You will certainly enjoy this article if you are interested in knowing how to optimize the quantity, quality and balance of the two types of your memory. Once again, ORGANIC INDIA weaves traditional and contemporary cutting-edge science to help support your true wellness.
This article is about juxtaposing semantic memory, which becomes dominant in people as they grow into wisdom years with episodic memory, which is peaking right around the time when the average person is graduating from the “education” phase of their life. It is a difference that is as fascinating as it is important to understand because without this comprehension Grads will not have a suitable context in which to excel and Dads will not have the skillfulness to navigate the natural changes in their cognitive functions.
Semantic memory, also called generic and categorical memory, has to do with the symbolic knowledge that organisms possess about the world, and episodic memory mediates the remembering of personally experienced events.
Here is a table of spectrums that compares the two:
Again, note that the type of memory that is dominant within you will determine your sense of who you are. With an episodic memory you will tend to identify yourself as a limited individual being whose intellectual/cognitive resources and decision power are only what that limited individual has accumulated and your actions will support the trajectory of that individual. With a semantic memory your identification is more that of a cell of consciousness whose intellectual/cognitive resources and decision power is actually that of the whole, and your actions support the trajectory of the whole picture.
I feel it is imperative that we deepen our understanding of understanding as this will prevent unnecessary alienation of ourselves from ourselves in the context of natural progressions of the possibilities of maturation. Semantic memory can be a beautiful thing and by knowing about it we can know how to better communicate with ourselves and with each other.
For instance, a major problem with semantic memory is that it often requires a lot of bravery to allow the individual within oneself to be secondary to a greater collective being/intelligence. And yet, this is what happens to many of us as we age, except we do not realize it is an empowering expansion, but rather, due to limited identification, see it as a loss!
One of the three main themes in this article is this: I posit that much of what is termed and/or experienced as memory loss is really just a memory shift, from being dominantly episodic to being primarily semantic. Though we may cling to concepts of who and what we are, the truth is that shift happens. Often the optimal route through these shifts is to unlearn the fine art of denial and attachment. Then we can start practicing the ability to fearlessly surf the emerging landscapes of your mind as generalized patterns of undulations replace specific instances of customizations. In either realm, note the power of “beginner’s mind” always tends to be redolent of merit.
We all know that the greatest performances are when an athlete or artist goes into a zone where she becomes “one” with everything and even becomes one with a “victory” that has not occurred yet but will certainly come to pass. Though egos are quick to claim greatness once these states of excellence have occurred, during the timelessness in the “zone” it is the ego as supported by episodic memory that must be stilled and/or transcended for the purity of the “zone” to coalesce.
This is one reason why athletes and artists practice-practice-practice to get their episodic memory out of the way. For instance, a dancer will make sure the choreography is in their muscle memory so that their entire being can be free to perform. In much the same way, though episodic memory and its compilation of ego-enriching facts is key for many endeavors, don’t be seduced into thinking that episodic thinking is the ultimate for anything other than ego endorsement. True Wellness is all things in balance, and Tulsi, which literally means “Balanced Balance,” supports us in this.
Though all the top cognitive adaptogens tend to support both episodic and semantic memory there are activities of some that are especially notable. For instance, the fact that Centella and Bacopa are known to optimize communication between the brain’s hemispheres shows us that the unifying view of semantic memory is served. And Ashwagandha’s and Brahmi’s ability to increase the length of nerve axons and dendrites would tend to increase the amount of neural connections possible, thus enabling the person to create more semantic connections between otherwise seemingly disparate singular events. Turmeric is renown for ensuring that the Glial Cells, a neuron’s personal bodyguards, function well and that the connections between nerves are free and clear of congestion.
Have you ever noticed how you can read article after article about cognitive functions like memory, acuity or focus and yet never do you read the word “consciousness?” The closest you may come is the word “awareness,” in the context of something like “focused awareness.” Perhaps people are not so aware of how the nature of one’s consciousness is related to the quality of their memory.
Semantic and episodic memory and their access tend to lend themselves to two different flavors of consciousness. How you remember an event depends on the context of the event’s importance. In other words, how you organize your world depends on what your world is to you. If you see your world as your own personal stage upon which your ego prances, then of course a more divisive episodic memory will be of great use to support the separation required to ascend above others. And if you position your world as not-other than yourself within which your ego melts in the service to the whole, then of course a more unifying semantic memory will be of great utility to support the simultaneous ascent of all beings above any state which includes the suffering of even a single individual.
In this respect an agitated divisive flavor of consciousness, called rajasic in Yoga, supports episodic memory and in fact is relatively dependent on it, and so panics at any sign of its waning. Conversely, a clear balanced unifying flavor of consciousness, called sattvic, tends to support more semantic memory, a more big picture view of the world. Of course, there is not a cut-and-dried distinction here but I am sure you see the pattern that emerges.
In traditional systems of medicine one of the main methods of categorizing medicines is how they tends to morph the flavor of consciousness. Those herbs which support a clear balanced unifying consciousness include Tulsi, Brahmi, Lotus, Rose, and Shankhapushpi. Thus these herbs optimize our ability to create and access both episodic and semantic memory, however, the episodic memory would tend to be in the context of the more fundamental semantic memory. That is to say, these herbs would tend to help us know and access ourselves in the context of an extremely functional sense of our true place in the world. One result of this more expansive flavor of knowing is that we then see a human’s role as altruistic ecocentric stewards in service of our world and less as greedy egocentric owners in consumption of our world.
One can loose their ability to register events in the episodic memory due to dysfunction, for sure, and we need episodic memory, no doubt. However, I feel that we need not “white knuckle” our attachment to having perfect episodic memory at the expense of loosing our ability to give ourselves to the beauty of the fullness. A good measure of this is the amount of our lives spent stressfully bonded to mind and time compared to that amount of life unbounded in the fullness of and service to heart, spirit and the timeless aspects of our self.
To the extent that stress seduces us to identify ourselves as limited mind in time, which itself is stressful, and thus attenuates our ability to be who we truly are in our hearts, so anti-stress adaptogens, especially the cognitive adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Brahmi and Shankhapushpi, can allow everyone from Dads to Grads the ease and stress resilience to enable us to gracefully navigate our duties and place in the world without losing ourselves. Adaptogens support us with retaining the direct connection with our essence, with and as our deepest and most authentic joy.
Ram Das, in reference to manifesting virtuosity in the expansion of consciousness, once told me, “You have to be someone before you can be no one!” And so, again and again, there is nothing wrong with having a strong episodic memory, it is just important that knowledge is pursued and applied in “right context.” Dads can be a great source of “Right Context” for Grads, especially those Dads who can be inclusive of a Grad’s contribution to his views. Just as separated generations can drive each other crazy while unified generations are generators of a progressively positive world for both, so when episodic memory is separate from the semantic we find entire societies, as a whole, in a milieu characterized by the collective version of simultaneous ADHD and dementia.
An attribute then of a “vehicle of consciousness,” a being who is a potent positive force in the sustainability and evolution of the world, is the pervading presence of a wisdom terrain that supports seemingly isolated actions to actually be manifestations of a greater magnanimous movement, like one wind filling all the sails within a vast regatta. For this to happen one must bravely and selfishly keep their semantic memory primary to the episodic. Fearing not the Fullness, “thinking globally while acting locally,” one can always remember and proactively create within as complete of a picture as they can possibly realize.