Today’s class on Cognitive Theory, in particular, the discussion about cognitive information processing, had me thinking about the movie Memento
If you haven’t seen the movie, and think you would still like to, I will try not to spoil it too much. But I will have to discuss the salient points from just the early part of the film so if you would like to shy away, then feel free to do so.
Still here? Good. let’s talk about Leonard Shelby. Leonard, the protagonist in the film, has suffered a terrible trauma and is thus afflicted with Anterograde amnesia: “a selective memory deficit, resulting from brain injury, in which the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” (Myers, 2006, para.1) We discussed how the brain takes very little time to decide what information to move into long term memory and what to discard. In the movie, Leonard is unable to process short term memories into long term memory. He can remember events from before the traumatic event, but cannot make new memories since. A real shame, as he has thoroughly embraced the idea of tracking down his wife’s killer.
Because he can only remember facts anywhere from about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes at a stretch, he must resort to taking polaroid photographs, writing notes to himself, and tattooing the key clues to his wife’s murder on his body. He befriends a police detective who is also trying to help, albeit with tongue in cheek. Leonard is certainly not a professional investigator, and with his disability seems to be getting nowhere. But Leonard forges on, firmly of the belief that one day revenge will be his, and yes, it will be sweet.
This brings to mind not just our discussion of cognitive theory, but of that little ‘devil in the details’, gathering data in research. Leonard Shelby’s quest is driven purely by facts. The clues he gathers must be immediately written down and catalogued, as they are his only way to coherently put together a history. His ‘research’ is tattooed all over his chest and arms. His references are jotted on cocktail napkins, bar coasters, matchbooks and polaroid photographs. But slowly he is working on solving his question. And once he has it figured out, his intention is to murder his wife’s killer.
How would Leonard’s research methodology hold up in the real world? Would this method bear fruit? Not likely. In Leonard’s case, any new knowledge he gathers disappears after a couple of minutes. His only way of maintaining custody of the information is to commit it to writing. Can this be any way to proceed with something of such grave consequence? Someone should share some research methodologies with him. Not that he would remember them, anyway.
Myers, Catherine A. (2006). Anterograde Amnesia. Memory Loss and the Brain. Retrieved from http://www.memorylossonline.com/glossary/anterogradeamnesia.html
Images copyright Newmarket Films