Or;How do Things remember ?
Stanislaw Lem,the great Polish
Science Fiction writer,has written a highly readable book on his
childhood,which is called "The High Castle" or in Polish "Wysoki
Zamek" - a book full of the most remarkable
observations and unusual experiences.One passage which has caught my attention
,goes something like this in my English rendering;
believed,without confiding the secret to anybody,that dead objects like man
might suffer from shortcomings and inadequacies,and even that they might be
forgetful.If one had enough patience ,one might be able to force them to
multiply by taking them by surprise.Thus,if one assumed that a pocket-knife
,which hade been left in a drawer ,did forget where it was supposed to be ,one
might later find it in a completely different place,e.g.among the books in a
shelf.As it would lack possibilities to get out of the drawer,in this
impossible situation it would simply duplicate itself and become two.Thus in my
view ,the things were suubject to a certain logic,they had to obey some
rules,and for someone who knew them well,it might be possible to force the dead
matter to some desirable results."
Lem describes in a negative way,is what it means to live in a well ordered
world. Of course things as we know them in everyday lifte are not like Lem
expected.They are flawless.They do not forget and we can never force them to
multiply by surprise.The things are so clever;they remember where they are,even
when we have forgotten where we put them. How do the things remember ?
not this flawless memory of things an important part
of what we mean when we say that
a certain segment of our experience was "real" as opposed to
objections of course immediately present themselves to this way of reasoning.
The first is that this form of order is a
local phenomenon.The physical world contains much more than "things"
and it is of course
unsatisfactory to limit the realm
of reality to that relatively limited sector of the physical world or what we
take to be the physical world which contains "things" organised in a
wellordered pattern of time and space coordinates.The realm of things extends
from somewhere close to our body and outwards to a limit which might be quite
difficult to define exactly.The biscuit which I take with my afternoon coffee
definitely stops to be a thing when it disappears into my mouth and not unlike
a musical tone dissolves into a,hopefully pleasant sensation.At the other end
there are e.g. galaxies.It seems very weird to say that galaxies are things as
the different stars and clouds of heated matter which make them up are not all
present at the same time.
a plasma there is hardly any well memorized order of the sort we expect from a
campus building or from the drawers where we keep our underwear.On the
subatomic level memory really seems to start to fail in different ways
depending on what interpretation we want to give to subatomic phenomena..So the
flawless memory of
things cannot reasonably be
extended to the material world in its entirety. The sort of order which can be
expressed by saying that the things have such a good memory , rules,but not
everywhere and on all levels.But it seems to actually rule wherever we are.
identify this sort of memory with reality is obviously to define
"reality" in a more narrow way than is ordinarily done. We should not
be surprised.It has been shown by many philosophers in many contexts that
"unreal" can mean many different things.
leave it there,for the moment.
The second objection is that things can hardly
have any memory at all,because things do not have any minds. Not everybody
might agree on that point,but I shall assume that such things as we normally
call "dead" do not have any minds. And memory is normally thought of
as something which can only exist in the context of a mind.
I say that the drawer is so clever,because it is able to remember exactly what
I put into it,this could pass as a metaphorical way of expression.When I say
that the dollar is falling in its relation to Deutsche Mark I do of course not
mean it literally,and when I say that the book is very intelligent I do not
expect to be misunderstood as an animist either.We actually ascribe qualities
to things all the time which are really mental qualities in some way or another
related to their internal representations.
course,e.g.in Henri Bergson´s philosophy the world itself tends to take on
mind-like characteristics,because he introduces a concept "pure
memory" or "mémoire pure" by making a rather difficult
distinction between what could become the meaning of a memory image ,the
raw material of memory as if it were,and the memory as represented in the
memory image in an act of actual recollection. A less abstract name for memoire pure
might be potential memory.
memory cannot recall itself but it is the sort of subjectmatter which can be
recalled.Of course everything does not lend itself with the same ease to become
represented in memory.A certain degree of order is a prerequisite.
example which might help to clarify this point is the sort of organisation
which antique writers recommend in the so called
Ars commemorativa .The latin
writers of rhetoric manuals e.g. the
anonymous author of the book Ad Herennium (falsely ascribed to Cicero) recommend us to
visualize and memorize a building,with archways,colonnades,stairs and big rooms
organized in a definite way.Statues and herms help us to identify the places
between the different pillars.Everything has to be clearly lighted and to have
such an architecture that things do not stand in the way of each other.This is
called the locus .In the locus we then place the different
representations of what we want to remember.They are called imagi. If ,e.g. we are preparing a
political speech where we want to speak,first of naval defense and then of
territorial defense,we might place an anchor in one archway and a sword in the
trick of artifical memory is to map topologically a memory representation
on top of another,where the first order
representation supports the second order one.It seems to have worked fairly
well for the antique rhetors who used it.With natural memory the difference is
that the representation is supposed to map something which is not a
Parts of the world we know easily lend themself
to be represented in memory. Things are connected in particular ways with each
other.These connections are not always spatio-temporal,which obviously raises
the need for a more generic concept than connected in space and time.For this
more generic concept I shall from now on use the word
The following might serve as an illustration:I
sometimes teach in a room on the first floor of the Hall.To get from there to
my office ,which is on the fourth floor, I have a choice between a few
alternative paths,of which some include an elevator,others not.
