Metaphor or simple bloviation
Here are two more of the images I captured while on Cape Cod last weekend. I uploaded these to my WordPress media library, inserted them into what was then an empty screen, and discovered that I was at a loss about what to say about them. And so it was that, somewhere in the middle of my run yesterday afternoon, it struck me that both could be viewed as metaphors for the way in which we think our minds distill events to that essence we call memory. In some of the more far-flung wanderings you have read here, I have discussed the physical nature of the nervous system. I have talked about the electro-chemistry of impulse transmission. And I have rambled on about the complex nature of sensory inputs and the ways in which these manifest as reality. So, if memories are part and parcel of the nervous system, how, given what we know about the nature of nervous impulses, can we explain that intangible we know to be memory? This is where my images may help. First you should know that both were taken using long exposure. Because the rocks were stationary, they are clear, crisp, and may be easily discerned. The surrounding environment was moving under the influences of wind, current, and tide. Elements that were less well anchored moved about, while things which were more firmly attached moved less. Things that moved appear blurry, indistinct. Elements which moved less appear to be only slightly blurred, and some detail may be noted in these elements. Now, let’s go back to thinking about memory. To someone who isn’t a neuroscientist it might be difficult to imagine how new ideas may be stored in the brain if it is composed, at maturity, of a finite number of cells. So, any explanation that learning simply involves the addition of more brain matter cannot be right. What we do know about learning is that synaptic communication between and among neurons leads to the formation of new circuits for the transmission of electrochemical impulses and these may represent our behavioral and perhaps cognitive capacities. In fact it has been argued that both learning and memory are characterized by increases in neural connectivity and the formation of complex neural networks. Imagine, for example, any small number of individual neurons, and the vast number of circuits that might be established between and among them. It has always made sense to me that well established circuits may be more easily accessed when we attempt to recall them days, weeks, months, or even years later. Now, back to the images. The parts of each scene which were stationary sent lots of reflected light into the camera sensor and the subsequent rendition of those parts of the image is clear. Parts of each scene which were moving did not send as much information to the sensor and their subsequent rendition is less clear or not at all discernible. So, when you look at these scenes, imagine them as metaphors for the neural circuits of memory. Each has areas of crisp rendition, representing well established neural pathways, memories which we may recall with ease. Each has areas which are a slightly blurred, representing less well established connections, memories which we may only dimly recall. And each has very blurry areas which represent very dim memories which cannot be organized into coherent recollection. What do you think? Is all of this too much of a stretch?