On the “repository” of spiritual memory: brain or culture

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018

Author: Mareev Sergei, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, the Head of Department of the General Subjects, Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute), Russia

The French philosopher Henri Bergson divided human memory into two types: spiritual memory and cerebral memory. Cerebral memory is the memory of the structures of the human brain, roughly speaking, the memory contained “in the head”. As for spiritual memory, according to Bergson, it is not a memory of cerebral structures, but what is sometimes called the memory of the heart. This type of memory is associated with the concept of image. It is the images that emerge in memory that stir our emotions. What is called “spirituality” is difficult to imagine without emotional experiences. But where and how are images stored in our memory?

The picture that occurs on the retina is converted into a signal that travels along the optic nerve into the cortex of the human hemispheres. It is clear that this signal is similar to the image on the retina of the eye, just as the radio signal that enters the television receiver is similar to the corresponding image on the TV screen. Here the analogy is almost complete. But the essential difference lies in the fact that the signal, having entered the brain, is not transformed into an image, and if we recall what we have seen before, we imagine it in the same outer space in which we have seen it in reality, and not in the internal space of the brain. Otherwise, we should have in the brain not only a “screen”, but also a “spectator” who can perceive what is depicted on the “screen”.

Physiology does not explain anything here. It explains neither the reappearance of the image in the outer space, nor the fact that the “returned” image is not the same as its prototype. Suppose an animal artist sees a cat in front of him and at the same time depicts it on canvas or on paper. We see that the image of the cat is different from the original. Moreover, it differs in such a way that it is more interesting for us to contemplate the cat depicted by the artist than to see a live cat. How exactly this happens in the artist’s brain, no physiologist of vision has explained so far, but most modern philosophers have not explained it either. Although we find the background for such explanation in classical German philosophy, first of all in Kant with his schematism of imagination and in Fichte, who dealt with the dialectics of productive and reproductive imagination [1].

This question is, in fact, big and complex. But, in general, one thing should be clear: the depicted cat is not stored in the brain’s memory; it is stored along with the canvas on which it is depicted. Preservation of images of spiritual memory on canvas, on paper, in stone, in bronze, etc. is a characteristic feature of human spiritual memory. And this is not the memory of a separate individual, but the memory of humanity.

The brain cannot serve as a repository of spiritual memory. This was proved by Henri Bergson. Spiritual memory is a memory of images, and images cannot be stored in cerebral structures. Where are they stored then? Bergson believes thy are stored in creative evolution. But Bergson’s “creative evolution” is something mystical. If we say that images of spiritual memory are stored in history, it will be clear without any mysticism. But Bergson, like Friedrich Nietzsche, professes a “philosophy of life”, and the living knows only evolution; it does not know history. In the same way, Bergson also cannot give a rational answer to the question of how our spiritual memory is connected with the evolutionary process.

Our spiritual memory is our monuments to heroes and martyrs, and not our cerebral structures. And they are stored in the same place where books, paintings, instruments of human activity, architectural structures, etc. are kept. All this is kept in museums, libraries and art galleries. They store history for us, without which we are just animals. But history itself can turn us into animals if it is misinterpreted for the sake of ideology. “History,” wrote Nietzsche, “should first of all give people the courage to be honest, even if we are honest fools; and such was indeed always its influence, but not now! We see the simultaneous domination of historical education and the universal bourgeois coat” [2].

So our historians have put on this pretty worn coat and want to teach people history in the spirit of a well-known formula: Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality. But the historian must show not only what events took place, but also why they ended. And such things do not end due to misunderstanding, due to the coincidence of random circumstances. They end naturally and in accordance with necessity.

Only those who make history can be unfair. But if we portray this injustice objectively, then this will be true. Peoples, governments and states erect monuments to heroes, gods and rulers. It also happens that some monuments are overthrown, and the others are put in their places. And this is where ideology is already entering into action, and according to what types of monuments are erected, it is possible to judge about the ideology of the corresponding time and state.

