Home » Intrinsic nature of his art » JEAN SHEPHERD-Trivia, “just in case”

JEAN SHEPHERD-Trivia, “just in case”


“I’ll award the brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me…”

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

Brass Figlagee With…

The brass figlagee, with its made-up silly word, is a Shepherd invention, poking fun at the world of real awards given for real accomplishment….Within the same sphere of humanity’s array of foible-filled activities, there lies the peculiar fascination with trivia, often arcane and frequently inconsequential detail.[See EYF! starting on page 105 for more detail.]

i love trivia cup

How the Brain Stores Trivial Memories, Just in Case

The above is the title of an article about a new study “that suggests that a surge of emotion can make the old newly relevant.” New York Times, 1/22/2015 article by Benedict Carey. Shep would have loved it, especially the bizarre aspect of how the study was conducted: conducted at NYU, it consisted in part of people being connected to a “Pavlovian fear conditioning machine.” Yes. The article begins:

The surge of emotion that makes memories of embarrassment, triumph and disappointment so vivid can also reach back in time, strengthening recall of seemingly mundane things that happened just beforehand and that, in retrospect, are relevant, a new study has found….

The findings fit into the predominant theory of memory: that it is an adaptive process, continually updating itself according to what knowledge may be important in the future.

The new study suggests that human memory has, in effect, a just-in-case file, keeping seemingly trivial sights, sounds and observations in cold storage for a time in case they become useful later on.

trivia diagram cartoon

Trivia is not Trivial

“I’ll award the brass figlagee with bronze oak leaf palm to the first person who can tell me…”

010_Brass_Figlagee CROPPED

“Shepherd, with his pleasure in details, and his

insistence that there is often more to life

than most of us perceive, delighted in showing off

his knowledge and his ability to make

unexpected connections.”–[See my EYF! pages 106-110.]

Those doing the scientific study were lead by a postdoctoral fellow in cognitive neuoroscience. The study involved watching photographs scroll by on a computer screen and being subjected to shocks that were “uncomfortable but not painful.” The memory effect in humans is referred to as “retroactive consolidation.” I suggest that, had Shepherd become aware of such a study, he would have laughed/groaned, and would have been satisfied, rather than be a lab specimen subjected to uncomfortable–but not painful shocks–satisfied with his own un-induced “retroactive consolidation.”

“Now stop a minute here, madam, stop–these little bits of trivia–you begin to see that they do have a universality and some kind of a deep, sinister meaning.” Shepherd, March 3, 1961.



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