The Path – December 1889



Memory as a faculty of man is one of the normal functions of the human brain. It is the record of the process of events, external objects in relation to sensations and feelings occurring in consciousness, instigated by will or desire, or passively experienced or submitted to. The brain is the organ of memory, the physical basis within or upon which is recorded this moving panorama of events. The pictures of memory are associated incidents, brought to consciousness through the channels of perception, feeling, or emotion. In the exercise of the faculty of memory, "recollection," we re-collect these experiences by suggestion; the order of association of events enables us to gather again the links of the chain. Memory is the faculty, re-collection its function, and the brain is the centre to which aggregate and from which radiate this group of experiences. These brain pictures are moving panoramas and concern events, and they can no more be repeated than any two other objects in nature can be duplicated. They may, however, be approximately recovered. Such recovery is at best but a faint, disjointed, and imperfect echo of their originals. The external objects have changed or disappeared: the feelings and emotions have changed or cannot be again experienced. An idea wakens the echo of past experience, and the result is remembrance. If by an effort of the will we recover the chain of experiences or emotions, it is re-colleclion. Memory, remembrance, and recollection are all phenomenal in character, that is, they are moving events occurring in time. The brain and its function belong to the same category. Therefore repetition is impossible, and recovery is never more than partial or approximate. All these belong to the physical side of memory. But memory has another side, viz., the noumenal. To illustrate. Let us suppose certain events occurring in time and brought to the individual consciousness, and let us number these 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Sensation experiences these events, and memory records within the brain both the facts and their order of occurrence. An idea by association spontaneously wakens the echo of the former events, and we approximately remember. We search for these events consciously by an effort of the will and we approximately re-collect, always however, with missing links, either as to order or strength of details. Now let us group our numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, =15. We have now the sum of the previous experience, the details of which have disappeared. The will can no longer recover the details 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and the sum of these, 15, bears a different relation to consciousness. We have "forgotten" the details past all recovery, but an experience once had can never be as though it had not been. It has wrought its effect, and if it is ever in any way recovered or recalled it is a reminiscence. Physical memory is to reminiscence what the elements of a mixture are to a compound. In one we have separate details, and an orderly sequence of relations. These belong to time. In the other we have the precipitate occurring in life's alembic, and this belongs to "eternity." The first is phenomenal; the second noumenal, upon which time has ceased to act, for it has become part of our very selves. Memory belongs to the personality of time and sense. Reminiscence belongs to the permanent individual. Memory is the field-notes in the realm of thought. Reminiscence is the permanent record in the realm of intuition, the title-deed of the permanent possessions of the soul (ego). (See The Key to Theosophy, pages 124 & 125.)

Our illustration from the well-known facts of chemistry carries us still further. Reminiscence as compared with physical memory is in no sense a loss, but a far higher result. No knowledge that could possibly be derived from the study of the uncombined elements oxygen and hydrogen could ever pre-suppose water, and nothing short of analysis would show that water is a union of these two substances. Oxygen and hydrogen seem to have disappeared altogether, and something entirely different to have taken their place. Definite association seems to have brought to light latent properties hitherto unsuspected. They have passed from the plane of elements to that of compounds. Even so are memory and reminiscence related. The details of experience as the result of sensation and consciousness, when precipitated as resultants, become motives, causes, instead of results, and so color all future experiences. These having become part of the ego, are carried along with it; not as accretions, but as essences. Here is the logical basis of intuition, as rational as anything we know of physical memory. In the long journey of the soul, even during one incarnation, it is not lumbered up and loaded down with the accretions of memory. In place of the carloads of ore we have the portable ingots of bright metal. We learn by experience; not by the mere record of its facts, but by the potency of its results. If the record were all, it would soon become, indeed, a lost record of a dead language, a shadow upon a wall, leaving its own trace, but presently so overlaid by other shadows, so confused and blended, as to be past all recovery. Reminiscence is to memory what the spirit is to the physical body, — that which alone gives it life and renders it immortal. Are not these facts and relations common experiences in our present life? Let us see.

The Path