Reconsolidation

May 14, 2013

Fire damage to building in Fells Point

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Something goes wrong.

Things break.

Cars crash.

Buildings burn.

Wars are fought.

Fire-damaged store sign

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

At issue here is what can and/or should be done in the face of significant loss or when those significant losses come in waves.  The immediacy of the trauma can be only the beginning-the memories that linger are another story.

Fire re-construction in Fells Point.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Human memory is based on the storage of data (the “facts”), the feelings attached to that data, and the manner in which one responds to the situation and those similar to it.  Evidence indicates that different parts of the brain are used to store these varying bits and are then linked into a network through a process called “consolidation”.  For any given experience, the hippocampus processes and stores the details, the amygdala the emotional content, and the motor cortex the behaviour.  The inner-connectedness of these structures result in memories that incorporate all three elements.  It is theorized that when a memory is recalled, it becomes de-stabilized and is therefore subject to change before being re-stored (remembered).  The recall, alteration, and re-storing is referred to as “reconsolidation”.  This is quite a complex process and proposition as described here and here.

In this regard, photography is quite simple.  Do not like a particular image or group of images?  Just hit the delete button and/or reformat the card and the photo is gone.  Gone.  Digital has made this ridiculously easy, although the underlying technology is certainly intricate.

Fire re-construction in Fells Point.

Copyright 2013 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Biological processes are different. One cannot simply delete a memory or experience, despite what is portrayed in popular culture.  Even if this could be done, there are at least a couple of more problems: first, when the slate is wiped clean, any pleasant associations would be lost along with the unpleasant.  Second, if any awareness of mistakes made was also disappeared,  one would be more likely to continue making those same mistakes over and over again.  While the science is not there (yet) for the use of medications to “turn off” one or more of those integrated memory circuits (please do read the linked articles), cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is available, as is the time-immemorial skill of sharing one’s story.  Both of these take effort and practice and what can be a slog through the pain that many would rather avoid.  None of these tasks are particularly easy.  All involve the re-training of the brain.  Coming out on the other side, though, can allow for a richer, deeper appreciation of one’s past, present, and future experiences.

The term for this is Post Traumatic Growth and Laurence Gonzales has written extensively about it in Surviving Survival:  The Art and Science of Resilience-a highly recommended read.

Murphy, you are greatly missed.

Take care.

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