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Thomas Edison on How Memory Works

Whenever I’m deep in the muck of a particularly painful stretch of writing, I rely on quotations and news to fill blog real estate. Here’s a strange diary entry from Thomas Edison relating to memory [via mindhacks]:

We do not remember. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in the part of the brain which has become known as the ‘fold of Broca‘… There may be twelve of fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory…. Therefore it seems likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when the recording was done.”

This is a bizarre little notion, but if taken metaphorically (it is a diary entry, after all), I really like it. It resonates with Freud’s insight that the mental is composed of multiple ‘instances,’ rather than a unitary coherent consciousness, and that depending on context, or ‘shift,’ we may not have access to things. We don’t remember, but remembering happens.

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4 thoughts on “Thomas Edison on How Memory Works

  1. White Spade says:

    Maybe you’ve read it already, but Julian Jaynes’s The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind has quite a bit to say about the Broca and Wernicke areas and their relationship to the evolution of consciousness, memory, language, and music. I find the whole book fascinating, in any case.

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