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You Can't Remember Half the Things You Used to -- How Much Does That Matter?

While memories may be all you have of the past, they're not all there is to being alive. There is something more.

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If you were a real journalist, or even a moderately curious human being, you'd read the literature and interview the experts on failing memory and brain research, and you'd learn about the biochemical reactions and electromagnetic changes and protein imbalances and neurons and synapses and the like, and ultimately discover that (i) the hippocampus and corpus callosum are connected to the thigh bone, and (ii) the thigh bone is neuroscientifically connected to the Islands of Langerhans, so that (iii) taking into account the roller-coaster gyrations of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and (iv) multiplying by the weight of all the tea in China, you would conclude that: (x) you haven't the slightest idea what's going on here and (y) even if you did, it wouldn't change a goddamn thing: you still can't remember who won Best Supporting Actor in 1965.12 And besides, you wouldn't remember what the scientific literature said, even if you had read it. In fact, maybe you did read it and have forgotten it all by now.13

What's the Big Deal? Why Is All This So Disturbing?

Sometimes you wonder whether you even need a memory anymore. Just as calculators made mastering the slide rule unnecessary, with each Internet-laden day that goes by, Google may be rendering memory obsolete (or, at least, its loss less significant). For nowadays, wherever you are, whenever you need it, anything you want to know can just be . . . well, Googled.14 With a Google-armed Blackberry in hand, what's the problem?

No matter how sweet and inviting the lure of these technological sirens may be, you aren't quite ready to surrender your memory to them. For, even if the day should ever dawn when a personal jet pack could somehow transport you anywhere you wished, so that you'd never have to walk again, you'd still want your legs to be in full working order. Just in case.

Besides, there's always the ultimate  nightmare were you to give in and let it all slide. If you can't remember first this, then that, and then those and these, eventually—and maybe not too far off from now—more and more of who you are will become unavailable, inaccessible, beyond your reach. And then? Well, perhaps your descent will eventually bring you to that point where one fine day—much like the absentminded druggist in your neighborhood did 45 years ago—you forget to dress yourself before you go out and proceed to parade down the street without your pants on. What would be next? Forgetting who you are? where you are? your underwear, too? Is all your waking life destined to become as surreal as a dream?

Cheer Up! It's Not All Bad: The Upside of Memory Loss

Do you remember how, once upon a time, when something upsetting occurred—a fuckup at work, a fight with your girlfriend—misery would inhabit every cell in your body and eat away at you like acid through flesh, as you brooded incessantly over what you'd said, what she'd said, what the boss had said, what you should have said, how you were inevitably in the right, how this must be fixed, how this can't be fixed, how that can't be said—to the point that your life consisted of nothing but the problem? And how life-sapping misery continued to eat away at you until the fuckup was fixed, the relationship restored, no matter how long any of that might take?

When something like that happens today, you start off feeling just as miserable, but then, sooner than you once could ever have imagined, you notice your body is unflexing, and that, soon enough, you're not feeling quite so miserable. Thank your failing memory for that. The emotional horror, and even the details of what set you off— what were we arguing about, again, honey?—vaporize. Worries and fears that formerly seemed to take up all the space in your brain now resemble bullets in a PowerPoint presentation—nothing more, mere bullet points—stripped of emotion, with no text or extra slides to back them up.

 
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