December 10, 2008

Augustine on number III

"I come now to memory's fields and vast pavillions, where innumerable images of every kind of thing brought in by the senses are laid up. There too is stored whatever is expanded, diminished or transformed in any other manner by our thinking, after it comes in contact with our senses, along with everything else entrusted to memory's keeping which forgetfulness has not absorbed and buried... And yet the things themselves do not enter; rather, images of things sensed are there at thought's disposal when it calls them back to mind. Who can say how they are made, even when it is evident which senses caught and stored them away inside?"

"But this is not all my memory's huge capacity encloses. Here too is everything which has not yet fallen away from my liberal education, cached away in something like an interior space which is not a space. And these are no images but the things themselves I carry. For whatever literature and dialectic may be, and whatever I may know about however many different subjects, they are not retained in my memory as images of things left outside. Nor are they like the trace left by a voice pressed in my ears, which, having made its noise and passed away can thus be called back to mind as if it still resounded, though it is heard no more.... Now, when I hear that three types of question may be asked about a thing -- 'Does it exist?' 'What is it?' and 'What are its properties?' -- it's true that I retain images of the sounds out of which these words are made up, and that I know them to have passed through the air with a cry and to exist no longer. It is also true that what those sounds signify are themselves things with which I did not come into contact through any bodily sense, nor have I seen them anywhere but in my mind. And what I have stored in my memory are not their images but the things themselves."

"Also contained in the memory are the principles of number and dimension along with their innumerable laws, none of which were impressed there by bodily sense. They have neither color nor sound, smell or taste, nor can they be touched. I have heard the sounds of the words by which they are signified, when spoken of, but these are not the same as the things themselves. In Greek they are said one way, and another in Latin, but their reality does not inhere in Greek or Latin or any language. I have seen draftsman's lines as fine as a spider's web, but these are not the same as theoretical lines, which no images communicated to me through my carnal eyes. True knowledge of these is inward, without cogitation upon any physical body. The numbers that we count have been reported to me by all my senses, but those with which we count are different -- these are not the images of numbers sensed, but numbers unto themselves. Whoever does not see what I am talking about may laugh at me, and I shall pity him even in his laughter."

Confessions X.8.12-13, 9.16-10.17, 12.19.