Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where are we going?

I am preparing to teach a graduate class on human cognition – no really, it is a cool class. One of the things we learn about is memory. I was looking for an example of how memory systems are functionally separate when I remembered this conversation:

Dorris: Where are we going?
Kim: I am taking you to the Arbors, where you live.
Dorris: Oh, she said with no clue as to what that is.

(moments later)

Dorris: Where are we going?
Kim: I am taking you to the Arbors, where you live.
Dorris: To get rid of me. . . .that wasn’t very nice of me to say.

“Where are we going?” and “Where am I living?” are two questions we hear from Dorris on a frequent basis. This is an example of a problem with short-term (working) memory. Things she sees or experiences just do not move into long-term memory. This structure of her memory has a very short duration so that she does not even remember asking the same question a few moments before.

However, her sensory memory is intact. She still enjoys the sunlight, a beautiful tree, a sweet song, or the taste of her favorite green beans. She also frequently astonishes us with her long-term memory. The stacks of photos her sons have given her are new to her each day and it brings her joy to point to people, or things, and recall a story.

The aspect of her thinking that continually amazes me is her metacognition. This is the ability to think about thinking. When she gets a bit snarky and announces that she has no clue what “Arbors-where-you-live” means, she is assessing the situation quite nicely. Likewise, when she looks at me with repentant eyes after saying, “that wasn’t very nice of me to say” she is evaluating her words and their possible effect on me.

She is losing her ability to make new memories, but she is not losing her intelligence, her empathy, or conscience. She is still Dorris, she is just a bit lost in the here and now.

When she asks me why she lives at the Arbors, I tell her because it is a place that helps people with their memory. 

Her typical response to my reply is. "well, I certainly need that." 

The only perfect memory belongs to God. There are no limits to his sensory memory, his working memory, or his long-term memory. He is omniscient.

Great is our LORD, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. (Psalm 147:5, ESV)

Yet, once he has forgiven us, he chooses to forget our sin.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. (Psalm 103: 10-13, ESV)

There are people who wonder if they could have the patience to answer a question repeated again, and again. To me, it is a bigger mystery how God can have patience with me when I repeat a sin again, and again.

 But you, O LORD, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86:15, ESV)

I have metacognition about my sin. I know it is bad for me, bad for my relationships, and needs to be stopped. But, in the short-term, or the long-term, that ain’t gonna happen.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and  blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.  Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:1-6, ESV)
Instead of impatience, God responds with forgiveness and grace. He sends his Spirit to help me with this daily struggle. Some day he will welcome me to heaven with open arms.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel,and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:23-24, ESV) 

When I get to heaven, I will see Dorris and I will ask her “Where am I living?”

We will both get a good laugh out of that. 

(With a special prayer for my friend, Brenda, whose mother is a new resident of heaven. She is waiting there, for her loved ones, with a perfect memory.)

No comments: