How Can We Make Memory Without Memories?

How can we make memory without memories? We are the sum of our memories and these memories represent who we are. However, the way people archive and remember the past contradict each other. Our brains are becoming increasingly reliant on digital devices to archive and remember life’s occurrences. Digital memory relies entirely on the fidelity of recorded images, but it cannot capture the richness of human memory, such as the feelings and smells we associate with a particular time. The less memory is experienced from within us, the greater the need is for external devices and tangible reminders of that which no longer accessible via memory.

In other words, memory which is contained in a digital sense becomes memories. Therefore, people will have fewer and fewer individual memories that can be remembered by themselves.

There are various forms of digital memories, such as ROM, RAM, hard drive, and etc. Digital devices are technically just one type of electronic storage. Without accessing and using them, there is no difference between a useless box and them.

All of the computers processes in digital devices, from start-up to shutdown, rely on different forms of memory in order to function. For example, the core part of a computer is its CPU (Central Processing Unit), which runs all programs and operations. There are two types of memory that function within computers, that is primary and secondary memory. Primary memory is the main storage of memory and secondary memory stores data and programs. However, memory is not stored in the CPU, it is just part of the operations mainstream.

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A computer needs to process and store data, the same as humans do, but in a digital format. The process of storing a piece of data to its memory is called writing, and the process of retrieving data is called reading. RAM usually stores the data of a computer.

However, RAM does not keep the information after the computer shuts down. Every piece of data in the computer is stored as a number. For example, letters and images are all converted to a set of numbers. Especially for images, it is just a numeric representation between 0 to 255, of a two-dimensional image. They exist in a virtual world not a physical world. For Brief 1, I wanted to raise the awareness of remembering memories within ourselves and not on digital devices to people by visualising the difference between human memory and digital memory. Actually all the photos and videos which exist as a digital form are just a bulk of numbers between 0 to 255 and in reality our memory is hard to indicate with by just numbers. How can we say that those numbers represent our memories. I will explain about how human memory is different from the memory of digital devices in the this critical report.

Human memory is fundamentally formed differently from digital memory. Human memory is an assembly of how people have perceived and experienced life through their senses. Different parts of senses are coded in different locations of the brain. Visual, smell, motoric, kinesthetic and emotional elements are coded and stored in different parts of the brain. Altogether, the hippocampus has hold of those individual brain anatomical areas and eventually binds them together and produces a memory that people are capable of remembering. People may be curious about all the information that is coded in our brains, whether that means every memory is actually tattooed onto our brains and if that is true, why can’t we remember them all?

The act of remembering itself can be the answer to this question. A memory only comes alive when we recall it. In general, memory can be considered as a kind of library. The place where we can save our memories when they are formed, filed up and recalled when we need it. This is called consolidation. Though, a memory might fade out over time or get lost, people think that it will always be there. The neuroscientist Karim Nader wondered if that is actually true. Nader designed an experiment. He trained rats to fear the sound of a tone while paring it with a mild shock. The rats learned to fear the tone alone. They formed a long term memory that the tone predicts a shock. So the rats felt fear and froze every time they heard the sound of the tone, even though there was no shock effect. After that, Nader gave them a drug called anisomycin directly. It’s a drug known to block the proteins needed to build connections that store new memories. If our memory consolidation is like a library, and if the memory is wired in the brain and has built permanent memory, the drug should have no effect.

However, when Nader played the tone after feeding the drug to the rats, they kept moving like the memory seemed to be gone. The drug is known to block a new memory from being formed, but also blocks the memory from being recalled. This means our memory can be changed when we recall a memory. Nader’s experiment gave us the idea that any time we recall a memory we essentially disturb it. So, our memory is not like filed up in our memory like a library. It is a process of bringing up a memory from our brain and returning the memory to a long term memory by creating new proteins to rewire the memory into your brain, in other words re-consolidate. For example, if there is an object in a box and every time we take it out, it changes a little bit and we put it back. The theory of our memories is that it is possible to alter them by remembering them, leading people to understand the aspect of memory in various perspectives.

People probably think human memory is more vulnerable than digital memory in terms of factual information. However, what people should think about regarding factual information is what people really put value on, such as the date, where it happened, and its visuals. Rather than remembering factual information, remembering how we felt and what we experienced is more important and those small memories gathered all together make us who we are. These days people are relying on digital devices to remember every single thing. It is obvious that digital devices are helping our life, but the more we rely on them, the more we lose the key value of our life, which is our identity. Even if our memory is not 100 percent perfect and vulnerable, our memory has value itself which cannot be replaced by digital devices.

