Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Memory lingers on

Like a bagful of treasures we carry our memories around. They enrich our lives, guide us and teach us.

What are we without our memories? Empty shells, with no past, no future. We use our memory, misty and delicate as it may be to remember those days that are no more. Yet it is with the same memory that we choose to forget. Unreliable in nature, it often betrays us, escapes us and fades away. It is as though we choose to remember at will and maybe we do.

Why do we forget? 

The evidence is loud and crystal clear. History insists on repeating itself, teaching us — nothing. The sins committed yesterday at a great cost are again committed today at a greater cost. What is the use of memory if it cannot save us from our blunders? Why do we repeat the same things time after time, expecting different results? This is the description of madmen. Why do we refuse to learn from our past? Where does memory hide?

We destroyed Iraq for no legitimate reasons. Has our memory been totally erased? For, here we go again fully committed to repeat the same heinous acts on yet another, ancient Biblical culture. Have we chosen to forget the catastrophic results?

There are excuses. The circumstances are different, the players are different, and they anticipate that the outcome will be different, but with little or no justification. The result will indubitably be the same. Mad men lose their memories, so do overblown, over-confident superpowers.

History stands witness to human errors, imperfections and calamities. Yet we turn a blind eye to its lessons. Does it not document our past in order to improve our future? 

World War I and World War II should have been the ultimate teachers to all humanity, but were they?

World War I, named the Great War, to end all wars, ended in shame. One of the deadliest wars then, the total loss of life was estimated at 37 million. Two decades later World War II broke out, ironically by the very same nations for the very same reasons. The events are eerily similar, only bigger, better, more destructive, more catastrophic, with 50 to 80 million lives lost.

Our efforts to seek peace with treaties, alliances, the League of Nations, the United Nations, were to no avail, leaving us with war as our only path. Again we find ourselves at the edge of yet another war. Is it our failing memories, or is it us, using and abusing memory at will?

Memory is an enigmatic entity, weird, capricious, stubborn. We never remember the full picture, only some highlights. We choose not to learn from our mistakes, not just in wars, but in our daily lives. An abused wife still remains with her husband knowing she will be abused again, but she chooses to forget. How about love? The longing, the pain, the doubt, the tears, yet we choose to fall in love again and again!

Man is so short-sighted and so greedy. 

New generations replace the old, memories fade, past mistakes seem less hurtful. Iraq never happened. 

Superpowers fall for the same reasons as the fall of the Roman Empire. “Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat it.”

No evolution, knowledge, technology or science can save us from World War III. Unless we devise another system of settling our differences, unless memory rescues us, unless we heed the lessons of history, the human race is doomed. 

Why does memory start to fade?

Calamities of the past, too painful to remember are locked tight in a labyrinth at the bottom of our brains. 

Do we therefore choose to forget? The answer is a resounding yes. 

“Magnetic Resonance Imagery” is a brain scanning technique, able to identify the reason. In order to intentionally forget past experiences, we deliberately change how we think about the content of these memories. We intentionally push thoughts or people out of our mind by physically measuring and quantifying that process using brain data. 

Memories hide in our brain but scents and songs can retrieve them. Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of things Past” masterfully uses this intense arousal of a vivid childhood memory — a madeleine, dipped in a cup of tea. This method is now known as the “Proustian Memory Effect”.

Memory is imperfect. Forgetting is more common than you think. You forget your car keys every day. 25,00 years ago, Plato suggested that if the time interval is short, more information will be recalled. When a longer period passes, more information will be forgotten. In 1885, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus also drew a relation between time and forgetting, in his classic book: Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology… The Ebbinghaus Curve. Forgetting declines up to a point and then levels off. Any subtle cue can trigger the memory. 

Longtime Memory Researcher Elisabeth Loftus proposes four keys to forgetting: retrieval failure, (time lapse); interference, (abundance of information); failure to store; and motivated forgetting.

“The Decay theory” is total memory loss.

To retain information here are a few hints: repeat, rehearse, focus, and above all get some sleep.

Sleep improves memory…helps you learn faster and remember better.

Perhaps our world leaders and superpowers need a little more sleep — as we all do.

“Memory is the treasure and guardian of all things.”

Cicero (106-43 BC)

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