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Humans and Nature through Memory and Encoding

smartinez's picture

Selena Martinez

Rina Patel

Paper #8



Connection between Humans and Plants through Memory and coding

  • (I think the connection is going to be simply between the mother and the seeds, it could be stated later maybe next weeks paper how the connection between the mother and the seeds allows a healthy connection to the present day allowing her to fully function with others.)


In Ruth Ozeki’s novel All Over Creation Lloyd, Yumi’s father, begs Yumi to stay in the following quote, “He stared into his hands, as though the key to his failure lay in the lines of his upturned palms. “Not for me,” he said. “For your mother. If I can’t take care of her, they’ll put her away. She won’t have her garden. Her seeds. They’re all she remembers, Yumi”(104). A connection is emphasized between the sanity of Momoko and her seeds through the use of memory. For years now Momoko has been struggling with dementia having to label household items in order to be fully functioning in the present, but this was not the case when it came to seeds and gardening. The psychological definition of memory according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms”. Memory can be triggered through any of the five senses, but depending on how and where that memory is encoded in the brain will further affect if this memory will become a short term memory or long term memory. Remembering has been found to be state-dependent allowing the accessibility to a memory to be stronger when accessed with the same state of mind that was active when the memory was first created. Momoko has built her entire life around her garden, literally breathing and eating these wonderful creations, by investing so much emotional labor into gardening she creates this intense emotional state which creates that strength for remembering.

(expand how these memories go into the contact zone) -- P 124 connection

The contact zone between Momoko and the garden creates strong memories, by her having these memories she can be somewhat functional. She may not know the difference between her couch and the ceiling (pg. 117) but she can continue to work and distribute what she grows. This further creates contact zones with other people and by her having some sanity, she can carry a normal conversation because she has essentially become an expert through this garden. The seeds may not hold memories since they cannot but in a metaphorical way they do because they represent all Momoko has ever known. The seeds literally keep her going. (insert quote P.124: “We can all learn, Frankie, and that’s the marvel! The pea trains the farmer, and the Farmer trains the pea. The pea has learned to taste sweet, so that the farmer will plant more of it. Vegetables are like a genetic map, unfolding through time, tracing the paths that human appetites and desires have taken throughout our evolution. It’s the coolest thing.”)

  • P.124: “We can all learn, Frankie, and that’s the marvel! The pea trains the farmer, and the Farmer trains the pea. The pea has learned to taste sweet, so that the farmer will plant more of it. Vegetables are like a genetic map, unfolding through time, tracing the paths that human appetites and desires have taken throughout our evolution. It’s the coolest thing.”
    • For us software is complicated but efficient - Poet verses engineer - but we can’t apply that to the plants because like poems each are unique in a way
    • learned behaviours become memories
    • Yumi’s mom LEARNED the seed names which she then memorized


Anecdote: A girl in my customs group was showing off her amazing computer science abilities. She had coded a program that produced pig drawings upon clicking the screen. When someone asked if the pigs could change color she simply plugged in a few numbers and symbols and the pigs were different colors. In life though, we can not change things by altering a few symbols. In Ruth Ozeki’s novel All Over Creation Geek draws a parallel between genetic engineering and software coding. Arguing that by inserting different genes into plants we alter their “code” for them to grow how we want. Almost as easy as it was to change the pig colors.

  • P.124 “Symbionts. We depend on plants. They depend on us. It’s called mutualism. The balance between nature and culture”
  • P.124 “All other plants, too. Each one is a complex software program and so are we. And the really wild part is we’re all Interactive!

The overall point would be to combine the idea of memories to the idea of the complexity of encoding and how these two despite the major differences are functions that allow interconnectivity. The plant is encoded to function through photosynthesis. This provides humans with oxygen and a source of nutrients. By memory being encoded in the human, action will then be taken to remember which plants or seeds are most important. Through habit, memory will strengthen and natural selection will go into effect as well creating a narrow group of plants and seeds. For Momoko the seeds are encoded in her memory and through natural selection the seeds are encoded to function a certain way to survive. They both benefit each other.


smartinez's picture

Although we're writing this paper together, there are some parts that I would like to start rethinking.  I'm not exactly sure where to go with the encoding on behalf of the role that the seed is supposed to play. Because they are technically not a thinking species we may not be able to fully apply the idea that they want to taste sweet in order for the farmer to continue to grow them. However I think we can continue to play off the idea of encoding by comparing it to the complexity of relationships that are created and the different types that exist. I think that a big part of encoding has to do with both ends, how they deliver and recieve. 

Anne Dalke's picture

Rina, Selena--
WOW. Very ambitious! Let’s see if I can break it down,
help you figure which of your many roads you might want most to walk down….

Your key term is ‘coding’—of plants and of humans: we’re all “complex software programs,” born with a genetic map. Memory (for humans, not plants?) comes later, is added, re-wires (“recodes”?) the program, helps to stabilize it…? The loss of Momoko’s memory is an index to her decline, as a human being--but it also threatens the loss of the seed bank, of a rich repository of cultural and natural history.

I’m not understanding (yet) the relationship between encoding and interconnectivity—is that too much of a reach for these 3 pp? I guess the seeds are what Momoko remembers, and they are also what help her remember—and if she forgets them, they will not be preserved, so her memory serves them, too…?

What I am most interested to know more about, now, is the difference between what it means for a plant to have a “memory” (does that word even work?)--which tells it when and how and where to grow--and what it means for a human being to have one (and to lose it…can plants lose theirs?)

This seems a very rich intersection of human and plants… I actually think you could spend the whole paper unpacking p. 124. I’m particularly interested in your notation that p. 124 is about a “contact zone”—this intrigues, since it seems (at least explicitly) to be about “symbiosis,” “mutualism,” “the balance of nature and culture”—no indication of power imbalances, or translation across difference…?
But maybe (again?) too much to do for these 3 pages…?

Things that need working on for next Friday: a catchy title. A claim (not just a comparison). And structure, structure, structure: how will you organize this logically? The richness of your topic will make this a challenge!