Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Anatomy of Memory Recall

Anatomy of Memory Recall: Bliss of Oblivion?
Then of the Thee in Me that works behind 
The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find 
A Lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard, 
As from Without--"The Me Within Thee Blind!
          ~~Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat    
For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resigned,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing lingering look behind?
                     ~~Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

It has often been said that “memory is the second thing to go.”  If rejoined with a “what’s the first one?” the anticipated correct, on script answer would be “I can’t remember.”   As long as it remains anecdotal and adheres by the books, it admittedly is somewhat amusing.

However, this is not all born of idle indulgence upon the exercise in futility.  After you have arrived at that stage in life when a good deal of “getting lucky” means walking into a room and remembering why you went there in the first place, it erodes any amusement off the experience.

To go from my room to the kitchen I have to negotiate, among others, a 13-step stairway. The only reason I remember by heart the number of steps on the stairs is I had repeatedly redundantly traversed them too many times on a normal day for too often not remembering the reason why I went to the kitchen, to begin with.

I had long ago conceded in writing why but not how memory was designed to be so selective [see, p.89 op. cit.]:
“Suffice to say, memory is, of necessity invariably selective.  As an organism with instincts for self-preservation, we only retain what serves to reinforce the prolongation if not perpetuation of [our] existential well-being.”
The how has become a fertile field of scholarly inquiry, both theoretical and experimental.  Where it once was confined in the province of philosophy it had subsequently transitioned into psychology and biology.
. . . psychologists and biologists have joined forces to open up the “black box” to study how the brain and behavior allows us to learn and have memories. . . . now be[ing] studied at two different but complementary levels, one aimed at brain structure, circuitry and behavior, and the other aimed at individual nerve cells and the molecules within nerve cells.
It certainly was never my intention to venture into so esoteric a domain of knowledge as the neurobiology of memory.  What piqued my curiosity was an incident which bordered on the bizarre and has left me befuddled and scratching my head for explanation.  It behooves to be narrated with some detail in the hope that it might usher in a modicum of comprehension into the dynamics of memory recall.

I was watching a late night TV rerun of the final round coverage of the Humana Challenge (previously The Bob Hope) PGA Tour golf tournament. Lying comfortably on my back to relax the telltale relics of the compression fracture on my lumbar vertebrae from the 30-Jun-11 traffic mishap, out of nowhere I was seized with the irresistible urge to remember the first name of the girl who was my daughter’s high school friend.  Or at least she was the only one of my daughter’s friends who had visited our house in more than two occasions.

For all of ninety-three to ninety-eight minutes I latched in vain onto every morsel of imagery that I could grasp in my memory banks.  The most curious thing about the incident was that there was absolutely nothing in what I was watching or consciously thinking of during the interval which could provoke her floating into my memory field.  The main remarkable thing about her name was the surname being Tabora and my daughter Renata’s married surname was Tobar.  Admittedly, the sort of phonetic inversion was noteworthy if not remarkable.

Before the eureka moment came at the end of the ninety-five or so minutes of agonizingly trying to come up with her first name, the names that came parading in my mind were Grazina, Serena and Selina.  About which, without exactly knowing how, I was dead certain they were the wrong ones.  Then just as suddenly and inexplicably, the correct name popped up: Suzanna.  By then without any proof at my disposal I was equally sure it was the first name I was missing.  My wife did later verify the answer to be correct.

The relevant question(s) I reckon should be 1) how did the urge to recall get triggered; and 2) what brought in the once elusive correct answer?  I had scanned through my recent activities (which are currently very limited due to the state of my physical health) and the ninety-five minute interval trying to arrive at Suzanna.

The only activity I had remotely relevant to the process of remembering consisted of the following experience totally unrelated to Suzanna, but very germane to the project of memory recall:

The day before, 18-Jan-14, Mina shared on Facebook a picture of her father, Farid and me.  Incidentally, although I met Mina once in Princeton, NJ before she got associated with Columbia University, I have not been accorded the privilege of becoming her Facebook friend.  This particular picture was one of the images included in my last book [see p. 116 op. cit.] and the only one I have with Farid who was my college days colleague for a good part of eight or so years.

One of Mina’s Facebook friends was impressed by the picture.  He inquired as to the year it was taken.  Having known for certain that the picture was from my book because of the captions, I felt it my professional obligation as a matter of courtesy to volunteer the information~>New Year’s Day 1968.

