Re: Funes the Memorious and memory capacity

From: Stevan Harnad (
Date: Sun Nov 26 1995 - 22:27:33 GMT

> From: "Lee liz" <>
> Date: Fri, 24 Nov 1995 11:25:26 GMT
ll> Funes' least important memories were more detailed and vivid than our
ll> perception of physical pain or pleasure.

Every detail of every experience was faithfully remembered permanently.

ll> Funes came up with his own numbering system, this was because
ll> he saw the standard repetitive use of symbols we call numbers wholly
ll> inadequate, his system gave a name to each number, so for instance
ll> instead of saying 7,014 (or seven thousand and fourteen) he called the
ll> number "The Railroad", similarly each number was named, Borges
ll> attempted to explain that a numbering system means more than the words
ll> used to describe it but Funes did not or could not accept this.

In doing what we cannot do (because we haven't the memory), in giving
each number a unique name, he missed all the regularities, not only of
our decimal notation system for numbers, but of numbers themselves. If
there could be a Funes (I have to remind you this is a fiction, invented
by Borges!), he could never know about even and odd numbers, or prime
numbers, because all numbers would be equivalent and unique: In fact, he
couldn't know about "numbers" at all, since these are abstractions,
which one must be able to abstract from sensory quantities (5 apples,
5 pears, etc.), which he could not do. He would be giving unique names
to the QUANTITIES in his sense experience, and even that he couldn't do,
because his every experience would be so rich that he could not abstract
quantity from it either. At best, instead of naming every number, he
could name each successive instant of his experience...

ll> Funes remembered every time he had perceived or imagined anything, so
ll> that even remembering the day before would take as long as the day
ll> itself, he attempted to classify his thoughts but gave up when he
ll> realised it was a task without end.

That makes sense: If you replay the video, it takes as long as the

ll> Borges ends by saying he felt Funes incapable of thought, too consumed
ll> with details to be able to generalise, he also tells that at their
ll> meeting when the conversations took place, Funes was only nineteen
ll> years old, he died in 1889.

But remember Funes was a fiction (possibly based on some experiences
Borges himself had after a fall)! Yet Borges captures, even better than
Luria did, what it is like to be trapped in the infinite and etermal details
of experience. He uses poetical license, of course, because if Funes had
TOTAL inability to forget and hence to abstract, he wouldn't be able to
speak at all (for to name things, you need to abstract KINDS of things
that go under the same name: For Funes, there are no kinds, just
infinite uniqueness...).

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