Memory Ethics Critical To Our Future
“Memory is not for bystanders. It seduces us, haunts us, goads us, and ensnares us. It shows us who we are, what we care about, and what we’ll fight for.” – Dr. Ravit Reichman
In my last post I highlighted how scientific advancements are unraveling the riddle of how memories are stored and retrieved. As it turns out, memory storage activates both the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus at the same time. Emotions impact the memory as well, with more traumatic or pleasurable experiences possibly creating more long-lasting memories. Emotions also impact the prefrontal cortex, where scientists associate mood and personality activity.
Recently I took an on-line course, The Ethics of Memory taught by Ravit Reichman. A main lesson offered in the course is that remembrance involves interpretation (dependent on mood and personality). How one person feels about a historical event is often quite different than other. The removal of Confederate statues, and the emotional response from both the black and white supremacist communities, offers a recent example.
Memories Battle for Supremacy
My novel Evolved argues humanity evolves towards a central consciousness in the future. If we are indeed evolving to a collective consciousness, one in which our minds are increasingly networked between computers and even one another, then we need an active discussion about ethical behavior. Will societal memories consume personal memories, enriching or dominating them? Will the argument by German-Jewish Marxist Walter Benjamin – “History is written by victors.” – prove true in a collective consciousness?
If victors write our memories, by what standards? How would a system of reparations work when the victors prove themselves ethically corrupt? (as demonstrated by humanity in Evolved) Reparations are not simply responses to moral pressures. They represent the resetting of historical and memorial terms. If we want to evolve in a healthy manner, we need a system of reparations to occasionally reset our trajectory towards a higher goal.
To further illustrate this point, both paintings below depict how two artists chose to remember the Battle of the Somme, the deadliest single battle of World War I. Three million people fought in this battle, killing or wounding approximately one million. Without doubt, the battle left an emotional scar on society. However, these painting suggest two quite different remembrances of the battle.
Henry Russell’s painting offers a personal narrative of the damage inflicted on the person, hinting at on-going strife and pain, an effort to forget the war. J. Hodgson Lobley’s painting offers more of a collective perseverance as a remembrance, an overall mood mixed with grey sadness for the fallen, support and anticipation for receiving the wounded, and perhaps societal determination to soldier on.
These memories are in conflict with one another. Both exist, and enrich our understanding of the battle, but a person might choose one over the other as the appropriate remembrance of the event, depending on their personality and personal history. The more emotionally tied to the event, the greater the need for systems to resolve the conflicts as a collective consciousness develops. We struggle with these questions in our current world, in which individuals possess a strong sense of self and where we dispute simple facts.
Assuming we evolve to a more collective consciousness, and I believe we are, is there a more important question than how to resolve these conflicts of memories? After all, how we resolve these conflicts will determine who we become.
The media struggles daily with the presentation of stories – #FakeNews! Rivals attempt to discredit conflicting arguments, or deemphasize portions of the stories with which they disagree. How people remember events can become distorted, sometimes beyond any recognition to what actually happened. Our brains file these memories away, memories perhaps one day uploaded into the Superconscious.
Will the power structures of a future Superconscious murder the memorials in our mind that are in conflict with the powerful memorials?
“[Memory] shows us who we are, what we care about, and what we’ll fight for.” – Dr. Reichman