This was promptly disputed by Farid who argued that based on the evidence that he was wearing a necktie, it could not possibly have been taken during our years in Kyoto.  I had to conjure up more circumstantial evidence to buttress my earlier deductive conclusion.  Considering that these arguments won the day for me, I deem it proper to excerpt it here in full (edit proofed):

Farid, I hope you’ll not ever write your memoir. You got not only the city and the year both wrong, you also got the Japanese family mixed up. There were three people instrumental in recruiting foreign students in the Kyodai Ryugakusei Tomonokai (a.k.a. Kyoto University Foreign Students’ Fellowship Society), of which I became the president in our third year. They were: Inoue-san (Physics), Iwanaga-san (Civil Engineering), and Iwasaki-san (Mechanical Engineering). 

Only Inoue-san was a native resident of Kyoto. He was in the best position to invite us to share his family holidays with us. Besides, he had two very cute younger sisters who were not studying at Kyodai. Moreover, in 1965 we were still in Chiba Foreign Students College. You moved with the Iranian crowd and I stayed with the Filipino crowd. The only Iranian-Filipino interface in social activities was due to Joe Laraya (Todai, electronics) having had a very charming (and rather friendly) Iranian girlfriend. Need I say more?

I still am at a loss as to how could Mina share the picture because I have not uploaded it into Facebook.  Other than sending the images to the publisher FriesenPress, I did not post the picture anywhere.  I could only surmise that she could have purchased the electronic (kindle) edition of the book and shared it therefrom. 

I just verified that the last hyperlink above redirects the user to the top of Farid’s Facebook page and not to the shared picture.  Therefore, I find it expediently prudent to insert the picture in question from the original archived source, before the captions which I ended up importing from Mina’s SHAREd copy:

Invited to first New Year's Day in Kyoto household of Inoue san (left), me (middle), Farid (right)

After further ruminations on the circumstantial evidence that I relied upon to arrive at my conclusion on the date of the picture, I can now conceivably concede that it could have been the very first New Year we had in Kyoto which would place it in 1967.  It really should not matter much.  What is a couple of years to give or take among friends?

 Oh, questions, and more questions, yet no more
          Do answers come than mermaids come to shore
          To build a rainbow bridge across the gulf
          So broken dreams may blissfully recur.
~~Asumen, In Retrospect [p.165,cf pp.160ff]

It behooves to be cognizant though that remembering and forgetting are just the two sides of the memory recall equation.  Adhering to the adage that a picture speaks a thousand words, I am content to leave the picture to speak for itself and let you draw your own conclusion.

With resignation, I join Tennyson in invocation:

O strengthen me, englighten me!
I faint in this obscurity,
Thou dewy dawn of memory.

~~Alfred Lord Tennyson, Ode to Memory

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Blizzard that Never Was Beyond Benign

A Blizzard that Never Was Beyond Benign
Blow, blow, thou winter wind.
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
~~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

The religious acolytes of Global Warming are collectively twisting themselves into Brooklyn pretzels or the more elaborately designed pigtails of most Mongolian warlords to spin the latest spell of the winter Polar Vortex into an appropriate fit for the global warming narrative.  The endeavor to retrofit a natural phenomenon into the template of a pre-conceived hypothesis that serves as the main vehicle for a social advocacy agenda has the unintended effect of distorting the quality of the event to appear more severe than it actually is.

It behooves to emphasize sans apologies that the existence of atmospheric vortices had been sufficiently established by Helmholtz 150 years ago to behave according to the Navier-Stokes nonlinear partial dierential equations in fluid dynamics.  Ergo, long before Al Gore was a hint of a glint in his father’s eyes for a hormonal escapades, the physics of vortices was a settled science. 

The introduction of “polar vortex” terminology into the global warming lexicon is nothing more than an attempt by an unhinged movement to impress and deceive a gullible public into believing that a highfalutin term could lend credence and respectability to the movement’s rhetoric.

It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the younger generation has become soft and somnambulant in both understanding and handling natural-physical adversity.  There was a time when I had to hike both ways of a normally forty-five minute tramcar ride from my living quarters to school to take my finals in Organic Chemistry when all public transportation was suspended, snowed out if you will. 

Kyoto University did not reschedule the exams and I did not make such a big deal about the rather memorable trek.  I could not even write about it until now and that was the winter of 1967.  Apparently, either the public is getting soft or the reporting infrastructure has gotten super idle it does not have much to talk about.  To compensate for the deficit and salvage its relevance, the media has resorted to exaggerating the gravity of events.

This is not to rule out the likelihood that the media has just been preparing the public for the worst while hoping for the best.  Giving anybody credit for good intentions is benign until the unintended consequences of good intentions backfire as they often do.

