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35,000 Days on Earth
  1. Matthew C Kiernan
  1. Correspondence to Professor Matthew C Kiernan, Brain and Research Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2040, Australia; matthew.kiernan{at}

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Late last year, in the strange gloaming hours that wrest all rational thought from an otherwise rational mind on the tortuously long trans-Pacific flight between Hong Kong and New York, I found myself watching one of the most compelling films I have ever seen. It was called 20,000 Days on Earth — a pseudo-documentary of the life of singer Nick Cave. The story was mesmeric, but it was Cave's ruminations on human thought that so captured my attention.

“Memory is what we are,” he said. “Your very soul, your very reason to be alive is tied up in memory.”

This deceptively simple concept created a catalyst in my jet-lagged, travel-weary brain. First, I thought, can a memory ever be truly collective or is it simply an amalgam of everyone's own stories? And second, does it only become a story when you tell and retell it?

Over the course of that 17 hour flight, I had plenty of time to calculate that the JNNP was approaching its own milestone—35, 000 Days on Earth—and that it in fact could answer …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.