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When We are No More

Page history last edited by swanson@... 4 years, 3 months ago


When We are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future

Abbey Smith Rumsey


"What this means for the digital age is that data is not knowledge, and data storage I not memory. We use technology to accumulate facts about the natural and social worlds. But facts are only incidental to memory. They sometimes even get in the way of thoughtful concentration and problem solving. It is the ability for information to be useful both now and in the future that counts. And it is our emotions that tell what is valuable for our survival and well-being. When distracted--for example, by too many bright shiny things and noisy bleeping devices--we are not able to learn or develop strong reusable memories. We fail to build the virtual repertoire of knowledge and experience that may be of use to us in the future. And it is the future that is at stake. For memory is not about the past. It is about the future." P.12 [I like the part of this quote about emotion and the roll of emotion.]


"Culture provides the large-scale framework for memory and meaning. It aides in the creation of new knowledge , but it also acts as a filter that over time determines what I is long-term value from the social perspective. It does so by being very conservative, retaining behaviors, practices, beliefs, values, and knowledge over long periods of time...Natural memory is designed to be liable, flexible, easily modified or written over to suit new environments. Artificial memory is designed to be stable, fixed, unchanging, slow, and resilient, freeing up mental space for individuals to learn new things...Culture is the set of given, ready-made elements that make up a living past, and that living past determines the basic parameters of lives and choices available to us over time. It provides the baseline context of order and meaning in our private lives by directing our attention to some things and steering away from others." P. 27


"Emotion in memory formation and retention is primary. It lends brightness to the details of an event and cues the mind to the value of of the memory's content. Emotion is embedded in the content of the event and is part and parcel of what is recalled when a memory is triggered. This affective or emotional nature of memory is responsible for the vividness of painful memories (a crippling vividness in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder). But it is equally the source of great pleasure when, catching the strains of an old song, you remember the a certain blissful summer day at the beach when radio played that tune over no over; or when the smell of caramelized apples takes you back to your grandmother's kitchen, warm, cozy, and pleasantly humid while outside darkness gathers at the window and the winds rustle the last leaves on the big red maple by the Arden path." P. 35 All info "facts, figures, names, dates, events" go through hippocampus which places memory in a special relationship as connected to emotion p.35-36 [The actual mechanisms are not as important to me. The fact that the neuroscientists are documenting this mechanisms is important and that emotions are bound up in this mechanism. Emotion plays a vital role.]


"Conceptually, memory formation and retrieval is relatively straightforward, the very model of curation. It boils down to just a few steps: selection, acquisition, categorization, storage, and preparation for ready retrieval on demand. That said, each step of mental curation is intricately detailed and involves global coordination and synchronization with other processes in the brain. How this happens is beyond the horizon of present-day science. But the basic contours of each process are coming into focus.

                "We scan the environment for information that catches our attention. Given that the brain's primary job is to keep us alive, it is highly attuned to perception of novelty. We become inured--habituated as scientists say-- to the familiar. Something new and unexpected will grab our perceptual attention, and the brain will will make inferences about everything else based on what is has laid down in its memory. As a consequence, most of the information we perceive in any given moment is disregarded--effectively thrown away--because it is redundant. What we acquire through our senses is instantaneously processed through emotional and cognitive centers of sensemaking. The brain looks for matches against similar information stored in the brain, and then temporarily parks it for ready reuse...By day, our strategy for sensemaking is to create a narrative of events that suggests cause and effect and identifies a context in which all the elements cohere and find meaning." P. 111-112


"Our uncanny ability to see patterns everywhere allows us to interpolate information from our memory banks into present perceptions. What we "see" are inferences the brain makes on the basis of what it already knows--that is, remembers. The patterns we see are based on samples of the world, the data within each sample are chemically tagged with specific molecules that express value, and those with the greatest salience command our attention." P. 113


"During recollection, a memory is opened up like a book or computer file, gets reworked, then reencoded and stored in a slightly modified way...Recall is literally a rebuilding process, executed chemically, and new perceptions are incorporated into the old. The more often a memory is called up for use, the stronger it gets, be it declarative (factual) memory such as an event or word or somatic (physical) memory such as a smell, a sound, a golf swing or keyboard skills." P114


As new experiences happen, "connections between the new data coming into the brain find their home in existing mental contexts or webs of associations. In other words, memory consolidation creates meaning by putting information into an appropriate context. Once in context, it can be used again in the future. And it is in this phase that a memory is most vulnerable to losing its way, never finding a meaning or context that can hold it stable and available for future use. Because every memory is tweaked and fortified in use, we live in a state of nonstop historical reinterpretation. The upshot is that the past itself changes in the process of remembering. The representations of things that were laid down previously--whether five decades ago or five minutes--are modified simply by being used. In use, they are placed within the environment of the present moment and that use becomes an intrinsic part of memory itself--the past plus." p114


"Emotion is the body's internal representation of value. Emotions such as fear and joy register the meaning of something to us. Their explicitly and conscious counterparts--anxiety and happiness--are what we say we feel...Emotional value is processed preconsciously and tagged by chemical markers. The stronger the emotion, good or bad, the greater the value for better or for worse. Sometimes the emotions are passed to the conscious mind mind and we become aware of them, sometimes not. But whether conscious or not, they are associate with our senses through visual, olfactory, or aural cues." P. 118


"Emotions are supremely significant because of their determinative role in belief and decision making...From the time of the Enlightenment onward, Western culture has deemed reason a stronger and more prestigious form of intelligence than emotion. Reason thinks slowly, not intuitively, and is effective as an instrument used to exert human will. But is it not the font of empathy and fellow feeling that social life requires. Computers, on the other hand, can reason with stunning speed, but they cannot simulate human decision-making processes with equal speed because they are not emotional. They can learn to simulate our behaviors by assess the outcomes of past choices to make probabilities predictions ("people who liked this also liked...") and often that is good enough

                "Reason is a rarefied creature, demanding concentration and concerted blocks of time. Consequently, we use it sparingly. We rarely expend the time and energy to sort out something unfamiliar, let along something that creates dissonance with what we already "know." Information that fits into preexisting categories and values is simple to incorporate. On the other hand, it is clearly self-defeating if acquiring new--let alone contradictory--information is really hard. Evaluating what we perceive depends on deep processing that operates over long periods of time and can be neither rushed nor short-circuited. This explains why a tired brain is less likely to acquire new information than one that is well rested. It also explains what is known as confirmation bias, whereby we pay more attention to information that confirms our existing view of how the world works than to information that contradicts or complicates that mental model. This is the paradox we live with: The mind's struggle to accommodate more and more information in our inelastic brain can end up making us less open to new information, not more. To a larger degree, wisdom is a feature we can acquire over time to compensate for this, developing a heightened ability to assess how valuable any new pieces of information may be in the larger context of what we already know." P119-120



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