11 December 2013

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Memories + News

Essays on Memories + News

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing "memories" which is quite an apt topic so
close to the end of the year. Unfortunately, I cannot make it this
Sunday but Ceit kindly offered to chair the meeting for us. I'm sending
the email today because I'm also not sure whether I will have access to
the internet tomorrow evening. However, irrespective of the internet
situation, I can assure you that I will be doing my best to have happy
memories over the next few days!!!

In the meantime Ruel has written a short essay on Memory which he posted
on his Facebook page which I understand can be accessed without sig-in
on Facebook. I will post his permanent link next week.
Ruel Pepa - Memories
I am including a few ideas of my on at the end of this email.

Finally, Helena is looking for a bedsit or share accommodation with
others in a safe area of Madrid hopefully not expensive. If you can send
me an email I'll pass it on to her.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every Thursday from 19:30 to 21h at O'Donnell's
Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)


Although biological sciences have a long way to go, memory, especially
human memory, is no longer an out-of-bounds topic for researchers. The
most important thing we know today about memory is that we can be wrong
about what we think we remember. We can even make up memories to fill in
any gaps when memory fails us or simply create memories when there was
nothing to remember. And if this is not enough, we can, to a certain
degree, successfully, suppress any unpleasant memories we might have. In
other words, human memories are more dynamic than your average hard disk
in your computer.

We now also know what we have to do to reinforce our memories from the
short term (a few seconds) memory bank to the other forms of stable
memories. What is clear, however, is that philosophical issues about
memory are not the same as medical issues about memory.

For science the basic issue is how memory works and the causes when it
does not function properly. From a philosophical perspective, memory is
an issue whether we faithfully recall what we experienced in the past,
followed by the role memory plays in self consciousness, personal
identity and knowledge. For example, is the ability to remember
something (a fact) necessary for us to claim that we know that thing? Do
I have to cite, on demand, the formula to obtain the circumference of a
circle to be able to say that I know how to obtain the circumference of
a circle? Even more seriously, how much are we allowed to forget about
ourselves before our actions become incompatible with our personal
identity or self consciousness?

Indeed we are always forgetting things, some more serious than others,
and I don't just mean forgetting our wife's or husband's birthday or
anniversary. It is more an issue of forgetting large chunks of memory
regarding ourselves without any perceptible natural causes. How many
chunks of memory loss does it take before we have no personal identity
to literally speak of? But then again, are all memory failures also
medical cases or candidates for medical probing?

Another issue is whether "memory" and "personal identity" are immune
from the principles of inductive reasoning? If five months ago I claimed
to be an analytical philosopher, and presented arguments on topics
following this genre, does it follow that today I must also be an
analytical philosopher? And if I am no longer an analytical philosopher
could I ascribe this change to some non causal random event? Is it
reasonable to assume that my past memories will always cause my personal
identity? Of course, I am not saying that I will never acquire new
memories (knowledge?) that will not make me change my personal
identity, but rather can there be a change in personal identity without
a change in memory? For example, it is quite reasonable for someone to
be an analytical philosopher and then one day that person falls in love
with a continental philosopher and becomes a militant Nietzschean‎
philosopher! No doubt, this change of fortune will have an effect on
this person's personal identity, but can we also conclude that if there
is a change in someone's personal identity there must have been a causal
change in the memory of that person? Of course, I am assuming that there
are no medical problems with the person in question.

Could medical conditions relating to memory also highlight a dualism in
us? If we lose our memories or unable to access our memories, does this
imply that we have also lost our personal identity? And if we did lose
our identity what has happened to us, and what is the ethical status of
our body without a personal identity? The duality here is that we seem
to have to entities: the body and our identity via our memory. But
unlike the mind body duality, which of course is not really a duality at
all since when the body dies so does the mind, in the body
personal-identity duality, the body stays alive, but it is the personal
identity that dies.

There is, however, something repugnant about the argument that personal
identity is causally linked to our memory data base. A practical
consequence of this argument would be that a malevolent ruler can easily
decide to wipe off the memory of her or his subjects and turn them into
physical automata maybe reprogrammed with an enslaving mind set type of

However, in the real world we have enough on our hands dealing with
negative memories; the loss of our favourite fountain pen or the
distasteful obfuscation of a faceless pen pusher comes easily to mind.
Maybe the antidote to negative memories is to over compensate with
positive memories: meeting nice people would be a good start, travelling
is always a must and having achievable goals are always helpful. And
although we can safely assume that both positive and negative memories
shape our personal identity, can we also say that negative memories also
make us negative people, at the very best, or worse evil people? And do
happy memories make us better people?

In the meantime, it is curious how charity campaigns to help victims of
Alzheimer disease or old age insist on selling the "steak" but forget
the "sizzle" completely. Their new campaign should say: help someone
save their good memories; or investigating to help people save their
good memories.



from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting: Memories + News

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