Or, more affectionately titled,

Shit I do for money.

Harmless Enough

I believe it all started when I answered an ad on Craigslist asking for depressed individuals to participate in a study for $100. Hell, I’d been known to shed the occasional tear at a Hallmark commercial… a tear that then lasted for a few months or so. Humor aside, I’m a perfectly well-adjusted person, but I’m comfortable relating that melancholy and a somewhat nervous disposition (think a Niles Crane-level of neurosis) have been more than occasional companions of mine. And I live with them, but I never realized I could make money off them. Is this wrong somehow, capitalizing off deep and very real troubles? Selling the drama, as it were? Dammit, no. It’s getting some of the money that I spend on all that therapy back. Ha.

So, I answered the ad, I went to an office, they had me answer some questions, I looked at a web site advertising antidepressants and told them how effective it was in giving me information about its product, and—badda bing, badda boom, in under an hour I was handed an envelope with my name on it. $100 cash sat winking at me from inside it, and I was escorted out. Brilliant. Thank you, depression (thank you India, thank you terror, thank you disillusionment)! You just bought me a much-needed trip to the hair salon. Now I can have my perm and eat it too.

No, that didn’t work.

Anyway, that one was perhaps the easiest of the ads I’ve answered. And the least humiliating. And I have found that there’s rather a lot of totally legitimate ways I will contribute to science and consumerism for the exhilaration and intrigue of it all while enjoying a small monetary token of appreciation for my time and dedication. Or, rather, a lot of shit I will do for money.

Most recently, I participated in another study, this one having to do with anxiety and how it affects the body. This one was less of a casual stroll in the arboretum of money trees and actually more like running the emotional gauntlet for two very long, very taxing sessions. I came out of them looking like a wet, electrocuted, frazzled cat dodging imaginary traffic. But let me back up.

Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The study—compensation $130—was done by a psych department of a university looking for (the standard favorite) depressed individuals. Yes, we are the cherished dolls of the testing world. I think it’s that we seem more or less sedentary and willing to shrug when asked to do outrageous things for paltry fees. We use the word “meh” a lot. And I applied for this study because, you know, I cry at the Hallmark commercials.

I went in for the first session, which was supposed to last three hours. I got there 15 minutes early and sat down in the hallway chair in front of a series of rooms. And I could hear two people training in one of these rooms—rooms to which they had had the good sense to leave the door open—discussing parts of what would be occurring at my upcoming second session.

“We’ll be administering the electric shocks so that, the higher the pain level, we can measure the level of neurosis in the anxiety patient.” Ahhhh, great. And welcome to the beginning of the movie Ghostbusters.

 

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I actually had to raise my eyebrows and laugh at that moment. Because what else to do? Say, could you shout that a little louder in front of the anxiety subject, here, buddy? One hundred thirty dollars. One hundred thirty dollars. One hundred thirty friggin’ dollars. Christ.


Session One: How to Turn a Perfectly Normal Person Into a Sniveling Doormat in Just a Few Easy Steps

Finally it’s time to start Session One. This can be otherwise heretofore known as The Inquisition. And you know, despite how many bloody times I’ve watched Monty Python, I still didn’t expect this. Huh. Go figure.

It sort of went like this: Psych student #1 comes in and ties me to a rack. Psych student #2 repeatedly punches me in the gut, puts cigarettes out on my nipples, and kicks me roughly in the shins while calling my mother filthy names for three hours.

Well, that’s what it felt like. More realistically, both (polite enough) psych students ask me three long, drawn-out hours and hours of deeply—holy crap—deeply invasive questions about what being depressed since 14 has been like. Ohhhhh, lovely, thanks. Just buckets and buckets of sunshine. Like an unending vacation within my soul. So, I relate all my most personal and deeply saddening memories to them. I leave wanting my blanket and about 14 Jack and Cokes. But no Cokes.

Next time, psych students, I’m just buying a mood ring and pointing.

