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                Contents

Introduction

Recalling Images

Memories—Individual, Separate, Personal

Memory—Basis for Actions, Hopes

Admiration of Memory

Memory of Significance

Memory and Cogitation

Remembering

Recalling Emotions

Naming and Memory

Forgetfulness

Searching Memory

A Theory of Time

A Theory of Mind

Source

 

Introduction

Aurelius Augustine (354-430 CE), more widely known as St Augustine, was born in 354 in Thagaste in Algeria. His mental ability was recognized by his father who had him trained as a rhetorician, which led to an extensive acquaintance with Latin literature. His mother, Monica, was a Christian, but Augustine was initially drawn to Manichaeism. He ultimately found its astrological and psychological doctrines incompatible with his own knowledge gained from scientific treatises and from introspection. He spent some time in Rome and Milan as a teacher of grammar, where he became acquainted with Neo-Platonism, which turned him from the dualism of Manichaeism to monism. Drawn to Christianity after hearing Ambrose preach, he converted to this religion at age 32. He lived in harmony with a woman whom he did not marry but by whom he had a son. In his subsequent preaching and writing he retained an interest in the Platonists and in the relationship between philosophy of a logical cast and religion. It can be argued, in fact, that much of the theological aspect of Christianity has come from Plato through Augustine.

In his Confessions he produced an autobiography of remarkable richness and originality. When we read this work we realize we are in the presence of a powerful mind, eager to develop a logical understanding of itself by introspection rather than by experimentation or evaluation of the subjective experiences of others. Augustine created this work in the form of a conversation with his god. In the following extracts, I have omitted the various personal salutations offered by the worshipper to the worshipped and confined the text to Augustine's ideas on memory, the mind, and time.  His account of what a marvelous thing memory is represents a major psychological advance and was unmatched for centuries. His brief thoughts on the mind extracted here (from a discussion of the Christian trinity) foreshadow Descartes. Augustine's ideas on time also represent a major advance, providing a subjective theory that was later taken up by Kant.

   

Recalling Images

  1    And I come to the broad plains and spacious palaces of my memory, holding the treasure of innumerable images, brought there from every sort of thing impinging on the senses. In it is stored all those things the senses have taken in,  and which may have been enlarged, diminished, or otherwise varied by thought—all those things that have been turned over to its keeping and laid up, which have not yet been swallowed up by forgetfulness and buried. When I enter there, I ask what I wish to be brought forth. Some things instantly come; others take longer to find; they are fetched, as it were, out of some more inward receptacle.

  2    Other memories tumble out in hordes, even though only one thing is desired and requested; they all rush out altogether as if to say, "Is it perchance one of these?" These I brush aside with the hand of my heart, from the face of remembrance, until what I wished for is unveiled, and comes into sight, out of its secret place. Other things come up readily, in unbroken order, as they are called for; those in front making way for those following; and as they make way, they are hidden from sight, ready to come back when I will. All of which takes place when I repeat some lines by heart.  

 

Memories—Individual, Separate, Personal

  3    There in memory all things are preserved distinctly and under general heads, each having entered by its own avenue: as light and all colors and forms of bodies by the eyes; all sorts of sounds by the ears; all smells by the avenue of the nostrils; all tastes by the mouth; and what is hard or soft, hot or cold, smooth or rugged, heavy or light by the sensation of the whole body, either outwardly or inwardly. All these the great harbor of the memory receives in her numberless secret and inexpressible channels, to be available and brought out at need, each entering in by its own gate, and there laid up. And yet the things themselves do not enter there—only the images of the things perceived are stored in readiness for thought's recall.

  4    Which images we store and how they are constructed, who can tell? Though it is clear by which sense each has been brought in and put away. For even while I rest in darkness and silence, I can have my memory produce color, if I wish; and I can discern between black and white, and what other colors I will. Nor do sounds break in from other parts of memory and disturb the image I am reviewing, one drawn in by my eyes. The memories of sounds though they are also there, lie dormant, laid up, as it were, apart. For these too I can call for, and at once they appear. And though my tongue is still, and my throat mute, yet I can sing as much as I wish. Nor do those images of colors—which nevertheless are there too—intrude themselves and interrupt when memory which flowed in through the ears is called for. Similarly, the other things piled in and up by the other senses I can recall at my pleasure. Truly, I distinguish the breath of lilies from that of violets, though inhaling nothing; and I experience a preference for honey over sweet wine, smooth surfaces over rugged, while at the time neither tasting nor handling, but remembering only.
     
