Memory II

13 x 21 inches, oil on canvas


The painting Memory II is an expression of the intersection of physics and Mahayana Buddhism as I understand it. Physicists posit that nested hierarchies exist in nature and are clearly understood in the energy landscape. 

Buddhists suggest that memory, like many things in nature, is also a nested hierarchy. Alan Watts described it this way;

The world of experience is made up of patterns. The preceding pattern is represented in the following one by a pattern like it which represents the former state of the pattern.

Buddhism suggests further that like smoke-rings, our memories dissolve eventually. These patterns only exist as long as the body exists. Take the example of the flame thrower. Where does a flame go when it goes out? To a happy land where all flames live peacefully ever after? No, the flame just ceases. Heat, ignition and fuel cause the flame. When one cause stops, like when the ignitor burns out or there is no fuel left or the wind blows the heat away, the flame extinguishes. Similarly our body and mind have causes and conditions, and when they stop we stop, too. Poof.

In the Phaedo Cebes says to Socrates:

Men find it very hard to believe what you said about the soul. They think that after it has left the body that it no longer exists anywhere but that it is destroyed and dissolves on the day the man dies, as soon as it leaves the body; and that, on leaving it, it is dispersed like breath or smoke, has flown away and gone and is no longer anything anywhere.”

Being an eternalist like Cebes I don’t like the word “dissolve” and I find these conclusions unsatisfactory.