Matthew Morvan
BASc Cognitive Science
BLUE Fellow
Exploring the boundaries and uses of memory
BLUE Fellow


Matthew likes to see his education as a large buffet of food. For most of his education he has been spoon- fed knowledge and the diet hasn’t always been very healthy. BLUE was the first setting for him to explore without constraints the extents of his interests all the while acquiring tools to better visualize how and what he wanted to learn for a balanced knowledge diet. His project explores the boundaries and uses of memory, which he based off the postulate that memories cannot be revisited exactly as they were lived—that they are rewritten every time they are revisited. Is memory without dreaming possible? Can we differentiate the two? Does it matter?

Modelling Memories for Change

Is memory without dreaming possible? Can we differentiate the two? Does it matter? Somewhere between the continuous stream of memory and the complex landscape of dreams originates the Australian aboriginal practice of “songlines”. “Songlines” evoke the perfect frequency, a wavelength to which if you are coupled, you can sing to your full potential. These “dream tracks” are woven across Australian land, marking the route traveled by creator beings. They are continually reconstructed in traditional songs, and knowledgeable people are able to navigate across Australia by rehearsing these songs which describe the history and location of landmarks, waterholes and other natural phenomena. Sewing a narrative between past, present and future these dreaming tracks manifest a sense of self in subjective time, a form of mental time travel which show how they have adapted their behavior to their environment, needs and ambitions.

My project starts with the intuition that as evoked in songlines, memories have flexibility and direction. We see memories as images scarred by the passage of time, continually rewriting new versions of past events to explain and suit the interests of the present. A desire to anchor what is fatally in motion, the desire to possess the presence of what is forever absent, willfully constructing a suspension of disbelief which will forge the illusion of reality from a stream of immobile representations. “Atemporal photography” stitched together with a soundtrack - static drawings labeled with a narrative.

The “Mnemetic dilemma”, an attempt at finding a criterion to differentiate memory from mere confabulation, was unintentionally illustrated weekly over my past two months at B21. Much as we rewrite memory every time we revisit it, every week I rewrote why and subsequentially what it was that I wanted to do for my Blue Fellowship project, perpetually narrating my time at B21 to bandage the gaps in my work and find a trajectory.

My initial question was: if remembering authentically is impossible, how do we reduce the forgetting? So, I initiated my exploration, mirroring my thought process onto maps, correcting the asymmetries between thought and visualization, and internalizing the new representation once again.

Memory Map 1 – The Vision: First was a strong bright vision of the diverse and interconnected facets of myself I wanted to nourish over my eight weeks of Blue, a concoction of various thought-lines, skillsets and meaningful projects to pursue. Among these were the actual B21 project as well as learning how to learn.

Memory Map 2 – First Attempt: The Vision was followed by a first attempt to visualize the steps that could lead me towards achieving my project. This was somewhat a very disorganized reading list towards The Vision.

Memory Map 3 – Anxiety: After the confusion of the First Attempt, some advising and digestion, I leapt into a massive third map. This was an ambitious attempt at visuospatially mapping a literature review of the concept of memory from the disciplines of psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy. A map so complex emerged that I lost sense of my progress and frustration rose; none of what I was reading had any trajectory any more, none of what I was reading was being embodied in my language and work – until a bifurcation point.

Memory Map 4 – Long Term Memory: Less popular than its counterpart, the “causal theory of memory”, which states that there is a memory trace connecting the original experience to the representation being recalled, “the simulation theory” states that we can at best recreate veridical confabulations of the past. Here, memories have a directive end where personal experiences and the rewards and losses associated with them can be used to create successful models, or goals, of behavior for the future - and the project took on a new direction again. Out of the complexity of Memory Map 3, emerged a new model. This was a highly organized distillation of Anxiety, a form of digested database of concepts on memory with many associations to further embedded maps.

Memory Map 5 – Working Memory: In systems thinking, the definition of a learning system is a system that is structurally coupled with its environment, where the internal organization of the system is the history of all its interactions with its environment. This learning can be represented in cybernetics as a balancing feedback loop with five components: a context/environment, a sensor, a comparator, a goal, and an operator (See the map aside). A good example of this feedback loop in motion is the thermostat. Say your goal is for a room to be 20°C, but it is currently 18°C. Your sensor collects that it is 18°C, presents it to the comparator, the comparator sees the 2°C difference between the environment and the goal, inputs it into the actuator, and the actuator bridges the gap. This loop arbitrarily represented my Working Memory. Inside this final Memory Map, I embedded concepts from the Long Term Memory in order for the final conceptual framework to become a modular pattern for learning across disciplines. I could input a concept from psychology into the sensor, a concept from organizational behavior into the comparator, a concept from philosophy into the goal, a concept from psychotherapy into the actuator, and out emerged cross-disciplinary questions, models and behaviors for learning. Remembering was no longer the opposite of forgetting, but rather its architecture.

Furthermore, as architects of our forgetting, we need these learning frameworks to be actionable on both a personal and group scale, therefore I added a database of workshops designed to guide an individual and organization at every step of the learning process. The new question was, what would it mean for individuals and groups to use the creativity of memory to avoid repeating past mistakes? So I had concretized a full visualization of my own memory and learning patterns over my eight weeks at blue. It embodied all the main theories from the three main discipline branches. From neuroscience’s theory of Hebbian learning - with associations getting stronger as more and more maps are embedded and connected to each other. To Psychology’s multi store model of memory - as Memory Map 4 became my extended and rigorously chunked Long Term Memory, and Memory Map 5 became a modular visualization of my Working Memory. To philosophy where the Simulation theory was proving that my past maps were acting as visual simulations of my past models to distill better learning behaviors.

I had gone from an original intention to model memories as accurately as I could to creating a tool for visualizing integrative and systematic learning on multiple scales; from a will to reduce forgetting to using the creativity of remembering for learning.

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