09 January 2009

Thoughts On Genetic Memory

Wow, it has been awhile since I have written here.  Not unintentionally, I guess.  Simply working on other projects and having two conventions around the holidays will do that.  Well, then on to the actual matter at hand...

The idea of genetic, or racial and collective memory is not new.  I suppose the term genetic memory is more commonly used, as racial memory is decidedly un p.c, and collective memory seems more metaphysical.  For my part, I probably use the term collective memory and genetic memory more often.  While I have understood the concept of collective memory for many years, I really did not think about it as much until I read Arthur C. Clarke's groundbreaking book Childhood's End.  Without revealing too much regarding the book (and though from 1952 I highly recommend reading it), aliens come to the planet and demand the end of hostilities and potential nuclear war.  I know, sounds like a recent and not so recent movie, but Childhood's End is much more of a philosophical read, as Clarke delves into not only our past fears, but our future ones as well.  Clarke uses the term racial memory in the book, but I find the term genetic memory more palpable these days.  Further, my understanding of genetic memory hearkens to Clarke's ideas in this regard.  Put simply, Childhood's End is a tale of innocence lost (hence the title) and how we must eventually come to terms with our collective and individual genetic memories.

What, then is genetic memory?  Is it simply instinct, our natural reaction to images, sounds, words, feelings? Or is it something higher, a collective memory that reaches from a future already written though without a clear understanding.  In science fiction or science philosophy, I can easily propose such questions; however, the science of the 21st century might find the idea of a future memory within our genetic structure laughable.  Therefore, I am delving truly into the realm of philosophy based on some good reading and probably gut instinct (or gut insanity depending on who you ask and how you feel in the matter).  Regardless, I can only offer my view, which has been shaped through my own ruminations, writings, and reading on the subject.  To me, I see this memory in action in many ways, especially in the instinct of our fears, our acquiescence in the strangest of situations, and our ever popular mob mentality.  I understand it in my darkest moments, in the abyss of thought that can drag you into places you never wanted.  And yet, I feel it in the reflection of the light of the universe in our eyes, the gentle hope of a new day, the promise of a home in the cradle of stars.  We are the worst and the best in ourselves, and much of it comes from our instinct to hate and our instinct to love, what is written in our genetic code, our memory of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

While this memory can be on a collective level, it can be, at least to my mind, exceedingly personal.  I have noted this recently in some of my writings, wondering if a few of the things I had written were less about present inspiration but more drawing from a memory of the future.  It could be I simply have the mirror of hindsight, though a few poems and commentaries seemed remarkably prescient and appropriate.  Of course, considering the way I write, it is rather easy to project one piece upon multiple situations.  The cynic would merely opine that it is all mere coincidence, and some part of me would be inclined to agree.  The realist in me notes my penchant for overthinking at times.  The optimist, the dreamer... the romantic, the man who has seen so much wonder in this amazing universe, been given so much for so little in return, understands the truth, even if it is only a small truth.  The higher truths tend to escape us anyways, even when we are confident in our understanding, as I thought so many times, especially in the vanity of youth.  On the other hand, I could be drawing upon that memory even now, yielding only to the truth that exists in all of us.  

One thing I do know, after reading Childhood's End, I never looked at the stars quite the same way.  We are the universe made manifest, after all... and knowing that has helped me understand, for good or ill, past memories of future's days.


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