Thinking, Remembering Thinking, Thinking about a Memory of Thinking, and how that Messes with Time (The Permanence Review #7)

This is part of the newsletter’s walk backwards through my essay “The Pressure of Light: how consciousness creates permanence in a universe of infinite-heterogeneity”

Section 3 is a big one. If The Pressure of Light is right about anything, I hope it’s what’s contained in this section. At the heart of the section is my characterization of the kind of uncertainty that surrounds remembered-thinking. There are two aspects to this uncertainty: 

1) A remembered thought naturally has boundaries, a beginning to the memory and an end, which form a duration. These boundaries may wrap around a perceived duration for the thought, such as the amount of time it took to visualize an athletic maneuver, or they may wrap around the logical beginning and end to a conceptual understanding, like the memory of a conceptual understanding of a story’s plot line. In terms of the remembered-visualization of the athletic maneuver, the thought had a length, and in terms of the conceptual understanding, the thought had a size, but in both cases the memory of the thought comes with an understanding of its time-based duration: the time it took to visualize that maneuver, or the time it took to describe, or mentally walk through, that conceptual understanding.

The uncertainty identified by The Pressure of Light stems from a comparison of remembered-internal-events with remembered-external-events. Remembered-external-events are memories that do not precisely represent external events, and every conscious mind knows this. The boundaries around external-memories are happenstances that are made according to the randomness of what the body was present for, and what the mind exercised awareness of. Someone may only remember a particular show from a particular day of a music festival, but they are well aware that the show is an event connected to a myriad of other events on either side of the time-boundary represented in their memory.

Remembered-internal-events, logically speaking, are no different, in that every thinking event must connect to a myriad of other internal-information-processing-events, but this is not necessarily how the mind understands memories-of-thinking. Section 3 describes the freedom the mind has to perceive the boundaries around remembered-thinking-events as perfectly representative of the actual event.

2) All remembered-external-events are understood to have some connection to other remembered-external-events. David Hume identified three fundamental forms of connections between thoughts, which I’ll contextualize as types of perceptions of remembered-external-events: a) events that resemble each other, such as the sun rising every morning, or the similarity between animals of the same species; b) events that connect continuously through space or time, such as the continuous flowing of a river, or the uniform distribution of thunder across the sky; and c) events connected through cause and effect, such as the sound of a song heard because of the playing of a band seen. Just like with the boundaries formed around external-event-memories, the mind understands the imperfection of its perception. It’s possible that the continuously flowing river was not a flowing river at all, but a canal experiencing a strong wind on its surface; upon reflection, the mind may remember that the thunder’s uniform distribution across the sky is actually the result of echos, and thus separated sound events, rather than just one continuous event; and the mind is perfectly within its right to retain suspicion that the band was faking a performance over a recording, and was not the cause to the effect at all. 

Does the mind have the same capacity to hypothesize doubt about remembered-thoughts? The Pressure of Light says it does not. The second form of uncertainty around remembered-thinking that the essay examines is regarding the actual existence of remembered-thoughts and their connections. 

This point was developed from my original observation, the one that I came back with from what I believe was an extraordinarily deep introspective dive into the darkness that surrounds thought. By darkness I mean the space behind or around the memory of a thought. If you wanted to explore more deeply the memory of the show at a music festival, you may return to the scene afterwards to get a better understanding of the geography, or attend the festival again next year to fill in some contextual gaps, or see the band again, meet them and ask about their perceptions of the same event. This investigative possibility does not exist for remembered-thinking, all a person has is introspection. This is what I mean by a deep dive into the darkness. What I returned with was a question I could not answer, how do I know that I really had the thought that I remembered having? The answer is I can’t, and if I can’t confirm the existence of a remembered thought, I have even less certainty regarding all apparently connected thoughts I remember. 

The possible non-existence of conscious experiences has already been considered by researchers from the perspective of a researcher interviewing subjects on their thoughts, but that only answers the question, “How can we know this person had the thought they say they had?” This type of inquiry is the basis for much of Daniel Dennett’s doubt, and that of many subsequent thinkers, about the existence of consciousness as a unified phenomenon. 

My assertions only account for the structure of thoughts, not their content, and in terms of all of consciousness, I don’t disagree with the lack of unity. But my investigation is different from any before it because it looks closely at what happens when the question is personal to an individual conscious mind. All minds are capable of pondering the existence or non-existence of their own thoughts, and when that uncertainty is considered in the localized context of an individual’s internal space, the uncertainty becomes a significant phenomenon in the universe in its own right. As section 3 shows, it’s a phenomenon that puts into question the very nature of time inside these unknowable bubbles of conscious thought. 