path I chose I have to start in a (particular) corridor on the first floor and
to end in a (particular) corridor on the fourth floor. Of course we take
topological order in the surrounding space for granted.This is always the
same.So the lecture hall remembers where it is and the office remembers its
place in the order.Furthermore,there is a reversibility.If I go back I expect
the rooms to appear in an order which is the mirror image of the first one.
are topological properties of experienced space which we take for granted
.These are the properties of the antique memory palace,the loci on which
artificial memory was built.
far so good.What I have said up to this point does not seem very controversial
to me. Let us assume now,,that,having at last arrived in my
office on the fourth floor,passing all the rooms of one of the ordinary paths
which lead there ,I fall asleep in my office.And in a dream I enter another
room which is thus a room of my dream.It might be a Greek Temple Hall,or may be
an agora.As we need some name for that room ,let´s call it "the last
last room clearly has different properties than the other ones.It does not
relate spatially.It has no place of its own in the topological order of the
rest of the rooms.It does not fit topologically.It does not make any sense to
say that it is included in the next last room either.There are many things
represented in different ways in my office - by pictures and books - which are not spatially included even if the
physical vehicles of the representations are included in it.It does not belong
to a path in the sense that there is a determinate sequency of passages which
leads to it.Like the prompter on the screen of my computer,when it passes from
the extreme right margin to the left my attention seemed to get there without
any mediation.(It is of course possible to construct an abstract topology which
can take care of the prompter,e.g. by representing the screen as the
two-dimensional projection of a cylinder;for the case with the last room I am
less certain.) I am not certain that the fact that the last room is a room in a
dream is relevant either.It is of course a "mental image" in the
sense that in some way its vehicle of representation is in my brain.But would
we have had a much different problem if the last room had been produced by
means of cyberspace and virtual reality ? Clearly in that case too we would
have to make a distinction between the room represented and the means of
representation.And furthermore,"real"rooms are not less unreal in the
sense that they are of course represented to us as well. In the standard case
of being in my office I am in the room and the room is in me,in the sense that
the vehicle of representation of the
office is in my brain and that it represents me as being in the room.
do not know,for certain,either whether it is right to call the last room the
last one."Last" suggests a place in a temporal order but is it the
room or its mental representation which takes place in an order ?
the last room is connected to my total experience but not in quite the same way
as the other rooms in the actual sequence.There are differences.One is that it
does not have the same excellent memory as the other rooms.It does not recur
with the same willingness.If I leave it,I am not certain that I will ever find
my way back to it.
the last room is connected but obviously connected in such a way that it does
not recur in the same pattern as the other rooms.It does not,figuratively
spoken,have the same excellent memory.
sort of connectedness is ,then, this one ?
Lacking other glue lets try then,with causal
problem is of course,that I do not have more reason to believe that the
office,or the sequence of rooms which led to the last one, have more to do with
the last one,than a suddenly occuring
tooth-ache has to do with the
room where I got it.
and causal connectedness without spatial connectedness seem weird to us.Causes
are events . Effects are events.
Causes are supposed always to
have precede effects.We often reason as if external events could cause dreams
and dreams can cause events.But this is of course a metaphorical way of
speaking,like when we say that an antique stone speaks about the battle of
Thermopyle.Of course no stone can speak.There is not even any text which can
speak.Somebody performs a speech-act by means of an (inscribed) stone and we
emulate it through its medium until it reaches us.
Analogy; to dream is an event,which takes place in time,also in space,I dream
in a particular hotel room etc. but the dream room or dream locality are not in
space .Can something occupy a place in time without occupying a place in space
? It seems weird,but if we do not want to assign to the dream room a place in
time which is not a place in space it seems impossible to claim that it is the
sort of entity which can causally connected to the rest of our experience.
if it makes perfect sense to say that I dreamed a certain dream on Monday last
week and a second dream two days later,if I may have my way,this does not
entitle us to say that the contents of the two dreams display a temporal
order.They are simply not related in time,and thus not causally related either.
am aware that this conclusion might cause trouble for some types of
psycho-analytical theory of the more mechanistic type,but I am willing to take
the consequence.A dream is related to the rest of our life not in the way an
effect is related to its cause,but rather in the way an interpretation of a
text is related to the text .