The non-spirituality of modern society is often stated, but rarely explained. And if it is explained, it is explained by the non-religiousness of the modern man. But then there is a question about the causes of this irreligiousness. V.M. Mezhuyev once introduced the concept of “life in history”. A modern man certainly does not live in history. He lives in his house and perceives the time of his own life as the time which he lived in everyday life with his wife, children, dogs, etc. Daily routine seizes a person, and he has little interest in the history of the people and the state, the history of culture. Moreover, he even develops a negative attitude towards history. Why is it so? Again, this question is answered by Friedrich Nietzsche, who contrasts history and “life”. We need history, he writes, to live and work. “Only since history serves life,” we read in Nietzsche, we agree to serve it; and yet there is such a way of serving history and such an assessment of it, which lead to obsolescence and degeneration of life: a phenomenon that, in connection with the outstanding symptoms of our time, is now as necessary as burdensome” [3]. In fact, the history determines “life”. And those who want to “live” flee from history, because it poisons their “life”. “But a man is surprised at himself, at the fact that he cannot learn to forget and that he is forever chained to his past; no matter how far and how fast he runs, this chain is with him” [4].

But what is “life”? Nietzsche treats it in a peculiar way, which is why we have to take this word in quotes. Nietzsche is the philosopher of “life”. And this means that life is primary, and culture is secondary. “Give me a gift of life first”, Nietzsche says, “and I will create you a culture out of it!” [5] But you cannot extract any culture from life as a way of existence of protein bodies. Culture develops in the historical space by human activity, and this is not the vital activity of our organisms, but, above all, a labor activity. After all, it is no coincidence that “culture” originally meant the cultivation of land, agriculture. And man worships his land no less than his gods. When he worshiped Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, he also worshiped the land and his work on this land. Culture is the human way of human life. And without culture, a man is equal to an animal.

At the same time, Nietzsche does not notice that culture dies not because of history, but ultimately because of nature. Drunkenness, gluttony, sexual excesses – is this “culture” or “nature”? Hardly anyone would call everything listed above “culture”. Although there is such a “culture”, but it is a “culture” of a decaying and dying nation and state, as it happened with Ancient Rome at its sunset: the feasts lasted several days without a break, where the feast participants tickled their throats with a feather in to spew out what has already been eaten, and to start eating again some new gourmet dish. And because of this, they died under the onslaught of the barbarians, and under the onslaught of the new Christian religion with the opposite ideology of asceticism. In the same way Christian ideology in Europe now, in its turn, is defeated under the onslaught of the “sexual revolution”.

We need to say that Nietzsche negatively assesses Christianity that is why he restricts every aspect of his life, including a sexual one. “Only Christianity,” he writes, “with its ressentiment in relation to life underlying it, treats human sexual life as something unclean: it treats the beginning, the precondition of our life as something dirty...” [6]. Christian history is the history of altruism, self-denial, but thus, according to Nietzsche, this is the way to the extinction of life. Therefore, the basis of the new history, in his opinion, is the egoism. Nietzsche understands that completely abstracting from history, relying on individualism and egoism, is to return to an animal spiritless state. That is why he is looking for a “third way” here: “historical and non-historical are equally necessary for the health of an individual, people and culture” [7]. In these contradictions, Nietzsche’s thought pulses as a supporter of the “philosophy of life”.

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Thus, when discussing the problems of Bergson’s spiritual memory in, we see the dead ends in which the philosophy of life goes trying to liberate the spiritual memory of a person from an unequivocal physiological interpretation. But, liberating the phenomenon of spiritual memory from physiology, Bergson does deviate from biologism in the form of “creative evolution”. And the same methodology of the philosophy of life prevents another representative of this philosophical tradition, namely, F. Nietzsche, from unequivocally attributine a person to culture and history.


1. Mareev, S.N. O deyatelnostnoi Prirode Voobrazhniya v nemetskoi Filosofskoi Klassike [On the Nature of Imagination in German Philosophical Classics] / Issues of Philosophy. 2005. ¹ 7. p. 146-158.

2. Nietzsche, F. On Good and Harm of History for Life // Nietzsche, F. Seleted Works in 2 volumes. V.1, Ì.: Mysl 1990, P. 187.

3. Ibid. p.159.

4. Ibid. p. 161.

5. Ibid. p. 226.

6. Nitzsche, F. What do I Owe to the Ancient? // Nitzsche, F. Selected Works in 2 volumes. V.2. Ì., Mysl. p.629.

7. Ibid. p. 164

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №10 - 2018

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