Thinking and remembering

Thinking and remembering

I don’t believe they are equivocal. Equating them begins a carefully reasoned path into religion. Starting from the fundamental questions, St. Augustine gets right to the core in his Confessions:

What, then, am I my God? What is my nature? A life that is ever varying, full of change, and of immense power. The wide plains of my memory and its innumerable caverns and hollows are full beyond compute of countless things of all kinds. Material things are there by means of their images; knowledge is there of itself; emotions are there in the form of ideas or impressions of some kind, for memory retains them even while the mind does not experience them, although whatever is in the memory must also be in the mind. My mind has the freedom of them all. I can glide from one to the other. I can probe deep into them and never find the end of them. This is the power of memory! This is the great force of life in living man, mortal though he is!

Augustine goes on to propose that we do not recognize things unless we remember them. Therefore, qualities like joy and happiness can only exist in the mind because we experienced them somewhere before. There must be an origin, a God to explain why these qualities seem so familiar to us. If you buy that thinking and remembering are the same thing, then human experience is a closed thing dependent on an original experience, an experience of God— because if the mind is infinite but based on memory, then the memory must be of the infinite.

I’ll bet you didn’t think I could get here from there. The line of argument can also be tied into the debate of nomos vs. physis between Plato and the Sophists. If all thinking is memory, then how do things get named? The Sophists, like the postmodernists, believed that language was arbitrary. They asserted that there is no one “correct” name for anything. It was depends on the ethics of the situation, nomos, a sort of little t truth. Nomos is is truth only when it works; humans are free to rename things when the renaming works to clarify the situation, because the only truth that exists is the truth inside each of us. Plato and Aristotle championed physis a physical capitol T truth that lies outside, that can be discovered, that can be correct at all times for all people. There is a metaphysical hierarchy, perhaps only vaguely remembered by humans, which assigns all things one and only one proper name.

To name things is to reclaim them. Protagoras, the oldest of the Sophists, was also perhaps the worlds first agnostic. He felt that “God” couldn’t be proved or disproved, but more than that, that it really didn’t make any difference in our day to day lives. We define and name our world each day as we travel through it, without the need for outside guidance. This comes from a distinct difference in the view of language. To embrace memory as a guiding force, and reasoned correctness in naming, is to accept that spirituality is not only possible but essential.