You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. And you may find yourself in another part of the world. And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?” – Talking Heads
Every experience you have ever had forms a link in the chain of events that brought you to where you currently sit. The combination of past sensory apprehensions and your mental and emotional reactions to same is, quite literally, the entire basis of your current state of mind. Without this storehouse of information, each of us would live in a perpetual state of amnesia.
Have you ever listened to a debate between a person of deep religious faith and an atheist? With little variation, most such destined-for-an-impasse conversations wrap up with the believer telling the non-believer that he or she just needs to have faith, to which the atheist expresses an incapability of willfully manifesting such a thing out of thin air. Sometimes this ends the argument, while in other instances, a more savvy religious apologist will remind the atheist that every time he gets behind the wheel of a vehicle, he has faith that he will not die in a wreck, etc. This is true, but it speaks to a different kind of faith than that which was central to the debate. Or does it?
Science fiction has utilized the idea of the artificial implantation of memories into an unsuspecting character’s brain for quite some time. A skilled hypnotist can also conjure through manipulative suggestion memories of events that never happened in the minds of susceptible subjects. Have you ever pondered what happens at the time of an experience to create a memory in one’s brain that can be recalled long after the fact? I wouldn’t suggest thinking about this too hard as neuroscientists aren’t entirely certain how this occurs and are still exploring the theory of a single-celled storage space corresponding to each individual recollection.
All of this brings up the real possibility that not only was our devout debater on to something, but could have gone much further than the driving analogy. It seems quite plausible to aver that thinking about the past in any way (reminiscing, recalling memorized information for an exam, etc.) is an act of faith. How do you know that this information informing your present thoughts isn’t just a result of a chemical process needing no outside stimulus for its function or even stranger, fabricated data inserted from the outside to make you feel as though you have lived through certain specific situations and events?
Right now, think about someone who plays a major role in your life, whether it be your spouse, friend, partner, parent, child or co-worker. The only other criteria necessary is that said person is not currently in your direct presence. How do you know – right now – that this person actually exists anywhere other than within your mind? Unless and until this individual enters your environment and can be experienced with the senses, the only proof you have of their existence is the memory of past encounters. If and when you do see this person again, you will feel that you have more than sufficient proof of their solidity – until you once again part ways and the traces of this last encounter will be routed to the area of the brain responsible for retaining the image of this person who – once more – may or may not exist in objective reality as far as your cognitive powers of present moment awareness are concerned.
A masterful liar can also create a false reality in another’s mind based upon nothing more than faith in one’s word. If an acquaintance informs you in confidence that she is a foreign spy and is divulging this information to you alone out of implicit trust, chances are you’ll turn around and tell others that you personally know a secret foreign agent. But do you? Aside from being an impressive little piece of dinnertime conversation, whether or not what your acquaintance told you is true seems of little tangible importance. But everyone loves to have a stockpile of interesting little conversational tidbits, so you may repeat the story with a fair amount of frequency, further strengthening your own faith in its validity.
Essentially, the only things that we can truly “know” are those that we are experiencing through the senses at any given moment. Everything else that you think you know is mental data whose veracity is necessarily taken on faith.
In my drinking days, I was frequently told by friends and family members of humiliating and/or awful things that I did and said while in the midst of a blackout. Of course, whether I chose to accept those accounts as true depended upon my faith in the integrity of the person giving them. But since the very definition of a blackout is that one is functioning and interacting without creating the usual corresponding memory traces in the brain, it would seem that everyone’s life would be a series of un-retained actions and reactions just like those of a blackout drunk were it not for this curious phenomenon of memory storage. Who’s to say that we aren’t born with a preexisting bank of images and data that we call “memories” but which might just be an inherent biological device meant to ensure that we feel our lives are being experienced in linear time and subject to the laws of cause and effect?
Have any of us ever really done anything? For the most part, I think we have done every single thing we feel that we remember having done. But that’s just my personal opinion informed by my faith in the brain’s capacity to record “real” images and events. The possibility that I’m completely off base about this isn’t nearly as incomprehensible as it seems at first glance. For the past 15 minutes or so, I have had the experience of typing out a post for my blog page. I will soon choose an accompanying image for it and hit the “publish” button to make it public, at which time the entire undertaking will transform into an unproveable event existing only in my memory banks whose ever-growing stock of information requires faith for its acceptance as an accurate record of the past. Of course, the contents of this blog should not be taken by faith or reason to be an accurate record of…well, anything, really. The schizophrenic musings of a philosophical charlatan may provide some entertainment to people of a certain mindset, but they certainly can’t be considered an accurate historical record, since they contain even less information than do our questionable memories. Perhaps getting to a state of blackout drunkenness before reading my web page would maximize its worth. If anyone wants to give that a try, please let me know how it works out for you. I like to get wasted vicariously through others. I seem to have far fewer blackouts that way.