So what sort of connection is the connection
between the last room and the rooms that led up to it ?
One possible answer is of course to say that there is no
connection at all.But that does not make any sense.At least no common sense.My
dream is mine.It is not yours .It is not nobody`s.In some way it belongs to a
complex which we might provisionally call my life experience and my life
experience is not yours.And observe,that in order to use the possessive
pronomen here,we do not have to dogmatically announce that there is such a
thing as a central substance which is me and which is the base of the use of
the possessive .Films do not have ego-substances and still it makes sense to
say that one sequence belongs to one film and not to another.The last room
belongs to this life experience and not to another.
all I arrived there.
standard answer to the question what makes a dream my dream is of course that it is connected to me as a
subject in a unique way. Only I can dream my dreams.But is not this a rather
unfounded assumption ? Why should I not be able to dream somebody else´s dream
? Is there really any intrinsic quality of my dreams that make them mine ? (And
by intrinsic quality I think I mean what G.E.Moore would have meant with an
intrinsic quality;one which could not be detached from it without making it
qualitatively different.) Honestly,I do not know.
if we deny that my dreams have an intrinsic quality which makes them mine,their
uniqueness must consist in the unique way they are connected to the rest of a
field of experiences.And thus,to try to define the uniqueness that way is to
beg the question as we do not know that it is connected but not in what the connectedness consists.
At this point it might make sense to say a few
words about immaterialism.An important point in immaterialism is that it
deprives us of the possibility to sort objects,such as towers; into two
distinct categories such which exist outside us as real towers and inside us,
represented as being outside us,and such which only exist inside us,represented
as being outside us but not really being outside us.For immaterialists
everything which exists exists as representations.If we only look at
representations it is hard to tell the difference.
the connection between the representation and other representations becomes the
only thing we have to go after. It is very important indeed to Berkeley´s
immaterialism that there is no logical tie between the tactile representation
of roundness and the visual representation of roundness. Because if there were
,we could compare as if it were from a point outside the
world.(This might be what Nicolas Malebranche is out to find in
his celebrated seeing in God. )
the case of dreams it seems to us as if we might be able to compare,because
there is the awakening
case of virtual reality there might be such criteria as the fact that a certain
pattern,after long experience,say the reflections of sunlight in a lake , seem
to repeat themselves,or something like that.
the illusory shows a better memory than the real (we might think of a sequence of virtual reality which at the
reveals itself by starting to
repeat itself) which shows that repeatability is a fairly shaky test of
reality. We see it as the test of the reality of a room that we can reach it
again,following one or more established paths.But if we arrive at the same
place,whatever path we chose to take, we are not content at all. A labyrint
where all roads lead to the center makes an unreal impression.(Jerome K.Jerome
made a grandiose joke of it in the passage about the Hampton Court garden
labyrint in "Three Men in a Boat") So what we tend to regard as a
test of reality
is not organisation and
connectedness in abstracto but some particular types of organised connections
to be organised in such a way that they give something like a decision
taking one path out of many possible ,has to give a different outcome than
taking another one.(It might be the case that future developements in
information technology,virtual experiences in a cyberspace might weaken or
change our entire system of sensitivities on this point.Already air travel ,as
practised in our days,gives us a strong feeling,but alas,illusory
of being able to move from a place to another
without passing the places in between.)
What would it mean to say that the world as a
whole is illusory ?
it imply immaterialism ?
maybe something entirely different ?
order to maintain that the world as a whole is illusory,do we need something
less illusory to compare with ? There seems to be a good point in Gilbert
that in a country without coinage there can be no counterfeits.
If by "reality" we mean a set of
experiences which are orderly connected in the sense described,i.e. that they
form a suitable subject matter for memory, obviously our total experience,the
"world we found" - to use Wittgenstein´s handy expression - contains
real and unreal elements.Of course
dreams ,experiences of virtual reality,hallucinations etc. - in other words all
sorts of virtual experiences also belong
to the world we find.But they are obviously differently connected.
the dream argument of Descartes seems to show there are local decision procedures
but hardly any global one.