Session Two: How to Go From Upright to Fetal in a Few Short Hours

Two days later, I come back thirsty for more abuse. I have my Xanax in pocket, ready like a nervous spy waiting to crush it under my tongue and have this whole thing over with in case of certain doom. And I’ve come this far. I’m intrigued. Electric shock, you say? Induced neurosis and anxiety attacks, you say? …$130, you say? Totally legitimate ways I contribute to science and consumerism for the exhilaration and intrigue of it all while enjoying a small monetary token of appreciation for my time and dedication! Or, shit I will do for money.

It is 5 PM; Session Two has now officially begun. A determined guinea pig, I fill out a consent form for two more psych students—the two I had overheard discussing my shock treatment earlier that week in the other room, not the two who had tortured me with the Ghosts of Christmases Past in Session One. Bring it on, bitches.

I slip on a sort of Lycra swimmer’s cap-type dealie that contains 64 electrodes on it, each with a little cord coming off it which all connect like a giant electric ponytail off the back of my head. And the psych students sit me in front of a computer where I can view a screen of a brain outline and a pictorial representation of all the electrodes sitting on my head. I am, oh, so pretty. Now for the mess.

With needle-less syringes (thank god, because needles have me seeing little birds faster than a springtime hipster fashion line), these two bastards begin poking gel down into the electrodes (and alllll into my hair and scalp… delicious). And I mean they really jam it on down in there, now with these long, pointy wooden sticks (SCIENCE!). This fucking hurts. Now, to be fair, they told me they were going to do this. Still. Would you fuck off?

Also, they’re placing other electrodes covered in gel, which are connected by electric cords, onto the sensitive skin right under my eyes and behind my ears. And damn it, I used to like that place behind my ears. Now it’s all disgusting and running a current. I am at this point fully aware that my head is covered in things. Science has vomited on my cranium. And these psych students are all, “La di da, why don’t you relax and fill out casual forms during this process, and maybe you want to flip through some Cosmo? Isn’t everything lovely and not at all weird as hell in here?” I’m cool, thanks. I’m all caught up on the latest seven methods of making my man crave my fabulous booty. I’ll just stare at the tiny, little boxed room about 20 feet away from me and focus on getting my hands to quit shaking.

“Yeah, but I shoot with this hand.”

So, now I’m all hooked up and quite sexy looking, oozing gel and with a wattage that would probably allow me to light a mid-sized desk lamp with my mouth. I’m asked to get up and am politely escorted—my cords being ceremonially held behind me by the psych students like they’re carrying a wedding dress train—to the tiny, tiny, grey padded room that I had been eyeing. It has a chair in it and a door I’m well aware without even being told will be closing behind me. And this psych student man is talking to me like he expects me to sit down in here. A PADDED ROOM, PEOPLE. I look at this man like he’s been smoking my electrode ponytail. Shit I will do for money. Damn it.

I have a seat.

The Happiest Place on Earth

This man I have already come to loathe gets me all situated in my chair, with all the cords coming off my head and face in a comfortable—relative is key, here—place. The walls are a half foot away from either side of my shoulders, and the room is dimly lit with a computer screen in front of me that is turned off. He tells me to look at the X on top of the computer screen for one minute, not to move and to try not to blink too much, and that he’ll be back after that. Now it’s Fear Factor. He leaves the room and closes the door to silence, and I am left in a padded cell with an electric swimmer’s cap and little corded disks stuck to my under-eye muscles, staring at a computer screen that is not on, unable to blink. And I have no idea what’s supposed to happen or when it’s supposed to start. Where the fuck is the Xanax, because I have found Hell. Or I’ve stumbled into A Clockwork Orange.

And dear god, the walls are breathing. I think they’re breathing. Did this sick bastard actually put me into some sort of living, biological room? Is it eating my feet? Is it going to eat my feet?? Okay. Focus, Meg. Focus. Audrey Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn dancing with a celery bouquet in My Fair Lady.  “All I want is a room somewhere, far away from the cold night air, with one enormous chair, oh wouldn’t it be loverly…” It’s calming. Okay, this is better now. Kind of. This isn’t exactly the room she was singing about, but…it’s away from the cold night air. The chair here is…adequately sized…I’m breathing…breathing…celery bouquet…it’s okay…okay.

