Sunday, April 15, 2007

Power of memory

There's a saying that a person isn't truly dead until his name is forgotten by all who knew him or knew of him. At that point, his spirit is freed from earthly ties and can continue to the next stage on its journey.

But with the Internet, great people and common folk alike can have memories of themselves kept in circulation practically forever through Wikipedia articles, list servers, electronic bulletin boards, census records and other public and private documents, blogs, reminiscences of friends, family and acquaintances and so on.

Why, just the other day I overheard a spirit lamenting being chained to this earthly realm by the power of the microchip.


Matt Kohai said...

You would be surprised at the tenuous nature of the memory storage devices we use today. Hard drives wear out, optical discs become blackened and pitted with exposure to light... Much of this media is actually less durable than the good old fashioned parchment and quill used by ancient monks. It's only advantage is redundancy, the ability to be copied and recopied at nearly the speed of light. But much old data is falling by the wayside, neglected, forgotten. Just look at NASA - they've managed to somehow LOSE the original videotapes of the first lunar landing, and by now they may have degraded to the point of near-unwatchability.

Michael said...

I was thinking more in a metaphorical sense. It's just a story.

qaminante said...

I recently read a novel, "The Brief History of the Dead", by Kevin Brockmeier, that is based on the premise that people remain somewhere until the last person who remembers them - or is there to see monuments to them, or things they left behind - also dies. But I found the concept rather more interesting than the execution. Isn't it also a bit like the old "tree in the forest" riddle? If no-one sees/hears/thinks of us, do/did we exist? Well, you are more of a zen expert than I am!

Michael said...

Nope, sorry, no Zen expert here.

Life is but a dream, but the feelings of pain and pleasure are real enough. That's my yardstick. I think Joseph Conrad summed it up well: "We live as we dream: alone."

Michael said...

P.S. The Conrad quote is in response to your question: "If no-one sees/hears/thinks of us, do/did we exist?"

But, in the end, who the hell knows?

oxeye said...

"There's a saying that a person isn't truly dead until his name is forgotten by all who knew him or knew of him. At that point, his spirit is freed from earthly ties and can continue to the next stage on its journey."

michael - i wonder which culture that interesting thought came from? japan? american indian? memories are comforting to those of us left behind. it is almost impossible not to indulge a little. some people feel their only shot at immortality lies in what they leave. don't know about that.. immortality seemed like a great idea when I was young. not so hot on it now that i'm old.

Michael said...

I think it's from Mexico or somewhere else in Latin America, and I may not be relating it precisely.

Personally, I sometimes feel sad that my footprints one day will completely disappear, but there's also something comforting in it, too, in a way I can't describe.

east village idiot said...

Okay so we're all stuck here for a while.

If that's the case, when I'm just a soul, I'm going on the Cyclone at Coney Island. I'm also going to Carnegie Hall whenever I want and to Paris. And I will be sure to see what
Christian Bale looks like naked.

I will also go to any baseball game I want.

And I will hug people who feel lonely or afraid and hopefully they will feel soothed.

Your footprints won't wash away. It's too late. You've already informed my worldview which informs my son's and all my friends- it just keeps going. But you are going to be here for a long time so let's focus on today.

As a woman, I don't respond well to the "you are alone, face it" philosophy. I'm more into "there is love all around you - let it fill you up" philosophy - you can experience this in solitude or with other people. I believe that when we let go of our bodies we fall into the loving embrace of our eternal mother/God/Buddha and it will feel sublime.

Mungo said...

Just found your blog today - fascinating reading. Hope all is well.

Michael said...


Very beautiful thoughts. Thank you.

I was told a long time ago that with love, everything is possible, and I believe that. I think my feelings in my last post came across a little more darkly than I intended -- but that was my fault. Words have tremendously evocative powers and I sometimes lose sight of that.

Whether out footprints eventually wash away is beside the point. We're making them NOW, and that's what counts.

Hi Mungo,

Thanks, and welcome aboard!