Memories are made of this.

March 21, 2009

Memory is the mother of all wisdom. Aeschylus

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  From the television show The Wonder Years

The memory should be specially taxed in youth, since it is then that it is strongest and most tenacious. But in choosing the things that should be committed to memory the utmost care and forethought must be exercised; as lessons well learnt in youth are never forgotten.  Arthur Schopenhauer

The palest ink is better than the best memory. Chinese Proverb


Many of you have probably seen the 2001 film Memento. It tells the story of a former insurance investigator, Leonard Shelby, who was attacked by a man, who killed his wife and left him with a brain injury that has made him unable to form new memories. It is a powerful, if somewhat confusing film. What you may not know is that there was a tragic case of a man who suffered from just such a condition. His name was Henry Gustav Molaison, although he was better known as HM. In his childhood after being hit by a bicycle rider, HM had suffered from epileptic seizures and William Beecher Scoville, his surgeon, decided to remove the part of his medial-temporal lobes where the storms originated. In this sense the operation was a success but the collateral damage was terrible. HM woke every day with no memory of what had taken  place the day before. You would speak to him and he would forget everything immediately. He had enormous difficulties with the process of consolidation, i.e. converting short-term memories into permanent storage. He, maintained his older memories, those dating back to before the operation.

Sadly he died in 2008, at the age of 82, but HM made a major contribution to medical science. Scientists now know that there are two kinds of systems in the brain for creating new memories. Declarative memory creates records names, faces, and new experiences. It is situated in the hippocampus. Motor learning is subconscious and depends on different brain systems. The example of riding a bike gives a fascinating insight into how memory works. It is explained very succinctly on the Website How Stuff Works

If you’re riding a bike, the memory of how to operate the bike comes from one set of brain cells; the memory of how to get from here to the end of the block comes from another; the memory of biking safety rules from another; and that nervous feeling you get when a car veers dangerously close, from still another. Yet you’re never aware of these separate mental experiences, nor that they’re coming from all different parts of your brain, because they all work together so well. In fact, experts tell us there is no firm distinction between how you remember and how you think.

            The fallibility of human memory has been amply demonstrated by psychologist Elizabeth Loftus. Memory does not work like a videotape recorder. You don’t just record the event and play it back later the way a videotape player would work. We are probably aware of the obvious difficulties of not having a clear view of the situation and the stress. There can be, however, more subtle factors at work such as the way the eyewitness is questioned after the incident; new memories can be implanted and old ones unconsciously altered. Here is an example of how the wording of a question can lead the witness:

How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they collided into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they bumped into each other?’

How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?

How fast were the cars going when they contacted each other?’

The questions provided very different estimates from the witnesses of the speeds of the drivers:

Smashed 40.8 (mph)

Collided 39.3

Bumped 38.1

Hit 34.0

Contacted 31.8

            But there are also prodigious feats of memory too. We have Dave Farrow who is in The Guinness Book of World Records for memorising the order of 52 decks of cards shuffled together randomly – that is, 2,704 cards! I can’t even remember my mobile phone number! What interests me are the techniques people with this kind of memory use. That marvellous illusionist Derren Brown was able to train Glen Brighton, 40-year-old aviation insurance consultant, to beat the most prestigious teams in the Night of Champions quiz night at a pub in Fulham – on his own. Brighton was able to absorb the contents of hundreds of encyclopaedias and reference books. He used a technique called photoreading  that allows you to mentally photograph a page in a few seconds. Then he created powerful visual images in his head, which enabled him to recall the words with great ease. Dave Farrow gave this example of how to remember that an anti-neutrino is a subatomic particle; he pictures an ant with a newt on its back driving an atomic submarine.

I have Brown’s book Tricks of the Mind and I am taking part in an IH trivia quiz this Friday; I reckon in a week I should be able to get it sussed. In fact, I really won’t be needing a team. It should be a piece of cake. If I could just remember where I left the book…


Ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, hypocrisy and bad grammar

March 21, 2009

In last week’s Observer David Mitchell cited this blog It features a hilarious collection of ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, hypocrisy and bad grammar taken from the Have Your Say section of the BBC website. Here is a selection:


A military muslim interpretor, or translator makes the same money in one year that a contract security guard does in ten years. I think you see the incentive the military muslim interpretors, and translators have in keeping any lucrative muslim/ Christian conflict going-


The way the BBC go on about Obama you’d think he was standing as a candiate for PM of Britain, not President of the US. Where’s all your coverage of John McCain? Oh, he doesn’t fit the PC agenda does he. White man for US President doesn’t have the same multiculti ring as Half Black-Half Muslim for US President does it?


the best way to deal with knife crime in the UK is to invent a time machine and go back to the 1950’s and prevent them from allowing mass immigration. Sorry if people find that offensive but look at the statistics for who carry out most of these crimes, it’s not the indigenous white population is it?


