My Amnesia

Every book has a title.
A statement so obvious and yet so trifling, it shouldn’t even beget a rule.

Honestly, I hesitate even to mention it.

And yet, like a fly drawn to that which flies are drawn to, here we are. Good citizen scientists, smart as our pants and curious as a two headed kitten, checking to make sure that we are not led astray by false assumptions. Check fact against fact to discover the hidden fictions.

Armed with this simple, neutral approach and given the abundant ways in which we are able to test reality, one would think that we humans would be a little further along; a little more on the same page with one another. But all the evidence points to an unhappy conclusion; we prefer fiction. Fiction is, quite simply, more appealing.

Looking at the New York Times bestseller list for both Fiction and Nonfiction gives us a glimpse as to why this is the case.

Nonfiction: Why it’s OK to be Angry About Capitalism
Fiction: Hello Beautiful

Case Closed.

Just as the suit makes the man and therefore every man needs a suit, so the title makes the book and therefore every book needs a title.
A dubious conclusion? Perhaps.
A non sequitur? Quite possibly.

But so much of culture and civilization and the artifacts we worship have been built on false assertions; why stop now?
Let’s see where it takes us.

One place it takes us is 1918 and George Jean Nathan’s A Book Without A Title. George’s book title is cloaked in clever denial but let us face this example squarely and admit that no one should be fooled by it except the fools. Fools are so clever that way.

Even so, let us reckon with it. Let’s say that you do not read English. If you do not read English and saw A Book Without A Title stamped on the spine of a book, you would know by the evidence of all that we know about books that this, this embossed gold inscription, is the title.

Your attorney or member of the clergy may want to argue that point, particularly if they are on the clock, but it would require a qualifier of some sort and qualifiers kill. It is qualifiers that flood an argument with doubt: tantamount to stating that an angel can write the lords prayer on the head of a pin but that, you know, the actual size of the pin may come into play. Are we talking a #32 beast of an upholstery pin then okay, maybe. A #8 sequin pin? Mmmmm, nah, probably not. A #000 insect pin? Fuhgeddaboudit !!!

Those who are practiced in the art of denial may want to characterize these types of example as the exception that proves the rule but it is exactly the opposite. Rules that have exceptions aren’t rules at all. They are simply the evidence of the sick compulsion to dictate; a pretext to stamp life into submission. By definition it is the exception that disproves the rule. That’s just a fact; unlike angels.

And so to my point.

As with books, every story has a title and as far as we know, every title will become clear somewhere along the narrative line if it is not already made obvious in the title itself as for instance: How to Win Friends and Influence People or My Fault: An Autobiography.

Not so with this story. It is the exception. Today’s title comes from a book that a woman sitting across from me on the subway is reading. The title of her book is not My Amnesia but at first glance that is what I thought it said.

I get a lot of ideas that way. From a misunderstanding of what it is I’m looking at. It’s one of the advantages of failing eyesight; I can’t think of another just now but let’s pocket that problem for another day.

I have often found when writing and not near any instrument of writing, that I will come upon a catchy turn of phrase that immediately starts slipping from my mind. It is overridden and overwritten not only by other things demanding of my attention but from the very attempt to remember. I am overcome by the anxiety of forgetting.

No matter how much I may like a phrase or how pleasantly surprised I may be by my own cleverness, if I don’t get it down immediately the words start trading places and then, as quickly as it coalesced, it is gone.

And I mean irretrievably gone.

Words like irretrievable can be got through the thesaurus but a turn of phrase is got while hot or not at all. Sometimes I can feel the words slipping away even while I’m repeating them to myself in an effort to remember them. Clearly there is something wrong with my method of memorization and by extension my memory itself.

My oldest friends, pals of an adventurous and travelled youth, call it “Long term loss of short term memory.” To my mind, a statement like that pegs my old comrades as present and former stoners but that doesn’t make them bad people, just forgetful people: absentminded but otherwise harmless.

And it is the absentmindedness that I’d like to touch upon; the small amnesias.

Have you ever had a good idea just as you were dozing off? Or awoke in the middle of the night with something you thought was unusually good or smart or even an answer to a nagging problem?

Of course you have: it’s universal. I’m going to state, unequivocally and without providing a shred of evidence beyond my own personal experience (a nonrandom survey sample of one) that not only is it a functional aspect of sleep, it is also a functional aspect of memory.

We all get those feelings and everyone knows there is no remembering those things in the morning. The brain is in no condition to set memories while it is tampering with sleep. If you don’t jot yourself a note right then and there, come morning it is only the impression that there was a good idea that remains; a folder on the desktop of your mind titled Urgent: Remember This but when you open it; nothing. The file is empty. At best there may be some tiny scraps; tantalizing bits and pieces of corrupted code set to a sleepy time syntax. Whatever is left is useless and will be entirely gone by the time your coffee break rolls around. There will be no second coming. Your stab at the great American novel or the melody of your smash hit song or a splendid little haiku or even the answer to yesterday’s Wordle that you botched; gone. But whatever it was, one thing is for certain, it was fantastic; absolute genius!!

