poptech: How does the brain retain information?
I love the sound of brain parts: hippocampus, cerebellum, amygdala, occipital.
I mean, CEREBELLUM. It just rolls around in the mouth, doesn’t it?
invisiblestories: Advertisement for The Phrenological Journal, 1871
The memory-erasing company, Lacuna Inc., takes its name from the Latin word meaning a cavity, hollow, or dip, especially a pool or pond. Transfiguratively, lacuna comes to mean a gap, deficiency, or loss. The term “lacunar infarct” refers to a stroke that involves a small area of the brain responsible for a specific function, or ever a specific memory. Additionally, in papyrology (the study of ancient manuscripts) a lacuna is a hole where part of the text is missing, and which can sometimes be re-constructed.
—Linguistics lesson brought to you by IMDB trivia
An excerpt from the podcast transcript:
DAVID LEVIN: Is there a danger that if you can erase a memory, that it might go too far? That is, where do you draw the line in what kinds of memories should be erased, shouldn’t be erased, and who has that control?
ART CAPLAN: Well, a different set of questions comes up when we use drugs. We start to think, okay, if you can focus that drug and get rid of a particular bad memory—the rape that occurred to me, or I was in the car when someone died and I can’t get the images out of my mind—people might certainly find that acceptable to use a drug to get rid of those memories, but then they’re thinking, well, what else might you get rid of? The unfortunate incident at the birthday party where you didn’t get your goody bag to go home? The bad romantic relationship that certainly isn’t causing you dysfunction, but it’s just a little bit unhappy to sort of think about it?
If we’re going to start messing with memory, a lot of unpleasant, a lot of difficult memories form who we are. We learn. It becomes part of our character, our identity. Some might say the struggle against bad experiences is part of what makes us better people.
But I do think the question comes up, how bad does a memory have to be before you’re going to say, “well, you’re not going to use a drug to get rid of that?” You may not want that memory, but that’s crazy to say we’re going to get rid of all your bad romantic experiences as you remember them. That’s not right. Not only won’t you respond to most of country and rock music, but it makes you a better person to have learned from those things. They shouldn’t be eliminated. Who’s going to control that?
DAVID LEVIN: Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics—there’s a quote from him that says, “To deprive one’s self of one’s memory is to deprive one’s self of one’s own life and identity.” Do you think that’s sort of in line with your stance on this?
ART CAPLAN: Well, I think Dr. Kass is worried that any change in your memories of who you are and what you know changes you. I don’t believe that. I think we can change some memories without changing fundamentally who we are or how we behave. And even if it does change a little bit of our personal identity, it makes us able to function. We have to understand the plight of those who are prisoners to bad memories, to awful memories, to horrible memories. But, overall, we are our memories. I do agree with that in principle. Our personal identity is deeply tied into our memory. It is why diseases like Alzheimer’s are so feared, seen with such harm because your personality evaporates while your body goes on, a situation that few would find acceptable. But I don’t believe that every bit of memory has to be retained when those memories make us diseased.”
I feel EXACTLY like this right now.
Mind Phenomena. Phenomenal.
Déjà Vu - the experience of being certain that you have experienced or seen a new situation previously – you feel as though the event has already happened or is repeating itself. The experience is usually accompanied by a strong sense of familiarity and a sense of eeriness, strangeness, or weirdness. The “previous” experience is usually attributed to a dream, but sometimes there is a firm sense that it has truly occurred in the past.
Déjà Vécu - is what most people are experiencing when they think they are experiencing deja vu. Déjà vu is the sense of having seen something before, whereas déjà vécu is the experience of having seen an event before, but in great detail – such as recognizing smells and sounds. This is also usually accompanied by a very strong feeling of knowing what is going to come next.
Déjà Visité - a less common experience and it involves an uncanny knowledge of a new place. For example, you may know your way around a a new town or a landscape despite having never been there, and knowing that it is impossible for you to have this knowledge. Déjà visité is about spatial and geographical relationships, while déjà vécu is about temporal occurrences. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about an experience of this in his book “Our Old Home” in which he visited a ruined castle and had a full knowledge of its layout. He was later able to trace the experience to a poem he had read many years early by Alexander Pope in which the castle was accurately described.
Déjà Senti - Déjà senti is the phenomenon of having “already felt” something. This is exclusively a mental phenomenon and seldom remains in your memory afterwards. In the words of a person having experienced it: “What is occupying the attention is what has occupied it before, and indeed has been familiar, but has been forgotten for a time, and now is recovered with a slight sense of satisfaction as if it had been sought for. The recollection is always started by another person’s voice, or by my own verbalized thought, or by what I am reading and mentally verbalize; and I think that during the abnormal state I generally verbalize some such phrase of simple recognition as ‘Oh yes—I see’, ‘Of course—I remember’, etc., but a minute or two later I can recollect neither the words nor the verbalized thought which gave rise to the recollection. I only find strongly that they resemble what I have felt before under similar abnormal conditions.”
Jamais Vu - Jamais vu (never seen) describes a familiar situation which is not recognized. It is often considered to be the opposite of déjà vu and it involves a sense of eeriness. The observer does not recognize the situation despite knowing rationally that they have been there before. It is commonly explained as when a person momentarily doesn’t recognize a person, word, or place that they know. Chris Moulin, of Leeds University, asked 92 volunteers to write out “door” 30 times in 60 seconds. He reported that 68 per cent of his guinea pigs showed symptoms of jamais vu, such as beginning to doubt that “door” was a real word. This has lead him to believe that jamais vu may be a symptom of brain fatigue.
Presque Vu - Presque vu is very similar to the “tip of the tongue” sensation – it is the strong feeling that you are about to experience an epiphany – though the epiphany seldom comes. The term “presque vu” means “almost seen”. The sensation of presque vu can be very disorienting and distracting.