5    These things I review within me, in that vast concourse of my memory. For heaven, earth, sea, and whatever I can think about them are present within me, apart from what I have forgotten. There also meet I myself, recalling when, where, and what I have done, and with what feelings. There is all I can remember, either from my own experience, or what others have told me.  

 

 

MemoryBasis for Actions, Hopes

     

  6    Out of the same store I draw past instances to be continually combined with the fresh likenesses of things I experience, or have experienced or believed; and from this infer future actions, events and hopes; and all these again I reflect on, as if they were present. I say to myself, in that great receptacle of my mind, stored with the images of so many and so great things, "I will do this or that, and this or that will follow." Or, "O that this or that might be!" Or, "God avert this or that!" So speak I to myself, and when I speak, the images of all I speak of are present, out of the same treasury of memory; nor would I speak of any of them if the images were absent.

    7    Great is this power of memory, excessively great, contained in a vast and boundless chamber! Who ever sounded the bottom of it? Yet this is a power I have; it is part of my nature. Not only that, I do not myself comprehend all that I am. Therefore the mind is somehow too confining to contain itself. And where can one place something that does not contain itself? Is it outside of itself and not within? How then does it not comprehend itself?

 

Admiration of Memory   

8    A wonderful admiration surprises me, amazement seizes me on these thoughts. And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought. They are not amazed that when I spoke of all these things, I did not see them with my eyes, yet could not have spoken of them unless, inwardly in my memory, I actually saw the mountains, billows, rivers, stars, which I had once seen —and that ocean of which I've heard—with the same vast spaces between as if I saw them abroad. Yet I did not draw these scenes into myself when  I saw them; nor are they themselves here with me. I have their images only, and I know by what sense of the body each was impressed upon me.

  9    Yet these images are not the only things the immeasurable capacity of my memory retains. There also is all I have learnt in the liberal sciences and not yet forgotten (removed, as it were, to some inner place which is yet no place): for these are not images, but the things themselves. After all, literature, the art of disputing, how many kinds of questions there are—what I know about these exists in the same manner in my memory. In this case, I have not taken in the image, and left out the thing.  

 

 

Memory of Significance

      

  10  When I learn that there are three kinds of question—whether a thing exist, what it is, what kind it is—I do indeed hold the images of the sounds of which those words are composed. And those sounds, a noise passed through the air, disappear. But the things signified by those sounds, I never gained with any sense of my body, nor ever discerned them otherwise than in my mind. So in my memory I have laid up not their images but themselves. How they entered me I have received no answer, because I have gone over all the avenues of my flesh, but cannot find by which they entered. For the eyes say, "if those images were colored, we reported of them." The ears say, "if they were sound, we gave knowledge of them." The nostrils say, "if they smell, they passed by us." The taste says, "unless they have a savor, don't ask me." The touch says, "if it does not have size, I did not handled it; if I did not handled it, I gave no notice of its presence."  

      

  11  From where and how these things entered into my memory, I do not know. For when I learned them, I gave no credit to another man's mind, but recognized them in mine; and approving them to be true, I commended them to it, laying them up, as it were, in a place from which I might bring them out when I wished to. They were in my heart then, even before I learned them, but in my memory they were not. Where then? Or why—when they were spoken—did I acknowledge them, and said, "So it is, it is true," unless that they were already in my memory, but so thrown back and buried in deeper recesses, as it were, that if the suggestion of another had not drawn them forth, I would have possibly not been able to conceive of them?  

 

 

Memory and Cogitation

 

  12  Therefore we find, that to learn these things that we do not draw in as images by our senses, but perceive within by themselves without images, is nothing else but to recognize (and by so marking to take heed) that those things which the memory before contained at random and unarranged, can be rearranged so as to be readily at hand, as it were, in that same memory.  Whereas before they lay unknown, scattered and neglected, now they become ordered so as to readily occur to the mind familiarized to them. And how many things of this kind does my memory bear which have been already found out and, as I said, placed as it were at hand—which we are said to have learned and come to know—that, were I for some short space of time to cease to call them to mind, they become buried again, gliding back, as it were, into deeper recesses. From there they must be thought out once more, as if created anew. They have no other abode but must be drawn together again, so that they may be known; that is to say, they must be collected together from their dispersion. On this basis the word "cogitation" is derived. For cogo (collect) and cogire (re-collect), have the same relation to each other as ago and agito. But the mind has appropriated to itself this word (cogitation), so that, not what is "collected" any how, but what is "re-collected,"— i.e. brought together, in the mind—is properly said to be cogitated, or thought upon.

