Adventuring in Time
The Hippocampus, Memory, Time-Lining and The NLP Practitioner
First Method. Let the Exempt Adept first train himself to think backwards by external means, as set forth here following.
(“a”) Let him learn to write backwards, with either hand.
(“b”) Let him learn to walk backwards.
(“c”) Let him constantly watch, if convenient, cinematograph films, and listen to phonograph records, reversed, and let him so accustom himself to these that they appear natural, and appreciable as a whole.
(“d”) Let him practice speaking backwards; thus for “I am He” let him say, “Eh ma I”.
(“e”) Let him learn to read backwards. In this it is difficult to avoid cheating one’s self, as an expert reader sees a sentence at a glance. Let his disciple read aloud to him backwards, slowly at first, then more quickly.
(“f”) Of his own ingenium, let him devise other methods.
12. In this his brain will at first be overwhelmed by a sense of utter confusion; secondly, it will endeavour to evade the difficulty by a trick. The brain will pretend to be working backwards when it is really normal. It is difficult to describe the nature of the trick, but it will be quite obvious to anyone who has done practices (“a”) and (“b”) for a day or two. They become quite easy, and he will think that he is making progress, an illusion which close analysis will dispel.
13. Having begun to train his brain in this manner, and obtained some little success, let the Exempt Adept, seated in his Asana, think first of his present attitude, next of the act of being seated, next of his entering the room, next of his robing, et cetera, exactly as it happened. And let him most strenuously endeavour to think each act as happening backwards. It is not enough to think: “I am seated here, and before that I was standing, and before that I entered the room,” etc. That series is the trick detected in the preliminary practices. The series must not run “ghi-def-abc” but “ihgfedcba”: not “horse a is this” but “esroh a si siht”. To obtain this thoroughly well, practice (“c”) is very useful. The brain will be found to struggle constantly to right itself, soon accustoming itself to accept “esroh” as merely another glyph for “horse.” This tendency must be constantly combated.
14. In the early stages of this practice the endeavour should be to meticulous minuteness of detail in remembering actions; for the brain’s habit of thinking forwards will at first be insuperable. Thinking of large and complex actions, then, will give a series which we may symbolically write “opqrstu-hijklmn-abcdefg.” If these be split into detail, we shall have “stu-pqr-o—mn-kl-hij—fg-cde-ab,” which is much nearer to the ideal “utsrqponmlkjihgfedcba.”
Aleister Crowley. LIBER Taw-Yod-Shin-Aleph-Resh-Bet (ThIShARB) VIAE MEMORIAE sub figura CMXIII
The hippocampus, of which there are two, is so called because apparently, it looks a bit like a seahorse.
But, it doesn’t, not even a little bit.
A part of the limbic system and adjacent to the amygdala and the olfactory bulb, the hippocampus plays an important role in memory function. It is probably because the olfactory bulb (smell) is so nearby that memories are so easily evoked with a smell. It is for this reason that I suggest the NLPer in clinical practice has a ready supply of evocative smells at the ready. Most people are aware of how powerful olfactory anchors can be and it is these anchors that are all to frequently overlooked by those in therapeutic practice. For example, when working with a client with a phobia of the dentist, it might be wise to acquire that peculiar pink solution that is used as a mouth rinse by virtually every dentist on the planet. Think about it.
The type of memory mediated by the hippocampus is referred to as”declarative memory” – specific details and facts such as remembering your way to work and the name of your pet dog. On the other hand, “non-declarative” memory such as specific skills as riding a bicycle or playing snooker (things that need rehearsal before they are learned) are stored in the cerebellum. Neither structure will necessarily involve the other when dealing with their specific memories.
Ramachandran gives a good description of an unfortunate chap known as “HM”. In an attempt to cure his severe epilepsy his neurosurgeons removed parts of his brain – including both hippocampi. The unfortunate effect of this action was that HM was suddenly unable to form any new memory and became lost in time.
Alzheimer’s disease also tends to attack the hippocampus first before graduating onto other areas of the brain to affect other forms of memory.
One curious experience I had when I was a student and supporting my income by a weekly nightshift in a local nursing home, reflects the curious role of memory and neurological function.
Called to the first floor by the sounds of two women shrieking and screaming abuse, myself and a colleague found two elderly ladies fighting and attacking each other – one with a hairbrush, the other with a dinner fork. Both of these ladies had advanced dementia; both needed full nursing care and both were prone to confusion. Neither had ever been anything other than “pleasantly confused” in their behaviour.
Subsequently, both women were seriously shaken and upset by their encounter (we never did discover what had triggered their confrontation) and within 5 minutes neither had any memory of the episode whatsoever. One lady quickly returned to her happily disorientated self. The other took to her bed in distress and could not be comforted in any way. Tragically, she cried virtually non-stop for 2 days and promptly died. Despite lacking any memory of the event it was clear that the upset caused by this event didn’t leave her – probably it was the emotive portion of the “memory” that was laid in the amygdala that carried the fetal portion of the event for her.
One effect of patients who have sustained damage to their hippocampus is that they can become virtually ‘fixed’ in time. For example, if the memory stopped being formed at the age of 24 then the individual at age forty might comment on how old his parents are looking, as though each time he meets them they have suddenly aged overnight. Also for these patients, looking at their own reflection can become quite a traumatic experience, each time they do it! For example, if the damage occurred at the age of 24 they never seem to progress beyond that age.
In a similar vein, but not necessarily reflecting hippocampal function, Oliver Sacks gives an interesting report from one of his patients made famous by his work with l-DOPA written up in “Awakenings” p83:
When Rose did ‘awaken’ with the administration of l-DOPA in 1969, she was extremely excited and animated, but in a way that was strange. She spoke of Gershwin and other contemporaries as if they were still alive; of events in the mid-twenties as if they had just happened. She had obsolete mannerisms and turns of speech; she gave the impression of a ‘flapper’ come suddenly to life. We wondered if she was disorientated if she knew where she was. I asked her various questions, and she gave me a succinct and chilling answer: “I can give you the date of pearl harbour,” she said, “I can give you the date of Kennedy’s assassination. I’ve registered it all – but none of it seems real. I know it’s ’69, I know I’m 64 – but I feel it’s ’26, I feel I’m 21. I’ve been a spectator for the last forty-three years’ (There were many other patients who behaved, and even appeared, much younger than their years, as if their personalities, their processes of personal growth and becoming, had been arrested at the same time as their physical and mental processes.)
However, ask these patients about their past (prior to the occurrence of the damage) and you will generally find that their long-term memory remains perfectly intact. In fact, from experience, it appears that some aspects of some patient’s long-term memory retain far great clarity than in unaffected people – I propose that this might be in due to the lack of contamination of memory from recently laid down material.
However, owing to the different areas that record memory such as the emotional recording carried out in the amygdala, some [non-visual (?)] aspects of memory do still appear to take place. For example, one particular patient I nursed over a 6 week period on an orthopaedic unit would not remember anyone on the ward, who they were or what they did. And yet her behaviour was always contextually appropriate for a patient with a broken leg and her responses to certain members of staff would reflect the ways she ‘felt’ for them – i.e. despite not remembering who they were she would report feeling “safe” with certain staff who were kinder than the staff with whom she felt “insecure” ( a couple of rather brash and inappropriately behaved staff). This lady had no awareness however that her memory was so poor and would happily confabulate stories to explain the differences between her expectations of things and what she came to experience. At all times she was able to respond to the audio-visual queues of her environment which would account for a lot of her ongoing understandings despite lack of new memory.