Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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A Trip Down Memory Lane

My question going into the Phil’s Day Off project was “what are memories and how do they relate to the self?” In order to tackle my inquiry I used The Bundle Theory of the self and I first had to address how a memory is created. My plan was to research experiences, memories and the self on Saturday in order to have enough information to hold an interesting conversation with my family members on Sunday. I wanted to collect a bunch of different opinions and information and synthesize them in order to form my own philosophy about memories and the self. In addition to this I also did a lot of self-reflection on my own experiences and memories and how they have contributed to who I am today.

On Saturday I researched how memories are created and what is necessary to turn an experience into a strong memory. I found some really interesting articles, from a variety of sources, including one about why you should stop trying so hard to make memories in the social media age. It introduces the term “futurepast” and poses the question “when did we go from living our lives to striving for memories?” I also found an article about the intergenerational trauma in First Nations communities as a result of Residential Schools. The article explains that self-destructive behaviour develops as a result of unresolved trauma and that these behaviours can then be normalized within a family or community and passed down to subsequent generations. This article highlights just how significant an affect experiences and memories can have on the self and the fact that future generations can be impacted by second-hand trauma. I found another article explaining the science behind creating memories which listed criteria for an experience to be memorable. These criteria include the novelty of the experience, the amount of attention a person is paying, and the strength of the emotions evoked. As a result of my research I created a mind map to lay out my ideas for discussion.

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On Sunday I conducted a conversation with my parents over dinner in attempt to develop a more personal understanding of the topic. We ordered sushi and talked about the following topics, which I took notes on. Here are some of the highlights:

 

  • Memories attached to specific items or places
    • Do the material objects hold a piece of the self?
    • Wedding rings, first car, childhood home, bagpipes, etc.
    • A symbol of important experiences
  • Incorrect memories
    • Why do we remember somethings incorrectly?
    • We remember what other people told us about one of our experiences instead of our own memory
    • Some incorrect memories are a mix of multiple experiences, this results in a memory that never actually happened
  • The self as you age
    • becomes more concentrated as you get older, only really important memories remain
    • when you are young you have fewer experiences and can remember a greater portion of your self
    • more experiences are novel and “life-changing” when you are a child
  • Dementia and the self
    • When you lose your memories you lose chunks of your self
    • You revert back through important past memories and eventually childhood memories
      • This implies that the self is constantly shaped by experiences and memories throughout our lives, starting in childhood.
  • Can other people’s memories affect your self?
    • Yes, my parents have bad memories of skiing and I’ve never skied in my life
    • My Opa loved soccer and played it all his life, my Dad also loves soccer and I played soccer throughout my childhood. My Opa’s positive memories of soccer affected my dad and my dad’s memories of soccer affected me.
    • Family values and culture are created by the experiences and memories of parents and have a significant impact on who the kids become.
  • Kids growing up in the social media age
    • They will have access to thousands of pictures and videos of themselves from the moment they were born
    • Will this affect the self?
    • Will this affect the role of memories in their lives
  • Earliest or significant childhood memories
    • We mostly remember experiences from when we were about 5 years old.
    • Do you not have a complete self until you are around 5 years old?
    • We don’t have a specific first memory of parents because they were always there
  • Shared experiences
    • Everyone remembers things slightly differently, different things are important to different people so they focus on different parts of an experience
    • Are shared experiences better?

While completing my Phil’s Day Off project I was able to gain knowledge and develop conclusions that have contributed to my own personal philosophy about the self. The first of which is that the non-physical components of the self or memories are more important than the physical components of the self or the chemical reactions and atoms. When it comes to making you who you are, experiences and memories are far more influential than the body they are contained in. If anything the body, like social media, is just a platform through which we can interact with others, experience, share and express ourselves. This idea can be supported by looking at dementia, when someone has dementia their physical self is still present and functional, they look the same. However, they are slowly losing their memories and their ability to interact with the world around them, they are losing their self and their ability to continue to build up their self. Without their memories chunks of their self are missing and they aren’t the same person.