And the man opens the door again. “All right, that was great. Now we’re going to go another minute, but this time with your eyes closed, please. And remember not to move. Thanks.” Fucking hell. Seriously? You sick sons of bitches. Okay, Audrey. Do your thing. This is way longer than a minute, you Swatch-less assholes. My face is hot, and my pulse is loud in my ears.

Five more reps of this later, and one hell of a mental Broadway sing-song, I have lived—and I swear to god, I swear, that sick bastard psych student looks slightly put out that I’ve survived. Anywho, they put me through a series of other tests, one involving turning the computer screen on and playing 45 minutes of the Worst. Jackpot. Game. Ever. Oy. Why? Science!

Shock It To Me

And then we get to the most thrilling part of this whole thing. I mean, it is Candyland. Really. This is over 45 minutes of piercingly sharp, highly unpleasant, shockingly (almost truly painful) loud noises at totally random intervals. (Yeah, they’d added giant headphones to all the rest of my heavy cranial accessories, I assume, to test my super neck strength). The noises are to induce neurosis so that I am jumping and wincing, having ticks, shaking, nervous. They’re looking to record how my face moves when I’m anxious and terrified. Really, it is awful. To describe it without even a hint of hyperbole, if I had been holding something in my hands, I would have dropped or thrown it every time they queued the noise. It is that jarring. 45 minutes.

And they appear to notice I haven’t involuntarily urinated or anything yet, because they then come in and hook my wrist up to two electrodes that induce electric shocks, which are described to me as “highly annoying” but “not painful.” This…rides the line of that description, shall we say. And—hey, double trouble—these shocks are being given to me at totally random intervals with those wacky, wonderful randomized noises that are being administered. And sometimes, just for shits, the screen says something like, “When a red square appears on the screen, a shock may occur.” So that I can anticipate and dread. Red square. Oh god oh god oh god oh god…phew. *ZZZZTTTT*  AGGGHHHH!!  I develop twitches in this second set of 45 minutes that might endear a war vet. Holy hell.

Finally—finally—the man comes and gets me, takes all that shit off me, and tells me I can wash the gel in my hair out in the sink, but that they are out of towels. Sorry.

Sorry?! How the hell does that happen?! He does have a hair dryer, though. Which, if you have long hair that’s absolutely soaking wet, doesn’t do much in a short amount of time, does it? But, oh well. Swimmer’s cap off, I am happy. It is a false sense of calm. And I still have a whole lotta shakin goin on, by the way, even though I’m no longer being shocked. Twitch. Shake. Shake. Twitch. I am akin to the Taco Bell dog at this moment. But much less possessing of the ability to speak Spanish. Or the desire to poop outside.

Moving on.

To Spit or Not To Spit

I am still sopping wet and being taken into a regular-sized room—relatively speaking—and I am given a tube that I’m told to spit in. And, you know, after the evening I’m having, this doesn’t seem even remotely unreasonable. Fine. Gimme your freaking tube. You have a plugged-in toaster? I’ll spit in your toaster. I don’t care.

I am told to fill it up with my saliva to the line marked on the tube. Only, if you’ve been made to have a couple hours of anxiety attack, how much saliva you think you’ve got, there? This actually proved to be my hardest task that day, and one of the most infuriating. I sit there, in this room, attempting to spit into a stupid little tube through insufferable dry mouth while thinking back on the last few hours and wondering how hard I’d been shocked that I didn’t remember the psych student in there pouring sand down my mouth. Finally I get enough into the tube that he seems moderately satisfied, and I become convinced that the point of this task is not a genetic sampling but a humiliation sampling. I assume he collects it all in a jar. All the humiliation. Like he’s crafting a humiliation necklace to wear and show off to all the other psych students.

