Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nostalgia. Also, Stream-Of-Consciousness.

         Introductions and forewords are usually written after the entire book has been written. It seems somewhat counterintuitive - why write the beginning, the very introduction, after you've finished everything else? And while each author has their own way, it's usually much easier because the author knows what is discussed in their book, and thus can be much more specific and concise in introducing it. And so in that sense, it's better to go backwards.

          There's a quote by Woody Allen that hits home (albeit sarcastically), in which he says, "In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people's home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party and then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap and then Voila!"

          As cliche as it is, we never fully enjoy what we have until it's gone, and when it is gone, we either feel nostalgic, warm and sweet and painful, a sad reminiscent smile,  or regret, which I personally think is one of the most horrible emotions possible, closely followed by panicked anxiety, and should be avoided as much as possible. Sometimes, looking back can be accompanied by feeling of relief or fear or a myriad of other thing depending on the memory, though I'm talking about normal to good memories in general. But is there any way to simply look back happily and get rid of all other unpleasant emotions?

          First off, there's the question of whether nostalgia is considered more of a good or bad emotion, and there's a whole lot of discussion around the topic floating around the internet (it would be a pretty good philosophical debate topic I'd imagine, although I was unable to find any of those floating around), and it basically narrows down to the following two points: it's good in the sense that it's allowing you to relive your memories, so good memories will never truly die. On the other hand, it can get to the point where a person is living in the past and is unwilling to face the future.

          To be able to look back happily, fondly on past events, one must exist in a situation that is better than the memory. And because memories are subject to alteration over time (it's been scientifically proven that the accuracy of memories exponentially decreases over time), it's possible to simply convince the brain that the current situation is better than the memories.

          Memories themselves re not quite as we imagine them. Memories are like quick flashes from the past, accompanied by all the sensory details, and all the inside emotions felt at the time. To look back at a memory is to re-experience it in your head (in whatever distorted version it exists) all those emotions, in addition to the present emotions, be it longing or relief. What interests me most is how those two states of emotional being interact. Imagine a scenario in which a high school kid has just one the Math Olympiad, and in addition to the intense feelings of elation running through him, he thinks back to his experience learning math as a young child. Imagine this boy had a very strict father who believed that to be intelligent was to be good at math, and saw it of utmost importance to improve the mathematical logic thinking of his son. The child, however, simply sucked, which got the father worked up, maybe to the point of verbally/emotionally abusing the child, name calling, etc. The child has horrible emotions tied to those memories - feelings of worthlessness, maybe depression, hatred towards math and learning in general, and a sharp bitterness towards his father. At his present point, however, he realizes that he would never have been able to win that Olympiad if not for his father. And so as he thinks about his childhood, there is an emotional war raging inside of him: what emotion should he be feeling?

       I think that complex conflict of emotions is what makes nostalgia such an exquisite emotion, makes it so much deeper than simple happiness or anger.

Disclaimer: Sources for any information in this essay include forums, my head, Yahoo!Answers, and miscellaneous websites I may have come across while looking into the various questions I raised but didn't actually answer throughout the course of this piece.