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Quora on Memory and Words

February 17, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Are words like memories and memories like words?

It seems like an odd question. Sort of like asking ‘Are screenplays like entertainment and entertainment like screenplays?’. In a broad sense, everything is like memories. The whole content of the universe could be thought of as the persistence of coherent phenomena through time…discoverable patterns struck within patterns. To narrow it down to human memory gets into different overlapping neurological categories; short term, long term, declarative, implicit, autobiographical, sensory caching, etc. Those are more about our particular phenomenology of pattern recognition and recollection, which seems to be tightly associated with words, but also images, sounds, smells, etc.

I can think of words as like dehydrated experiences, or crystallized pointers to evoke a narrative flow. Memory implies traces of factual experiences in the past, whereas words more often weave a fictional perspective on the past, present, and future. Words are semiotic devices which focus and reflect semantic content through syntactic forms – two different senses of informing which both rely on memory. Perhaps this is where their power to recapitulate sense-making comes from. By presenting a linguistic-symbolic expression which is relatively impersonal coupled with => a proprietary personal motive, a reflection of sensory wholeness is achieved, using the products of sense themselves (optical icons, vocalized sounds) as a body. ‘See what => I’m saying?’ ‘Know what => I mean?’

A word then can be used to encapsulate fragments from any of my personal memories, stories, ideas, texts, knowledge, thoughts etc and through that encapsulation provide the keys to be reconstructed in someone else. The meaning figuratively rides on our shared associations, language, and common sense, so that it is not literally transmitted through space as ‘information’ but rather elides space entirely by a process of local sensory reification. Words can be seen ‘there’ but can only be understood ‘here’.

Memory is also a local understanding but does not require the external-facing symbolic packaging. It doesn’t need to be reified in someone else’s head, only recalled subjectively. Of course we can remember words too, and all words are by definition memories (we have to remember what words the language we intend to speak contains), but memories extend beyond words. The effectiveness of words can obscure our understanding of memory. We are used to seeing the world so much through this logical symbolic process that we tend to see all of consciousness in this light. Memory does not have to be experienced consciously but words do. In fact memory may not have to be experienced at all to be influential. Reading these words for instance is predicated on some implicit memory of how to read English, but to assume that literally implies a database of kindergarten memories being accessed in real time read/writes does not tell the story of our experience. That may be true in one sense, but my hunch is that it works differently also. I think that the memory itself may become an iconic part of who we are, more like looking through colored glass gives us different ways which we can see the world.

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