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THE ANATOMY OF REMINISCENCE.
I possess a childhood memory that persists to this very day. It is the middle of a sunny summer day. I am running down the stairs, quickly and excitedly, with my neighbours following me. We all want to see the Sun. It just fell down in the front yard. I saw it coming down like a bright yellow globe. It is lying on the ground, a giant orange. There it is, trampling the grass it landed on. The neighbourhood dogs are running around, barking at this strange visitor. I approach it warily. I touch it. It is warm and beautiful, glistening in the mid-noon light. I remember well the feelings of amazement, incredulity, inexplicable joy overwhelming me and the comical expressions on the faces of my neighbours.
This memory is so life-like that, despite its patent absurdity, I still refuse to believe that this event could never have happened.
Memory works in bewildering ways. An invisible, unseen judge takes control of our sensory input. Working to a set of complex rules, he decides to eliminate an impression here, a word there.
Like a master sculptor who breathes life into the rough stone, the judge works the raw data into a work of art. Scenes that at the time seemed insignificant and totally unworthy of our attention emerge, like the ugly duckling, full of stature, grandeur and inner beauty. Our mundane, pointless everyday experiences are transmuted into possessions which we will treasure forever.
Just as Nature abhors vacuum so the judge abhors meaninglessness and arbitrariness. Lovingly and thoroughly he imparts meaning into the events of the time gone. How often do we look back and sigh "Oh yes, it all makes sense now!"
The judge is at once a great dramatist and a master propagandist. He knows that to make the greatest impact, the unfolding of the events needs to follow some logical pattern, with preferably a climax at some stage of the proceedings.
And so when we remember we remember not in the temporal order but rather in the order that has the greatest dramatic effect. Our recollections are stripped of all the unnecessary details, of all that that would not contribute to the melodramatic content. Just the vital core, the heart of the experience remains.
Propaganda works by reducing the issue to its lowest common denominator, and by incessant iteration of a simple and direct message. Have not we all been affected by a memory that keeps flashing in our minds non-stop, again and again, enraging us, turning us into beings of hate.
But maybe we should not be so critical of the judge's work. After all, one of his major preoccupations is to efface the hurt, the embarrassment and the pain, to anaesthetise our wounds. The majority of our recollections are but an expurgated version of experience, devoid of the painful aspect. We look back at our antecedent misfortunes, snicker with a knowing air and mutter to ourselves: "If only I had had problems like that now."
We also should not forget that the judge is a superb fabulist. Not only does he arrange, re-arrange and censor our impressions, much more than that, he is a creator.
His creations are not just some dream-like phantasmagorial inventions. He clones reality, intermixing his inventions with veracious experience. How well he knows the structure of life to be able to produce samples that have all the hallmarks of reality.
Sometimes, due to oversight or perhaps overwork, the master hand of the judge fails. As a result we experience disjunct impressions: we remember a face but not the voice, a familiar scent cannot be pinpointed to a time and place, a particular scene remains but its context disappears.
Or could it be that this is perhaps the judge's idea of fun, reminding us not to take him for granted, teasing and tantalising our minds, so that when we finally do retrieve the full impression, we will value it even more.
When we reminisce, we enter a paradoxical state of existence. At the same instant we span two disparate dimensions. We dissociate ourselves from the present, the eyes stop registering the surroundings, the brain stops analysing the incoming information. No longer are we harried by our environment or by our concerns. The work of Time is undone. Slowly we travel back to a loved one, to our childhood, and become one with our past self. Old men lose their wrinkles, loose flesh becomes taut, muscles regain their long-gone strength. They have imbibed the elixir of Youth and see themselves running around with their favourite friend and hear their dear mothers calling them home for lunch. They are the centre of attention now, the life's possibilities open to them once more. No longer are they somebody's neglected grandfather. Is it really a sin to live in the past?
The ability to bring back past events is a priceless gift that every human being possesses. How poorer would our lives be without our memories, the souvenirs of the mind.
Submitted to http://humanifesto.org
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