Learning, Memory and Knowledge

This is the first of a series I plan on writing as I read through Sakura no Uta. It contains spoilers for the Olympia route. All images are from the game and do not belong to me.

“What is it you’re looking for?” “That’s what I’m trying to find out.”[1] We usually think of learning as the process of acquiring new knowledge. But knowledge often comes not from new experiences, but from inspection of our memories. Olympia explores this relationship between knowledge, truth and memories.

The primary mystery of Olympia is the search for Sui’s lost object. With deliberate ambiguity, Sui knows that something was lost, but not what it is. The lost item is later revealed to be Rin’s “true” memories. I emphasize “true” because Rin’s existing memories conflict with the underlying truth of the world. Remember this for later. Rin learns the truth of the world through the process of remembering. Each memory revealed leads to new memories in a logical progression that overwrites her false memories.

In this example, remembering is equivalent to learning. The two words have often been used interchangeably, across time and cultures. The Japanese word to remember, “Oboeru” (覚える),  is often used in contexts where “to learn” would be used in English. Plato felt the relationship was so strong that he argued that learning is the process of remembering innate knowledge that we have forgotten. Remembering is inseparable from learning because what we know is a subset, if not the full set, of what we remember. Whether there are things we can remember that we do not know, or things that we know but do not remember is not a simple question, and largely depends on what we mean by knowledge.

Before we move on, let’s first consider the concept of the world. A perfectly reasonable interpretation of the world is the set of all things in the world. What it means to be an item of this set is rather hard to describe. For example, we may say that this set contains “An elephant,” but that is a gross oversimplification. It is an elephant with its own very large and specific set of attributes like color, location, and size.

Another more tractable way to interpret the world is the set of all facts about the world. Facts like “The elephant is gray,” have a truth value. Either the fact corresponds with the state of the world and is true, or it doesn’t and is false. The difference between the first interpretation of the world is that we go from looking at singular things with many attributes to looking at facts (about things) with a single truth value. The two perspectives are isomorphic, you can construct the set of all things in the world from the set of all facts that are true about the world.

What is the world? What can we know about the world? These are basic questions in epistemology, and they are asked constantly throughout Sakura no Uta. They are particularly prominent in the prologue, which I will mention in passing as I would like to focus on Olympia. Nagayama’s monologue refers to the “The small world on the edge of my notebook,” in contrast to the “Real World.” [2] I interpret the notebook world as a “Fictional World,” but that is also a topic for another day. For simplicity’s sake, let’s treat it as a metaphor rather than a literal world, as she later clarifies, “In the end, my drawings shine only in my world.”[3] There is another world being referred to here, but it doesn’t exist physically on the page. Nagayama’s drawings are pictures of her own internal world.

By internal world, I mean the world that exists in Nagayama’s mind. Philosophers like to make this distinction because there is no proof that an external world exists outside of our minds. It’s possible that the world we perceive through our senses is an illusion, that the world and other beings are constructs of our mind. In order to speak meaningfully of an external world, we must have faith that it exists without any proof. It is for this reason that knowledge of the external world has a mystical quality to it, like a deeper truth waiting to be discovered.

So why is this distinction between internal and external worlds important to our question about knowledge? Whether we believe in an external world or not, our knowledge exists primarily within our internal worlds. If an external world exists, this means that the facts that define our internal worlds is not the same set of facts that define the external world. We want to believe that the intersection of these two sets is not empty, and in particular, we are interested in the knowledge that is true. Here is a loose diagram of the relationship between the worlds and our knowledge of the worlds. This  diagram is not to scale. Not easily portrayed in 2 dimensions is the fact that there may be facts that are true in the external world and false in the internal world, as well as the inverse.

This is also a visualization of the relationship between remembering and learning. Remembering expands the domain of our knowledge within our internal world, and some of that knowledge corresponds with facts of the external world. Forgetting conversely shrinks the domain of our knowledge, and false memories shift more of our knowledge into the region of false facts.

Before we discovered the true nature of Sui’s lost thing, we believed it to be a physical object in the external world. We externalized an object that should only exist in the internal world. I find this interaction between the two worlds deliciously fantastic. I suspect I will eventually come to the topic Truth and Happiness, which is itself a major theme of Olympia, but we should all appreciate for now the power of physical phenomena to trigger intense emotions and memories within us.

The externalization of the internal world is an intimately handled topic in Sakura no Uta – it is the basis of art and more generally, language. Again from Nagayama’s monologue, “His brush turned the dullness of the real world itself into brilliant colors. It really had the power to change the world.”[4] Naoya’s art is juxtaposed here with Nagayama’s own art which also exists in the external world, so the transformative power is different than just turning ideas into physical pictures. It may be a question of scale, that the change triggered by Naoya’s art is somehow deeper than what Nagayama is capable of. I note, however, that in previous sentences of the same passage, the “Real World” is emphasized multiple times, but in the sentence about the power of Naoya’s art, she only says the “World.” I believe it is more consistent with the theme of the route to interpret this world as the internal world, not the external.

Art has the power to transfer knowledge from one person’s internal world to another’s. Art is not just declarative— pictures don’t just describe the facts of the world. We are concerned with more than just their truth value. Art is also performative—the act of creating art is a language game between two individuals. If you can humor me and suppose that art and words are used in an equivalent fashion, this is the climax of Olympia’s route.

Rin accepts Nagayama’s distorted picture of the past as her own, quoting almost word for word, “I was really something, being able to live so carefree after destroying such a great talent as yours…A normal person would have died from the guilt.”[5] And in response, Naoya thinks, “Nagayama. She must have thrown these words at her…”[6] Nagayama transformed Rin’s partial memory into false knowledge of the world. “Throw,” in particular, is a very active verb, ordinarily used to describe the throwing of physical objects. Words, like art, use the physical, external world as a bridge between separate minds.

Let’s collect our thoughts:

  1. The world is all the facts about the world.
  2. Facts can either be true or false.
  3. The internal world exists, and possibly an external world and the internal worlds of others.
  4. Knowledge contains a set of facts about the internal world that one remembers, and can be true or false.
  5. Some facts about the internal world correspond with facts about the external world, and our knowledge can contain some of these facts.
  6. Remembering is a process of exploring the internal world, and is a means to gain knowledge.
  7. By externalizing the internal world, knowledge can be transferred between minds.

This is by no means all that there is to say about these topics, nor are they all that’s going on in Olympia. I’ve skirted around the fact that this is essentially a survey of some famous problems in Philosophy, like Sakura no Uta itself. I think what SCA_DI is trying to establish in this route is some grounding for what is to come. So hopefully the next time we revisit this merging of the internal and external worlds, there will be less need for definitions and we can really start diving into deeper truths.

[1] 「探し物探し物ってお前は何を探してるって言うんだ?」「それを探しているのです」


[2] ノートの端に描く小さな世界。

[3] 私の絵は、所詮私の世界でしか輝かない。

[4] 彼の筆はこのつまらない現実世界そのものすら美しい色彩にしてしまう。


[5] 「私、なおくんみたいな人の才能をつぶしておいて、今日まで良くも平気で生きてこれたね……。普通だったら、罪悪感で死んじゃうよ」

[6] 長山のヤツ。稟にこんな言葉を投げつけたのか……。

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