Lapham’s Quarterly – Memory

This is one of my favorites. I am fascinated by the passage of time and as this blog is a testament, to preserving memories. For me, memories are not only remembering what happened, but the feelings, emotions, environment and mindset at the time are all part of it. Where I think most people look back and see only silent, black and white film, I strive to see full surround sound color. This is not easy but there are certain things that help. The scent of a perfume, swinging on a swing, a certain song, alcohol, all serve to resurrect dormant memories as though they’ve jolted them alive with a bolt of lighting. I’ve come to realize however, that over time the full and vibrant color of my memories are fading. As I grow older the portion of my life I remember is shrinking and I am forgetting.

That is why this blog, aside from my family, is my greatest treasure. It is a recording of my life and contains thoughts, feelings and actions as they happened. When I re-read them I’m able to catch a flicker of my actual mindset at the time. If I didn’t have these entries then I would not be able to remember the mindset. It is no easy thing for the current version of yourself trying to remember a previous version. It is like a new operating system trying to recall the old operating system it replaced. Yes, for most, there are still a few files around but the old system is gone and mostly forgotten. For me, this blog is my backup of those old systems, separate from the one I’m using in my brain. I’m able to access these entries directly and thus my memories are much fuller and vibrant than they otherwise could have been.

I am almost 43 years old. Being able to access my past so directly through this blog brings up something sad. When I really think back and put myself in the past, there is a deep sense that what I’m remembering is a dead world, it no longer exists. Those people, events, places, entire zeitgeist of the time are all gone, they no longer exist. Those people are now very different people, different versions of themselves. Things people think, and things they do are all different. And so yes, given the right circumstances and concentration I can put myself back in those worlds but those worlds are static and lifeless. It is like Stephen King’s The Langoliers where a few people get trapped a few minutes in the past, in a time that is over. Then the Langoliers come to eat that world as its no longer needed. I enjoy being able to remember so fully, but it also brings greater sadness that those times can never be revisited.

I realize memory is fragile. I used to think that once you learned something it would stay in your mind’s filing cabinet forever. I learned in my 30s that that is not the case at all. It was easy to recognize this through reading books. After I had just finished a book the story was vivid for a while in my mind. But over the years I only remember a few main points of the story. Once I discovered this I started highlighting parts I found interesting and made a post of them in this blog. Therefore, when I want to re-remember a book I can just look it up here, read my entry and then I will remember the book much more fully. This blog is an extension of myself. I have so much material here I wonder if artificial intelligence would be able to create bot that thinks and responds the way I would. It would be similar to how deepfake needs a massive amount of images to create a very realistic video of a person. In the same way, perhaps my descendants will be able to chat with a bot version of me? Maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to chat with myself?

I’ve gotten off track a bit. As always, I’ve put my favorite quotations below and have added commentary.

What is memory and where is history? The questions have been shaping the hyperpolarized forms of American identity politics for the past thirty years, demanding removal of statues from public parks, freedom of speech from private schools, drumming up the sound and fury of the country’s culture wars, dividing we the people into militant factions of us and them.
The discord follows from the absence of a fable agreed upon, the asset listed in Plato’s Republic as the “noble falsehood” that binds society together in the swaddling cloth of self-preserving myth.

Every generation rearranges the furniture of the past to suit the comfort and convenience of its anxious present.

I found the above two quotes fascinating. We re-create our own history over and over so that it suits are present. We can never understand the past as it actually was, the memories and analyses will always be in flux. Just to try and get an accurate picture of the American past has been a real challenge. The history books in school never spoke of the atrocities committed upon the Native American. Those books said we were all friends! Similarly, Japanese schoolbooks whitewash the Japanese atrocities of WWII. And the American schoolbooks whitewash that America put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Again, the deepfake example is applicable here. Deepfake requires a massive amount of photos to create a realistic fake video of a person. Similarly, we need read a massive amount of books from different sources to acquire an realistic understanding of the past. Current books will portray Native Americans in a very positive light while books from the 1700 and 1800s refer to them as savages. Well, which is it? The past is lost to us. The only way to try to gain anything more than a cursory understanding is to read, visit the actual place, speak with descendants, go to museums, and read some more.

