Memories (Oh my god, merely typing that word has me singing)

As you know, I’m in the middle of a giant mull on the rewrite for Sue. And here’s a slight problem I have, just intellectually, with the problem of time travel. Say I’m John, born in 1990, destined to go back to 1887. Could I, say in 2000, remember things that I did in 1887 even though I have not gone back to 1887 yet?

I guess, to get at the question another way, it would help to better understand what exactly memories are. Are they literally things? Like is there a cell that holds the smell of my grandmother in it and my brain somehow plays that cell when I want to access it? That seems unlikely as your brain doesn’t get bigger every day as you add more memories. Is a memory a neural pathway that you just send electric impulses down over and over queuing up and playing out those same experiences?

I’m not a scientist, but again, that explanation doesn’t quite satisfy me.

But no matter what a memory is, the fact of the matter seems to be that it is a recollection of something that happened in the past. And 1887 is, objectively, John’s past. If he did things back there, shouldn’t he have those memories?

Or would we argue that he wouldn’t have those memories because he does not yet have that brain? Think of it this way. Say that you are slowly circling the block in your car with the windows down and your friend is standing on the corner with a bunch of Kleenex boxes. Now, say that she is going to get in the car with you, but not until she’s tossed ten Kleenex boxes into the car. So, even though you have a car and there’s your friend at the corner, the circumstances by which she’d enter your car are not yet met. No matter how many times you drive around the block, she’s not going to be in your car until your car is ready.

Is your friend like a memory in that sense? Is it possible that John has no memory of what he did in 1887 because he’s simply not old enough, his brain is not filled with the right things that would allow him to remember?

I guess that makes sense to me at one level, but life is messy, you know? You might think, for instance, that you are, right now, reading this, perfectly neat and put together and yet, if you stood before a mirror, you would find a hair out of place, a speck of dirt on you. Nature doesn’t draw straight lines. It makes no hard and fast rules.

I think there’d be some bleed-through. They might not be memories exactly, since he would experience them as weird visions of things he had no experience with, but they’d be there–the things he did in the past sometimes firing off in a brain that does not yet know what he will do/has done.