Do you know what ancient memories feel like? They are there, the same ones our ancestors felt. Perhaps it's a matter of parsing out the ancient memories from newer, more relevant information. You don't have to remember the ancient details, just the vague feelings that help you survive and flourish. I didn't teach myself to stop, raise my heartbeat, dilate my pupils, and pump adrenaline through my body at the sight of 1 inch diameter wiggly things on the ground. But it happens every time; it's an ancient memory at work. I don't remember anything about why that memory is there, but I know what it feels like. That must mean memories are not for remembering, which seems odd.
The ultimate memory must be the recognition of consciousness. That must've been terrifying. We're still dealing with how that memory feels. Can you imagine being the first creature to look down at your body and realize you're somehow occupying it? And then to realize that other creatures that look like you die, which means that you must also die. Then to become aware that you end life to survive. Then to understand that different, scary creatures want to end your life to survive. And they'll try, desperately and viciously. You've seen it - now you know what it is, and it's everywhere. It's the recognition of vulnerability, the recognition of some demarcation between your body and the thing witnessing it.
Of course, we all still undergo the transformation from ignorance to becoming painfully aware of our vulnerabilities. It's still scary. We have stories that tell us it was scary for everyone before us, and we have stories on how best to handle such a peculiar arrangement. They certainly aren't scientific stories, at least not yet. Scientific stories have only been around for a few hundred years, our ancient memories have been around for much, much, longer. Billions of years - according to science, here another quagmire emerges. I'm baffled by how much people think they know, scientific or otherwise.
I can't think of anything I know with certainty. Not even 1+1=2 works anymore, since apparently on the quantum scale 1+1 doesn't just mean 2. Any scientific fact is only a fact for a specific sample size, at a specific time, under specific circumstances, with the constraint of certain variables, and with a level of certainty less than 100%. So I can't say I know any science - I know we got close to certain using statistics. And that's highly useful, but irrelevant on the grand scale of declaring absolute certainty of anything. It's seems we don't need absolute certainty to survive, since we are all here. The stories of our ancestors say we don't need certainty, we need something called faith. Faith isn't knowing either, it's something else. As far as I can tell, nobody truly knows anything.
It's obviously terribly unproductive to just declare nobody knows anything. I know there are some things in life that improve my situation, and others that are detrimental, and sometimes I get it wrong. I know feelings influence my decisions in some manner even if I don't understand how or why. I know there are certain ways to act that are acceptable, and I know I've gotten that wrong too. It's like a self-correcting sine wave, overshooting certainty, oscillating closer and closer to some semblance of knowledge, but never truly arriving. Maybe somewhere in that narrowing oscillation lies wisdom.
If memories are not for remembering, then there must be some other function. It turns out the best treatment (thus far) for dealing with a traumatic experience is remembering it, understanding it, feeling it, over and over until the remembering isn't painful. We remember until it's no longer a salient emotional past detail, but a fully integrated part of us. We become more resilient, better prepared humans, capable of surviving a wider range of experiences. But experience tells us there are some things we never forget. Maybe these things we never forget eventually turn into a vague feeling for those following in our footsteps, a nudge to pay close attention - that wiggly thing might kill you.