Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: I'd really like an answer to this one

Amnesia doesn't happen as often as we see it in movies and sitcoms, but it is real. There have been books and documentaries about it. One question I've had since childhood and never heard answered satisfactorily, though, is how they remember to speak. If you forget everyone and everything, how do you remember words? And why do you remember that “rust" is the oxidation of metals, but not that "Jane McCalsky" is your wife of six years? In semiotics, you remember that the word "rock" corresponds with this image, but not that "dad" corresponds with him. How do you retain the definitions of stock language words, but not specialized words, like names? You learned to speak during your life, yet you've just forgotten your life. How can your forget all your English teachers and all the writers they loved, but not the words they used? Didn't you learn your teacher's name the same year you learned those words? Why is that one word off the record? What does this say about the human mind?


  1. I don't know why this instinctively makes sense to me. Have you ever had the experience of having someone - like Nessa, someone you know really well, or even someone you see every day - walk into the room, and you're distracted, and for an instant you know that that face has some kind of import for your life, but you can't quite think how? I've had this happen with SHEL. Not exactly a case of slipping the mind. For an instant there it's just "Oh. Person." before the categorization kicks in and you know who they are and what their name is.
    Knowledge is slippery for me, but the words I use every day to think about it with are harder to lose the grip on, I think. It's clear to me that those words belong to a different section of the mind than the knowledge of where you live and with whom.

  2. My answer is swift, subconscious judgment calls. Imagine your son's first word, your first kiss, the name of the first girl who broke your heart, or the last stirring thing your sergeant said to you before dying in the jungles of Saigon.

    And now imagine someone telling you that you can have that memory, or "how to wipe."

    All I'm saying.


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