Matter and memory
As you read this, the words are recorded in the working memory of your brain. That is a short-term memory. Do the words touch you; do you want to think about them or just because the door suddenly slams shut, do the words then draw a memory trail. The information is stored in a network of neurons. That means that there is a temporary change in shape in the physical reality of your brain. This requires energy. The memory trail is so volatile that energy must flow to it, consciously or unconsciously, to sustain it. The permanent form of the information seems rather formless and scattered.
The memory trail is a temporary concentrated form. An arrangement of matter to store knowledge. A printed and bound book is also a rearrangement of matter – with ink and paper – in a form that contains information. Books are becoming temporary. E-books are even more volatile and are stored by a temporary electronic-scale rearrangement in a memory chip. Downloading and writing it takes energy.
Time flows through all this. That flow determines whether we speak of temporary or permanent storage. That flow is the key to our memory. My consciousness and memories are influenced by the flow of time.
Resistance to change
You are in a crowded metro carriage. Through the window you see the alternation of strips of light and darkness of the tunnel. There is screeching and braking. You are catapulted forward where you are more or less smoothly caught by other passengers who move with you. Slowly everyone takes their own place again. This effect was put into words by Mr Mach – the man of the speed of sound – as follows:
When the tram shakes it is the stars that make you fall.
This is called in more prosaic terms: inertia.
We, together in the metro carriage move with a speed of about 80 km per hour. If the brakes of the tram are applied, our body wants to continue its movement unchanged. Our body, which is attracted by all those celestial bodies and by the earth, permanently. If no other force is exerted on us, we will move unchanged. Newton expresses this as: F=ma. Where a stands for the acceleration, that is the change. And F for that other power. We are represented by m, the mass. My mass is not just a collection of molecules, matter. It is primarily a resistance to change when a force grabs us. Mach’s statement indicates that we are connected purely as matter to all other matter in the universe.
Matter in motion
We humans know from experience how to deal with inertia. If you want to splash the water in a tub over the edge, then you know from experience that you have to put your hand in the water and start moving it back and forth, first slowly, then a little bit faster until you feel that you have exactly the right frequency: the water moves completely with your hand. Then you make the movements longer and a big wave goes over the edge.
You do the same if you want to push a heavy cart over a threshold: you roll the thing up and down a number of times, feel the good frequency and then make the movement longer and hope that mass goes over the threshold. The frequency to be found is called the own frequency. You can transfer maximum energy to the moved system at that vibration frequency. A resonance occurs between the mover and what is being moved.
A memory track in the brain, a possibility for memory. A child is born with the preceding memory of being carried by eternity. It projects its desire for that carrying god onto the mother who guarantees its survival. The mother is human and will therefore be unable to meet the high expectations. The disappointment, experienced as pain, leaves a memory trail into the cells of the body. The bliss of being nourished, cared for and loved does the same. These traces will be harder to decode later as a memory. They do, however, determine the personality.
Biologically we inherit our mother’s intestinal flora. That means: organisms that are essential for our digestion in a number that is larger than the number of our body’s own cells. There, too, nature draws a trail of memory that, like belly consciousness, will exert a major influence on our personality. Every group of bacteria wants to continue to live as a group. They always ask for specific forms of food. Think of the cry for hunger for chocolate or sugar and the fight of even a conscious person against his candy tendency.
If the parents die, the children inherit. However, the legacy begins much earlier in our lives: we inherit a DNA combination from our parents. We inherit our mother’s blood. We inherit our mother’s intestinal flora. We inherit that web of memory trails of our early experiences in interacting with our parents, starting with conception. Via blood and DNA we inherit the balance of previous ancestors who are part of our family tree. Our past, that is the collective memory traces from our entire history of existence, determines our current being. And the vast majority of those influences work completely unconsciously.
And then we grow up, as a child, as a teenager, young adult, adult. We grow up from our heritage, our past. We grow up in a family, a community, a society.
