Everything in human experience is memorized: images, sounds, aromas, tactile sensations, emotions, ideas, and synesthetic combinations of sensations and thoughts.  Memory is the primary ingredient of consciousness: it provides a comparison of perceptions occurring in the moment with a multitude of events that have preceded the present.

Organisms with limited memory have no recognition of the past history of their surroundings and must survive through simple, immediate, and mechanistic responses to their environment.  A memory capacity of only an instant provides an enormous survival advantage compared with no memory at all.

The ability to memorize brings with it the perception of time; the sense of a past, a present, and a future; and the emotions of anticipation and expectation.

There is a way in which our highly evolved memories can act as an obstacle to observation.  The resources of the brain, though vast, are ultimately finite.  Human memory is neither photographic nor faithful.  What is remembered is subject to processes of prioritizing and commoning.  Prioritizing refers to the tendency to remember vividly only those events that are more important to individual survival.  Commoning is the process of discarding details of events or images that are similar to previous experiences.  In the end, memory is selective for very good reasons.

It can be shown that the mental processes of prioritizing and commoning, and the ability to predict and anticipate change can often work counter to the desire for insight, which usually involves the connecting of disparate ideas, images, or sensations.  The origins of insight are to be found in what might be called ‘pure observation’: seeing what is actually there, without preconceptions, without elimination of superficial detail, and without immediately seeing similarities to previously experienced objects or ideas.

In order for insight to occur there must be a temporary suspension of what we know (remember) in order to allow the flood of perception to enter consciousness and be examined in its raw state.  While insight requires more than just this heightened awareness, it begins in these moments of wide-open seeing.

Individuals of true creativity and insight have the capacity to suspend the functions of memory in order to focus and delve deeper into ideas which might at first seem superficially familiar, ordinary, or obvious.

From early childhood on, I have occasionally experienced a kind of “reverse déjà vu.”  It is the sensation of suddenly staring at a familiar object as though I were seeing it for the very first time, even though it has been in my home for years and may have even been used by me on a daily basis.  My overwhelming emotional response in these moments is that I have never really seen the thing before, even though I know I have.  This feeling stays with me for a few minutes of rapt fascination, after which the object is “restored” to its former “ordinary” state in my mind.

I have never heard anyone else speak of this phenomena, yet I don't believe that I am unique in having these experiences.  I believe it is my desire for insight “working overtime.”

These experiences of reverse déjà vu suggest the possibility of controlling and channeling deep observation.  Is it possible to be in a state where everything is suddenly perceived as new, immediate, unfamiliar, unexperienced, and unexplored?

At the inception of insight there is no past or future, only quintessential, deep, focused observation.  In that instant there is heightened attendance to what is being seen, heard, and felt.  From that pinpoint in time, an idea slowly begins to unfold.

Ron Wallace

June 1997