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The Mechanism of Forgetting

This world in which we live is a place of compulsory forgetting. Forgetting is the law, forgetting is the rule which we are compelled at every step to obey…

 

 

It doesn’t even make any sense to say this because we don’t know that we have forgotten anything. We don’t know what it is that we have supposedly forgotten.  We don’t have any sense at all that there is anything that has been forgotten and so the suggestion that are living in a realm of compulsory forgetting makes no sense to us. Nothing could make less sense to us in fact – nothing could be more ridiculous, more self-evidently foolish, more instantly dismissible than the suggestion that we are living in a world where ‘forgetting’ is the law, where ‘forgetting’ is the rule we are compelled to obey!

 

 

To remember what it is that we have forgotten is in this world the ultimate taboo – it is the one thing we are not allowed to do. Anything else is permitted here, but not this. We can do what we please, as long as we obey this one rule. It doesn’t matter what we do, just so long as what we do isn’t remembering…

 

 

The way the goal of forgetting is achieved, is rendered compulsory, is highly ingenious. In each of us there is an instrument, a tool, a machine the function of which is to continuously ‘shut us down’, to continuously distract or shift our attention onto anything that has nothing to do with remembering – anything at all will do just so long as we are kept preoccupied with topics that are guaranteed ‘safe’ with regard to the prohibited possibility of remembering ourselves. This instrument, this tool, this machine is known as the rational mind.

 

 

The way that this instrument works is highly ingenious because it does not go against our own will but rather it skilfully persuades us that what it wants for us is what we ourselves want. This is an old trick and a good one. The rational mind tells us what we like and what we don’t like, what we want and what we don’t want and because we identify with these subtly implanted suggestions – the suggestions that it whispers in our inner ear. We believe these whispered suggestions to be expressions of our own will, our own true volition. The rational mind ‘tells us what we think’ – but it is not us who think it but this mind!  We identify so habitually with this instrument that the suggestion that our thoughts are not our own, but belong to some kind of implanted mechanism, is seen as thoroughly absurd, thoroughly ridiculous. We identify so habitually with the thinking mind that the suggestion that we are not this mind is frankly incomprehensible, frankly nonsensical, to us.

 

 

The machine whispers continuously in our ear and its whispers become what we perceive to be our own will, our own true volition. In this the ‘instrument of forgetting’ is like Shaitan. In the fourteenth Surah of the Qur’aan we are exhorted to seek refuge in Allah

 

From the evil of the whisperer (the devil who whispers evil in the hearts of man) who withdraws (from his whispering after one remembers Allah).

 

The instrument of forgetting is also like the organ Kundabuffer spoken of by Gurdjieff in Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson:

 

But they themselves were personally to blame for it, and just on the account of the abnormal conditions of external ordinary being-existence which they themselves have gradually formed in their common presence just what has now become their inner ‘Evil-God’, called “Self-Calming”.

 

The instrument of the rational mind compels us to forget at every turn – its very operation is forgetting. To think is to forget. At every turn we are compelled to think this, that or the other and every thought is a forgetting. And rather than seeing this forgetting as something that is imposed on us from without, we identify with each and every thought from its very inception and, in doing so, in ‘hitching a ride with it’ in this way, we experience ourselves as wanting to think every thought that comes along. We experience the thought as being our own, rather than experiencing ourselves as belonging to the thought, which is the true state of affairs…

 

 

Talking and thinking and talking and thinking is how we hypnotize ourselves, it is how we ensure that we stay asleep, it is how we ensure that we stay in the state of forgetting. Or rather, it is how the instrument of thought hypnotizes us, ensures that we stay asleep, ensures that we stay in the state of forgetting. We can forget ourselves in any way we please – any form of sleep is permitted us; we are allowed complete freedom in this regard. The only thing we are not free to do is to remember, is to wake up. In this realm, the realm of forgetting, to remember is the one thing that is not on the menu. Nothing comes with a heavier penalty than this; no act we may commit is considered so ‘beyond the pale’, as the act of remembering oneself.

 

 

The mechanism that compels us to forget at every turn is the thinking mind, and the way that the thinking mind does this is by covering over reality with its own productions, and then making out that its own productions are the reality that has been covered over. This is ‘the principle of the Hyperreal’, as explained by Jean Baudrillard. We could also say that the way in which the instrument of forgetting performs its function is by ‘recycling the old and dressing it up as the new’. The old is thus passed off as the new and no one is any the wiser! We might call this ‘the Nausea Principle’, after Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophical novel of this name:

 

I can no longer distinguish the present from the future and yet it is lasting, it is gradually fulfilling itself; the old woman advances along the empty street; she moves her heavy mannish shoes. This is time – naked time, it comes slowly into existence, it keeps you waiting, and when it comes you are disgusted because you realize that it’s been there already for a long time.

 

 

When the old is passed off as the new then the new never gets to happen! When the old substitutes itself for the new then the genuinely new becomes something strange, something uncanny, something disturbing. It becomes an intruder, a ‘foreign body’ – it becomes something to be rejected by the system. The genuinely new is not recognized or acknowledged for what it is but rather it is labelled immediately as an aberration, as an error, as something to be corrected as soon as possible. Whilst the fraudulently new is lauded on all sides, and celebrated from morning until dusk, the genuinely new is labelled as an enemy of the proper order of things and quietly disposed off, quietly ‘made to disappear’. It is the unwelcome guest at the party…

 

 

The ‘new’ is utterly incomprehensible to us – we don’t any referents for it, any category for it, any framework for it, and so we never miss it for not being there. Its absence is never remarked about – there are never any questions raised about it in the Senate, or in the House of Commons. There are no debates on the subject in our halls of learning. There are no protests in the street. There are no campaigns launched on the internet. And yet, without the genuinely new, everything we do becomes a farce!

 

 

What the old lacks in content it makes up for in terms of sheer dumb persistence, in terms of sheer unbridled virality. The virality of the old, the recycled, the redundant is inexhaustible. The life-span of the universe would not be long enough to satisfy its unholy need to extend itself, promote itself, perpetuate itself. A billion times the life-span of the universe would not be long enough – it would use it up in a flash and demand more, it would use it up in a flash and still be as voraciously hungry as ever!

 

 

The reason the old, the recycled, the redundant is as voraciously viral as it is is precisely because it has no content. Once is not enough for it. Twice is not enough for it. Three times is not enough for it. A billion times is not enough for it – all of this merely serves to whet its appetite! Because it has no content it has to make up for this hollowness by sheer persistence, by sheer pointless self-multiplication. It has to make up for its own nonentity by its unparalleled aggression. The old is ‘without content’ because it contains within it no possibility of change, no possibility of anything different. How can the old change? It is done, it is over, it is finished – it cannot ever be anything other than what it was. Its only possibility is to repeat itself ad infinitum, in case we did not get it the first time around. Its only possibility is to keep on reiterating itself and replaying itself, reiterating and replaying itself, until hell freezes over, until time itself comes to an end.

 

 

When the dead past presents itself as the present reality then we are no longer conscious, we are no longer awake. We have passed into a kind of sleep. The world has been replaced by a thought-created copy, a thought-created simulation, and we have never noticed. The world shades imperceptibly and irreversibly into a degraded version of itself, and us within it. Reality has been replaced with an inferior analogue of itself, and we haven’t seen it happen. We never saw the switch. We forget the original reality and we forget that we have forgotten…

 

 

 

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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