May 15, 2023

Interesting article about memory and creativity.

Part of it is about a study of Patient N.N. who had a memory impairment. He was unable to remember anything about his own personal life but retained information about everything else. Give him a list of words to be memorized and he could do it.

A surprising corollary was that NN was unable to conjecture about the future.

“The case of N.N. suggested to Tulving that there was potentially a neural connection between memory and imagination–that our ability to think retrospectively about the past was in a fundamental way connected to our ability to think prospectively about the future.”

I wonder if this is part of the difference between humans and Neandertals. Or maybe between early anatomically modern humans and true modern humans.

Skeletal remains identical to our own have been found dating back to 300,000 years ago, but they were associated with the exact same stone tools as found with Neandertals until about 70,000 years ago.

That’s when the original Stone Age version of Moore’s Law began. Innovative new kinds of stone points proliferated, and then ingenious combinations of stone and wood and antler and bone connected together.

It was around this time that human body lice re-evolved to adapt to the new human invention of clothing–the same time that Adam and Eve noticed that they were naked, according to oral history.

So maybe the big change was the evolution of this ability to “remember the future” in an imaginative way, an ability that left an insurmountable chasm between humans and Neandertals.

Neandertals had language, but the new human memory trick allowed grammatical structures containing immensely more information than the Neandertals could handle.

That’s my conjecture, anyway.

Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.
–Robert F. Kennedy

Genetic evidence suggests that our remnant Neandertal DNA is due to Neandertal women preferring human men as more competent providers, and some fraction of the Neandertal DNA has been retained to this day.