Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cellular Phronesis

Someone or other once said that "a clear conscience is often a sign of a bad memory." I wonder what that means for the consciences of the near future that will no longer be able to forget a thing with every step of every day recorded in one form or another for later playback or review.

Memory, of course, is a very tricky thing, and I for one am pleased with the way technology allows us to remember things that were prime candidates for slipping through cracks. It has taken me some effort to memorize three phone numbers that I can recite without cheating, yet I can vividly remember the first time I heard Heart's "Magic Man" on the way to Montessori school about 32 years ago and being scared and excited by the lyrics coming out of Mother Word Player's dashboard FM.


I got to thinking of the shortcomings and successes of memory on Sunday reading Jenny Lyn Bader's article "Britney? That's All She Rote" from the Week In Review section of the New York Times. Bader touched on something I've felt for a long time now, that collectively our memories are getting to be just as short as out attention spans. "We are in a culture that devalues our sense of memory" says author and Harvard rhetoric professor James Engell.

I've hoped that the less we have to rely on our memories for day-to-day details (thanks to advances in personal technology) that the more brainpower we would have at our disposal for creative and esoteric thinking. Frankly, it's hard to compare one's memory epochs, especially when you can't remember what the older ones were like anymore.

people often forget about The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory

The article contained two words I was unfamiliar with that I wanted to write up here, but in the 48+ hours since I first read it something else from it has lodged in my noggin. In talking about the physiology of memory, she notes:

Other body parts may be involved, too, as suggested by stories of transplant patients who acquire memories not their own. Mr. Engall said, "Memory has a kind of bodily presence."

And I thought that notion was strictly the invention of horror screenwriters!

Anyway, here are the two words that are either new to me, or seemed so because I had forgotten learning about them the first time:

1. phronesis: Aristotle distinguishes between two intellectual virtues: sophia and phronesis. Sophia (usually translated "wisdom") is the ability to think well about the nature of the world, and is used in our attempts to discover why the world is the way it is (this is sometimes equated with science); sophia involves deliberation concerning universal truths. Phronesis is the ability to think about how and why we should act in order to change things, and especially to change our lives for the better. Aristotle says that phronesis isn't simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end (this is, however, denied by some commentators, who argue that Aristotle considers the desired end (eudaimonia) to be given, so that phronesis is simply the ability to achieve that end).

perhaps Aristotle taught Alexander a tad too well?

Gaining phronesis requires time, as one must gain both the habit and understanding of correct deliberation.
definition taken from wikipedia)

2. neurobics: a unique new system of brain exercises based on the latest scientific research from leading neurobiology labs around the world - including Dr. Katz' lab at the Dept of Neurobiology in the Dook University Medical Center in Durham, NC. The deceptively simple exercise program is the first and only program scientifically based on the brain's ability to produce natural growth factors called neurotrophins that help fight off the effects of mental aging. Neurobic exercises use your five physical senses and your emotional sense in unexpected ways and encourage you to shake up your everyday routines.
(explanation taken from neurobics.com)

1 comment:

knowhereman said...

i can see you were flexing your mind even while writing this blog by taking one of Dr. Katz's suggestions of purposefully misspelling Duke (Dook). i wrote this blindfolded with my nose, by the way.