I saw the first pelican of the season last night. It appeared as my eyes swept over the Richardson Bay as an oblong black obelisk bobbing on the water. The moon rising was a slash in the sky, rough edged like a corn of beans jimmied just enough open with a knife for a spoon to sneak through. Being a West Marin woman, the sighting of pelicans is akin to recognizing the smell of your youngest tumbled in a sea of kids at the annual fishermen’s derby.
Bach-y-Rita believes that the sensory-loaded, two-dimensional sheets, which form our touch receptors and the skin, are ‘data ports,’ capable of creating a picture, thereby substituting for a retina.
The brain decodes these skin sensations and, in turn, reconverts them into pictures. Therefore, the brain is learning or adapting, which signifies its plasticity: It is capable of reorganizing its own sensory perceptual system.
Imagine if we could use mirrors to re-ignite memories of ourselves at a previous time, before a particular health problem damaged our bodies, our psyches, our self concept. What if what is actually involved in our perceptions of ourselves is what scientists are currently referring to as the “best case scenario.”
So my experiment involves a treatment which will manipulate my perception of myself. I’ll need a mirror in which my entire body is visible, and a wide array of sensory triggers which (much like Proust’s madeleine) will transport me back to a time in my life when I was happy, a time before or a time in-between episodes of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).
Here is my proposed experiment: Music, Memory & the ‘Illusory Self’ September 2009
It’s second skin. Instantaneous. The curve of that beak tore through to the core of me, eliciting a sense of timeless wonder and joy reminiscent of returning to Combray, Aunt Leonie, and that tea and madeleine.
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? The Cookie. Proust, M. (1913-27). Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann’s Way: Within a Budding Grove. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage. pp. 48-51.
Aren’t we always, as humans, engaged in the attempt to recover lost time, to travel back to those moments in our personal histories where we felt safest, most enchanted, most alive?
Isn’t it this ability, this capacity to connect again and again and again with the self, and to recognizable its constancy despite all of time’s diffusions, that in the final analysis defines who we are?