Tuesday, June 21, 2016

It all came flooding back

I asked a retired professor to give a talk about his special area of expertise.  He declined, saying that it had been too long since he thought about that subject.  I have experienced the same feeling but I know the pleasure and surprise that can come when a set of knowledge and skills that hadn't been used in decades reveal themselves as still there in the mind.

Sometimes, when I look at a particular volume sitting on the shelf, usually one I used in grad school, where I was when I bought that book comes back to mind.  The insights, new methods and new understandings I learned and later taught may suddenly present themselves, ready to be used again. The physical book itself often serves as a memento and memory prod.

Because I was thinking about the unfolding of a life, which is related to yesterday's post on maturation, I looked up the book from which yesterday's long quote was taken.



Not an exciting looking cover and certainly not an exciting title.  But when I saw this image, I was immediately back in grad school, studying experimental design. This work was originally a chapter of the large and rather unwieldy Handbook of Educational Research.  The editor of such a book, in this case Nathaniel Gage, works at obtaining the chapters from the various authors, editing them, maybe with assistance from others.  Quite a few of the chapters have affected my life and thinking over a 50 year period.

In both Mlodinow's "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" and Christian's "Algorithms to Live By", there have been discussions of human memory.  Mlodinow emphasized that the whole mind pivots around and uses the memory, that memory is central to thinking.  Christian discusses similarities and differences between computer memory and human memory.  Reading those books and others, I have come across the name of Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winner and author of "In Search of Memory".

Some of the discussions I have read over the years mention the possibility that the brain includes far more memories that can easily be retrieved.  Maybe the indexing system, the guide or database of what we have stored in our memories, gets corrupted or overloaded.  When a scent or a sight or an associated thought suddenly triggers what feels like a whole library of events, sources and experiences, it does feel somewhat like a flood in the mind.

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