Deconstruction East and West

Memory Is Not a Time Traveler


It is critical to deconstruct memory in order to see that it does not inherently exist.  Memory is often viewed as a time traveler that can mentally revive the past and display it to the present. This notion of memory as a kind of temporal glue, convincingly adds to the illusion of the separate continuity of a self.

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1.  Memory is always a memory of something.  Both the memory and the objects of memory are mutually dependent. Memory depends upon objects that are not considered memory.  Therefore, memory cannot have its own separate nature. To say that memory is empty means that it lacks such inherent existence, that it is unable to be established In and of itself.

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2.  For memory to exist in and of itself, would be pointless. Memory cannot be its own object.  Instead, memory must be related to what is not itself in order to be considered memory.  What would it even mean for memory to remember itself?

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3.  Memory does not involve an autonomous faculty or substance, but is an interrelated function without ever becoming an independent entity that stores experiences.  Even though neural activity can be described, its function is not contained.  The perception of what is not memory, such as places, are also integral conditions for memories to arise. Memory is not separate from life events as if it stores a past, but is a continuous process of re-creation as an interrelational movement.

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4.  If memory was an independent and fixed storehouse of past experience, memories could not be presently remembered, new memories could not arise, and memory would therefore be irrelevant to what was occurring.  In other words, memory could not function.  Because memory does not exist separately but is related to everything else, the process of remembering can conventionally be said to occur.

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5.  Memory cannot contact a intrinsically separate past because there isn’t one. If the past and present were two inherently divided movements, or if they were inherently the same, nothing could change.  Put differently, if the past and present were either fundamentally divided or identical, then the sequence in which phenomena dependently relate to each other, which is known as time, could never be recognized.

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6.  Past and present are interrelated phenomena.  The past lives in the present and is not inherently separate from it.  To speak of the past or present are relational, mere conventional designations.  What is remembered is not removed from present conditions as a separate entity.  Therefore, memory cannot ultimately look back upon or revive an original event.  The past is always being revised.  The revision of the past is called the present.

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7.  Being a relational movement, memory does not endure in itself. What appears as repetitive memories result from the regularities of conditions. Memories, are like flickers of a flame that change every instant, but that continue in dependence upon conditions as a kind of synthesis of disintegration and formation.

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8.  To ask what happens to memories that are forgotten is an unanswerable question because memory never existed in and of itself to begin with.  For if you clear away all of the conditions that memory depends upon, there is no memory left over.  Because memories do not create themselves, or continue as themselves, they are neither born nor disintegrate in and of themselves.

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9.  The relationship between memory and emotion, falsely add to felt impression that when experience is remembered, that it is has been revived. The so-called neurosensory human organism responds to memory thoughts in ways that are similar to present experience, as it must. After all, memory is present in all experience as there is no memory located in a past that is no longer.~

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10.  Endless, related conditions allow for the function of memory that are not themselves considered memory.  These include sensory perception, cognition, emotion, culture, neurons, nutrients, the cosmos, ad infinitum. These conditions are also empty of a separate, independent nature. Memory is also a condition for mental functioning.  For “to know” is to remember.
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11.  Memory not only depends upon the relational functioning of a brain, but changes it in return.  A brain is not a fixed entity either. Its function depends upon the distal property of oxygen for instance. What are considered to be intrinsic physical and mental entities are in the end, abstractions in a sea of interdependencies.
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12.  Memory involves a mental image that makes it appear as “mine.” Yet as memory cannot be singled out, it cannot truly be owned.  It makes conventional sense to refer to “my memory,” but not as an objective fact. Since memory exists relationally and not singularly, it can only be a relative function, and therefore cannot escape the designation of the narrative.  Memory does not stand to the side objectively retaining or reliving life events.  There is no such independent witness.~
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13.  The key is not to dismiss memory as a total fabrication, but as lacking inherent existence.  It is to see its mode of existence as dependently produced and therefore empty of an independent essence.  It is precisely because memory is dependently arisen and therefore empty, that remembering can occur.  For if memory existed independently, it wouldn’t relate to anything.~

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14.  Memory is an interreflective movement rather than existing as an entity. And as memory is unable to establish its autonomy, so the object of memory cannot be established either.  It is not a copy of what exists out there.  What we call memory is dependent upon countless conditions and thus nonlocal and indefinable.  Therefore, memory is only a conventional, nominal characterization.
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“Memory as an act of being is inscribed in traces, or survivals of a past, which mark every ongoing inscription. It does not have any concrete existence in itself and it is always contiguous to the act of being narrated.  Memory is discontinuous and always related to the act of being narrated.  We have the illusion that memory carries duration, but the legitimization of memory is in the act of the narrative itself. We just have the illusion that memory, like narrative, holds continuity.”
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                                   Quotation by Myrian Sepulveda Santos
“Can We Tell Stories Out Of Our Memories?
 The Contributions of Derrida and Benjamin”

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JacquesDerridaScript2

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Additional References:

Nagarjuna’s “The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”
With Translation and Commentary By Garfield, Jay L. (1995)

Derrida, Jacques, “Mémoires pour Paul de Man” (1988)

Photo credit (top photo):

AP Photo/New York City Municipal Archives, Borough President Manhattan

3 Responses to “Memory Is Not a Time Traveler”

  1. ~riverflow

    Susan, I forget now where I read (or heard) this, but it was something to do with neuroscience– that every time a particular memory is “accessed” the mind is actually accessing the memory of the memory, which means each time it is accessed it is being modified. So a memory that is continually recalled is not a stable, unchanging mental film of an event. So there is no continuity in memory– it is almost as if we are playing the :”telephone game” with ourselves! We never quite remember anything like the “actual event” (more precisely, there never was an “actual event” to begin with, in any objective sense).

    It reminds me of making copies of cassette tapes and making copies of those copies, and how with each copy, the sound became more distorted and hiss became more intrusive, masking the recording itself.

    Reply
    • Susan Kahn

      Yes Josh, neuroscience has come to this conclusion, kind of. It had been believed that memory is localized, stored like a picture within a certain area of the brain, however this was found to be untrue. Now neuroscience says that memory involves the entire brain including vision, emotion, cognition, etc., and not stored at all. Everything about so called memory is dynamic. The quantum physics model of the hologram was first based upon this finding. Nagarjuna reasoned that mind (which would include memory) could not be separated from objects of consciousness or objects of memory, which is why memory must be empty of an intrinsic nature.

      So memory is but a word to describe an ultimately indescribable process.

      Reply

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