Antoine Amarilli's blog

Learning one's life by heart

— updated

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to learn your own life by heart. Let me explain what I mean with this weird expression. I've been keeping a diary for some time (since January) in which I just write a quick summary of what I did every day. In practice, I use this diary as a way to be able to find back, a few years from now, what I did on a specific day (it might prove useful in a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances), or as a way to re-read what took place quite some time ago (whenever I feel nostalgic, or just curious). But in fact, my deeper motive in writing this diary is as follows (it's quite simple, in fact): I find it really sad when I realize that I haven't the faintest idea of what took place in my day-to-day life a few years ago and that I have no way at all to find out. Of course, it's impossible to write down everything that took place, but just having something to start with (which often conjures more memories) is already a lot.

If you start to think about this kind of diary using computer science terminology, you could see such a diary as a way to sort memories using time as an index. Indeed, if you start searching for memories in your brain, you realize that you can easily find them thematically, but that it's nigh impossible to find them chronologically (except for the very recent past). My diary could serve as a way to circumvent this problem. (An external way, which I keep on my computer rather than in my brain.)

Which leads to my question: what would it be like to learn such a diary by heart, as it is written, and to be able to recite it like a poem? I'm not thinking about learning the exact wording of entries (although it could be a way to start things off), but to learn the succession of events, and to be able to remember one day after another, in order, over a long period (ideally, the whole of one's life).

The thing I find seducing with this idea is that it is deliciously meta. How natural and canonical to learn your own existence by heart! And how weird to remember not only real events, but also the act of memorizing real events, and the act of memorizing the act of memorizing, and so on...

If you follow this objective to its logical conclusion, you would spend most of your time thinking and trying to remember the sequence of your thoughts, and trying to remember that as well...

Even in a less perfect way, having some period of your life which you learnt by heart and can remember chronologically much later would be quite cool. I don't think I'll ever take the time to do it, but I wonder if someone already did something like that...

Related: hyperthymesia, the condition of having unusually good autobiographical memory.

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