitary’, despite being an inmate! Contact is important. We can and will get sad at times though and when we are sad, playing certain music can also lighten our mood.
I mentioned last week about language and words, but even they are not sufficient to express some feelings. Our brain though is very clever. It is true that the memories I recalled last week were painful and brought tears to me. If we perhaps fall over or injure ourselves somehow, we often cry in pain. It is of course why we are given a painkiller of some sort for headaches, or perhaps an anaesthetic for when we might need an operation. This pain is a different sort as it is the ‘alarm’ system in our body, alerting us that we do have a problem. It also triggers the release of certain chemicals and other events within our body to help in the process of bringing things back to normal. When things are repaired, much of the time that pain goes away or is at least dramatically reduced. But if we think of the ‘good’ events in our lives, the things that make us happy, they are also times when we cry and it is an emotional outpouring that enables us to cope, to manage the pain we are feeling. So we remember those events, we literally do remember the good times in our lives. They are the happy memories and we will block out the painful memories. One thought that comes to mind relates to childbirth, where some women say they will never go through that again. Yet the joy they have of bringing new life into the world means that they do repeat, generation after generation. But there are times when some pain is deliberately forgotten. In an earlier blog post I mentioned my immediate grandfathers. I never personally met my maternal grandfather as he passed away in 1938, but I did know my paternal grandfather, who I called ‘Pop’. So I tried to talk to Pop about his time in World War I, I learned he was at the Somme and was captured, that he was injured and lost a finger of one hand. But he simply would not talk to me about his memories of that time. He would tell a few anecdotal jokes, like the fact that he was captured and how they diverted the attention of prison guards in order to break into a food store and steal extra food, but that was all. My own father was the same, he would share anecdotes like how he was taught to drive and the fun he had with that, but the war itself was never spoken about.
Our memory is vital as we grow, like learning to not touch things, though it is something that babies do. We want to learn. In an earlier blog post I mentioned that there are teachers and there are educators. I was always encouraged to learn, I was (and still am!) an inquisitive soul, so I would read quite a lot. Any time that I wanted to learn the meaning of a ‘new’ word that I had read, rather than just tell me its meaning my dear dad would get me to look up the word in a dictionary and then go tell him what the word meant. I would then have to compose a new sentence of my own using that new word and also show this to my dad. In that way I was reading, writing, thinking, speaking and combining these skills all together. It also kept me quiet, for a while at least! One thing I do not know too much about is our skill at learning. I know that it is essentially the same for everyone but we each ‘remember’ different things. I think that we have different ways of learning, we have different skills that enable us to do different things. Not everyone is a fighter pilot or a teacher or a farmer. Most of us have the same body structure of arms, legs etc but not all and these can change over time. We can put our skills to different uses to control our body. At school we are taught basics, some have a greater aptitude towards perhaps sport, whilst others not so much. We can be taught to higher levels and go on to areas we might not have originally been thought capable of. In my late teens I was told I had no aptitude for working with computers, but fifteen years later I purchased my very first computer, a Sinclair ZX81 with just 1k of memory where the programs were loaded each time using a cassette tape recorder and a black-and-white tv was used, rather than a monitor like we use today. Very different, especially considering that the laptop computer I am using to write this has its own integrated screen and keyboard with 64Gb of memory. I also recall that far from having no aptitude, years later I ended up teaching others how to use the computers at work as well as writing programs. But it is amazing to realise how much has changed in forty years! I wonder what the children of today will think of our technology in years to come. I would hope that they put their memories, skills and learning with ours to the good of everyone and everything on Earth.
This week, a thought…
If electricity comes from electrons, does that mean that morality comes from morons?