Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Infant Amnesia, or not?

I've been interested in the concept of infant amnesia since reading Carl Sagan's discussion of it in The Dragons of Eden. (There is a better review here, but I refuse top billing to anyone who indulges in the spreading idiocy of calling any book a "novel" if it is larger than a comic. Sagan's slim masterpiece is speculative science, but it is not fiction.)

At one point in the Dragons, Sagan recounted his very young son's effort to recall his earliest memory. It sounded very much like a literal birth memory, and is one of many passages in this engaging work that stay with you. Some years later I recalled this, and asked my daughter to do the same (She was perhaps five at the time). She said, more or less, "I was with Mom, in a big bed, in a big dark room with a picture on the wall." This, with a few more details she added, was a fair description of the room at the Beverly Birth Center where she was born. A few months later we went to a function there. I found my recollection of the room tallied with Emily's.

I wonder if we must lose these memories, or if the act and effort of recalling them at an early age helps implant them in the memory. I have not asked Emily recently if she remembers the question or her answer, and perhaps should. Neuroanatomy is now central to her profession, and she might find the question as interesting as I do.

It may not be the amnesia of infants that makes our early memories disappear, but that of adults, immersed in the crises of the present, who do not think to ask children the questions that may stimulate their recall and the implantation of very early memories more firmly in memory.


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