Memory and Landscape

"What is memory?" is not a simple question. In neurophysiology, memory is the storage of past information that can be retrieved when a signal is sent to the memory blocks. Memory is fundamental for our life because it links together processes and allows one to use past experience in a new condition. Memory to our brain is like soil to plants.

The memory of the landscape resides in our culture and is accumulated in the physical world. For instance, soil is the recent memory of bio-physical processes. A deep soil has a more long-term memory, and sedimentary rocks have a very old memory. "Fragments" of atmosphere can be detected inside the Antarctic ice pack, representing a memory of the time a thousand years ago when the ice pack first formed.

Memory accumulates events everywhere. Only a new process at an infinitesimal unit of time has no memory. The accumulation of events and materials shapes the landscape. The landscape has a memory accumulated in physical as well as cultural domains. Often some types of memory are hidden and cultural mechanisms are necessary to rediscover and interpret the accumulated information. The terracing in many mountain regions is an example. The patterns of terracing cannot be immediately explained, but rather it requires the knowledge of past land use. At the same time a charcoal plaza across beech forests of the northern Apennines is not recognized by tourists that are in transit. The pollarding of the past can be observed today as a stand of strange trees; in reality the tree shapes observed today are the result of past use of these trees.

A landscape is like a roof composed of tiles. Every tile is posed on the margin of a precedent tile. Often the evolution of the culture decouples patterns from processes, exposing the landscape to an apparent novelty. Like tiles allow water to flow, at the same time the landscape tiles allow the landscape processes to move forward. Memory is the accumulation of remnants of past processes not included in the reorganization of present-day processes. This distinction is not easily to be proposed, because there is a duality in the memory: first, a new process starts using as its basis an old one (implicit memory like a universal value): secondly, the new processes can use only a part of the past elements that persist or better survive to the new one (witness memory). Of course the importance of the first memory is larger than the second, but nevertheless the witness memory often is very important for our cultural memory too! Humanity needs to maintain a relationship with the past and our distinction of time in past, present and future is strategic for our actions and for our mental health.

The present-day landscape is inside a temporal domain that is contained in an asymmetric window, with the larger part open to the past (memory) and a narrow window projected into the future (Fig. 2.7).

Memory is not a place in which to draw up elements (processes, entities) but an organizational status that influences further successive status. The irreversibility of organization is easily demonstrated. An old tree can't be reduced to a young tree! Apparently a forest can be reduced by fragmentation to small portions of isolated trees as in the early successional stages, but this is not a primary succession. It is a fragmentation process, very different from the secondary succession, although the resulting patterns are very similar. Organizing procedures involve the investment of free energy that is captured inside a structure. When organization is dismantled, energy is released by the change in entropy. The balance between the two opposite and contrasting trends is obtained by the use of energy.

Active temporal domain

Fig. 2.7 Processes of the


Future future. This requires memory and prediction that delimits a temporal window present day need a tail from the past and a head in the

Future memory

Present prediction memory

Present prediction

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