Madison and Adams addressed the well-educated members of their own privileged class. Pain talks to ship chandlers and master mechanics and tavern keepers, to wives, widows and orphans.

This is no different from today. The Republicans speak to the upper class and the Democrats to the working man. The only difference recently is a massive amount of poor and middle class whites in America have a deep and innate need to feel superior. So they align themselves with the rich person’s party even though the policies work directly against them. I grew up middle class so Pain speaks to me. He is the only founder that I have read thoroughly. His ideas are Common Sense which is sorely lacking in America today. Having any sense certainly is no longer common.

Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.

Departing life has made their names forgotten; it is writings that make them remembered. – 1200 BC: Egypt

Of course I’m going to love this quote; this blog serves to not only help me remember myself but for my descendants as well. Without these writings I would just be another name on a tombstone with only a few facts and dates to go with it. These writings are who I am and I’m hoping that through them I will live forever.

It is a general complaint among men of reading, and to many a discouragement from it, that they find themselves not able to retain what they read with any certainty or exactness.

Yes! That is why many years ago I decided to highlight parts of books which really speak to me and record them in an entry about the book. I’m then able to simply look up the book here and remember it again. This blog is a database extension of my own mind.

When a great orator makes a great speech, you are listening to ten centuries and then thousand men – but we call it his speech and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing – and the last man gets the credit, and we forget the others.

Yes, it is Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Bezo’s Amazon. Neither of these person’s riches would have been possible without the work of hundreds of thousands. Yet only they get the credit. This notion became a political issue when Obama referred to a similar idea in that it takes the cooperation of many to build things. The Right jumped on it and twisted it into Obama saying “You didn’t build that.” America is such a disgrace these past few years. This is what societal decline looks like and I have to say it is very depressing. The only safeguard my descendants is move to where people are more enlightened and ignore the stupid people, of which there are many. I am happy to live here in the Bay Area where most are enlightened beings. I’m also happy to mute the neanderthals who continue to be a presence through the magic of Facebook. Facebook has turned into more of a hindrance than an advantage these days.

The past is always in flux, surviving not in icily dust-free facade restorations but as a dynamic undercurrent – in the slope of hills, shapes of streets, breadth of squares; in lintels, shutters, courtyards; in habits and associations and prejudices; among working people and recent immigrants and the aged and a lot of youths who didn’t go through the career door; among what remain of vagrants and eccentrics and clochards; among a great many people lying low who remembered things.

I used these exact words of history being in flux above. I got that idea from this quote. It is interesting that the information we read and watch become part of our own thoughts. My very mind is built upon the ideas of millions. I didn’t build my own mind Obama, millions have built up human knowledge and ideas and these have shaped my mind. My mind is not my own, it was molded and shaped by everyone else. The more I learn, the more it continues to be shaped. Therefore is any thought in my head truly my own or is it a random data string spun off by thousands of databases in my mind exchanging information, morphing over time. Who am I? Just a product of an enormous amount of input over 43 years.

Troll – Neanderthal – Pg. 93

Folklore is often based in historical truth. Over countless generations these stories change and morph into something very different then what they actually were. They are shadows of the ancient past preserved in cultural memory repeated again and again until they are nothing more than silly children’s stories. But through the work of scientists and historians we are able to make connections and strengthen the binds to our past. And so I really enjoyed this connection on page 93. Trolls are a part of Scandinavian folklore and Scandinavians share 2% of their DNA with Neanderthals. There are reports from the 18th century of hairy wild men on a “the Swedish island of Oland” which “have led some scholars to speculate that a small band of Neanderthals may have escaped the extinction event thought to have wiped out the species around 30,000 B.C.

