Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Amazing power of the brain

Let this be a follow-up to my previous post, Earworms. In my previous post I talked about songs being stuck in the head, random songs that come out of nowhere and play endlessly in your head. I thought a lot about this, and came to the grand conclusion that it’s all thanks to the brain and its amazing power of retention.

I am no expert on the human brain, have never dissected it or studied it, have never even read articles about it except for the snippets seen here and there in newspapers and magazines. The only thing I know is there is the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the medulla oblongata. Stuff I learned fifteen years ago in school. The brain retained that particular piece of information, don’t know why. The brain is a very picky organ, is all I can say, remembering some things and blocking out others.

You all must have childhood memories you remember vividly, while at the same time forgetting something your friend said a minute ago. I still remember the old school building in our locality, with its low windows and wall-less classrooms all merged into one. I remember the day when we played in an old well and one of our friends got a nasty cut on her leg and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. If you ask me the Bible verses I learned in Sunday School twenty years ago, I would still be able to recite most of them. But again I can’t remember simple things like where I left my spectacles before I went for my bath, the name of the real estate broker I hired, forget to call friends who are mad at me for not staying in touch. Can it be that the things we learned when we were young remain longer in our brain? This is true, I guess. As we age the brain also ages and loses much of its retaining power. There was an instance just a couple of weeks ago. A friend asked me to pass a message to another friend, and when I saw the other friend (the intended recipient) I completely forgot what the message was. I still couldn’t remember it even today.

What about senile old people we see now and then in Mizoram? Do you think those are cases of Alzheimer’s or some other ailment with a fancy name? In Mizo we call these people Tar â, literally translated as old people who had lost their minds. You see them all the time. They don’t recognise people, and the only things they remember are events that happened fifty years ago. They mistake you for their siblings, their childhood friends, and sometimes their spouse. I guess there must be scientific explanations for this.

The thing I cannot figure out is why the brain remembers some things more clearly than others. You could be working, or reading a book, or watching a movie, or just lazing around when you suddenly remembered something that happened to you. There need not be something that triggered this, it just came to you all of a sudden. All of sudden, something someone said came back to you, and you don’t know why. You thought you had forgotten that conversation but it came out of nowhere and hit you in the face.

And what about dreams? Do you ever see the same people over and over again in your dreams? I do. I see my uncle and his son, both of them long gone, in my dreams all the time. Sometimes they are alive, and sometimes I’d be aware that they are dead and would wonder “why am I seeing them when they are dead?” all in the dream, of course. Maybe I missed them much more than I am aware of. Sometimes in my dreams I’d be seeing something and would say (still in the dream) “hey haven’t I dreamt of this before?” Weird. And dreaming in dreams. There was one childhood superstition that went “if you dream three times in your dream then that means you are dead.” Lol. And nobody has ever proved that, kind of like the horned cat which lives in some mountain, seeing which meant certain death but nobody has seen it yet.

Oh, and the best thing. Déjà vu. I am at a loss for words. How in the world can you explain the feeling that this particular moment had happened to you before? The same people saying the same things and behaving in the same manner in the same settings. I know it’s entirely impossible but we all have felt it. Isn’t the human brain simply amazing?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


To begin with, let me quote from Wikipedia:
Earworm, a loan translation of the German Ohrwurm is a portion of a song or other music that repeats compulsively within one's mind, put colloquially as "music being stuck in one's head."

Urban Dictionary says: A song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. The best way to get rid of an earworm is to replace it with another. Be prepared to become a jukebox.

Assuming you read the above two paragraphs, which look boring at a glance but once you read it would make you say "Hey this happens to me all the time, you know what, just the other day I couldn't get a Justin Bieber song out of my head", I don't think I need to give a lengthy scientific explanation of what an earworm is. But, let me get back to boring once more. Wikipedia also says - Earworm may also refer to the Helicoverpa zea (corn earworm) or the musician DJ Earworm. Not to be confused with the creature depicted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I am least interested in worms that live in the ear, or a certain DJ, and I have never liked Star Trek. Star Wars I like, but sorry, not Star Trek. So since there is nothing else to do, let’s talk about earworms and songs that play inside one’s head.

Actually, I have no idea how to start. Conversations are not my thing. I could say “Studies have shown that there are certain songs which for some unknown reason tend to get themselves embedded in the frontal area of the brain which controls blah blah blah…” and I could look up and see my audience staring into space with a faraway look embedded on his face. If I say “Have you ever experienced that thing, you know, when you sing the same song over and over again in your head and sometimes you change songs without knowing it?” my listener would probably say a curt “Yes” and I’d be left with nothing to say except “Me too!!”

And sometimes you sing under your breath. This one is really weird. You are doing something, and at some point you suddenly realise that you have been singing for a while now, and you have no idea how you came to sing that particular song. It could be any song; it could be a song you listened to just an hour ago, a song you sang in church when you were a kid, or a song that your roommate plays all the time. You don’t even have to like the song. You have heard it so many times it has pitched a tent in your brain and set up camp there. Permanently. And once you look up from what you are doing and realise that you are singing, you immediately become self conscious. Hey why am I singing this song? Don’t I always wince and make a face whenever my roommate plays it? Then you stop singing, or change tracks. Kind of like the cartoon character who walks off a cliff but doesn’t know he’s walking on air until he looks down and sees nothing but air below him, and immediately crashes to the ground.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Love and War

The first Anne Tyler book I read was The Amateur Marriage, and I must admit I bought the book because the cover was pretty. There is this girl in a bright red overcoat kissing a soldier who was leaning out of a train window. A goodbye scene. Love in the time of war. How romantic! There is something urgent, something undescribably romantic, something real and true about war romances.

When I was a young girl I read "Battle Cry" by Leon Uris, in Mizo no less, and my heart went out to the young couple who were torn apart by the Second World War. Recently I listened to the song "Travelin' Soldier" again, and once again it left me feeling blue and sad. The lonely young soldier who had no one to write a letter to,the young waitress who waited for him and quietly cried when she heard of his death.

I know there is nothing glamorous and romantic about war in real life. All that pain, destruction, suffering, wastage, is something we could all do without. Blame Hollywood and authors for romanticizing it. But still, I love war movies, not that I've watched many, but I'm quite happy with the ones I've watched. And don't ask me which one is my favourite, because my answer would be "All of them." The Last Samurai ranks pretty high on the list, Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at The Gates, Lord of The Rings, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Longest Day, Braveheart, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, The Patriot etc are all very good. The best ones are the ones with a hint of romance in them. The English Patient, Pearl Harbour,Casablanca, Gone With The Wind (although there wasn't a single battle scene in the movie - as per Google search - it still ranks as one of the best war movies. Haven't seen the movie, but read the book ages ago).

I haven't seen the old ones like All Quiet on the Western Front, The Bridge On the River Kwai, From Here to Eternity, The Great Escape, Where Eagles Dare, etc, but will try to see them in the future. Haven't seen The Hurt Locker either. This post is turning out to be a list of the war movies I am yet to set my eyes on.

And the songs! I wish I could go on and on about the love songs about a soldier going off to war while his girl pined for him, but as I write this not a song comes to mind. The only song that surfaces is Green Day's 21 Guns, and I don't know if it classifies as a war song, it's more about the war within, methinks. How about you share the songs and I listen to them?