That society has rules of life, collective beliefs and laws that indicate how I should behave in that environment. Conflicts arise between my inner being driven to a certain way of doing things on the one hand and those social demands on the other. Another memory trail is formed by the pain of being contained. As an infant in arms but much worse because of my much greater desire for freedom. Whatever the political colour of the society in which I grow up is, its basic trend is always conservative. Rules, beliefs and laws do not want to be changed.
Me in a slow world
I find myself, as it were, in a valley surrounded by the hills and mountains of reactionary forces, of active memory trails, of social pressure, of social obligations, of bacteria in my stomach that want to live. All of these slopes have been formed in the past. I experience myself as current at all times. Something in me drives me to self-realization of that actual self and therefore up the slope, over the mountain. Can I move myself or do I have to find a way to be moved by a higher force? Since a valley roughly corresponds in shape to a bathtub: should resonance be realized between me – with my mass as a measure of my inertia – and what moves me? So that there is maximum energy transfer and I go – after a few times back and forth – over the edge? And what moves me?
Constant change and the pursuit of being
Our world is characterized by time and space. Within that time, most processes make a pendulum movement between two extremes, which leads to the dialectical duos that we experience, such as light and dark. The earth turns and therefore light and darkness alternate on its surface. A puppy is born, grows up rather quickly to an adult dog and will die again at some point.
The human is different. There is an eternity element in the human being – even if it is only as a reminder for our consciousness. Between conception and birth that eternal movement is connected with a material body. Matter is cyclical, at most it moves back and forth slowly but surely. From the interaction of those two forms of being, those forms of movement, consciousness arises. And a resistance to change that we can call memory, or learning ability. The urge to stay alive causes us to make traces of how we can best do that. This motive also makes us remember selectively: negative experiences remain better in our memory than positive ones. As if happiness does not change our lives for the better.
Inertia on the path to being.
At our core we are eternal beings, although now mortal gods, temporarily. With a deep desire for eternal values: stay alive, eternal happiness, perfect love, sustainability, comprehensive knowledge. Our consciousness is part of the resistance between both forms of movement, the eternal movement and the sham movements of the dialectic, which is a matter of identification. Do I identify myself with eternal becoming or with the self-image of this world of opposites built up from memory?
Releasing the latter is more difficult than it seems, is slow. Based on the memory trails of our life experiences, we constantly write and edit the life story in which we play the hero ourselves. That gives our psychology a very large mass and therefore a very great inertia, resistance to change, inability to move and accelerate in a new direction. F=ma, with m imaginatively large. But as acceleration takes place in the space of consciousness, that imaginary large m, the determining factor, is a mass of ideas. It contains our conscious experiences, our unconscious recordings, the reconstructed episodes in our life story and therefore our self-image in development, the contents of our blood and thus also the legacy images and views of our family tree, the collective ideas of our society … The sum of all this makes us very important in the space of ideas. That entire collection of images, that museum of Mrs. X or Mr. Y, is maintained with emotional energy and the creative power of our thinking.
Suppose our core, the being of eternity, wants to express itself, to manifest. Basically, only the identification needs to be shifted from our imaginary self to that true self. Practically, it starts with assuming that the core is there and is more important than anything else. We must believe in this. That makes a start of opening in the entire system, the roof of the museum lets in light. We can see our collection of images in that light, in admiration and in aversion. In that light we can see how we identify ourselves with a selection of the works in the museum. Based on that insight, we can question that identification and possibly let it go. In surrender to the core in us. Self surrender of ourselves to the self.
We can also learn that an iconoclasm does not produce anything: it feeds a lot of energy into the museum and chaos that makes it difficult to see. There is much more to learn in this unlearning. Gradually you end up in a different position in the reality, a new attitude to life. Now assume that for once our core, the being of eternity, wants to explore itself?!
This article was originally published in Pentagram 2019 nr. 3