Turned pages o(ve)r time machines?
The human brain is a maze. Everyone knows that by now. Even the people who study it extensively on a daily basis admit that there’s not enough time in the world to discover it to its entire potential. Speaking of time, “time travel” is a concept so intriguing yet painfully far from reach for today’s scope of scientific reality. But is it really? Don’t we all have our own collection of time capsules consisting of carefully collected gifts, antiques, books, photographs and even abstract triggers like sounds and scents to take us back to a time in our lives which we get to experience all over again? Were we all born with a fully-functioning-personalised time machine in our heads this entire time?
As a neuroscience doctoral student specialising in behavioural memory, I couldn’t help but be awed at the way our brain has been intrinsically programmed to associate stimuli like an odour or a colour with pain thereby conditioning our neural circuits to completely avoid that trigger altogether. But interestingly enough, right from mice to Humans, the effect of repeated doses of pain typically ensues the same result- numbness. Or rather, in scientific terms, “reduced avoidance behaviour” where the organism begins to respond less and less when trained meticulously to endure a certain threshold of pain. The shock factor becomes less and less pronounced and the response turns weaker and weaker until entirely diminished.
Now as dangerous and morbid as that might sound, i decided to not perceive it as something necessarily negative. As healthy and essential as pain is in order to address where exactly the damage has occurred, the next inevitable step towards cure is numbing; for however long it may be required. And to me, that numbness was achieved when i began going through my old journal entries repeatedly which were also ironically enough, my initial sources of pain. Coming to think of it, It isn’t very different from a rat and the sound of a bell which is usually followed by an electric shock. Except in my case, i was the rat choosing to ring the bell.
We don’t give nearly enough credit to the art of journaling and how cathartic it is to record one’s thoughts and feelings at the exact moment one felt it. Sure, we have memories which do the exact same job in our heads, right? Absolutely. But here is the twisted thing about the way memory works. It slowly morphs into a bag of rotten lies when mixed with a sudden bout of nostalgia making everything seem extremely skewed and not to mention, confusing. It is scarily amazing how your own mind can create multiple versions of a single event based on how you choose to feel at that particular instant. And to me, journaling (in any form) is the only solution to this conundrum. It is authentic, it is raw and definitely irreversible. And sometimes, going back in time to read what you felt at a time when your life played out completely differently could be the best personal time traveling experience. No amount of social media facade or lengthy captions to pictures from 3 years ago can level up to the authenticity of what you’ve written for yourself when the audience is also, just you.
And let’s face it, as open as we all are to external advice, there is nothing more reassuring than reading a chapter of your own life when you were ecstatic or miserable only to realise how things changed in the course of the next few pages.There is a feeling of association and hope. You begin to realise how you may have completely different views on the matter now or how differently you recall that incident in today’s version. it becomes all the more clear that your life is actually a one of a kind novel barely revealing half of its cover to the rest of the world. You get to see the protagonist picking up the pieces again and moving forward with their life as he/she has always done. It makes them seem powerful. it makes them a reliable source of inspiration. it convinces you to root for them. To root for yourself.
So to answer the focal question- Yes. Time traveling isn’t impossible. We’re all traveling through time everyday but not paying enough attention at the signals to look back on how far we’ve come. Journaling, to me is equivalent to stopping for fuel recharge at multiple points along the way. It inevitably gets you rejuvenated and addicted to the feeling of being more present in your own life and making the journey a bit more worth reading every single day. Funny how it all leads back to the present even when we try so hard to cling to the past or solve how it all would tie up in the future. Until then, let’s keep the pages turning and the fuel pumping.