In Search of Memory

3 Year Old Me, Christmas, 1979

I remember having this toy guitar, but  that’s about it.  The photo reminded me of it – I’m sure my brain would not have been able to produce any memory of the thing at all without the photographic prompt.  When relevant to Musical Me, memory and cognitive neuroscience will be a theme of this blog.

A few days ago I was chatting with an epidemiologist friend about Eric Kandel, the Nobel Laureate.  My friend is trying to retire, so for her as well as the lay reader I highly recommend his autobiography In Search of Memory.  Kandel won the Nobel for important work on the cellular basis of memory.  I ran into his research while working on my masters – cognitive neuroscience is integral to understanding language acquisition, the primary area I investigated.  In Kandel’s account of his own life and his research, the interplay between memory and reality becomes a major theme.  I would like to revisit the book myself.

Anyone who knows anything about memory will tell you how completely unreliable it is.  Our brains remember quite selectively, and myriad factors conspire against accuracy.  As I said in a prior post, remembering correctly is part of what I’m up to with this blog.

With this pictured guitar I produced no music.  I strummed those strings like toddlers bang on the piano – oblivious to anything called music and oblivious to the type of instrument I had.  What this toy and many others really did was to start to teach me about causality – I could make something make noise.  I understood that noise got attention, and I, like all toddlers, liked attention.

But somebody in my life, likely my parents,  picked this toy for me, and not some other.  Their gift and a million other things in my life’s causal string conspired to have me decide to take up the violin again now, at the age of 37.  We can never know the degree to which experiences are formative.  Still, without this guitar is it possible that I would I have started down the path of a wind, versus a stringed instrument?  I honestly doubt it.  A bigger factor was at work – patience, or a lack thereof.  The Wichita Public Schools allowed kids to start strings earlier than wind instruments.  At the time I began the violin, a year was an eternity.

I’m sure I had a lot of fun with that toy guitar, but the fact is it’s unlikely to have contributed much at all to my current passions.  I’ve never been attracted to playing the guitar – I have a brother-in-law who’s brilliant at it, but his has not been my path.  Ever since I’ve been able to critically analyze my passions, I’ve known that if I can become passionate about playing any instrument it will be the violin.

And I’m still a bit impatient.  But next Wednesday and the first lesson will be here soon enough.

Thanks for reading,

Ryan

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