Transactive memory, etc.

This is a draft from 1:40  a.m. on July 23, 2011:

Title: Transactive memory, mind-body problem, external hard drives

New Yorker article on Churchlands:

conversation about fear of having so much information stored — I guess it’s good to have everything if your apartment burned in a fire — is that our definition of everything now?

toni morrison house burning down, laptop stolen — mom: you can just write it again

anxiety over losing journals; piece of identity

White Noise — Don DeLillo, daughter surrounding self with artifacts

I have been neglecting my blog of late in favor of 1) studying for case interviews 2) being a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding 3) writing flash fiction every day as part of The Undeniables 4) figuring out a new job. (That list is in temporal, not necessarily priority order.)

Anyway, I have been sitting at my laptop not writing flash fiction for about an hour now, and I figured I might as well take a break (by doing other writing, apparently). I’ve actually been meaning to post about open to access to information for the last few weeks, inspired largely by the joy flooding my nerdy heart as I pored over Bridgespan case studies and articles, but that would take longer, and I still do need to write that piece of fiction before midnight, so I’ll save that for another night. Also, families and communities. (This entire blog is just me writing about things I’m interested in writing about, isn’t it?)

Anyway. The notes above were written long enough ago that I kind of can’t remember the context of all of them — which, since this post was ostensibly meant to be about transactive memory and the costs of storing information externally — is profoundly ironic and self-fulfilling. Mostly, I think I just wanted to link to this New Yorker article about a married philosopher professor couple who have pushed for the inclusion of neuroscience in discussions about consciousness:

The guiding obsession of their professional lives is an ancient philosophical puzzle, the mind-body problem: the problem of how to understand the relationship between conscious experience and the brain. Are they different stuffs: the mind a kind of spirit, the brain, flesh? Or are they the same stuff, their seeming difference just a peculiarly intractable illusion? And if they are the same stuff, if the mind is the brain, how can we comprehend that fact? What can it possibly mean to say that my experience of seeing blue is the same thing as a clump of tissue and membrane and salty liquid?

This is one of those articles I read several years ago that has since been bouncing around in my own brain (or, I suppose, I should say, bouncing around in what I perceive as my consciousness). The couple is the ultimate example of transactive memory, in that they actively cultivate each other as extensions of self:

And they are monists in life as they are in philosophy: they wonder what sort of organism their marriage is, its body and its mental life, beginning when they were unformed and very young-all those years of sharing the same ideas and the same dinners. When they met, Paul and Pat were quite different, from each other and from what they are now: he knew about astronomy and electromagnetic theory, she about biology and novels. But as time went on they taught each other what they knew, and the things they didn’t share fell away. […] Paul sometimes thinks of Pat and himself as two hemispheres of the same brain-differentiated in certain functions but bound together by tissue and neuronal pathways worn in unique directions by shared incidents and habit. This is not a fantasy of transparency between them: even one’s own mind is not transparent to oneself, Paul believes, so to imagine his wife’s brain joined to his is merely to exaggerate what is actually the case-two organisms evolving into one in a shared shell.

The couple goes on to describe the process through which they have shaped one another’s frameworks and understanding of philosophy. At some level, I consider their relationship, rationally bound and discussed as it is, to be profoundly romantic. Pat and Paul have dedicated their marriage to exploring something they are both passionate about, and they freely share with each other in order to multiply the scope and impact of their research.

The other fragments at the beginning of this post were working toward a theme I have more or less dealt with already here (not that doing so generally stops me from writing about something again). I assume I had a conversation with someone at some point about how terrifying it is to have so much information stored on the Internet, where it technically does not belong to you. (I will guess that this was with Machiko, but I was kind of talking about these things to everyone all summer, so who knows?) I attended a Toni Morrison lecture at the Louvre in 2006, and she talked about how she felt like she lost a piece of herself when her house burned down; there is writing you can never get back.

A few months later, when my shiny new beautifully matte black MacBook was stolen, I was much more upset about having lost the notes I had in there from my first few months studying abroad, some journal pieces, some early drafts of fiction and random thoughts about Virginia Woolf. My mom, in an attempt to be reassuring, told me, “Well, you can just write it all again.”

That utterance still strikes me as the moment in which I felt most disconnected from my mother, ever. It was all kinds of teenage and writer angst rolled up into a “Holy shit, you don’t know me at all!” epiphany.

Words, books, memory, identity, etc., etc. I had an interesting conversation about books and material culture this afternoon, while checking out the Weegee exhibit at MOCA. Go see it. I’m sorry this post is not all that coherent or interesting; you should really just read the article about the Churchlands.


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