Situational awareness

Situational awareness exercises are used by the Navy Seals and other branches of the military. On request a seal must be able to describe the location of the doors and windows of the room in which he is sitting, along with other details that would be helpful to remember in order to make a quick escape in the event of an enemy attack.To get a feel for this, the next time you are in a restaurant, close your eyes for a few seconds and mentally picture the arrangement of the people sitting around you at the nearby tables. If you are like most people, you probably won’t do very well with this memory exercise the first time you try it. You have to train yourself to increase your attention to what’s going on around you. The goal is to employ your attentional focus in a manner of a search light scanning the night sky. The more you practice this exercise, the greater the breadth and depth of your memory. You will see more and remember more because at a given moment, your memory is encompassing larger swathes of your immediate surroundings.“If you are more aware of what is happening around you, you are not only experienced more in the present moment, you also have more memory content,” according to Mark Wittmann at the Institute For Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany.One step beyond situational awareness exercises directed outward are situational exercises directed inward. Situational exercises involving self-exploration are used in creative writing seminars. After encountering unfamiliar people in a social setting, the aspiring novelist is asked to incorporate them into the plot of a novel or short story. A similar method is used in the training of psychoanalysts. It is referred to as self-analysis. The first patient was none other than Sigmund Freud. No one analyzed the Meister. He analyzed himself via the associations suggested by situational exercise tracking of his thoughts.Our memories—the facts we know and the events we can recall from our past—form the basis of our identity. When we lose our memories, aspects of our identities change or totally disappear. “A person’s memory is everything, really. Memory is identity. It’s you,” writes novelist Stephen King in Duma Key.Since our identity is rooted in our experiences, the more experiences we can remember the richer our sense of ourselves. That explains why loss of memory is the most agonizing aspect of Alzheimer’s disease. The progressive memory failure that occurs in this dreaded disease destroys not only memory, but a person’s identity.But when you come to think of it, what makes you you? Philosophers have debated this conundrum for centuries. In the seventeenth century, John Locke defined identity in terms of memory. As he pointed out, recollection provides a thread connecting our past with our present. Most of us register our day-to-existence, our sense of self, from how we are today which, in most instances, is pretty much indistinguishable from how we experienced ourselves yesterday. But if we go back far enough, this continuity of self-experience becomes more tenuous or lost all together.In the 1970s, philosopher Derek Parfit argued that the links connecting our past to our present form memories like the links in a chain. In a phrase we remain “ourselves” because of the chain of experiences which becomes even more tightly bound by introspection and self-knowledge with our memory consisting of all of the links connecting our present to our past.The gist, then, is that memories are the basis for personal identity. In a later chapter, we will take up the price that must be paid in regard to our sense of selfhood if these memories either disappear or undergo drastic alteration.