Maintaining Memory

Author: Sudha   Date Posted:1 November 2018 

I read a very powerful novel recently by Joyce Carol Oates. It was based, in part, on the true story of the most famous and most studied amnesiac in history. Entitled, The Man Without a Shadow, the novel brings home the essential importance of memory to all of our lives. The protagonist at the heart of the book is unable to make any new memories and can only retain around 70 seconds worth of information from every new encounter. His memories of his 37 years prior to the viral illness remain fairly intact. The novel focuses on a love relationship between the amnesiac and his clinical doctor. I found the exploration of identity and relationship in the absence of memory creation to be terribly sad. Joyce Carol Oates is an unflinchingly good author, whose examination of this subject matter brooks no quarter.

Science Studies Memory

I studied several cognitive science units at Macquarie University in 2016. One of them was called, Delusions and Disorders of the Mind and Brain, and it was absolutely fascinating. We did in fact study the real case of the most famous and most studied amnesiac in history. His name was Henry Gustav Molaison, who was widely known as H.M. Clinical scientists studied this man for almost 50 years. Although, science has learned an incredible amount from this human being, it is, also, terribly sad. The Joyce Carol Oates’ novel captures this sadness and, in many ways, it exposes the unfeeling emptiness, which lies at the heart of science such as this.

Alzheimer’s Steals Identities Away

Maintaining memory becomes more important as we age, in my experience. I suppose the fact that my father passed away in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease makes me more susceptible to the inherent sadness within stories like the Joyce Carol Oates’ novel. Watching the man, I long admired, lose his sense of self, was a very real tragedy. Watching the torment, it placed upon my mother, was equally savage and unremitting. Dementia is the scourge of the modern world, in my view. We are these big-brained monkeys surrounded by storehouses of data both inside and outside of our selves. Yet, when this disease creeps up on the unsuspecting human being, an Apple phone will not save you, nor any other technological marvel. No device will liberate you from the ravages of a condition that steals your identity away. No memories, no self, it is a simple equation.

Maintain Your Memory No Matter the Cost

This is why maintaining memory is as important as making money in the lives of older Australians, in my view. Some would say, it is much more important. We may live in a materialistic world, but if you cannot remember who you are and who your loved ones are, it is all pretty meaningless. We all know that you cannot take it with you, in terms of wealth and material success. Rich kings and queens litter history, with deaths that take them away in the same manner as any pauper. Donald Trump will not trump the Grim Reaper. Our memories are what can last beyond our lives. Memories of our family members, loved ones and friends. May your memory maintain its grip on your identity for as long as humanly possible.

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