"Building Memories" appeared in Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past in 1996. The author, Daniel Schacter, is an accomplished neuroscientist and a neuron-imaging expert. He is the chair person of the psychology department at Harvard University. Schacter attempted to explain how this phenomenon of human memorial storage and recall occur by including ideas from understandings of human learning and perception as well as emerging ideas about neural function. Many of these more theoretical concepts are intuitively demonstrated in the writing by Barry Lopez. It is as if "A Passage of the Hands" is a sort of neuroscientific self-report.
Schacter's theory states that our minds collect relevant information from our perceptions such that they are stored in such a way as to be modified by additional information in the environment. Encoding is the process by which the mind filters perception and determines what sense data is significant (Schacter 160). It may be interpreted as a way the subconscious attends to details in the environment in a way that delineates the most important things to the survival of the individual at any given moment. Elaborative coding is a way of remember things such that we include contextual clues to help connect impressions, images, words and skills into a viable comprehendible meaning (Schacter 162). It may even be termed as the process that occurs prior to short-term or working memory. Engrams are the semi-permanent changes in the nervous system that are the physical representation of memory in the body (Schacter 168). They are a subjective manifestation of our own experience. Retrieval cues arouse the recall of engrams (Schacter 173). It was originally thought that these cues simply call up the information stored verbatim, but it is now believed that they combine with them and become new engrams (Schacter 173). He expounds on these ideas even further in "Building Memories."
"A Passage of the Hands" by Barry Lopez illustrates Schacter's theory. Lopez is a contributing editor of Atlantic Monthly and Harper's and winner of the National Book Award. This essay appeared in About this Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory in 1977. Lopez recalls memories from various stages in his life using characteristics of his hands as retrieval cues. Being that Lopez tends to be a tactile fellow, a person used to handiwork - be it farm labor or professional writing almost all of the memories he describes in this work relates to sensations about his hands. Furthermore, the essay demonstrates how other senses are tied in with one another in memory. Clear tactile and verbal information are different, but as we read Lopez, we realize they are not mutually exclusive and that one may evoke the other as is probably true with our other senses as recorded in our memories.
Lopez is very attentive to the sense information he receives from his hands. Thus, many of his memories are encoded with manual information interlaced. That is to a say, whatever is ones most effective mode of learning will impact the information that is actually stored in engrams. He recalls how his hands look or looked how they feel or felt what they are or were doing. From these observations, more and more details spring from the repository from which his memory came. This is very similar the concept Schacter illustrates as elaborative coding (161). Lopez demonstrates in