Do you ever wonder about the workings of your brain as regarding thoughts and memories? Unless we’re absolutely focused upon a task or engaged in meditation, random memories, resentments, joys, and visions pop up, uninvited. Some eastern spiritual teachers call this “monkey-mind”, because thoughts seem to leap and swing from tree branch to tree branch like the actions of a monkey. I like the analogy.
I also like the more contemporary, technological comparison of the behavior of our memory to that of a computer hard disc drive. We experience events, hear, read, perform activities, and so forth; memories of them are “written” into our neurons in various parts of the brain from different sources over time. The science apparently backs this up. Researchers have discovered that the brain does not store related memories whole, in one place, but instead in small pieces at various places. Also, when memories are retrieved and reimagined, they are rewritten elsewhere in the brain in a somewhat altered, perhaps embellished, form.
This came to mind last week when I tried to analyze why the tape carts I rediscovered so vividly brought such lucid memories back to my consciousness. Did the tactile smooth plastic and shapes travel from the sense-detecting nerves of my hands and fingers activate those myriad neurons that store those memories into retrieval mode?
I envisioned the defragmentation animation that used to fill the monitor screen when running Windows 95 and 98 defragmentation programs to “clean up” the computer hard-disc drive. (I miss seeing that screen because it is absent on newer versions of Windows defragmentation mode. The animation was peculiarly soothing–particularly the one on Windows 95.)
As I pondered this analogy, another thought appeared. Our civilization’s collective mind seems to be fragmented as well. Politics have become disconnected from practical usefulness and ugly as well. Religion has lost its way. The economy is frightful. Technology is helpful but threatens to take over the world. People are at each other’s throats about all of this confusing, stressful mess. It looks like we need to run a collective defragmentation on society.
Isn’t it interesting that the brain and society share certain features? That is, both are ambivalent, non-linear, and fragmented?
One must not necessarily confuse complexity with fragmentation. We can have a complex, multi-faceted government, business, life-style, or whatever but they can run like a well-oiled machine. We can use the computer analogy again in this regard. If one looks at the circuit boards of a computer, one immediately notices numerous electronic components. They all work together in harmony to work collectively as an amazing tool that can be harnessed to perform and control countless tasks. Meanwhile, a neurologist may observe a map of the nervous system and marvel at how well all of the biological components work together in a healthy body. The scientist also evaluates the dysfunction of these biological parts malfunctioning in an unhealthy body.
Again, on the individual and social human level, our communication skills are quite fragmented. We have different techniques for various scenarios, but they don’t always work as we anticipate they should. We intend to say or write a particular message to someone else, yet the words and manner in which they are conveyed are misinterpreted by the intended receiver. This is similar to a glitch in a computer that manifests as an error in the end product–an error that may be caused by a fragmented disc drive.
Another thing that appears fragmented is our human history. While at times it seems to take a logical, understandable path, it also seems to be interrupted by illogical, irrational events and historical leaders. What are usually forgotten and neglected are the shadow figures–the peasants, workers, and regular people who made the desires of the leaders happen. Their existence was shaped by the demands of monarchs, tyrants, and wise leaders. Meanwhile, our knowledge about the common people’s roles are fuzzy and generalized most of the time. These gaps of knowledge and data about regular citizens can cause misinterpretations of history. Accuracy and connecting historical fragments are important to ethical historians. Good historians act as defragmentators of our past.
It seems that we as individuals and society need to become less fragmented and more open to exploring alternative viewpoints and ideas. How to perform such a defragmentation skillfully without resorting to tyranny and oppression is beyond the scope of this short article. I just want to put my thoughts out into the world as food for thought.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Belarusian essayist, historian, and journalist, Svetlana Alexievich. “I have always grappled with the fact that the truth cannot be packaged into one soul or one mind alone. It is something fragmented: there is so much to it; the truth is varied and scattered across the world.”