Associative Memory

I think we take too many things for granted. Way.

The miracle of associative memory for one.

A thought appears. It may arrive spontaneously and out of absolutely blue nowhere (they often do), or it might have been spawned by something you saw or heard or read or felt (they often do, too); no matter: here it is, and it has caught your mental eye and your interest.

The best thought-fertilizer in the world is called attention, and that is precisely what you’re now providing—and so you engage. You are now on board this train, invested.

Gorging on your attention, this shoot of a thought now sprouts roots and is soon (within seconds or even less) ready to proliferate. And before you can say Jack Robinson, there’s another, a new (a child) thought, seemingly unrelated, that on closer inspection (a seldom indulged in luxury, I know) is found to bear a definite relation, an association albeit subtle but often very, very germane. Literally out of nowhere, this one too; well, out of memory, but still.

So, here’s the question: Who or what Googled memory for associative thoughts? Who or what entered the search criteria? I ask, for there are literally thousands of them, and thousands of shades of those thousands in the original, attention-fed, parent thought to choose from. Consider every single magical brick that goes to make up the castle of a single thought, and the many, many shades of each: the number is flirting with the infinite.

And who or what scanned the search results and decided upon this one specific memory with perhaps (and often) only tangential (but oh, so apt) relation to its parent?

Yes, we say, shrugging, it happens automatically. And to that I answer: Nothing happens automatically. Automatically does not exist—it is one of those brush-it-under-the-carpet words/explanations that’s supposed to simplify life for us, while, in truth, it only complicates it. For it takes both intention and intelligence not only to spawn the search, but to filter the possibly trillions of hits returned and to then—again, using both intelligence and judgment—settle for that one particular thought: the one that now drifts into view as the second car of this associative train—ready in turn to now conceive and soon give yet another birth.

So, who or what?

Gotama Buddha once said that there are three thousand time moments in the blink of an eye; methinks he is not far off-base since it would take quite a few time moments to perform this search—filtering—select to arrive at this very child thought; and, really, I am convinced that it takes some one, some intelligence, some intent, to do it.

To us, laggards that we are, it all happens instantaneously, but viewing this with a time-microscope (if such a thing exists—and if not, then someone should invent it, it’d definitely come in handy at times), I’m sure you can trace the entire sequence through however many microscopic time moments it took for the search-filter-select to occur. A thousand maybe? Less? More? Who knows? I don’t have a time-microscope.

And, no, I don’t think this all happens nerve-electrically “in the brain.” I think it happens in the mind, and I think that the mind is something far more magical, far more spacious, far more intelligent, far more mysterious, far more intriguing, and far more wonderful than the brain.

Food for thought, no?


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