When I think about my life in the past, I wonder if all of my beliefs are true. I find my good memories to be particularly hazy, while traumatic events stand strong. I often wonder if my traumatic memories are accurate. They seem to be more engraved in my mind than I would like. A recent event in my life that gave me perspective on these thoughts was the birth of my daughter. Her brightness shed new meaning into my life and gave me a sense of caring that I had never experienced previously. From her birth to 23 months, I have gained a stronger sense of self than I have ever known. I now have to be responsible with my thoughts and actions in order to give my daughter a positive upbringing into the world. By doing so, I paint my life as narrative. My experiences in the world are perceived through sensory perception or “sense data” as empiricists would say. I see how my past experiences have defined who I am for either, better or worse. By sharing memories of my past with my daughter, I find myself focusing on the positive memories which consequentially disprove any false beliefs that I had from my past.
According to Linda Zagzebski, in order to live a life of conscientious belief, I need to find a way to distinguish my true beliefs and separate them from my false beliefs (Zagzebski, pp 86). She places emphasis on our human need to care about a lot of things. But, when we as human’s care about a lot of things, we also tend to believe true beliefs as well as false beliefs. Therefore, we need to be cognitive of our beliefs and distinguish which beliefs are false so that we can responsibly convey our true beliefs. The practice of recognizing our true beliefs and false beliefs is being conscientious of our beliefs. While there is no guarantee that our beliefs will always be true, being conscientiousness requires us a self-trust to believe that our beliefs are indeed true.
As I have grown older, I have found it easier to reflect on my past and recognize false beliefs. By setting them aside, I can allow my true beliefs to reveal my nature as a person. It was Reneé Descartes who describes in “Meditations on First Philosophy” that he had discovered a large number of falsehoods that he had accepted as true (Descartes, pp110). “I realized that it was necessary, once in the course of my life, to demolish everything and completely start again right form the foundations if I wanted to establish anything at all in the sciences that was stable and likely to last (Descartes, 110).” To me this means that false memories can conjure a deceptive view of the world or situation. By removing falsehoods from our lives, we can be our truer selves and display greater confidence in our choices. Deception in our mind will hold us back from our greater potential which will not allow happiness to transcend in our lives.
By coming to terms that my memories may be compromised by both true and false beliefs, I also understand the thought that memories caused by trauma can be magnified and have a tendency to stand out or be more realized. By focusing on positive memories that tend to be hazy, I can bring them a new light. A light that brings these memories back into focus, which I believe brings meaning to my life as a new dad. Also, to recognize these beliefs and think responsibly as we share ideas with colleagues, comrades, or peers we can build “a community of epistemic trust” as described by Zagzebski (Zagzebski, pp86).
On the other hand, I see how Locke’s memory theory works, “Personal identity persists over time because you retain memories of yourself at different points, and each of those memories is connected to the one before it (Video #19).” I feel that as we grow older, we lose sight of our memories. There are many memorable moments in life, but we do not have the capacity to remember everything. I find in myself that memories seem to get fuzzy, or amplified depending how I processed the memory recall. Also, according to the video, one of the problems of personal identity is that “If personal identity requires a memory, then none of us became who we are until our first memory. Which means we all lost at least a couple of years at the beginning (Video #19).” I disagree with this statement since my daughter has an amazing memory, she recalls memories from the day before, all the way to past five or six weeks. It seems that she can remember everything including the bug that I smashed with my shoe on the floor five weeks ago.
I never imagined that I would be a father, but when my daughter was born, all of my memories went out the window, all except for one. I remembered almost quite vividly being born, or at least acknowledging a memory of being born. I shared it with my daughter as I held her fragile life, which only weighed 7lbs. She was the tiniest being that I had ever seen, I was amazed by her hands, fingers, toes. Everything about her was so tiny, she seemed unreal. I remember taking her home, and my first thought was, how are we going to take care of this little person? In my mind, she had trait qualities of a person. She exhibited simple emotions, I knew when she was unhappy and wanted either milk or diapering. I knew when she was sleepy, because she slept, I knew when she was experiencing tummy troubles, because she would scream constantly. During the first ten months, I remember my daughter was fanatical about the ceiling fan. She would stare at it with such curiosity, I wondered to myself if she was going to be engineer when she grew up. Her curiosity sparked my curiosity. Her positivity helped engage my positivity. Having a child gave me a profound sense of responsibility.
I no longer have the memory of being born, but at the time it was so strong. I now question the validity of it, since it may have been a false belief, or perhaps it was a memory theory. After this memory disappeared, new memories resurfaced. Today, I find myself focused on sharing positive stories with my daughter as they relate to our family.
Having my daughter alleviated me of the thoughts of trauma. I began sharing stories about my parents and my upbringing. My travels around the country, happy stories that were distant memories came flooding back from my past. I gained a new understanding and knowledge of myself and my beliefs. I never thought I could ever be a father. My parents passed away before I was 23 years old, which is why I never thought I would have kids. My belief was that I needed to have my parents around in order to help me raise my kids. This turned out to be a false belief.
I found that after I had my daughter, my life narrative had also changed. There was a dramatic shift, traumatic experiences from the past started to get hazy whereas good memories started to stand out. Positive beliefs about myself encouraged me to return to school. I found myself to be more productive at work even though I wasn’t nearly sleeping as much. When I was in position where I couldn’t find an answer, I found that I could make everything work out somehow.
Even though I experienced both wonderful and traumatic experiences, the traumatic experiences from my memory always stood out as a narrative for my life. My parents died, I was mugged, I moved several times around the country and had to start over, I witnessed 9/11 first-hand, I struggled, etc…. In order to come to terms with my false beliefs, which I believe were primarily traumatic, I had to stand outside of myself to gain a new perspective. Questions that would arise as I practiced this method were: Did my parents really leave me? Do I really have a choice as to whether or not I’m going to be mugged? What if anything can I do in the future to prevent such an event from happening? After analyzing such questions, I found new hope from my memories. By questioning false beliefs and coming to a broader understanding, I can now live more confidently and have epistemological trust in my society.
In conclusion, becoming a parent has not only been a narrative experience in my life, but it also has changed the narrative. My beliefs and memories from past experiences have evolved and become clearer. As I share stories with my daughter, I am sharing stories of hope and courage rather than fear. I have new fond memories of my parents every time I share photos to remind my daughter of her grand-parents. I used to hide these photos because they brought heartache and despair. As I share them with my daughter, I am so happy and grateful that I had parents that loved me. The other day I sternly asked my daughter, “What is the meaning of life?” I looked at her seriously as she ate her dinner. She looked at me with concerned eyes, brought her hands over her face, smiled and said, “Peek-a-boo!”
Zagzebski, Linda. “Caring and Epistemic Demands.” “Exploring Philosophy, an Introduction to Anthology” (2015): 85-88. Book
Descartes, Reneé. “Meditations on First Philosophy.” “Exploring Philosophy, an Introduction to Anthology” (2015): 110-113. Book
Locke, Berkely, & Empiricism: Crash Course Philosophy #6
Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #19