Rememories

I follow David Bennett Piano on YouTube. Today, he posted a side trip he took from Manchester to Liverpool.

This post reflects on how memory operates and true and false memories. The video clip is about a minute long and shows Paul McCartney recounting how he decided to create the character of his eponymous song Eleanor Rigby.

In Paul’s recollection, he had been working with an actress Eleanor Bron on the Beatles film Help!

Eleanor Bron and George Harrison

He fancied the name Eleanor and was trying to think of a two-syllable word to follow when he spotted a sign that read Rigby & Evens, a wine and spirits shop in Bristol.

Rigby & Evens, Limited Sign

According to Paul, these were the components leading to the title character.

Eleanor Rigby Hand-written Lyrics by Pail McCartney

From the perspective of recency over primacy, Paul may be correct, but it could also be, as he admits, that he had seen the tombstone without it being consciously registered. He may have even been consciously aware but subsequently forgotten it. Perhaps this is why the name resonated with him, having been exposed previously. Memory is known to be reinforced through repetition. From the perspective of primacy over recency, he may have never settled on the name had he not seen the inscription on the gravestone.

Could it be that this was a coincidence and Paul never did see that grave marker, or is it more likely that he did? We’ll never know for sure, but it is an interesting turn of events.

Self-Creation

The self is a construction. Although we can form memories at an early age, this is possibly why we can’t remember our earliest years, as our sense of self had yet to be constructed and realised. Not all people construct or even define ‘self’ in the same way, per Strawson’s ‘selves’ and other notions of selflessness.

I understand when Strawson (and others) says he does not feel the same sense of continuity as others with strong senses of self believe. I don’t know what a person, who truly believes in selflessness or the total denial of the self, feels—a person who totally embodies the Buddhist concept that everything is one and any division is an illusion.

In the West, there are entire industries fleecing the public of billions upon billions of dollars on the notion of the self, strengthening the self and how others perceive one’s self from an outside-in perspective—psychology and its progeny of self-help reaping the lion’s share.

For the record, although I agree with both Strawson’s and the Buddhist perspective, I am still under the illusion (as I am with agency) that I have a self and agency. Unlike the Neo character in The Matrix, I haven’t discovered how to break the illusion to find the man behind the curtain, but I do feel a sense of discontinuity or lack of contiguity.

Tilting Bodies Politic

Does digital technology make students stupid? That’s what a 2019 BigThink article asks. I like to read Big Think, but it seems like PopScience in a negative way—like Pop Psychology. It’s not necessarily directionally wrong. It’s just oversimplified and seeks the lowest common denominator.

On this topic, Plato quipped, voicing Socrates, in his Phædrus 14 dialogue except that his quip was relative to writing and memory. Some historians and Classicists have suggested that modern readers may be missing the satire. I’m no defender of human intelligence, but this is the demise of society because of change—whether due to writing, radio, television, computers, video games, mobile devices, and whatever comes up next.

For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Plato – Dialogue Phædrus 14

Whether or not this claim has merit, my claim is that computers have trebled manufactured consent, so it allows people to be passively active, to have to specious notion of participation in the body politic, and yet are virtually tilting windmills.

It seems that some people have such nostalgia for their apparent way of life that any deviation is considered to be an affront and possible disruption. Perhaps, it’s because I feel there’s possibly as much to shed than to keep in my book, so for me, it’s more good riddance than oh heavens.

Foucault Identity

‘Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: Leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.’

—Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & the Discourse on Language

I am going to take liberal liberty with Foucault’s quote. This is another take on Heraclites’ ‘never the same man, never the same river’ quote. It can be taken as a commentary on identity and impermanence. Effectively, he is taking the position that the concept of identity is a silly question, so don’t bother asking about it. Then he defers to people who insist on it anyway.

To be fair, creating a sort of contiguous identity does simplify things and creates categorical conveniences.

Vendor: ‘Wasn’t it you who purchased that from me and promised to pay with future payments?

Zen: ‘There is no future. There is only now. And I am not the same person who purchased your car.

Perhaps this is where the saying, ‘Possession is 9/10 of the law‘, a nod to temporal presentism.

In any case, some systems are predicated on their being identity, so a person benefiting from that system will insist on the notion of identity.

Clearly, I’m rambling in a stream of consciousness, and it occurs to me that Blockchain offers a solution to identity, at least conceptually. In the case of Blockchain, one can always audit the contents of the past in the moment. And so it carries the past into the now.

If one were able to capture into an archive every possible historical interaction down to the smallest unit of space-time—neutral incident recording, indexing and retrieval challenges notwithstanding—, one could necessarily attribute the record with the person, so long as they are otherwise inseparable. (We’re all well-aware of the science fiction narrative where a person’s history or memory is disassociated, so there is that.)

Anyway, I’ve got other matters to tend to, but now this is a matter of historical record…

Not Just a Number

That perception and memory work hand in hand is mostly taken for granted, but this case reminds us that this sometimes breaks down. This is not the case of the neurotypical limitations to fallible sense organs and standard cognitive boundaries and biases. This subject can’t discern the arabic numerals from 2 through 9.

To recap the study, the man can perceive 0 and 1 as per usual, but numerals 2 through 9 are not recognisable. Not even in combination, so A4 or 442 are discernible.

In a neurotypical model, a person sees an object, a 3 or a tree, and perhaps learns its common symbolic identifier—’3′, ‘three’, or ‘tree’. The next time this person encounters the object—or in this case the symbol—, say, 3, it will be recognised as such, and the person may recite the name-label of the identifier: three.

It might look like this, focusing on the numerals:

Encounter 1: 3 = X₀ (initial)
Encounter 2: 3 = X₁ ≡ X₀ (remembered)
Encounter 3: 3 = X₂ ≡ X₀ (remembered)

In the anomalous case, the subject see something more like this:

Encounter 1: 3 = X₀ (initial)
Encounter 2: 3 = Y₀ = { } (no recollection)
Encounter 3: 3 = Z₀ = { } (no recollection)

For each observation, the impression of 3 is different.

Phenomenologically, this is different to the question of whether two subjects share the same perception of, say, the colour red. Even if you perceive red as red, and another perceives red as red, as long as this relative reference persists to the subject, you can still communicate within this space. When you see a red apple, you can remark that the apple is red—the name marker—, and the same is true for the other, who can also communicate to you that the apple is indeed red because the word ‘red’ become a common index marker.

But in the anomalous case, the name marker would have little utility because ‘red’ would be generated by some conceivably unbounded stochastic function:

Colourₓ = ƒ(x), where x is some random value at each observation

It would be impossible to communicate given this constraint.

This, as I’ve referenced, is anomalous, so most of us have a stronger coupling between perception and memory recall. Interesting to me in this instance is not how memory can be (and quite often is) corrupted, but that fundamental perception itself can be corrupted as well—and not simply through hallucination or optical illusion.