Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teegee meets Damasio

Last week, on NPR's Science Friday, one guest was Antonio Damasio.  I liked what I heard, so I went to Amazon, found that the book, Self Comes to Mind, was just out but was already available for Kindle.  I wanted to read the book before I read any reviews of it, so I got both.  Now I want to post, again before anything else intervenes, though this post will be half-baked for my having just 10 minutes ago finished reading it, my reason for such avid behavior.  (I was going to get a Kindle as well as an iPad, anyhow, but I didn't want to wait for the book, which the local BN did not have).
As just today I told a friend, I began this blog with no intent but to write.  I had other venues for writing about coins and about ancient art.  I did not intend, and I still cannot confront, tracing my career in university teaching and research.  I did not want to write about personal relationships, let alone discuss my friends, because they wouldn't like it.  I did not want to write about Causes.
Intuition told me that I should sort out and write about the things that I actually remember, no matter how mundane, no matter how disconnected.  Writing a script or a scenario can be a good thing, but usually it's pure daytime TV unless one is a genius.  I wanted to write what is actually my own, and I knew that that had to be my actual memories, because I wanted to find out why remembering is so important to me.  Within a month I had most of the parameters.
I quickly realized that being faithful to that intuition was very difficult.  There was that awful temptation to tattle and confess!  But consulting with my sister by telephone we learned that my memories were largely unimportant to her and hers to me, though we are only 30 months apart in age.  I told her that I couldn't report hers, she should do her own (but one difference between us is that I felt that I must, and she doesn't want to).
By the time that I approached the end of the 20th century, I knew why I'd done it and I knew that I was practically done.  For every sentence, for every description that I included I had gone through, lived through, practically, many more.  It's not that I deliberately edited, but I did write just from one sentence to the next until, for each Post, I thought I had enough that was a sort of package.  But so much that I remember is exact colors and textures and sensory feelings, such as how it felt to lie on the dish-draining board to have my hair shampooed in the sink.  I remembered so much, and most of it had never been taken out and processed until now.  And I had answered the big personal question: why did I write a blog like this one?  What is the blog about?  In the convent we'd have called what I did inwardly in writing it a series of meditations with the end being self knowledge.  I also was trying very hard (and I think I succeeded, even perhaps too well) not to get "literary", meaning not to write like the opening pages of V. Woolf's The Waves or Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.  For somewhat similar reasons, I have devoted the last five days to reading the book: I don't want to know what other neuroscientists say or how other people feel about it on, say, BookTV until I have committed myself in this Post.
I don't know how many people like to use their brains for thinking about their brains and their subjective consciousness for trying to heed it or use introspection to try to separate it from self-scenarios.  But that is how I am, and very visual to boot and very fond of music (and so is Damasio, and so I trust him).  The most remarkable things can happen unexpectedly.  This afternoon when the Kindle said I was only 3/4 through the book I wrote to a friend:
But funny things happen as one is reading about the self regarding the self in the brain.  At the same time I had the TV on, and the face of the senior senator of Kentucky triggered, evidently, the recall of a very politically incorrect face of an Irish man in a 19th-century "Punch" cartoon, which looked like Mr. McConnell.  Some years back I had to read a dissertation on Punch cartoons.  OK.  It wasn't about what he was saying, anyway.  I suddenly remembered, beginning with its noisy orchestral introduction, one of my grandfather's 10" records, sung by Colin O'Moore, "It's the Hat my dear old Father wore upon St. Patrick's Day".  It's a New York Irish-American song.  Gramps liked those.  And I joined in and sang right along with my memory. All of two verses and the chorus.  And I hadn't heard or thought of that album of 10" records for at least twenty years!  Now, wouldn't Mitch McConnell be surprised at THAT?
Well, I really am very tired.  I also downloaded for Kindle all of Sherlock Holmes, free, gratis.  Maybe one of those stories will be good bedtime reading.
But to anyone who might be interested in how the brain does it all, I will say that, even through whole chapters of neuroscience which are dense with more parts of the brain than I'd ever known of, Damasio is worth it, in my opinion.