Memory and Consciousness
Memory and consciousness are subjects that were recently discussed in my psychology class. My psychology course instructor defined memory as a general term for the storage, retention and recall of events. I am excited to discuss these topics because psychology 10 has kept me interested all quarter.
One interesting anecdote in my psychology readings was about the H.M. classic case. In 1953, a man with the initials H.M. had both of his hippocampi removed along with the surrounding tissue from his temporal lobes. This was an attempt to cure his epilepsy that could not be controlled with drugs alone. The hippocampus is critical for memory consolidation and so H.M. had massive anterograde amnesia. Anterograde amnesia is a disorder that inhibits one’s ability to store any new memories. In other words, H.M. lived the rest of his life in the year 1953. He also had moderate retrograde amnesia which inhibited his ability to remember any events one to three years before his surgery. On the dim side, H.M. retained his short-term memory and procedural memory as well. I found the H.M. case really interesting. Our ability to memorize things is such a luxury, but I pay little attention to it because it is natural to me. Memory is a blessing. I was curious to find out why the surgeons thought it was a good idea to cut into his brain. It obviously compromised him coming out of surgery alive.
Memory is a necessity to us as college students. It is how we survive academic-life at UCLA. We come to class expecting to receive information and retain the parts of lecture that are most important. We also arrive at lecture halls to take midterms and finals and pray that we successfully retained all the information necessary to ace an exam. Some times, however, I feel that the approach that some classes take in terms of retaining information is wrong. A lot of the life science classes have a system that expects students to absorb information, quickly regurgitate it and easily forget it. My psychology class taught me that memory is a consistent work of progress. We learn something new, attempt to store some of this information in our long-term memory and must continuously refer back to it in order retain it for a long period of time.
I was surprised to hear a student discuss the meaning of the word qualia in their power point presentation during lecture last week. My psychology professor defined qualia as the subjective experience of perceiving one’s self (pain, feeling, thinking, etc.). We discussed that brain activity and consciousness are inextricably related. When we discussed consciousness we also studied sleep and dreams. We discussed how the sleep’s purpose is to allow the body to recover from exertions of the day and to conserve energy and avoid danger. We found out that dreams occur during REM (rapid-eye movement) periods during people’s sleep cycles. This is a period in which physical and brain wave activity is almost indistinguishable from one’s waking state. This means that we are not unconscious when we sleep. Our large muscles are simply relaxed so that we are effectively paralyzed.
By: John Philip Bongco