I observed on my Facebook page while the snow was falling that it bordered on the amazing how a blizzard was much more fascinatingly enjoyable when appreciated from the warmth and comfort behind my glass window.  Having been acutely aware that I would not even be allowed to take part in the clean-up proceedings in its aftermath when the storm finally settled down, the so-called storm had not even made it to my list of emergency concerns.

The County Sanitation contractor crew cleared the heart of Howe Court, the main access to my residence, before I went to bed. The accumulation appeared to be of very fine-grained powdery type~~a potential back-breaker to shovel off the ground.  I looked forward to posting on Facebook amusing pictures of the landscape by the morrow.

I ended up having to apologize for not being able to deliver on my intention to post pictures of the “blizzard.”  To begin with, there really was not much of a blizzard to write home about.  My grandson cleared up the driveway and walk-paths before I could find my boots to go outside and take pictures, not to mention about trying to find the upload-enabled camera.

Lest the political angle is lost in the shuffle, let it stay on the record that the blizzard that was not, served as the centerpiece of the newly installed New York City mayor’s first order of business.  It was immaterial that there was less than six inches of snow on the ground.  The most important point is he paid proper obeisance to the Sanitation Workers’ Union whose coffers are one of the more reliable sources of the Democrat Party’s campaign funds.

Mayor De Blasio, for all practical purposes sails left of the activist retired entertainer Harry Belafonte.  The mayor is the one who has the electoral mandate to translate, by whatever means, into harsh reality the Utopian fantasies of good old calypso Harry.  Belafonte only parleys the dreams and phantasms of social equality.  Mayor De Blasio distributes the dollars and cents and kindred resources.  For starters, he assured expectant Gothamites that under his watch the distribution of snow plows to liberate the hapless New Yorkers from the clutches of the blizzard shall be equitable amongst Gotham’s five boroughs.

All the electorate need to do is make sure they stay out of the way of those devoted sanitation workers so they can perform their jobs with due diligence unencumbered by the petty daily chores of New Yorkers living their lives.  The scarcer they keep themselves the safer they would be.  This projected the profile of the Nanny State at its finest.

Mayor De Blasio having been elected by “74% to 24% — the largest margin of victory by a non-incumbent in any mayor’s race in city history,” appeared somewhat justified in claiming an electoral mandate for his agenda.  The qualifier “somewhat” is in order because this margin was dwarfed by Pres. Obama’s winning “81% of the vote in New York City in 2012.”

Usurpation of political prerogatives being the hallmark of the Obama paradigm of governance, Mayor De Blasio had deservedly earned the mantle of distinction as implementor par excellence of Pres. Obama’s progressive statist designs on Americans of any and all political persuasions. 

~~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Friday, January 3, 2014

Advanced Attempt At Annual Inventory

Advanced Attempt At Annual Inventory

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Indeed the Idols I have loved so long 
Have done my credit in this World much wrong: 
Have drown'd my Glory in a shallow Cup 
And sold my Reputation for a Song. 
~~Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

Arguably there are physical bases of the modern (both Julian and Gregorian) calendars on the nature and properties of the earth’s orbital around the sun and the moon’s orbital around the earth.  But long before planetary science had established its physical underpinnings, the mundane economic rationale for its implementation was the landlords’ need for taxation to be levied on an harmonic periodicity.  Ergo the demands of collecting taxes promptly made the practice of observing the upkeep of the calendar a matter of necessity.

Thus it came to pass that monthly and annual inventory takings became as much a part of the routine business cycle as keeping track of elapsed time spent at the workplace itself, nay applied against specific projects.

Ad extremum, it has become a tradition, going back a few years, for me to take stock of myself, delve into the inner recesses of my reverie, on the first day of any fresh year.  What better means to look into the disposition of your soul than to get some insights into your thirst and sensibility for music?  Concretely, this has translated into putting together a new crop of playlists on YouTube.  And of course, the attendant endeavor to share them with anybody in cyberspace who could be bothered to listen, and might even enjoy doing so.

This year’s motif for this habitual indulgence is a return to my passions of yore, to some elusive episodes of my Yamato Escapades.  The unwitting “usual suspects” vehicles of this journey are Brenda Lee and Caterina Valente both of whose artistic repertoires have been part of the vocal styles I loved and attempted to emulate over the years.

Brenda Lee is seventy-seven days younger than me.  I am 105 days shy of being thirteen years younger than Caterina Valente.  This trivia which I gleaned from sketches of their respective bio-data was somewhat of a surprise to me.  I got introduced to Brenda in the summer of 1965 and to Caterina three summers later.  I followed both artists religiously since.  I’d never have suspected that Caterina was much older than Brenda.