Hey, you’re welcome for my spit, Creepfest. Don’t spend it all in one place. Eh. Now I want some soup and my Xanax. And to stop twitching and shaking. But I just can’t seem to stop.

Then the psych guy spends the next half hour to 45 minutes asking me to list all the words I know that start with A, that start with S, that start with R. All the men’s names. And other stuff like that. All the fruits (bitch, please. Don’t get me started. Shouldn’t this one have coincided with “men’s names,” mmmkay?) And oh my god, I cannot do it. Any of it. While I’m unsuccessfully attempting to complete this truly simple task, the man is actually making noises like he’s snickering at me. Now, I believe I know what he’s doing. I’ve read enough psych studies to know about trying to make the subject uncomfortable and see what reaction that has on their ability to carry out a task. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. My mind is a blank. And I’m still shaking, twitching, and stuttering.

“Men’s names? Um…Berl…Bill…Billy…C-Chris…Christomaine…T-T-Tony…Frank…Fle….Flenk? Floshua? None of these are sounding real to me anymore. QUIT SNICKERING!”

Finally, he wants me to look through this book of images of people’s faces. There are two “faces” per page, one on top and one on bottom. But the right half of the top face has been paired with the right half of the bottom person’s face, and vice-versa on the bottom of the page. Also, one half of each face is smiling, one half is frowning. And they’re in black and white. And I’m supposed to say which looks happier—the top or the bottom. Pardon me while I… EEEEEEHAAHAAAA! BLLEEEGHEGHEEHGAAAAAA!!! GLALGELEGLALGEHH! BLAA!  GAAA!

Okay. That’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Thanks.

Hindsight Is Not Always

I’m finished after what seems like a full day of surveillance. Clutching my coat and my purse, I spill out onto the street at the end of the night. $130 in pocket, Xanax already quickly melting cozily in belly, positively stammering my street location on the phone to my darling male companion, who is well on his expeditious way to pick me up. My hair is damp and matted, my makeup smudged, and every noise has me ready to dart up a light pole. I am in complete and utter disarray. This will bring us back to the wet, electrocuted, frazzled-cat-dodging-imaginary-traffic look I had mentioned previously.

Finally I see my nice, warm little Hyundai turn the corner, and I keep my back squarely to the whole ordeal left behind me in the lab. As I climb into the passenger seat, harrowed and spent of all my mental, physical, and emotional resources, I suddenly become GLAD plastic wrap; I am in instant cling mode on my boyfriend. His arm is staying fresh for the rest of the night.

“Are you doing okay, baby?” He asks me, and all I can think about is going home.

“Yeah, it’s fine. I-I-I’m…Oh m-man, was that a like stress test on s-steroids. Th-that was just…wow. I just don’t…I c-could not ever go through that again. That was crazy. I’m j—wow.”

“Well, it’s over now,” he assures me, calmly. “We’ll go home and have some dinner, and then we’ll curl up on the couch. It’s done now.”

“Actually,” I brightened, “j-just before I left he said he saw on my charts I was c-claustrophobic. So, next week I’ll be doing a claustrophobia and MRI s-study. $100. Hell yeah!”

Man. Shit I do for money.

This Post May Kill You

March 3, 2010

So take it on a full stomach.

Well now, the thing is, I had been writing an entry that began with a discussion of the popular phrase regarding the definition of insanity—you know the one. The one that’s been floating around in common usage since about the mid-90s, often winding up in business seminars as a means to promote other businessy things, like “thinking outside the box.” It is as follows, and note that its wording has been paraphrased many times over the years, so it possibly bears the wear and tear of conversational license: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Various sources will attribute it to the likes of Albert Einstein and Mark Twain. Long-dead, very learned guys with (surprisingly similar) crazy white hair seem like incredibly trustworthy originators, don’t they? (Can’t you just see the first moron to create this mix-up: “Einstein said it. Hmmmm, yes. Or was it Mark Twain? Dammit, their pictures are SO SIMILAR!   They’re pretty much the same thing.”) Other sources will say that both of these are incorrect, and that the origin is likely Rita Mae Brown in her 1983 book Sudden Death. Which puts its inception much more recently, not shockingly.

