Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at www.thevertexfighter.blogspot.com.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Reverse Groundhog Day"/ "Google now, gone from memory later"

 Jul. 17 "Reverse Groundhog Day": I read this article called "Reverse Groundhog Day: Man stuck in 2005" by Sarah Kaplan from the Washington Post


WASHINGTON — The man, called only “WO” by his physicians, woke up on on March 14, 2005, at his military post in Germany. He headed to the gym, where he played a 45-minute round of volleyball, then returned to his office to answer a backlog of emails.

In the afternoon he went to his dentist for a routine root canal.

Every day since, WO wakes up thinking it’s the morning of March 14, 2005, believing he is still in Germany and this is the day of his dentist appointment. His life is something of a Groundhog Day in reverse.

From that moment in the dentist’s chair a decade ago, he hasn’t been able to remember almost anything for longer than 90 minutes. Then he forgets it, a switch flips, and he’s back to March 14, 2005.

The case, which WO’s doctors Gerald Burgess and Bhanu Chadalavada dissect in a study published in the journal Neurocase, is indeed a medical mystery.

The patient, a 38-year-old member of the British armed forces, had an unremarkable personal and medical background. He was a happy husband and father of two children, was in good standing at work, his only health complaints were back pain and hypertension.

There was nothing about WO or the ordinary, hour-long root canal procedure to indicate something catastrophic was happening. His doctors aren’t even absolutely sure the operation is what triggered his memory loss.

But the main thing that continues to captivate and confuse doctors most is this single, inexplicable fact: there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with his brain.

WO has been tentatively diagnosed with anterograde amnesia, the loss of ability to form new memories after a traumatic event. Much of what we know about this condition comes from the experiences of Henry Gustave Molaison who underwent a brain operation to treat his epilepsy in 1953 and woke up unable to learn anything new.

The operation stripped Molaison of his hippocampus, the seahorse shaped region of the brain that is effectively the mind’s stenographer, responsible for capturing events and sending them away into long-term storage.

Without it, he had no transcript of his life after age 27. His personality hadn’t changed, or his ability to go about everyday tasks. He was even capable of acquiring new skills. But he had lost the ability to remember episodes and string them into a narrative.

What WO now experiences seems similar. Though his doctors describe him as “managing” his daily life, he depends on an electronic diary that reminds him of what he’s doing and what has happened in the 10 years since his last new memory. Every morning he checks his computer for a list of life events he should be aware of — marriages, deaths, his children’s birthdays. Some of them, like the loss of a beloved pet, continue to surprise him.

Stranger still is WO’s relationship to his condition, which he describes almost as if he is simply repeating what he has been told about himself. He will refer to his notes, then say, “I know I have a memory problem,” or, “I think it’s March 2005, but it’s not,” his doctors report in their study.


But unlike in Molaison’s case, there doesn’t seem to be any structural reason for WO’s illness. Brain scans show his hippocampus is intact. And unlike Molaison, WO doesn’t seem capable of learning procedural skills. Burgess told the BBC that when WO was asked to complete a complex maze he had navigated three days earlier, he approached the puzzle as if for the first time.

“It was like a déjà vu replica of the same errors — he took the same time to relearn the task once more,” Burgess, a psychologist at the University of Leicester, said.

For now, it’s a mystery why a routine root canal seems to have cost WO his ability to record any new memories in the past decade.

“That’s the million-pound question,” Burgess told the BBC. “And I don’t have an answer.”

I google that date and there doesn't seem to be anything of relevant importance that happened that day. But one thing that does stick out is that it was a Monday. How bad would it be to be stuck on a perpetual Monday morning with a root canal scheduled.


Nov. 11 "Google now, gone from memory later": Here's another article about memory.  I cut out this article by Caitlin Dewey in the Edmonton Journal business section on Oct. 9, 2015:

Today Quartz flagged an interesting report with an ominous name: According to research by the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab, “digital amnesia” is gradually blotting out our brains.

The report surveyed 6,000 adults in six Western European countries, as well as 1,000 people in the United States, about things such as the phone numbers they memorize and what they do when they need to remember a fact. Among Americans, half said they would try to look up an answer online before trying to remember it, and 29 percent said they would probably forget it again right after. Europeans weren’t quite so bad, but pretty similar: 36 percent said they Google first and think later; 24 percent admitted they would forget the Googled thing as soon as they closed their browser.

Across the board, everybody’s obsessed with their smartphones: More than 40 percent say their phone contains “everything they need to know.”

Granted, you probably don’t need a laboratory study or a large-scale survey to confirm a phenomenon you’ve observed yourself. How many people memorize phone numbers anymore? How many get around without consulting Google Maps?

But while it’s undeniably true that we rely on technology as a sort of memory aid, the jury is still very much out as to whether that’s a positive or negative thing. After all, the issue can be framed in two different ways: Either the Internet is replacing our natural mental capacity, or it’s augmenting it.

That may seem counterintuitive, but consider two oft-forgotten (heh) facts about how memory works. First off, memory isn’t — and has never been — a solo endeavor, constrained to your head. Research suggests that we’ve always relied heavily on other people, as well as on tools like diaries and Post-its, to remember all kinds of biographical and general facts. This is called “transactive memory,” and it basically means that we store information not just in our brains — but in the objects and people around us.


Second, “remembering” isn’t an inherently good thing, and forgetting isn’t inherently bad. It doubtlessly doesn’t seem that way when you’re punching in repeated wrong PIN numbers at the ATM. But generally speaking, your brain has only so much space to store memories — rather like your phone. At some point, you have to delete all those old photos and apps to take new ones.

This brings us back to the specter of “digital amnesia”: the idea that our computers somehow hurt our memory. But when you remember that we’ve always stored memories in outside people and things, and that we don’t have the capacity to remember everything, the phenomenon looks less like amnesia and more like prudent outsourcing.

That was, in fact, the conclusion of three psychologists who studied the “Google effect” in 2011: Although their results were widely interpreted as evidence that Google makes us forget, the researchers themselves were far more optimistic.
 
“We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools,” they wrote, “growing into interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by knowing where the information can be found.”

The technologist and Columbia law professor Tim Wu has written what is perhaps the clearest defense of this development: If a time traveler from the early 1900s encountered a modern-day person with a smartphone and spoke to her through a curtain, what would he think? He’d be amazed by her ability to solve complex equations, to answer obscure trivia questions, to quote things in foreign languages. To him, the smartphone user would seem like some kind of genius.

(To us, she’d just seem like some chick with a phone.)
“With our machines, we are augmented humans and prosthetic gods,” Wu writes, “though we’re remarkably blasé about that fact, like anything we’re used to.”

Besides, raw human memory isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Take this amnesia report from Kaspersky: It came out four months ago — long enough for us to forget the first round of coverage and start reanalyzing.

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