Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Dreams are Smelling Weirder and Weirder by Erika Wilhite



"It is in our memory that we stop time. We can make our past a masterpiece. We become immortal in our minds." Proust was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

We are still focusing on memory and consciousness in the lab. After many sessions of repetition, my brain and body feel different. The work is really physical but my brain is also working out- physically. After some research of the brain and memory, I now get a visual idea of the activity in my head. I imagine my neurotransmitters zipping, creating new pathways and reinforcing old ones, the synaptic activity of a thought and a recollection. Memory begins as a changed connection between two neurons. Something changes physically in the brain- the act of consciousness and subconsciousness is an activity!

And I think my brain is changing. Something is changing, shifting, and I think it is on a subconscious level. The shift became very clear yesterday morning. I was driving on the highway while half-listening to talk radio. And a word, some word I can't remember now, jolted me into the memory of a dream I had the night before about a memory of my brother. I had forgotten I even dreamed anything at all until a single word, hours after waking- not an idea or a story, but one word- brought me back inside the sensation of the dream. I use the word sensation literally. And I say back, because I am certain this has happened before. Thirty years ago I was sitting close to my two- year old brother close enough to touch him, close enough to feel his body heat. He was a toddler. The sticky face and fingers, the dirt ring around his mouth, his blonde bowl- cut. It was him! I watched him breathe and heard the rasp of his baby breath. He had a cold. I was crouched next to him. I was also small. I could feel how small I was. His size was relative to my size. And I could smell him. I can't describe the smell. But it smelled like him- the way he used to thirty years ago. His scent was a part of his identity that informed me who he was and where he was, and who I was even. That sensation of his smell affirmed for me that I was having a true experience. And in that moment in the car, remembering the remembering of my brother, I knew that something in my brain was different. I have recently learned that the act of remembering a thing changes it. Our Now changes our Then. As I write this, I am now trying to remember my brother in that age and I can only summon up snap shots in the order they are curated in the family photo album. Those pictures have replaced or substituted the real thing. Except in that dream. I was re-experiencing a moment. The more I learn, the less I know, so I can't completely grasp the meaning. Fletch thinks it might be my subconscious piecing together the elements from other memories, which I stored separately from each other- little boy smell, sound of breath, visual of his hair, sense of body heat, all filed in different places of my brain and taken from different moments of my life. I resist that idea- NO WAY. That dream was a full and whole record of a precise and authentic moment in my life. I was time traveling. Beyond feeling strange and novel, re-experiencing the sensation of my baby brother from so long as a baby was an exquisite feeling.

In my naive and hopeful heart, I believe that the art of what we are doing is enhancing and expanding my consciousness. I want to believe I am expanding, and perhaps we all can time travel, and if we time travel, maybe we can see into the future as well. And then my brain aches when I try to even conceive the idea of time. And I start sounding like a lunatic.

But the dream was lovely and I look forward to every evening of work. It certainly has reintroduced my brain to my body, at the very least.










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