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“I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?” ― Hermann Hesse

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Preface- Who am I to talk on a topic like this?

Since November of 2012, I have slowly lost the ability to retrieve episodic memories, which are memories related to autobiographical events that are explicitly stated. I have also had increasing difficulty in storing and maintaining new memories. This is also known as Anterograde Amnesia in the medical community. This paper presents both the opportunity to assimilate the facts, philosophies and falsities on the topic of well-being and memory in one place for the betterment of myself; whilst additionally providing a potential gateway for re-accessing the mindset and particular class on happiness and its inherent discussions and occasional poetic banter in favor of well-being and a meaningful life provided to me during the time within the Fall of 2013.

After two years at one University, I transferred to a different one to continue my studies. I discovered a class of drugs, known as Nootropics (brain drugs.) Upon this discovery, I researched and researched trying to find the perfect Nootropic regimen for a brain functioning of the highest possible degree. I purchased a supplement concoction known as Focus Formula made by Windmill Products, which was not FDA regulated. This should have made me more aware of its abuse potential, but alas, greed of higher functioning got the better of me. I believe there is a quote that says each ingredient was designed to enhance overall cognition, memory and attention. Its primary ingredient Huperzine-A (Huperzia serrate) is an alkaloid isolated from a Chinese club moss. The main pharmacological benefit of Huperzia serrata is its activity as an acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitor. It is used in clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as within Alzheimer’s there exists a lack of Acetylcholine being produced in the presynaptic vesicles so there is less activity at Ach receptor sites. After some digging this semester and semantic learnings from my Behavioral Neuroscience class and even particular readings from my course in Philosophy of Happiness I learned Huperzine-A is not for healthy, young brains. Taken daily in those without Alzheimer’s or similar neurodegenerative diseases can actually cause a cascading of Alzheimer’s disease within the subject of daily ingestion. This is quite possibly what happened in my case, considering I have been prescribed Namenda (Mementine) which is one of the most potent drugs for late-stage dementia and Alzheimer’s. This cascading of neurological deficits has affected my ability to drive, narrowed my thought-action repertoire, and most importantly almost entirely inhibited new long and short-term memory consolidation and retrieval.

That being said, I have been set forth on a journey for neuronal regeneration; for finding peace within the realm of the experiential self in the fleeting presence of a remembered self and potential absence of neuronal regenerative capabilities at this point in pharmacology. Here I will explore well-being within the experiential self, the remembered/reflective self and pharmacological perspectives on regeneration of healthy neurons, reparation of broken synaptic connections and overall reversal of an ethnobotanically induced amnesic neuronal degeneration. I am not going to go into too much on the inner-workings of the brain, as I have done this the entire semester and do not want to regurgitate the same information over and over again as it is semi-irrelevant to the topics I am dissecting; though I will go into the pharmacological workings of certain ethnobotanical and lab-synthesized compounds on the brain functioning and it’s repair. Novelty, well-being (whether it be for the brain, contentment of mind, or physical state) and natural brain reparation through feeding it the necessary building blocks to regenerate its matter and systems are the goals here. That’s enough terminological density for the time being- Now, what does this all mean for well-being? I will begin with analyzing Kahneman’s Experiential Self and his idea of the Remembered/Reflective self. Then I will delve into the relation of these two domains of consciousness to overall philosophy of the mind, psychology of well-being and psychopharmacology. Lastly, I will go into the philosophy of regimens for homeostasis restoration within the brain in the midst of cognitive declination in the way of episodic memory and how a sense of well-being is crucial for this restoration.

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Memory and Well-Being: What role does memory play in living a spiritually fulfilling life?

Marketers-learn-to-live-in-the-momentSome say a personality is nothing more than a man’s thoughts in the present moment and his memories within cognizance or an accessible area of retrieval within the brain. It has also been said your personality is the collection of all of one’s experiences and learnings assimilated into the thoughts and actions of the individual in the present. There are a myriad of personality theories that have been purported, extending from the field of psychology to philosophy and to sociology. We are now surrounded by an influx of practices, techniques and sub-cultures that hold mindfulness within the nexus. We are now surrounded by flow arts, which transform the partaking individual into the activity itself in essence, rather than another entity simply doing the activity. These mindfulness activities, Kundalini classes, flow festivals, etc. are all pervading throughout the Western culture to bring the individual into experiencing the present moment in the entirety of its essence. Why would this possibly be? Especially the historic peaking within mainstream America around the same time that Seligman, former head of the American Psychological Association (APA), began the movement of the Psychology of Well-Being in America. Seligman was most notably responsible for his initial theory of Learned Helplessness and his following theory of Learned Optimism and the eventuation of this theory into its namesake book. Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics, has recently branched out into the psychology of well-being. Kahneman presents that there exist two domains of human consciousness that differ quite dramatically within what it is to be happy. In a culture freshly bursting with well-being coaches, self-help books, and meditative practices leading to a life of well-being, Kahneman says there are several cognitive traps that make attaining the goal of well-being quite a challenge, but not impossible.

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One of these cognitive traps is confusion between experience and memory. Being happy in your life and being happy about/with your life are two very different concepts. Both lumped in with the notion of happiness. A cognitive trap is known as the “focusing allusion,” which essentially states we can’t think about any circumstance that affects well-being without distorting its importance. This holds true for me as I strive to heighten the quality of my life through novel experiences, my collegiate pursuits, and well-being practices. This presents issues for those pursuing this realm of philosophy and social sciences with the end goal of a greater subjective well-being. This is quite a prominent cognitive trap, as this moves into the meta-psychology of well-being -which is quite a rabbit hole to enter for any man, sane or not.