The connection therefore, is the idea of trolls is an ancient memory of Neanderthals in the collective memory of Scandinavians. This also hits me quite personally as I have more Neanderthal DNA than 71% of other 23andMe customers and it accounts for 2% of my DNA. The study of history is so very fascinating to me. I only wish more of humanity were able to do the same. If everyone could understand the past as well as travel and be exposed to other cultures and ideas I think we’d live in a much more peaceful world. But alas, humanity is still a bunch of monkeys itching to gather more things, have sex and generally just cause a mess.

Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness, however thorough or revealing their documentation.

Again, a quote which formed ‘my own’ ideas as I wrote the beginning of this post and compared it with The Langoliers. The past is dead and I can only see it through the glass, no touching allowed. How I would love to go to the Grandview pool as a child again and fall asleep afterwards exhausted on orange shag carpet in front of a fan in summer. How I would love to travel back in time and visit my Grandfather when he was a young man, hang out with my own Dad as children the same age wandering around Grandview. I however don’t want to stay in the past, not unless I could have the knowledge and life experience I do now. It has taken a long time to get to this point and I have a strong grip on life, whereas in my youth life had a strong grip on me.

Minds are formed by language, thoughts take their color from its ideas.

The learning of foreign languages has been a major contributor in shaping who I am today. Through this study I learned that mind is absolutely shaped by language. Ideas cannot take shape without words to graft them upon. Ideas are ephemeral things floating around that really cannot be pulled down and grasped without the net of language. I wrote a post back in 2010 called Speak American – Fun Lesson in Language” which touches on this among other things.

You think you are teaching him what the world is like; he is only learning the map; he is taught the names of towns, countries, rivers which have no existence for him except on the paper before him.

I love this as it is so very true. Most education only focuses on the names, dates, places and expects the student to repeat it back. These things mean nothing to the student without more context. Explaining how the name came to be, that it is from Latin meaning “Land of the Franks” and that “The Franks” were a tribe of people is better but inherently means very little to the student. The only time it really comes alive is to travel to France, learn some of the language, be present in their culture, and experiencing their history through historical places and museums. But even then it is not enough. You must contrast it with other places. Go to Mexico and visit the temples of the Aztecs and the museums. See how different they are. Then read more history. Read of the English, Spanish, French and Portuguese competing with each other to discover and take over the recently discovered lands. Once these have been done then “France” and “French” will mean something. Until then, it is nothing more than a name for some place one hasn’t been and knows nothing about.

There was one teach in my past who could make words come alive. His name was Will Dryer and he would tell us historical stories of the words in mathematical word problems. He made learning come alive.

The image I have of my father continuously evolved over time, not only because my remembrances of him while he lived accumulated but also because I myself changed and my perspective altered as I occupied different positions in my family and, more important, in other milieus.

Another fantastic quote which encompasses one of my own thoughts that has formed as I’ve grown older. This is the idea you have of your own parents. At first, they are just your parents, those people that take care of you, scold you and are in charge of your life. The idea of parents is of an authority figure and ends there. In adulthood however, the image of authority figure evaporates and reveals a person who was also a child once, who wasn’t perfect and whose personality and decisions your able to analyze as an adult yourself. It is through looking at old photos and videos, listening to stories from

It is only in memory that we are the same person for others and for ourselves. At the age I am now, there is probably not a single molecule of my body that I had when born.

I have been away from my hometown for over twenty years. When I meet up with old friends I know very well the person they were. I don’t really know the person they’ve become. So I look towards those familiar traits and personality. Anything changed from twenty years ago seems strange and the passage of time becomes very apparent.

Since typical neuron proteins start breaking down within as little as two weeks after being formed, “every long-term memory is always on the verge of vanishing.”

It is odd to think that I cannot remember most of my life. It is the same as with books, I only remember the highlights. If I had the ability to recall each and every detail I may spend the majority of my time in memory of days gone by. Perhaps it is good that we cannot remember everything clearly as though watching a movie. We would spend too much time in the past and rarely in the present.