In the book ‘Memory’, I Farr argues that in the past, collectors, scholars and monks devoted their lives to amassing documents on the fringes of a society that was oblivious of them and of a history that was written without their aid. Later memory-history seized on this treasure trove and used it as the basis of its works, disseminating the fruits of its labours through myriad social institutions tailored to the purpose. Now that historians have abandoned that cult of the document, society as a whole has acquired the religion of preservation and archivisation. This phenomenon is similar to how people archive their memory externalised into digital format. The photos from the event became more important than the event itself. It arose a question in myself on why are people so obsessed with archiving their memory by capturing visuals. Is the feeling of fear that every memory is on the verge of disappearing or the anxiety about the precision of memory that makes people to archive and refrain from losing any of their memories?

In order to help us find the answer to our research question, it is useful to consider the two extremes of people regarding memory types. People who can remember great details about everything and a person who cannot remember anything. People who have HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory) remember every detail from almost every day of their life. It is not sure how HSAM happens, but it arose the question do people have the ability to remember everything in them, but people just cannot remember everything or did the memory just not get encoded into their function in the first place. People who do not have HSAM would think they will have a better life or that it is a great ability to have. It could be a great ability in some ways. However, if it is impossible to forget something it means people who have HSAM have to remember every bad thing that happens to them. Is that what people really want? Will people be satisfied and happy if they can remember every great detail of their life? There will not be only happy memories, there will be bad and sad memories too. Also, it is always bad memories which bothers people the most, not a happy memories. Can we handle ourselves when it our memory just keep files piling up and up?

On the other hand, Henry Gustave Molasion, known as ‘Patient HM’, suffered from what we call densely amnesia after he got a surgery to remove the part of his brain that was causing his seizures. He got a surgery called a bilateral medial temporal lobe resection, which is removing a portion of the temporal lobe, including parts of the hippocampus and amygdala from both sides of the brain. After the operation, he could only remember about his childhood, but could not make any new memories. People measure time by our memories, and thus for Henry, it was as if time stopped when he was 16 years old, eleven years before his surgery. He could not even remember what he ate for breakfast. In 1962, Dr Brenda Milner, a psychologist from McGill, wanted to know, despite his amnesia, could he still have some form of memory. So she asked Henry to draw a star shape, using only a mirror to see this hand. It was a bit difficult, but if normal people practice and learn, they could do it. Henry seemed like he had no ability to make any long-term memories, he seemed hopeless.

In fact, every time Milner asked him to draw a line, he said he had never done it before. However, the result was different. He got better and better. He was not able to remember new events of his life, but it proved that he was able to learn motor skills. It demonstrated that our memory has various types of memories and how important our memory is. If we cannot make new memories, although we can learn motor skills unconsciously, we are stuck in time. Imagine every morning when you wake up and you cannot remember what you did yesterday or even just a minute before. Many scientists study deep into memory, but it is still unclear what memory exactly is. People would say they understand memory, but we only understand the tip of the iceberg. Although, we cannot understand it fully in a scientific point of view, we are all living with memory and feel what it is. Also, how we experience our memory is very different from person to person, and that is what makes one individual distinctive from another.

An interesting art project related to memory is Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s ‘Home Within Home’ installation about space and memory of fabric medium. It’s about a full scale reconstruction of the house building where he lived before. He had to move often and that caused him to get interested in residential spaces. He said regardless of where he is living now, the memory of the space where he lived will stay deep in his heart. He said that installation is kind of like making clothes go into a spatial memory. The translucent organization-like fabric emphasized in bright colours is the invisible memory of our daily experience at home.

He said that the audiences can put in their own meaning by reflecting themselves into installations, which is interpreted by the result of the interaction between installation and installation and the exhibition space. The concept of giving intangible memory a shape inspired me on how I can visualise intangible elements and how the medium itself can connect to the work. Also, how he connected his personal memory to a general issue was impressive. My brief 1 and 2 are about memory and it is hard to define, because everyone has different memories. His work gave me an idea on how I can expand my initial idea and reconstruct it beyond my perspective of memory.