     13  The memory contains also reasons and laws of innumerable numbers and dimensions, none of which has any bodily sense impressed; since they have neither color, nor sound, nor taste, nor smell, nor touch. I have heard the sound of the words whereby when discussed they are denoted; but the sounds are other than the things. For the sounds differ when expressed in Greek rather than in Latin; but the things themselves are neither Greek, nor Latin, nor any other language.  

 

Remembering

     14  All these things I remember, and how I learnt them I remember. Many things also most falsely objected against them have I heard, and remember. And although these objections are false, yet is it not false that I remember them; and I remember also that I have discerned between those truths and these falsehoods objected to them. And I perceive that the present discerning of these things is different from remembering I often discerned them, at the times I thought upon them. I remember then to have often understood these things; and what I now discern and understand, I lay up in my memory, that later I may remember what I understood now. So then I remember also to have remembered. Thus at some later time I shall recall that I have at this time been able to remember these things. By the force of memory I shall recall my recollection.

   

Recalling Emotions

     

15  The same memory contains also the feelings and emotions of my mind—not in the same manner that my mind itself contains them, when it feels them but far otherwise, according to an ability of its own. For without rejoicing I remember myself to have been joyful; and without sorrow I recollect my past sorrow. And that I once feared, I review without fear; and without desire call to mind a past desire. Sometimes, on the contrary, with joy I remember my past sorrow, and with sorrow, joy. Which is not so remarkable when the body is involved, for mind is one thing, body another. If therefore I remember with joy some past pain of my body, this is not remarkable. But it is so when we consider that memory itself is mind, (for when we give a thing in charge, to be kept in memory, we say, "See that you keep it in mind"; and when we forget, we say, "It did not come to my mind" or, "It slipped out of my mind," calling the memory itself the mind). This being so, how is it, that when with joy I remember my past sorrow, the mind has joy, the memory has sorrow; how is it the mind, upon the joyfulness which is in it, is joyful, yet the memory upon the sadness which is in it, is not sad? Does the memory perhaps not belong to the mind? Who will say so? The memory then is, as it were, the belly of the mind, and joy and sadness, are like sweet and bitter food which when committed to the memory are, as it were, passed into the belly, where they may be stowed but not tasted. It is ridiculous to imagine these two parts of us to be alike; and yet are they not utterly unlike.

  16  But look, I bring it out of my memory when I say there are four perturbations of the mind—desire, joy, fear, sorrow. And whatever I can argue about them by dividing each into its subordinate species and forming definitions, it is in my memory that I find what to say, and I bring it from there. Yet, in doing so, I am not disturbed by any of these perturbations, when by calling them to mind, I remember them; yes, and before I recalled and brought them back, they were there; and therefore they could, by recollection, be brought back from there. Perhaps, then, as by chewing the cud grass is brought up out of the belly, so by recollection these things are brought out of the memory. Why then does not the arguer, thus recollecting, taste in the mouth of his musing the sweetness of joy, or the bitterness of sorrow? Does the comparison break down here, because not all aspects are alike? For who would willingly speak of grief or fear if, as often as we named them, we would be compelled to be sad or fearful? And yet how could we speak of them, if we did not find in our memory, not only the sounds of the names according to the images impressed by the senses of the body, but very notions of the things themselves? Things we never received by any avenue of the body, but which the mind itself perceived by the experience of its own passions, and committed to the memory? How could the memory  retain the passion of the mind without experiencing that passion?  

 

Naming and Memory

    

  17  But whether things are committed to memory by images or not, who can readily say? Thus, I name a stone, I name the sun, the things themselves not being present to my senses, but their images are present from memory. I name a bodily pain, yet it is not present with me when nothing aches: yet unless its image were present to my memory, I should not know what to say about it or to discern pain from pleasure. I name bodily health; being sound in body, the thing itself is present with me; yet, unless its image also were present in my memory, I could by no means recall what the sound of this name should signify. Nor would the sick, when health is named, be able to recognize what was spoken of, unless the same image of health were by the force of memory retained, although the thing itself were absent from the body. I name numbers whereby we enumerate; and not their images, but themselves are present in my memory. I name the image of the sun, and that image is present in my memory. For I recall not the image of its image, but the image itself is present to me, calling it to mind. I name memory, and I recognize what I name. And where do I recognize it, but in memory itself? Is it also present to itself by its image and not by itself?

