«Take 16 minutes to learn something about Bolivian history. Or maybe not. Claudia Joskowicz’s two new video works, shown at Thierry Goldberg Projects, depict historical moments dramatically poised on the brink of a violent eruption. At first glance, the actors we see appear frozen even though they’re alive, as if God (or the artist) has buggered off, time has stopped, and the drama can’t or won’t conclude naturally. In Vallegrande, 1967, we slowly approach a dilapidated shed in a rural setting. A few curious locals have gathered to gawk at a dead body lying inside. Nude and supine, the dead man is watched over by soldiers and an eager photographer, who has climbed on the makeshift bier in order to get a better picture. In Round and Round and Consumed by Fire we are again in a rural village of mud bricks and shingled roofs. Two light-skinned men bearing pistols stand in front of a façade. They stand guard, perfectly still, awaiting the arrival of a band of soldiers who appear in the distance.»
The good news, as reported in Scientific American Mind, is that you can. Attempting not to think about something can notoriously have the opposite effect – the «don’t think of a white bear!» problem – but research showssuppression gets better with practice and substituting a thought with another thought can work well, too. Intriguingly, those who are best at deliberate forgetting are those who are also best at remembering things. (People with ADHD are worse at it.) A sharp and healthy mind is one that can remember and forget. Distracting yourself is another technique that gets a bad rap but that can be similarly effective: in one study, having to press a button each time a word-cue appeared led to as much forgetting as deliberately trying to block it. «Action interferes with recollection,» as one researcher put it. Want to forget your screw-up at work today? Cook a complex dinner tonight.
As a society, argues internet scholar Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, we’re getting worse at forgetting, thanks to the web: Amazon, Google and Facebook remember everything you use them for, for ever. In his book Delete, he calls for legal efforts to change the default, so that unless you choose otherwise, your online activities will eventually slip into the memory hole. It’ll never happen. But it’s a welcome intervention in the polarised debate between advocates of privacy and publicness. Perhaps «living in public» in the digital era would be less unsettling if we could trust that the web – like an optimally functioning human mind, rather than one with a disorder such as Price’s – might eventually also forget.
«Funes the Memorious is as Borgesian a character as they come, a man tormented by his hyperencylopedic mind, tragically unable to forget anything. “I alone have more memories than all mankind has probably had since the world has been the world,” Funes laments. Seemingly fulfilling the most hubristic of human ambitions—to remember/know everything—he is incapacitated by the compulsive absoluteness of his knowledge, unable to think and communicate with the rest of the humanity. Casting himself as the imperfect, inferior countercharacter to Funes, Borges suggests that forgetting—that is, forgetting ceaselessly—is essential and necessary for thought and language and literature, for simply being a human being.»
Hyperthymesia is the condition of possessing an extremely detailed autobiographical memory. Hyperthymesiacs remember an abnormally vast number of their life experiences.
Elizabeth Parker, Larry Cahill, and James McGaugh (2006) identified two defining characteristics of hyperthymesia: Spending an excessive amount of time thinking about one’s past, and displaying an extraordinary ability to recall specific events from one’s past.
The word hyperthymesia derives from Ancient Greek: hyper- («excessive») and thymesis («remembering»). Hyperthymesia is also known as hyperthymestic syndrome and highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM)
Individuals with hyperthymesia can recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail, as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them. Those affected describe their memories as uncontrollable associations, when they encounter a date, they «see» a vivid depiction of that day in their heads. Recollection occurs without hesitation or conscious effort.
It is important to draw a distinction between those with hyperthymesia and those with other forms of exceptional memory, who generally use mnemonic or similar rehearsal strategies to memorize long strings of subjective information. Memories recalled by hyperthymestic individuals tend to be personal, autobiographical accounts of both significant and mundane events in their lives. This extensive and highly unusual memory does not derive from the use of mnemonic strategies; it is encoded involuntarily and retrieved automatically. Despite being able to remember the day of the week on which a particular date fell, hyperthymestics are not calendrical calculators like some people with autism or savant syndrome. Rather, hyperthymestic recall tends to be constrained to a person’s lifetime and is believed to be an unconscious process. (…)
Transience refers to the general deterioration of a specific memory over time. Much more can be remembered of recent events than those further in one’s past. This is especially true with episodic memory, because every time an episodic memory is recalled, it is re-encoded within the hippocampus, altering the memory each time you recall it. Transience is caused because of interference. There are two types of interference: proactive interference (old information inhibits the ability to remember new information), and retroactive interference (new information inhibits the ability to remember old information).
This form of memory breakdown involves problems at the point where attention and memory interface. Common errors of this type include misplacing keys, eyeglasses, or forgetting appointments because at the time of encoding sufficient attention was not paid on what would later need to be recalled.
