Thursday, October 19, 2006

Radical Amnesia

It’s difficult to conceive a case of radical amnesia; more difficult, I think, than what it takes to conceive a case of radical skepticism. Cartesian and Matrix-like scenarios are little playgrounds in comparison to it. This is shown by the simple fact that a radical skepticism still allows me (as it in fact does) to write down these letters, and believe in all these stories. Radical Amnesia, however, is not that benign.

Think of the most exotic case of it. How would look like? I start writing down this text and at some point I forget its topic. But things can get worse. Let’s think of this gradually. At some point I simply can’t remember what I’m doing here. So leave things and go do something else. That’s a first step, the following ones are more interesting.

What if I forget that I am writing a text at all. I just find out that I’m sitting here, in front of a computer, with my hands on the keyboard, without any clue of what is going on. That can be worse; but there’s more.

What if I forget that I’ve been here before, that this is my house, and that is my computer? I might suddenly find myself at a stranger’s place, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to go.

What then, if one instant before finding myself lost I forget such a thing? How can I orient myself? I can start telling myself stories about who, and where I am, and what I am about to do. But this is still not radical enough.

Think about the case where you forget that you have beliefs, you forget all words, you forget all structure, you forget meanings, you forget names, you forget feelings, sensations and all that barrage of stimuli that constitute your experience. What then? Think about the case where amnesia is radical enough to become a second order lack of recall, you forget that you forgot to remember and, furthermore, you forget that you are in fact able to remember. Could you still come up with stories of evil demons and perverse matrixes that, after all, make sense of your stimuli?

Radical amnesia is exotic enough for us to forget what it is like to be humans, to feel, to see, to hear, to taste, to think, to believe, to desire, to want, to laugh, to smile, and even to conceive. This is not as much a recognition of the threat of radical amnesia as it is a statement of how central and necessary is memory for anything that we might want to call human. Memory is pervasive, and radical amnesia is nothing more than pure silence; and not even that, radical amnesia just isn’t.