The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013
◊  All of Me
Philosophy ... Science ...

To have a healthy adult brain and mind is an incredible experience; something we shouldn’t just take for granted. In addition to our thinking and reasoning abilities and our vast memory of procedures and facts (e.g., how to place a subordinate clause in a sentence, or what your mother’s birthday is), we have a wide assortment of sensory and story-based memories of past experiences, going all the way back to childhood. (There is a physical limit on how far back we can remember, roughly around age 3, due to the early-childhood development of the hippocampus component of our brain, i.e. the “memory maker”). Our life, and the way that our present experiences fit in with our memories, seem like an incredibly rich story, one that hopefully makes sense to us. We think that we know who we were and what we were like back when we were children, back when we were teenagers then young adults, all the way through to our present age, be it 30, 45, 70, etc.

I certainly did think this for many years and decades. But the older I get (having just completed my 6th decade), the more I realize that I’ve probably forgotten much more about me and my life than I presently remember. Sometimes it’s the experience of coming across a picture or a letter I may have taken or written many years ago, that now seems unfamiliar; or talking with someone who was with me many years ago and remembers an incident that I totally forgot about. Often the memories do come back given a clue; but sometimes they don’t. And even when they do, they are often inaccurate or mixed up with other memory incidents. Studies on the reliability of courtroom testimony from witnesses who try with all honesty to describe a past incident are not very encouraging regarding the power of our “steel-trap memories”.

So, a whole lot from our past, a big portion of our lives, are very blurry or are now completely inaccessible. In some ways this is good; we may not want to remember a lot of stupid, painful or unsuccessful things that we did or thought or felt in the past. Maybe we don’t want to remember an injury or a car accident or being given bad news about our health or the health of someone close. But in other ways it is sad; perhaps we forget many of the joys of childhood, or what being in love for the first time was like. We forget the exuberation of our past dreams and hopes. We forget the satisfaction of getting a difficult job done, of being able to help someone else out, of having a long, interesting conversation with a past friend.

We think that we live with 100% of our lives, or at least 100% of the important parts of it; but in truth, so much of what is or was important is now gone. If we define our lives as the totality of our experiences from birth to the present moment, then we may only be in possession of perhaps 1/3 of what our lives are. If we were to write an auto-biography, it would be very incomplete. As to the rest of all the things that made us what we are, perhaps a tiny bit of the missing memories are held by others or in some way recorded. And unless we are historical figures, no one is going to ever try to retrieve and weave together even those “external traces” of our life’s journey.

I find that kind of sad. I really would like to face and get to know “the whole me”, all the good and bad together in one place at one time. Can this ever happen? Probably not in this life. If there were to be a beneficent all-powerful deity and we were to be given some role by that deity beyond the bounds of the physical life in the world that we currently know, perhaps we would be reconciled with every little thought and feeling and impression that we ever had while here on earth. Perhaps we would be allowed to develop a bigger me, a truer me, a “meta-me”. For many, I think this would be heavenly. For some, perhaps it would be hell. Perhaps this is what “karma” or sainthood is about; i.e., trying to live a life in this realm such that if we are ever reconciled to everything we ever were throughout our time on earth, we could be at peace with our true selves, and want to continue our being, as such. Perhaps hell and condemnation would be equivalent to when unending torment results from seeing the totality and full truth of one’s earthly life.

I am still slowly poking my way through Frank Tipler’s strange book “The Physics of Immortality”, in which Tipler uses now-outdated physics paradigms regarding the workings of the universe to envision how an intelligent life form such as humankind could eventually rig the entire universe such that every sentient life could be entirely reconstructed and live again in an eternal realm, what he calls the “Omega Point” (borrowing the term from theologian Teilhard De Chardin).

Actually, the life form that would do all of this would exist many billion years in the future, and would represent an evolved and much-changed version of what we are today. But Tipler’s cosmology is way beyond its expiration date, and the forces and events that would be needed for this almost unimaginable effort to recapture and re-constitute lives from the ghostly information signals and patterns that our actions write upon the entirety of particles and fields in the heavens do not seem likely anymore, given what we now know. I cannot understand the details of Tipler’s ideas, nor why they are wrong relative to currently accepted cosmology paradigms. But even an uninformed lay-person could see that Tipler was in trouble by the prediction derived from his paradigm, printed in Chapter 4, that the Higgs boson particle would be discovered to have an energy-mass far in excess of what the Large Hadron Collider finally found last year (220 Gev versus 125 Gev actual).

Still, it is very interesting that a scientist like Tipler can assert that it is at least theoretically possible to somehow re-capture in the cold voids of space enough information to entirely re-construct who we were, what our bodies and brains were like at every moment, and what we said and did and interacted with at every second between birth and death. I have seen a number of articles by scientists who severely rebuke and refute Tipler’s theory of how intelligent life can continue to the end of the universe, and then reconstruct (in effect, resurrect) every life that was ever lived by any sentient being, within an eternal realm caused by some quirk in Einstein’s general relativity equations. (This reliance on general relativity was always questionable since we have known for a long time that Einstein’s theories, brilliant though they are, can not be the final story; in their present form they conflict with what we know about quantum dynamics at the micro-scale, and must be changed to somehow become fully consistent with the world of the tiny). But none of Tipler’s critics appear to refute the idea that the signals left behind by our existence are still out there, long after we are gone (but they certainly reject the notion that these signals could ever be recaptured and brought together so as to renew and reanimate the long-dead person that was behind them).