Let’s dissect the experiential self and the remembering/ reflective self a little further. The remembering self is the one that keeps score, maintains the story and continuity of our life -much of the mess within the notion of happiness lies in the confusion between these two selves. The remembering self is the story teller and derives it’s stories from our memories. These memories tell us the stories, so Kahneman says what we get to keep from our experiences are these stories. What defines a story is the changes, significant moments and endings. Endings are very crucial. The experiencing self lives in the present, knows the present- similar to the notion of the observing self. The experiencing self lives continuously, one moment after the other. With the experiencing self, the moments of the past are lost forever, Kahneman believes. Within most moments of our lives, the psychological present was bound by Kahneman and researchers to be about a mere span of 3 seconds. So you have 600 million psychological presents in a life, and 600 thousand in a month. Most are completely ignored by the remembering self and leave no trace. But we get the sense that these should count, as time has been said to be the most important yet finite resource that we are spending while we are on this earth, so how we spend time within these psychological presents would seem to be relevant. Were these psychological presents overlooked due to lack of significant meaning or were they simply not worth remembering? If the latter is the case, one should construct a life worth remember- if only for you. But the remembering self keeps a different story. The biggest difference is in the handling of time. For the remembering self, a two week vacation is barely better than a one week vacation, but it is twice as better for the experiencing self. Time has very little impact on the story. Remembering self does more than remember and tell stories; it actually makes your decisions as well. We don’t choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences as Kahneman says. We don’t think of our future as experiences, we think of our future as anticipated memories. A tyranny of the remembering self is that you can think of the remembering self; sort of dragging the experiencing self through experiences that the experiencing self doesn’t need. This is very indeed the case in vacations.

Moving Forward- Neuronal Regeneration, Or Lack Of and Meaning in Life

I am currently in the process of attaining cognitive homeostasis through a diverse yet synergistic supplement regimen. These supplements all possess powerful qualities for brain regeneration in a variety of ways. The questions exist; should I throw a myriad of mind-altering supplements into my body to give the brain the building blocks it needs for natural regeneration? This option would be possibly muddling potential future test results that could pinpoint the issue. Or should I stick to standard Western Psychiatric Pharmacological prescriptions and accept notions by doctors that there is no way to reverse the damage done by the Huperzine A? Western medicine, when it comes to neurodegeneration, only has the potential of masking particular symptoms, but not fixing the issue. The experiential self experiences novelty within every moment and does not need the continuity of the past through memories. It simply trudges forward despite the circumstances and takes full advantage of every psychological present. Loss of Episodic memory is not exactly being fully immersed in the consciousness domain of the experiential self, but it is quite relative from my understanding. Is the loss of episodic memory a gift in the way of easing the path to mindfulness and getting the most out of every new and unique psychological present? Is this cognitive declination a challenge for me to overcome? Being a neuroscience/philosophy student with background studies in psychopharmacology and cognitive science, I am in alignment, based on my fields of study, with what William James would call my habitual centre of personal energy. Experiencing growth within these fields evokes spiritual emotions of interconnectedness, possessing a niche from within which I can contribute to the whole field of well-being studies to enhance the quality of life for anyone interested in learning. William James says, “The saintly character is the character for which spiritual emotions are the habitual centre of the personal energy” Within these cognitive deficits I just happen to be pursuing fields of study that can illuminate the cause and solution of these exogenously induced deficits. This, in my perspective, is known as a synchronistic occurrence.

Synchronistic occurrences are not coincidence by any means, but more-so two occurrences that were meant to unfold in the exact way, the exact time and precise place that they did for a grand reason potent with meaning. Would overcoming a challenge of this nature, or would accepting the new state of cognitive functioning be better for my well-being and decisions responsible for my well-being in the future? Herein lies the quandary no doctor can give me the answer to- in reference of the epigraph- I must “live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self.” My true self, my habitual centre of personal energy can only live from this psychological present to the next with bright eyes, motivation and an open-mind. The quandary is one even I am unable to answer, but ironically, forgetting the quandary that is related to forgetting in the first place is rather elating in terms of my sense of well-being. Many of the sources perused on the topic of brain damage reversal indicated a requirement of a positive mindset- the belief that the damage reversal will take place. This is where utilizing philosophy really helps. A man can change his philosophy towards certain topics in life- such as the importance of memory for well-being and personality as life circumstances shift. Through this philoplasticity and our ability to cherry pick from different philosophies we can, by the end of the day, change the wiring of our physical brains due to changes in perspective towards difficulties, practicing calming techniques such as meditation, and the piece that brings it all together is neuroplasticity.

The right combination of changes as a result of philoplasticity and neuroplasticity could be all one needs to develop the habit of the aforementioned Learned Optimism. Learned Optimism, or the idea in positive psychology that a talent for joy, like any other, can be cultivated, is a key component in brain regeneration that can theoretically cause a cascading of cognitive reparations in conjunction with the appropriate building block supplements. These reparations include but are not limited to increased mitochondrial activity, unbundling of synapses and reparation of synaptic connections, growth of the hippocampus and balanced neurotransmitter release and recepting in the postsynaptic membrane. With that being said, I suppose all there is to ask now is; why not breathe happily, eat some vitamins, and lead a life worth remembering?  For those who thrive in a moment to moment life I ask; why not breathe happily, eat some vitamins, and live in the present moment wisely and earnestly as the Buddha would say? As mentioned earlier, a story is defined by change, significant moments, and most importantly endings. At the conclusion of one’s life, their final state of well-being is entirely contingent upon; not the circumstances or events themselves, but the individual’s response to these circumstances or events throughout their life.

Love and Light,

John Holloway


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