The Many Minds of Memory

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***Due to coronavirus, this roundtable will be hosted virtually.

Memory is not a dusty cellar, open treasure chest, or sealed pandora’s box. It is a dynamic process, a stream of renditions and reflections. It conveys to us not what strictly happened, but embeds us in a retained internal moment, in an external encounter, or an imprint from another’s story. Memory re-enforces, revises, re-edits, and re-interprets as we grapple with the present and look forward to the imminent and not so immediate future. Memory is paradoxical: privately phenomenological and yet irreducibly entwined in family or group, subjective yet sculpted by others’ reflections; reflected in one’s mirror yet refracted through the lens of a culture, religion, and history. Our memory may resonate with the memories of others, individual and collective, and become thereby fortified, annexed, or diluted.

Implicit memories are subliminal, subconscious, often dormant in the body of an organism until awakened by association, affordance, and circumstance. Explicit memories, on the other hand, form the quilt-like narratives of ourselves.

The past may magnify or muffle the presence of our current selves. And it can do both. Throughout life, we form and reform particular memories from a protean sort of raw material, from the freshly perceived and from the recycled and reverberated. Memory can embitter and it can bring wisdom. It can soothe, entertain, or distress and re-traumatize.

Whether implicit or explicit, positive or negative, we fear the loss of memory, both the short and the long term, and experience it as a theft of personhood, a ghostly vanishing of the self amidst recognized others and familiar settings. Simple lapses of recall can be frightening for some, an omen of a coming loss of one’s being in the world.

The neuroscientist Gerald Edelman described consciousness as “the remembered present”, a dynamic, emergent, and ongoing narrative by which we continue the search to find ourselves both in the universe of generations, and our singular lived lives.

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