This post is an excerpt from my essay, and the book of my essay and novel:
IMAGINE A MAN WALKING in the middle of a field, unaware that a thunderstorm is brewing just above his head. Suddenly he’s startled by a nearby lightning strike and crack of thunder. That lightning strike is an event in the external universe, an event that began with the sudden discharge of energy, and continued like the ripples emanating out in a pond from a drop of rain. For a drop of rain, the pond is the substrate through which the event reverberates. For the lightning strike, the air, the surrounding electromagnetic field, and the weather system itself are substrates through which the event reverberates. For how long does it reverberate? I believe events in this universe, which is synonymous with saying all things in this universe, exist for as long as the event is discernible through its reverberations through a substrate. Eventually the ripple from a rain drop becomes indistinguishable from the criss-cross of ripples from all other raindrops. This is the same as saying the reverberations of events eventually achieve maximum entropy, and zero information, thus ceasing to exist. So to with the lightning strike: eventually the thunder rumbles itself out, the effect on surrounding fields becomes indistinguishable from all other field behaviour, and the weather system eats up the once distinguishable happening within its cycles.
A lightning strike experienced by the field-walker, however, will reverberate for much longer than it would without him. The field-walker’s body and neurology are also substrates for an event to reverberate through: in this case the lightning-strike reverberates through his sense organs, the vibrations reverberate through his feet, and the event reverberates through his body in the form of a startled reaction to the lightning. All these subconscious processes I believe are as much a part of the event as the initial release of energy, because the substrate that is the brain and body make the event distinguishable in terms of its outward ripples through the universe. To define an event as something separate from any reverberation outward would necessarily lead to defining an event as a single, discrete point in spacetime, but nothing in this universe is a discrete point, and thus this provides no real way to define an event. Within the field-walker’s neurology, this event ripples through brain regions like the hippocampus, which guides the ripples towards particular networks of neurons, where the ripples not only reverberate through existing connections, but through the ongoing process of building and breaking connections. These ripples will eventually slow to a point where the field-walker could label the event as a memory, but in reality that memory is nothing but the very event that began with the discharge of energy, only now reverberating very slowly through a substrate, but still maintaining something less than maximum entropy, and something more than zero information about the event.
Now imagine, immediately after the lightning strike, a heavy downpour begins, occupying the man’s mind completely. He has no time to contemplate the lightening strike; that event, as powerful as it was, never enters consciousness, is never reflected upon at all, so it simply continues its slow reverberation within the brain, in the subconscious. The man runs for shelter, and once he finds a pavillion and sits down at a picnic table, he finally reflects on the initial lightning strike. Here is the dividing line between a biological organism, an event himself, interacting with other events in the universe in normal time, and a conscious mind establishing a new event in a time-distorted space. The space described by remembered-thinking-theory is nothing like a biological substrate that an event reverberates through. In the space created by remembered-thinking, the event must be unitized, at least as a remembered-remembering, and thus as an event separated from other events in the universe, and from most of its own reverberations.
This basic form of unitization, remembered-remembering, is as close as I believe a conscious mind gets to experiencing an actual present-moment (which is what it is, even if what’s remembered is a reverberation of an event that began years prior). Typically far more unitization happens. The field-walker may contemplate the flash itself, or the crack of the thunder, or that wonderful startle he felt. In the perfect unitization of remembered-thinking, he can visualise comparable strikes, cracks and startles from his past, or that may happen in his future. He can visualise strikes, cracks and startles that have occurred forever, observed by his ancestors, or that will occur forever, and be observed by his descendants. What he can’t do, in that conscious, reflective space, is experience directly or wholistically an actual present-moment-interaction with an event in the external universe.
The distinction is important, because both types of events create knowledge in the mind. A person’s neurology is constantly acting as a substrate for a myriad of events that are still distinguishable through their neurological reverberations, but have yet to ever enter consciousness. That is knowledge, and even if those reverberations are never remembered as remembered-remembering (the means by which a real event ignites an internal event), those reverberations will still affect a person’s path through life, still affect the development of their knowledge, only from their subconscious. Even if the man were to never consciously remember the lightning strike, its subconscious reverberations may still affect how future weather forcasts change his field-walking plans.
