Note: This post spews a bizzare idea and it’s format doesn’t really fit well with the other essays on the previous page. So continue reading only if you have absolutely nothing better to do with your life. Seriously, you cannot not have anything better than reading this. Watch 10 minutes of Richard Dawkins saying “SHOW ME THE EVIDENCE” instead.
The following idea assumes that we have solved the Hard Problem of Concsciousness X years from now where I predict that X lies somewhere between 50 and 80 years. But even if this prediction about understanding consciousness turns out to be true, the proposed idea in this essay is one of those science fiction fantasies that on the surface has very low probability of turning into reality. My understanding of how memory works is minimal. Therefore, I will shamelessly make embarrassing assumptions along the way which would be easily discarded by a neuroscientist who studies memory. Nevertheless, it is fun to think about, so here it goes.
We get nostalgic about our past. We wish to go back in time and relive some of our cherished memories. I have lost count of how many times I have fantasized about having a time machine to travel back in time and observe my younger self with the mind that I currently possess. I know there are hundreds of paradoxes in time travel and it is most likely impossible to manipulate the time dimension. But are there any other ways that we could invent to help us recreate or relive the past in the most rudimentary way?
When I say “recreate the past”, it doesn’t necessarily imply recreating the whole sequence of events in a continous and uninterrupted flow. It could just be a set of snapshots taken at regular intervals. Somewhat similar to time-lapse videos, where the camera takes pictures at constant intervals. With better virtual reality techniques, we might fill the gaps and add more elements in the environment to give an illusion of the the whole past like a movie but it will largely be fake. I would rather have high quality stand alone snapshots from the past than have those snapshots being part of a fake virtual reality.
Now, imagine an event that happened in your past that also involved some other human being(s). Let’s say you went for a camping trip. A few of you mates or whatever accompanied you. So you and your mates are storing memories of that camping trip while experiencing different situations in it. My focus here is to try and recreate a few moments out of that trip. It’s not a stretch to assume that the quality of the discontinous series of snapshots increases with the higher number of humans in that trip because we have more memories to work with. Now, human memory is largely shitty. But memory consolidation does happen and those are the memories you would want to focus on while trying to create snapshots. A problem that we face here is that we can only try to recreate the events that we believe to have happened. If my friend cannot remember a single thing from the camping trip and even denies that he went to any such trip, the whole idea can fail. We will not have enough data to work with. So let’s assume that my friends do have some memories of the trip. What we can do (with sufficiently advanced tools that operate on brains), is that we can hook the brains to machines that are used to observe the Qualia and notice the faint and vague subjetive recreation in multiple brains involved in that event. Since we are dealing with multiple perceptions i.e. multiple brains observing the camping event, its somewhat like trying to get the perfect panaromic picture by capturing photos of a single object from different angles.
Its important to note that other people are crucial because they are the ones creating their own image associated with that event, which goes into creating an approximation of the full sequence of events. You are not storing yourself (your body), when you are storing these memories. Although its probably much better to just throw your image through captured pictures of you from that era than trusting someone else’s image of you from that era. But of course it will all depend on the quality of the Qualia.
Other than recreating such a memory snapshot, this tool would also stimulate the brain with relevant “keywords” to demand for more information, especially when available data isn’t good enough to capture the snapshots. We all possess memories that resurface again if stimulated with a set of input relavant to that forgotten memory. This seems to work even with the events that happened a decade ago that were never thought of in that decade. An algorithm can use this feature of human memory to recreate missing information from the target memory snapshot. These keywords can be as simple as showing images of the camping place or asking the subjects questions relevant to that event. There is no reason to doubt that we will have a near perfect understanding of how memories are formed and stored. So assuming an understanding of the kind of questions that would re-ignite the lost memories doesn’t seem like a stretch.
One can argue that a simpler strategy would be to just have a micro camera installed in (or near) your eyes that let you capture all the events of your life. This will definitely be faster to achieve technology wise than creating Qualia-reading machines. Once you have such a recording, its just a matter of doing a keyword search for the relavant snippet in the movie of your life. Since tagging of events that are being recorded will happen along the way, it will be a simple matter of searching for tags like “Rakhi”, “Camping”, “Trip” etc. to dig out the relavant snippet. I haven’t thought about the security and ethical implications for such a technology but I am sure better cryptography and elevated morality will allow us to overcome some of those barriers. So yeah, this is on the surface more feasible alternative and possibly completely mutes whatever I previous pargraphs. But it wasn’t as much fun to think about…