The insistence of memory

Published On:
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Printer-friendly version

I have a hypothetical situation for your consideration.

Imagine one evening, you go to sleep. The day wasn’t a particularly good one; some recurring problems came up with your job and you got a ticket on the way home. You go to bed, thankful tomorrow is a new day.

Indeed, tomorrow, a new day comes. In fact, an entirely new world does.

You awake as yourself, but everything else, your home, your society, your daily life, even the planet Earth, are nonexistent. They have been supplanted with a world entirely different than the one you fell asleep in just hours before.

That said, basic societal structures are the same — there is a stable democratic government, and everyone speaks your language. Your job is well-paying and fulfilling; your home is ample and furnished with luxurious possessions.

Additionally, it becomes apparent this society is also far more educated and technologically capable than the one you left. Conflict, famine and disease are all things of the past. Even the ordinary people you meet offer subtle and enlightened views of existence.

In essence, the new world you’ve awoken in is better than your current life in nearly every way.

However, neither your family or friends, nor anyone you’ve ever heard of, exists in this new world.

So, everything you’ve ever known about the past has, in effect, been reduced to fiction. You are the sole memory of your former existence, and can furnish no proof of it. Everything you’ve received or worked for in your old life is now gone.

Is a profoundly superior present adequate compensation for the loss of your entire past?

Think of all the ongoing challenges of your life. Think of the headaches school, work, family and relationships may cause; Would you leave them all permanently for a better life?

Can we ever leave the past behind? Many of our problems stem from our own view of existence, from our perception of it. If we were the same and only our environment had changed (even if for the better), life would, after acclimation, be much the same.

Lottery winners, as reported by Forbes’ Matthew Herper, only experience a brief rise in total happiness after winning a large sum; after five years, they return to their pre-winning levels.

So, if a large sum of money can’t buy happiness, “winning” a better existence can’t either. You didn’t earn this new world and therefore, may not have the perspective to succeed in it.

Think of the original problems you ended your day with. Are the issues at work partly your doing? Did you get that ticket unfairly or were you simply speeding and got caught?

We are tied to our own perspectives, no matter where we go, no matter what we’re given ... unless we make the conscious effort to change them.

Alex is tilting at windmills and can be reached at alexander.petrusek@asu.edu