The Eidolon in Prague

One

The Prague Story goes like this. We can’t say what hotel we stayed at, nor at what café we drank espresso in the morning. But here’s the story-truth, all that matters really: we got drunk in Prague on the first night of our honeymoon. We wandered the ancient streets until our feet ached to find a bed. Our hotel appeared before us more by miracle or dumb luck than any sense of direction we possessed. In the morning, we celebrated finding our way back with strong coffee and kolaches—Czech pastry of semi-sweet dough with some kind of candied fruit in the middle. Andrea didn’t bother with makeup, and that was better. She refused to add sugar to the monstrously strong brew. The bitterness would stick better in her memory, she said.

Our Prague is impressionist, a memory rendered loosely in broad strokes of beige stone and crimson tile roofs. Mist hangs above cobblestone roads lit by sparse sodium vapor lamps, fading the background from remembrance. The picture lacks detail, but what does detail matter? We have the story-truth.

Prague was before Andrea’s eidos.

Two

Imagine the advantages of a memory augmentation that captures in perfect fidelity whatever holds the user’s focus. Once the device left research, of course soldiers got the eidos before anyone—got “droned” as the wary call the procedure. Next came law enforcement, then doctors. The soldier could take one look at a street and later, from cover, review the image for suspicious activity. The detective examines a scene with his own eyes, but his eyes will not miss what they once might have. A newspaper clipping will be captured letter for letter in the corner of his eye, as will a minor nervous tic during a suspect’s interrogation. The doctor can bring to bear a patient’s entire medical history during a consultation. Most databases can warn about conflicts in medication, but they can’t analyze past behavior while examining the patient.

Once enough soldiers and cops and doctors proved the eidos’ worth, even at such exorbitant costs for the elective surgery, more people were willing to try them. More than a few candidates in Andrea’s physics doctoral cohort had already been droned when she began mulling the idea. Imagine reviewing ten books a night without missing a word, able to cite page and paragraph weeks later from memory. Well, augmented memory.

We talked it over like we talk everything over.

It doesn’t change personality, Andrea said. Just helps memory.

I said, You can’t believe altering the mind like that has no effect on personality.

I think, if anything, the changes will be positive. I’ll be less stressed about my work. I’m so tired all the time. And the people with the eidos already, they breeze through the material.

It’s a new power of a kind, I said. We should be wary of any power that comes too easily.

Maybe, she said. But it doesn’t have to be on all the time. Just when I need it.

I knew the conversation wasn’t going anywhere, so I just hugged her and promised her I’d love her no matter what her hair looked like for the next few months. She laughed, and maybe she believed me. I believed me.

Three

Sufferers of hyperthymesia can recall, in perfect detail, almost every day of their lives. Mentioning a calendar date to a hyperthymesiac can trigger flashbacks to the day in question. The eidos can do that in theory, since it uses the brain’s own memory structures to record, but it is designed for momentary activation. Still, I was no alarmed to read about the social struggles of hyperthymesiacs. They struggle to stick in one time; the flashbacks can absorb them. It’s easier in the past, they say, because the constant stream of information flooding in from the present is burdensome. A palpable neural load.

When we cobbled together enough money for Andrea’s procedure, still little research on the eidos’ long term effects were available, and what was published seemed circumstantial. Of course soldiers reported emotional issues—what else is new? Detectives showed signs of obsession—is that somehow extraordinary? Doctors reported exhaustion. No kidding.

It wasn’t going to be on all the time. She could stem the flow, ease the neural load if she wanted to.

Four

Eidolon comes from the Greek root eidos, “form.” It’s an apparition, a shadowy reflection of a person, sharing nothing with the original but their image. An eidolon is a hollow echo, offering no message but a reminder of the absence of the one whose form it assumes.

Andrea chooses not to shut off the device. Or rather, she chose once to leave it on, and liked it. There is power in capturing every detail your eyes absorb. I knew it would seduce her need for accuracy. I don’t know how wilfully she chooses anymore. When we go places now, her eyes flit like a bird’s, maximizing her input for review later. Every object becomes a potential avenue for deep meditation.

I can see her sometimes slip into a vivid memory, or a recording if you prefer, and wander a while in that exquisitely preserved past. She’s building a universe inside her mind more vivid than the one she experiences day-to-day. The memories hold the detail, not the present experience. The memories tempt her more than the present.

Sometimes she tells stories, but they are encyclopedic. No detail spared; every morsel of experience given equal weight in her account. These are more reports, catalogs, than stories. There is no story-truth in them, no broad impressionist strokes of fluid human memory. Only full-resolution fact.

Andrea works a great deal. Piles of books and a computer with three flashing monitors of data weigh down her desk. She can sit there for hours before I convince her to eat. She is so thin, she’s hardly there. A dark echo of my Andrea. Her eidolon.

But I can get her to the kitchen table, and I can get her to eat. I’ve learned to make espresso so bitter my mouth puckers just remembering a sip. I add sugar to mine, but never to hers. I want her to remember. I’ve learned to make kolaches in the old Czech way, although I use poppy seeds as filling. Andrea smiles as she eats, the way she smiled in Prague. She is at the café on the second morning of our honeymoon. The eidos can’t guide her in that hazy story-truth, but I can. I am with her there. We can live together in the Prague Story.

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