So, intelligent life is probably not ever going to be able to make a “whole life at once” version of a person. But if there is a God and that God has power over the cosmos, then perhaps we might somehow live again in some ultra-dimension, with the entirety of what our lives on earth (or anywhere else in our physical universe) were. I’m not sure I would bet on that happening; but as Pascal said, what do we have to lose by taking that bet? (Recall “Pascal’s wager“.) Even if it never happens, it is still a good philosophy to live our lives as if we will someday, somehow have to live with the entirety of everything we ever said or did or thought or whatever. Try to live such that even if everything goes wrong, you would still be able to forgive and exonerate yourself if somehow your entire life could be accurately recounted, in the witness stand before you as judge.

Not because they are far, but because so near
The dead seem strange to us . . .
Their presences withdrawn;
meanings from words are dead
The springs gone under the hill.
The dead are living still
But bring them back none may
Who wake into this day

                    Kathleen Raine

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:08 pm      

  1. Jim, It seems your musings on memory all go back to “Frank Tiplet’s strange book ‘The Physics of Immortality’”.

    First, it seems to me, and here I admit I’m simply thinking of things as I see them, that “memories” are not so much actual “remembering” as they are the perception a person has when he/she experiences anything. As in the example of “eyewitness” testimony regarding crime, etc., there are so many versions of “eyewitness” viewings that it’s more a matter of each person’s perception of what happened, who did it, even when “it” happened rather than any kind of concrete memories. Each individual experiences his/her perceptions as memories, but I have found that they are more each individual’s perceptions rather than actual memories. (On a side note: If I were on a jury I’d certainly give very little credence to “eyewitness” testimony; I myself have seen too many “eyewitness mistakes” made; each person sincerely believes he/she is right. But it’s not so much “mistakes” as it is differing perceptions, as I see it.)

    As to our memories and whether or not they are “gone”, what we think of them regarding ourselves, I see life’s experiences (and thus memories as time passes) more in the sense of their creating who we have become and who we are. In a sense we are our own creators. So, it is not all that important to remember every single little thing that happened or even to conflate or confuse things that happened; all things that happened to each individual comprise who and what he/she becomes. So, I doubt it matters much if each person actually remembers every single thing that happened to him/her; in the end all the things one experiences contribute to the person, and that’s the important thing.

    As to people not wanting to remember things or even choosing to forget things, there’s research that shows, even though denial as a coping mechanism is considered one of the least desirable ways to cope, people actually live longer using that particular type of coping mechanism rather than some of the “higher” ones. I find myself saying, who’s to say, which is best? Maybe those who cope by “forgetting” are on a longer life road than the person who remembers a lot and broods, worries, or “fusses” over too many memories. Maybe forgetting is a good coping mechanism provided by evolution to allow for longer lives.

    I would agree that each person’s life is worthy of a biography. Perhaps that’s the point of the relatively recent interest in genealogy, to find out at least something about the individuals who went before us, to find out what their lives were like. No harm in that, certainly; in fact, it adds to the wonder, empathy, and loveliness of knowing one’s ancestors’ lives and in some way our own.

    Interesting that Tipler should be “trying” to “gather” together everything about everyone “out there in space” someplace, that is, if I understand what he’s saying. Yet, I find something seriously missing in that approach. It seems to me that whatever life may be after life on this earth it requires a different approach than a “physics” approach. I see it as needing an intangibility, a spirituality, a mysticism of some kind (or something akin to that idea) to deal with any life beyond the life on this planet.

    I’ve often tho’t that both ideas may be right, the one that says there is “nothing” after death and the one that says there is “life” after death. Perhaps the “nothing” refers to what concerns life on this planet. Perhaps the “life” refers to an entirely different form of life, an intangible kind of life that, nevertheless, has reality. (And on a kind of tangential note here, I find it strange that we say there is no life on other planets. I wonder: Who are we to say that? Why could there not be some other kind of intangible life that exists in some other dimension, that’s not a part of our dimension, that exists on those other places in the universe. Then perhaps Tipler would be seriously limiting his concept by including only human life on this planet.

    As to being “forgiven” after death for what one has done wrong, I tend to think that the concept requires more specificity. I would think “mistakes” as such are simply that, a learning tool; one learns from mistakes. However, things consciously done with a kind of malice or ill-will toward others, that is, deliberately, I’d think those are the things one may serious regret whatever constitutes the next life.

    And the more I think about it, the more interesting the next life seems, an adventure of sorts. How interesting to pursue what comes after this limited life on this planet. MCS

    Comment by Mary — May 31, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

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