Would you take the most amazing holiday of your life, for a month all expenses paid, if at the end of it all traces of it were erased from your memory?
In the latest episode of a podcast that I like listening to, this question was posed among a bunch of other hypothetical questions. I like this question because I had a fundamentally different response to it than either of the hosts did. I think that my answer to this is grounded in both the idea of perception and what I think a holiday is supposed to do.
Firstly, I have no idea what the most amazing holiday of my life would look like. I think that by definition it would be so amazing that current me can not conceive of it. I imagine that it would probably involve something part way dangerous, where every possible level of endorphin, oxytocin, and other feel good hedonistic chemical would be turned up to ridiculous levels.
I mean, there are things that given unlimited amounts of money that I would like to do, such as flood the world with ridiculous amounts of money to build water and sewerage lines, mass literacy programs, and electricity because those three things have in my not very well paid opinion been the biggest drivers of people's happiness and well-being in practical terms, in the history of the world. I would also like to own a multi-trillion dollar motor company and everything that that would entail but that's another issue and not achievable in a month.
As for what the question of what the most amazing holiday actually is, I have no idea.
To answer the second part of the question though and the implications of not being able to remember what the most amazing holiday is, needs me to look at something of the nature of existence.
As a small being who is composed of roughly 150 pounds of food for lions and vultures, with a resident ghost attached somehow (mind, body, soul and spirit, is a complex question), I only perceive the world as a series of linear progressive moments. I have a memory which retains useful and not useful things from the past and I have absolutely no way of detecting anything other than the present. All that exists as far as I perceive, is now. The past has ceased to be and the future hasn't yet arrived. There might be all kinds of really neat theories about why the flow of time appears to be linear and in only one direction but in practical terms, they don't really matter. The only thing that is now is now.
Rationally speaking, going on the most amazing holiday of my life would be the most amazing holiday of my life and I would jump at the chance to be that kind to my future self who would be in the now on the most amazing holiday of my life. I see virtually no down side to this at all.
The objection raised on the podcast is that when you got back, that because you would retain no memory of it then it would cease to have any value. This question also doesn't address whether or not it is just me who can not remember the holiday or in fact everyone who was on it but I'm going to assume that the rules are the same for everyone and that as far as all of our memories are concerned, it would be like pressing the delete key.
Does it necessarily hold that if you do not remember something, that that thing ceases to have any value to you? I don't think so. I suspect that the regenerative effects of being on holiday would confer some kind of future benefit. Let's assume that it doesn't do that either. Let's assume that after a month; literally nothing changes for you except that you are a month older. Then what? If this is true and literally nothing changes for you, I can still see some value on going on the most amazing holiday of your lifetime and I think that my reasoning is wrong.
If you are on such a holiday, then there's practically zero consequence except possibly dying. I don't see this in principle as being any different to being asleep and dreaming. There probably are practical benefits to dreaming but let's assume that there aren't, would it still be worth it? Absolutely.
By definition you are on the most amazing holiday of your lifetime; which means that while you are on it, you are still living in the now. As the thing is happening, you would be deriving immense pleasure in the moment. That has to be better than what happens the majority of the time when boring things happen and you don't remember them or worse, bad things happen and you do remember them.
As I thought about this, my thoughts were turned to Linda in Aldous Huxley's book "Brave New World"; where she has come out of the wilderness and wants to be on a permanent Soma drug induced holiday. That seems really weird and strange to me but it's kind of the ultimate form of palliative care through the dark side of the looking-glass. I wonder if the net effect of being on the most amazing but literally unmemorable holiday would be like that. I also wonder if that's what being on heroin is like in the moment. By the way kids, don't do heroin - Not even if you are a late nineteenth century consulting detective.
Maybe I am just too dim to see the downsides of going on the most amazing holiday of your life if it was all erased from your memory. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to remember it but is that that much of a loss? I don’t like the idea that we are who we are because of the collection of memories that we possess because that has really troubling implications for both the very young who don’t have many memories and somebody with dementia who has problems unlocking them. This question seems to be more of a pragmatic one which is best answered on its own merits.
All things considered, my answer would be “yes” because if nothing else I would be getting a free holiday and in the moment it would be fun.