So, without further ado…

Compared to events in the universe that are agreed upon to exist by multiple thinkers, remembered-thinking-events exist far outside the boundaries of agreed-upon-reality. Unless neurologists learn how to observe and decipher the brain processing information, to observe the brain creating a memory of that same information-processing in-action and to decipher the content contained in that memory, and to observe and decipher the crystallization of memories-of-analysis-of-memories-of-thinking-remembered, conscious minds will never ever be able to confirm that a remembered-thinking-event actually happened the way it’s reported. The Pressure of Light asserts that this is impossible, regardless of how far neurology or any other science evolves, and therefore that the uncertainty of remembered-thinking is representative of its fundamental structure in this universe.

My inability to know for certain that the thinking-events in my mind actually happened means I’m even less able to know if I’m correct in presuming any particular thinking-event has connections with any other thinking-event. Any remembered thought I have is shrouded in even less confirmable deductions of what context, or past and future iterations, these events are embedded in. Thus I achieve the capacity to see, without any intuitive doubt, thinking-events that perfectly replicate previous and future events, and thinking-events that connect seamlessly with other thoughts and feelings through the context I’ve deduced and confirmed without challenge. It’s almost as if the mind is enticing me to imagine fantastical explanations for the occurence of my remembered-thinking.

My mind is littered with presumptions of cause-and-effect relationships between different thinking and feeling events I routinely experience, and the correctness of my presumptions depends on those events having a place on the arrow-of-time that I have at least a decent view of. The implications of the uncertainty that surrounds remembered-thinking leads to a very disruptive truth, that knowledge developed from reflections on thinking is incredibly blind to the realities of normal-time, even in cases as simple as knowing for certain whether the feeling led to the thought, the thought led to the feeling, or if they were both there together all along. 

In my life, uncertainty and blindness have not led to apathy, on the contrary, the unanswered questions about what surrounds supposedly-remembered-thoughts are prime for engaging my mind’s ingenuity and inventiveness. Sometimes when the mind learns that it will never confirm absolutely any knowledge it develops regarding a particular challenge, rather than seeing pointlessness to the exercise, it can see freedom, and even quiver with excitement at the chance to invent and imagine without the risk of absolute disproof. 

I’ve accumulated part of my brain’s network-of-knowledge by walking the arrow-of-time, never reflecting on the fact that I’m thinking, although still using my brain to its full capacity. The other part I accumulated by reflecting on memories-of-thinking. No matter how deeply I reflected, how hard I pushed my attention inside my mind, I still had to understand my position in space-time. Fortunately, uncertainty is not all that defines this state, because memories-of-thoughts are nevertheless defined in a length with malleable dimensions, are contextually connected to any other thinking-event as tightly as the mind wants to believe, and in this space events are perfect replications of past and future iterations, if that helps. 

I think the most important way my remembered-internal-events differ from my remembered-external-events is in how my mind comes to understand the boundaries around memories. I believe the uncertainty surrounding remembered-thinking actually makes the beginning and end carved out by my memory more real to the mind than whatever the actual boundaries are of the information-processing-event my mind has decided to have me remember. This in itself would not be a problem if there was somebody I could check my information with, because that’s how I got comfortable with all the blurring and unseen connections at the boundaries of remembered-external-events on the real arrow-of-time. Not only does this somebody not exist for what goes on in my mind, my report on the existence of the thinking event, it’s boundaries, and any connected events, is the only source of information on these events anywhere in the universe. 

The Pressure of Light hypothesizes that, in that world of uncertainty, where the capacity for projection rules time, the mind, far from recognizing the risk of self-delusion, clings to the idea that repetition, that events iterating endlessly backward and forward through time, or context-universally-connecting anything the observer wants, is reality. The mind holds dearly memories-segmented, with a beginning and an end, a unit, destined for projection, like a mirror of a certain size facing a mirror of the same size so that their measurements stay true through the infinite reflections, which only diminish because of perception. In this state the mind is quite anxious about the idea of moving steadily forward through time, although it does this quite comfortably when not remembering-thinking. Instead it moves in clunky steps from one mirror to the next, always stopping to stare into its own projections of iterations or connected events, always delaying the next step forward through time while it tries to deduce or strategize something good. This is mirror-time.

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