Who we think we are in this instant is only a collection of memories.
Who would we be without these memories? What would define us without them – our past choices, past consequences of those choices and what we considered or deemed “good” and/or “bad”?
Some memories we want to forget. They cause us discomfort or anguish and pain. But choosing to recall them with pain shapes who we are now and what we avoid. And other memories we recall with pleasure, joy and profound feelings of comfort. Those we carry with us too and they also influence our future choices and actions, even if they are inaccurate.
Yes actions often follow thought. Thought influenced by memory. Memory influenced by what?
There are several classifications or types of memories as well. Many are unconscious and are involved in learning activities and reveries. Others are conscious and as recent as a tenth of a second ago.
What is Memory?
Why do we have this gift; or curse depending upon the present circumstance? Why do many memories carry with them emotions? Can we change the emotions tied to a particular memory? Yes I think we can.
Who are you right now without any memories? You would be like an empty vessel. Without your memory what would you want, what would you need? New memories? What would you choose without any “past” influences?
You are neither in a “good” state nor a “bad” state; you are simply being in the world. Wipe out your memories and who do you have? No self – so would you even exist? Even our name, our individuality (our ego) wouldn’t exist without our memories of “who we are,were and who we plan on becoming”. Our ego is a construct, really. Memory comprised of neural nets comprised of smaller networks of atomic and subatomic networks. And if we include quantum theory and apply it here, can we not ask, “Is experience and the self merely quantum memories? Are we forgetting the laws of quantum mechanics when we theorize about consciousness?
Immanuel Kant wrote extensively on, “a priori knowledge“. In other words (to the best of my interpretation, as Kant was damned near impenetrable) a metaphysical (or transcendental) plane of knowledge, not memories, exists before or in front of experiential knowledge. It would seem that math, for example, is a body of knowledge that is universal in its application and seems to “have always been there” for us to discover. Or, is it also hinged on far away memories – all the way back to the big bang?
And what judges these memories and deems them good, bad and indifferent?
Is the act of judging separate from memory or is it a learned memory also? Let’s follow an example of the Buddhist method of nondiscrimination.
There lived an old farmer who had worked on his fields for many, many years. One day, his horse bolted away. His neighbors dropped in to commiserate with him. “What awful luck,” they tut-tutted sympathetically, to which the farmer only replied, “We’ll see.”
Next morning, to everyone’s surprise, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How amazing is that!” they exclaimed in excitement. The old man replied, “We’ll see.”
A day later, the farmer’s son tried to mount one of the wild horses. He was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. Once more, the neighbors came by to express their sympathies for this stroke of bad luck. “We’ll see,” said the farmer politely.
The next day, the village had some visitors – military officers who had come with the purpose of drafting young men into the army. They passed over the farmer’s son, thanks to his broken leg. The neighbors patted the farmer on his back – how lucky he was to not have his son join the army! “We’ll see,” was all that the farmer said.
So all these memories seem to serve some sort of purpose. But what?
…”relates physiological mechanisms to psychological behaviours through a process called perceptual categorisation. The function of perceptual categorization in the vertebrate nervous system is to maintain homeostasis between the internal and external environment. Perceptual categorization is the ability to selectively discriminate objects or events within an unlabelled environment. Edelman assumes that the resulting categories are useful to a given species and are adaptive. Perceptual categorization and concept formation (maps of perceptual maps) would not be adaptive to an animal in the absence of memory, an essential component of consciousness. Primary consciousness is the result of the dynamic interaction between ongoing perception and memory through the reentrant connections in the thalamocortical system. This evolutionary development has led to our ability to construct and form a meaningful picture of the world. Perceptual categorization is a process that both depends upon and leads to action within that scene. Edelman’s theory, of how this neural activity in the reentrant dynamic core phenomenally transforms into higher order consciousness, verges on the epiphenomenal. Though, he suggests that his theory eliminates this paradox when properly understood. Whilst Wider than the sky is his most accessible book, it still can lose the reader in jargon, as do his earlier works.”
(Edelman, G.E. (1987) Neural Darwinism: The Theory of Neuronal Group Selection. New York: Basic Books, 1987.)
Still, we are theorizing about consciousness and memory from within the cave – consciousness analyzing itself with itself…. are we able to truly be “outside it” and look at it in complete objectivity?
I’ve posed a variety of questions here, I know. I leave it up to you to decide which ones are rhetorical. I welcome your thoughts, impressions and theories on this matter of memory and what makes us who we are.
In Part Two, I’ll cover more ground in regards to Memory and the Self and draw possible conclusions to some of the questions I have asked here in Part One.