Nostalgia and Memory

Standard

And then there’s the fuzzy memory aspect of nostalgia. Things often look better when you can’t see them clearly, and time is the softest focus of all. Or is it? The aging mind may not be what we think it is, according to memory specialist, Douwe Draaisma. Wait, what were we talking about again?


The Nostalgia Factory by Douwe Draaisma. Amazon for $9.99.
You cannot call to mind the name of a man you have known for 30 years. You walk into a room and forget what you came for. What is the name of that famous film you’ve watched so many times? These are common experiences, and as we grow older we tend to worry about these lapses. Is our memory failing? Is it dementia?

Douwe Draaisma, a renowned memory specialist, here focuses on memory in later life. Writing with eloquence and humor, he explains neurological phenomena without becoming lost in specialist terminology. His book is reminiscent of Oliver Sacks’s work, and not coincidentally this volume includes a long interview with Sacks, who speaks of his own memory changes as he entered his sixties. Draaisma moves smoothly from anecdote to research and back, weaving stories and science into a compelling description of the terrain of memory. He brings to light the “reminiscence effect,” just one of the unexpected pleasures of an aging memory.

The author writes reassuringly about forgetfulness and satisfyingly dismantles the stubborn myth that mental gymnastics can improve memory. He presents a convincing case in favor of the aging mind and urges us to value the nostalgia that survives as recollection, appreciate the intangible nature of past events, and take pleasure in the consolation of razor-sharp reminiscing.

Nonfiction not your thing? Try Her Cousin Much Removed, or sign up for my spamless newsletter.

Download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities. It’s free!

Advertisements

Boredom is Better than You Believe

Standard

I admit that title was slightly tortured, but it will have to do. It’s a B we all deal with, at some time or another, and the work of artists and writers throughout the centuries can reflect it. More so, creative work may even be shaped by it. See? Being bored isn’t all bad. Hmm. That would have made a better title.


Boredom: A Lively History by Peter Toohey. Amazon for $11.99. In the first book to argue for the benefits of boredom, Peter Toohey dispels the myth that it’s simply a childish emotion or an existential malaise like Jean-Paul Sartre’s nausea. He shows how boredom is, in fact, one of our most common and constructive emotions and is an essential part of the human experience.

This informative and entertaining investigation of boredom—what it is and what it isn’t, its uses and its dangers—spans more than 3,000 years of history and takes readers through fascinating neurological and psychological theories of emotion, as well as recent scientific investigations, to illustrate its role in our lives. There are Australian aboriginals and bored Romans, Jeffrey Archer and caged cockatoos, Camus and the early Christians, Dürer and Degas. Toohey also explores the important role that boredom plays in popular and highbrow culture and how over the centuries it has proven to be a stimulus for art and literature.

Toohey shows that boredom is a universal emotion experienced by humans throughout history and he explains its place, and value, in today’s world. Boredom: A Lively History is vital reading for anyone interested in what goes on when supposedly nothing happens.

Not amused enough yet? Sign up for my newsletter.

At Amazon, the Book Buys You

Standard

OK, that’s not entirely accurate. Or remotely accurate, but I couldn’t resist the joke.

Normally, about now I’d be telling you about a book you can buy from Amazon, but today I figured I’d flip that. I don’t know if you know, but Amazon will buy your books as well. It’s like a big, natural circle of reading. Amazon pays for shipping, so it won’t cost you anything. Current best-sellers are probably your best bet, but at least that takes some of the guilt out of buying a full-priced new book.

And it’s not just for books, either. You can trade in movies, video games and other things, and get an Amazon gift card in exchange. When I logged in, it even told me what some things I’d bought from Amazon were worth, which is nice to know, not that I’m parting with my Zumba World Party, which is the most fun game ever, but I digress.

So you can use books to feed your reading habit. It’s beautiful, in a way.

Anyway, thus concludes this public service announcement.

 

 

 

Our Incredible Cosmos

Standard

Last night, the reboot of “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odesy” with new host, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson premiered, and it was stunning, conceptually and visually.

It is nearly impossible for us to imagine our tiny, minuscule, microscopic place in the universe. Here we are, on our little planet out in the boonies of our solar system, and in every conceivable direction, there are stars. And with those stars, there are planets, planets as plentiful and scattered as sand.

Imagine that.

The idea that we are the lone planet of life seems ludicrous when you see the sheer volume of possibility out there in the darkness. There must be life elsewhere, but it’s unlikely we will ever cross paths. There’s a kind of tragedy in that.

Or maybe it would be worse if we met, humans being humans and they being whoever they are. Maybe violence is inevitable in such a meeting, as Stephen Hawking suggests. Or maybe the thought of finding living, breathing beings where there might only have been nothing is bigger.

It probably depends on the human. And it probably depends on the them.

But there is some comfort in the vastness of space. There is some comfort in the thought that we are all, as Tyson puts it, “Made of star-stuff.”

It puts things in perspective.

A Neuroscientist Explains How Dogs Love Us

Standard

Do you ever wonder how your dog thinks you’re so great while you may not be so sure about that? Wonder what’s going on behind those big, soft doggy eyes? This neuroscientist did, and took his specialty to man’s best friend.


How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain by Gregory Berns. Amazon for $5.99. The powerful bond between humans and dogs is one that’s uniquely cherished. Loyal, obedient, and affectionate, they are truly “man’s best friend.” But do dogs love us the way we love them? Emory University neuroscientist Gregory Berns had spent decades using MRI imaging technology to study how the human brain works, but a different question still nagged at him: What is my dog thinking?
After his family adopted Callie, a shy, skinny terrier mix, Berns decided that there was only one way to answer that question—use an MRI machine to scan the dog’s brain. His colleagues dismissed the idea. Everyone knew that dogs needed to be restrained or sedated for MRI scans. But if the military could train dogs to operate calmly in some of the most challenging environments, surely there must be a way to train dogs to sit in an MRI scanner.

With this radical conviction, Berns and his dog would embark on a remarkable journey and be the first to glimpse the inner workings of the canine brain. Painstakingly, the two worked together to overcome the many technical, legal, and behavioral hurdles. Berns’s research offers surprising results on how dogs empathize with human emotions, how they love us, and why dogs and humans share one of the most remarkable friendships in the animal kingdom.

How Dogs Love Us answers the age-old question of dog lovers everywhere and offers profound new evidence that dogs should be treated as we would treat our best human friends: with love, respect, and appreciation for their social and emotional intelligence.