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  • Bob Ginsberg

Can Genetics Determine our Ability to Remember?

My seven-year-old grandson was home from school today and he decided to catch up on some schoolwork by logging onto a learning platform offered by his school. He rarely if ever logged on from home, so I was a bit astonished when he entered the 10- digit numerical password to gain access. It started my wondering about the nature of memory.

I have a poor long-term memory. I always attributed it to my recreational drug use during my college years, as that was a convenient excuse. However, I am now not so sure. My wife of 46 years had an extraordinary memory. She absorbed and retained information with ease, and her recall never failed. There was no need for me to retain anything important, as my source of past information was always right beside me. All I had to do was ask. This raises the possibility that our ability to remember can atrophy due to non-use, like other abilities, whether they be physical or non-physical in nature.

My three children all have extraordinary memories. In fact, although never evaluated formally, my youngest daughter (now in the spirit world) had a photographic memory. She used to come home from school with a printed list of fifty vocabulary words, each with a 3-4 sentence definition. She used to take the paper out of her backpack and instruct me to leave the room and return in ten minutes. I would then proceed by asking her to spell and define each word (which I selected in random order). In the years that we did this, not only did she never misspell a word, but she repeated each definition verbatim without ever missing a word. After we completed each session, she would simply smile as we both silently acknowledged the gift.

My other children continue to possess sharp memories, and their ability has not waned with age. So, since my three children and their mother all possessed this ability, I wonder if memory could have a genetic component. Could it be a trait passed down, like the color of one’s eyes or disposition to certain diseases? Are memories “things” that can be identified, dissected, and explained by material science?

I subscribe to the theory that not all memories are stored in the brain. I do believe that certain memories occur due to brain circuitry, but our subconscious minds may access memories that are stored elsewhere, and this information can be retrieved via non-physical mechanisms. This might be explained by the phenomenon that is often called “terminal lucidity” or “sudden awakening.” People that are physically or mentally incapacitated and near death sometimes exhibit clear and lucid thinking with memories intact. Think about that. How does someone with dementia or advanced Alzheimer disease, people who are not capable of engaging in any conversation or memory recall, suddenly begin to have lucid conversations and remember as if they were perfectly healthy? The answer may lie in the possibility that even though the brain, the apparatus that receives and interprets information, is no longer functioning the information still flows and can be received by other means.

I experienced this with my mother-in-law shortly before she passed. For several weeks she was in a non-communicative state, unable to recognize or remember anyone. During one of my visits with her she suddenly awakened from her stupor, and we engaged in a perfectly meaningful conversation. She advised me that the holidays were coming and advised what I needed to do to prepare. She asked me to go take her papers to the tax preparer as her tax return would be due in two days. She asked how family members were doing and mentioned other personal matters. I thought it to be a miracle at the time. The next day she reverted to her semi-conscious state. There is no medical explanation for this, at least none that material science can explain. Similarly, near death experiencers, those who meet every definition of death and are resuscitated report clear thinking with all memories intact. This occurs despite having no measurable brain activity when the experience took place.

It is difficult for most to imagine what mechanisms might allow us to remember when the brain is compromised or not functioning? It could be that our memories are retrieved and stored on a cellular level. If that were the case such information could be stored in our hearts, for example. Or are there fields of information from which data can be extracted in a non-physical way?

It is clear to me that most memories, such as those used by my daughter in retaining lists of words, are the result of areas in our conscious brain that stores information. Some of us have a greater information capacity than others. In this regard, it seems logical to me that there is a genetic component that allows some to be better at remembering than others. However, I also believe we are constantly being surrounded by flowing information. The brain, when working properly, receives and interprets this information by mechanistic means. However, when this receiver is compromised, or when we achieve altered states of consciousness, the brain is by-passed as we connect with a vast network that operates in ways that defy physical laws.

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