Ten Zen Questions

Exploring the Mind from Within

Memory: The Building Blocks of Our Existence

Just who or what we are when our memories begin to slip away?

I recently wrote about the man who lost his memory and was found wandering in an English park with no idea of how he got there and not even knowing his own name. After a massive public appeal in the UK and many countries in Europe, he has been identified as Alvydas Kanaporis, aged 22 and from Lithuania. His brother came forward and other family members have since identified him. But he still has no memories and, bafflingly, there are no signs of any injury or brain damage that could explain his terrible loss.

For the past two months he has been looked after at the local NHS Trust. Doctors hope that knowing his real name will help this young man to begin his recovery but Dr Manaan Kar Ray, clinical director of acute care there, explained the seriousness of losing his entire autobiographical memory. "These are the building blocks of our existence, so he finds himself in a really distressing place at the moment."

Few of us will experience such a total loss but I am already finding my memories are not what they were! Both my parents suffered terrible memory loss with dementia before they died and I may well have to face this myself. I think it helps to consider just who or what we are when our memories begin to slip away.

 

Susan Blackmore, Ph.D., is a British psychologist, writer and broadcaster, and author of The Meme Machine and Conversations on Consciousness.

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