Archive for the 'science' Category

Selective memory

I’ll admit, the ideas in this book get better as I read on.

This chap spends his life trying to track down the functions and processes that make up consciousness and memory. If nothing else that is undeniably cool.

He’s a physicalist – like most of what we understand about life – it’s matter that matters. Organs, made from cells, with proteins, made from amino acids, made from molecules, made from atoms, made from whatever the LHR comes up with.

We explain everything by matter and it’s interactions. There are physicists who challenge the basic lay-understanding of this. That perhaps matter is not quite as easily defined as we think.

But where matter has always struggled to find its role is in our consciousness, our memories, our personalities and all that complex humanity, that brief period in our biological existence over the last few thousand years when we’ve actually been interesting.

His issue comes here:

i have been puzzled by my ability to remember my childhood even though most of the molecules in my body today are not the same ones I had as a child… if memories are stored as changes to molecules inside brain cells – molecules that are constantly being replaced – how can a memory remain stable over 50 years.

[I’ve always loved this concept of the recycling of our physicality – that we are quite literally what we eat.]

If memories are not stored in the physical molecules then where the flip are they? His suggestion is that perhaps they are found in the extracellular space, the components of the neural cellular exoskeleton, the bridges and the joins – perhaps it’s here we remember where we were when JFK was shot.

We have found ourselves comfortable and knowledgeable when it comes to our beating physical hearts and oxidative metabolism and the basic laws of thermodynamics but we have always maintained some distance between the flesh and the mind. It always seemed too close to the soul as such. This mind-body dualism is everywhere, both in secular and religious culture (not that the two are that easily separated).

NT Wright pointed out a lot of the Christian heresy (that there is a soul-body dualism) on the issue in Surprised by Hope which basically said lots of things that Christian Orthodoxy has said for years but we’ve somehow distorted since the middle ages onwards.

My feeble little bunch of interconnected molecules in my skull is simply overwhelmed by such concepts. Reason is great for interpreting the physical world but reason to interpret reason is somewhat circular in argument and hard to feel secure on.

Lots of people are looking into this right now – we may get a better answer than the current one. Just not yet.


July 2022