The discovery that “memories are not formed and then pristinely maintained,” as neuroscientists used to think, but rather “formed adn then rebuilt every time they’re accessed” has far-reaching implications: every time we think about the past, “we are delicately transforming its cellular representation in the brain, changing its underlying neural circuitry.” So a memory is changed every time it is remembered.
These findings upend the model of memory still held by most people, namely that memory “works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.” It raises questions whose answers may have far-reaching consequences.

Again, I learned a long time ago that in order to remember my own life I should write about it in this blog. What I didn’t know is that the things I do remember have changed as described in this quote. Do I even remember things properly? Again, this blog is an absolute treasure as the words are closer to the source than my memory of today.

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things, and once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774

Religion, religion and again religion. Religion is full of the most fantastical of tall tales and billions of people will believe it. Science will prove it wrong and a billion people will do mental gymnastics either ignoring the science or making it somehow fit into their belief structure even if it is in direct contrast to what they have been taught. My disappointment in otherwise rational adults who cling to the absurdity of religion runs deep. When you’re a kid you think adults know everything. To learn this is as far as you can get from the truth has been an incredible shock.

American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply “put the past behind,” “move forward,” “be pragmatic,” and “get over it.”

Humans are still tribal beings with an almost non-existent ability to understand any viewpoints other than their own. If people had a perfect ability to empathize as well as understand history we should have national mourning over what was done to the Native Americans and under slavery where every person would shed real tears and be put into a very dark gloom. But this is not the case. What sports should I watch next??

No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human homes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the worlds of laborious meditation and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to increase the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavors, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power?

How many scholars will publish books nobody will read today? There is so much knowledge yet the amount an average person will learn barely registers. So much knowledge yet with their precious time they choose to devour entertainment whether it is in the form of propaganda “news” or the latest waste-of-time show on Netflix. The idea used to be that ignorance was due to lack of access to information. Boy was that completely wrong.

“Let me tell you a story.” It would be the first time I heard this story, but not the last. “In our homeland,” she went on, “there was a reporter who said the government tortured the people in prison. So the government does to him exactly what he said they did to others. They send him away, and no one ever sees him again. That’s what happens to writers who put their names on things.

There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considers all things; our fathers find their graves in our short memories and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Gravestones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some tress stand, and old families last not three oaks.

The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man.

Gravestones do not tell stories. Those buried under them will be forgotten within 50 years. We do nothing more in this life running around doing things we deem important and then as abruptly as it began it is over. Time washes away who we were and what we did. In the end, does anything really matter? As far as I can see the only thing worthwhile in this life is to help and bring joy to others. The story of life: you’re born, you do a bunch of activities, you die, the end.

The night of time far surpasses the day, and who knows when was the equinox?

The thinking part of the human race, which is to say, about the hundred-thousandth part of it, had believed for a long time, or at least had often said it did,, that we had no ideas except those which came to us through our senses, and that memory was the only instrument by means of which we could join two ideas and two words together.

Again, are any thoughts or ideas in my head my own? Or is it simply the massive accumulation of data in my head interacting and reforming to create new combinations?

This it happened that in the middle of the night, every brain was dulled, so that the following morning everyone woke without the slightest recollection of the past. Some of the ministers who were in bed with their wives desired, by a remnant of instinct unconnected with memory, to make love to them. The wives, who very rarely had any instinct to embrace their husbands, tartly repulsed their disgusting caresses.

So memory is one of the culprits responsible for loss of libido! I suppose everything can get a bit boring and in need of change to make them really exciting again.

