In the midst of a fairly busy day where I managed to do my errands and finish reading three books, I managed to watch a couple of humorous videos that were part of a series. In one of the videos, a woman slips vodka in a gentleman’s shopping bag instead of water, and when he drinks it at work he ends up drunk. In the second of the videos, he has a hangover that apparently induced amnesia, because when his lovely daughter and his wife are taking care of him, he doesn’t recognize them and doesn’t even remember that he was married in the first place. This would be a real catastrophe for most people; of course, the video played it for laughs, but one would have to wonder about the fragility of a mind that could forget decades of life with being drunk once. It would make a man, particularly a reflective and philosophical sort of man, swear off of drinking forever, wouldn’t one think?
One of the things I ponder about particularly often is the problem of memory. Memory is something that is important in different ways at different parts of life . As we grow older we struggle to recall what we know that we know, and are frustrated that words and thoughts come slowly to use that once came quickly. Speakers of obscure and nearly extinct languages wonder if they and their world and the knowledge passed down from generation after generation will be lost and their worldviews entirely forgotten. Thoughtful and reflective writers wonder if their memories are particularly reliable, and to what extent their memories have been made unreliable by being contaminated with guesswork and supposition and latter accounts being added to the memory. To what extent is our memory hindered by positive or negative nostalgia, and how are we inspired to do brave deeds by remembering the past, and to what extent does holding on to historical memory create problems and difficulties or discourage us from doing anything at all? All of these problems are interconnected because memory is not an isolated matter, but is always connected to something else.
For elderly people fearing the creeping and gradual effects of senility, it is not enough to have memories but one has to recall them. Memory does no one any good if that memory cannot be accessed, after all. Other problems relate to the issue of fidelity, as memories have to be read or understood in order to be of use to anyone else, and memories may not be entirely reliable because our minds and our computers or our epic poems can all be corrupted, making the transmission of information over time an inherently dodgy phenomenon. This is, after all, why we have textual criticism in order to seek to wipe away errors from the past and come to a firm and accurate understanding of what a text actually means. This is, as might be imaged, a somewhat inexact process, as much an art as a science. Indeed, just about everything involving memory requires a certain amount of art, whether that means reconciling contradictory accounts from the memories of different eyewitnesses or of the same person at different times, or whether that involves dealing with the inaccuracies of memory and the need to recover what has been lost over time.
And if these are the difficulties that come about in normal or even skilled minds, imagine what happens when other factors complicate the issue of memory. To what extent does chemical experimentation make reliable memory more difficult for us to achieve? And why should we care? What is the goal of reliable memory anyway? The only way we can advance upon painful and gradual practice is through reliable memory. If, for example, we can never remember the right way to and from places we go to often, then we are forever strangers to the world around us, forever in danger of making a wrong turn and being lost and departing from the path along which we seek to travel to a particular chosen destination. If we cannot remember the right word to use, we can never communicate just what we are thinking and feeling to someone else who must rely upon our words to come to terms with us and to understand what we are about. If we cannot remember facts or details, we cannot use those facts to build arguments or to draw the right conclusions. Each of these fates is potentially catastrophic, and leads us often to be exceptionally cautious because we cannot risk traveling far from familiar territory because that road might be too dangerous and impossible for us to navigate successfully or that mushroom might be fatal to us because we cannot remember precisely which one is which or distinguish between them successfully or upset because we cannot make ourselves understood because we do not know how to describe what is inside of us. Certainly we would all wish to live in such a way that we can build upon past efforts and past successes, and not be forever novices without understanding of the world around us or the world within us.
 See, for example: