Friday, September 27, 2013

Memory bump?


A review in the September 12 issue of Science of Douwe Draaisma's The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, Time and Aging. Apparently, one thing Draaisma talks about is what he calls the "reminiscence-curve bump." He references studies of what elderly people remember, the number of memories for each age. Memories start from age three or four, rise to a peak around 20 years old, then fall rapidly. Recent events are remembered, as one might expect, but middle age is pretty much a memory desert.

According to the review: "Draaisma argues that the bump in the reminiscence curve has less to do with the ability of the young adult brain to store memories efficiently and more to do with the quality of memories accrued as we set out on independent adult life."

So what about this blog? It would take too much time to actually do the tabulation, but I have a strong sense that if I compiled the memories recorded here over the past nine years Draaisma's thesis would be confirmed: a curve rising from about age five, plateauing in young adulthood (18-25), then dropping fast. Those were indeed intense years, when the past was confronted and the future forged. Science, religion, love, sex: I am today, to a large extent, the person I became then.

So it would seem that events lived most intensely linger most vididly in memory.

But what about dreams? Dreams draw on memory too. What places do I dream about? Never the places or houses I have lived in all my adult life. And never the places I lived during those crucial years of 18 to 25. Almost exclusively the town (Chattanooga) and house I lived in as a child. This would suggest that dreams draw on memories from a different bank than does conscious reminiscence, a deeper more jumbled repository.

We know very little about memory -- how memories are stored, maintained and retrieved. Sometimes it seems miraculous. But then I think of my Mac Air and all that it remembers and I realize that the seemingly impossible is possible. This will be the century of the brain. By century's end, the mystery of memory will likely be resolved. I wish I were going to be around for the resolution.