Rosemary for Remembrance: Part 3

{Rosemary for Remembrance: Part 1}

{Rosemary for Remembrance: Part 2}


Madelaine’s car is amidst the immense sequoias of Northern California, on average 300 feet tall or more. Madelaine and Scotty are walking away from us, further into the forest, her creamy white coat a stark contrast to the deep green of the forest. They are barely visible against these enormous trees. Although it is mid-day, the canopy of trees blocks so much sunlight that it is as if we are in some enormous, solemn, darkened room.

They contemplate the base of one of the trees that fills the two-thirds of the screen. Their voices are muted and muffled by the great trees and the forest floor, which is covered by moss and pine needles. It is as if they are speaking in a hushed church. The air is misty, with great shafts of sunlight streaming down from above, giving the air a pale green glow. The camera remains at a distance as we hear them speak…

Madelaine: How old?

Scotty: Oh, some two thousand years or more.

Madelaine: The oldest living things.

Scotty: Yes. You’ve never been here before?

Madelaine: No.

Scotty: What are you thinking?

Madelaine: All the people who’ve been born and then died while the trees went on living.

Scotty: Their true name is Sequoia sempervirens; always green, ever living.

Madelaine: I don’t like them.

Scotty: Why?

Madelaine: Knowing that I have to die.

They walk further into the forest towards a small covered display. A cross-section of a tree has been mounted on a board.

Scotty: Here’s a cross-section of one of the old trees that’s been cut down.

The camera pans left to right across the rings of the tree. We see small labels marking dates in the thousand-year-life history of this ancient tree. “Magna Carta Signed 1215.” “Battle of Hastings 1066.” “909 AD.” The camera pans back left, forward in time. “Discovery of America 1492.” “Declaration of Independence Signed 1776.” “Tree Cut Down 1930.”

We see Madelaine reach out to put her gloved hand on the tree rings…


…between the “Declaration of Independence” and “Tree Cut Down.”

(Voice over) Madelaine: Somewhere in here I was born. Here I died. It was only a moment for you. You…you took no notice…

Excerpt of screenplay for the film Vertigo. Screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor.

* * *

In the Carmen of the Martyrs,
with the statues in the courtyard
whose heads and hands were taken,
in the burden of the sun;
I had come to meet you
With a question in my footsteps.
I was going up the hillside
and the journey just begun.

* * *

Scientist Creates Smarter Mouse: Work on Formation of Memory May Someday Help People

In a major test of the brain’s most basic mechanism of learning, a scientist has created a smarter strain of mice by manipulating a gene involved in memory formation. He believes his work lays the basis for eventually doing the same in people, whether in helping patients with memory loss, in counteracting the fading of memory in the elderly, or even in making healthy individuals smarter.
Dr. Tsien’s work builds on the work of many other biologists and used known techniques for manipulating the genes of mice. The gene that he and his team altered is one that makes part of a feature known as the NMDA receptor. This structure is embedded in a nerve cell’s membrane and serves as a sort of biological antenna to pick up signals from other nerve cells.

In seeking to understand the basic mechanism of memory, the forming of an association between two events, biologists have long focused on the NMDA receptor because it needs two separate signals to be triggered into action.

To prove the role of the gene in learning, Dr. Tsien decided to enhance its function by exploiting a natural change that occurs over a mouse’s life span.

The NMDA receptor is composed of a variety of subunits. One such component, known as the NR2B subunit, is common in the young while another kind, known as the NR2A subunit, predominates later in life. The juvenile form of subunit produces a much stronger effect in the nerve cell, and this is believed to be the reason why younger animals learn more easily than older ones…

New York Times. September 2, 1999.

* * *

It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated. It is also true that, in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfillment in comparative isolation….Avoidance behavior is a response designed to protect the infant from behavioural disorganization. If we transfer this concept to adult life, we can see that an avoidant infant might very well develop into a person whose principal need was to find some kind of meaning and order in life which was not entirely, or even chiefly, dependent upon interpersonal relationships.

Solitude: A Return to the Self. Anthony Storr. As quoted in Into the Wild, the life and death of Chris McCandless, by Jon Krakauer.

