This morning I awoke, went to the kitchen to put the coffee on and saw that it was only 3:00 a.m.
I went back to bed, heard the grandfather clock chime 4:00, heard the half past chime and got up at a quarter to five and am now sitting at the computer groaning because I have a full day driving to a doctor appointment 2 hours away and back and then going to a sports bar owned by Democrats to listen to the returns come in from today’s elections.
For perhaps the only time I am in agreement with Marco Rubio who wants to do away with Daylight Savings Time. I don’t know his reasons. They are probably different from mine. I just know that World War II is over.
As I stumbled to the kitchen at 3:00 a dream was fading that I had just had. In that dream a woman that I do not know got a text that simply said, “Peligro!” Somehow, in my dram, I knew that that word meant, “danger”. I had one semester of conversational Spanish for Doctors and Nurses in which we learned to say things like, “where do you hurt”, and “stick your tongue out.”
I don’t ever remember learning the Spanish word for danger. I looked it up. My dream was right.
This set me to thinking about how we remember.
Everyone has experienced the irritation of trying to remember a word or fact and having it come later when we no longer need it, unbidden. Actually, it isn’t unbidden. Somehow, our brain has been working on that task undercover, in our subconscious mind.
The brain is still a mystery. How can a crow or an African Gray Parrot have the I.Q of a five year old when it has an almond sized brain? Why is an octopus smart when it is only going to live three or four years? How can an octopus have independent control of each of its tentacles that still somehow talk to its central brain?
Why did our dog – who we took to the vet a couple of weeks ago to say goodbye – start forgetting things when she developed Canine Cognitive Dysfunction?
Why do some people remember what they see and others what they hear?
My own memory is primarily visual and I have almost no auditory memory. I was always like the kids in the Peanuts comic strip who remember, “wah wah, wah wah, wah wah.” Countering that lack of verbal rote memory, is the fact that an unusual amount of short term memory goes to long term memory compared to some other people. That is almost a disadvantage because increasingly every experience triggers a memory of a prior experience.
An article in Scientific American, as usual, poses more questions than it answers, but Paul Reber, a psychologist at Northwestern University, offers some information understandable to someone who is not a neuroscientist.
“You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain's memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes).”
One thing that I have recently become aware of (I can’t find the source) is that our brains remember in an economical way. Remembering the experience of meeting the love of your life for the first time you may remember where you were, what he or she was wearing, even the music playing on the P.A. system, but you won’t remember the faces of the other people in the room, or the fact that the waiter was talking to the people at the next table unless that conversation entered, somehow, into meeting the other person. In other situations that are life threatening you may even remember less because all of your attention was focused on the danger to you.
Also, we develop false memories, perhaps through the interaction of those neurons trying to make a supercomputer out of an iPod. Those false memories become “the story” that we will swear is the truth. Our memory doesn’t lie to us, we say, but it does.
So, where did peligro come from? Why did my brain store it? Where has it been all of this time? Why was it accessible in a dream, but not in my conscious experience?
It’s 6:34. I just heard my love interest stirring. I remember what she looked like, sitting in a coffee shop with three other girls the day I first saw her about 54 years ago. I can remember what she was wearing. I remember Charlie Blackman saying, “let’s go meet them.” I can’t remember a thing about what the other three young women looked like.