Happy Thursday everybody!
Did you know that at one point the Vatican offered people time off purgatory for following the Pope on Twitter? Neat.
Today’s piece of buried treasure is a weird one. Rather than introduce it, I think I’m just gonna roll right into it.
The Stories we Tell Ourselves
-door opens and closes-
-raincoat is set on hanger-
-buzz of lights flickering to life-
“Well, let’s just get right to it, shall we?
“I would call myself a smart man, perhaps even a poetic one; but I’m no genius. Still, I imagine that when someone reaches that point of breaking the genius threshold, it must come with complete, anarchic chaos for them internally for a time. Especially nowadays, most of the genius ideas that draw from simplicity have to have been taken. I mean, we won’t know until someone comes up with the next one, but that’s beside the point. The point here is that nowadays, genius is determined by invention or mechanical or technological innovation. That’s right, my friends, long gone are the days where our brightest minds generated ideas for the betterment of their neighbors. The Enlightenment is over! Now, genius sells for a profit to a crowd of hungry dummies; but again, I digress.
“When a mind breaks into the realm of greater intelligence, it isn’t a clean break, especially it being their debut for that kind of prestige. No, the universe’s workings are too messy and our proud understanding is too small for things to go off without a hitch. This all brings us to this man, a Dr. Dennis P. Ramchoff, a former head of retentive neuroscience and pharmacology at Terminus Inc. Some of you may know Dr. Ramchoff for his accredited founding of the ‘Hypothetical Yielding of Potential Non-Occurrences’ – or H.Y.P.N.O. A drug that allows its user to, for a time, relive as a conscious experience a personal memory; only, under the drug’s effects allow you to act independently during the experience, altering it however you may with your subconscious adapting it for plausibility’s sake. It’s easy to think of it like lucid dreaming, but with more serious consequences.”
“What kind of consequences, sir?”
“Well memory, to perhaps a greater degree than dreaming, is a strange thing, son.”
“How do you mean?”
“For one, haven’t heard of too many cases in my day where folks get chemically addicted to dreaming. With HYPNO on the other hand, you can usually spot an addict. Hallucinations, delusions, long and short term memory loss, even some accounts of Alzheimer’s disease found in 30-year-old’s have been attributed to overuse.”
“Makes you wonder if it’s worth it.”
“Mmhm, well, when you approach it philosophically, it isn’t hard to see the temptation. Relive any personal memory, truly relive it? We’ve all had daydreams where we think back to a time or event we wish had gone differently, but it’s always still abstract and strangely intangible. Even if just inside the shelter of your own mind, it can become real if you’ve access to the drug. At the same time, similar thinking can illuminate the graver angle to the pill. You much of a reader, son?”
“You know who Thomas Nagle is?”
“I’m sorry sir, but no I don’t.”
“Quite alright, quite alright. I suggest you read him, but the short version of what you’ll come to understand is that, truly, all you have is the present moment and all you can be sure of is the contents of your own mind.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“Believe me that’s fine. You see, what makes the idea of memories so strange when you think about it comes with accepting those two things, and that takes time. It goes something like this: you know the past exists because your memories tell you so and because those memories help to explain the world around you at present, sure, but since your memories don’t exist outside your own mind, you argue yourself in a circle trying to confirm that they exist externally. You know those events happened and exist separately from you because you remember it, but using what’s in your mind to prove what has happened outside your mind, you get nowhere. And if the present moment is all that exists, then your memory is an unprovable record of something that doesn’t exist, but is still relied upon day-to-day. Any better?”
“I think a little, go on.”
“Excellent. Well, that’s where HYPNO comes into play and can make a world of trouble. When you use the drug relive a memory alternatively and create that experience, to the user it still creates a new, valid memory of that experience. All you have is the present to draw connections as to which one is authentic. For example, four years ago you were at a social engagement where you became intimate with the woman who is now your significant other, and without that occurrence, the two of you may never have gotten acquainted on that level. Say that you use HYPNO to relive that event and become intimate with a different individual at that same event, some fantasy you wanted to live out. When the drug wheres off, you now have two valid memories of the same event that have drastically different endings, yet you may be comfortably certain of which occurred in reality when you find yourself still romantically engaged with the first woman and not the second.”
“Even that small example seems dangerously confusing.”
“And that’s just the beginning. If one should generate enough memories through the substance that their mental space gets cluttered it can become extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to separate earthly history from your own because to you it’s all real.”
“Why not keep records? Notes to yourself as to which memories are the real ones?”
