Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Down memory lane we all go


Dr Abe V Rotor
 Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday

The memory pattern is like a hill. We go up gathering memories along the way and storing them to the summit which is the peak of our career, the building of family, the prime of life, the fullest expression of intelligence, the quest for honor.
Mnemosyne, Greco-Roman goddess of memory The goddess Mnemosyne (memory personified) places her hand on the back of a man's head, symbolically aiding his memory. The figures are in a banquet scene. 
Then as we face middle age onto the golden years of our 
lives, our memory fades and our capacity to gather and keep new ones is no longer as easy as before. 

While this memory pattern is common, it varies from person to person.  Here are scenarios for analysis and comparison. 

There are people who have photographic memory.  Napoleon Bonaparte won his battles because of his rare gift of cartographic memory.  He was always ahead of his enemies and knew well the details of the battleground. Musical geniuses like Mozart could play a musical composition they heard only once.  

When I was a student my professor in botany, Dr Fernando de Peralta, used to walk the same lane I took on my way home, and he would point at the trees in a sort of cursory test. Scientific names are of course in Latin, so with their families and orders. Before I finished college I had "perfected' classifying some 100 trees on the campus. Today after 50 years my plant taxonomy is still good. 

A friend confided to me he bought aquarium fish and absentmindedly tossed it into the ref. Then he rushed back and saved the poor fish in the nick of time. I compare it with my experience of  forgetting my driver's license - twice or thrice -  and coming back for it before reaching the highway. Kabaw, young critics would say.  But wait, they'll certainly experience the same incipient memory loss when they reach fifty or sixty. 

Age-related decline in memory in well illustrated in a popular TV advertisement: a grandfather interchanging the names of his grand daughters, Gina and Karen. In real life this grandfather in his younger years was a popular actor and respectable lawyer. How can one be reduced to virtual oblivion in very old age!  But even younger people would commit the same error, calling persons wrong names, not remembering many things that surround them.

Dementia or Alzheimer's can totally erase memory, like a computer losing all stored information. President Ronald Reagan towards the end of his life remembered little - if anything at all - about having been a president of the US. A cousin of mine said, "Your manang can't remember anything."  She was in her eighties.  And yet another cousin about to turn ninety has still a vivid memory. As a retired biology teacher she can still carry conversation citing scientific terms and new developments in molecular biology and evolution.

Why professors are retained after their retirement is a manifestation to their unfailing mental capacity.  "It's like muscles regularly flexed and put to use," says one 75-year old professor emeritus at the University of Santo Tomas. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the author of Hiawatha and Evangeline stayed with Cambridge to the end of his long life.  Jules Verne continued to write novels even at a very old age, so with Charles Dickens, England's greatest storyteller.  Pablo Picasso the greatest modern painter worked in his studio well into his nineties, producing hundreds of now famous paintings. 

More and more people are trying anything to sharpen their brain, more so to the aging brain. The idea is to fortify the brain with more blood to supply oxygen.  Ginkgo biloba a living fossil tree is among the commercialized products. Vitamins, folic acid, lecithin, are also thought to improve memory.  There is also a theory that Vitamin E protects brain cells from free radicals. And know one knows if anti-inflammatory drugs will help slow down memory loss.  The truth is, there is little or no scientific proof to back up the claimed benefits of these memory potions.

Computers make up for replacements of memory, they in fact bring forth needed materials which the brain processes. This is prelude to artificial intelligence.  In the future, fiction ideas may come out to be true like Flash Gordon paving man's conquest of outer space, and Jules Verne's conquest in the deep of the sea.    

Information is much easier to access on a wide range of subjects in encyclopedic volumes.  At fingertips anything from history to futuristic topics, literature in various movements, so with arts, visual and textual. Global positioning system (GPS) would locate places instantaneously. The world is in our palm. Which reminds us of William Blake's famous quotation:


To see the world in a grain of sand,
       and a heaven a wide flower;
hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
       and eternity in an hour.   

We are led to a false path in our postmodern world.  Man cannot live without valuing memory to the fullest. Memory captures the stimuli for senses: touch, sound, sight, taste and smell, storing them in a bank that supplies our happiness and joy, challenges to win, compassion for the vanquished, values the beautiful things we wish to re-create into masterpieces that speak of a beautiful humanity. 

And yet, we grieve for things we remember to be painful, things we wish we had long buried in the past.  Memory kept us from achieving more, memories attached to anger and hatred, of greed and indifference. Loss of memory has a reward - kindness to the restless mind, heart and spirit. It is Nature's own design to keep this earth a better place to live in.

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