Summon a memory into your mind, it could be of anything; happy, sad, feeling, or unfeeling. Hold it there and observe and for the sake of experiment ask yourself this question: “Where does memory originate?” This is the starting point of my inquiry. I have come to the recent realization that memory is in fact one of the fundamental aspects of human life. Were it not for the capacity to perceive the past in an illusory way (as is the nature of the human mind) it could be argued that the ego would not be possible. This of course applies to perception of the future as well, but in a much different way. For the purposes of this essay, I will contain my inquiry solely to the exploration and significance of memory, and how perhaps; it is from its unconscious significance which arise the almost universal ideas of re-birth, and of after-life
Part i): Significance of Memory Reflection in Large Scale Culture
It is within reasonable capacity of most human beings to recognize and establish the importance of tradition throughout history. Whether it is a good or bad thing that this is true, depends entirely upon the perspective of the interpreter, much as anything else. I would say, however that its importance; specifically, the influence it has had upon man and his relationship with himself, is undeniable. I will attempt to disclose what I have learned purely as possible, but of course, as any other, I am partial to my own ideas.
Tradition is something that pre-dates the conception of date and time and place; it is, in its purity that which has always been known. Ask any traditional sort of person why, for example, they follow their particular dogma, and most commonly they will be unaware of the reasons for their devotion. Interestingly, however, even without reason their devotion seems stronger than any sort of cut and dry reasoning used by pseudo intellectuals. Should there be a crisis at hand I know I would look first to a man of belief than a man of pure reason. Neither of course by themselves are beneficial, they must be used together in order for the mind to proceed creatively. For it is the religious attitude which allows one to have enough faith, whether it be in God or himself, to be creative. It is also the religious attitude however which stagnates and dogmatizes his faith when left alone in power, without the piercing eye of reason. Reason allows for reform, for destruction of what is archaic and useless in the name of that which might be better; but, when left alone without the process of faith, it will criticize itself out of existence, and will pick apart what is already built until there is nothing left except chaos.
Culture is a collection of mass individual memory. Whether each culture is accurate in its recollections, is not important. The importance lies in the effects of such recollection on the collective individual. It was discovered long ago by the great Greek minds that the culture (usually separated into nations) is a reflection of the common individual. What the individual feels on a mass scale, the state will produce in large scale action. This is not to say that a culture follows “the will of the people”, but instead that if you observe the subtleties of the common individual, it is easy to see why a culture is the way it is or acts in the way it does. It is memory that determines the unconscious actions of individuals, and thus by extension memory determines what happens within a culture. But how could this be possible? How is it that an individual’s memory can affect an entire group of people? Enter the collective unconscious. A term coined by Carl G. Jung; the collective unconscious is the mass set of memories, behaviors,
traditions, and archetypes that underlie the human mind. It is subtle to an extreme degree, but if one looks in the correct manner, and in the correct places, one begins to see that the individual is not so separate from his culture as we like to think. Culture, being collective memory, is the most obvious example of memory’s impact on human life. Large scale events, which affect many individuals, are the easiest example of collective memory; for, even when such an event has passed, the cultural effects of it are still felt for many years to come. Until, just as with the individual mind, the memory becomes so familiarized that it is no longer a conscious thought, but instead only reflected within the actions inside of a culture. But it is mistakenly construed as such: the memory is separate from its affected culture; in fact, that the event is not a memory at all, but a significant point in the never-ending line of causality. This outlook though collectively taught is wrong. It, in a sense becomes the culture, and so passes into history as an event; but exists still very much presently in the in the thoughts and actions of those affected by it. In essence, a given culture is a set of integrated events and memories which effected individuals on a large scale, and thus becomes part of the collective identity of those individuals. A problem rises then when the classic philosophical question is asked: “does the past exist?” Within concrete reality? No; however, within the unconscious minds of the collective individual, it is still very much present, precisely because the collective chooses, whether consciously or unconsciously to identify with the past. It is the individual capacity for memory which allocates for the existence of a collective memory which allocates for the existence of a collective memory, solidified by its scale of effect, and significance in collective individual life.
Ultimately then, the separation between an event and culture in which it occurs is illusory. The event, once it becomes past, moves instantaneously into the holding place of memory, where it is integrated, adapted to, or allowed to destroy the collective individuals affected, be it physically or psychically. Once integrated, the psychic effects, (the changes in thoughts and actions) are no longer conscious, they become part of the collective identity, and we then forget it is the events of the past which have mostly shaped our collective ego, or culture.