Remembering My Father in the Garden:
My Experience of Guided Memory Visualization as a User in Prototype
The most sacred thing we possess is our memory. It contains our most cherished joy, it is the source of our greatest pain, and somewhere in between grows our identity. I believe that a new set of understandings in neuro-science, psychotherapy, and large language models offer the possibility of exploring memory to catalyze transformational experiences that have never before been possible. Think of a memory you hold dear. I’ve got one now of my father working in a garden on a weekend afternoon in the summer. I can actually see clover stuck to his temple by perspiration, I can see leafy green vines of tomato plants growing in wire mesh frames, I can smell the dirt, and feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulder. When I recall that memory, I feel the emotions stored with it — safety, belonging, curiosity, playfulness, contentment — and right now I feel a related set of emotions as a beholder of that past — nostalgia, wonder, sadness, tremendous love. I am seeking to hold on, to draw this memory close in case it vanishes. I don’t want to ever lose it, because somewhere in this memory is everything that this is good about being alive. As I am in this mode of recall, my body is reacting as if the physical experience is really happening: it is lowering my heartbeat, my breathing has slowed, my brain chemistry alters with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine which induces a feeling of satisfaction. My autonomic nervous system reacts to the act of remembering as if, in a sense, I really am back in the garden with my father. My mind is changing, physically. I am strengthening the neural configuration in my long term memory associated with this moment. I am stimulating neural plasticity, challenging my mind to evolve along a conduit associated with love, safety, well-being and comfort. These are new resources I carry with me as I am challenged in the future. Re-experiencing positive memories is one of the highest order joys of being alive. What if you could go further? What if you could use language to describe an autobiographical experience, like being with your father in a beautiful garden, and an empathic tool could use your language to generate a visual representation of that memory? What if you could use such a tool to process traumatic memories, re-encoding them in a non-threatening environment? What if you could experience fleeting, fragmentary memory as a solidified set of imagery that is yours to create, to explore and to share?
This is my father in the garden. I worked with Dall-E to generate it via and a process of trial-error-evolution. When I arrived at this image, I felt like the food critic in the Pixar film Ratatouille who tastes the soup, and is transported through a portal to his fondest childhood, like Proust dipping his Madeline cookie in tea. When I look at this image, which feels unique and wholly mine, I shift neural activity, from accessing long term memory — being a rememberer — to being a viewer. I am processing an image via the retina, which sends a representation of the image to the cerebral cortex where it is categorized as a novel object. As my brain processes this new image, it seeks context, and discovers an association with an important experience from my long term memory, which is vividly encoded with emotion. This prototyped experience stimulates multiple parts of the brain — long term memory, language, affect, image processing, autonomic nervous system — in a way that has never before been possible. I believe that this is an unprecedented cognitive process, with unprecedented potential for growth, connection, recovery, and joy.
This is a representation of one of my father’s precious childhood memories.
After I created the image of my father in the garden, I immediately wanted to share it with him, my mother, my sister, and I suppose I want to share the experience of creating such a thing with other people to make their own version of a talismanic, sacred objects of the memory. Using Neural Field Imaging, you could extrude such an image as a 3D environment. You could create a space to explore and share… a physicalization, in a sense, of what has remained fragmentary for all of human history. I believe the tool holds value in terms of individual experience, in a setting with a romantic partner, in small groups, in a guided therapeutic settings, and even in large group settings in a live event or festival environment. Enterprise configured as a Benefit Corporation. The economic model is threefold: • Individuals / Partners and Couples / Small Groups. Transactional model to access the tool, subscription model to store and share Mnemonic Artifacts. • Guides / Therapists / Facilitators / Institutions. License model. • Large Groups / Live events. License model with revenue share. We live in a time that is full of pressure tactics to draw our attention away from who we really are, to abandon memory in favor of quick reaction. We have constructed an ecosystem of anxiety. This project intends to offer a space of tremendous energy to explore your past, your identity, the deepest parts of yourself that you want to get back in touch with, to share with loved ones, to heal and process, or simply to savor and enjoy.