The presence of unknowing

Can a thing once known ever be unknown?

Can a truth once known ever be forgotten?

What if all of your history disappeared?

Who would you be without your memory?

Time magazine had an article in their October 11, 2010 issue about a woman who suffered brain damage in the hippocampi of her brain (,9171,2022652,00.html) as the result of herpes encephalitis. As a result, she is now an amnesiac who has procedural memory (she remembers how to drive a car) and semantic memory (she remembers facts that she had previously learned) but she has very little access to episodic memory: only rarely can she remember the sensations associated with an experience – what it looked liked, sounded like, and felt like.

She does not remember the faces of people in her life, although she can remember their names.

The article is very short and focuses mostly on the device created by Microsoft to help her retain day-to-day memories. If I could, I would like to talk to her about what she remembers about who she is.

If we are the product of our experiences, what happens to our identity when we lose the memory of those experiences? From our experiences in life, we make decisions about how we are going to be in the world.

Some people hold themselves back from fully experiencing life the lives they want because of what happened OR did not happen in our lives. Perhaps we suffered a trauma. Perhaps our parents were not quite the role models we would have opted for. We come to believe that we are shaped by our experiences. We become adults who attach meaning to those memories. These memories dictate who we believe ourselves to be and how we trust ourselves.

What if those memories disappeared and you could invent new ones? Who would you be then? Can you imagine how you would be in the world?

If you can imagine it, you can be it.

©2010 by Barbara L. Kass


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12 Responses to “The presence of unknowing”

  1. holessence Says:

    Barbara – I felt compelled to share your post with Len. His response? This is good. This is VERY good, indeed.

    “If you can imagine it, you can be it.”

    My hat’s off to you once again.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Laurie — using myself as a guinea pig, I am going to work on this theory that we are what we imagine ourselves to be. And then I will try it on a few of my colleagues (therapists-in-training). All too often, I come across people who are continuing to punish themselves for what they experienced in the past because they view that experience as one that changed and altered them. What they don’t acknowledge is that they themselves made the choice on how they were going to be changed and altered. I know because I use it myself!

  2. sandiwhite Says:

    This is a stunning thought to me. I had been worried that perhaps I was losing my memories, that perhaps I was entering the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Turns out I had a blocked artery that had been giving me a brain cramp. I don’t know though that I could jump right in and reinvent myself from the word “go”. I know people do it, look at the witness protection program, but that is probably the result of deliberately repressing their actual memories. But…IF…..I had nothing but a clean slate to work from…move over, Cleopatra!

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Sandi – you would make an awesome Cleopatra. I am not sure I would want a total reinvention; just a tune-up would be good. Like I told Laurie upstairs, I am going to use this little theory on myself, identify an experience that I think defined the way I am in the world now, and see if I can imagine how I would choose to be in the world had that experience not happened. Then, I will try it on for size. I’ll let you know how it fits.

  3. ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

    I was thinking what I would have done if i wasn”t in the laboratory field…..either a lawyer or a nun…..hummmmmm….I will ponder that one….

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Kim — you might try looking at what motivated you to get into the laboratory field and remove that memory; if you did not have that experience that guided you into your chosen field, how would you be in the world?

      • ButterfliesGalore-Kimberly Grady Says:

        You are right there were some choices that I was making at the time that may ot have been a choice for my sake, but for survival mode… get going in my chosen field as soon as possible so I could make enough money to leave home and be out on my own for variuos reasons,,,,,But I never experianced that, being on my own, right after school and getting a job I moved from my parents home to being married. I never gave the lawyer or the desire to become a nun a second chance…..
        Getting away and moving on were higher priority that clouded any other visions….

        I Like your comment…..

        I knew I was not okay and that has been my life’s work: becoming me again.

        • Barbara Kass Says:

          I think the real work here, Kim, is to become fully and authentically you no matter what choices you have made. I think fear holds some people back because they know in their hearts and souls that if they become who they truly and authentically are, they will need to make changes in their lives to live more authentically and change is scary.

  4. jeffstroud Says:

    Cool blog!

    CwG states that we are here to re-discover who we Really are! every event is an opportunity to experience who we are or who we are not…

    Barbara, I think you already place this into practice, but it will be interesting to read about your research.

    James Arthur Ray in his book about attraction, ask us once we decide that we desire a certain experience in our lives, is to imagine what it would feel like, what you would act like, taste, smell, etc. His one example are people who win the lottery, even though they now have money, they don’t know how to act or be a person with money, so most go broke.

    • Barbara Kass Says:

      Hi, Jeff — I get the CwG “re-discover” who we really are . . . I think that I must have put myself here with these challenges to become more fully who I am. Kind of like: what am I willing to do to live authentically? I am slowly learning that in order to become fully me, I need to reconnect with all the parts of me I severed and hid away when I was younger to survive.

      I understand what Ray is saying, too. If I don’t change my way of being in the world, then I will just keep repeating my same behavior over and over and probably getting the same results. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?

  5. Gil Says:

    I really like this line of reasoning of rewriting your history from the point of view that the defining moment did not happen… but what if it is like that Groundhog day movie where you keep on making the same choices until you learn from them? I wonder how much of our “self” is nature and how much is nurture?

  6. Barbara Kass Says:

    Good quetion, Gil. I often think that much of who I chose to become was based on my parent’s nuture (or lack thereof), but it was clearly a choice. I always knew that I was not being who I truly was but I traded my authenticity to survive, to earn their love, etc. Because I always knew I was doing the trade-off, as soon as I was beyond their grasp and headed into adulthood, I started working to regain myself. I knew I was not okay and that has been my life’s work: becoming me again.

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