Unconscious Memory

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Overview

"Unconscious Memory" was largely written to show the relation of Butler's views to Hering's, and contains an exquisitely written translation of the Address. Hering does, indeed, anticipate Butler, and that in language far more suitable to the persuasion of the scientific public. It contains a subsidiary hypothesis that memory has for its mechanism special vibrations of the protoplasm, and the acquired capacity to respond to such vibrations once felt upon their repetition. I do not think that the theory gains anything by the introduction of this even as a mere formal hypothesis; and there is no evidence for its being anything more. Butler, however, gives it a warm, nay, enthusiastic, reception in Chapter V (Introduction to Professor Hering's lecture), and in his notes to the translation of the Address, which bulks so large in this book, but points out that he was "not committed to this hypothesis, though inclined to accept it on a prima facie view." Later on, as we shall see, he attached more importance to it.
The Hering Address is followed in "Unconscious Memory" by translations of selected passages from Von Hartmann's "Philosophy of the Unconscious," and annotations to explain the difference from this personification of "The Unconscious" as a mighty all-ruling, all-creating personality, and his own scientific recognition of the great part played by unconscious processes in the region of mind and memory.
These are the essentials of the book as a contribution to biological philosophy. The closing chapters contain a lucid statement of objections to his theory as they might be put by a rigid necessitarian, and a refutation of that interpretation as applied to human action.
But in the second chapter Butler states his recession from the strong logical position he had hitherto developed in his writings from "Erewhon" onwards; so far he had not only distinguished the living from the non-living, but distinguished among the latter machines or tools from things at large. {0c} Machines or tools are the external organs of living beings, as organs are their internal machines: they are fashioned, assembled, or selected by the beings for a purposes so they have a future purpose, as well as a past history. "Things at large" have a past history, but no purpose (so long as some being does not convert them into tools and give them a purpose): Machines have a Why? as well as a How?: "things at large" have a How? only.
In "Unconscious Memory" the allurements of unitary or monistic views have gained the upper hand, and Butler writes (p. 23):-

"The only thing of which I am sure is, that the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbitrary; that it is more coherent with our other ideas, and therefore more acceptable, to start with every molecule as a living thing, and then deduce death as the breaking up of an association or corporation, than to start with inanimate molecules and smuggle life into them; and that, therefore, what we call the inorganic world must be regarded as up to a certain point living, and instinct, within certain limits, with consciousness, volition, and power of concerted action. It is only of late, however, that I have come to this opinion."

I have italicised the last sentence, to show that Butler was more or less conscious of its irreconcilability with much of his most characteristic doctrine. Again, in the closing chapter, Butler writes (p. 275):-

"We should endeavour to see the so-called inorganic as living in respect of the qualities it has in common with the organic, rather than the organic as non-living in respect of the qualities it has in common with the inorganic."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9788132000594
  • Publisher: Tutis Digital Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
  • Publication date: 2/5/2008
  • Pages: 404
  • Product dimensions: 0.83 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 6.14 (d)

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