Ya see, from my tender teenage years, I was practically raised on this phrase. My dad does tend to recite it like a mantra when the situation calls for it, and while I understand how it’s a helpful reminder to try something new (calling to mind images of silly people who realize a foreigner can’t understand English, so they just continue to repeat the same English phrase at the foreigner, only louder), that particular bit of paternal dogmatic endowment always stuck in my craw. Do I have a craw? I’m not sure. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I have a craw. That is where that phrase has embedded itself.

And my profound apologies for the discrepancy, father, if you read this. I just never happened to like this one.

I had started this entry off that way, intending to make some point, and then I put this entry—half-finished—off to the side to cool for a few days. I was about to pick it back up again, when wing-nut Joseph Stack decided to do a kamikaze off his good judgment and steer his airplane into an IRS building last month, effectively killing himself and tragically one other person who worked inside the building. The reason this had tripped me up is that he had written a suicide “manifesto” before going through with his actions, as I’m sure you’re aware. In it, he had said, “I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”    …Mmmhmm.    O_o

Well…crap. Since this was plastered all over the news, discussing this phrase now possibly falls under the “too soon” category, or potentially will not be able to stand on its own as a separate discussion, because people are all focusing on his message. Furthermore, I am generally not in favor of giving this guy any more spotlight than was necessary to simply report the tragedy of his innocent victim, nor do I wish to seem like I’m having a rational discussion about the recent words of a kook with an airplane.

And then I decided to—you know what? Fuck it.—finish it and post it, since really the phrase is only the initial part of this entry. And furthermore, I think this guy actually illustrates why this phrase sort of sits ill with me. And that reason is that it is an over-generalized phrase which is not literally correct. “Insanity” is a strong word, and an important one, considering that it’s accepted a sound reason to completely dismiss a person’s statements or actions as unintentional or unable to be helped, ergo rendering the originator inculpable. Weighty stuff. So it somewhat irks me when it’s lobbed about to fit whatever little thing people deem silly or possessing of a low ROI. And god knows we’re a society obsessed with ROI. (Though, of course, my annoyance refers to formal or didactic uses of the word “insanity,” not when people are using conversational connotations of it. I’m not about censoring things that make language colorful; like, it really affects me very little when people are all, “Dude, did you check out the wicked hot bartender? His body is insane!” Sure, whatever. Why not. I refer to people using it when speaking with authority on something.)

Yeah. Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting to get different results is the definition of redundancy with a learning curve. Or something along those lines, not insanity. By contrast, the actual definition of insanity is, usually, unsoundness of mind often affecting legal responsibility. To illustrate—giving money you don’t wish to give to the IRS for your entire adult life and expecting the system, which you find unfavorable, to change on its own is “redundancy with probably a steep learning curve” (the “steep learning curve” bit lying in the expectation of change part, not the recurring behavior. You are, sadly, legally bound to continue paying your taxes, I am sorry to inform you). Alternatively, Mr. Stack’s assumption that the way to clearly break this dismally futile pattern is suicide/homicide with a side helping of structural demolition of a government building is “insanity.” Note the difference. (Also note that when a legally insane person utters, “I am finally ready to stop this insanity,” it means they are about to take a bath in it.)

Okay, so the real purpose of this entry, aside from my nitpicking over this modern definition not being the definition of insanity but rather an occasional indication of it, is that this definition of insanity phrase has gotten so oversaturated in popular American culture that we forget sometimes that doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of “practice.” In that, sometimes it merely makes you better at whatever behavior you’re repeating, and that leads to different results, too. I think the prevalence of this definition of insanity phrase is a great indicator of how the notion of patience has completely slipped through the cracks of our modern, instant-gratification society, but that’s neither here nor there. Really, it had me thinking about the Tower of Hanoi.     …and why wouldn’t it?