The series of sculptures, Images in Debris, by Sarah Sze installation consists of a desk with multiple screens and around them moving images are projected onto torn pieces of paper and onto the gallery walls. She explores sense of time, pace and distance, and the construction of memory, through a never-ending stream of images – personal, searched, researched and found, which is what people negotiate daily. Images in Debris, both re-frames and refracts are the collision of images we are confronted by daily.

The title, referring image has ceased, also alludes to the filmic idea of the persistence of vision, where the after image fills in the gaps between film frames, setting still images into motion in our perception and memory (Victoria Miro, 2017). When I saw this installation for the first time, it was visually pleasing. The installation seems big but when I saw it closely, I could see little pieces of torn paper. On those little pieces moving images were projected individually. Of course, it was not 100 percent perfect, but the accuracy was quite good. Because it was not 100 percent accurate and it did overlap each other a bit, it looked more like memories to me. Although, this installation is not only about memory, when we talk about memory we associate it with various things a well. Our memory is complicated and cannot be explain in one perspective.

Our memory involves all kind of senses like sound, smell, touch, taste and visual. There is an article about the relationship between food and memory from Harvard University Press by referencing a book called The Omnivorous Mind by John S. Allen(2012). The book reveals how cultural and biological facts evolved the relationship of food. People all have their own memories about food, some good and some bad. The taste, smell and texture of food can even trigger people to remember circumstances where they were, when they were, not only by eating the food itself. In the article, they gave the example the Bit-O-Honey bar experience, when some people eat a Bit-O-Honey bar, they feel like they are going back to the time when they were a child.

The Bit-O-Honey bar bridges an old memory for some people. Not only, the Bit-O-Honey bar experience, but it is also common to have some memories saved about food or taste. For example, when I see old Korean junk food that I used to eat when I was small, it reminds me of the time when I was in primarily school. It was kind of my deviation from a time when I did not want to study. Additionally, in the article it states that for a child, candies and candy bars are often a special treat. This alone could make eating them a memorable experience. But beyond that, those candies that are associated with special childhood occasions, such as driving trips, visiting a friend or relative, or holidays, are often especially memory-rich. (Harvard University Press, 2012)

Sometimes a scent brings our memories back from a long time ago. This memory is called a ‘Proustian memory’. It is named after the French writer Marcel Proust, one of the novelists of the 20th century. He describes this phenomenon in the book ‘Swan’s Way’. He wrote about how a certain smell triggered him. The smell of madeleine cake dipped into a lime-blossom tea, recalled a long-forgotten memory vividly from his childhood: “and as soon as I had recognized the taste of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me … Immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set … and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.” From the scent of madeleine he could have remembered spatiotemporal information. Like what he experienced, we bring that situation back with not only one sense.

When I think of memory about sound, the first thing I can think of is music. When I Iisten to some songs, it reminds me of the time when I used to listen to that specific song everyday. Which season it was, how old I was, or even what I did. It seems like I came back to that time. For me, these memories are more emotional than other memories. Unlike other senses, a lot of music has its own story like lyrics. From BBC’s website, there was an article about ‘Why does music evoke memories?’ by Tiffany Jenkins(2014). In the article, she claims that music has been an important mnemonic device for thousand of years by referencing the book ‘Memory in Oral Traditions’ by David C Rubin(1995), who is a specialist in autobiographical memory and oral traditions. She said he explains how epic stories like Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were passed down verbally using poetic devices. Before the narratives could be written down, they were chanted or sung. Oral tradition depended on memory. The rhythm, rhyme and sometimes alliteration helps one to retrieve the memory with cues. The structure of the song helps people to remember it, as well as the melody and the images the words provoke.

While I was researching about memory, I found that I barely remember something with haptic memory. It is actually everywhere and we always associate with it, but barely realise it. Fabian Hutmacher and Christof Kuhbandner, researchers at the University of Regensburg, experimented with haptic memory. For the first experiment, they asked participants to touch 168 everyday objects like a pen for 10 seconds each. After they had a haptic experience, they had a blindfold test. In the test, they had to choose which one was the one they touched between two similar items (e.g., two different pens, but they only touched one pen before). Surprisingly, almost all participants were able to the choose correct objects (94%) when they tested it right after the exploration.

