Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2007 Issue

Memory: the next frontier

Printing.the

Printing: the first frontier


By Bruce McKinney

A thread that connects and unites all human beings is memory. Without it we are cavemen on the edge of oblivion. With it, we are linked with ever expanding knowledge, functioning in a world that evolves. Our comprehension [awareness, understanding] constantly increases, and has from the beginning of time, while our ability to deeply remember only recently became possible. I'm speaking of the breathtaking scope of memory made possible by the linking of unlimited numbers of processors and electronic storage devices. It is our next frontier.

We understand the importance of memory when we think of the occasional discovery of isolated tribesmen that, absent contact with the modern world, live in a primitive state. Our connection to the civilized world, it turns out, is tenuous. Break the cycle of information transfer and we are like them. What we know is not intuited. It is learned, transmitted from generation to generation by education and experience. Society so values memory that it organizes itself to ensure transfer is effective. It starts with pre-school and now includes organized education to at least age 18, often to 21 and increasingly beyond. Two hundred years ago life expectancy was barely 40. Today we spend half that time passing on our understanding of how things are done. Life is more complex and there is more to know, more to remember.

Five centuries ago, we arrived at a crossroads similar to the one we face today. A couple of millennia past, Greek and Roman scholars were making great discoveries, both in terms of physical and social sciences. Indeed, millennia prior to that the Egyptians accomplished architectural and construction wonders we still cannot fully grasp. Even more marvels were going on in Arabia, Persia, India and China. Yet, virtually all was forgotten with no practical means of passing this knowledge on. For a thousand years, the world plunged into the Dark Ages, rescued only when Gutenberg invented a means to save and distribute this knowledge to all mankind. Still, the press lacked the technical capacity to capture more than a speck of memory. Lincoln's thoughts could be preserved, those of tens of thousands of soldiers and slaves forgotten. Today, we are on the threshold of the next quantum leap, where everyone's memories, yours included, can be permanently saved. A new Renaissance unfolds.

These days the human experience itself looms as the next threshold for important research. What we did, how we did it and why are questions that when answered by tens of thousands, if not millions, will provide crucial information that helps future generations overcome many of the issues we face today. Access to this information about ourselves may well unlock the enigma of self-destructive actions, resolve many medical mysteries, show us the impact of behavior, experience and diet through lifetimes, across generations, even to the scores Lincoln spoke of in the Gettysburg Address. Our greatest goal, earnestly spoken here, may simply be to leave a sufficient permanent record that humans of the future might in time see in our behavior lessons to move beyond our most self-destructive communal act: war. Santayana said if we do not learn, we relive. Our greatest project, one in which every person on the planet should in time have an opportunity in which to participate, is simply this: leave a record that others may learn. Good will come of it.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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