Another thing I realized is that no two selves are the same, although people may have many shared experiences they can’t have the exact same memories of said experiences and therefore can’t have identical selves. Even if two people experienced the exact same situation they would remember things slightly differently based on what is important to them, what they were focusing on, and the emotions they felt. This can be illustrated by interviewing people after a crime has taken place, people that all witnessed a shooting may remember numbers of shots fired, the appearance of the suspect or the getaway car differently. Although they all saw the crime take place they focused on different parts of it and none of them have the whole story. Therefore, the self is completely unique and also a very subjective record of experiences.

My final conclusion is that the self is dynamic and always changing because we are constantly having new experiences and creating new memories. People can change drastically throughout the course of their lives and part of growing up is having new experiences and finding yourself.  An example of this is the change in self that occurs when people move away to attend post-secondary school. For many it is the first time they have lived on their own, they are being exposed to vast amounts of new information, and they have the freedom to meet new people and try new things. The strong emotions and novel experiences presented by this situation are perfect conditions for strong memories to be made and collected by the self.

While conducting this project I also looked for real-world applications of the knowledge I had gained about the self. The strongest message I took away from this project was that memories are more important than material objects. With Christmas only a month away it is easy to get caught up in holiday consumerism and focus on the giving and receiving of presents when we should really be thinking about making memories and spending quality time with family and friends. One way to do this is to give people you care about experiences instead of presents, you can take them to a play or concert, try a new restaurant, or even plan a road trip. If you are looking for ideas or interested in learning more, check out the Create Memories, Not Garbage website.

In a very meta and unplanned way I actually had the chance to put my philosophy to work in real life and reflect on it. As a volunteer leader at a science club for elementary school girls I play a role in creating “self building” memories in the girl’s lives. This past weekend our theme was Genetics and we led the girls in chemically isolating their own DNA, an extremely cool lab that most people wouldn’t encounter until Biology 12 or university. For many of them Genetics was an entirely new concept and they were extremely excited and proud of their little vials of DNA. I believe that for many of them, this experience will become a strong memory and contribute to their future selves. The goal of the club is to help young girls develop the confidence and passion necessary to be a woman in STEM, it provides them with female role models and opportunities to explore different areas of science.

I know that this club has a significant impact on the girls who attend it because I was a member. I have a wide range of vivid memories from the club, including dissecting a tilapia, developing homemade pinhole camera pictures, and doing the UBC Botanical Gardens canopy walk. Part of my “self” was built as a member of the club, I developed a love for science and as a result I am pursuing a future in medicine and medical research. Some people may say that my future in science was determined before I was even born or that the physical components of my “self” make me interested in the sciences; however, I strongly believe that the experiences I had and the memories I collected as a young girl in the club are truly responsible.

 

 

 

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Two Minds to Create a One (ish) Self

Who am I? That’s a difficult question. An easier one would be “what am I made of,” to which I may reply with a list of eleven elements which make up a body, a sentient structure which has three times more cells than there are stars in the Milky Way. But even this is a difficult question, seeing as my cells are constantly splitting and dying, and can live on without me if they are to be transported into another’s body.

Let us then abandon this question and return to the first. “Who am I?” or “what is the self?” I know I am a thing that thinks, and that I exist while I am thinking. The thinking part of my existence may be called the Mind, which can be split into two parts: the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. The conscious mind gets a lot of recognition for being the self, seeing as it is the source of everything that a person can control and be aware of in their mind, but the subconscious mind tends to be almost entirely overlooked in this matter. I think that the self lies more subconscious than anyone is willing to admit. The conscious mind can change day by day and moment by moment, but the subconscious mind is much more slow to change, and remains relatively constant. External interaction (experiences with people/environment/things) has a great effect on the conscious mind, and memories of these events will help create both a conscious and subconscious reaction to anything associated to that experience again. Conscious reactions are usually logic-based, whereas subconscious reactions are usually feelings triggered by association with a past experience. That would make PTSD an intensely negative form of subconscious reaction. Intense stress is one of the only things that can cause long-lasting or permeant significant change to the subconscious mind in a relatively short period of time.