Aside from these two adorable ladies, I added a third playlist.  This one will serve as the vehicle for my New Year’s resolution which I pledge to keep or exhaust myself trying.  The pledge consists of being able to make a vocal rendition of the piece, by my 70th birthday, without a tearful cracking of my voice at the following touchy verses:

“I'll sail on your smile I'll ride on your touch
I'll worship your eyes that I love so much
But if you go, go on I won't cry
Though the good be gone, from the word goodbye.”
I still have all of 363 days to make good on my pledge.  So wish me luck all you good people out there.  Meanwhile, please enjoy my modest offering.  And please don’t shoot the messenger should it not meet your expectations or tickle your fancy.

{Best of Brenda Lee}

{Caterina Valente Selections}

The more I try to deliver on my resolution, the more I came to realize I might have gotten myself a very tall order.  I’m afraid I’ll have to resort to taking a few showers a day to improve on the odds.  Else I end up invoking the immortal thoughts of the poet, to wit: {C.f., }
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
                      ~~ Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

To somehow modulate the poignant bite of Rod MacKuen’s original English lyrics I attempted to improvise some unauthorized variations.  Below is the final stanza sample of this endeavor:
If you go away as I know you must
There'll be nothing left in the world to trust
Just an empty room, full of empty space
Like the empty look, I see on your face
I’d have been the shadow, of your sorry plight
If I thought it might, keep me at your sight
Please don’t go away, Huwag mo ko’ng lisanin! [Tagalog],
Ikanai de ne! [Japanese], Ayaw ‘kog biya-i! [Bisaya], Bitte geh nicht fort! [German], Ne me quitte pas! [French], Nie zostawiaj mnie! [Polish].

Revising the verses to my own liking used to work for me before.  My own variation of the verses allows me to immerse myself on the emotion of the song rather than being distracted by trying to remember the words.  But in a song as sentimental as this one being submerged in the song’s emotion may just precisely be the problem I’m trying to overcome.

If this time-tested trick does not work for me this year, I’ll have to seek refuge in the resigned fatalism of uncle Omar and add another item to my long list of defeats over the ages:
And not a drop that from our Cups we throw 
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below 
To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye 
There hidden--far beneath, and long ago.
~~Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014 Is A Spenserian Year

At Long Last~~The 39th Made It
We are no other than a moving row 
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go 
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held 
In Midnight by the Master of the Show; 
~~Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Mirabile dictum, this is the thirty-ninth year that I greeted the changing of the calendar year in the Western Hemisphere.  For consecutive eleven of those thirty-nine years I was a resident in Manhattan.  For non-consecutive ten of those years Times Square was on my commuting route to work.  But what I found amazing was that for the first time this year I watched on TV’s Fox News Channel the New Year’s Eve midnight ball drop in Times Square.

It is amazing because in New York it is considered a landmark event.  On a number of occasions I was part of the crowd gathered to witness the event.  In all such other occasions I was somehow distracted and missed the main event entirely.  That I actually had the energy this year to focus on the drop itself was as eloquent an expression as any of how far I have slowed down in my old age.  It did not help that as readers of this blog may have noticed a good deal of 2013 was spent playing some sort of hopscotch from one health care provider to another.

It amused me somehow that I found it amazing than sad.  Ordinarily, I would have been shocked and saddened that I seemed to be eager and willing to “go gentle into that good night.”  The chutzpah to brave the telltale relics of the ruins of time seemed definitely missing from my arsenal.  That there was no hint of rage in my reaction should have been alarming.  It has been noteworthy, nevertheless that there was more of a curious wishful thinking than detached resignation.

The telecast itself had a sixty-second countdown.  Throughout this interval, the ball was shown to change to various colors as it traversed its downward trajectory.  It was at the thirty-second mark that my wishful thinking actually kicked in.  I found myself asking: what if the ball just stops without reaching the ground?  Would it mean that gravity actually had temporarily malfunctioned, or an anomalous kink was discovered in the time continuum? How would the crowd react to it? 

It’s amazing how much diverse thoughts can occur in a time span of thirty seconds.  So much of our imagination is invested away into futility.

Lo and behold none of my what-if scenarios materialized.  The unexpected did not disrupt reality.  I ended up greeting the New Year invoking a few choice admonitions of the poet:

[. . .]
All such vain Monuments of earthly Mass,
Devour'd of Time, in time to nought do pass.
[. . .]
So unto Heaven let your high Mind aspire,
And loath this Dross of sinful World's Desire.
~~Edmund Spenser, Ruines of Time

This would, for the record, make the year 2014 decidedly Spenserian for me.  There is no telling whether such is good, bad, indifferent, or otherwise.  Let the chips fall as they may.  We’ll adequately deal with them somehow.