Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Who am I?

Am I a sum of my parts, greater than the whole; a deluded automaton in a predetermined universe, a firefly fluttering against the march of the universe; a trapped observer, or participant, in a hostile environment; a small child; or old man?

This was to be a post on my observations about identity and memory. It emerges from personal emotional problems for which I can find no resolution, and so becomes a more encompassing prostration of my being.

I am incomplete. This absence consumes me from within as if it were a raging black hole, and I helpless to stop it as I linger futilely on the event horizon called 'the moment' yet identified as life. But to define the aching need requires the context from which it draws. What is a hole but an absence of substance. So who am I?


We all recognise ourselves. We awake to the acknowledgement that it is an 'I' who has awoken. But from where comes this certainty? I would suggest that it is an accumulation of our memories and experiences that we hold on 'the moment' and defines us.

If we were to awake (as sadly there are some who do) with no memory at all, a clean slate, would we still be the same person we were the day before? Or does the 'I' we perceive create itself in that instant from the previous information? If this were so, then we are nothing but what our memory informs us to be.

This is an old and complex question that has vexed mankind for millennia and I am no more able to answer it than the great minds of the past, but what I can do is explore who 'I' am myself, to see if I can answer my question "Why must I endure?".

To begin this odyssey of self exploration, it seems reasonable to begin with my memory. As you may already know, if you have read earlier posts, I have come to realise that how my memory functions is radically different from the norm. I felt isolated and alone at this revelation, but have since come to realise that I am not a deviant of nature, but neurally diverse along with many others. My memory type even has its own labels.

Let me first explain, I have a form of synaesthesia called spatial sequence, or time-space. It is believed to be rare, but I doubt it. Just as my memory type felt unique, so too I imagine my synaesthesia. But what does this mean, and how does it impact my memory?

I have a hyperthymesic memory, sometimes called eidetic or photographic. What this means in practice is that everything about which I interact is recorded, and in great detail. Now there are variations of this as seen in some savants and others, as seen where mentioning any date results in the hyperthymesic instantly recalling the day of the week, weather, etc. Sadly I am more of the run of the mill type: I can't locate a memory using a marker as described, which makes me useless with remembering what day it is, tasks to do, and names. Instead, if something happens which correlates to a previous experience, then whether I like it or not, I experience it again from that original perspective.

Additionally, if I need to recall something, I need to 'rewind' until I 'see' the relevant thing. So if I see a face in the street that I recognise but who is unknown to me at that instant, I just can't 'recall where I have seen them before' but instead need to replay everything until I come across the face in a previous 'moment'. So if I had seen the face recently, then no worries. But if it hadn't been for a year for example, it would take me months to rewind to that point. In this regard, it could be said that I suffer from Developmental prosopagnosia or face blindness (which given I was a teacher was an extreme handicap for me).

So how does my synaesthesia interact with my hyperthymesia? It appears (at least to me) to be a fundamental part. Effectively, I see time in space.


This is very hard to describe, so apologies if it becomes incomprehensible. Hopefully, there are others out there who recognise what I am trying to describe within themselves, and maybe they can help inform. I can only describe my experience, and hope that it makes sense.

Firstly, time does not exist. As radical as this might sound, it is apparent not only to me, and those with my type of brain, but to everyone. I won't go into explaining it here, but may in another post. Suffice to say that I exist only now, and always. That is that I have no past nor future, everything is now. What I do have is a growing collection of experiences, which are manifest as changes to my circumstances, be it aging or writing this.

As such, I exist in a 'reality' that is multi-layered rather than sequential. For 50 years I knew no different and assumed this was the norm. I now recognise that most people view time as an arrow, with the past stretching behind them and the future ahead of them (or similar analogies) as if on a train track.

For me I am experiencing everything at once, and it is overwhelming. This may be connected to my autism, I don't know (all these areas are nascent in understanding) but it has taken a lifetime to learn how to deal with this 'reality'. So as soon as something triggers a previous experience, outside of my control I find myself back 'then' as well as 'now'. Don't misunderstand me, I am not describing re-living a memory from a current perspective, it is more like I have seen in regressional hypnotherapy where the hypnotised person can reenact an event while simultaneously speaking to the practitioner.

So what does 'time' look like to me? It is hard to describe, but it is something like a giant bicycle wheel, with me at the centre with the spokes emerging out of my torso. between each spoke, along the rim, is an event, with each following spoke being a split second after. The wheel rotates and is also endless, in that I can't see what is behind me but can see everything to-date experienced now as then. But I am not 'watching' the event on the rim happen, I am instead drawn into it as the person I was at the time. So I am not 'remembering' nor 're-living' the event, but almost as if I have time travelled back to that moment, and doomed to experience it as I once did.

I don't know if any of this makes sense to anyone else, especially as it is more complex. For example, I can move my arms in real space and 'turn' the wheel around me. it may be more accurate to describe it as a giant pizza with me at the centre with each event running down the pizza piece, from me to the edge and beyond, with an overlapping event running down beside it. And I am drawn along each event from me to beyond the edge as well as rotating around the pizza.

If you're still with me, it expands further. So far I have described it in 2 dimensions. This is inaccurate since as well as moving backwards and forwards through an event and left and right through overlapping events, I can also climb up and down. The effect is more like a bucky ball, or being in one of those giant transparent zorbing balls people get inside and roll, though in mine, I stay still buts the three-dimentional pizza rotates around a single point somewhere in my stomach.

I know this sounds fantastical, even if you can understand it, but this is all I have known my entire life and is not only perfectly normal to me, but is how I interact with the world. This for me is 'reality'. However, I came to realise that not everyone's reality is the same as mine. So my only conclusion is that all of our 'realities' are in fact illusory. What remains is whom we perceive ourselves to be, in relation to our experiences in whatever reality we exist in. So in order to understand who I am and what is the point of my being here, I need to explore what is left after dismissing 'reality' and seeing 'who' or 'what' is experiencing change, and recalling it as memories.

This is an even bigger question than that which I began this blog, so to allow you to cogitate or assimilate what I have begun here, I will continue this exploration in part two.
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