   

 

Forgetfulness

18  What about when I name forgetfulness and in addition recognize what I name? How should I recognize it, if I did not remember it? I speak not of the sound of the name, but of the thing which it signifies; which if I had forgotten, I could not recognize what that sound signifies. When then I remember memory, memory itself is, through itself, present with itself; but when I remember forgetfulness, there are present both memory and forgetfulness; memory whereby I remember, forgetfulness which I remember. But what is forgetfulness, but the deprivation of memory? How then is it present that I remember it, since when present I cannot remember? But if what we remember we hold in memory, yet, unless we did remember forgetfulness, we could never at the hearing of the name, recognize the thing thereby signified. Then forgetfulness is retained by memory. It is present that we do not forget; and being so, we forget. It is to be understood from this, that forgetfulness, when we remember it, is not present to the memory by itself, but by its image: because if it were present by itself, it would not cause us to remember, but to forget. Who will resolve this? Who can comprehend what is going on here?

  19  I truly toil over these things, yes and struggle within myself. I have become a heavy soil for the growth of ideas, requiring  too much sweat of the brow. For we are not now searching out regions of the heavens, or measuring the distances of the stars, or inquiring about the equilibrium of the earth. It is I myself who remember, mine the mind. It is not so remarkable that what is not myself should be far from me. But what is nearer to me than myself? And yet, I do not understand the power of my own memory, though I cannot so much as name myself without it. For what shall I say, when it is clear to me that I remember forgetfulness? Shall I say that what I remember is not in my memory? Or shall I say that forgetfulness is for this purpose in my memory, that I might not forget? Both ideas are most absurd. What third way is there? How can I say that the image of forgetfulness is retained by my memory—not forgetfulness itself—when I remember it? How could I say this either, seeing that when the image of any thing is impressed on the memory, the thing itself must be present, from which the image may be impressed? For that is how I remember Carthage, how I remember all places where I have been, all men's faces I have seen, all things reported by the other senses, and  the health or sickness of the body. For when these things were present, my memory received from them images, which, being present within me, I might look on and bring back in my mind when I remembered them in their absence. If this forgetfulness is retained in the memory through its image, not through itself, then plainly, itself was once present, that its image might be stored. But when it was present, how did it write its image in the memory, seeing that forgetfulness by its presence effaces even what it finds already noted? And yet, in whatever way—although that way is past conceiving and explaining—I am certain that I remember forgetfulness itself also, whereby what we remember is effaced.

   

Searching Memory

20  Great is the power of memory, a fearful thing, a deep and boundless manifoldness; and this thing is the mind, and this I am myself. What am I then? What is my nature? A life various and manifold, and exceeding immense. Look, the plains and caves and caverns of my memory are innumerable and innumerably full of innumerable kinds of things, either through images, as all bodies; or by actual presence, as in knowledge of the arts; or by certain notions or impressions, as the emotions and feelings of the mind which—even when the mind does not feel—the memory retains. And whatever is in the memory is also in the mind—over all these different memories I run or I fly: I dive into memories on this side and on that, reaching as far as I can, and there is no end to them. So great is the force of memory, so great the force of life, even in the mortal life of man.

21  But what if memory itself loses any thing, as falls out when we forget and seek that we may recollect? Where in the end do we search, but in memory itself? And there, if one thing is perhaps offered instead of another, we can reject it, until what we seek meets us; and when it does we say to ourselves, "this is what I sought". We would not say this unless we recognized it, nor recognize it unless we remembered it.. Certainly, then, we had forgotten it. Or, the whole having escaped us except for a part we had hold of, we then sought the lost part. Did memory—feeling that what we recalled was not complete but was made defective, as it were, by the curtailment of memory's proper functioning—demand the restoration of what was missed? For instance, suppose we see or think of some one known to us, and having forgotten his name, try to recall it. Whatever else comes to mind—because it might be thought of as joined with that man—is rejected as not being the name, until the name presents itself, whereupon this knowledge reposes as equally available as the image of the man himself. And from where does the name present itself, except out of the memory itself? For even when we recognize it, on being reminded by another, it comes from there. For we do not conceive it as something new but, upon recollection, allow the name to be right. For we had not as yet utterly forgotten that which we remembered ourselves to have forgotten. But were it utterly blotted out of the mind, we would not remember it, even when reminded. What we have utterly forgotten, thoroughly lost, we cannot even seek after.  

