Friday, June 22, 2007

The vagaries of memory

I go about the regular business of the day, and occasionally I wonder how I will remember this day - or IF I will remember this day. Will it join in my memory the thousands of days that have made up my life, but have left no indelible impression apart from vague recollections that spring from the sea of memory like the flash of the sun on a wave. Something, - a scent, a spoken word, a phrase of music, - brings back momentarily a sense of presence, a moment in time, and then it is gone again.

I have heard in the past ten days two stories that I know have been dis-remembered - I have the facts to prove that so. And yet I know the narrators sincerely believe their memories of the events in question to be perfectly true. I listened, and wondered, and mentally shook my head, but said nothing. However, as I ponder the problem I have come to doubt my own memory, and I have been googling the science of memory, most especially as it relates to its vagaries and illusions.

I have long felt that there is something in the storage and retrieval system of the brain that causes some people to remember the positive things in their lives, and some to despair as they remember only the things that have made them unhappy.
This is only from personal observation, and I find nothing in my research to support this idea.

What science does say about retrieved memories is that they are reconstructions, rather than exact reproductions.

Science compares the fragments of memory that are retained and retrievable to a few threads on a loom, with the brain weaving in whatever recent stuff it can find. So the tapestry of memory is a random picture of the old and the new. Does the old thread stand out as a golden thread of memory, or is it beaten into the weft of modern times, lost amongst the threads of the ongoing adventure and coloured by recent experience.

Science also says we remember the unusual, and perhaps that is so, but many of the snatches that return to me are of humdrum times, - little vignettes that are really quite ordinary.

And some of the things you would expect to remember are buried deep - I have no recall of the bedroom my sister and I slept in, and yet I remember the rest of the house in vivid detail.

A mystery, and a puzzlement, but not one that I am going to fret about.

I cherish too much the comfort that my memories bring me, be they true or flawed. I am one of those who remember the happy times!

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