Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] Your invisible signature

Maria Isabel Garcia

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[Science Solitaire] Your invisible signature

Illustration by DR Castuciano

If you and someone else go on the exact same trip together, it is certain that you would remember the same trip differently later. 

Different things strike each of us differently. Even when recalling the same movie or Netflix series, my best friend and I recall scenes with different intensities and degrees of emotional attachment. Ask your siblings about shared childhood memories and note the differences from the slight to the striking ones. 

This is because “memory” is NOT what happens to you but how you perceive what happened to you. And “perception,” as we all know from experience, varies across individuals. This is because we filter experiences through our senses, which are the frontliners of our perception. Then they get processed in our brains, which have been shaped by our own genes and unique individual life experiences. That is why each individual is a world unto themselves, and no matter how numbing it could sometimes be that statistics in the billions are shown when we talk about the massive scale of the impact of economics and politics in humans, we really do not know the absolute value of any person because each one is an infinite world of meanings unto her/his own. 

We know through observation and experience of our own lives and as witness to other people’s lives that we all remember differently. But recent research has found the signatures in our own brains that mark these unique stamps of experiences commonly shared. The researchers asked the participants to recall the 20 scenarios they have been earlier asked to vividly imagine, namely resting, reading, writing, bathing, cooking, housework, exercising, internet, telephoning, driving, shopping, movie, museum, restaurant, barbecue, party, dancing, wedding, funeral, and festival. They recalled these while hooked to brain scanning devices so that the researchers could see which brain regions were activated. Then the researchers asked them questions as to what they could sense in terms of these elements:  bright, color, motion, touch, audition, music, speech, taste, head, upper limb, lower limb, body, path, landmark, time, social, communication, cognition, pleasant, unpleasant. They found that there was no one-model-fits-all in terms of how we process “common” experiences.

In terms of what this means for work, this is maybe why Google’s multi-million dollar research found that “diversity” is key to having the “perfect team.” The more varied team members are, the richer and wider our range of perceptions are of the world and most likely, what our response will be. Even in the most solitary of professions – writing- it is “range” and how one reflects it in her/his own writing – that is the hallmark of writing worth its salt.

The older I get, the more refreshed I feel when I experience someone with a worldview that revises my own, which at my age, is not easy to overthrow. When I was in my 20’s, I seriously frowned at older people who would tell me or others my age: “Papunta ka pa lang pabalik na ko.” (You are just beginning your journey but I’m already on my way back.) Those people seem to think there is only one kind of journey, only one way to live. Those are the most frustrating people to get advice from, especially if you are just starting your own life.  I think it would be wise to socially distance from those people even after the pandemic.

Personally, these unique brain signatures is what animates our relationships. While birth, youth, prime, aging, and dying are rites of passage that we all share in common as humans, each of us mark and are marked by each, distinctly. And how we remember them, share them, guide how we live and thus, define in large part, who we are. 

This is why friendship is that human phenomenon that is a portal to being “many.” Engaging in genuine friendships with people from tribes other than the one you were born to or schooled in, multiplies you to more than just being an individual with a definite shelf life. Entering into friendships with individuals with their own unique signatures of perception expands our own perception of life-at-large. And that is how you show up in life – as someone beyond how the “givens” shaped you. 

So even in mostly virtual encounters with human beings now, never forget that each one has a unique brain signature of how they experienced this common pandemic of sorrow in the life of all humans now. Take the time to acknowledge it. It will make you “many.” –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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