What would it mean then to claim that orderly connections are only local phenomena which do not extend over
the whole context of experience ? That
we cannot trust our senses ? But certainly we trust our senses! Even the most
sceptical philosopher turns into a dogmatist when he hits road traffic after
hours. He does not expect some of the meeting vehicles to be virtual and
local properties of the system do not cause us much trouble.It is when we try
to imagine it as indefinitely extended that we run into philosophical problems.
general problem of orientation,or navigation,if you prefer that,might serve as
Assume that we are travelling in a universe
which we ,for the sake of simplicity assume to be two dimensional and to be
populated by only three sorts of objects ,hyphens,dots and the blanks between
them.Like in the Turing-machine then movement is only possible forward or
backward.We assume that the hyphens and dots and blanks are randomly
distributed but form some recognizable constellations.Travelling from a place
in such a system to another another particular place the traveller has to
identify the goal by the constellation in which it is inbedded.(He has of course,first to decide whether to go
forward or backward and then where to stop.) To identify the area where he
wants to go,he can always study it in a more extended context.
we assume,now,that the universe in which the travel takes place is transfinite
,there is of course no ultimate method to identify the goal area as the unique destination .In other words - in such a
system unique orientation is only locally possible.
is fairly easy to see the relevance of this model to the Dream argument.If the
decision of the status - virtual or nonvirtual - of a string of experiences can
always be made dependent of a more extended strand of possible experiences the
distinction can only be upheld locally.
his "Reflexions on Science",Diderot has a famous passage where he describes
the extension of Science as a vast landscape scattered with places which are in
the darkness and other
which are in the
Somebody might want to trade this metafore with the situation in a Swiss
are the holes connected to the solid cheese ? One possible answer is of course
that they are not connected at all.The holes are also the cheese,but they are
not connected in some special way to the rest.
The decision procedure for the dream is,as Descartes
awakening.And the strength of the dream argument is in the possibility that the
awakening can be thought of as infinitely postponed.No internal criteria seem
to be able to substitute for the awakening.
The awakening,which does not
of course have to be conceived as a mental act
can be generally interpreted as a sort of collapse.In an expression like
I swim the truth of the
expression is supposed to be changed by the addition of I dream that, and by consequence in
I dream that (I swim) not
only the expression as a whole but also the part which I placed within
parenthesis changes meaning.It collapses as if it were ,into fiction.The verbal
clause turns from proposition to expressing something which might but does not
really have to be the case. Dream is of course not the only verb which has this
effect.Actually the whole wide field of intentionals make the same job;think,promise,imagine,remember,hope are only a few examples.They deal with the
content inside the that-clause as something represented.And they make its
propositional caracter collapse.So we could call such propositions which
collapse inside intentional contexts collapsibles.
Are there non-collapsibles ? Descarte´s Cogito can (but probably must not) be constructed as
containing the premise that
think is a non-collapsible.If it is so
the expression I think in
dream that (I think)
not really change meaning by being inserted
in the dream clause.In what respect could dreaming a thought differ from
having the thought in general ? Similar seems to apply to I think (that I think) because here the introduction of the second
appearence of I think into a context with the first appearence of it does not
seem to make any difference to its meaning. I
thought that P (where P is a proposition) but P was only a thought does
not always make P collapse. For example if P is taken to be I thought
.(This might have been an
implicit element of what Descartes tried to say with his Cogito
in which case the Ambulo,ergo sum, seems to be taken care
of.Whether it takes care of Arnaults circularity argument is more doubtful.
experiments of thought can be carried out with
intentional verbs.What about e.g. I
remembered A (where A is a
particular) and I remembered that (I
remembered A) or I
hoped that A and I hoped that (I hoped that A) .
seems that inserting such verbs (call them intentional if you prefer) that make
propositions collapse into the propositional contents make them
incollapsible.What is from the beginning representation cannot become more of a
In a metaphore
the vehicle is related to the tenor.In a memory-image the image is related to the real event of
which it purports to be a memory.
These and other types of
connectedness seem more or less closely akin to the connectedness between the
dream and the rest of our lives. And thus seem to raise similar difficulties
when we try to analyze them.
Let us take a look at the
metaphore.A metaphore is the result of juxtapositing two different ideas
,where,if the procedure is successful, the vehicle is supposed to teach us
something about the tenor which we did not know,or did know but did not know
that we knew before.This is sometimes expressed as that the vehicle throws a
new light over the tenor.
The most interesting fact
about metaphores is - of course - that only some of them are succesful . If they all were
it would be much easier,because then we could claim that everything is able to
represent everything and the connection
between idea and experience is purely conventional.The same holds - of
course - for the relationship between memories and memory-images.
actually very close to the problem which Malebranche discusses in his Recherche
de la Verité and attempts to solve by his famous "seeing in God" a
theory which might to some extent be expressed without theological terms by
saying that Malebranche treats the connectedness between idea and experience as
a primitive . One might remark that it seems to be a dangerous philosophical
habit to leave to God to take care of all jobs which are too difficult for men
to handle.But the case of Malebranche is somewhat special.A way to formulate
his thought which might complate with the pious as well as with the seculars
might be to say that his way of explaining the ties between ideas and
experiences demands that clarifying the organisational system of our experience
demands a logically stronger system than that system itself.