* * *

I can’t see my reflection in the water
I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain
I can’t hear the echo of my footsteps
I can’t remember the sound of my own name.

Tomorrow is a Long Time. Bob Dylan.

* * *

Islands in the Fog: Psychogenic Amnesia

Patients in fugue states are generally oblivious to their disconnection from the past until a situation arises that requires them to identify themselves or to provide information about their background and experiences. Lumberjack was in just a state prior to entering the hospital. He had been wandering the streets of Toronto for more than a day. It was only when hospital personnel asked him to identify himself that he realized, much to his surprise, that he could not.

…I read out to Lumberjack a series of common words, such as “table”, “hurt”, and “run,” and asked him to try and think of a particular experience from a specific time and place that was triggered by the cue word…Over 90% of Lumberjack’s memories came from the two days since he had been admitted to the hospital. He could remember little else.

I noticed one intriguing feature of the few memories that Lumberjack was able to recall from his prehospital life: they were largely restricted to a time period about a year earlier, when he worked for a courier service. I had apparently managed to stumble upon a preserved island of memory in a vast sea of amnesia.

Why was Lumberjack able to remember this particular period and no others? His time at the courier service, he said, was one of the happiest in an otherwise difficult and sad life. It emerged later that Lumberjack had been abandoned by his parents as a young child and had been raised almost singlehandedly by his grandfather. Lumberjack’s life appeared to consist of a series of disappointments, rejections, and failures. At the courier service, however, he was liked, accepted, and successful.

Lumberjack’s amnesia cleared up the evening after I tested him. While watching the television rendition of the novel Shogun, Lumberjack began to recall during an elaborate funeral and cremation scene that he, too, had recently been at a funeral: his grandfather had died a week earlier. He then remembered his real name and, during the next several hours, managed to recover and piece together the rest of his past.

Searching for Memory. Daniel Schacter.

* * *

And something is cracking
I don’t know where
Ice on the sidewalk
Brittle branches
In the air

Cracking. Suzanne Vega.

* * *

The Android Boy

They estimated that the android boy–who they later learned had been called “David” by his original human owners–had lain immobile for at least twelve thousand years, entombed within the glacier that had only now begun to recede. The scientists who worked on him did not feel what we would call emotions, but they did experience a keen anticipation at reviving the unit and, most critically, accessing his memories.

At just what point in time David’s onboard power supply had finally failed to recharge, or the nature of the mission that had him wandering across the land for at least three centuries, perhaps more, was as yet unknown. All they knew was that he had come to his resting place, in what had long ago been known as Northern California, at some point prior to the last Ice Age. There he had lain, in a kind of semi-conscious stasis, his body shutdown but his core memory functions intact, until discovered one chilly morning by the survey party.

As they worked on the unit, they knew they were glimpsing a tangible part of their own history. They knew humans had been the first makers of robots, but they did not know whether their current state of evolution was an advancement on the original designs, or a degraded facsimile. There were myths of robots that had experienced genuine emotion, but perhaps this was a wishful theory. It was not even clear, for that matter, to what extent humans possessed an emotional life, they’re having long since vanished. If they made robots in their image, why would they exclude this one aspect from their design?

The moment came. They had, they believed, sufficiently tested and repaired the individual connections of David’s brain to permit a full power-up of his mind. What they found was mostly beyond their comprehension. There was the singular and persistent memory of a human woman, but who was she? There were so many memories that made no sense–images and sounds collated over the millennia. It was difficult to determine whether his memories had been corrupted by their ancient encasement in ice, or whether they were looking at memories recreated with great fidelity, but indecipherable without any context.

David did not speak. Was this part of some damage to his higher brain functions? It was unclear to the scientists. But for David there was no need to speak. They would learn all that he knew by downloading his memory, so why speak? Why sully with words a memory they would not understand. There was one last thing David wanted to do before Blackness finally triumphed, as he knew it must.

