how connected to past you is present you?
This evening I’ve been listening to a playlist i created on amazon music a couple of months ago – (a lot of people don’t realize that if they already pay for amazon prime that they can get access to a lot of music included with their membership just by downloading the amazon music app.) The songs roughly a dozen carefully chosen and sorted are by only two artists – sia and rachel platton. I know listening to the same songs over and over would drive most people crazy but I’m weird like that. Before dark I fed all the animals – 6 dogs, 1 cat, and 9 chickens while listening to the playlist. Then i cooked some frozen zipper peas (that I bought from a local farm last summer that me and my family shelled by hand back then) and washed dishes while listening to the playlist. Then spent some time on the treadmill while umm well you know. Then to cool down i went outside to the backyard swing (the one that swings fast) in the cool night air – again same playlist.
I chose music to talk about because a lot of people relate to it when tying to memories from their past. Usually in that context it’s just one song or maybe even one way of listening to a song such as listening to an old album you had on vinyl that had a scratch on one part of the song. Maybe it’s a song that you and an old friend related to or maybe it’s one that only holds special meaning to you. It’s pretty undeniable that when a past event or events are tied to specific music that listening to that music helps you recall and experience in more vivid detail those old memories.
I enjoy being a life long learner especially when it comes to the sciences so i’ve always been fascinated by psychology and neuroscience. Therefore, i’ve noticed something strange about the “strange” way i listen to music. It took me a long time to utilize playlists on the many music devices i’ve had over time but several years ago i started building special playlists of carefully selected songs. I used these playlists for weeks or even months at a time. I had an old one made of celtic music, love and rock songs, instrumental, and even a few country songs that i listened to when i started walking and trying to get in better shape several years ago. Some of the songs in the collection were from movies that I liked and some i watched with my wife and daughter, and some were instrumentals from documentaries that I liked. Therefore, a lot of the individual collection were handcrafted from different pieces of my past and some that friends had recommended. It’s almost like the playlist was a type of tapestry of a timeline from my life.
Back then i listened to that playlist which was roughly 90 minutes long because a lot of my walks were 90 minutes at that time. I had some custom walking tracks that i cleared through the woods here and I also walked very consistently at a public park in Alabama in the city where I work. I found that old playlist a while back and listened to the songs again and I remembered specific rainy days where i walked my 90 minutes here at home in the rain refusing to call off my walk due to weather. I remembered many windy days at the public park in great detail just from listening to the songs in the same sequence that i had listened to over and over.
The playlist is the same concept as you experience from that one song you remembered from high school or your childhood but with the playlist and the additional number of songs, it’s like you have more resolution within your brain to map to those old memories. That is if you can stand listening to them over and over. It’s probably not something you should do if you don’t already enjoy listening to playlists but if you do then maybe you should save all those playlists so years from now you can recall them and maybe even get back to some of those old memories. Assuming you want to get back to those memories.
I’ve done a similar experiment with memory by trying to remember the many books i had as a child and reacquiring them cheaply from thrift stores or from online stores like amazon. It’s been amazing that when i see certain pages with unique color patterns that i can actually remember seeing those pages as a child and thinking wow that’s a weird choice of colors on that particular page. It’s neat to re-experience the artwork from those old children’s books too. A lot of them have beautiful and very unique art styles in addition to the story woven within the book.
The real question that I pondered tonight while swinging high (as in fast not as on drugs b/c drugs are bad mmm-kay) on backyard swing is how is current me connected to past me. I’ve read in biology articles and books that we as a living organism are really made up of mostly water and bacteria (some symbiotic, some evil, and some in between) in addition to our many specialized cells and then those are made up of atoms are actually rebuilt nearly in their entirely every so often. So in some ways your cells (an thus atoms) if you can say that they are you are mostly new and not the same cells and atoms that made up you just a month or two ago.
One common thread at least a little more so, however, is our memory. But even that is questionable because is the current you really the same you as 10 years ago? Unfortunately other than sharing experiences prior to that time with old you and having the same genetic material, you can’t ever be that old you again. You can’t even be the person you were yesterday or last week precisely because you can’t unlearn or unlive all the experiences and memories since whatever point in history you choose to consider. So in that way each day we are a new person and are never quite that person we used to be. It doesn’t take a life changing event such as loss of a loved-one or a breakup with someone close to us for that to be true because it’s always true.
The memory experiment with music and playlist is just one i chose to illustrate as a way to recall memories but it doesn’t really change anything. It’s just an interesting observation and if you enjoy listening to music like me then it can be an entertaining little experiment. And i always try to include a few nuggets of knowledge that I’ve learned or a quote here are both. The quote by T.S. Elliot which i suppose the place in the quote may be a physical place like home or it may be a place within our mind meaning that one day we may come full circle back to all our memories before us and truly understand them for once in our life.