Value Beyond Memory

A modified version of this essay appeared in a ZDNet posting of mine on August 18, 2008. The writer to whom I replied had experienced profound memory loss as a result of severe physical trauma.

It seems natural for us to feel that the value of having lived and experienced lies in the richness of our remembrances of what we have lived and experienced. But Memory is selective, and Memory can fail. You have experienced this failure in a terrible, tragic way in that your mechanism of Memory was damaged by physical trauma such that records of your experience were forcibly taken from you, or at best rendered inaccessible to you, suddenly, as if by theft. This is exactly what happens slowly and globally as a result of internal structural failure as Alzheimer's deepens. It is also what happens to each of us totally and finally when we die.

Yet Memory is only a tool of Creaturehood—that is, a tool of, by, and for being a living creature, for the purpose of successfully navigating spacetime as we creatures need to navigate it. The function of Memory is to allow us to store and post-process records of Perception such that we may winnow those records for patterns of Cause and Effect for the purpose of fine-tuning subsequent Action: "The next time I see ice on lake I will think: Danger!" "The next time I see shiny 'leaflets three' I will think: Danger!" "The next time I see 'toner low' I will think: Reorder!" Memory is the facility that allows us to virtualize World—to model world—in Brain such that we may successfully navigate Environment to keep our arc of Creaturehood unbroken across the unfolding succession of states of Being that we call Time.

The most widespread mental affliction, abetted and aided by traditional approaches to education, is mistaking one's mental model of World for World. We can see that this is a mistake because we know that a mental model depends on and is housed in Memory, which is housed in physical Body, in Brain. From this we know that a given person's model of World lasts only as long as its user lives. The practical proof of this understanding that mental model of World is not World is when we witness the death of another and we do not—World does not—end as the deceased's model of World ends.

What of us demonstrably does not vanish from World when we die and our mental model of World vanishes? To build toward this understanding, consider that as you live from instant to instant, you are your own successor. You could not possibly be here reading this now if you had not existed 200 milliseconds ago, five minutes ago, two weeks ago, five years ago, and so on, back through and across the unfolding of Being—across Time—that you, your parents, and their forebears traversed as you and they lived their lives. Looking—imagining—forward to Time yet to be, we can extend this understanding by realizing that the particulars of your existence 200 milliseconds, five minutes, two weeks, five years from now, and so on, are absolutely, progressively dependent on the particulars of your state of Being at every instant between Now and Then.

From this we can see that the particulars of a given state of Being are absolutely dependent on the particulars of all prior states of Being. You exist Now precisely as you do precisely because you have undergone exactly what you have lived and because the Universe that contained you unfolded exactly as it did. The unfolding of your life, embedded as it is in the superset of the unfolding of Being that is Universe, is, therefore, absolutely essential to establishing the particulars of all subsequent states of the unfolding of Being that is Universe. Your contribution to the unfolding of Being through living and experiencing your life, through Having Been, cannot be undone, damaged, removed, stolen, or denied. Its robustness is independent of Perception, and therefore independent of Memory. The value of your life is therefore incalculably vast; the fact and facts of your Having Been, irrefutably, indestructibly Eternal.

Copyright © 2008 by David Newkirk. All rights reserved.