On Remembering the Anarchetypal – A Neuroscientist’s Perspective
Imagine travelling to the Vatican and visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. The architecture awes you while you’re there. It becomes a memory you fondly recall for the rest of your life, one that drives you to do your best work, and one that might help you define the kind of architecture you aspire to design. Now, imagine not being able to remember that experience. It shouldn’t take long to realize that without these memories, you can’t function properly. Without our memories, we are automatons, and not even decent ones. Our memories make us who we are. They are our most prized possessions. They guide us when we are lost; they console us in times of grief. They are imprints of a better past, or even harbingers of a sad future. Memories hold such a pivotal role in our continued existence that debating their nature potentially goes as far back as recorded human history. They have captivated scientists, philosophers, and artists alike. Their nature is debated heavily to this day: What constitutes a memory? How does the brain enable memory formation? Do we retain memories for life, or do they seep away, gradually but surely, with time? Questions still abound.
We form memories of what we have sensed, or so it was believed for a long time. Memories were considered imprints of the external world on the world between our ears. However, the current scientific understanding holds that our formation of memories is a far more complicated matter than merely “saving” our sensations. It is well known that some kinds of experiences are more likely to produce memories than others. Numerous studies demonstrate that unfamiliar objects or scenes are more likely to be remembered and probably in more striking detail than mundane, everyday ones. Emotion is another crucial factor. We form long-lasting memories of emotional experiences; experiences that evoke fear, rage, happiness, and sadness, for instance, are much more likely to be tucked away in our brains.
I share these insights into memory formation because I believe that, besides aiding you in remembering all your readings, as architects (not unlike us scientists), you might hope that your work is remembered by others. Based on these findings, I suggest you venture into the unknown, break the rules, deviate from the script, and pursue the “anarchetypal” for your work to be remembered in memoriam.