Monday, April 6, 2009


Sufi-Style Joke

A drunk is looking for his car-keys by night in the circle thrown by a street lamp. His strange behavior draws the attention of a passer-by. He asks the drunk why he’s crawling around feeling the gutter. The drunk mumbles his answer. The passer-by looks around. “Where’s your car?” “Down there,” mumbles the drunk and points into the deep shadows far off under thick trees. “Why are you looking here? Did you drop them here?” “No,” says the drunk, “but there’s no light there. Can’t see anything back there.”

Where’d You Put Those Memories?

Today the New York Times announced successful experiments by neuroscientists to suppress selective memories in mice and rats. That memory is linked to brain chemistry no one doubts, but no one has succeeded in showing that memories are actually stored in the tissues of the brain. That they are stored there is an article of faith; the problem is that no one has produced a testable hypothesis of how that storage is accomplished. What we do know is that different parts of the brain are associated with different activities; the assumption therefore is that memories are polled at certain brain locations for certain behaviors. By inhibiting activities in neuronal synapses using chemical substances of a certain design, we can now interfere with or block memory.

Rupert Sheldrake has proposed the idea* that memory is stored in what he calls morphic fields—off-line, as it were, not in tissue. Memory narrowly defined is but a part of a much more ambitious conceptualization Sheldrake offers to explain the enduring forms we find in nature as a whole, including their evolution. His theory is modestly naturalistic in outline but has enough flavor of the transcendental (undetectable and subtle fields accessed by resonance equally undetectable) so that he is treated as a pariah and heretic by orthodox science.

This is an example of the iron curtain philosophical presuppositions produce in the Borderzone. We cannot actually get any closer to understanding mind—or one of its functionalities, like memory—if we dogmatically restrict our search for answers to places where our light actually shines.
*In Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature. Sheldrake's site is here.

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