Even a week after, the accuracy rate did not go down that much, it was 85 percent. In the second experiment, they asked a new group of participants to do the same thing, but without the intention of memorizing them. A week after, the participants had the same test as the first group of participants did. The accuracy rate was still high, it was 79 percent. Even when participants had to visually identify without being blindfolded or having seen it previously, the accuracy rate was still high (73%). These results show that the effect of haptic perception is much stronger than people may think. Also, it shows how haptic perception is durable, detailed and how long-lasting the memory is, even without recognisable it. The reason why people could have generated memories of what they have never seen is that haptic experiences activate an area that is involved in processing visual signals not only in the somatosensory cortex (the area that processes the sense of touch). Moreover, our brain forms imaginary images when we touch an unseen object.

The fact that touch experience can also affect the visual sense, made me think of synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. (Wikipedia) People who are experiencing synaesthesia called synesthetes. There are various types of synesthesia. According to the research done by Sean A. Day (2005), there are 40 distinctly different types of synesthesia. 66.5% of participants reported they experienced a grapheme to the colours synesthesia. Time units to colours, musical sounds to colours, general sounds to colours and phonemes to colours followed after. The top 14 types were one sense to a colour type of synaesthesia. The percentage of people who can feel sounds, tastes or touch from another sense was similar.

An interesting fact is that vision is the responsive sensor most of the time, not the trigger. That gave me a question again, why would people want to evoke their memory with visual elements that hard. Also, actually our senses have a synesthetic character in their interactive connections. Our senses intertwine with each other. In my opinion, if our memory is perceived by our senses being all combined in one sense like smell, taste or touch if it can evoke our memories, we can call it synaesthesia. It could be more broad than actual synaesthesia. Smell, taste, touch and sound evoke our memories and most of the time the memories we recalled contain more than one sense.

Our memories can recall all kinds of senses in very individually unique ways. For example, if we think of the smell of winter, some people might feel cold, some people might think of the food they usually eat in the winter, or some people might remember the texture of snow. Our brain and senses are much more complex and richer than people think, but people are overlooking the richness of memory. I think graphic designers are people who design everyday life. We often work with visuals but through the visuals or the works we make, we should communicate with our audiences and give them a direction where the designers want them to see. For brief 1, I informed people how digital memory and human memory is different. Brief 2 is the next step of brief 1. As a graphic designer, I wanted to design a new trigger for people to experience their daily life not only relying on vision. We all have 5 different senses, it is important to feel those different senses. How we feel, experience, and perceive our surroundings shows individual distinctions.

After I got the idea of synaesthesia, I researched how synaesthesia appeared in art. There was an interesting research about art and synaesthesia. Dr. Hugo Heyrman in Art sciences, a painter, a synaesthesia research Professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts argues in his research that ‘art as a synaesthesia experience’ with the concept of making new connections between the senses. He claims that in the arts, the search for correspondences and complementarities between sense is essential and artists have brought the ‘synaesthetic experience’ to the surface to share certain visions with the world. The concept of synaesthesia appeared in the art scene quite early.

The article from The Guardian by Gerard Mcburney(2006) said that, Goethe declared that architecture was “frozen music”, and the mid-victorian uber-aesthete Walter Pater breathlessly announced that “all art aspires towards the condition of music”. By the late 19th and early 20th century, however, blurring edges between music and the other arts had become a widespread obsession. The artist who inspired me was Wassily Kandinsky who is well known as a synesthetes. Kandinsky appealed in his manifesto to the evidence of synaesthesia. He also wrote about how a certain sound had a “blue taste”. After he experienced the synaesthesia, he said that “Our hearing of colours is so precise … Colour is means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposely sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key.” (The Guardian, Gerard Mcburney, 2006). The synaesthesia aspect of Kandinsky does appears in his art works. He visualised music in his paintings, he converted each note with an exact hue.

An intriguing artwork related to synaesthesia that Daniel is working on is a collaboration project with artist and filmmaker, Lucy Cordes Engelman, who is creating works exploring her synaesthesia. Lucy experiences a different colour sequence when she sees time and numbers like a day, week, hours or years. Also, to Lucy, time is spatial and coloured related. It is technically called : Spatial-Temporal Synaesthesia. Daniel tired to visualize as close as possible how Lucy experiences hers even though he does not have the same synaesthesia himself.

