January 28, 2020

With Christmas Comes Nostalgia -

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With Christmas Comes Nostalgia

The human brain has been estimated to be able to store roughly ten to 100 terabytes of data according to most neuroscientists.

Memory is all about connections and past experiences. We base all our preconceptions, and misconceptions, on data we learn and remember as we grow. We retain a lot of our knowledge from childhood to adulthood. We each have fond memories of simpler times, or ones of regret and sadness, or anger and anguish. The ability is both a blessing and a curse. Like a computer algorithm, memory has a set of rules that it follows to store data into various specific parts of the human brain. And in some our encoded memories, Christmas may have a special place there.

Neurologically, memory is like a network. When one is formed, neurons fire a signal from a neurotransmitter that creates a bond with other neurons in relation to it. The brain’s neural plasticity allows it to build and strengthen connections between these brain cells, but can also be weakened after prolonged inactivation. After some time, the connection can even disappear completely. New neurons can also form in a process called neurogenesis, which occurs mostly during infancy and declines towards adulthood until it becomes nearly undetectable. 

The process of memory is fairly simple. The memory is encoded either visually, acoustically or semantically. Each process stores it in the mind for varying amounts of time; acoustically encoded information is often kept in the short term memory and can be rehearsed over and over to store it for longer. Semantically encoded information is a more long term method of memorization, and visual information can be both long term or short term. Encoding information into memory actually requires you to change it, like modifying a file on your computer in order to restore it properly in its original place. Recalling information causes the memory to change in some way in order for it to be stored again, meaning every time you think back to that first kiss, or that one time you stubbed your toe on that cursed door frame, the original memory is more warped in some way. No memory is ever perfect, and details of it are changed constantly. 

Nostalgia is an emotion that plays with our imperfect memories, as even previously less-than-stellar experiences can become ones that you look back on with fondness. Often this occurs during times of loneliness or depression, as it can help improve one’s mental state and stay resilient during difficult times. It reminds us of moments passed and memories forgotten over time. 

As ‘tis the season, a nostalgic longing for childhood is brought back in many, if only for a short while. “One memory I have is from many years ago,” laughs Jessie Jiang, a senior at SMHS. “[My cousin and I] both got DS’s for Christmas, and I remember we would stay up late to play our games even though we were supposed to be sleeping.” I can relate. My cousins and I love to get together to play “Apples to Apples” and “Minecraft” together every Christmas. Kyle Chang, a senior, describes an experience he had during Christmas Eve: “One time, my dad put like chalk on a boot and stomped it on the ground to make a snowy looking footprint after Santa came by.” Although the memory is fairly small, the little moment stuck with him throughout his childhood and, evidently, is something that he still remembers after all this time. “Except, like, he isn’t real,” he also said, deceitfully. Angelo La Commare-Soto, another senior, used to travel to Chile for Christmas every year. Interestingly, Angelo’s past Christmas experiences are void of snowflakes, piercing cold winds and fluffy fur jackets, because in Chile the month of December is actually set in the beginning of their summer. “A few Christmases ago, we were going to an event at a small countryside town, and nothing much happened that night. But, around midnight our friends came knocking at the door, which is known to be the time when Jesus was born.” He noticed this detail on that night. “They brought most of their family. And, we were about to go to bed, but they invited us to dinner, which is a common tradition among Latin American countries. It was a welcome surprise and is something I don’t see happening very often in [the United States]. We had a feast that lasted until 3 AM. I don’t remember much about the meal, but I remember it wasn’t a typical one.” Although he doesn’t go to Chile that often anymore, he has a lot of memories and stories from there. “It was nice,” he recalls. 

Nostalgic memories are, in essence, memories that have been brought back and modified to be bittersweet recollections of moments in the past to remind you that better times are ahead. It’s a perfectly healthy emotion that’s meant to make you feel better in times of loneliness or struggle. Although it’s important to walk toward the future, sometimes a step back in the past can help make that path easier. 

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