Quotes on memory
These quotes on memory will help you to explore its nature, form links with other WOKs and AOKs, and provide discussion points for TOK lessons. They will also support you as you address knowledge questions within your TOK essay and TOK presentation.
- What do the quotes suggest about the role memory plays in our acquisition of knowledge?
- Are the quotes consistent, or do they clash about the role it plays as a way of knowing, and its relationship with others WOKs and AOKs?
- Can you think of other ways of knowing and areas of knowledge that these quotes relate to?
- How many of these thinkers are you familiar with? Research the ones you haven’t come across before – and, indeed, the ones you think you already know. Click on the names to take you to the corresponding Wikipedia article, although this should only be used as a starting point for your research.
Finally, how would you use the quotes to construct a typical IB Diploma TOK essay title? Look at previous TOK essay titles, and see if you can compose something similar (and think about how you’d go about structuring it).
1. The nature of memory
Memory is the mother of all wisdom.
Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Life may unfold chronologically for the body and for bureaucracies that keep track of such things as births, marriages, deaths, visas, tax returns, expulsions, and identity cards, but memory does not play this game in quite the same way, always manages to confound the desire for tidiness.
Memory is deceptive because it is coloured by today’s events.
Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
Memory narrativises itself.
Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.
It’s surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.
No memory is ever alone; it’s at the end of a trail of memories, a dozen trails that each have their own associations.
Human memory is a marvellous but fallacious instrument. The memories which lie within us are not carved in stone; not only do they tend to become erased as the years go by, but often they change, or even increase by incorporating extraneous features.
Memory is man’s greatest friend and worst enemy.
Memory is the personal journalism of the soul.
Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.
2. Memory and emotion
Memory, in widow’s weeds, with naked feet stands on a tombstone.
Aubrey de Vere
Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.
Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.
3. Memory and imagination
For memory, we use our imagination. We take a few strands of real time and carry them with us, then like an oyster we create a pearl around them.
Life is possible only by the deficiencies of our imagination and memory.
Emil M. Cioran
It is all very well to copy what one sees, but it is far better to draw what one now only sees in one’s memory. That is a transformation in which imagination collaborates with memory.
Intelligence is the wife, imagination is the mistress, memory is the servant.
We can invent only with memory.
Invention, strictly speaking, is little more than a new combination of those images which have been previously gathered and deposited in the memory; nothing can come of nothing.
Inspiration could be called inhaling the memory of an act never experienced.
4. Memory and language
Language is memory and metaphor.
5. Memory and reason
Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory.
Leonardo da Vinci
Memory depends very much on the perspicuity, regularity, and order of our thoughts. Many complain of the want of memory, when the defect is in the judgment; and others, by grasping at all, retain nothing.
Memory is not wisdom; idiots can by rote repeat volumes. Yet what is wisdom without memory?
Martin Farquhar Tupper
6. Memory and sense perception
7. Memory and the arts
Everybody knows how fallible memory can sometimes be. You remember certain fragments precisely, but as soon as you try to join the fragments together, for a story, there is a certain – not falsification, but a shifting.
I’m interested in memory because it’s a filter through which we see our lives, and because it’s foggy and obscure, the opportunities for self-deception are there. In the end, as a writer, I’m more interested in what people tell themselves happened rather than what actually happened.
Memory is a great artist. For every man and for every woman it makes the recollection of his or her life a work of art and an unfaithful record.
The moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives.
W. G. Sebald
Literature becomes the living memory of a nation.
8. Memory and ethics
Of what use is the memory of facts, if not to serve as an example of good or of evil?
Alfred de Vigny
9. Memory and history
History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.
10. Memory and the human sciences
What we hold in our heads – our memory, our feelings, our thoughts, our sense of our own history – is the sum of our humanity.
We’re all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually altering those habits, which is to say the networks of our memory. No lasting joke, or invention, or insight, or work of art was ever produced by an external memory. Not yet, at least.
Memory isn’t a theme; it’s part of the human condition.
A great memory does not make a mind, any more than a dictionary is a piece of literature.
John Henry Newman
Cognitive psychology tells us that the unaided human mind is vulnerable to many fallacies and illusions because of its reliance on its memory for vivid anecdotes rather than systematic statistics.
Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.
11. Memory and indigenous knowledge systems
Cultures are never merely intellectual constructs. They take form through the collective intelligence and memory, through a commonly held psychology and emotions, through spiritual and artistic communion.
12. Memory and the natural sciences
Men act like brutes in so far as the sequences of their perceptions arise through the principle of memory only, like those empirical physicians who have mere practice without theory.
Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.
Arthur M. Schlesinger
Of course it is a very simple matter to identify genes which might modify intelligence or memory and start thinking about whether you want to enhance a human, and the next generation is going to have to deal with that issue. Should we be trying to enhance humans rather than trying to educate them and so on?