X-Message-Number: 23807
Date: Sun, 4 Apr 2004 10:13:29 -0400
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: CryoNet #23799 - #23805

Hi everyone!

I sent Coetzee a private message on memories and how they worked, but
he either had already put his thoughts on Cryonet or decided to do so
anyway. As readers of PERIASTRON know, memory is one of the major
subjects I've been discussing in that newsletter.

One of the major results so far of scientific studies of memory has been
the discovery (insight, realization) that memories are of at least 2
different kinds and probably more. The kind of memory that turns out
to be so labile consists of memories of events or features of events 
which did not affect us emotionally very strongly... that is, personal
events in our own lives. Even in this case particular details, probably
because they didn't seem important to us at the time, can be lost or
change with time. If taken literally, ALL our memories of events happening
to us lasts only for a very short time. That gives us the distinction
between immediate events and past events: one kind of memory is that
very short term memory telling us what's happening NOW.

We also have another kind of memory, in which we remember not personal
events but public events. This too can be affected by how involved we
were in the events, even if only emotionally. Most Americans older than
their early teens probably remember the assassination of President
Kennedy (whether they were Democrats or Republicans or Libertarians
at the time). Our own values and history play a role in how long such
memories are preserved, too.

A third kind of memory consists of skills that we have learned, including
intellectual skills: riding a bike, waterskying, knitting, working a 
typewriter or a computer, even the ability to differentiate and integrate
functions (notice that I was moving from physical skills to intellectual
ones). One of the more important skills is that of speaking our native
language. It's not that brain damage cannot wipe out such skills, but
that, first, they are stored in different brain areas than the preceding
three, and second, we won't normally forget them unless those areas have
been physically damaged by either disease, accident, or (in these violent
times) acts by someone else.

Not only would it impair us to remember literally everything that ever
happened to us or in our presence, or at least literally everything of
which we were aware at the time had happened to us, but most of such 
memory would never be of any use afterwards. Yes, we go through the 
world INTERPRETING what happens, and what it means to us, and try to
remember the critical things/events. Does anyone on Cryonet really want
to fill up their memories with trivial events? Our brains even have 
special circuits to FORGET things (forgetting isn't just a reversal 
of remembering). 

On the other hand, remembering skills can remain appropriate for a long
time, even if the skills change their importance. If you know how to 
ride a horse then even in this time of autos and helicopters that skill
can remain useful, and if not useful, at least fun. Nor would the memory
of your native language cease to be useful (think of American Indians
in the Second World War, who as soldiers could communicate in their
Indian languages and completely defeat any attempts of German decoders
to understand what they said). When I went to elementary school and
high school, computers were rare and faraway, but we were all required
to learn how to type. And now on my computer I can type much more
easily, with fewer errors to correct than someone who only tries to
write using one finger at a time. And as for differentiation and 
integration, even if I use a system to do symbolic math, they help
me see that something is clearly wrong and there was a slip somewhere
(my slip, most likely). That tells me exactly why our memories for
skills generally turn out much more durable ... there must be natural
selection working on how our brains work, too.  

We do have memories of events which we value highly. Yes, these can 
change with time, but not for the crucial features which affected us
in these events. If we were ever arrested, the faces of the policemen
arresting us normally don't matter. If we're beaten up by those policemen,
we'll have very good reason to remember their faces. What we want to
remember isn't ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING, but that which is important
(and yes, that too can change with time). Even though we'd be lost
without our memories of events, and lost exponentially without our
memories of skills, we aren't just our memories but a large association
of memories with feelings, values, ideas, attitudes about and from
those memories. I'll even say it's foolish to wish to remember 
everything that happens around us perfectly: a foolish use of brainpower
to remember facts which never will affect us again.

And why then do I pay so much attention to memory in PERIASTRON?
Simple: right now we don't fully understand how it works in our brains,
or even in detail how our brains work. To restore someone badly
damaged by suspension, or even badly damaged previously, we'll need to
know such things. Moreover, just because we're more than our memories
hardly means that if they disappeared our feeling and ideas, inevitably
based on our memories, could still continue to exist.

              Best wishes and long long life to all,

                  Thomas Donaldson 

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