Many here claim that gays are born that way! Let’s for a moment accept that. In a few years or many years later the following say that they’re born that way and are God’s children too:

Murderers, serial killers, mass murderers

Rapists, serial rapists, gang rapists



People indulging in bestiality

WHERE DOES humanity draw a line? Or is it just a case of ‘enough’ people of a particular type getting together and demanding acceptance from the majority? Tell me!


(Writing about “Doctor Who.) The doctor dies and returns as a black, gay, transexual, vertically challanged, doctor who has recently converted to Islam. Well I’m sure that’s how the pc BBC would really like it.


Iran and Syria are laughing at the world and so impressed with the liberal media and Hamas fighting their battle for them. Liberals and the liberal media are happy to insure the obliteration of Israel and the rise of Hamas and terror in the world. Wait till Hamas comes to your neighborhood, but don’t cry for hep.


There isn’t a shred of credible scientific evidence to support the idea that species evolve into other species. There is no plausible theory as to how life/matter/energy came to be out of nothing. Evolution is as scientifically unproven as creationism or any other “ism”. It is interesting to consider all the theories but it is time to stop the presenting evolution as “scientific fact”.


(On Michael Crichton’s death.) Its a strange world where a man who created so much pleasure for others writing medical fiction is struck down by cancer at a ridiculously early age. Makes no sense.


Marriage is, and always has been, a religious belief. Their marriage doesn’t effect my marriage. It does, however, take the societies moral scale and lower it another notch. Eventually the liberal left will be fully in support rampant free sex anywhere with anyone.


the only way that knife crime will be stopped is by hanging those who kill. There is no other way to control this. If these killers are standing over the trapdoor on the scaffold they would then know fear. At the moment there are no deterents and there are no judges that are prepared to put these thugs away for life and mean it. Young people need boundaries and need to have consequences there are none in our society now, l


I think most of the info in online maps is not accurate and correct. If I am wrong, than why dont they track Osama and other Alqada hide outs.


I haven’t heard any really good jokes lately – Political Correctness has killed them all.


It high time the UK people woke up and got rid of this Labour Goverment. There policy is spend spend , as they did in 1970. I really feel sorry for you UK people , because there will be no day light from this mess for ever. The UK will end up a third world country and will now have main problems to face from letting so main people arrive . I left the UK 3 years ago, what i once called my home and moved to Spain. I now have Spanish passport and given my Uk passport . I wish you all the best


Even though I am law abiding I find that my attitude to the Police has changed over the last decade or so. I now actually avoid and fear the police in case any interaction leads them to decide that they need to sample my DNA and add it to their database. When they have your DNA it’s creepy – almost like they can read your sole.


The lack of moral fibre at the BBC is a symptom of todays sick and vile society. Whatever happened to good, honest broadcasting? I for one do not want to see genetalia on my radio!


when I were a lad and we had weather WORSE than this, we were made to stand in front of our desks and jump up and down to get warm – the bottles of free school milk would be frozen


I find it frightening that a character was seen injecting alcohol into an orange. I feel that this could give ideas to terrorists about how to poison fruit.


Steve Wright said the temperature was 23 degrees Celsius. He should have said 78 degrees Fahrenheit, which I consider English.


this experiment is a complete waste of time. we cannot destroy the whole earth, only God can.


Why was this ‘built’ underground? Simple, it does not exist. It’s a big con. It’s the same reason India/Pakistan allegedly conducted nuclear explosions underground simply because they never happened in the first place. Why? Because nuclear bombs don’t exist and they never have existed. FACT! Hollywood and the people behind Hollywood (the rich elite race) came up with the propoganda to fool the ‘Sheople’. They’ll keep taking your money though to fund their lavish lifestyles.


Murder is murder and should be punishable by life in a proper jail, not the 5 star hotels they are kept in now. Anyone committing murder is scum and has no right to enjoyable life, the person they killed doesn’t get a second chance at life so neither should these people. No rehab, no time off for good behaviour, no privileges, just sit in a conrete cell until death because that’s what is deserved.


My husband has been trying to get into teacherrs training for 3 years now, there seems to be a brick wall at every turn, to be quite honest i think it is because they are looking for more enthnic minorities in our area rather than the educated working class white.


My media week 22/03/09

March 21, 2009


This ABC Rear Vision podcast looks more closely at the social and cultural history of coffee, tracking the changes in the way we consume it and how we think about it.


Atheist Julian Baggini writes this critique of New Atheism in The New Atheist Movement is destructive.


This ABC podcast from The Philosopher’s Zone delves into whether business ethics enable us to draw lines between culpability, incompetence and culpable incompetence? And are the ethics of the media totally compromised by spin and image manipulation? It’s called Understanding and blame while the money runs out.


This fascinating article from looks at how perceptions of space exploration are coloured by ideology.


The Independent has an interview with James Lovelock famous for his Gaia hypothesis, a theory that the living organisms of the biosphere form a single, complex interacting system that creates and maintains a habitable Earth; named after Gaia, the Greek Earth mother goddess.


These two pieces come from The Onion: Tree Featured In ‘The Deer Hunter’ Dies and U.S. Troops In Iraq Excited To Finally Return To Afghanistan