Sunday, January 21, 2007

Memory, Mercy, and The All-Seeing Sun

A friend told me she believed that a memory was an agreement between two people and the space in which the event occurred. I told her though I’d never thought of it that way, I agreed completely. She used a word other than ‘agreement’, maybe it was a ‘contract’… should I just stop writing here?

The things we see are of course not the things we see but light reflected off of them, perceived by our eyes and put together by our brains and then associated with some language we have stored away up there. Two people can see the same object or event, but the light waves that mediate this event are different, coming from different angles, and, according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, even at different times to the observer. So we find the same rock sending each observer similar, but unique observations. Here I would like to cite Mr. John Cage saying, “Everyone has the best seat in the house.”

To speak of the same event then, even if perfectly recorded in our memories – every detail crisp, every book in order, every shade perfection; and this for both parties – is impossible as there is a fundamental discrepancy in our recording of the event. Perhaps the word ‘compromise’ would serve us better than ‘contract’. Or maybe not. Enter mercy.

Between two observers, a memory has to be a compromise. We are separate beings with separate experiences. The following diagram is one my roommate showed me. He is much smarter than I and I think it had something to do with a man whose name sounds as though it would be spelled “Flousser” but that looks French and I believe the ‘er’ is pronounced as in ‘her’, but it deals with phenomena and projects and I don’t want to say, “The way I understood it is…” but rather I’d just like to take the symbol and use it as it crystallized something in my own thinking. Besides, I don’t think my interpretation is too off…


The horizontal lines are experiences, events, or projects, the vertical lines are individuals, observers, phenomena. That may be completely wrong, but the idea is clear either way. Where an event and an individual cross, there is an experience, and even if two individuals cross the same event, the experiences are located in different places and thus not the same experience.

Without common experience, perfect communication is lost because sometimes I mean this and say that and you hear what and you think who. This is why we need compromise. Even more, this is why we need mercy. To know that we’re always speaking in approximations, we’re never getting it right, we’re never fully understanding one another can make interacting fairly discouraging. We are often misquoted, mistaken, downright wrong, and with this fact in place, we are in need of grace for those unfortunate individuals on the receiving end of our blunderous attempts at social interaction.

But the space knows. The sun, the source of all light knows. Something happened in this room, and though there is no possible way to record this happening, the past is past and any record is a mere representation, a biased angle of specific and unique information, not the totality of the event, but the fact is that it happened. A short story for the end:

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. The vision lasts a second or perhaps less; I am not sure how many birds I saw. Was the number of birds definite or indefinite? The problem involves the existence of God. If God exists, the number is definite, because God knows how many birds I saw. If God does not exist, the number is indefinite, because no one can have counted. In this case I saw fewer than ten birds (let us say) and more than one, but did not see nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three or two birds. I saw a number between ten and one, which was not nine , eight, seven, six, five, etc. That integer - not-nine, not-eight, not-seven, not-six, not-five, etc. - is inconceivable. Ergo, God exists.
-“Argumentum Ornithologicum” by Jorge Luis Borges