The Tower of Hanoi shows us the importance of doing something over and over again, because it illustrates that we build muscle memory. Even if our psychological process isn’t learning anything from repetition—although it often does—our physical process learns for us. Which is all kinds of neat.

https://i2.wp.com/mathworld.wolfram.com/images/eps-gif/TowersofHanoiSolution_700.gif

The Tower of Hanoi (above) is a puzzle where one has to figure out how to get the four ascending-sized pieces of a puzzle from their pyramid shape on the first nozzle (in a set of three nozzles) to the third nozzle in that same final pyramid shape, one piece at a time (see the link for an illustration of how it’s done and hopefully a less ridiculous understanding of it than I was able to give you).

This puzzle generally takes awhile for people who aren’t Good Will Hunting to figure out. What was interesting here was that they found that amnesiacs doing the puzzle day after day eventually improved their ability to solve it competently, when they didn’t ever remember doing the puzzle before, or even the person administering the puzzle. These experiments were used by psychologists to show that we have muscle memory: increased levels of physical precision through repetitive behavior, in addition to our experience-based memory. Cool.

And then a barrage of existential questions hit me (and pardon me if they twist about in a rather labyrinthine way here). Aside from building muscle memory, which we seldom do intentionally, why do we do things again and again when, the probable majority of the time, it isn’t yielding results? I assert that doing this is not insane (as some would prefer to hyperbolize) because repetition is such a common human behavior—common enough that a vague cultural definition-of-insanity phrase had to be created and reiterated ad nauseam to discourage it. Is our proclivity toward repetition derived from a desire to preserve the action in our memories, rather than from stubbornness or stupidity?

And what is the purpose of making memories, other than merely learning to avoid danger—or is that it? No, certainly there’s something having to do with a memory’s purpose that distances humans’ minds from those of mere animals, which operate on instinct. We strive so hard to preserve certain memories, even ones that are ultimately detrimental to our health (whether we do so consciously or not), so surely there’s more to our collecting of memories than the instinctual survival of the species.

I consulted an interesting article on cryonics (of all things), about how memory intertwines itself with identity and whether preserving memory is the most important part of sustaining life, in the hopes of better understanding why we make and keep memories:

“To some people, preservation of memory is the most essential task of cryonics, whereas others regard feeling as being more critical. I am somewhat skeptical of both these views, but I do not have an alternative thesis — I am searching for one. If memory is critical to identity, why do I perceive that in the last year I have added memories, but not altered my identity? If some memories are more critical for identity than others, what are those critical memories and where do they reside? It may be true that to abolish all my memories would abolish my identity — but it is also true that stopping my heart abolishes my identity. That does not prove that my heart is the essence of my identity.”

I don’t know that I agree with this person’s dismissal of the firm bond between identity and memory, but at least it got me thinking of how they were interrelated. If the reason we do something again and again actually is moreover to make a memory, as I had hypothesized, are we doing it therefore to extend or preserve our identities? Isn’t that why we say doing menial tasks again and again builds character? Or is that just a platitude to alleviate the unpleasantness of it?

Memory is altered over time, as we know, and it is often shaped by personal perception. Does this indicate that over time my identity actually shifts, and that’s what causes my memory to alter? Could be. A progressed or evolved state of personal identity yields a changed perception in me and accordingly adjusts my memories to fit that perception? Or even, adversely, if my memories simply modify over time due to other factors—and many will—will it cause my identity to correlationally shift over time if memory and identity are inseparable? I mean…my tastes change over time, and they are integral to my identity.

To give an oversimplified example, I used to like to wear lots of dangly, clanky jewelry hanging all over myself. It made me happy. It made me feel comfortable. Now I like less stuff hanging all over me. So my tastes have evolved. How I prefer to present myself has evolved. How I see myself has evolved. And ergo there’s been a slight shift in my identity, right? I would testify so. Our tastes are just an expression of who we are or who we want to be—identity. And clearly identity has the ability to evolve. Again, I realize this is over-simplified, but it accomplishes my point.

