Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Today, my power went off at 12:45 P.M. My only plan for the day was to write a bullet-proof blog post for this class. I was going to give up; but I am here at Starbucks with my slow  and ancient tablet. I have changed from a complicated  topic to an easier topic because it is dear to my heart( which is a reference to deep processing to be honest):

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you have not seen this movie, I demand that you stop what you are doing immediately and watch this movie right now. I cannot express how much I love this film. This movie evoked feelings I did not know I could feel. Lucky for me, I know this film well enough to use it  as an example to apply the principles of  cognitive psychology.

If you are a terrible human being who will not watch this movie and enjoy it, please google Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and read the summary, so I do not have to spend time explaining the premise and boring everyone through the process. The brief summary is that the main characters Joel (Jim Carey) and Clementine (Kate Winselt) attempted to erase each other from their memories after a terrible break-up. Cognitive Psychology explains how this attempt to erase a person from memory was an epic fail.

I think it is perfect how we are covering Chapter 7 now, and most of my points on memory-erasing comes from this chapter. Memory is a network. Memory is not a series of isolated thoughts. The retrieval paths, the associative links, meet together at nodes and continue to spread to other nodes, to create a “net”. Joel and Clementine were an intimate, romantic couple who lived together. Many memories are being intertwined. From sleeping to waking, if I remember correctly, the couple were lived together for two years, which to me, is a lot of time spent with another person. It’s enough time for daily habits to be associated with one’s romantic partner. Daily habits are “deeply” ingrained. I almost wrote my blog on how much my daily habits were disturbed due to the power outage. Every time I walked into the room, I still attempted to turn on the light though I knew the power was out. Turning lights is extremely automatic. I think this is an example “processing fluency”. The spreading activation is strong for automatic motions, like to turning on light switches. Living with someone else, you become accustomed to that other person, and memories of that person become intertwined with association links.

With all these associations in mind, imagine erasing a targeted memory. After removing the targeted memory, associations remain. In the movie, “Lacuna, Inc.” attempts  to correct this issue by asking their clients to remove all belongings that would remind them of the person being erased. That said, places cannot be erased. Sights,  sounds, smells, taste, touch, and feelings cannot be erased.

I bring up feelings not being erased to make another point. In the cases of H.M., Korsakoff’s syndrome patients, and amnesiac patients, explicit memory is impaired, but not implicit. To me, this is fascinating. These patients can remember without remembering! What a paradox! Within the impicit memory paradigm, is familiarity. In Chapter 2, we learned what happens when familiarity is impaired: Capgras Syndrome. The people we love are recognizable but they are not familiar. Now, we can imagine the reverse situation: seeing a complete “stranger” who is eerily familiar.

This is what happened in the film. The explicit memories were erased with no problem, but implicit memory remained in tact. Our hearts, or our  amygdala rather, cannot forget. Sorry, I icannot help but be cheesy. At the last second while Joel was erasing Clementine, she tells him to meet her at Montauk beach. When he wakes up, he meets her at Montauk for the first time, a second time.

This is the theme song, because music is life.

2 thoughts on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

  1. apelduna

    It has been a while since I watched Eternal Sunshine, but I, as you, was deeply moved by the film. I think most of us can relate to the gut wrenching feeling of losing love and wishing to erase all the memories of your past with that person just to be able to eliminate the pain you feel with those memories. I feel like all of the stimuli we associate with a loved one are affected by deep processing …smells, words, songs, food …everything becomes associated with an emotion or a profound experience. And like the movie illustrates, even when we think we’ve moved on and that we’re immune to feeling anything about the past or a love lost, the most random thing will initiate a cascade of memories and emotions. For me, it’s music and smells. It’s always amazing to me how my memory can be so terrible at times, but I can hear a song that I listened to with my high school boyfriend (which was about 20 years ago for me!) and it takes me right back there, to a memory so vivid it’s almost like a dream. I’m not sure if knowing how those stimuli and experiences are connected and intertwined through connections of neurons makes it a little less surprising or even more amazing. Knowing how sensitive our brains our to the most minuscule and faded stimuli, I’m going to go with even more amazing.

    1. jzaccagn Post author

      Hey, there!
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I hope I adequately explained why I think target memories would be so difficult to remove. Association links are just vast and being able to remove all of them and not taking away unrelated memories, too, would be difficult. All of our experiences are based upon memory upon memory. I think that is why I used the example of the senses. Senses, after all, are how receive information of the external world anyhow.

      I know EXACTLY what you mean about a certain smell and song sparking a cascade of vivid memories!! Similarly to Clementine, when I had a terrible break up 10 years ago (I am not too far behind you!), I attempted to throw out all of my music albums. Thinking about it….. I just remembered…my best friend and I put them in a box and set it on fire. We then read the Alexander Pope poem that quoted the phrase, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless” and then pushed the box into the river. Man, I am not sure if that “Viking Funeral” was a good idea looking back D: This might be a good example of Cognitive Psychology and retrieval paths, because I forgot about this memory until I sat down to respond to you!!

      oh, man, I got sidetracked. Where was I? One day I was walking passed the candles in Walmart and I was hit by a familiar smell. I had to stop and figure out what memory it was and where the smell was coming from. It was the smell of the dude I had just started seeing. I had to open all the candles to figure out which one it was. I actually ended up getting confused and never figured out which one it was; but I can tell you, Walmart has nice smelling candles! So, this partner is now dubbed the Dude who Burns Walmart Candles.
      Again, Thanks for your intelligent input! I appreciate!

      Julie Z
      PS: Truthfully, I hate Walmart. Pound Sign Mixed Feelings

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