Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Memory: Awareness of the Past

Memory. It can be deceiving, it can be hopeful, it can be depressing. Nostalgia, fondness, regret, and pride are some of the emotions associated with mental thoughts regarding our memories. When we feel these emotions, they are simply hormones and neurotransmitters being released in various quantities following a thought regarding a memory.

Memory itself has been known to activate the same parts of our brain as our actual "traditional" five senses. For example, when you imagine a visual scene, you will be partially activating the occipital lobe, which is also used to primarily process your actual sense of sight.

The subjective experience of memory may present itself to your "mind's eye" the same as sight. However, we have a deep awareness that even though the image shown to us is a visual interpretation, a daydream, it is from the past.

As such, that nearly imperceptible awareness we experience, a deep knowing of the fact that what is going on through our brain is from the past, is our next sense.

The emotions attached to memory are cognitive interpreting of the past, and those emotions have evolved through evolution. For example, regret likely evolved as a way for humans to survive longer by feeling a deep sense of "mistake" and "guilt" from memories which did not serve our lives positively. In addition to the past perhaps not benefiting ourselves, we can also empathize with another human and recognize how our past decisions affected someone's trajectory in life. We may recognize that it is not beneficial to our "tribe" and feel the emotion of shame.

The memory is experienced, our minds interpret the event (queue psychiatric advice on choosing to reinterpret a past situation differently), and our minds then release some hormone or neurotransmitter which causes us to feel an emotion. This feedback from our mind's interpretation of the event then allows us to adapt our behavior and choices.

I'm going to stop here, and save our choices of behavior after the memory for the next blog post, because I want to do The Future due justice.

However, one point I will mention before closing is a philosophy from the popular spiritual book The Power of Now, which aims to remind readers that the past is set in stone. Think about pining about the past. Reminiscing or feeling depressed or guilty. It’s truly a wasted exercise if it doesn’t positively benefit your future. Why? Because the past is set in stone. Think about yourself desaturated, in shades of grey.

"The past is written in ink." "No use crying over spilled milk." Nothing can be done about the past choices you made. It's obvious when explicitly stated, and yet many people carry with them emotional baggage, perhaps a feeling of shame or regret or sadness about the past. Our ability to remember the past is only useful insofar as it affects our present and future decisions.

But we can visualize these situations. Maybe learn from them to improve our futures. We can feel how we felt and essentially empathize with our former selves. We can empathize with our former self. These subjective experiences of memory are what we define as awareness of the past.

Our senses list now looks like the following:

SenseAwareness of...
SoundEnergy Waves
TouchNuclear Force
TasteChemical Structure
SmellChemical Structure
EmotionsHormone Levels
EmpathyOther Awarenesses
MemoryThe Past

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