My obsession with memory
Updated: Sep 11
"To my mind, it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives. But it is something you cannot possibly escape: your psychological make-up is such that you are inclined to look back over your shoulder."
I was unfortunate as a child, to have had a bone disease. Put simply, my hip joint, the ball of the leg bone, rotted. It disintergrated. It was en ex-hip.
I felt the problem as a pain in my upper leg muscles whilst on a holiday trip. After visiting a doctor, we rented a wheelchair, the pain was intense enough, and hoped it would alleviate the problem. It didn't. So we went for x-rays. There was nothing on the muscle. Then the doctor had a hunch, and x-ray'd the hip. Bingo. In full monochrome. Perthes Disease. Prevalent in Toddlers, not 8 year old boys. Half of the head of the bone, the ball, was gone. The problem was I was growing, the bone would grow. But also disintegrate at the same time.
The solution was an extended time in hospital, breaking the bone, rotating it and setting it in a new position. I would be able to walk, but would never again be able to rotate the leg, to sit cross legged. But being able to walk again is a massive win. We'll take it.
All good. Then the unthinkable happened. A month after being released into society, I was run over by a truck. A coma. More pain. More time in hospital, lots of complications to the previous surgery.
And that is where I woke up. After receiving concussion, the memories had been smacked out of me. This was the new me.
This photo below is not me - but might as well be. I have the same hip joint, same screws, same hip plate. I just can't find workable x-ray pics.
So get to the point...
Everyone's personality is defined by their environment, by the people they associate with. Those shared experiences.
So I had a lot of time to think. You can only live in fear of the next uncontrollable spasm of pain for so long. I had sparse memories of my parents. Almost none of my brother and sister. No friends I could remember. No experiences. I knew I was colourblind. I knew I found that out because the other children had laughed at my picture of a chicken that I had coloured pink. I knew that because my parents had told me that is what happened. I remember them telling me, I do not remember the incident.
At what point does something become real? If memories are so transient that you can change a memory in your mind over a longer period of time, and convince yourself that that memory is real, that it happened, is the same not also true?
If I couldn't remember my past, my parents, my family, were they ever real? The reality of my parents and my family are those people that I met for the first time upon waking. When I die, those memories will die with me. If I am outlived by my brother and sister, they will remember only those moments of my life that they have committed to memory.
And this is the problem.
They will not remember those elements of me that they missed. They will miss me being diplomatic, kind, angry, frustrated. They will remember snatches of moments.
If one believes in a life after death, a moving on, based on experiences during life, a reward or a punishment, a collection of those memories is required. A judgement would have to be made on the entirety of a person's life. An all seeing god is a nonsense speculation. No entity could process the diverse range of every living things life, it's thought processes etc. No. It could summarize from a "download" of that living beings memories.
And that's where I started worrying.
The Sadeiest - Tom
I created a character in The Sadeiest that is undergoing exactly this problem. Tom is deliberately flawed, in that he cannot retain memories. He has no memories of self image, of experiences. He is so damaged, he even forgets recent conversations.
So what is there to judge? How can a person that cannot remember the sins they have commited, possibly repent?
Tom, in part, springs from my mother, who has Alzheimer's disease. The woman that was once my mother is there. And we love her for our memories of her - but she has none of us, that we can interpret. No knowledge of our names, our relationship to her, our non - threatening intentions.
Tom is not my mother, he was invented long before my mother showed signs of Alzheimer's. But she has informed his speech patterns. His wandering attention.
Taking the argument above, if a person is wiped of memories (as I know is possible), should they be held accountable for their previous sins? It's an awful question. What about the serial killer that has an accident in jail and wakes up a new man? Do we continue to punish him? The body is his but the mind is a new person. We are punishing the memory of what his body did, not the mind itself, which has died.
There can't be any answer that is fair to the victims of such a person, of course. The punishment was judged to be necessary. That's how it is. But let's go back to that all seeing god, when that serial killer dies, and download his memories. What's that God going to find?
Memory is the same as your computers, It can corrupt, be changed, be false. There can only be one conclusion. We have to believe what our memories tell us, at the time we are informed by them. Even if everyone else's memories are informing them that we are making a mistake. My mother, in her world, is right to ask who I am, because we have never met before. And it is my responsibility to reply that I am Austrian, and it lovely to meet her, and bury my own memories deep down where I do not reference them, because to do so would cause her suffering, pain, and self loathing.