Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Here we are again

It is starting to feel like home again, this city we have moved back to having lived here just over four years ago.

Our town in my wife's country was as familiar when we left two months ago. We had lived there for extended periods since marrying in 2001. Whenever we were there, it seemed like we had never been away. Now we have moved back here, the feeling is the same. It is like wherever here is normal and the memory of being abroad the aberration.

This apparent continuity of punctuated experiences has struck me before. Switching between different places or ways of being. For example, being part of a couple when I visited my girlfriend before we married and being alone when I returned home. There was the same feeling of recognition, of here I am again.

Before then, the was the more dramatic switch between being in a relationship and being single when it ended and on the lookout for another. Returning to a single life was like slowly putting on a familiar set of clothes that had been packed away.

A more marked change of mental state comes from my early twenties when I smoked marijuana with friends if it was around. Returning to the warm familiarity of being stoned, we would often say to each other, "Here we are again". It messed my head up in the end. The state I returned to stopped being joyful and insightful and became unhappy and paranoid. That is now half a lifetime ago.

These experiences support the theory that being in the same location or state of mind helps when it comes to reclaiming linked memories. That's why police will reconstruct a victim's last movements; similar scenes bring to mind forgotten details.

It is also why I have heard it said drinking alcohol (or smoking a joint) when revising for exams is not a good idea. You need the same state of intoxication to most optimally recall the information memorised.

Which brings to mind a story from the ancient university of Oxford in England.

A student turned up for an examination having carefully read the university statutes. "I demand my quart of ale," the student told the invigilator. Sure enough, there was a rule from the 16th century saying students had the right to such refreshment while taking their exams. Being sticklers for the rules, it was duly provided.

The student felt very smug by the time the exam was over. The paper had gone well and the two pints of beer brought a warm glow.

However, the stony faced invigilator had something to say on the way out: "I have been checking the statutes myself and I am sorry but I have to tell you that you have failed the exam."

"Why?" asked the student.

"Because you were not wearing your sword."

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