Memories and ideas share that in common. Some will stay, especially those punctuated by laughter or crying, but the great mass will come and go. They are not like the light of distant galaxies going on forever in a kind of finite immortality; every moment from birth to death available somewhere along the thread of lightyears.

For us mortals, the events, the circumstances, the location and disposition of the observer are bound by the imperfect thread of memory. The facts are ever so elusive, even overrated one might argue, limited as they are by uncommon sense.

Then again, perhaps that analogy is wrong. It seems more likely that memory is not a thread; not a linear process at all but more of a net. Ideas are so multifaceted and interconnected with referents that the way is easily lost in the mesh of exponential attachments.

So much is lost of the fine grained particles of memory across the divide separating events and recollections. The large aggregates, the stones of unusual size or unlikely color; those we retain always. They linger, observable well into dementia. But when we dwell on those stones and set them firmly into the edifice of our own story, the sands and gravels of detail sift away.

And how would it be otherwise? Life is so rich; it is a solid mass. If we retained every detail it would be the present every time we remembered anything. Memory would occur in real time. That would bring relativity into the picture and goodness knows nobody wants that!!

In the not so distant past this kind of talk would have earned me a coveted title like Philosopher or Autodidact or possibly even Village Idiot.

But not anymore.

Now there are researchers who study this kind of thing and they understand it to such a fine degree that it must be infuriating to them that a dilettante like myself even hazards to conjecture on the subject. Or maybe they are encouraged by my curiosity; I don’t know, I’ll have to ask them. But if they were a little hot under the collar I certainly wouldn’t blame them. It must be maddening. They did the hard work; they did the double-blind studies, the brain scans, measurements, interviews; the whole gamut. They actually have the answers!!!

And if not all the answers, they most certainly have figured out the big questions. Once you have the questions figured out you’re more than half way home. It must be a very exciting time in the field. But that’s not going to stop uninformed pontificating. It never does.

What can one say? It is the age we live in. Intelligence and expertise have never been held in such low regard.

I ask you, are any of the top 10 social media pages on any platform devoted to the latest developments in cognitive research?



You don’t even need to look that up; you already know the answer is 0.

Res Ipsa Loquitur” as your attorney would doubtless put it before handing you an invoice.

That said, I wouldn’t mind being deified for my unremarkable curiosity to say nothing of my well intentioned, if not well researched, conjectures. It’s not like I’m a slimy reactionary demagogue. They get all the huzzahs and hallelujahs. I’m just a curious person asking questions, trying to make sense of an apparently senseless universe using what creativity I may posses with the occasional trip down the rabbit-hole of “doing my own research”. As if I, or anyone else, can compress expertise into 30 minutes of scrolling with a predatory algorithm roosting on my shoulder.

For the record, “Doing my own research” should always be viewed as a red-flag, same as a suppurating wound; nothing good comes from either one though you shouldn’t doubt the reliability of what the wound is putting out.

So I’ve done my work along with a cursory amount of brooding upon the subject and I’d like to report my findings to add to the sum total of human knowledge. What I have to show you, my esteemed colleagues is:

Nothing of substance. Really, nothing at all.

Little different from the experts if you don’t count the substance part. However from the metric of social media popularity we are coequals.

Still, I don’t owe anything on student loans.
Stupid wins again.
And in so doing raises the question of why stupid keeps winning? Not just here but all around the world. Why is that? What words attach themselves?

Faith is the word we use for belief without evidence. We need a word for – Refusal to believe in spite of overwhelming evidence. You see, here’s an example of having asked the right question because the answer fairly presents itself. Faith works equally well for the second instance as for the first.

And so to sum up; from a robust body of sub-scholarly daydreaming I am ready to state with confidence the following conjectures which I shall henceforth refer to as facts.

(1) There are no reliable narrators and it is through no fault of their own.
(2) That said, there are an astonishing number of outright liars; simply extravagant; and it is entirely their fault.

From these newly minted facts we can draw fundamental conclusions regarding the selectivity of forgetfulness; the small amnesias.

A person’s fundamental nature will inform how they will remember, what they will remember and what conclusions they will draw in order to confirm core beliefs and therefore which character from Winnie the Pooh will be their stuffed spirit animal.

It always comes back to the fundamentals doesn’t it?

Channelling Pooh Bear’s easy optimism, despite any bothersome setbacks, there are those who see the glass as half full. They can’t help themselves; their memories are sticky with the residue of best outcomes.

Channeling Eeyore’s exhausting pessimism, despite the routine delight of unavoidable successes, there are those who see the glass as half empty. They too cannot help themselves; their memories have defaulted to worst-case scenarios.

As for me?
For my amnesia?
I don’t know what they’re talking about because Tigger and I aren’t looking at the glass, we’re looking at Roo who is looking at the bottle, reading the label and……..

I’m sorry, what was the question?

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