Memory, Our Guide to the Future

Plutarch, Obsolesence Of Oracles (Moralia 432)

“It is not necessary to feel wonder or disbelieve upon seeing this ability in the mind which is a parallel for prophecy, even if we see nothing else, which we call memory—how great an effort it proves to be to save and preserve the things that have happened before or, really, what is now. For nothing of what has happened exists or persist, but at the very moment everything comes to be it also perishes: deeds, words, emotions, each of them passing away on the stream of time.

But this power of the mind in some way I do not understand apprehends them and endows them with appearance and substance for those who are not here now. The prophecy which was given to the Thessalians was ordering them to consider “the hearing of a deaf man; the sight of the blind.”

And so memory is for us the hearing of affairs we are deaf to and the sight of matters to which we are blind. This is why, as I was saying, it should not be a surprise when it has control over things which no longer are and can anticipate those which have not yet happened. For these matters are much better fit to it and those are similar. Memory approaches and attaches to what will be and it breaks off from what has happened before and reached an end except for the sake of remembering it.”

οὐ δεῖ δὲ θαυμάζειν οὐδ᾿ ἀπιστεῖν ὁρῶντας, εἰ μηδὲν ἄλλο, τῆς ψυχῆς τὴν ἀντίστροφον τῇ μαντικῇ δύναμιν, ἣν μνήμην καλοῦμεν, ἡλίκον ἔργον ἀποδείκνυται τὸ σῴζειν τὰ παρῳχημένα καὶ φυλάττειν, μᾶλλον δὲ ὄντα· τῶν γὰρ γεγονότων οὐδὲν ἔστιν οὐδ᾿ ὑφέστηκεν, ἀλλ᾿ ἅμα γίγνεται πάντα καὶ φθείρεται, καὶ πράξεις καὶ λόγοι καὶ παθήματα, τοῦ χρόνου καθάπερ ῥεύματος ἕκαστα παραφέροντος· αὕτη δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς ἡ δύναμις οὐκ οἶδ᾿ ὅντινα τρόπον ἀντιλαμβανομένη τοῖς μὴ παροῦσι φαντασίαν καὶ οὐσίαν περιτίθησιν. ὁ μὲν γὰρ Θετταλοῖς περὶ Ἄρνης δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐκέλευε φράζειν: “κωφοῦ τ᾿ ἀκοὴν τυφλοῖό τε δέρξιν,”

ἡ δὲ μνήμη καὶ κωφῶν πραγμάτων ἀκοὴ καὶ τυφλῶν ὄψις ἡμῖν ἐστιν. ὅθεν, ὡς ἔφην, οὐκ ἔστι θαυμαστόν, εἰ κρατοῦσα τῶν μηκέτ᾿ ὄντων προλαμβάνει πολλὰ τῶν μηδέπω γεγονότων· ταῦτα γὰρ αὐτῇ μᾶλλον προσήκει καὶ τούτοις συμπαθής ἐστι· καὶ γὰρ ἐπιβάλλεται καὶ προστίθεται πρὸς τὰ μέλλοντα καὶ τῶν παρῳχημένων καὶ τέλος ἐχόντων ἀπήλλακται πλὴν τοῦ μνημονεύειν.

Charles Fernyhough, Pieces of Light (2001):

126: Memory’s “greater value”…”might have been its ability to foretell the future”

Mario Mikulincer. Human Learned Helplessness: A Coping Perspective. New York: Plenum Press, 1994.

102: “The hypothesis that the experience with recurrent lack of control generates an expectancy of no control in a new task is based on two assumptions; first, that people tend to anticipate future events congruent with present and/or past events; and second, that they tend to generalize expectancies to new tasks and situations”

Bern Le Hunte and Jan A. Golembiewski. “Stories Have the Power to Save Us: A Neurological Framework for the Imperative to Tell Stories.” Arts and Social Sciences Journal 5.2 (2014) 73-76.

75: “Storytelling, then, is essential to the way we construct our humanity. It’s also vital to our study of the future.”

Mark Turner, The Storytelling Mind 1996, 4-5:  “narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally. This is the first way in which the mind is essentially literary.”


Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree). Bible (second quarter of the 16th century?)
Valenciennes, Bibl. mun., ms. 0007, f. 055 (the prophet Isaiah being sawn in half inside a cedar tree).

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