We Learn

The greatest achievement of mind is memory. Through the use of memory we are able to learn and upon that resides the entirety of human history and everything we may become. But there is an inherent fascism in the way in which the mind learns. Because to the mind learning is all part-and-parcel of survival and when it learns its keys in what it learns as essential to our existence, and as if to underline the fact, we are left with many ‘facts’ we learn as children that become to us a second home, the ideas we most readily feel comfortable in.

Those of us who leave behind the ideas of childhood are truly using mind in its unique capacity to divine the truth from the myth.

Amongst the ideas the mind overlays upon us as we grow is a series of beliefs – that our surroundings are understood and therefore safer than anywhere else in the world, that our country is more homogeneous to us than other countries and therefore they are alien, that our parents politics must be right, that family assumptions must be more acceptable to us than other families’ assumptions and that what we have inherited as the forms and means of living must be followed because they work.

We default to what we know.

We should default to questioning. ‘Why?’ is the whole of science and the whole of wisdom and our only future.

Oh, For The Right Word

It is interesting that academics often create new words (usually from Greek roots in English academics) to explain a concept or train of thought. Nearly always these are an amalgam of two words that bring together two disciplines – it replaces the old hyphened words we used to find a great deal of in academic essays and books, pseudo-this and psycho-that. It may be Theology is more prone to this than other studies, I am not sure.

Choosing that precise word that gets over the exact meaning, is of course, what a lot of writing is about, but not all. Sometimes it isn’t the words but the feeling that is important. Sometimes they come together as in the brilliant opening thirty pages of Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet. Of course the exact word makes all the difference in translating into and from other languages.

The language of nature through DNA is proving to be incredibly intricate and precise. The fact that, as I learned today, individual cells contribute to our memories gives one a sense of mind greater than any we have had to date. A long time ago I heard it said that through us the universe can know itself, and only now do I begin to see how heady with meaning that phrase really is. How we are analogous to the cells of our bodies, within the universe itself.

Comedians everywhere are going to enjoy telling audiences to which parts of the Universes’ body they think we belong:)

Memories Are Made Of This

As early as the fifth century BCE the Greeks were making the most of their memory by creating the technique of imagining a room, and assigning the things they have to remember to the objects in the room. The technique is successful for two reasons: the room is one you already know well and the objects in it are not ones you also have to commit to memory as they are already there, and the brain recalls images very well. At least Greek brains did.

Using this technique can help you recall a whole deck of cards in shuffled order after only going through them once.  This though is a game, of no value other than to show-off. But it demonstrates something very important to education; those things that we choose to remember.

I recall meeting an American teenager at school and he was surprised no one knew who Paule Revere was and I told him (we were fourteen) you could hardly expect a UK school to teach the American War of Independence. We do ourselves an injustice by not teaching where our countries have been part of the memory of other countries, good or bad or indifferent.

And we can be more attuned as people if we considered more fully the memories we may have given to others because we exist in other people’s rooms and they have an image of us we would do well to commit to memory.

Set In Stone

We always used to go places as a family and end up coming home with something to remind us of where we had been. Rarely was it something you could buy. When the motorbike and sidecar broke down in Hertfordshire we sat in a  field and I strung a load of acorns together in necklaces. And we have several shell boxes here from beaches where we used to live, one of which my mother loves as a jewelry box.

Dotted around the house are stones from beaches, they have to be special colours or shapes and some of the pebbles have the town and year scratched into them, which was my innovation because I have a terrible memory. I am always impressed by the women in the family who know to the centimetre where something was found, the day and time and the weather conditions. And even more so when you realise they are dotted around bookcases and window sills and if I moved them all around they could be put back in their exact place. That’s an amazing talent for three dimensional memory.

And though it all needs cleaning now and again, there is something reassuring, sad and wonderful about picking up a memory that needs dusting.

Rock Running

Growing up in a coastal village in Cornwall the beaches obviously became a favourite playground.

When the tide ebbs and ribbons of rock glisten with fresh sea water, seaweed, shell fish and rock pools the adventure of looking, searching, getting wet and clambering slowly transform over the year into a knowledge of not what lives upon the rocky shore, but how the rocks live.

The undulations, sudden gaps, slippery surface, hardness and challenge all seem to merge until the day comes when you don’t clamber over them on all fours, or balance precariously over a drop that sheers away from you into a messy looking froth turned brown with disdain, but jump. Your feet your safety, your arms your balance, your eyes your pathway and you run from one to another in leaps and bounds. Run with the smell of salt around you picking your way through the seaweed, sliding now and then with your coat catching the wind. You run across rocks that know you. To the ebbed tide. To the seagulls bobbing on the water. To the last rock, the very edge of the known world and without any triumphal music you bend down and scoop up some water..

and somehow, somewhere in the panting and the colours of the sky an indelible memory and a useful skill become part of your being.

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