Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Now that you’ve had a preliminary fossick around the upstairs of my head, you’ll want to do a more careful inventory. Where to start? Which box do you look into first? There’re so many to choose from. How about this one labelled ‘My First Thought Experiments’? Tentatively, you reach for it, blow away the dust, and open the lid . . .
I’ve mentioned in passing my preoccupation with a certain mental tool. Thought experiments they are called, or maybe mind experiments—I’m never sure what to call them. But I performed them long before I‘d heard of either term.
Permit me to provide the context for what was probably my first. I was very young at the time. The experiment involved, ironically, my own origins. I wanted to know where I came from, so I tried to retrieve my very first memory. How far back could I go? I would have been six, five or possibly four when I flexed my memory muscles in this way to blast myself into the past.
There was one Easter I remember spending at my uncle’s home. We lived there until I was three, so it might have been during that period.The house had a front and a back garden, and I recall scouring them for chocolate eggs. Each would magically replenish itself while I was busy on the other side. How could that be?
I remember a doctor paying a house call once (which proves that this was well in the past). Oh, the indignity of being injected in the buttock!
Once I ate snow that I scooped off the street. That caused me to vomit my cornflakes, which I then couldn’t stomach for the next twenty years. Not something you forget.
Vaguely, I remember being bathed as a baby. ‘Shaving’ the suds of my leg with a finger. Having talcum applied.
There’s the kinaesthetic imprint of having my diapers changed—that topsy-turvy sensation of being lifted by the legs, and worrying about being stabbed in the midriff by a safety pin.
Lying in my crib and examining my mother’s homemade wall hangings. The way that the crib’s head covering draped.
Being breast fed . . .
But try as I might, I could never isolate the instant that I arrived into existence. There was never a time that I was not and then—pop!—suddenly appeared. I was always ‘here’, no matter how young or how small. How could I not be and then suddenly appear. It made no sense. There was always some awareness, no matter how indistinct.
The evidence might seem scanty, but just as a fragment of jawbone can establish a genus, to me it equated to a surety of knowledge. I was convinced of my continuity in the past, and by extension the future. There was never a time that I was not. I had always been, and for that reason, would always be.
Oh my goodness! By that snap of my finger, I grokked that I was immortal. The Rubicon was dry. Not only had I overcome the fear of death, I’d overcome death too! One way or another, I was eternal. Talk about empowerment! What fun it was to have a brain to work with.
Feel it. Savor it. Heft it. Grok it. Sink into the realization. The episode vaccinated me against any germ of organized religion that I might later be exposed to. That was the effect. Henceforth, I would never be able to adopt any belief system unless it took cognizance of my wonderful discovery.