There was an exhibition called ‘New Synaesthesia’ in Tokyo. This exhibition aimed to extend the concept of ‘music’ as a field of complexity that embraces various forms and textures of art and explores a close relationship with visual and visual art. (E-flux. 2013) In this exhibition, the term ‘synesthesia’ refers to a composite sense like incorporate sound and visual. How they introduced a new concept of synaesthesia inspired me to get an idea of if one sense can evoke memory, that could be considered as synaesthesia too. There was an installation made by Otomo Yoshihide and his collaborators called With out Records. Otomo explains that record machines are displayed on stands or hanging from the ceiling and it was his intention to give the audience a “trees in a forest” like feel.

The record players played music at scattered moments for an unpredictable period of time. The machines would start and then stop suddenly, sometimes before the visitor, and while one is walking through the installation, they can determine which particular machine the sound came from. Indeed, the scraping, squeaking, rattling noises are as unpredictable as the bird calls and rustling one hears from the bushes in a forest (ArtAsiaPacific. 2012). My brief 2 has to interact with audiences and also has more than one medium involved, I have to think about how these elements can work effectively and together. Designing a space is honestly not my thing, I had a hard time thinking about where I should display my work or where would my audience experience my work best. Form this installation, how spaces are used and how spaces and sounds help each other and go together with each other helped me understand more on how I can make more coherence in this kind of work.

Manel Munoz is an artist based in Barcelona. He implanted a cybernetic sensory organ in his body to perceive changes in the atmospheric pressure. The barometric organ allows him to perceive the arrival of cyclones and anticyclones via beat frequencies transmitted through the skill. Depending on the input perceived, he can predict weather changes, as well as feel at what altitude he is in. He explains that his work is a new perception created inside his mind. After I saw his work, I realised how important we see some things through our own point of view and not through a camera lens.

These references I mentioned, showed how synaesthesia is applied in arts. Some are just about the artist themselves and some involve the audiences, but they are all giving us an idea of experiencing senses in different ways. Also, it shows how senses and art can be closely related. In a design aspect, the way synesthesia works looks pretty much similar to how design works to me. We design something visual and through that we want people to feel something different from only a visual sense. It could be emotion, actions or empathy. In my case, it is memory. In brief 2, I designed a set of experience kits: list of soundtracks and a task paper.

People will experience the soundtracks which are recorded in Central Saint Martins and then fill in the answers on the given task paper. The reason why I chose CSM is because we come to college every day, but we barely remember what CSM sound like. The sound of CSM is always different, like how the weather is different everyday. When listening to the sounds, people can imagine where this sound was recorded or it can evoke a particular memory in the audience. By answering the questions on the paper, the audiences can figure out how sounds associate with other senses and how it evokes their memory.

We need to think about what is the ultimate purpose of memory. The way we store and experience our memory does matter. It is not about quantity of memory it is about quality of memory. Human memory flaws would actually be a part of its strength. It would be hard to pick out each specific memory from tons of our past events, if we have a picture-perfect collection of 40,50 years of memories. Also, there is a hierarchy of memory. What we usually can not remember is not important information to us. Whereas, we remember minor details when we think it is important to us or when it’s something we are interested in.

We also should think about why our brain memory system is structured this way, our body wants to work as effective as possible. If our brain has to remember every detail, we will suffer from every bad thing that has happened in our life. In my opinion, our brain protects us from getting too much stress and hurts from what makes us depressed. Those memories which remain after its filtered or what should have been forgotten is usually unconsciously remembered within us and it comes back to us when we do not expect it to. In my opinion, those memories that exist in our unconscious mind are powerful. Because, that means even when we do not think about it, it affects our life. Some people might raise a question on what about sustainability?

To answer that question, I would say in despite of almost a perfect ability to store everything, you never know which parts of memory will be lost from your digital devices. Even if you back it up regularly, it is going to be lost in the end. On the other hand, our memory never loses them if we think it is important to us. Especially, when people experience something for the first time. I admit that which one is more durable would be different from what perspective people are looking for. However, in my opinion, human memory is more durable than digital memory. I think when people realise how other senses are more involved in our memory than they know, people will try to feel other senses more than before and designs can help them to realise it by the setup of the environment which helps to trigger other senses. Furthermore, if designs can help people build their own sensory trigger, it would be the best scenario.

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How Can We Make Memory Without Memories?. (2021, Feb 08). Retrieved from

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