Thursday, February 04, 2010

A Day To Remember...

'How happy is the blameless Vestal's lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot;

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd'

(Alexander Pope, Eloisa and Abelard)

Yesterday I took a class on Kafka's Metamorphosis. For those who don't know the story, it is about a salesman, Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover he has turned into an insect. We discussed, amongst other things, the importance of identity and how this is bound up in things, such as items that have a particular connection to oneself, for Gregor was distressed that the furniture from his room was being removed: even though this meant that, as an insect, it gave him greater physical freedom, it also meant it removed much of his humanity; the physical memories of his life previous to being an insect.

The same day, a small group watched Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind as part of the Philosophy and Film series. It gave us an opportunity to reflect once more on memory: if it were indeed possible to erase unhappy memories then why wouldn't you? Also, would such an erasure really make any fundamental difference as to what constitutes you? Is it our memories that makes us what we are?

That evening, I returned to my apartment and turned on the TV to watch a new series called Caprica. The 'functionalist' premise here is that, with such advanced technology, it would be possible to collect together all the public memories of one individual and create a copy of that person. Think about it: only one hundred years ago a person who has died would have left very little physical memory; a journal perhaps, some photos maybe, letters, a birth certificate,public records, a skeleton...But someone born today will leave behind vast megabytes of 'data', a digital memory of themselves, stored on hard drives, databases, photos, videos, text messages, emails, social networking sites, YouTube, hospital records (brain scans, x-rays), blogs...But even if you did collate this all together into some 'avatar' would this really be anything remotely like the original? Are we not made of more than our public, third-person memories? What of the 'what's-it-likeness'. of qualia, of...dare I say it...soul?

...Another day in the life of a philosopher...


  1. Reminds me of Wetware and Software by Rudy Rucker...

  2. Paula5:50 pm

    As some of us struggle to get to grips with the Philosophy of Mind module, how can we not be drawn into responding here? In my view, all of the public, hard data ‘memories’ amount to no more than a collection of separate, individual ‘snapshots’. What will be missing is that essential, first person, experience of ‘what it is like to be Me’. Something that can only be known from a subjective, first person position and not observable or available from how ever much third person objective data is collected.

    What this ‘me’ is of course is another question! We may deny the existence of ‘soul’ in the rationality of the sunshine and this may ‘feel’ like freedom and independence. But perhaps the dawning of this essential solitude; an eternal aloneness; can creep up on us late at night, encouraged perhaps whilst we observe the external representations of the creations of some other’s qualia through film, drama or literature. During those early hours, in the midst of that existential angst, are we simply drawn to the possibility of a soul as a more comfortable account of what it is like to be ‘me’?

  3. ... or perhaps we are a lot less than the vague temporal memories from a bygone program to which we become attached. I think to a large degree we live a life where we consider our self and selfhood as a third person. By naming 'self' we objectify the very thing that we presume to be most close. I think it is an interesting line which states that instead of regarding the so-called 'self' with dead certainty, I am rather a stranger in my own landscape. Subjectivity seems to be sense-based and yet how reliable are the senses? Emotions and feelings are mostly conditioned from past experience and sensual experience is often incorrect or at best partial as we experience from only one perspective. I cautiously put forward that betting on an essential 'self', or the kind of 'self' we get trapped into creating (as an object, or even an idol?), means we're going to lose our ante in the longrun.