There’s one final, but very important point to make with this example. I assert that awareness, as it’s most often described, is a remembered-thinking-event. What distinguishes knowledge built from real events, and knowledge built from remembered-thinking, is separation. Events that reverberate through the neurology are not separated by sense experience, by emotional experience, or a sense of duration or geography. They may reverberate through neural networks that are weighted to one aspect of cognitive understanding more than another, but that doesn’t characterise the memory, just as lightning strikes are not wholly characterised by any one aspect of the event, but only by the total effects that reverberate out through the universe, at least if one wants to characterise lightening as a most objectively real event as can possibly be accomplished. The brain consumes real events in wholistic form subconsciously, while consciously the mind consumes events by seeing what it’s seeing, hearing what it’s hearing, and feeling what it’s feeling. Conscious awareness is not a consumption of the world through the senses, but a remembering of a particular, unitized cognitive process as it processed information for a particular, unitized segment of time.
Imagine a second example: a woman rushing to a dinner party she’s late for, and on the way she sees an old friend from long ago. In a brief exchange they agree to meet for coffee, and then she’s off, rushing to the dinner party, reflecting not at all on the event that just occurred. The event that was the interaction between her and the old friend continues to reverberate within her neurology, although it has not ignited any internal events. Now imagine that the woman arrives at the dinner party. Still without ever reflecting on the memory, she’s asked how she’s doing by the host, a question which immediately launches her into the story of meeting an old friend on the way. In this case the real event has continued to reverberate through the universe, first through the substrate that is the woman’s brain and body, then through the neural and muscular process involved in speaking, then through the substrate of air in the form of words, then through the listener’s neurology, where the event, remarkably, still reverberates with something less than maximum entropy and something more than zero information.
Later, after the dinner party, when the woman is home alone, she remembers telling the host about running into their old friend, and reflects on the memory. Now a real event has ignited an internal event, not the real event that was meeting the old friend, but the event that was talking about it with the dinner host, because she’s remembering-remembering how she described the meeting to the host. If her brain were to decommission the neurological substrate that allowed the real meeting to continue reverberating in her mind, in favour of the memory of the internal event that is a remembered-remembering of what she described to the host, then that would become the knowledge of the event that the woman would report in any future recollections, not the knowledge once held by the real-event-reverberation in her brain that the host was allowed to witness. This is how remembered-thinking-theory shows that remembering straight from the neurological impression of a moment is something dramatically different from remembering the separated aspects of an event that are defined through internal reflections on remembered-remembering.
Consider one final example, this time from a letter written by a teenage Einstein to his recent board and study host, Pauline Winteler:
“Your lovely present gives me a welcome excuse to write to you again, the holiday’s silence, the cozy quietude, to have a good chat with you, as if we were sitting together in the red room while the potatoes are getting brown with jealousy and the dear sun and some other dear thing peep into the room. When I think of that room, my head starts ringing in a delightfully mad way, and a thousand memories, some old, some young, some gay and others sad, embrace each other in a child-like fashion, as if they belonged together. “ (Einstein, 1897)
The first sentence sounds much like one from the dinner guest who spoke about a memory without first reflecting on the memory. Einstein is usually very careful with his words, but there’s a clumsiness and speed to the thought expressed that makes it sound an awful lot like a quickly written sentence about a memory bubbling up, in the excitement of the letter-writing-moment, from the real-event-reverberations. The next sentence is the polar opposite: he writes about the relationship between the act-of-remembering, “When I think of that room,…” and an experience-of-awareness of a feeling, “…my head starts ringing in a delightfully mad way,…”; he writes about the categorical-identities of his remembered-(and analysed)-rememberings, “…and a thousand memories, some old, some young, some gay and others sad,…”; he writes about the relationships between those remembered-rememberings, “…embrace each other in a child-like fashion,…”, and a hypothesised causal force that has the effect of their togetherness, “…as if they belonged together”. This sentence could not have been written without some reflection on memories-of-thinking-about-memories-of-remembering. The two sentences together are a good example of how the mind may oscillate between reflection and in-the-moment states quickly throughout a single task, and draw from knowledge sets differently characterised by the two states. It’s also a sample of how remembered-thinking-theory-analyses may proceed in literary studies, law, philosophy, or in common life.
I think everybody oscillates in and out of these two states all day everyday: a reflective-state, where some amount of attention is on a memory-of-thinking, and a present-moment-state, where the brain and body are nothing but a substrate for the reverberations of events in the universe. But I don’t believe our reflective, introspective minds can ever really know what the other side of the oscillation is like, because the reflective-mind only understands the external-universe through memories-of-events-external that it has pulled apart and analysed as unitized parts of the whole. However, there is, I believe, a channel to the real universe that is never lost to the mind, regardless of what state it’s in.