gooollysandra

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Tag Archives: University of Chicago

Memory – past, present, and future

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Memory, in essence, is who we are. Memory shapes everything. Not only our understanding of ourselves, but our understanding of anything in the universe.

-David Gallo

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I sometimes worry that my memories influence my present, and therefore my future, too much because I am quite a sentimental and nostalgic person. But in fact, our memories make up who we are. Our memories are simply the collective of our life experiences, which we cannot escape. So there’s no need to worry that our memories weigh on us too heavily because they’re just what we live out daily currently, in our past, and in our future. Dwelling on memories and trying to relive them is another matter though, which we should probably be cautious of.

David Gallo at the University of Chicago is in charge of the Memory Research Laboratory and he conducts tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) sessions intended to elicit memories. This type of therapy is meant to steer our recollection of memories in a more accurate direction, as the way that we remember things is not always exact: “You remember selectively and you reconstruct. Sometimes your brain gets it right; sometimes your brain gets it wrong”, Gallo explained in a recent Chicago Mag article.

I was not surprised to learn that “Emotion has been shown to make any event more memorable”, which explains why trauma or grief or truly happy experiences have such a long-lasting effect on us. I think we can all relate to the burden of grief from our past and how it can affect us so deeply everyday as we attempt to walk the path of life. On the other hand, many of us are also blessed to have experiences that fill us with so much joy they bring us to tears. And periods of time that brought us so much happiness to look back on and hope to have again in the future; but even if we don’t experience that kind of happiness again, we are lucky to have had it once and perhaps that amount of happiness was enough to last a lifetime, or just what we are allowed in a lifetime.

I’m most interested in the way that our memory of the past can inform our present and  future, as this article brings to light:

Our recollective mind is traditionally thought of as a mechanism for one-way time travel, a tool for retrieving information from the past to help guide us in the present. Szpunar and his colleagues have helped make it clearer that we also reach back to our past in order to mentally jump forward, simulating events that haven’t yet happened in order to envision what may lie ahead.

Not only do our memories from the past make up who we are, we also need them to teach us how to move forward; from basic routine things we do everyday, to big picture life decisions that can lead us down one path or another. This weight that memory holds over our future can be daunting, but it’s also exciting because we can take our memories, good or bad, and use them to direct our future course like an informed autonomy over ourselves.

Poet/visual artist Cecilia Vicuña

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I had the pleasure of seeing a talk/performance by Chilean visual artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña at the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago last week. She began by walking onto the stage holding large colorful paper glasses up to her face and hummed for a couple minutes. She then began to speak about her life with a biographical chronicle of events of her time as an exchange student in Chicago while in high school. There was a poetic manner in which she spoke – the way she broke up her sentences into shorter phrases, sometimes whispered (which was frustrating at times because she was hard to hear) and then raised her voice surprisingly quickly for the next line. She was so cute and fragile, and yet full of wisdom, assertiveness, and passion.

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She spoke in detail about a practice in which she breaks down the syllables of a word to identify the meaning of each syllable and how they relate to the meaning of the word as a whole. For example:

Palabrarma

Palabra – word; arma – weapon

Meaning – words as weapons

Granted, this is a word she has made up, but she does it with actual words as well. I think it’s fascinating to break a word down to discover that each of its parts means the same thing, or something similar, to the word in its entirety. She delved further into the philosophy of language and argued that it primarily analyzes western beliefs and the western structure of thought and speech, and it fails to take into account eastern thought or any other systems of language.

She talked about our powerlessness in the control that we have over our lives – not that we can’t have autonomy over our actions, but that there is something greater than us breathing life into us, and we can’t take credit for that. In fact, we have to understand and respect it. She also brought our attention to Hindu beliefs regarding breath that I wish I could remember, but she was just so full of insightful anecdotes that I couldn’t catch all of them. I wish I could have recorded her performance and play it back when I’m in need of some encouragement. She was wonderful.

University of Chicago in Autumn

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