The Dry Cleaning Effect and Remembering Yourself

‘Dry Cleaning Effect’ Explained By Forgetful Researcher.

In a nutshell, the rigid striatum is the autopilot, the flexible hippocampus is for (spatial) learning. Vow to yourself that the next time you see, e.g., a red bird, that you’ll say the word “parsimonious.” It seems technically easy to do. But do you think you can actually do it? Or will you forget?

Maybe meditation is about training yourself to minimize use of the striatum and maximize use of the hippocampus. Even if you’re doing some menial chore that you’ve done hundreds of times before, remain engaged to the task at hand. I think this is what some people mean by the phrase live in the moment, or by one of the current New Age buzzwords, mindfulness.

Don’t fly on autopilot; operate manually and maintain focused attention. It is difficult!

I think this is related to turning off that incessant internal dialogue we’ve all got running in our minds like a ticker tape.

In his book In Search of the Miraculous (6 MB File; top of p. 121), P.D. Ouspensky, a student of the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, wrote:

Then again I went out of the house. I walked on the left side of the Nevsky up to the Gostinoy Dvor intending to go to the Oflitzerskaya. Then I had changed my mind as it was getting late. I had taken an izvostchik and was driving to the Kavalergardskaya to my printers. And on the way while driving along the Tavricheskaya I began to feel a strange uneasiness, as though I had forgotten something — And suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten to remember myself.

I think that Ouspensky had in mind this difficult cognitive task. He had vowed to “remember himself” as long as he could, but then fell back into the zombie-like autopilot thought mode. Although he was physiologically conscious while walking about St. Petersburg (even “changing his mind” at one point on where he wanted to go), in a sense he was only an automaton running on autopilot, a robot run by his striatum. And then his hippocampus kicked in, and he “woke up” and remembered to “remember himself.”

There seem to be two usages of the word to remember. One usage (striatal?) appears to be somewhat static, like recalling some piece of information that you have memorized by rote, e.g. the year in which some great historical event happened, or the colors of the rainbow. The other usage (hippocampal?) is more dynamic, as in having to remember to do something, like stop by the dry cleaners on the way to work. Of course, it is this second meaning that the “Dry Cleaning Effect” article is about, and it may be related to the kind that Ouspensky was talking about, too.

Published in: on 19 January 2009 at 1:48 am  Comments (3)  
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