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Forgetting to Remember

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

My girlfriend calls her son twice a day, by pressing his name on her cellphone, but she has no idea what his number is. Thirty years ago your average person could remember 30 telephone numbers.

The printing press was another memory-destructive technological advance. When books were rare and expensive, people remembered and recited them, en toto. Even today, in rabbinic circles, it is not uncommon to find someone who has committed the entire encyclopedic Talmud to heart.

A Canticle for Leibowitz was published in 1960 and has never been out of print since. Appearing in over 40 editions it has been recognized as the best all-time science fiction novel... three times. The story is of a time after civilization was destroyed by a global nuclear war. Wikipedia sets the scene:

"There was a violent backlash against the culture of advanced knowledge and technology that had led to the development of nuclear weapons. During this backlash, called the 'Simplification', anyone of learning, and eventually anyone who could even read, was likely to be killed by rampaging mobs, who proudly took on the name of 'Simpletons'. Illiteracy became almost universal, and books were destroyed en masse."

Fox News started it, feeding their viewers a steady diet of news that confirmed the viewers' bias. Their ratings, and profits, went through the roof. MSNBC and CNN quickly got in on the game. This is the market force that leads to polarization. When you have never heard a reasonable opinion contrary to yours, you tend to believe that everyone who thinks differently than you is stupid, duped or evil: "How could anybody believe that?"

Social media giants have algorithms which ensure that you are presented with more of the same. When I read progressive tweets, Twitter suggests more progressive tweets. When I listen to a conservative podcast, Youtube presents me with other conservative content.

I'm left-handed. As pushing the pencil across the page, left to right, is much less graceful than is pulling it, I never did get cursive writing. To this day, I don't use script. I have my own printed cipher, connecting letters in my own, very idiosyncratic manner.

Today, no one learns cursive. It's not taught in schools. I predict future generations will not know how to write. Everything will be typed on a keyboard. But even there I am being old-fashioned. Keyboards themselves will be museum pieces, made obsolete by voice-recognition programs: "I recognize whole sentences."

My girlfriend, Veronica, teaches at the local Waldorf School, where they advocate a more holistic education; the kids have to make crafts and sweep up the classroom in addition to their academic studies. There are analog clocks in every classroom; you know, the kinds with hands, a big one and a little one. Every year, some child, who has been completely captured by digital time-pieces, expresses amazement that Veronica can tell the time by noting the position of the hands on the clock. She doesn't know her son's phone number, but she can still tell time.

My father was in World War Two. Growing up I used to wonder what it was like to "lose" years of your life to some national, global emergency. Now, with the pandemic, I have an idea, an inkling.

This morning, browsing the net, I came across an interesting study, from a hospital in Spain (COVID-19 patients have vitamin D deficiency.), affirming what I, as a naturopathic doctor, know to be true, namely, there are natural ways to boost your immune system. Here is my article advising you on that, from back in March, when all this hit the fan. (It's hard to be ahead of your time.)

Advocating natural substances as a means to survive the virus is enough to get you silenced on Twitter and banned from posting on Facebook. You might not have heard of internet censorship depending on which network you watch or what posts the algorithm feeds you.

I never read A Canticle for Leibowitz, but I know that post-apocolytic Leibowitz preserved books in a desert monastery. Centuries after he died this horde of writing was discovered by those who were trying to rebuild civilization. Among the trove, on Leibowitz's kitchen table, they also came upon a shopping list Leibowitz had used on a trip to town. The discoverers attributed great occult importance to this completely ordinary shopping list, elevating it into a work of holy writ, a "canticle." I wonder if we are not doing the same; elevating our shards of knowledge into rigid doctrines.

I first came across mnemonics, memory aids, in medical school, where there was a lot to remember. The first letter of each word in a phrase I composed, "Isaiah's oxen, King Solomon's sheep for many occasions come around," corresponds to the first letter of the ten compounds in the ten steps of the Krebs energy cycle ... in order (starting with Isocitrate).

Ars Memoria, the Art of Memory, is not about working harder. It's more about being playful. It is more art than science. If we ever do get over this pandemic and political extremism, if we ever do get back to normal it will be because we have remembered to be more artful, playful and kind.

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Dr David has created Lokkal, a social network that is not commercially-driven (just being launched, starting here in San Miguel) as an alternative to the abuses of social media.

Lokkal will make the world a better place by nurturing community. If you want to join the community, please register. It's a big project to have entirely on my shoulders; if you want to help, please send us a message at the email below.

"Whether it is to be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race right up to the final moments." - Buckminster Fuller

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copyright 2021
copyright 2021