Stress and negative experiences also affect memories, particularly repressed or forgotten ones. Memories are often repressed or altered if they are extremely traumatic to the person. When the memory is repressed, it is hidden away from the conscious mind by the subconscious mind, and the conscious mind goes on as if nothing has happened, even though the subconscious mind knows full well what went down. Memory alteration occurs when aspects of a memory is altered by the mind. This is usually a product of low level repression, and usually takes the form of nostalgia. The guy who hated High School may recall the torturous four years a decade later and say that it wasn’t so bad because he had lost the specifics of the negative emotions and experiences that he had hoped to forget, (and had moved past years ago) and would therefore be unable to recall properly what his High School experience had actually been like. When recalling the experience he will only have an handful of memories to draw conclusions from (most of the ones kept being not-so-bad ones), so he would most likely think of High School as a place where only not-so-bad, or even good memories were made. Hence the alteration of memory resulting in nostalgia.

Since the subconscious holds on to many memories that the conscious mind throws away, and since it stays so consistent over time, I might say that it is the glue that holds the self together. If the conscious mind changes for a short period of time, it may affect the memories being produced, causing a slight change in the unconscious mind, but the reactions of the unconscious mind affect the conscious mind much more than the other way around. Still, the unconscious mind is hardly recognized for this influence.

This entire thing has been rather focussed on the immaterial, and now I’m just itching to talk about brains. Throughout this document I have referred to the conscious and unconscious mind as if they were cooperative, yet separate beings. This has been inspired by an interesting epilepsy treatment which involves the severance of the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is the largest of the bundles of axons, or commissures, that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and help them communicate and stay on the same page. Since the severing of the corpus callosum appeared to have little to no effect on the cats and monkeys which had been tested on, neurosurgeons got the idea to use it to ease the suffering of patients with severe epilepsy. Read More

 

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Memory, Ideas, and Control

We often think that we have control over our thoughts and ideas, yet the underlying unconscious does its best to place bias upon it all. Our ideas, memories, feelings, they are all warped by our bias. A massive collection of memories, feelings and ideas, that is our bias. In essence, our bias does not just decide how we feel about our memories/experiences, it also decides to keep or discard details of that memory. Our bias, which we have no control of, edits old and new memories with all other memories in mind.

Why do we debate? Why do we argue our points? When in reality it is as if we are our memories. We are not arguing for our “selfs”, rather we are slaves to the memories and ideas trapped inside our mind. But are they really “trapped”, our ideas want to be shared, we want to share them. They spread like viruses, they ripple like a disturbance on the calmest of pools.

What is freedom? Nothing more than idea, an idea that wants to be shared, an idea that wants more followers. Perhaps from another perspective, our mind is more like a massive chemical reaction. Ideas react with memories, memories with feelings. All of this further advancing our ideas, or creating the madness we see in so many. Perhaps that is the point of philosophy, to ponder those ideas so that they may react with each other. Leading to great discoveries or diving into the depths of madness.

Here is my prezi

During my prezi presentation I told the class about how are memories seem to have more control over us than we would think. However what I did not refer to above was the introspective and outrospective construction of memories/ideas which I discussed in my presentation. This is also extremely important as through introspective means, the host of the ideas will think about how those ideas relate to themselves, therefore creating new ones, based on their already existing bias. When through outrospective means, this construction is influenced by both our own memories and the bias of the one who we are speaking to. This is why we often need two people to come up with powerful ideas, because otherwise you become trapped inside a world of recurring thoughts and they never change because there is no outside bias. Anyway, I found this connection between psychology and philosophy fascinating. When some say there is a division between philosophy and science, and I examine these ideas, I begin to think that line between science and philosophy is very faint indeed.

Only read what is below if you are extremely bored and have nothing else to do with your life because when I wrote what is below, I certainly couldn’t think of anything better to do.

Note: I don’t care if this post is late, the thoughts were still ruminating within my mind. I hate all of those who criticize me for my late post, despite that what just I said was ignorant of all the other factors that determine a person. Forget it, I still hate all of you, your welcome.

 
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