I put off getting my wisdom teeth pulled far longer than I should have. I was terrified. It seems I have very long roots and there was a risk of nerve damage (or worse) and also the teeth were impacted, which meant that they would have to be broken to be removed. Several dentists told me that only a specialist could do the job, and that I would likely require general anesthesia – this is what terrified me. When I could finally avoid it no longer, I talked them out of putting me under completely, and accepted a “drug cocktail” that I was told “would make me feel very comfortable and would make me forget any pain I endured during the surgery.” It’s true – I have amnesia about the surgery, which lasted over two hours. My only memories are of a blood pressure cuff attached to my arm which checked my BP at regular intervals. If I think back to that day I can feel the cuff inflating and deflating, but otherwise those two hours are lost to me.
I read through Chapter 4. There is no way I can cover even half of what I read, but I will try to share SOME of the most interesting parts. At one time anesthesiologists started to question whether the drugs they used actually put people to sleep or whether they just paralyzed patients and gave them amnesia. Remember the twilight sleep, where women were given amnesia drugs during childbirth? They felt the pain of labor but were happy to have forgotten it. The obvious ethical question is – does it matter? If you come through the surgery alright and you have no memory of any pain or discomfort, does it matter whether or not you felt any pain? My (I think obvious) answer is – yes! Of course it matters. I hope it didn’t hurt when they were breaking my wisdom teeth and digging them out – I would hate to think that I suffered at all, even if I don’t remember it either way.
Moving on – Michael Pollan has taught us a lot about the food industry, but I don’t think he told us about chicken sexing. Evidently it’s very hard to tell the difference between a boy and girl chicken until they are around 4-6 weeks of age. This used to be very costly for chicken farmers because they had to keep the boys alive for all that time until they were sure that they could be ground up and made into animal feed since boy chickens are not as useful (or tasty) as girl chickens. In the 1920s someone discovered that there IS a way to tell earlier – it’s a complicated process that involves years of study and a special technique for squeezing the one-day-old baby chick just enough so that its intestines are temporarily ejected. Long story short, chicken sexing experts say they have some sort of “intuition” that helps them know which are the useless boys, but really their memories have been trained to notice tiny patterns that the rest of us would not be able to see.
Experts in general are good at what they do because they have trained for years and years. Their brains respond to all of this training and allow them to remember things in their area of expertise far better than anyone else, even if they are only of average intelligence (which most of us are, obviously). I like the idea that we can actually train our brains. As I blog about more and more books, I try to find connections between what I am reading and what I have already read. Sometimes I have to search my archives for something I think I have written about, but I find that I am starting to find those connections in my head a little faster the longer (and more frequently) I blog. Sadly, sometimes I look at an old post and have very little memory of writing it – I hope this will change as I make more relevant connections between different books and subjects.
Here is a useful passage for those looking for tips to improve our brains:
Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one. If you spend your life sitting in a cubicle and passing papers, one day is bound to blend immemorably into the next–and disappear. That’s why it’s important to change routines regularly, and take vacations to exotic locales, and have as many new experiences as possible that can serve to anchor our memories. Creating new memories stretches out psychological time, and lengthens our perception of our lives.
Thank goodness for books – not everyone can afford “exotic” vacations – I hope reading about them counts. As for creating new memories, I think this is great advice. My sister takes her little guy somewhere every weekend, even if it’s just the park. I look at her and I feel kind of inadequate as a parent, because I have not done the same with my daughter. Tonight there was a hot air balloon festival in town and her grandparents took her – I sat out because I have a cold and feel quite yucky – after reading this I kind of wish I had dragged myself there, congestion and all. I only saw her for a few minutes this morning because she woke me up to show me her curly hair – then I went right back to sleep. She had such a fun day that she was carried straight to bed when she came home.
Another tip – rehearsing our memories helps us keep them for longer. I have been thinking about this one lately in the context of photographs. I take a lot of photos of Little Mama, and I got her a scrapbook for her birthday (she turned three this week). My plan is to let her assemble the pages, maybe once a week or so, using photos I have taken, stickers, and colorful paper. I will write what she wants me to write until she can do it herself. I think this might be a nice way to help her “rehearse” her memories, having them in a book she has “written” herself. I’ll let you know how it goes.