WILLIAM RUTHERFORD: Inside the mind

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Trips to Silverwood, camping in the Idaho wilderness and conquering “Call of Duty: WWII,” tops the list of, “Things I did on my summer vacation,” stapled to the bulletin boards on the walls of my school. Reading each paper I wonder, will these students remember in 20 years what happened during their summer of 2017?

Some kids will distinctly remember the summer of 2017 because of the death of their dog, grandparent, frog or fish. Many will forget in a few years swimming at the lake, spending endless days watching television with their baby sitter or walking barefoot on hot cement searching for a friend to play with. The idea of a deliciously delightful summer day will remain with the child through adulthood, but the independent thought of this particular summer day will disappear as quickly as the day’s sun sets.

Each summer day will seem as the last until one remarkable, memorable act startles the mind to create an important, lasting memory. Understanding a day can come, I can participate in the day and as quickly as the day disappears, so does my memory for that day. What an alarming realization. Why is every day fleeting? Why isn’t every day important? Why can’t I remember what I had for breakfast two days ago, but can remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of two planes crashing into the World Trade Center in 2001? The answer is in our mind.

One’s brain is more like an emotional regulator than video recorder. As each day passes, one regulates information received and determines if the day’s event makes one sad, happy or has no emotional importance. Events that ping one’s emotional regulator are permanently stored in one’s brain as a 30-second YouTube video continuingly playing in our noggin. Events that do not carry an emotional charge — most information — is quickly relegated to a region in our gourd which understands the emotion of the event, but disregards the act — therefore dismisses the memory of the act itself.

For this reason, one can perfectly remember one’s wedding day, the death of one’s father, one’s 10th birthday party and the terror of Sept. 11, 2001, but cannot remember driving home from work last night. If one cannot remember most of what happens daily, is one’s life important? Might one just be an ant walking through the world, like a soldier doing what is expected of one with little memory of one’s reason or purpose? Yes and no.

There are acts and routines one conducts daily that, if requiring one’s full attention and emotion, might overload one’s brain. Driving to work, writing a letter, watching television and performing daily routines can be achieved with little mind-work, allowing one to complete tasks with minimal neural response.

Now something dynamic, exciting, sad or scary happens. One’s brain jumps into action. Neurons fire, one’s sympathetic nervous system activates, one’s endocrine system emits hormones and one’s body and mind determines the event as important and one starts the DVD player in one’s mind — creating a permanent memory. Amazing!

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Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at bprutherford@hotmail.com or visit pensiveparenting.com.

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