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The Neuroscience of HappYness - Part 2: Memory, past, present, future.

April 20, 2019

Memory is what makes us remember "who we are!" As David Eagleman says, "It's a pillar of our personality. Memory sits at the core of our identity."

Much research lately shows and proves that this memory, which gives us continuity and thereby our identity, isn't reliable at all. That every time we access a memory, the event is actually reconstructed, not accessed - and it happens each time we recollect the past!

Memories are created in the hippocampus. People who've had that part of the brain removed, don't have any memories to recall! And surprisingly, they can't project or wish for the future even, because the past is used to create what one wants for the future (Refer the post on Introduction to the Neuroscience of HappYness of 13th April 2019 - more of the like and less of don't like.)

Each and every experience is, in fact, a vast association of neurons, from all of our senssory inputs, creating a unique signature for the experience, which we then call "memory." "Memories are actually brain states from a bygone time that we have to resurrect" adds Eagleman. When played back after such resurrection, the memory appears real, and yet the original event might be totally different or even totally false! Scientists have experimented and embedded false memories - and that's proof that one can vividly recall a memory that never truly took place. Normally, this would have been called a hallucination! Regardless, we can, and most often do, add detail each time we access a memory, and we recreate a "version" of what really happened. Adds Eagleman, "The past is a reconstruction, in fact, it's mythology. And can alter what we think about who we are."

This is where the phrase, "neurons that fire together, wire together" is most important to remember. People develop over time, what is called "personality traits" - which gives preference to add a certain kind of hue to any such resurrection, re-creation and replaying of the experience.

Given this, it's possible that we alter the memory to suit our "theme" in life. We do it more often than we are aware of since it happens subliminally, and at an unconscious level. In doing so, we alter our reality within. It's doesn't stop there - normally, it's said that a person's past colours the present! And we now know that the present also colours the re-created past! The same event can be resurrected differently based on where and how we are in our lives. The questions we ask can alter the way we experience the memories now!

Being aware of the fact that our memories are probably not really true, especially when we are acting based on past experience, is useful. The "past" that we experience now might be different at another point in time or stage in life. Changed circumstances and beliefs can alter the way we experience our past at any given point in time. Therefore, being objective and removing the subjective emotions, associated with the past, will help greatly. And especially for relationships, to let go of the labels and emotions associated with the people who are part of those past experiences is extremely important and useful. Why so? might be the question that arises here.

That's because memory just isn't used to record or recollect our past. It also helps us create purpose and meaning about who we are and what we do. The brain areas that are used for creating memories are the same that are used for simulating what comes next. Both the past and the future are creations within one's brain - and in many ways, an illusion that might have no relation to reality.

And as much as the future is a mystery, maybe the past is as well. Without memories, it's likely that we will be totally in the present moment, with the potential for everything, and knowing nothing and accepting things as they are NOW! And as a wise person once remarked that the "lasting solution to a centuries-old problem was for both sides to develop amnesia," maybe it is the same for each of us. To let go of the pain from the past, and to create useful versions - that keep us safe, positive and with the ability to live this moment in a manner that creates a useful future for us, and for those around us! And here again, it becomes clear that "HappYness" is a CHOICE! And it is each person's responsibility to choose wisely!

#Neuroscience #HappYness #Relationships #Memory #Past #Present #Future

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