Memory and personal relevance.

February 27, 2006

Big cities with serious population density can create a feeling of frenetic energy just with all of the activity taking place. I’m not sure if it is simply all the people just moving around each one with its own purposes or if it is the volume of people or both.

Normally, I don’t notice this sort of thing. I live near a city, but what I’m experiencing on my current trip never happens in my local city.

Since I’m a visitor, I have the time to walk right the through the throng and get coffee with more leisure than those around me (at least those around me with jobs). This time also probably means more to me than most people going through their normal routines.

Human memory of moments are sorted by relevance and importance. But it is a personal relevance. It is the most personal of all relevance. My moment in the strange city will stick with me longer because it is out of my normal routine. I remember, for example, the homeless guy sleeping in the Starbucks, his head back and mouth open in his chair, snoring. Most of the other people getting coffee probably won’t retain that memory or it is a different familiar memory that is one of many memories of the commonplace scene.

I think of memories as node points in my mind tagged with a time and date and sorted and retained by relevance. It is proof positive to me, though that most of life is irrelevant as I retain very little. It reminds me of the story of what lawyers used to do centuries ago when no one knew how to read and write. When someone sold a piece of property, they would take a kid out the closing and smack the crap out of him with a stick. The kid then remembered the incident and remembered the transaction because he remembered the pain. It was a time node in his life of high relevance and he became a human deed. He would remember the parties to the transaction along with the pain.

In a way, it’s ok that most of life is irrelevant. If every moment were earth shaking, we would lose our perspective. We would focus more and more on minutia trying to get some handle on a way to organize our minds and separate one moment from the next. So thank god for those boring days. They let us retain what’s important.


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