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20221022 – A Sense of Self



This book explores human memory, how it forms, what parts of the brain are involved, and how much memory formation depends on the individual’s emotional condition. It also looks at the interconnection between memories and an individual’s personality. The author presented a very brief description of the content before each of the two parts:

PART 1: Memory is the medium through which we filter present experience and create a sense of time, place and person. Through my own experiences as a clinician and scientist and through the experiences of my patients, we will see how neural pathways carry sensations from the outside world to become representations in the brain, and the role that emotions play as an intrinsic part of the memory process. We then dive into the brain’s memory factory of the hippocampus, the emotional fire-spark of the amygdala and the rag and bone shop of the insula to understand the inner workings of the brain. Finally, I will explore why we fail to even register some things, while vividly remembering others.

PART 2: The neural networks in our brain change from infancy to old age. Ideally suited to sensation gathering and discrimination, the infant brain develops into an organ adapted for abstract reasoning. The knowledge we imbibe and the events we experience become interwoven in the dendritic tangles of the ever-changing brain, shaping our sense of self and identity. We will explore how current experience constantly takes apart and reconstructs memory. A culture’s collective memory ensures both an ever-expanding knowledge base and a sense of a shared past. In the final chapter I sort through some of our oldest collective memories as passed down in fairy stories, as well as through my childhood steeped in folklore and the stories of my patients, who taught me that the real matter of memory is experience.



I think the most important thing to understand about the human brain overall and specifically its memory function is the dynamic character of its condition. Neurons are constantly being created and destroyed, activated and disactivated, building new connections and losing the old ones. In short, the flow of time does not only relate to the external environment. It also relates to our internal environment: personality, self-understanding or sometimes self-misunderstanding, our internal image of others, and so on. In short, this dynamic character leads to a human’s dependency on self-activity and interactions with others just to maintain this human’s brain in good working condition. Probably more than any other part of the human body, the brain depends on the well-known and somewhat trivial idea:” Use it or Lose it” So, suppose one wants to keep his brain in good condition, even later in life, when external demands on one’s physical or intellectual efforts disappear. In that case, intellectual activity is an absolute necessity.   


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