Scientists, my morning Daily Death Rattle tells me, have succeeded in making mice forget.
Now, you might think mice have precious little to remember beyond how to spell C-A-T and whether Gouda or Emmenthal makes the best croque monsieur once the C-A-T has toddled off to bed. You would be mistaken.
Mice apparently have so much on their miniscule minds that scientists, faced with the overwhelming task of teaching an entire species how to set multiple reminder alarms on their Google calendars, have re-programmed some to go full New Jersey and just fuggedaboutit.
By rejigging the cellular structure of lab mice, researchers erased the rodents' rote learning about how to run in circles, all day, every day, on the little wheels in their cages. The purpose of the experiment, of course, was to deepen knowledge of the role cells play in sustaining or eroding memory.
According to my Death Rattle, the results went even further. They went so far as to convince one scientist to declare that memory is nothing more than the arrangement of cells.
Ancient and absent-minded as I am, I do remember a long-ago whispered admonition not to believe everything I read in newspapers, which was later converted into an algorithm predicting the probability of directly quoted words in any journalistic report being entirely made up by the journalist.
Given that, the scientist quoted might be yet another victim of a slothful, untrustworthy, poorly supervised reporter rapidly advancing the death date of the newspaper industry. If not, then we are facing something truly serious.
For the very thought that a highly-educated, credentialed scientific researcher could so mangle meaning as to reduce memory to biology goes beyond alarming to truly frightening. It is reductive materialism lowered into the mire of gibberish (which heightens the suspicion that journalism is really to blame; see above).
To conceive of memory as mere cellular arrangement is to talk about a vacation as though it were the plane, train, or automobile used to reach the destination. It is to confuse the conveyance with the catharsis. It is to conflate vehicle and vitality. As such, it is another harbinger of the death rattle of the human.
In last week's blog post, I wrote about spending part of the summer dodging boxes of old belongings being tossed on the scrap heap by the French Canadian white tornado whom I married 31 years ago this August. I also wrote about salvaging one particular box and exploring its mysteries as an engagement with memory. Let me tell you a small story that goes beyond the box.
When my kids were tykes, they had a circle of stuffed animals called Bjuddee and The Gang. The Gang included Dad, Kid, Bingo Pickle Nose, and sundry others. But Bjuddee, a white plush gorilla who would eventually turn dark gray after undergoing both an appendectomy and open-heart surgery, was the undisputed leader. Stuffing flowing freely from his surgical wounds, Bjuddee yet led The Gang on campaigns through the various houses we lived in during my newspaper career.
Several years ago, when the kids were university undergraduates and ages after Bjuddee had been placed in the long-term care ward of a closet shelf, information surfaced that my wife had, in fact, thrown him out. My son, especially, was aggrieved. One Christmas, as we were carving the turkey (memory provoked perhaps by the stuffing), he reminded my wife: "You tossed away the leader of an entire fictional universe from our childhood."
And then the miracle. This June, emptying a bag from a top shelf during her cleaning binge, my wife discovered Bjuddee had not been tossed away after all. The leader of an entire fictional universe was with us yet. I e-mailed my son a photo to prove the Lazarus-like rising of his childhood stuffed animal. And he, now in his mid-20s and sitting in an apartment in Paris where he is completing a doctorate in the history of science, wept.
Wept with laughter. Wept with joy. Wept with memory. Memory born of that miraculous human capacity called imagination. Imagination that we otherwise know as love. (Cellular arrangements self-evidently played an entirely non-existent role in prompting his tears or, for that matter, the whole chain of events.)
Here is the true matter of memory. Here, no matter what either a reductive materialist science or the Daily Death Rattle might say, is the God-given difference between mice and men.