Monday, March 16, 2009

Memory and Identity

All I want to do is watch Battlestar Galactica and read blogs about linguistics. But I have a Bible study to plan and poems to edit... Also, I really, really want to check Facebook, but I've got another 27 days of fasting (which, by the way, I think I am not doing very well. Insufficient praying, overabundant exertion of the will.) Anyway, here follows a blog entry recycled from a class assignment: thoughts in reaction to a psychology article about a study of childhood amnesia (which, it seems, is the official name for the phenomenon of people not remembering much, if anything, from before the age of 3).

Though this study* dealt specifically with childhood amnesia, it raises questions about the nature of memory itself and its relation to identity. The end of the article suggests that childhood amnesia results from of a lack of autonoetic awareness. This claim assumes that having a sense of self enables memory to function more effectively for personally experienced events. How?

Perhaps autonoetic awareness creates a priority framework that makes memory for personal events more important. (Obviously, a priority system for deciding which memories to retain and which to discard is vital, due to the sheer volume of information processed during every moment.) If the self does not exist as a consistent experiencer/narrator/character, there is no reason to remember events that are only relevant to 'character development' or 'personal history', since they do not contribute to understanding the world or the behavior of surrounding people. Autonoetic awareness can provide a motive for retaining otherwise useless memories.

A sense of self could also provides a framework to which memories can attach, and thus a mechanism for retaining personal memories. For something to be “remembered”, there must be mental connections to its neural representation. If a memory is completely free-floating, it will never be accessed because nothing will remind its owner of it—and an inaccessible memory is effectively no memory at all. So having a sense of identity gives a remember-er a mental construct to connect personal memories to, thus making them accessible, thus making them retainable. Without this sense of self, there is no vantage point from which to determine the significance or even relevance of an event.

Suppose childhood amnesia does mean that young children lack a sense of self. Then developmental neurology could provide clues as to the mechanism for autonoetic awareness. A growing autonoetic awareness could be also tied to theory of mind (conceive of others' selves by analogy to one's own sense of self), linking socialization with memory capability.

[and that is where I cut off the paper I turned in, since it had to be under a page long. But I have lots more thoughts about this. Maybe I'll append them someday when I have excessive amounts of free time, if such a day ever arrives.]

*The study referred to is "Children remember early childhood: long-term recall across the offset of childhood amnesia," by Emily Suttfield Cleveland and Elaine Reese, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.

1 comment:

Ren said...

im sorry, what? you watch BG????
that show. makes my life go round.
i was on the airplane to france watching the season 3 finale and terrible dramatic things happened and I screamed! and the people around me thought i was dying, but i explained it was BG, and they didnt get it. :( my hero. and apollo is SO HOT.