The Economist has an article this week about how mouse brains work. If you apply an electric shock to the feet of a mouse when it’s in a cage, then for a long time after, it will freeze in fear if you put it in that cage again. That traumatic event becomes a lifelong memory for the mouse.
This effect casts a light on our perceptions of the meaning of life. Certain places, memories, and people have outsized importance for us. As long as I live, 23 Barberry Road, Lexington, Mass. will seem the truest home; memories of Emma and Jacob as toddlers holding out their arms to be picked up will seem the deepest family experiences. What powerful emotions these special things of ours evoke! I know in my head that my home and children are no more important to the universe than another man’s, but my head is nowhere near my heart. The mouse freezing in fear in the cage that hurt him is the same effect, only simpler. The timorous beasties with their tiny lives and worries lay bare the mechanistic nature of it all.
[29 July 2013]