I figured people had to know the basics – World War II isn’t exactly east to miss. It was the largest war ever fought, the largest single event in history. Other than the black death of the Middle Ages, it’s the worst thing we know of that has ever happened to the human race. Its aftereffects surround us in countless intertwining ways: all sorts of technological commonplaces, from computers to radar to nuclear power, date back to some secret World War II military project or another; the most efficient military systems became the model for the bureaucratic structures of post white-collar corporations; even the current landscape of America owes its existence to the war, since the fantastic profusion of suburban development that began in the late 1940s was essentially underwritten by the federal government as one vast World War II veterans’ benefit. (Before the war there were three suburban shopping centers in the United States; ten years after it ended there were three thousand.)

This entry is simply that people do not know history, not even very much about the largest events in human history and even though those events continue to shape our lives today. We humans will run our course, living and not learning as Calvin once said to Hobbes. I like how they mentioned radar in this quote as my Grandfather mentioned it in one of his letters during World War II. Here is the link to that letter.

Decades after it was over, the war was still expanding and dissipating in our minds, like the vapor trails of an immense explosion

My friend suddenly had the impulse to ask a question that had never occurred to him in his entire adult life: “What was it really like in a battle?”
His father opened his mouth to answer – and then his jaw worked, his face reddened, and without saying a word, he got up and walked out of the room. That’s the truth about the war: the sense that what happened over there simply can’t be told in the language of peace.

But we continue to glorify war through our propaganda “news” channels, in video games and movies. This glorification of war is intrinsic to American society and cannot be separated from it. For me as a kid it was through G.I. Joe action figures. For kids today it is Call of Duty and every other movie that comes out. Somebody is always running around fighting someone else. However, for those that have actually been in war they know the truth. They know it so much it disfigures their own minds. There is reality and there is the lies we are all indoctrinated with.

No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed as a consequence of countless unknown alliances that are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

The truth that there is no pure race, and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed.

There is no ‘pure race.’ Now, through the magic of DNA testing perhaps we can finally make some headway into dispelling that stupid notion. We’re all part of tribes that were formed through the mixing with other tribes and DNA testing can prove that fact. What I’m looking forward to is the final realization that there were different types of ‘human’ races that also mixed to form who we are today. For example my own DNA is 2% Neanderthal. Science continues to make discoveries and I’m quite sure there are a number of different ‘races’ or lines of ancient humans that combined to make up what a “human” means to us today.

The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from. – John Still, 1930.

The most striking example is the activity of raising children, which reliably diminishes measured happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole. Then why do people do it? This has been called the “parenthood paradox.” And its resolution is simple: people have children because doing so gives meaning to their lives.

Again, we are born, we run around doing things and then we die. The desire to have children is embedded in our subconscious. The instinct to reproduce is native to all living things. Humans being the most vain of all creatures have a need to invent more profound and noble reasons. But in the end, it is an instinct, a sense of accomplishment and purpose other than being born, doing things and then dying. I have children! I have a purpose! I am needed! Yes, for the majority, having children simply gives them something they deem worthwhile to do. For many women without children they will get a dog or cat. Again, they are fulfilling their own needs to care for something giving them a sense of purpose.

I know not what there is in perfumes that powerfully awakens the memory of the past. Nothing so soon recalls to the mind a beloved spot, a regretted situation, or moments whose passage has been deeply recorded in the heart, though lightly in the memory. The fragrance of a violet restores us to the enjoyment of many springs

I tried to think of a few scents which would jolt alive any dormant memories. Smell certainly is one of the most powerful in terms of awaking memories:

Freshly cut grass – Working on the golf course
Tulips – Spring, especially May in Ohio.
Vanilla – My first girlfriend’s perfume.
Wrestling room smell – Memories of high school will become very vivid.
Fish – Calle de Pescado in Toledo, Spain
Japan – Japan has its own particular scent. Japan smell reminds me of Japan of course.
Durian – Vietnam

By Mateo de Colón

Global Citizen! こんにちは!僕の名前はマットです. Es decir soy Mateo. Aussi, je m'appelle Mathieu. Likes: Languages, Cultures, Computers, History, being Alive! \(^.^)/