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IF I WERE A CHARACTER IN MY OWN BOOK – by guest author GEOFF NELDER

on 03/10/2015

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Geoff Nelder is the award-winning author (author page) of the amazing book series Aria which is on my to-be-read list right now, grabbing my interest by the idea of infectious amnesia. Our brains are such intricate and unfathomable mazes of activity that psychology has always fascinated me. Although Geoff’s work is fictional, where there is smoke, there may be fire;).

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Today Geoff Nelder shares with us an exclusive text which is his own take on my blog series of guest posts IF I WERE A CHARACTER IN MY OWN BOOK. He explains it in his own words below…

This document text by the crazy Dr Antonio Menzies contains factual information which could help anyone with genuine memory problems, e.g. the Huperzine, walnuts, coping mechanisms, as well as the breakdown of types of amnesia and memory. It’s been a subject of fascination for me ever since my mum had a stroke when I was a teen and she lost her short term memory. In teacher training I specialised in how learning (and forgetting) took place in the brain. (By G. NELDER)

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How your memory is affected when you contract ARIA, plus the means to combat amnesia

By Dr Antonio Menzies PhD (HPV), DMS (liguria)

Translated from Italian by Julia Tyndall, who uncovered the nature of the infectious amnesia virus.

Preamble

This paper was commissioned by the committee of post-Earth and other survivors, with the agreement of the authorities.

The atrocity of ARIA perpetrated on the human inhabitants of Earth cannot be reversed but these notes might help those survivors remaining in isolation. It is being broadcast to all Goldilocks zone planets, just in case.


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Introduction

Encoding and retrieval. There are four elements involved with human memory: acquisition (or input), processing, storage and retrieval. Information acquired through our senses needs to be processed and stored in an area of the brain for retrieval when and if we need it. Until then the encoded data is stored in such a way that we are not constantly aware of it. Otherwise our minds would be overwhelmed. Imagine remembering everything that you have seen, heard, tasted, felt and smelt since birth and being permanently aware of all those memories. It would drive you mad. This happened to me, Dr Antonio Menzies documented fictionally in ARIA: Left Luggage and it unbalanced my mind until I learnt to control it.  In my case an alien virus, designed (presumably) to stop the original infectious amnesia in its tracks, went wrong and gave me a total and perfect memory.

False memories. Although genuine experiences create our memories, the brain can create false memories to fill in the gaps (Oki, K 2003, Grey Matter 325). ARIA patient, Manuel Gomez, was observed at length to see if his false memories increased in proportion to his increasing amnesia. It did, but after sleeping, those false memories became absent or had to be recreated. It did not help his everyday life, and he remained a menial buffoon for as long as he was observed. (Note from translator: Manuel was never a buffoon, but a convivial man of great integrity.) (post note from Dr A.M.: Julia Tyndal became Manuel’s bed partner and thus displays bias.)

Sensory and short term memory

When our eyes receive input we are able to remember them as Iconic memory for a second before anything ‘important’ is stored long term. For example a light on a wheel only appears as a continuous circle when the wheel rotates because iconic memory is remembering the light’s positions momentarily. When the wheel slows we see the light as an individual entity. With hearing, or Echoic memory the experience lasts four seconds enabling us to detect the direction from which our lover is calling. (Brown, T 1990. Intelligence as an add-on 4  222-234) (note from Julia Tyndal: he has no lovers).
Short term memory is shorter than many people realize. About 45 seconds for most people, as demonstrated by how long you recall a telephone number before calling it. The 45 can be extended with rehearsal ie the repetition of the number – hence we can recall a list of wines for a table of friends by repeating them before accosting the waiter.

Making memories

Revise, revise. Our brain stores data as a three-dimensional web. The strands are neurons or bundles of nerves. When electrical impulses (eg a thought or sensory input) travels along a neuron and meets another strand, a drop of chemical known as acetylcholine – a neurotransmitter – is formed at the junction, forming a synapse. The more the neurons cross that junction the more it grows via secreted acetylcholine allowing it to grow and be easier to travel. Easily recalled memories are those in the neuron web that have been remembered most often in the past. Hence we revise – go over information again and again –  to pass examinations. (Spoof, F 1996. Aiming for Success 333)

Italian wine. It has been found that loss of memory is correlated with low levels of acetylcholine in Alzheimer’s patients but there is more unknown than known. For example alcohol in the bloodstream can strip the myelin sheath off neurons in the brain and so short-circuit those synapses that make up long term memory. Often there are other unaffected pathways so the loss is temporary or partial. Not, then a sufficiently strong reason to forego Chianti.  Too much alcohol can cause Korsakoff’s Syndrome by adversely affecting your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B. The amnesia can create confabulation where reality and imagination get mixed up. Everyone I know seem to have this problem, except me.
A curse. In particular, although memory is built up in all parts of the brain – busy with information like busloads of commuters – the hippocampus is like a bus terminal in the formation of new memories.
Neurons fire impulses across synapses, but this process can falter. Only a few of us, mainly me, enjoy perfection in the way memory works. It can be a curse to have an eidetic memory – what some refer to as a photographic or a total visual recall because we have to triage what’s most important all the time. 
Is there a limit? Our computers have a limited finite memory capacity but have we? We know that we lose a gram of brain cells every year from around the age of 18. The average adult brain has around 1800 grams so after 1,800 years we’d have nothing left! Transplants would then be the way forward. (from Julia Tyndall: or we could use GM cloning or upload your thoughts (God forbid) then download again to a compatible digital brain, or to many brains. Your thoughts could then live forever – maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this!

