I took a break from reading A General Theory of Love to read World War Z, but now I’m back on the emotional psychology, and it’s just as interesting as it was earlier. The part of the book I’m reading is talking all about memory, and the role it plays in emotions, and the point that they make is that there is no emotion without memory. We only have feelings for others because we remember them, and it’s that memory, that continuity of feelings and senses and thoughts, that makes up our emotions and relationships.
Pretty interesting stuff. In one sense, it’s awfully freeing — we are constantly creating memories, and constantly taking in what we see and comparing it to what we’ve seen before. The book talks about how we actually remember things, and says that we’re not only explicitly learning things (“1+1=2,” and all of the other things you remember from school), but that we’re constantly and unconsciously implicitly learning how the world works around us. Whether it’s a brand new video game that you’re deciphering the rules to, or a new person that you’ve met multiple times, we’re constantly unconsciously picking up cues and storing them away. You learn that if Mario eats that flower, he can throw fire, or that the person you just met also used to be really into Tori Amos, and millions of other little ideas and facts and even wordless emotions that we’re storing away for a future time.
That’s pretty impressive — we’re all doing that, all the time. When you think of just how incredible and powerful our minds all are, and that we’re feeding each other information and emotional feedback in concert all the time, you start to get a big picture view of just why humanity is so strange and so wild and so amazing.
But memory is also a chain. As much as it tells us, both about ourselves and the world around us, it also ties us down into what we’ve known before. If every time you touch a hot stove, you get hurt, you’ll remember not to touch the stove again. But what if it’s a coincidence that the few times you touched the stove, it was hot? What if the cues you get, and the things you learn, are wrong? We’d never know — everything we know and feel comes from our own memories, and even in the face of absolute clear reason, our memories are what dictate our actions and emotions.
The book doesn’t talk much about this yet (and maybe it will — I haven’t finished it), but I had a memory float up from the murk today that came unbidden, that just rose up in my head unrequested, spawned by something random that I saw or happened to come across. And once it was there, I couldn’t get it out.
My life has changed a lot lately. But then I again I guess that’s what happens when you live long enough — I also read today that as you get older, time means less because you’ve lived through more of it. Nevertheless, I thought maybe that I was a completely different person, that the now was what mattered, and that the before didn’t affect me, wasn’t really a part of me any more.
But of course it was. One memory, and it was all back — the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same emotions and oft-traveled mental ground. Our memories can help us learn all kinds of new things, and they serve (well) as our compiled realms of knowledge, vast libraries of storage about all we’ve seen and all we know so far. But man, they are powerful in the other direction, too. One thought, hidden away for years, can set us right back into old thinking and patterns.
Posted on Friday, February 5th, 2010 at 3:45 am. Filed under general.