On the other hand, certain aversions which memory has taught my body to create have evolved over time. For example, I got sick once eating tuna and couldn’t eat it for about a year, even though I know that all tuna isn’t going to make me sick. It’s a common defense mechanism of your body. But now I love tuna again. This indicates to me that my unconscious memory had created a taste aversion to preserve my body from whatever in that tuna made me sick, and that the particular unconscious memory seems to have left me along with the aversion. Bam!—memory alteration. (Oh god. Did I just become the Emeril Lagasse of mind-numbing conversation topics?) So, considering that identity and memory both evolve and assuming that the two are interwoven, does identity alter memory, or the other way around? Is it the chicken or the egg?

Furthermore, assuming identity is attached to memory, if I wish and wish for a painful or uncomfortable memory to be erased from my mind, is it because I merely don’t wish to carry it with me, or is it, more deeply, because I seek to alter myself?

More importantly, can identity exist without memory? Think of amnesiacs, for instance, or Alzheimer’s patients. Are they without identity? Much of our identity has to do with how we uniquely react to circumstances, our individual process of doing things, how we learn, and how we grow. While memory strongly affects each of these, the absence of memory wouldn’t leave us without these abilities. An auditory learner who gets clunked on the head by a falling ACME anvil may become an amnesiac (…you know…if they live through the subsequent cartoon-like effect of being hammered a full meter into the ground with just their appendages sticking out in alarm, the 4-inch bald lump that later rises from their head, and, naturally, all their teeth falling out like so many piano keys), but I would wager they’ll still likely be an auditory learner (short having incurred brain damage beyond amnesia) after the anvil event, as opposed to a visual learner (on the heavy assumption that their ability to see, hear, or learn hasn’t been altered by the cranial reception of an anvil). That’s because it’s ingrained in their identity, I think, the way their genes have determined they’re neurologically wired.

Dig it:

“Spiders can weave intricate spiderwebs, but this complex behavior is not learned — it is built-in neurological machinery. A female bird that is hatched and reared in isolation from other birds is still capable of building a perfect nest…”

“Even when learning does occur, neurological wiring may dictate which experiences result in learning and which do not. Many birds learn to form a strong emotional bonding at birth to any nearby distinctive and animate object — a process known as imprinting. Many animals develop strong aversion to a tasty food following a single experience of nausea after eating it.”

Our actions are a part of who we are, and they are present whether or not our memory is. Like the Tower of Hanoi. A person who had lost their memory midway through life was able to ingrain a behavior without neurological or psychological memory—their muscles learned to do something, and to do it a certain way. The person has no accessible memory of ever doing this.

Does this person have identity? Is their identity forever stunted from altering itself after they quit making new memories? Or does a neurological wiring to perceive muscle memory show that their hard-wiring is crafting an identity for that person, accessible memory or not? Are their behaviors, reactions, and sensibilities being stored somewhere other than the “tangible” memory, thus perpetuating who they are without their consciousness? Are we then predestined to be who we are, at least somewhat? Clearly our genetics can’t account for the circumstances and events in our lives that will occur and spark a change in us, but does our hard-wiring determine which of these experiences we will learn from and which we won’t on an individualized basis—whether we’ll experience pain, pleasure, or fear from the experiences?

The answer, darling class, is I don’t know. Possibly our identities can remain somewhat intact without the aid of memory. Possibly they’re also strongly influenced by memory, and we continue to make memories or strive to memorize in order to have a more well-rounded shape to our individual selves. Perhaps doing the same thing over and over again is comfortable for us because it triggers the feeling that we’re memorizing, which gives us the psychological ease that our identities will be preserved. Or maybe we do it because practice makes perfect. Regardless, repetition is not the definition of insanity; it is very human and very common. And sometimes, it’s the only thing that yields progress.

Whew. Who needs a nap?

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