Memory Is A Funny Thing

Attribution: Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

It stung like a violent wind that our memories depend / On a faulty camera in our minds” (What Sarah Said – Death Cab for Cuties)

My memory is and (infuriatingly) isn’t very detailed when recalling things from my childhood. For example, I will remember many details about teachers and other people from my childhood, like what they looked like or something they said or did, but not their names. I can visualize places and people in my mind in great detail. I can recall all sorts of trivia about them but I can’t remember a previous address or a person’s name. I wonder if all my memories will become these vague impressions as I get older. It scares me a bit that all my experiences will eventually be distilled down to a vague and hazy recollection that may or may not reflect what actually happened. This assumes that I don’t develop any issues with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. Having my mind fail is a great fear of mine.

However, you have to acknowledge that memory is subjective and can be faulty for most people. According to Wikipedia, Confabulation is defined as “…a memory error defined as the production of fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world.” Confabulation happens more frequently, I suspect, than anyone is willing to admit. The human brain has never able to accurately record past events. It rewrites memories that are painful to our egos or that are not in line with our internal worldview. Because our memories are intertwined with our emotions, certain aspects of memories are amplified or even exaggerated, depending on how they make you feel. Human memory isn’t like a video recording or a computer file; it isn’t a flawless record of an event in our past. It’s our biased interpretation of an experience and the objective truth of it is lost to time. Certain aspects of an event that are more charged with emotion for us will be better recalled but this recollection will warp the rest of our memory of an event. We’ll often paint ourselves in a better light or overly fixate on something hurtful that happened. Our memory is flawed and subject to the interpretation of our emotions.

What does this mean for our experiences and our recollection of these experiences? We have to accept and take into account that we don’t remember things as they actually were. We remember things as we want to remember them.

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