Time-Blind John (Part Three)


“Dude, you make some excellent points – so good that I’m thinking that the student has now officially surpassed the teacher. But before I hand over my brown tie…”

The ‘access to rational faculties’ argument is impressive, I hadn’t thought of that. I mean with hindsight, of course if John can learn and rationalize, then he can add a logical order to his memories. It won’t be perfect, or even close to perfect, but near enough for him to function.

Maybe you are right, maybe I have over emphasized the importance of a time concept in relation to order. The fact is; time is only one way we categorize memories, right?

I mean I can search my memory using emotions, locations, interaction types and any other way that we categorize information. Our brains are impressive lumps of meat. They can add a million different tags onto an experience, fling it into a dark corner, and pull it back whenever it is needed.

There is no reason to believe, from the thought experiment, that John would lose all of his categorization abilities just because time was lost.

Therefore, he could sit around and recall happy memories, and he would have access to all the memories in his head that were at some time or another categorized as happy. So he would have some order, and on the surface this appears to function equally as well as a time order.

However, no matter how well organized these experiences are, John would have no idea when they happened.

And that raises my question again, how would he know that he is not experiencing that experience right now?

You say that because I can sit and recall a memory without re-living it, then so can John. That John can call on his reason and commonsense to stay attached to his current reality. But isn’t everything in John’s head his current reality? He has no time order on his memories. He has a life full of experiences in his head, categorized beautifully by a million tags, except, what is in my opinion the most important one, time.

I am arguing that what anchors us to our present reality is the concept of past, present and future. We know we are in the present based on our sense of past and the allure and mystery of the future. Does John have this anchor?

We agree that John has the capacity to learn that other people have this anchor, but is that enough for him to develop such an anchor?

If not, then my “amazing life” theory of John bouncing from experience to experience is still alive. If not, then maybe John’s life is as boring as all the rest of us. I think maybe you alluded to the answer. You said:

“After a few sentences, I imagine it is possible for John to get confused about the order of those sentences. He’d remember who said what, but not when someone said it.”

So he would have the experience of it being said – that would be stored – but have no concept of when it was said. For all John knows it could have been said 3 seconds ago, or two million years ago. All he can experience is that it was said. Naturally he has is other capacities. He can tag it as happy, sad, interesting or whatever. But none of those tags will help him in understanding when.

I’m intentionally trying to avoid using the verb ‘remember’ because I’m worried it implies a sense of past. I don’t think John has a sense of past. I don’t think he remembers anything, I maintain that he just has experiences.

You argue, convincingly, that John can tell the difference between recalling and living an experience, but I say this is only true if John can anchor himself to the present. I’m not convinced he can. Simply giving John a shout, as you say, doesn’t suddenly awaken him to the fact that he was day-dreaming or re-living a particularly potent memory, it just jolts him out of one experience and into another.

What say you to this?

Now, let me throw out another idea that some students raised while discussing the plight of poor old John.

What if memories are not stored as chunks, but rather individual slivers of experience held together only by the fact that they occurred at exactly the same time?

So my memory of you in class 6 years ago is not stored as a little movie with everything attached, but rather as individual sensory, emotional and conceptual pieces. So the image of you is stored in one place, the sound in another, the background in another, the smell in the room in another, my thoughts at the time in another, my mood in another and so on. The only link might be that they all occurred at the same time.

Now, of course, we could create a logical link between them all, like cutting up an essay and trying to put it back together, but how would John ever know that the re-ordered experience matched the original? My thought is, he can’t.

Hence, if John lost his time concept, he would more than likely float off into a dream world of lived and unlived experiences.

**mic drops**

To follow the dialogue, click here.

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I'm a self-proclaimed aesthete, an amateur literary critic and a history buff with a BA in Political Science and History from Wesleyan College.

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