Things that ever happened in my life, if successfully registered, remains as the connection pattern between neurons in my brain.
On the first day of my elementary school, I recall that the sunbeam was reflected in a white impression on the long and straight road that lead to the school premises. On the very first class room meeting, I was at my desk with my newly found classmates, with my cheek on my hand, looking at nothing, absent-minded. Ms Arai, teacher of our class, took notice and remarked "are you now bored, my little one?"
Parents were requested to remain at school after the entrance ceremony on that day. My mother was at the back of the classroom, too, and laughed with the other parents. I brushed in shame.
There was a large sweet acorn tree near the front gate of the school. When I was in the second year, there was a "boom" of acorn eating among us. As we left the school in the after hours, we would compete to find good the ones, and would eat them on the way, with the school satchels cozily on our backs. At break times, we would play "hand baseball", in which we used our hand as the hitting bat. I remember quite well that the balls were green.
Each remembrance constitutes a "page" in my life, a part of the richness of my humble personal history. All those memories are encoded as patterns of connectivity between neurons. There would be memories long forgotten, but secretly stored in the cortical network pattern. I might happen to remember them sometime, or might never recall them. In any case, when the physical presence of my brain disintegrates, the rich storage of memory of my life would be lost forever.
Memories are integral constituents of my existence. The "self" critically depends on these memories. The removal of them would leave a "self" as a transparent "core", vibrating poignantly in the great nothingness of the universe.
In "In my life", the Beatles sing thus.
There are places I'll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all
These words are simple. It is as if a middle aged man is reflecting on his own life late at night, with a glass of whisky in his hand. Freed from the admittedly difficult assessment of what life means, he would recall past events in his life ; that was then, then was that.
The lyrics of "In my life" are elementary in its world view. It reflects the significant fact that an ordinary human being would reflect on his own mortal existence on this earth in such a manner. In the past, such ideas as god, heaven, hell, afterlife, and reincarnations have been regular features of the genre when one would ponder one's own life. These concepts would not find their places in the mannerisms of modern times. That the sentimental musings of an ordinary human being on his own life have become secular is one of the most important features of human spirituality today. For the modern human, how he or she actually lives in "this world" is all that there is, with nothing to be added or subtracted.
The novelist Takeshi Kaiko writes thus in his essay collection "The Last Supper": "Detective and spy novels are without doubt the secreted products of the modern times. To the extent that I came to know, such joys of the human intellect were not produced in countries where modernization has not visited."
A song like "In my life" by Beatles would be cherished only in a world where the "superstitions" about the afterlife, heaven and hell, and God with personality are long gone. A priest in the medieval times is unlikely to enjoy singing a song like "In my Life". An ordinary enough pop song. Behind it, however, are the fruits of efforts by philosophers, writers, scientists, and artists who have been trying to deepen the human understanding of life and death, and the universe that we inhabit. The commonplace view on life has become possible only though the hard-won perceptions of the world we inhabit.
In the universe, there are mysteries about ourselves and the world still out of reach for humans. We would be ill advised, however, to revive the "superstitions" so that we go from the world of "In my life" back to an ancient world in which we chant:
Oh, God, I don't ask much for this earthly life. Just let me have a wondrous life in the afterlife. Please make me reborn as somebody with a higher social status, in the next cycle of reincarnation.
To go back to such a system of superstition would be tantamount to make nothing of the efforts of the human race as a whole over centuries.
Life is made of worldly materials. Whatever we might set out to think about the world we inhabit, we need to confirm this point first and foremost.
Translated from the original Japanese essay in Ken Mogi, "Ikite Shinu Watashi" ("I live, I die") published from Tokuma Shoten, Tokyo, 1998. Translation by the author.
The cover of "Ikite Shinu Watashi"