 

 

A Theory of Time

     

22   If we consider an instant of time that cannot be divided further into the smallest particles of moments, it alone is that which may be called present. Yet it flies with such speed from future to past, as not to be lengthened out with the least stay. For if it is lengthened, it is divided into past and future. Thus the present has no space. . .

     

23   If times past and future exist, I would like know where they are. Even if I cannot know this, yet I know, wherever they are, they are not there as future, or past, but as present. Yet if they are in the present and also of the future, they are not yet there in the present. On the other hand, if they are also in the present as the past, they are also no longer there. Thus whatever exists, it is only as being in the present. When past facts are related, we draw out of the memory not the things themselves, which are past, but words that are stimulated by the images of the things that in passing have through the senses have been left as traces in the mind. Thus my childhood, which no longer exists, is in time past, which now no loner exists. But when I now recall its image and talk about it, I can see it in the present, because it is still in my memory. . .

    

24  Thus when things in the future (that is, which are to be) are said to be seen, it is not the things in themselves that are seen, which as yet do not exist, but their causes, perhaps, or their signs, which already exist. Therefore they are not in the future but in the present to those who now see that from which the future is foretold, being conceived ahead of time in the mind. These conceptions, again, are in the present.  And those who forecast such things see the concept of what they forecast present before them. 

     

25   Now, let the abundant variety of things furnish me some examples. I behold the dawn, I expect that the sun is about to rise. What I see, is present; what I expect, is yet to come—not the sun, which already is, but the sun-rising, which is not yet. . . Future things then are not yet: and if they are not yet, they are not: and if they are not, they cannot be seen; yet they may be forecast from things present, which already exist and can be seen. . .

    What now is clear and plain is, that neither future things to nor past things exist. Nor is it properly said, "there are three times: past, present, and future". Yet it might possibly be properly said, "there are three times: a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future." For these three do exist in some way in the mind, but I do not find them elsewhere. The present of things past is memory. The present of things present, sight. The present of things future, expectation. . .

    

 

26   I say then, in spite of all this, we measure time as it passes so that we can say, this time is twice as much as that one; or, this time is just as much as that; and so on for any other parts of time that may be measurable. Therefore, as I said, we measure times as they pass. And if anyone should ask me, "How do you know?" I might answer, "I know that we do measure, but I know that we cannot measure things that do not exist; and things past and future do not exist." But how can we measure time present, seeing it has no extent? Time is measured while passing, but when it has passed, it is not measured, for there will be nothing to measure. But where does it come from, and by what route, and where does it go to while we are measuring it? From where but the future? Which way, but through the present? To where, but into the past?

    From that therefore, which is not yet, through that which has no extent, into that which now is not. Yet what do we measure, if not time as of some extent? For we do not say, single, and double, and triple, and equal, or any other similar thing when we speak of time, except of extent of time. In what space then do we measure time passing? In the future, from which it passes out? But we can not measure what is not yet. Or in the present, through which it passes? But this has no extent that we can measure. Or in the past, to which it passes? But neither can we measure that which no longer exists.

    My mind is on fire to know this most intricate enigma.

 

 

A Theory of Mind

 

27   To comprehend the Christian Trinity and how far we are removed from it, I would ask men to consider three things they find in themselves. These three are indeed far removed, but I am suggesting how we may look into ourselves and discover how we are related to it. Now the three things I speak of are To Be, To Know, and To Will, because I am, I know, and I will. I am knowing and willing: and I know myself to be and to will. Furthermore, I will to be, and to know. In these three then, it is possible to discern how inseparable a life they form—yes one life, one mind, and one essence. Lastly, regard how inseparable a distinction exists between them, and yet a distinction exists. Surely a man has this example before him; let him look into himself, perceive it, and agree.

 

 

 

  Source

 Adapted from The Confessions of St. Augustine translated by E. B. Pusey. J. M. Dents & Sons, London, 1907.

For a philosophical assessment of Augustine: A History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1945

  Web Site: Augustine of Hippo

 Adaptation and Selection Copyright © Rex Pay 2000