The theme of this post is about remembering and forgetting, for a number of reasons I suppose. I didn’t forget to publish a post last week, but was absent, away from my everyday for several days, remembering how to ride a horse (hence the picture of me and my trusty mount Tex, a slightly cantankerous nine-year-old gelding who loved to snack on the abundant flowers). Forgetting often overtakes us on many different levels.
Plato’s fascination with theory was an early way out of the direct experience of being human. Thinking about our human experience is a well-recognized way of distancing ourselves from that experience (even if we don’t think about it in those terms) and is itself a form of forgetting. Recent works in neuroscience continue to wrestle with the theory of what it is to be conscious. A recent favorite of mine is Phi: A Voyage From the Brain to the Soul (2012), by professor of psychiatry Giulio Tononi. His work is well-written and artfully illustrated and I liked especially his chapter 17 entitled “Galileo and the Bat: In which it is feared that the quality of experience cannot be derived from matter.” In the nine page chapter, Tononi tells the story of the cave (hey, doesn’t that sound like Plato?) and the demise of the bat who was one of its inhabitants. It is a beautiful illustration that questions how science can describe consciousness – either as a measure or a quality. And further – what can determine it (consciousness) when we humans share the same basic infrastructure or what would seem to be the physical architecture of awareness but that gives rise to so much variation. Where I part ways with this is in the search for the piece of the brain that contains consciousness, the idea that the quality of consciousness is still determined by some quantity or configuration. I think this has been previously attempted . . . !
So, if I might suggest an antidote to all these measurable, reducible, objectified search tools, try The Reign of Quantity and Signs of the Times, by Rene Guenon. I don’t pretend to understand or agree with much of what he had to say, but I do think his point that the immeasurable quality of space is the real space (not the quantifiable space) is refreshing to read and offers much hope for finding a way out of our collective forgetting that plagues so many of us on an individual and collective level.
Another type of forgetting is dis-integration. This is the reverse of what memory has been described as by Daniel Siegel in Mindsight: Memory is a layering of our experiences which have been processed and encoded, and the integration he describes occurs at a horizontal (left and right brain), vertical (from the lower limbic region up to the cortex), and more subjective integration that includes our personal story, present state of mind, time and the interpersonal element of integration. The last part – interpersonal integration – Siegel describes as “the ‘we’ of well-being.” Mindsight, passim at 71-76.
What do we remember and what do we forget? So I return again to the New Yorker article “This Old Man.” In that article, nonagenarian Roger Angell writes beautifully from the heart about being surprised by getting to such an old age, but notes his biggest surprise (#1) is the unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. Based on my reading of his article, I would say the secret to his happiness is longing. Longing is searching. As Ravi Ravindra wrote in Pilgrim Without Boundaries:
In being alive to the search, we are alive.
I think this longing, this search is a form of remembering, a remembering of something that is elusive, a connection and not really a memory at all, by the measurement of neuroscience. Where does it come from?
Another scientist has a different take on why we search and strive to bond with others, particularly in intimate relationships. In Our Drive to Bond, Bruce Lipton writes about the “fundamental biological imperative that propels you and every organism on this planet to be in a community, to be in relationship with other organisms.” This type of remembrance is undoubtedly awareness, but obviously on a broad scale indeed, even if it is felt in an acutely personal way.
There are so many ways to address this longing, this remembrance of connection that drives us forward and toward it. I will close this post with an excerpt from a poem, about our life – looked at as experience that is the long forgetting: This is from William Blake’s Ode (Number 563, Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, ll. 59-65);
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come . . .
You can read the entire Ode here. I’m sure I’ll be back to writing about more practical topics soon, but as the summer blossoms fade and the harvest arrives, I couldn’t pass up this contemplative topic!
©Barbara Cashman 2014 www.DenverElderLaw.org