It’s possible that computer memory can simulate and better our web-like organic brains (Manley, 1997). In fact such a development is inevitable.

More important than the brain mass is the number of connections. We have a billion neurons but each has a thousand connections with other neurons. In theory your brain has the same storage capacity as a USB flash drive of several gigabytes but while computers work in binary digits, we don’t. Each of our connections, working together is more complex than a computer memory and holds more data. It’s been estimated that in theory you could store all the TV shows you could watch for 300 years before your brain ran out of memory. However, you would go mad with all those soaps long before that!

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So how do we lose it?

The connections cannot be revisited all the time, so those moments in your life that you’ve not thought about for a long time will have their synapses deteriorate and you’ll forget them. Of course like in computers, corruption of data occurs too. Alcohol, other drugs, ageing, illness, birth defects, pollution, lack of sufficient oxygen, and accidents all will have an impact on brain function including memory.
Some theories posit that assuming we still have a normal if ageing brain; we don’t lose any of those memories. What happens is interference. Retroactive interference for example is when repeated experiences of similar places or behaviour makes us recall better the more recent and so ‘forget’ the earlier occurrences. Conversely proactive interference is when old memories and habits override the newer ones. We are often reluctant to give up familiar notions when presented with new ones.
Amnesia is considered a special case of forgetting especially when it is permanent. It can be retrograde with existing memories being lost. With the ARIA virus people lost their memory from the present backwards at a steady rate of a year’s worth per week. No one knows why that amount – probably  arbitrary. They also had trouble remembering each day’s events after contracting ARIA – anterograde amnesia with some variation from person to person. 

Language, especially vocabulary, is known to relate to intelligence and memory. The more words you know, the more concepts attached to those words and relationships between them. It is difficult to imagine relaying information to someone else without formulating your ideas without words. Imagine trying to convey the tastes and smells of your favourite Italian pasta dish without using words! Hence before a human has a working vocabulary it is nearly impossible to store ideas. Hence although intelligent behaviour and learning can occur before you learnt to talk, your memories can only go back to when you learned a vocabulary. Conversely, as in ARIA, forget your vocabulary and your intelligence must suffer.

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Do we know how ARIA causes amnesia?

All we know is that it is a virus – the type called an adenovirus. Teresa and Julia surmised that it damaged acetylcholine affecting the most recently formed synapses first, hence the memory is lost backwards – retrograde. The precise mechanism is not known. 

How to combat amnesia.

There is no drug or procedure that would definitely stop and reverse amnesia. There are remedies that stimulate the brain and so help sufferers to think of ways of coping. Caffeine, ginseng and other herbs can help.

Almonds and walnuts both help to keep our brains active – just a palmful a day.

Huperzine-A is an alkaloid found in the Chinese herb Huperzia serrata which is effective in helping brains to think and it appears to be superior to the prescription drugs tacrine and donepezil widely used for Alzheimer’s patients. Ask for Huperzine-A at your Chinese herbalist. If your city is already affected by ARIA then break into your nearest Chinese herbalist.

Most people with ARIA have little choice but to resign to a fading memory until they forget to read, talk and finally die. In the meantime take notes about what is important to you. What might that be? Vital medication, your address, place of work, and the name of your partner.

Attach yourself to someone older, as long as they are intelligent, so their recollections will be more useful than those of a younger person, who will forget their adult experiences too soon. Choosing a partner to enjoy would be good too. As I published earlier, sex stimulates the brain.

References

Brown, T. 1990. Intelligence as an add-on 4  222-234

Manley, R. 1997 Is DATA Human? 71-120

Menzies A. 2014. La Medicina 16 92-154 Amnesia e il sesso

Nelder G. 2012. ARIA: Left Luggage 9 56-59

Oki, K 2003. Grey Matter 325

Spoof, F 1996. Aiming for Success 333

Thank you, Geoff Nelder! (All photos in this post sent by Geoff Nelder)

Come on, admit it – he’s got your interest. He’s got you thinking ‘what if…’ Fascinating how much factual research can go into writing a fantasy thriller. Just goes to show no book is easy to write. But they are all easy to read and review! Don’t forget to help your favourite authors by leaving a good word them in the form of a review on purchase sites, Goodreads, your book clubs etc. Books store our memories, true or versions of them. But even versions are true, right? It’s all in the eye of the beholder;)!

to buy ARIA and other of my books are on my Amazon author page
Geoff’s UK Amazon author page
Geoff’s US Amazon page
Geoff facebook
Twitter @geoffnelder

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One response to “IF I WERE A CHARACTER IN MY OWN BOOK – by guest author GEOFF NELDER

  1. Lizzi Newton says:

    This is amazing. If I hadn’t read the book and didn’t know it is fiction I would be scared to death! Brilliant Geoff!

    Liked by 1 person

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