Memory and how it is formed. How smell can trigger memories.
Since time unknown, humans have tried to understand what memory is and how it works. Our memory is the most essential part of what makes us human and at the same times is the most elusive of our attributes. The study of human memory can be traced back atlases 2,000 years to Aristotle’s first attempts to understand memory. The 18th century English philosopher David Hartley was the first to hypothesize that memories were encoded. However, it was not until the mid-1880s that the young German philosopher Herman Ebbinghouse developed the first scientific approach to study memory.
The most popular image of memory is as a kind of tiny filing cabinet full of individual memory folders in which information is stored. Perhaps even like memory boxes, very similar to boxes in real life, where we put things for later use. Similarly we could say that we put away information in “memory boxes” for safe keeping and “take them out” when certain things trigger our memory.
What exactly is memory? Memory refers to processes known as encoding, storage and retrieval. In order new memories to be created information must be changed into usable form. It occurs during the encoding stage. Much of the information stored is outside of our awareness. The retrieval process allows us to bring stored memories into conscious awareness. There are two known methods of accessing memory: recognition and recall.
Recognition is associated with an event or physical object previously experienced or encountered. This involves a process of comparison of information with memory. Recognition is an unconscious process. Recall, on the other hand, involves remembering a fact, event or object that is not currently presented (in the sense of retrieving a mental image or concept); it requires the direct uncovering of information from the memory. Studies have shown that memory retrieval is more or less an automatic process and it appears to be state-dependent. For example people tend to retrieve information more easily when it has the same emotional content as their current emotional state, or when the emotional state at the time of retrieval is similar to the emotional state at the time of encoding. In this line of thought “pairing by association” is the name of the action of associating a stimulus (for example an apple or the smell of apples) with an idea or object; the response of this action is usually emotional.
There is a wide range of things that can trigger a certain memory but the most common is smell. The “Proustian phenomenon” proposes that distinctive smell have more power than other senses to help us recall memories. The theory is named after the French writer Marcel Proust. A beautiful example of the “proustian phenomenon” is the impression “Smell of Apples” by the French writer Philippe Delerm. In his short story the author vividly describes how the bitter-sweet scent of apples reminds him of his childhood. “Apple scent is a breaker. How could you manage without this childhood, bitter and sweet?”
The first time we smell a new scent, we link it to an even, a person, a thing or even a moment. Our brain then forges a link between the memory and the smell. Because we encounter most new odors in our youth, smells often call up childhood memories.
The Apple as a symbol in different cultures, religions and epochs
For centuries the apple has inspired people’s imagination. Throughout history and culture there are numerous examples of the apple as a symbol. When we deal with symbols one needs to keep in mind that there are at least three basic layers to each symbol:
If we strip away everything else from the apple as a symbol we are left with a fruit grown from a seed. The apple is often associated with fruitfulness (of nature or even a woman’s womb). The second layer...
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