“Seems a little obvious, don’t you think? It isn’t that people tried, but simply put: doubt kills it. It can begin simply enough to separate two memories by using notes or physical reminders. But should those reminders be misplaced, lost, destroyed, or, even more sinister, tampered with, what then? Or should the idea enter your mind that the anchor you’ve left yourself was itself a misremembering, suddenly you can’t trust your own evidence. It’s doubly true if the duplicated experience was of an event in the distant past; the alternative remains fresher in your mind than the original, easier to trust as a result. These possibilities are all under the law of the mind-body problem; to attempt proving external reality via internal evidence gets you no traction whatsoever.
“You’re being quiet.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. It’s just a lot to consider.”
“Mmmhm, making genius doesn’t give the pleasure of a clean break, as I said. Something always gets overlooked with something this revolutionary and something so inchoate as our understanding of consciousness. Isn’t that right, Dennis?”
“When an addict should create so many alternative experiences that authentic, natural memories are lost, where does identity lie in all of that?”
“What did you say?”
“Personhood remains as immeasurable as it ever has been, but our past thoughts, decisions, and actions are what help the ego shape it. What should happen to that system if a mind becomes so muddled in a quagmire of fabricated experiences indistinguishable from reality?”
“I’m speaking to you!”
“Near as we can tell, and what the practical man will tell you, as the mind dreams we consciously experience it delving into itself while the body sleeps. Whether this is the case or whether dreams are the self’s recess from a mortal casing is ultimately uncertain. Regardless of which explanation you prefer, it is, in the end, a conscious experience that is only shown perspective up waking.”
“Let me out of here!”
“After years of addictive use, fabricated memories being compiled and compiled atop those of an earthly history but all of them real to the mind in which they reside, attempts at keeping authenticating records having long since failed, allow me to ask: where are you right now?”
“I said for you to let me go.”
“And I asked you a very simple question. I will resort to harsher methods if pushed, Mr. Ramchoff.”
-a drawer opens-
-something heavy is set on the table-
“Where are you right now?”
“Being held in your classroom.”
“Yes, and why is that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you? What is the date today?”
“I don’t know!”
“Come now, think. I’ll give you a hint: it’s mid-November. Hmm, anything? Anything at all? I asked you a question, Dennis.”
“November eighteenth, two-thousand twenty-five.”
“Mmhm, and what makes that particular day special?”
“It’s the day I got the idea that started HYPNO.”
“Yes. Bright young man striding toward an equally bright future in biochemistry. How, oh, how did you find yourself in an introductory philosophy class?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“We’ve been over this, the subconscious adapts according to the user’s actions. So, tell me, why am I here? Hmm, tell me. Come on, speak up.”
“Because you gave me the idea.”
“I was looking out that window while you lectured about ontology. I wasn’t ignoring you, just listening and thinking.”
“The park across the road.”
“Doesn’t sound like listening.”
“I was remembering a time Fiona and I were at a park that looked a lot like that one. We’d just met a few weeks prior and it was the spot we shared our first kiss.”
“The point was I was remembering it. It may have been your lecture, but I started contemplating the existence of my memory of that moment, most everything you said earlier; how it was something unique to my own mind, something no one else had. The further away in time the moment got, the more the dreams of it faded and the more I wanted to hold onto it.”
“I’ll bet you never imagined what HYPNO would do.”
“It was a selfish design over a selfish want.”
“You open the world to something of that caliber before it’s ready and you sunder it. Political corruption more chaotic than ever it was before, with false memory claims being slung this way and that, seizures and strokes spiking in audiences of all ages of the unprepared, and an almost complete dissolution of the study of history. My boy, when you sever a people’s connection to its past overnight, you stir a typhoon of their present.”
“You’d mentioned once an old religious saying: ‘You can’t step into the same river even once’. Of course going to mean that the river is truly ever-changing, completely fluid, never exactly in one instant is it the same form; and the human experience is no different, right?”
“You’re certainly not the same man you were when you came here. Guilty conscience looking for where you went wrong?”
“It’s odd…startling…to look back and realize it was altogether a different person in that seat. If our selves are defined by our memories, asking who we are is unanswerable. What, then, does that make us? Stories?”
“Now you’re getting it.”
The Take: This one’s from early 2016 and I guess I was feeling really, really, really philosophical at the time and if I remember right, the title comes straight out of a quote from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The result wound up being a pretty dense brick of text with a fun idea attached. While the construction was clunky and the idea of H.Y.P.N.O. was basically just super lucid dreaming in a pill, it was fun to come up with the acronym and think of the consequences stemming from something like it.
Anyway, that was fun. See ya Tuesday!
Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here:
Today’s FableFact source:
2 thoughts on “Do You Think You Know You?”
That was utterly fascinating. Well done!
Thanks so much!