Blocking is when the brain tries to retrieve or encode information, but another memory interferes with it. Blocking is a primary cause of Tip of the tongue phenomenon (a temporary inaccessibility of stored information).
Misattribution is the first of the sins of commission which are discussed in the book. It entails correct recollection of information with incorrect recollection of the source of that information. For example, a person who witnesses a murder after watching a television program may incorrectly blame the murder on someone she saw on the television program. This error has profound consequences in legal systems because of its unacknowledged prevalence and the confidence which is often placed in the person’s ability to know the source of information important to suspect identification.
Suggestibility is somewhat similar to misattribution, but with overt suggestion. It is accepting false suggestion made by others. Memories of the past are often influenced by the manner in which they are recalled, and when subtle emphasis is placed on certain aspects which might seem likely to a specific type of memory those emphasized aspects are sometimes incorporated into the recollection, whether or not they actually occurred. For example, a person sees a crime being committed by a redheaded man. After reading in the newspaper that the crime was committed by a brown-haired man, the witness «remembers» a brown-haired man instead of a redheaded man.
Loftus and Palmer’s work into leading questions is an example of such suggestibility.
The sin of bias is similar to the sin of suggestibility in that one’s current feelings and worldview distort remembrance of past events. This can pertain to specific incidences and the general conception one has of a certain period in one’s life. This occurs partly because memories encoded while a person was feeling a certain level of arousal and a certain type of emotion come to mind more quickly when a person is in a similar mood. Thus, a contented adult might look back with fondness on their childhood, induced to do so by positive memories from that time which might not actually be representative of their average mood during their childhood.
This failure of the memory system involves the unwanted recall of information that is disturbing. The remembrance can range from a blunder on the job to a truly traumatic experience, and the persistent recall can lead to formation of phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide in especially disturbing and intrusive instances.
The book revolves around the theory that «the seven sins of memory» are similar to the Seven deadly sins, and that if you try to avoid committing these sins, it will help to improve your ability to remember. He argues that these features of human memory are not necessarily bad, and that they actually serve a useful purpose in memory. For instance, persistence is one of the sins of memory that can lead to things like post traumatic stress syndrome. However persistence is also necessary for long-term memory, and so it is essential.
`One of the most persuasive mistakes is to believe that our visual system gives a faithfull representation of what is «out there» in the same way that a movie camera would do. (…)You are not seeing the world in the rich detail that you implicitly believed you were; in fact, you are not aware of most of what hits your eyes. You only encode small amounts of information. The rest is assumption´
This words come from the book «Incógnito» written by the neuroscientist and writer David Engleman. I read this book time ago but a few months ago re-reading the parts that I highlited, I started to think if what we see, our level of atention, can be even more reduce in situations we´re too aware of ourselves. I found this idea relevant for my research because is related to the idea of «Reconsolidation» expose in my Research proposal and lead me to the idea that memories can be less reliable as much closer we´re involve on them. So I asked my self:
How much can change the level of attention if an spectator watch a situation with and without him?.
Which one is going to be more reliable when the spectator will remeber them? The one he is involved in or the one who is not?
What Can the difference between the level of attention tell us about the spectator? What Can the difference between his memories ( where he is involve or not) tell us about him?
This questions are linked to the core of my research proposal:
«Obviously, it was all a product of her illness, but as strange as it might sound, the way in which her memories evolved –with all those deliriums of fantasy- helped me understand and get to know who my grandmother really was.»
The evolution of memories can help us to decipher the inner self and the multiple layers behind the surface, as I experienced with my grandmother.
And because I think this is crucial for understanding the brain´s narrative so therefore the narrative I´m seeking for my project I want to made the following experiment:
1. Film 5 persons in an specific situation without them being aware of it.
2. Show to each person the video. In one part of it the person is involved and in the other part the person is not there. Meanwhile they are watching the video one camera (in the same situation of the screen) is filming the person. This video will be used to obtain the eye tracking in order to see how much attention have the person about the global scene while he is there (how much the person look himself during the sequence) and when he is not involved. This will be the first indicator of self awareness.
3. Some questions will be asked to the person about what happened in each part of the video. The difference between the level of attention in each part of the video (the one he is involved and the one he is not) will give us the second level of self awareness.
4. After the screening the person will be asked about what he remember about the two parts of the video.
5. After a period of time the person will be asked 9 times more (with an space of days or months among them) about what he remember from the two parts of the video. With this points (4 and 5) I want to see if the memories where we are involved could be less reliable than the memories we are not. But also see if the memories where we are involved are more supceptible to change while recreating them than the one we are not involved in.
I´m still thinking about this exercise and new points to ad an change but I think it could be a very interesting process in order to see how our level of self awareness can change our perception of facts and memories and how much the act of «reconsolidation» reveal about us.