Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Remember the Good TImes?

"Remember the Good Times" was Tony Soprano's line - as well as others.  Does it make any sense?

My Dad claims that one of the last things my Mother said was "Remember the Good Times!"   However, my Dad tends to be a lying sack of shit.   He had our cats euthanized when I went away to college.  That kind of guy.

There were not a lot of good times in her life to remember, particularly toward the end.  She was a bi-polar, alcoholic, closeted lesbian, with a penchant for knife-play, particularly when intoxicated.   What's not to like?  Something for everyone.

But it got me to thinking, what does that phrase mean?  Is it even possible?   I mean, the way our brains are programmed, it seems that bad experiences crowd out good experiences in our memory by a factor of 10 to 1.

And maybe this is by design.

Our brains are neural networks, that use feedback from our experiences in life, to program the weighting values of the nodes in these networks, to produce optimized solutions.  We seek pleasure, we avoid pain.   That is the overall goal of the mind.

If we remembered pleasure as succinctly as pain, however, our brains would be less inclined to seek it out.   Why bother seeking out pleasure, when you can just remember it?   "Remember the good times" thus makes about as much sense as trying to remember an orgasm.

Pain, on the other hand, sticks in the mind - and is the motivation to seek out pleasure, or at least avoid pain.  This is a survival instinct.   We remember the bad times, the pain and discomfort, as well as the embarrassing things in our lives far more vividly than we remember a relaxing day at the lake or our first kiss.

And there is a hymn that explains this:
Temptations, hidden snares 
often take us unawares,
and our hearts are made to bleed 
for a thoughtless word or deed;
and we wonder why the test 
when we try to do our best,
but we'll understand it better by and by.
Which explains why, lying in bed at night, you vividly remember some asinine comment you made to someone in 1987, but you don't remember lying on the beach in Barbados very clearly (other than it was nice).

Well, that is, if you have a soul.   If you are a caring person, you remember each mis-step and each "thougtless word or deed" and feel bad about it.

A sociopath, on the other hand, has no such troubles.  He can bludgeon to death a Sorority Sister and then sleep like a baby.   Nothing troubles the soul-less in our society.

It is like apologies.   Today, people think that making an apology, whether it is for a racist insult or a mass-murder, somehow makes things "right".  The problem with apologies, is that if you have a soul, saying "I'm sorry" rarely quiets the unease you have.   And if you are a soul-less sociopath, it has no meaning whatsoever.   The same is true for the recipient of the apology.  Saying "Gee, I'm sorry I called you a racial epithet" isn't going to make things "right" for person concerned - if they have  soul.  And if they don't?  Well, they just don't give a shit anyway.

So, Tony Soprano's quote, "Remember the Good Times" is really bullshit.    We all would like to remember the good times - and crowd the bad times out of our brains.   The problem is, however, our brains were designed - as a survival instinct - to remember the bad more vividly than the good, so that we avoid pain and seek pleasure.   It literally is physically impossible to reprogram your brain to only remember good things.

Maybe a better slogan is "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" - acknowledging that life will have its ups and downs, and that obsessing about the bad doesn't help make things better.  We all make mistakes, we all have bad experiences, acknowledge them and move on - but don't double-down your bet by browbeating yourself for remembering the bad times more than the good.  That's just human nature.

UPDATED May 2014:  This link:

Claims that older people remember only the good times.   Perhaps this is true, as they are senile.