The Pixar/Augustine Mashup You Knew Was Coming

There are four perturbations of the mind—cupidity, gladness, fear, sadness…Yet none of these perturbations disturbs me when by act of recollection I remember them. And even before I called and reconsidered them, they were there. (Augustine, Confessions X.xiv.22)

So my sister dragged me to see Inside Out, which was pretty great. While she, a former psychology major, was pleased to see Disgust included among the primary emotions in accordance with current theories, I couldn’t help but compare Pixar’s mind-model to the philosophers’. Inside Out’s most visually enchanting moments are of long-term memory as a massive storehouse — a concept which would be instantly familiar to ancient and medieval thinkers. Returning once again to Augustine’s discussion of memory in Confessions:

Inside Out (long-term memory)

I will therefore rise above that natural capacity in a step by step ascent to him who made me. I come to the fields and vast palaces of memory, where are the treasures of innumerable images of all kinds of objects brought in by sense-perception…When I am in this storehouse, I ask that it produce what I want to recall, and immediately certain things come out; some things require a longer search, and have to be drawn out as it were from more recondite receptacles. (X.viii.12)

Inside Out (recall) Inside Out (train of thought)

Some memories pour out to crowd the mind and, when one is searching and asking for something quite different, leap forward into the centre as if saying “Surely we are what you want?” With the hand of my heart I chase them away from the face of my memory until what I want is freed of mist and emerges from its hiding places. Other memories come before me on demand with ease and without any confusion in their order. Memories of earlier events give way to those which followed, and as they pass are stored away for retrieval when I want them. All that is what happens when I recount a narrative from memory. (X.viii.12)

Inside Out (long-term memory)

This power of memory is great, very great, my God. It is a vast and infinite profundity. Who has plumbed its bottom? This power is that of my mind and is a natural endowment, but I myself cannot grasp the totality of what I am. Is the mind, then, too restricted to compass itself, so that we have to ask what is that element of itself which it fails to grasp? Surely that cannot be external to itself; it must be within the mind. How then can it fail to grasp it? This question moves me to great astonishment. Amazement grips me. People are moved to wonder by mountain peaks, by vast waves of the sea, by broad waterfalls on rivers, by the revolutions of the stars. But in themselves they are uninterested… (X.ix.15)

Inside Out (Sadness)

For even when sad, I remember my times of joy, like a wretched person thinking of the happy life. It is never by bodily sense that I have seen my joy or heard or smelt or tasted or touched it. I experienced it in my mind when I was glad, and the knowledge of it stuck in my memory, so that I could remind myself of it, sometimes with scorn, sometimes with desire, according to the varied character of the things which I remember myself delighting in. For I derived a sprinkling of pleasure even from discreditable acts which I now recall with hatred and execration. But sometimes my delight was in good and honourable things, which I recall with longing even though they are no longer part of my life. In this sense I am sad as I remember joy of long ago. (X.xxi.30)

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