Monday, November 16, 2009

ESSAY NINETEEN – A NEW KIND OF MEMORY

In a previous essay, problem solving was discussed, and it was pointed out that a logical and focused plan was very effective in dealing with some problems or situations. Of course, for the artist, there were times that a more open-ended approach allowed for the discovery of the unexpected, instead of merely arriving at the desired, pre-determined goal. The later is often much closer to providing an answer to a question as opposed to a unique and creative solution to a problem.

For most of us, “problem solving” has its cognitive roots in school. From earliest times, the teacher would present information, rules or processes, and it was clear to all of us, that we were expected to pay attention to this material, as we would certainly be tested at a later date. Whether it was in pre-school when the teacher admonished someone that they knew better than to blurt out a response without first raising their hand, or much later when we were desperately trying to remember arcane theorems or formulas.

School encouraged a process that we would use over and over again. We knew there was a solution to the problem being posed, and it was our job to search our memories to retrieve the “correct” answer, technique or situation that would allow us to give the right answer and therefore pass the test. Our memory, therefore, was a repository of already stored data, and the more effective we were in pulling out “answers already stored” the better we were at “problem solving.”

I’d like to raise two points. For our purposes, this use of memory is not problem solving at all, but rather a technique for answering questions that someone in authority or command is posing. In the case of school, the answer is already known (by the teacher), the answer has already been supplied to us (either earlier by the instructor or through assigned reading), and our job is to locate it, and present it in the proper form at the proper time. This is not problem solving, but rather an exercise in demonstrating you have been paying attention, and that you have memorized the proper information.

While memorizing the correct theorem is useful to the student in advanced math classes, it is not even close to what a scientist utilizes in research. Rather than trying to “remember” how to achieve an already postulated goal, he or she is seeking understanding or insight into an area that is truly unknown or barely understood. It is not an exercise in demonstrating to “the teacher” that you remember what was covered last Thursday, but rather it is a quest to discover, to reveal or to at least get a glimpse of something that never before was known. It is a search for mystery rather than a process of regurgitation of what you digested the day before.

I would like to propose that we could also think of memory as having a dual nature.

There is the typical use of memory where we access the bits of information from our past that we deem will be useful. Most of what we remember is analogous to either the stacks in our internal library where the books are filed, or our mental Google or Wikopedia. All of our personal and learned data, facts, information, incidents research and accomplishments are neatly filed away in our mind and when we need to know something about Aunt Harriet and her garden, or whether or not the Emersions (whom we invited for dinner) eat seafood, we “access” the required data in our memory. This data is pretty straightforward and complete, and while there probably is some alteration due to our personality and priorities, most of our memories have a framework of accuracy and universality.

My hunch is that we have a second form of memory and although it may be keyed by the same kind of stimulus mentioned earlier (data, information, incidents etc.) it operates differently, and it serves a different purpose. The first (and more common) memory exists to allow us to live our everyday lives. It is a USABLE MEMORY and it serves our regular activities. It gives us the factual, behavioral and informational basis for almost anything we do; from remembering where the front door is in our house is, to remembering our first effort at bicycle riding. Without the usable memory, we could not operate in this complex world. We couldn’t even function in a simple world - for very primitive animals have a memory similar to ours. Earthworms alter their behavior based upon exterior stimulus, and then repeat that altered behavior at a later time. They remember.

It is the other memory, as artists, to which we should pay close attention. If the first memory, or usable memory, affects our actions and behaviors, as well as our consciousness and probably our preconscious functioning, this second memory affects our concepts of self and identity. It is the learned determinate of who and what we are, emotionally, spiritually and personally. It is the sum total of all of the outside influences that have formed our own unique individuality and personality. It is not there to inform us of appropriate behavior or to solve problems, but it is what determines how we behave and defines what we perceive as problems. It is our memory of our Guidelines and an instruction manual of how to be our self.

Because our usable or functional memory is called upon virtually every minute of our lives, it is readily accessible and exquisitely cross-indexed. If you key in the word “friend” to your conscious memory, you get friends from today, all the way back to early childhood. You get family friends, work friends, school friends, buddy friends, Blog friends, best friends, lover friends and Facebook friends. There are seemingly endless responses, so you start narrowing the focus, and if you keep at it, you can locate your best friend’s other good friend during the summer when you were ten years old at the camp near Lake Pohawatan.

This second form of memory, or Psychic Memory as I will call it, is a bit shyer and more reserved. Unlike Usable Memory which is constantly available, Psychic Memory has much more of a background role. To use the computer analogy mentioned earlier, the Usable Memory would be the programs that are installed such as word processing, spreadsheets and games. They are up front and visible, and at least one is used every time you use the machine. Psychic Memory is buried, and rarely opened by the operator, but it is what determines the actual “behaviors” and “traits” of the computer. It would be more analogous to the operating system in use or the amount of RAM available. For most of us, the applications and programs that we open are all that we care about, but it is the operating system, running silently and efficiently behind the scenes (we will ignore the blue screen of death) that makes it all work. Most of us are content to never open the “secret parts, both on our computer and more importantly, in our own life.

Our Psychic Memory consists of real (and perhaps imagined) incidents, interactions, places and objects that affected our developing personalities in some way. They might have introduced new insights, they might have confirmed old beliefs, and they might have caused a “psychic reevaluation”. They could feel positive, negative or neutral, but they represent moments of psychic change, alteration or confirmation. In a sense, they are crossroads or interchanges on the road map of our life.

When we open a highway map, we see many colored lines inscribed all over the surface. They are bold or narrow, curved or straight, long or short, and they cover most of the surface. Those lines go through, over, and around all of the cities, towns, geographic features and points of interest, linking them together in a fascinating complexity. Although there is a great deal of information on these maps, for most of us, the important information is at the intersections. The long straight lines require little from us other than looking at the sights, playing our music or searching for the next rest stop. However, it is the crossroads that demand our greatest attention, because they require a change in direction and the establishment of a new baseline.

In many ways, this is the function of our Psychic Memories – not to solve our day-to-day problems perform our regular tasks and to enjoy our normal activities, but to help us understand and work with our motivations, hopes, fears and dreams.

Where is this Psychic memory and how do we use it? We’ll talk more about that in the following essay, but for the artist, it will be an invaluable tool. As usual, I invite comments, thoughts or commentary.

16 comments:

Sarahlah said...

Can't wait til the next installment! I am so glad that you decided to share your thoughts in the form of a blog, Bob. You have been very gracious in that way.

GYPSYWOMAN said...

yes, it's true what you say - and for me, my psychic memory is my best friend! very neat post, as usual, bob!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
artquest1 said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jenean and Sarah. The next post (probably Monday or Tuesday) will expands upon this one. Hope it speaks to you also.
Bob

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.