Tuesday, March 15, 2005


I worry about my memory. A post on Medical Humanities about a lecture by Bill Bryson at the Royal Society mentioned his most recent book 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' Ah yes, I thought, I read that last year. Very interesting. Lots of fascinating information about the origin of the planet, astronomy, the animal world, nearly everything in fact. Things like..... em, well you know, facts and amusing anecdotes. The thing is I can't remember a single one. The book is a good 300 pages long and took me a couple of weeks to read and I can't remember a single factoid. Except one, that is that the blue whale has a tongue that weighs as much as an elephant, a heart as big as a small car and blood vessels that we could stand up in*. I'm pretty sure the reason I remember this useless, but you must agree astounding, information is that I regurgitated it verbatim at a dinner party while it was still in my short/medium term memory. (I can't quite remember who was at the dinner party nor where it was, but that's probably alcohol-related rather than neuron-degeneration-related). This confirms a lot of the theory on language learning which holds that it's not enough just to teach a language point, lexical item, grammatical structure etc, you must then create the conditions for the learner to use it and recycle it. Teaching is all about spiralling.
Two other memory related events yesterday and today. The first was listening to Leila Shahid talk on France Inter about her mother's memoir of Jerusalem in the 20s and 30s in which she writes "Il est important, me semble-t-il, de préserver la mémoire de ces jours disparus; en effet, l'espoir d'un avenir meilleur ne peut se nourrir que d'une vraie connaissance du passé." The irony is that Sirine Husseini Shahid now suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. Which brings me to event number two. In class, one of my "students",Pascale, a lecturer in epidemiology, today presented research demonstrating the protective effect of eating fish against developing AD. Of course, the consumption of fish is associated with a lot of other confounding factors such as higher socio-economic status etc. I wonder if blue whale counts as fish?

*That was a lie. I didn't actually remember the exact information, just that bits of a blue whale are as big as some very big things. I obviously don't do enough recycling at dinner parties. Fortunately, my intellectual capacities still run to looking "whale" up in an index.


1 comment:

Nathan Lowell said...

Memory is a funny thing. Recently I found a box of old pictures - even scanned some - and I can remember when I was very, very small, and sitting on the beach when my mother took the snapshot that's posted under Old Negative in my Ubiquity blog.

In the same box is a snapshot taken at my maternal side family reunion. I recognize everybody and all, but I have absolutely NO recollection of when that gathering happened or where. I don't even remember having that picture taken.