Those Who Cannot Remember the Past are Condemned to Repeat it . . .

. . . And those who cannot remember where they left their keys are condemned to search for them.

There’s been a renaissance in the last few decades in memory. We human beings have been externalizing our memories to an increasing extent for centuries. Every advance in media — handwriting, cartography, movable type and printing, phonograph, typewriter, film, audiotape, word processing, videotape, web, mobile, etc. — has resulted in the loss of human memory abilities. We live, more or less, in …

  1. bagodonuts

    I have a leftist friend who displays cultural amnesia. “What do I care what principles guided the founding of country? Those principles aren’t necessarily true, so we [meaning he] should determine afresh how to govern ourselves. Beside, the founders were really just following their own drives and wants, not adhering to principles, which are just ex post justifications for their power.” This gives him leeway to avoid encountering those founding ideas to begin with, and thus to flush them down the memory hole. He does this automatically, reflexively, so his behavior resembles nothing so much as amnesia.

    I’d say something similar was on display in President Obama’s second inaugural address.

  2. bagodonuts
    Z in MT: Keys are easy.  They are always either in my pocket, or in the ignition.  · 7 hours ago

    Wallet? Eyeglasses? I’m terrible with all of the above.

  3. Foxman
    bagodonuts

    Z in MT: Keys are easy.  They are always either in my pocket, or in the ignition.  · 7 hours ago

    Wallet? Eyeglasses? I’m terrible with all of the above. · 0 minutes ago

    I find it embarrasing when I’m looking for my glasses and realize I’m wearing them. 

  4. dittoheadadt

    Didn’t you post this same thing yesterday?

  5. DocJay

    Nice write up. Imprinting at the time of the experience is indeed the key. Growing up before the Internet has its advantages.

  6. Blue State Blues

    And I thought it was just because I was getting older.

  7. wilber forge

    As the saying goes, What did you do before TV ? The answer is Books !

    To accept the simple challenge of reading a real book, make notes and or just put pencil to paper for things to be remembered are sparce today.

    Such realities of imprinting and mental training place folks today where in a position if the batteries fail on a device they are helpless.

    Mental conditioning is paramount to survival.

  8. Z in MT

    Keys are easy.  They are always either in my pocket, or in the ignition. 

  9. genferei

    I’m not sure most people remember less than most people used to. To take some of your examples, I’ll bet Thomas Aquinas didn’t remember a single telephone number. And no-one in the Fifities remembered a single URL or website password. And the average citydweller of today sees a vastly increased number and variety of physical spaces compared with a village-dwelling peasant of last century: just try asking them the best way to get to a Starbucks while first going past an ATM.

    The idea of building vast memory-palaces does appeal, though.

  10. KC Mulville

    Associated with memory is story-telling. These days, we call it a “narrative.” But the basic premise  is similar; we remember and recall individual points, not as isolated items, but only as parts of a greater whole. 

  11. Schrodinger

    Fahrenheit 451 anyone?

     

    F451.jpg

  12. Katie O

    Btw, I ordered the book you mentioned, but due to wilber forge’s comment, delayed my gratification & chose the paperback over kindle :)

  13. DocJay
    DocJay: Nice write up. Imprinting at the time of the experience is indeed the key. Growing up before the Internet has its advantages. · 16 hours ago

    I can’t believe I wrote this.  I have no clue what I was thinking. 

  14. bagodonuts
    genferei: I’m not sure most people remember less than most people used to. To take some of your examples, I’ll bet Thomas Aquinas didn’t remember a single telephone number.  · 30 minutes ago

    A casual perusal of the Summa Theologica shows the kind of memory techniques required: 631 questions, over 3000 articles, and each article typically references and quotes several written authorities, from the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, and earlier Church Fathers, to contemporaneous Muslim and Jewish philosophers. He did this without Google (which we might use today), and without a pile of written references in front of him, the way a writer might have done anytime in the last two hundred years. I may have know a few phone numbers in my time, but I can safely say it was well under 50 at its peak, probably more like 20. My parents, who to give a time perspective, were in the military in World War II, may have done more, but I’d be surprised if it was 50.

  15. Gretchen

    What a great post with lots of food for thought. Three random thoughts:

    1. My grandmother, b. 1885, d. 1992, “committed” a great many texts when she was young. As her sight and hearing began to fail around the century mark, she told us of the pleasure she got from reciting to herself the poems and stories she still remembered. She was concerned that her great-grandchildren would not have this advantage in old age.

    2. Remember Fahrenheit 451? The dissidents memorized books so they would not be lost to the book-burning.

    Now I can´t remember the third one.

  16. Gretchen

    Oh yes!

    3. Young children enjoy memorizing because it gives them a sense of power over something. Think little boys and dinsaurs. Around 1953 or so I picked up a booklet left over from the 1952 election that listed all the presidents up to Truman. I was in 1st grade and figured that when we studied American history in 4th grade I would surely have to know this information, so I memorized it. I was disappointed that we didn´t actually have to know this in fourth grade, but it has been handy knowledge ever since because whenever I hear or see a reference to something in American history, I can place it in context.

    This is the way with much of what is now called “useless memorization”. They may be isolated facts when you learn them, but they are really pieces of a mosaic that gets filled in over a lifetime.

     (Oddly, perhaps, I still have to “think” about the presidents after Eisenhower, who was in office when I learned them. That phenomenon may be covered in your post somewhere.)

  17. Severely Ltd.

    For once I am in the vanguard! My memory is so bad that rushing down to make a 3 sentence post I will forget a key point the author made and post near-gibberish.

  18. J Climacus
    Maggie Somavilla: Oh yes!

    3. Young children enjoy memorizing because it gives them a sense of power over something. Think little boys and dinsaurs. Around 1953 or so I picked up a booklet left over from the 1952 election that listed all the presidents up to Truman.

    Maggie, I had a similar experience in 4th grade. The class had a stack of the pictures of the Presidents in order, and I used to flip through them when bored… I eventually got to the point that I anticipated the next picture and so had them all memorized (up to Nixon). This helped me immeasurably all through high school in having a framework on which to hang American history… I’ve sadly forgotten parts of the order since them.

  19. Cutlass
    genferei: I’m not sure most people remember less than most people used to. To take some of your examples, I’ll bet Thomas Aquinas didn’t remember a single telephone number. And no-one in the Fifities remembered a single URL or website password.

    I can’t remember my web passwords (even though they’ve generally been variations on the same word for years now).

    I can still remember my home phone number from grade school and my grandmother’s number, but, not the various numbers I had since them.

    And its not as if people didn’t have written phone/address books in the past. As a kid I would memorize the numbers of the handful of friends I called often at any given time, but I can’t recall them now.

    A friend once shared the word strategies he used to remember numbers. One mutual friend’s number was “Body temperature Louisiana Purchase.” Being more history minded I would often mix up the science part and exclaim “Oh yeah, body temp. is 98.6. degrees. Sorry about that.”

    After that I stuck to historical dates and Yankees uniform numbers.

    “Is this Mattingly-Jeter-Fall of Constantinople?”

  20. Cutlass

    I do think that modern technology is probably dulling our minds in some ways, making us more impatient and less aware. Back in the day even little routine things too some thought and effort, today its seen as too much effort to open a door or flush a toilet. 

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