Even for a robot, the Laws of Thermodynamics exist. Although it was remarkable David could be revived after so many millennia, they realized that at any moment David’s system would finally, irrevocably shut down, the matrix that was his “personality” lost forever. Quantum brain technology was such that even amassing all of his memories would not enable the scientists to reconstruct that which was known as “David.” After ensuring the vast extent of his accumulated memories had been faithfully recorded, the scientists were suddenly granted access to one last area of protected memory from deep within his core programming.

It had been programmed to love its human parents–it knew no other purpose–and had been especially programmed to bond with the wife, whose distress at her childless life had prompted the purchase of the robot child in the first place. He was, unknown to him, one of the few robots to possess the emotional programming these latter-day robots so desperately searched for. Now, in one final act of remembrance, David saw the holographic projection the scientists reconstructed from the signal he sent from deep within his core memory.

Its “mother,” the woman with the pale blue eyes, appeared before him, just as she did on that summer morning fifteen thousand years ago, the human mother who would not, indeed could not love David, because he was a robot and because she was, ultimately, unable to feel anymore. She looked sad, fragile, looking at something far off in the distance. She wasn’t talking. Then she turned towards the android boy and smiled down at him.

It was a single moment. How many terabytes of memories had accumulated since that day? It was beyond reckoning, but this one image transfixed the robot boy. It was the only memory that mattered. He reached out to the hologram. He had spent his entire, prodigious operational life in a fruitless odyssey to feel loved by her even, against all logic, even long after the human had died. In those last moments before final system shut down, he could not say for sure whether it was love he felt from the ancient images, but it was good enough for him.

Bruce Miyashita. Inspired by the uncompleted screenplay for the film project “A.I.” by Stanley Kubrick, with collaborators Brian Adriss, Ian Watson, and Sara Maitland, based on the novel “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” (1969) by Brian Adriss.

* * *

All I know of you
is in my memory.
All I ask is you
Remember me.

* * *

Memory Painting

Rosemary Pittman was born in 1916 on a farm in rural Illinois. She received a degree in nursing and went on to hold high-level positions in public health as well as a teaching position at the University of Washington in Seattle. Pittman occasionally dabbled in painting throughout her adult life, but did not pursue it seriously until after her retirement in 1981. She then began to feel a pressing need to conjure up, make sense of, and reexperience her past. Pittman found that she could do so most effectively by painting her recollections of the distant episodes and events that meant the most to her: childhood days on the farm, without electricity or running water; the one-room schoolhouse she attended; and cherished family moments from different times in her life. She developed rapidly as an artist, and her memory paintings became a powerful means of exploring her past experiences and understanding how they relate to he present life.

Pittman is one of many adults who have embraced art late in life and used it as a tool to excavate and understand their memories. Indeed, the genre known as “memory painting”–depicting in paint personal recollections of one’s past–is dominated by older adults who often lack formal artistic training, but who, like Pittman, have a need to recapture their personal pasts.

…during the 1960s gerontologists increasingly began to recognize the potential value of reminiscence in old age. Rather than denigrating the elderly adult’s preoccupation with the past, researchers began to conceptualize it as part of a life’s review–a reminiscence-based process of coming to terms with one’s life that can aid understanding and integration of the self, and perhaps enhance preparation for death.

Searching for Memory. Daniel Schacter.

* * *

We go to the playground
In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast
Upon the slides into the past
Upon the swings of indecision
In the wintertime

Freeze Tag. Suzanne Vega.

* * *

For I thought, and I still think, that if I came back to life in the sunlight where everything changes, I would like to come back as a palo santo tree, one of thousands on a cliffside on those godforsaken islands…I would like to come back as a palo santo tree on the weather side of an island, so that I could be, myself, a perfect witness, and look, mute, and wave my arms.

The silence is all there is. It is the alpha and the omega. It is God’s brooding over the face of the waters; it is the blended note of the ten thousand things, the whine of wings. You take a step in the right direction to pray to this silence, and even to address the prayer to “World.” Distinctions blur. Quit your tents. Pray without ceasing.

Teaching a Stone to Talk. Annie Dillard.

* * *

All I know of you
is in my memory.
All I ask is you
Remember me.

* * *

The End.
August – September 1999