Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Wayne and I share summer birthdays that are 12 days apart. This means that each year we experience together that acute sensation of time and the temporality of nature. I'm not just talking about youth, hair or waistlines :)... but our memories.

Memories are funny things. According to Lehrer in his book PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST memories are not immutable states that exist on their own to be recalled on queue. In fact, they are very plastic and impressionable. "A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it. The more you remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes."

It's sometimes difficult to discern between actual memory and the memories of memories. Old photographs of cakes and presents, days at the beach and relatives long gone elicit everything from warmth to regret depending on the day. In scientific terms, the proteins involved in forming memory synapses only have a half-life of 14 days. This creates a ceaseless process of reincarnation instead of a fixed moment that is cemented into the architecture of the brain.

If neurons are so short-lived then how do we have long term memories? It is postulated that nostalgia or sentiment is due to a type of molecule called a Prion.  Prions defy genetic biology by embracing indeterminancy and randomness and living by their own rules. In this way of life they accommodate both the plasiticity of experience and the concreteness of recollections, possessing details that mark memories to create "...a past that is at once perpetual and ephemeral."

The more I read the more I see the fundamental unpredictability of the world. To live in the present is not a platitude but a way of life. Nothing is permanent. Most systems are plastic. We have the capacity to change.

According to Proust: "The past is never past. As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile. In their mercurial mirror, we see ourselves."

So this year, following the example of the Prion, we'll make sure to remember to both HAVE our cake and EAT it too.

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