Memories play a pivotal role in human existence, as they are the carriers of information and, like genes, can survive for long periods of time. A person with a favorable experience will remember it and be influenced by it in the future. In this way culture and religion have been propagated throughout our world, as well as countless others (technology being a notable one). They have grown less important in this purpose with the advent of writing and reading, but are still critically important to humanity for a different reason: humans are defined by some (as of yet unknown) combination of their genes and their experiences (memories / memes). The critical question posed by the anime series “Big O” is an important one for us (at least me) to consider: What is the relationship between memories and the quality of life of the individual or society?
Schwarzwald displays an interesting relationship between his loss of memories and the quality of his life and consequently, that of Paradigm City. He eventually becomes controlled by his search for truth and the “lost” memories from forty years ago. It gets to the point where he abandons his wife, children, job, and his entire identity as Michael Seeback to pursue the truth, and recklessly so until his death upon finding his “truth”. Schwarzwald loses his sanity searching for the truth and while controlling Big Duo, attempts to bring destruction upon Paradigm City. Even after his death, his search for truth impacts the people of Paradigm City and the main protagonist, Roger Smith. Yet it is without any doubt that the lack of memories he possesses and his inability to cope with it that causes him to lose his sanity (possibly) until he finds the memories and the truth he hungers for.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is our protagonist, Roger Smith. He also has no memories from before forty years ago, yet enjoys a relatively high quality of life. Roger is able to live a fully functional life without these memories as long as he is not confronted on them. However, when he is confronted with the uncertainties that claim that he may be a lab-grown clone or a robot, or even of memories he has of himself dead from before forty years ago, he understandably cracks under the implications that those things mean. He typically is able to overcome these probably false memories (as they are all mutually exclusive) and save Paradigm City consistently from various enemies. Roger Smith thus brings a higher quality of life to society and to himself despite the lack of memories.
But where does the average citizen, the “everyman”, of our society or that society in Paradigm City fall into place? I believe that after a period of chaos and anarchy following the simultaneous realization that the world has lost their memories, it would play out as in Paradigm City, where the citizens play on their lives. It does seem via a priori that “the show must go on” and that the general status quo would continue, and that people would rewrite their pasts in their mind or not at all to continue their lives.
Schwarzwald notes that “imagination and memory are the same thing, which for diverse considerations have diverse names” (Act:17), which is just as true in their reality as it is in ours. None of our memories are close to perfect, and it is often that our imagination is used to fill in the gaps. However, memories tend to be difficult for us to reject, even false ones. Thus, imagination and memory can become truth, and even under great amounts of pressure, can remain so. Big Ear also makes an interesting statement as well, that “it’s nonsense to ask if memories exist” (Act:26). A memory is easy to construct and incredibly difficult to disprove the existence of, notably those further away from us in time.
I thus conclude that the relationship between memories and the quality of life of the individual or their society are both dependent on a third factor: the need to change. Without a perceived need to change, the individual can experience an abysmal degree of living regardless of the memories that they possess. The citizens of Paradigm City survive without their memories only because it is sufficiently difficult to regain them, and that they NEED to continue living, with or without them. Roger Smith prospers because he NEEDS to fulfill his self-proposed role as the Negotiator, and Schwarzwald suffers, and eventually acquires his Nirvana because he NEEDS the truth.
“The Big O” Anime Series