Friday, 10 April 2020

Unconsummated memories

Lent 2020 - Day 45

Pottering around in the kitchen, and *PAFF*. [For some reason, such memory events often happen while I'm by the worktops under the kitchen cabinets.] Convoy, a 1975 single that had left little impression on me, flashes, unbidden, into my stream of consciousness.


A few seconds pondering and I have the answer. It's an unconsummated memory. A little piece of some pop culture I'd absorbed decades ago, without digesting, without giving it any thought. Like a memory burp or hiccup. And now it's back. "...hippies in a chartreuse microbus..." Duly, I looked it up on Wikipedia, but I couldn't be bothered to play it on YouTube - it happened, it passed. Today I remembered it. I'm sure many of my readers alive at the time will also remember Convoy, though it was not for any of us a noteworthy song, it did receive plenty of airplay on the radio at the time.

Are we destined to remember everything, every song we ever heard several times? I noted at my grammar-school class's 50th anniversary reunion last September that there were events that I could remember but my classmates couldn't, ones that classmates could remember but I couldn't, and of course the ones that everyone could remember. Some memories can be easily called upon, others you'll say "Of course!" when someone else remembers - but the ones that interest me most are those that suddenly intrude into your train of thought unbidden.

As I was pondering about my sudden reminiscence of Convoy, it occurred to me that qualia, those moments of subjective experience, define most intimately who we really are. The sum of our conscious experiences, experienced purely, not through the filter of the ego.

For memory is selective, and yet it shapes who we are. We have a tendency to exaggerate, to story-tell, to create a bigger narrative around an event than it really merited - or talk down our own negative behaviour. Our egos, our biologies, driven by the reptile brain, forge narratives about our past that are often at odds with the pure experience of consciousness. An overlay; a crutch. Imagine Trump being confronted with the monstrous reality of what he really is - he couldn't. Instead the sick man creates for himself a comforting story of 'no one is better than me'. "No one has more friends than me - millions and millions of good friends".

We all have a bit of that narcissism in us, that ego that we need to learn to overcome.

The promotion of the ego, the glorification of gratification promoted by lifestyle advertising that bombards us ceaselessly is the materialism that distracts us from the deep search for meaning of our universe. From our own perspective, the entire universe seems to have been put into place with ourselves at its epicentre. If it were not for us to observe it - would it even exist? How can you be sure? Because as biological entities, in the grand scheme of things, we are insignificant. The existence of an incalculable number of stars that make up our universe puts  our day-to-day troubles into perspective. We need to be able to balance those two entirely contradictory positions - "My conscious self is at the centre of Universe, existing to experience it subjectively" - and - "In a Universe of a billion galaxies, each of a billion stars, my bodily ego is insignificant."

Our deepest, truest memories define who we are. What we know defines who we are. Cherish your memories. Consummate them. Especially those ones that come to you unbidden - those flashbacks to qualia - to those moments of absolute understanding and deep awareness. The texture of reality; snow crunching underfoot on a blue-sky frosty winter's morning; the smell of a fresh newspaper opened with a small espresso waiting on a copper table; the twinkling of stars seen from a mountainside on clear summer's night. Moments of pure awareness. Roll their memories around in your mind, savour their intensity, feel that's what it's like to be alive, to be conscious. The collected memories of joyous moments, moments of intense consciousness.

Deep memory - when memories from the distant past metamorphose into something more than synapses and neurons, taking on a supernatural quality - remains something beyond the ability of science to explain. It is metaphysical memory and will remain so.

At the heart of awareness lies a sense of purpose and understanding - your knowledge evolves, blossoms, expands, your consciousness takes on a many-layered structure. To be aware - to search, to be curious, put your ego - that most manifest representation of 'you' - in the back seat. Universally, your ego is insignificant. Your conscious being, however, is the most significant.

We each believe ourselves to be unique, and of course we are. But what is the source of our uniqueness - is it spiritual? Evolutionary? Extraterrestrial? All three? Extraterrestrial origins? Where do you think the heavier elements in your body have come from? The atoms of which we are made were originally created by fusion within stars many light years from here, billions of years ago...

So here we are. Some of us are aware of this fact, many of us, sadly, are not truly aware - the ego is in the way. Who am I? The essence of my me-ness resides within the long-term memories that remind me where I'm from.

Building my own religion, I would hold dear the sanctity of such memories, deep and true, those which have been consummated and those yet to be consummated. It has been suggested that no part of us, not so much as a molecule, was part of us nine years ago. If this is the case - where do memories from before nine years ago reside?

In his book Are We Bodies or Souls, Richard Swinburne devotes two chapters to how our personalities are formed through memories. He notes that there are no atoms in our bodies that have been a part of us for more than seven years, but that the present 'I' is a continuation of the old 'I', and that memory is the link. It defines the 'this-ness' of 'I', and this is, he says, the soul. I entirely agree. While believing that each morning we return to consciousness with our pasts nothing more than a tool-bag of practical experiences to be put to use in the future, I often react with embarrassment or shame at memories of an event from my youth that pops up, unbidden, in my consciousness. This proves to me my spiritual continuity; here I'm entirely in agreement with Prof Swinburne. However, my life-long anomalous unbidden memories of qualia from beyond my experience (xenomnesia - who knows? The past? Leaks from parallel universes?) cannot be dismissed. On I search!

Make the most of it while you can.

This time four years ago:
Speeches for Leaders, by Charles Crawford

This time last year:
In Memoriam - those who died at Smolensk

This time seven years ago:
Warszawa 1935: 3D film reconstructs lost city

This time eight years ago:
Cats and consciousness

This time ten years ago:
Smolensk - why did this happen?

This time 11 years ago:
Britain's grey squirrels turning red

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