Memory and the Futility of Containment on a Smaller Scale

In class we discussed how Zone One deals with containment and how it can often be futile. The one main example of containment and its futility that I saw in the novel connected with one of our course concepts, memory. Mark Spitz mentions how, in this post-apocalyptic landscape, it’s necessary to only worry about the immediate future, otherwise, you’re not going to survive. He tries to contain himself in the present moment as much as possible but memory makes this effort futile. Mark is continually dragged back into the past, seeing and, more importantly, remembering faces of people he had “known or loved” in the zombies, such as his past teacher, Ms. Alcott. Even when survival requires living in the moment, the past still upwells in the form of memory. No matter how hard Mark, or anyone else, tries to contain themselves in the present moment, past experiences force themselves into consciousness.

Zone One deals with containment and memory on the level of individual people, but after doing some interdisciplinary research on memory, it turns out these concepts also apply to people on a much smaller scale: cells. A Cornell University neurobiological research study on rats shows that special donut-shaped cells “remember” chronic stress resulting in changes of the hormone epinephrine’s (aka adrenaline) release. According to the study, everyone has varying responses to stressful situations due to lifestyle, heredity, etc., but they all lead to the release of epinephrine and the familiar “flight or fight” response via the special cells. When someone is faced with chronic stress, say in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, the donut shaped cells will remember the continued release of the epinephrine. This “molecular memory” as the article calls it, changes the way epinephrine is dumped into the blood stream, causing surges that make the body respond to less stressful situations with greater intensity. In other words, the individual cells remember the stress, this then affects the mechanisms that limit hormone release, resulting in more epinephrine released via the donut-shaped cells even for minimally stressful situations. From a hormonal/neurobiological standpoint, the idea of containing oneself to the present is shattered by memory, even for cells. This study shows that while memory is typically only thought of at the level of individual people, this course concept also extends on larger and smaller scales, affecting people’s lives in more ways than one.

N.B.– A  study by David S. Goldstein discusses this adrenal response to stress more in depth, as well.

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